Saturday, January 5, 2013

In response to Ron Schmit at NCR

Due to both the timing of the article and its source - I normally do not have the patience to trawl through the NCR - I overlooked this article by Fr. Ron Schmit of California. I must state upfront, NCR has about as much intellectual credibility as the American hierarchy they so often critique. NCR had a field day playing host to numerous baleful Catholics mourning the advent of the new translation of the Pauline Missal. Schmit's article takes the same histrionic posture towards, apparently, the growing use and/or influence of the "Tridentine" liturgy.

As I've noted elsewhere, I do not see an explosive interest or imposition of the old liturgy. I believe many more young priests, religious and seminarians are interested in it. Of course, the SSPX and FSSP are strong enclaves of its use in Roman Catholicism, whatever the canonical status happens to be. For the present, it seems the Pauline Missal is still the normative liturgy in the Roman Church. Although Fr. Schmit is not so much fretting about the present, so much as he is fearful that present trends are indicative of a future reality. Fair enough. Here is a relevant excerpt from the article:
"Liturgy is not about taste or aesthetics. It is how the church defines itself. Those who rejected Vatican II and its liturgy were the first to understand the connection between liturgy and our self-understanding as church.
Pope Paul VI also understood this. The rejection of the Vatican II liturgy is a rejection of its ecclesiology and theology. In his newly published book True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium, Massimo Faggioli narrates Paul's response when his philosopher friend Jean Guitton asked why not concede the 1962 missal to breakaway Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers. Paul responded:

Never. This Mass ... becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.
Paul knew that permitting the old form would be not only divisive but would call the whole council into doubt, and that would be a sin against the Holy Spirit. Now we are experiencing the unfortunate fruit of the recent permission to celebrate the extraordinary form."
There is no shortage of apocryphal stories of Paul VI, especially as concerns liturgy and ecclesiology. His quote from Paul VI hardly supports his point: the ultimate concern of Paul VI seems to be obeisance to "apostolic" authority - not surprising for a pontif who found his authority questioned on all sides. Nevertheless, Schmit sees a fearful development on the horizon. Namely, the "Tridentine" liturgy threatens to dethrone a conceptualization of the Church in vogue in certain sectors the past forty or so years.
Schmit goes on to cite an example of the tired (and perhaps expiring) liturgical theology that has dominated English speaking liturgics:
"In her article "Summorum Pontificum and the Unmaking of the Lay Church" (Worship, July 2012), scholar Georgia Masters Keightley identifies those elements recovered by the council from the ancient church. These express the active exercise of the priestly people of God: the prayer of the faithful, the offertory procession and the kiss of peace. These were visible signs that expressed the church's priesthood. These signs incarnate for the priesthood of all believers the task to proclaim the Gospel and to make intercession for the world and all people.
Over time, these elements were lost or obscured. By the time we get to the Council of Trent (1545-63), new prayers and rites had replaced the ancient rites. Keightley writes:
These made no room for the laity's intercessions for the world and its people. Gone was any visible sign of the sacrificial offering of self that takes form in those daily efforts to welcome the stranger, care for the poor, and steward the earth's resources. Neither was there allowance for that sincere expression of the fellowship and communion the Church claims to celebrate and witness. With their disappearance, an important dimension of the liturgy also receded, i.e., the primitive Church's appreciation of the Eucharist as a sacrificium laudis (sacrifice of praise)."  
When I began studying the Patristic texts that supposedly inform us as to how the earliest liturgies were celebrated, I was shocked, positively shocked, at the apparent suspension of all critical faculties on the part of liturgists. Let's be clear: even when one finds phrases that could be translated as "bringing of the gifts," "kiss of peace" or "intercessions of/for the faithful" the reference on the part of the ancient author (even in many supposed ancient ordos) lacks context. We are left without an explicit description of the machanics of these elements. Furthermore,  I am left to wonder Keightley (the scholar cited by Schmit) has any familiarity with the liturgy that has put her in such a tizzy. No sign of "sacrifical offering of self" or "welcoming the stranger" or "care for the poor"? Excuse me, have you simply ignored the flowering of Medieval spirituality and, in turn, Catholic mysticism? I must suppose she has, as it is very difficult to study such material and not notice the pervasive liturgical reference and influences. But how about something more contemporary. How about Peter Maurin, Virgil Michel or Dorothy Day? Three figures who found in the "Tridentine" liturgy the impetus and inspiration to welcome the stranger and care for the poor. Perhaps there is simply no excuse. Perhaps it is just a matter of sloppy or ideological scholarship. Moving on...

Schmit defines the "Tridentine" liturgy as the private ritual of the priest. By comparison, the Pauline liturgy represents "the risen Christ working through the whole people of God (lay and ordained)." Really, when was the last time I alone, or any other laymen, successfully celebrated Mass, including concentration. The Pauline Mass, much like the "Tridentine" lives or dies based on the presence of a priest. Furthermore, the 1962 Missale Romanum made provision many of the same roles taken up by laity in Pauline Mass. The deference being the "Tridentine" liturgy's rubrics expect a better trained body. Giving the dog a bone doesn't mean you've liberated the laity, Ron.

The next quote is astounding in its hubris:
"The attempt to resurrect and popularize the 1962 pre-Vatican II Mass has serious ramifications. Will we be a church that looks narrowly inward -- where God is found only in piety and private devotion, or will we be a church as Vatican II defined it -- a Spirit-filled people on fire with an urgent sense of mission?"
What? Really? Does Fr. Schmit provide any such evidence that the "Tridentine" liturgy intrinsically fosters only narrow inwardness? Or that "Tridentine" communities do so? Why no, he doesn't. But he is one of those  "powerful" members of the clergy, telling his (largely passive) lay audience it is so - irony of ironies.  Virgil Michel and the liturgical movement in general (I'm thinking Guaridini, Parsch, et al.) would beg to differ with Fr. Schmit's opinion. So too would the people to attend the old liturgy. If there was one lesson that should have been learned from the greatest theologians of the liturgical movement (but, sadly, was not), it is that the "Tridetine" liturgy in of itself was the source of inspiration for some of the broader goals that began to attach to the movement around the 1930s. Virgil Michel often found the "Tridentine" liturgy to be theoria upon which social praxis, praxis often at odds with the values of contemporary capitalist society, was oriented. Then again, and with all due respect, Virgil Michel had probably forgotten more theology than many contemporary authors are capable of remembering. There is a popular account (possibly apocryphal) that Dorothy Day had the "Tridentine" Missal and Breviary always at her bedside. If we cannot see the correlation between social praxis and the Tridentine liturgy as both the source and goal of said praxis as a long since passed generation did, then it is our own poor formation that is to blame. Perhaps this will prove to be a good thing. We don't have much magnum mysterium left in the West. Perhaps the mystery of how the old liturgy was both the impetus and ultimate goal of radical social praxis is just what we need to for a return to mystery. Wishful thinking, I know.

I am often left wondering how many people who act with such drama over a renewed interest in the "Tridentine" liturgy have actually experienced it. I don't mean reading books about it or even a copy of the 1962 Missale Romanum. I mean genuinely experiencing it. Not just on one bout of religious tourism, but indeed establishing it as one's canonical prayer. Unless one does (and this entails devoting significant time to do so) one's observations are shallow, drawn more from a neurotic response than from an experiential critique of any substance. Fr. Schmit's article is redolent with a liturgical dualism that denudes the old liturgy of its rich history and upholds an artificial separation between it and the living experience of divine dynamism. The old Roman liturgy has been on a long journey. The "Tridentine" liturgy, at its "core" was defined by Gregory the Great. Among its euchological corpus, we find prayers and Mass sets of antiquity. But we also find the marks of successive ages. The "Tridentine" Missal is itself largely a the Roman liturgy of the Mass as it existed circa 1100. As such, the spirituality of the Medieval period joins some very ancient elements from the Italian pennisula. When studying the euchological corpus of the old liturgy, one finds (typically in the propers of the saints) that every successive age left its mark on the liturgy and informed its concept of the divine and the human person. Therefore, I would not be surprised when (not if) the Vatican releases an updated version of the "Tridentine" Missal incorporating new feasts in the Sanctoral and perhaps updating the proper texts of certain feasts that were taken from the commons. I also would not be surprised to find High Mass becoming the new norm of celebration of the old liturgy. Every age has left its mark on the old Roman liturgy. If the "Tridentine" liturgy is slowly coming to the fore, then this age too will engage in sacred exchange of ideas, being formed by the liturgy and in turn leaving the mark of its experience in history of the Missal. Any attempt at isolating the "Tridentine" liturgy to any particular age or ecclesiolgy does not acknowledge its complex history and the manner in which successive ages added their particular contribution to its contents.

Schmit is correct, however, in stating that liturgy potentially defines perception. As much as we would do well to rediscover the correlation between the "Tridentine" liturgy and the Roman Church's long subsided golden age of social doctrine, we would do equally well if we rediscovered the old liturgy's sense of the Deity, humanity and interconnectivity between the natural and the supernatural. This would mean more than reading a few books or hanging on to the "wisdom" of a generation of acontextual liturgical theology whose ideas are long since past their shelf life. Once again, I'm aware so much amounts to wishful thinking.