Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Finding that moment of liturgical rupture...

A discussion has sprung up among persons delighting in all things Missale Romanum related. You can check out the original entry at The Chant Cafe`. The article centers on the criticisms of Monsignor Léon Gromier concerning the Pian liturgical forms of the 1950s. The conversation offers some room for weary eyed optimism. The author isn't content with merely revisiting the merits of the reforms of Pius XII, rather, he seems to consider reviewing the Missale Romanum of 1570. Again, this is a conversation that provides any one with a genuine liturgical interest some point of cautious optimism. The Missale Romanum of 1570, with or without justification at the time, set the decay of the Roman liturgy in motion. The liturgy codified in the Missale Romanum of 1570 was largely centered on the sacredotal action, other liturgical roles being reduced and corporate participation left unmentioned. This has become the archetypal figure of the Latin liturgy since. Many liturgical pieces from the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary to the wide variety of Medieval uses were lost amid the liturgical pruning, the wide variety of local uses in England and Italy being displaced for the liturgical landscape.

The article, however, lacks substantial historical perspective. When discussing liturgical reform, it is always helpful to look at the products of the pre-Vatican II liturgical movement. There were numerous theoretical writings, however, the most tangible result were the numerous hand missals produced during the period, an effort that sought, ultimately, an opening of the Roman liturgy as it stood then to the laity. The hand missals balanced Latin-to-English, provided instruction into the meaning of various parts of the liturgy and/or Mass sets and heavily promoted the dialogue Mass. While the Missale Romanum of 1570 certainly impoverished the Roman liturgy, the Tridentine liturgy was posed to become a genuine liturgical use in so far as it would become a corporate expression that reflected the local ecclesia. I have always thought that (as opposed to the Missale Romanum of 1965 and then 1970) utilizing the approach of one of the more comprehensive hand missals would have provided better ground for a liturgical reform or, more accurately, transforming the Tridentine liturgy into an authentic liturgical expression capable of directing the spirituality and prayer of the individual and the community.

Of course, this wasn't done. While discussions of what should have happened or restoring a particular edition of the missal are fun activities, one cannot escape that the Missale Romanum of 1970 is normative. The task now is to make the Missale Romanum of 1970 an authentic liturgical expression, a task that has thus far failed due to the lackluster quality of the effort. There is potential in the new liturgy that needs to be explored, although I suspect such an endeavor requires a breed of liturgist more reflective of those principles held by the early 20th century liturgical movement, as opposed to the idealization imagined by those who have tried to claim for themselves the appellation of the liturgical movement's new successor.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Archdiocese of Boston, version 3.0

Cardinal O'Malley recently announced a plan to reorganize the archdiocese of Boston. 288 parishes will be grouped into 135 "collaboratives," each headed by one priest and one pastoral council and one finance council. The press release of the plan, titled  Disciples in Mission, contains the official details from the diocese. Reports and reactions to the plan can be found here and here and at the infamously famous Boston Catholic Insider.

The approved restructuring of the archdiocese comes at the end of decade long contraction (some would say implosion) in wake of pedophilia scandal, the uproar over parish closings about six or so years ago, steep decline in Mass attendance (estimates say between 15% and 17% actually attend Mass) and an tidal wave of financial decline that has swept many parishes (conservatively 40%, perhaps as high as 60%) into the red.

The commentary that has surfaced after the formal announcement of the restructuring plan often serves to highlight the less than fecund state in which the Boston archdiocese finds itself currently as well as the widely anticipated institutional decline if current trends continue. Over the next decade the diocese will noticeably experience the effects of Catholicism's priest shortage as the 420 active priests in the diocese are reduced to about 200.

Depending on your point of view, the restructuring plan is either an attempt to dull the blow that will likely be felt when the number of available priests hits the wall or it is an indirect way of admitting the Church in Boston needs more lay activity and control. I would like to add another interpretive perspective to the mix. The planned restructuring admits in an albeit circuitous manner, that the Boston archdiocese has finally succumbed to the weight of the Church's institutional largess. The above mentioned press release emphasizes that parishes must find their own identity and devote a greater amount of its activity to reach out efforts, as opposed to ministering to the choir, so to speak. There is an awareness that the local parish must be the ecclesia prima, it must be a genuine experience of the Church as opposed to one among many referents that push one's religious experience up the ladder until you get to a bishop in Rome. The process has a way of deadening the life of the local parish. This having been said, I do not detect a sense of urgency about the matter. For the local parish to establish its identity and mission to work in the Catholic Church, you need to undue well established institutional habits. Not impossible, but unlikely.

At the heart of the institutional rot afflicting the Roman Church (and so aptly demonstrated in the Archdiocese of Boston) is an ecclesiology that constantly references the bishop of Rome and the machinations of the Vatican as the principle manifestation of the ecclesia. The Roman pontiff and the curia are the only sure examples of ecclesiastical existence and everything else is either measured by how well it confirms to the curial narrative or is considered as ultimately inconsequential to the Church compared to its well vested clerics. Plainly, the experience of the local parish vacillates between being inconsequential or utterly unreal. In such a system, it is difficult to raise a local ecclesiastical body that feels any sense of invested interest in the religion.

On a more practical level, having one priest performing sacramental ministry among, say, four parishes poses some serious challenges. Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone can think that such a scenario will likely reinvigorate the Archdiocese of Boston. Commentators have noted the problem of burnout among priests for the past decade or so. Now, the Boston archdiocese is guaranteeing that priests will spend a considerable portion of time driving between parishes and carrying the weight of a more demanding Mass schedule, particularly on the weekends. While in graduate school, I was an acquaintance of a Franciscan friar who saw this coming. He fully expects the end result will be that priests will become "mini-bishops" as they essentially fill episcopal functions among several parishes in a particular geographic region. If this new organizational program is the best the Roman Church can think of under its institutional weight, he may well be proven correct. Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roy Bourgeois Dismissed from Maryknoll.

The title says it all. After a rather elongated process, the Vatican has canonically dismissed Roy Bourgeois from the order on account of his support for the ordination of women and participation in the ordination of a woman. A statement released by Maryknoll reads that Bourgeois has been excommunicated, dismissed and laicized - the action is a total removal of Bourgeois from the clerical state and the religious order. Maryknoll will offer Bourgeois transitional assistance, however, it is clear that he will, after a certain point, no longer receive any financial support from the order. You can read more of the statement and reaction to this announcement here and here.

I had the opportunity to hear Bourgeois speak at the beginning of October. He betrayed no indication of having suffered any penalty other than excommunication - a point that is all the more important to note given that the Vatican reached this decision on October 4th, 2012. The general reaction seems to be one of surprise on the part of Bourgeois and various parties working with him in his dialogue with his superiors and the Vatican - apparently no one imagined that Bourgeois would be dismissed from the order and subject to laicization.

The issue of women's ordination is one that Vatican deems dead and buried - the weight of tradition excludes the possibility - and yet it is alive and well for many parties in the Church. As an undergraduate, I often noted that certain professors were prone to promoting the issue for discussion, some going so far as to assign essays which were to argue, in part, why women's ordination is possible. As much as Rome may say the case is closed, others are determined to air their arguments.

For my part, I have no intention on arguing either which way here. I will, however, speak on the case Bourgeois has made for women's ordination while on the speaking circuit. Bourgeois has constructed his entire position largely on the ideal of gender equality and the experience of emotional response. Bourgeois experience of prejudice in American society and the participation of Roman Catholics with such prejudices has influenced him to see the issue of women's ordination as a matter of gender equality, in other words, the prohibition against women's ordination in the Church is identical to the position of women in secular society. As such, Bourgeois does not engage in any theological argument; he does not see the ecclesiastical matter as being properly distinct from matters of civil society or civil government.

There are then, two substantial weaknesses to Bourgeois argument for women's ordination. 1) The argument is not theological. Bourgeois does not do any theology to support his position. More often than not, he appeals to emotional response as an indicator of theological truth. Yet, history is filled with examples of what we would now call an improper or incorrect emotional response functioning as the proof test from some very questionable theology or religious inspiration. 2) The argument conflates secular society with the Church. Bourgeois basis his position on an extremely lipid ecclesiology; the Church is not seen as its own entity, established apart from civil society, but rather as a product of civil society and thus properly subject to civil society's norms. If this is the case, shouldn't John Paul II have led the Church in a universal endorsement of the Iraq war, rather than opposing it? As someone who is opposed to war, Bourgeois would argue no. To which one would have to retort, on what basis? After all, opposition to warfare is hardly a norm in civil society. This, however, is the rationale Bourgeois essentially follows. Fair enough - it a common method of epistemology in our society. However, one has to necessarily follow this method down every rabbit trail it leads, even if it exposes the principles behind one's thought as fundamentally incoherent.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Translation of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The US Bishops have voted in favor of a long overdue revised edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. You can read the full report here. The vote makes way for the Committee on Divine Worship to begin working on the revision to the modern Roman Breviary. A full draft will eventually be presented to the USCCB for vote and, if approved, be sent to the Vatican for the recognitio. As expected, the revised translation of the Roman Missal played a significant part in motivating the revision to the Liturgy of the Hours. The collects of the Roman Missal will be utilized for the new translation of the LOTH. While incorporation of the revised Grail Psalms was expected, the announcement that the body of hymns utilized in the current edition of the Liturgy of the Hours will be jettisoned in favor of a fresh translation of the Latin hymns of the Liturgia Horarum is an unexpected surprise. The rather hum-drum world of English hymns seriously denuded the offices of the hours of much of their flavor - this can only be a good thing long term.

The Decline of the Religious Right and the Role of Faith in the Public Square.

The 2012 election will be dissected every which way. Every circumstance this year said the incumbent should have been voted out, yet Obama won a second term to address a fragile economy, face increased inquiry over the September 11th embassy attacks among a myriad of problems carrying over from his first term. The GOP, meanwhile, faces the daunting task of addressing whether or not Romney's loss was based upon misinterpreting the data or if the party is approaching obsolescence.

It immediately comes to mind that the role of religion in the American political process may be forever altered. Some commentators, most notably at CNN, have asked if the election results indicate the Religious Right's influence is in decline. Poll numbers in Virginia indicated that the evangelical turnout was down this year. The decline in the number of participating evangelicals seems to indicate several things. 1) Evangelicals outside of the white-southern-protestant-male bracket are increasingly voicing the desire for Christianity to be represented by someone other than right-wing activists. Whereas the typical evangelical has an expected set of political interests, African American evangelicals focus on another set of political interests as being pressing for the Christian conscious. 2) The GOP may have to face that the religious right is not necessarily a good political partner. Among more religiously conservative evangelicals, Romney's Mormonism was an issue and the late redaction done by leading conservative religious interests to remove Mormonism from "cult" status only highlights this point. 3) Ballot initiatives for Gay marriage, medical or legal marijuana and the number of self identified Christians who voted for Obama seems to indicate the moral mood of the country and the dominant interpretation of Christianity has changed. The exact nature of this change and its contents remains to be seen. The self proclaimed Christian Left is just as religious and prone to bouts of irrationality and anti-intellectual impulses as the religious right. This does not necessarily mean a more progressive or intellectual Christianity is in the making so much as it may mean a more ideologically leftist Christianity is in the works.

In the final analysis of the 2012 campaign, it may well be written that the end of the Religious Right has begun. It would, I believe, foolish to then trumpet the end of religion's influence on American politics. One only need to examine the religious symbolism utilized in President Obama's two campaigns. In 2008, the President's campaign utilized Messianic undertones in its promise for hope and change and the anticipation of the dawn of a new day. In the President's 2012 convention speech, religious imagery was similarly utilized for the campaign's slogan "Forward." Obama crafted a narrative in his speech that subtly alluded to the journey toward the promise land, a journey that the nation (under his leadership) embarked upon in 2008. He charged the nation to keep the faith and remain upon the journey as the land was in sight. If you don't think the Democrats have found and now exploit religious rhetoric as much as the Republicans, you may well want to take a few classes in critical thinking and literary composition.

The influence of religion in American politics is not dead. It's transforming. The Democrats have found their new religious voice and the Republicans will eventually follow suite. How this will effect any given religious group is unknown; the shift in religiosity results from efforts of persons outside religious leadership.

For the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States, this election was sobering affair. The bishops manufactured a battle over religious liberty and many bishops maneuvered openly to the GOP. Philadelphia's Chaput openly stated that social justice issues (including how the government raises revenue to care for the poor) are not of the same weight as abortion and contraception. More recently, Bishop Daniel Jenky ordered all priests in his diocese to read a letter which in part stated that any Catholic who voted Democrat was guilty of participating in mortal sin. Such moves has led such groups as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to argue the IRS must investigate the US Bishops for campaigning for Romney. It's been a storied election year for the US Bishops and the end result is that they now have to face that at least half of voting Roman Catholics openly believe the Bishops are wrong on a host of socio-political issues.

Frankly, it should not have taken an election for the bishops to know all their dire warnings about participating with grave evil were going to fall flat. The abysmal response to their "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign should have been a prime indicator for things to come.  Obama  (narrowly) carried the Catholic vote once again. For the bishops, this is not merely an issue of Americanized white males and females dissenting from Catholic teaching. Obama also carried the Latino (and heavily Catholic) vote. The fastest growing segment of the Roman Church does not seem convinced that the Bishops offer the most persuasive voting advice.

As much as the Latino vote will have increasing impact upon the US electorate (an impact that is already felt), the impact upon the Catholic Church in the United States is gradually becoming more comprehensive - a fact both liberals and conservatives, cleric and lay, need to come to grips with. The old line models of predominately Irish and French Canadian Catholicism are decaying, so too are the old bastions of ecclesiastical influence. Although the Latino vote swings Democrat, Catholics should have no illusion of it being a portend for any ideological cause. You have an "ethnic ecclesiastical block" that can be left leaning on particular political and economic issues, but largely right leaning on social, theological and ecclesiastical issues. We are still in the process of watching how this dynamic is synthesized at a variety of levels. It might be reasonable to suspect that much of today's debate points among old line reserve Catholics will be obsolete within another generation.

Liberal or left leaning Catholics who think this election has provided them with some ecclesiastical leverage need to step back and objectively view their situation - a task that seldom comes easy to the left or the right. Much like global Catholicism in general, Catholicism in the United States is in a period of metamorphosis. New non-first world, non Euro-American power blocks are emerging and their perception of things is seldom seen in its totality by Western observers, Liberals and Conservatives cherry-picking the points that fit with their ideology. Obama narrowly won the Catholic vote and I suspect if the Republicans jettison the immigration issue, the Catholic vote will swing GOP - an event that would supply fastidious  Catholic Conservatives and Liberals with ideological indigestion.