Thursday, February 28, 2013

Last thoughts on Benedict XVI, Papa emeritus.

One of the things I need to keep in mind about the end of Benedict's papacy is the long hope and anticipation for Joseph Ratzinger's rise to the papal throne. There are the usual suspects, of course. Traditionalist leaning clergy and intellectuals. There were also many twenty and thirty somethings who grew up under John Paul II's papacy and saw in Joseph Ratzinger a degree of clarity and conviction the previous pontiff lacked. I could, I suppose, count myself one of those in number. Throughout John Paul II's papacy, there was the hope that Joseph Ratzinger would become pope. In April of 2005, that hope was realized. And then things changed.

I have the utmost respect for Benedict XVI as a theologian and, I reckon, I always will to one degree or another. Yet, invariably, a combination of intellectual and individual development takes place. This coupled with the gradual decline of the Roman Church during Benedict's papacy gradually made a Ratzinger papacy a less sanguine affair, for me, at least. Others held on. Others still invested much hope in Joseph Ratzinger for one reason or another. They were not entirely unjustified. While Benedict's liturgies haven't altered the liturgical practice of the Latin Church at large, they at least gave those persons and parties who prefer canonical prayer in the Latin language legitimate room in Roman Church, post-Vatican II. Years of wayward theology suffered by many a young theologian were suddenly clamped down upon - it has seemed like forever and a day since I last encountered pop-psychology masquerading as theology and written by someone without any credentials in psychology. Others could doubtlessly raise more reasons for continuing to find promise in Benedict's papacy. The man is, above all things, an educator. His liturgical theology is something to be studied and should have been mandatory reading before the imposition of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. There are people who retained the utmost hope and confidence in his papacy, all the more so during the most recent years full of tumult and scandal. These persons were most shocked when Benedict announced his resignation on February 11th.

Shocked and perhaps terrified. Benedict's papacy promised a certain contingent of the Roman Church everything it longed for under John Paull's marathon run. It is common knowledge that Benedict's maneuver's were often fraught with curial infighting and scarcely concealed dissension among many of his bishops and cardinals. Furthermore, the last two or so years have brought to lights how many internal and external pressures had begun bearing down upon Benedict's papacy. Many of these pressures, plainly, would risk undoing much of what Benedict has done. This is a given with any papacy; what one pope decides, another reverses. However, there is the perception that much of Benedict's papacy could well be jettisoned by the next pontiff.

Benedict's papacy may well prove to be the consummation of many things in the Roman Church. It was a last ditch attempt to save the Second Vatican Council from the road to irrelevance which so-called progressives had unwittingly set it upon. I maintain that, gradually, Vatican II will become ever more distant as there is no one left to evoke their memory of the Council. This papacy was an attempt to sure up priestly identity and the significance of the sacramental ministry as well as restore the traditional aesthetic of the Roman liturgy. It was, as his choice of name suggested, an attempt to re-evangelize and restore the faith in Europe, the historical home of the Roman Church. Benedict's supporters know well that all of these things were works in progress, nowhere near completion. There is the distinct sense that one era of the Roman Church is coming to an end and a new one is upon us.

Benedict himself has alluded to the storms battering the barque of Peter and his inability to successfully guide the Church amid them. Now is a time for decision in the Roman Church. I personally do not think the cardinals can afford to vote for the status quo. I also do not think the cardinals should be such intellectual derelicts to vote for every liberal whim - statistics can tell you how well the Episcopalian and Anglican churches have done by following that line.

Something is coming with the next conclave. God only knows what.

A Healthy Perspective on the Roman Church

Fr.Anthony Chadwick has one of the better senses of what is at stake, for the Roman Church at least - I'm not certain how this would apply to the Anglican or Lutheran Churches. There is a clarity in assessing the situation that is, more often than not, lost on most Roman Catholics. You can read the whole entry here. There is a particular portion, however, that I find most relevant (emphasis added):

I would agree that Rome and the Papacy have been made into a personality cult. It is a part of our modern culture and part of human nature. The Church always offered examples to imitate by canonising saints. Some people like mass religion and large numbers of bustling people. I don’t. I would prefer to go and spend a few days in a monastery than go on pilgrimage to Lourdes. I like the Church in its intimate and family-like dimension. 
Perhaps a lesson to be learned is that the Church suffers from the top-heaviness of its bureaucracy and institutional inertia, but those are hardly the fault of Benedict XVI. He tried to improve it, not make it worse. I would like to see the Papacy itself fade into a lower profile and for church life to be based in parishes, monasteries and alternative communities. Orthodoxy cannot be enforced. It has to be embraced lovingly and through enchantment. That is a theme on which Benedict XVI has always insisted, and he is right.
One could argue that, in many respects, the Roman Church's present state of multifaceted crisis is the result of its success, its triumph in becoming largely mass religion. This is not to say one would not find similar issues on a more local scale, nor that smaller structures aid in transparency and accountability - every study of high grid cult groups demonstrates that small communities based upon religion can and due succumb to inviolable authority. However, the character of the crisis facing the Roman Church is, in all respects, one that has emerged from its institutional largess. There ought to be, and could be, a strengthening of the local church, in so far as the local structure of parishes, monasteries and alternative communities should constitute something of a nexus for theological praxis and liturgical observance. I candidly admit the danger in this proposition: we are living in a time in which the connection with the theological, practical and liturgical tradition is tenuous held together by severely frayed string. In other words, it's barely there. Nevertheless, the current model, in which the local church scarcely has a reality of its own, in which its reality is constantly dissolved in favor of a reality defined within curial walls, in which, frankly, the local church is not real, is, in my estimation, coming to its end. This was an issue Cardinal Martini raised during the last pontificate and going into the conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

The Roman Church cannot afford to focus its attention on the Vatican and the magisterium as the matrix of faith. Catholicism, in previous eras, had some degree of autonomy from the papal court, as such, the Roman Church was able to expand by engaging the locality in which a given monastery or parish found itself. There was not a constant reference back to Rome, although there was appeal in controversial matters where the local hierarchy deemed it necessary. Granted, the system was not always harmonious and as fidelity to the pope became a standard mark of identity in the Roman Church after the Reformation, local variance was regarded with suspicion (see Gallicanism and the once successful mission to China). Nevertheless, a model of Roman Catholicism in which the local church was the basis upon which the Christian kergyma was substantiated  exists and, in many respects, pre-dates the more recent model of perpetual reference to the Vatican, particularly to the pontiff himself.

Once again, I candidly admit the danger of trying to wean the Roman Church off of what is essentially an ultramontanist model. The bold face fact we have to accept is that there is a startling if not dangerous lack of serious formation among the local churches. Yet, there are reasons for revisiting what was essentially Martini's proposal for the future of the Roman Church. Plainly, we will never get to a point in which the local church has considerable formation if this present system of dependency is in place. Again, there are risks but, really, what is left to lose?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One Estimation of Pope Benedict's Influence on the Roman Liturgy.

Vatican Radio recently conducted an interview featuring Monsignor Wadsworth  highlighting the liturgical importance of Pope Benedict XVI. Among other things, Wadsworth states, "I think we will be unpacking the significance of his impact on the liturgy for many years to come." This complements the editorial content of the piece: 

One of the lasting legacies of Benedict XVI’s pontificate will be the mark he has left on the Liturgy as it is celebrated today. In short, he has re-focused our attention on how we, as Catholics, celebrate our faith in the light of tradition. From his highly discussed 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontififcum, to his approval of the equally debated New English Language translation of the Roman Missal; from his elimination of all rites and gestures that are not specifically sacramental in nature from Papal liturgies to his recent changes to rites for the beginning of a pontificate, the Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi, Benedict XVI has brought the Universal Churches’ focus back to prayer and the Eucharist, the source and summit of what makes us Church. In a way Benedict XVI has been a supremely liturgical Pope.

First, the well received Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi was largely the pride and joy of the former pontifical MC, the often vilified Piero Marini. It was the climax of his liturgical theory (in the Latin language). Begun during the papacy of John Paul II by a man who was fully devoted to his mentor, Archbishop Bugnini, the Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi received approval for publication by Pope Benedict XVI for his own papal inauguration. It was, along with Ordo Rituum Exsequiarum and Ordo Rituum Conclavis, one of three new liturgical books published with the influence of Piero Marini's hand.  Indeed, in light of the praise which even Benedict XVI lavished upon Marini's liturgical composition, it was a surprise in many quarters that Piero was effectively exiled to liturgical obscurity. Benedict's alterations to the ordo, according to published reports, the changes concern the separation of non sacramental rites and gestures from the Mass itself as well as the restoration of act of obedience by the college of cardinals. Additionally, provision has been made for the newly installed pontiff to visit St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major when he deems fit (as opposed to within two weeks) and the allowance for an expanded repetiore of chant. The book remains substantially the work of Piero Marini and, it is to be noted, the Odro Rituum Conclavis remains unchanged. I've highlighted the substantial influence of Piero Marini on the Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi to provide some much needed perspective - this liturgy remains essentially Marini's liturgy and the suggestion that Benedict engaged in a dramatic reworking of the text is, to me, disingenuous. (Note: for additional background, see Piero Marini's own presentation of the published book)

Second, the sentiments that Benedict has "re-focused our attention on how we, as Catholics, celebrate our faith in the light of tradition" and "brought the Universal Churches’ focus back to prayer and the Eucharist, the source and summit of what makes us Church" strikes me as an over statement. I do not doubt Benedict's grasp of the liturgy nor the excellence of his liturgical theology. Additionally, I have no doubt that Benedict fully understands the objectives and goals of the original liturgical movement. I do, however, question how well the ritual praxis  and liturgical sensibilities of the pontifical liturgies have diffused throughout the Roman Church. How many parishes can honestly claim to have undergone a transformation of liturgical celebration during this pontificate? In my experience, things have remained essentially the same. The parishes which emphasized good liturgy continue to celebrate such a liturgy. Those parishes continue to be few in number. 

Third, the longevity of the new English translation is any one's guess, but this is the area in which Benedict's papacy has had wide liturgical impact. The depth of the impact, however, remains to be seen.

Fourth, Benedict's liturgical theology is a result of his desire to devote time to understanding the liturgy as a sacred encounter with divine power, as opposed to a human production. He sees it as something to be studied and prayed. His view is rare outside of monasteries in the Western Church. For his papacy to have any effect, there must be a change in the greater approach to liturgy in Roman Catholicism, there must be an infusion of monastic sensibilities.

No one, in my estimation, can doubt Benedict's significance as a theologian and the impetus he has given to those persons concerned that the Roman Church rise above materialist or nominalist conceptions of the liturgy. How effective his theology has been and what long term effect this pontificate will have on the Roman liturgy remains, however, debatable.

Benedict XVI's Letter to Cardinal Ravasi

Cardinal Ravasi preached the pontifical Lenten retreat this year. Pope Benedict thanked him accordingly:

“You have offered us,” the Holy Father writes, “a fascinating journey through the Psalms, following a double path: ascending and descending. The Psalms, in fact, are fundamentally oriented toward the face of God, toward the mystery in which the human mind gets lost, but the very Word of God allows us to see according to the different profiles in which God reveals himself. At the same time, in the light that shine from the face of God, praying the Psalms allows us to see the face of humanity, to recognize the truth of human joy and sorrow, human anguish and hope.”
“In this way, … the Word of God, mediated by the ancient and ever-new 'ars orandi' of the Jewish people and the Church, has allowed us to renew the 'ars credendi': a need that is highlighted by the Year of Faith and is even more necessary in this particular moment that I, personally, and the Apostolic See are living. Peter's successor and his collaborators are called to give the Church and the world a clear testimony of faith, and this is only possible thanks to a deep and abiding immersion in dialogue with God. Many today are asking: Who will show us what is good? We can answer, those who reflect God's light and face with their lives.”

For the record, Ravasi would make a great Bishop of Rome. A sound biblical scholar and a man who has avoided both liberal and conservative paradigms. That is the closest I will get to making an endorsement.

Pope Benedict's Resignation: Vatican Scandals and the Long Shadow of Malachi Martin

A number of new scandals cropped up in the media during this countdown of Benedict's final days and hours as Roman Pontiff. A major Italian paper reported the existence of a secret gay cabal in the Vatican and yesterday and a Scottish cardinal opted out of the conclave due to his prior inappropriate conduct with young priests/seminarians. In the midst of this, there are renewed calls to exclude Cardinal Mahony from the conclave as well. The Vatican denies the reports, allegedly delivered by the three cardinals responsible for investigating the sources of the Vatileaks from last year,  of a secret gay group behind its walls, although, NCR's John Allen detects the possibility of a few elements of truth to the story.

The shadow of Malachi Martin looms long here. Let me explain. Malachi Martin was a controversial traditionalist author who made a considerable cottage industry out of writing novels filled with alleged "insider" Vatican gossip - typically, all of the dirty laundry you could dream up. His former religious order denounced him and reports of an affair with a married woman surfaced soon after his death. Nevertheless, Malachi Martin's reputation endures, even if his audience has declined since the turn of the millennium. Among his most memorable literary devices (or leaked information, depending upon one's perspective) was the allegation of a "superforce" in the Roman Church, a global network of homosexual cardinals and bishops who were pushing the Roman Church towards both moral and theological apostasy. The theme subsequently returned in Michael Rose's Good Bye, Good Men, a book which alleges the existence of a pervasive homosexual subculture in Roman Catholic seminaries, one which actively discourages heterosexual men from entering the priesthood.

Is any of this true? To my mind, it is almost irrelevant if this is true. The Italian newspaper article was largely untraceable, written by an apparently "new" reporter and loaded with unverifiable sources. Furthermore, the report that allegedly contains this information is and will remain (so far has been indicated) for papal eyes only. Until such time as the report is made public, it can and will be used for proof every imaginable ecclesiastical conspiracy. No, the relevance is not if the story of a gay cabal is true. Rather, it is that after some forty years in the "Catholic underground," the property of conspiratorial culture, it is being treated as a distinct possibility. The mainstream media has given the story currency. Catholic media has indicated that, given past trends, there may be some truth to it. Additionally, I can tell you from a conversation I had with an American cardinal who is very popular in traditionalist leaning circles some six years ago, there will be at least one participant in the conclave who believes it is a real conspiracy in the Vatican halls in which conducts his daily duties. Furthermore, from a sociology of religion perspective, the waning days of Benedict's papacy and the coming conclave are most interesting. Every major theme, crisis or intrigue that emerged in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council has suddenly emerged to swirl around the coming conclave. The sex abuse scandal, mandatory celibacy, the role of women, the decline of Catholicism in the West, the rise of Catholicism in the developing world, the situation of the SSPX and the place pre-Conciliar Catholicism as a whole, the rise of Islam, the moral and spiritual crisis within the Roman Church itself, the Vatican bank and, of course, an alleged gay cabal working within the Vatican to unknown ends, these and many other themes that had traditionally been subject to periodic outbreaks have suddenly and simultaneously emerged.

Benedict's papacy ends at 8pm Italian time tomorrow (February 28th). The manner in which all of the above mentioned themes have surfaced to surround the cardinal electors provides a distinct "feel" to this conclave. There is the sense, whether objectively true or simply the product our contemporary Internet media culture, that something profound is at stake in this papal election.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Liturgical Movement As Pope Benedict Sees It.

Recently, Pope Benedict's speech to the priests of Rome has made the rounds on account of his forthright comments on the popular presentation of the Second Vatican Council versus its content. I would like, however, to focus our attention on another matter that emerges in his speech: the original intention of the liturgical movement:
Referring to the reform of the liturgy, the Pope recalled that "after the First World War, a liturgical movement had grown in Western Central Europe," as "the rediscovery of the richness and depth of the liturgy," which hitherto was almost locked within the priest’s Roman Missal, while the people prayed with their prayer books "that were made according to the heart of the people", so that "the task was to translate the high content, the language of the classical liturgy, into more moving words, that were closer to the heart of the people. But they were almost two parallel liturgies: the priest with the altar servers, who celebrated the Mass according to the Missal and the lay people who prayed the Mass with their prayer books”. " Now - he continued - "The beauty, the depth, the Missal’s wealth of human and spiritual history " was rediscovered as well as the need more than one representative of the people, a small altar boy, to respond "Et cum spiritu your" etc. , to allow for "a real dialogue between priest and people," so that the liturgy of the altar and the liturgy of the people really were "one single liturgy, one active participation": "and so it was that the liturgy was rediscovered, renewed."
Benedict's comments are accurate and a rare instance of the liturgical movement and the original intention to reform the Roman liturgy being put into context. There was no intention of recasting the order or producing a substantially new missal. The intention was to give the liturgy actual precedence over extra-liturgical prayers and piety. The first goal was to make the "Tridentine" liturgy accessible, translating "the high content of the liturgy." The second goal was to eventually close the gap between the liturgy celebrated at the altar and the liturgy the people prayed in their hand missals, to re-establish the corporate nature of the liturgy, so apparent in Byzantine and Orthodox Churches, via the "Tridentine" missal. The liturgical movement never intended to displace the old liturgy. The long term objective was to restore corporate or communal celebration to the old Missale Romanum.

Of course, it would be impossible to ignore the fact that, whatever the original intention of the liturgical movement, the Roman liturgy was given a new form and a new missal under the authority of the Second Vatican Council. Benedict remarks:
The Council also pondered the principals of the intelligibility of the Liturgy - instead of being locked up in an unknown language, which was no longer spoken - and active participation. "Unfortunately – he said - these principles were also poorly understood." In fact, intelligibility does not mean "banalizing" because the great texts of the liturgy - even in the spoken languages ​​ - are not easily intelligible, "they require an ongoing formation of the Christian, so that he may grow and enter deeper into the depths of the mystery, and thus comprehend". And also concerning the Word of God - he asked - who can honestly say they understand the texts of Scripture, simply because they are in their own language? "Only a permanent formation of the heart and mind can actually create intelligibility and participation which is more than one external activity, which is an entering of the person, of his or her being into communion with the Church and thus in fellowship with Christ."
The use of the vernacular was thought advantageous as was the idea of fostering the corporate nature of the liturgy. Benedict does not interpret these elements of Sacrosanctum Concilium in a restorationist sense, that is, he, in this instance, does interpret the Council as envisioning only targeted use of the vernacular in the liturgy. Benedict's criticism, however, is reserved for the liturgical school that came into dominance after the Council, whose methods included the imposition of oftentimes trite language and stripping the liturgy of any complexity under the pretense that such elements rendered the Roman liturgy incomprehensible. What I find most evocative about this portion of his speech is that Benedict does not take the time to distinguish whether or not the reform of the Roman liturgy itself or simply its normative celebration is identifiable with the banalization of "the great texts of the liturgy." I would imagine Benedict intends this statement to be interpreted in continuity with previous statements he has made regarding the reform of the Roman liturgy. Overall, he appreciates the form the Missale Romanum of Paul VI took and believes the seeming disparity between the two is the result of bad liturgics. Nevertheless, one wonders if Benedict has put aside public protocol and begun "shooting from the hip."  It's any one's guess, although I do not think one can reasonably say Benedict has ever entertained the idea of restoring the pre-Conciliar missal so much as he desired to cultivate a sense of the transcendent in the normative Roman liturgy.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dominica I In Quadragisma: Praefatio De Tentatione Domini

The prefaces of the Missale Romanum of Paul VI are often considered a striking (if not rare) example of its strengths. The body of prefaces was substantially increased over the pre-Conciliar missal. In many cases, their theological content is a clear instance of the Novus Ordo getting it right. The preface for the first Sunday of Lent is a fine exemplar of the benefits of the new corpus.

De Tentatione Domini

Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare,
nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere:
Dominie, sancte Paer, omnipotens aeterne Deus:
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Que quadraginta diebus,
terrenis abstines alimentis,
formam huius observantiae ieiunio dedicavit,
et, omnes evertens antiqui serpentis insidias,
fermentum malitiae nos docuit superare,
ut, paschale mysterium dignis mentibus celebrantes,
ad pascha demum perpetuum transeamus.

Et ideo cum Angelorum atque Sanctorum turba
hymnum laudis tibi canimus, sine fine dicentes:


For those who have access to the previous English language sacramentary, this preface has undergone considerable improvement with the third edition of the Roman Missal. I might argue that the new translation doesn't readily convey all of the connotations of the Latin, however, this is bane of every translation effort. Invariably, one needs annotations truly explore the world of the original language, however, such material, apart from redacting the translation to include such material, is hardly suitable for a liturgical context.
The text of the preface is a new composition, the result of centonizing a variety of ancient sources. You can find a detailed presentation of the ancient sources of this modern prayer Anthony Ward's and Cuthbert Johnson's essential The Prefaces of the Roman Missal: a Source Compendium with Concordance and Indices. Really, no discussion of the Missale Romanum of Paul VI is credible without this volume and it pains me that such scientific analysis of liturgical texts is falling by the wayside (if it was there at all) among popular liturgical devotees. Back to the text of the preface, this is one instance in which the centonized text is, in my estimation, superior to the original ancient texts.

The last decade has seen an increasing number of articles critiquing the reform of the Lenten liturgies, particularly on the grounds that the revisions of the concilium lessened the emphasis on fasting, corporeal mortification and repentence. The work of Lauren Pristas is perhaps the most notable of such critiques in the scholarly sphere. While it is true that the Sunday collects are often prime examples of such redaction, a broader study of the Lenten liturgies argues in favor of the position that fasting and repentence have not been de-emphasized but rather re-contextualized. The preface De Tentatione Domini makes the case for such a perspective. Liturgical prayer often operates on multiple levels. The preface is typically intended to recall the acts of God or, in Christian terms, the history of salvation. Appropriately, the first Sunday of Lent recalls Jesus' temptation. Yet, the preface also serves to provide grounding for Lenten fasting, abstinence and repentance. Renunciation of worldly pleasures and the discipline of fasting are set in the context of the immitatio Christi. It is not, then, solely for fasting for fasting's sake, rather, it is done specifically at this time of year in immitation of Jesus' own earthly existence, specifically the beginning of his ministry according to the synoptic accounts. In this respect, the preface focuses upon the paschal mystery theology that flourished in Roman liturgical theology prior to the Council, with touches of Dom. Odo Casel's mystery liturgiology - the notion that liturgy turns us into participants of the Deity's action.

For linguists and scripture buffs, there is a most interesting line that will often go unnoticed in the liturgy but is packed with meaning. Et, omnes evertens antiqui serpentis insidias, evokes the language of the Apocalypse of John 12:9, et proiectus est draco ille magnus, serpens antiquus, qui vocatur Diabolus et Satanas, qui seducit universum orbem; proiectus est in terram, et angeli eius cum illo proiecti sunt. (Nova Vulgata) This line is effectively contrasted by the invocation of the choirs of angels that concludes the preface in the Roman liturgy, reminding the participants of the celestial correspondence to our terrestrial reality. Textually, we are placed amid the celestial realities and the cosmic nature of the liturgical action is explicitly placed into focus. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Newman Bookstore to Close its Doors.

One last round of news. For those who don't know, Newman Bookstore in Washington, DC is slated to close by the end of April. A brief explanation is provided on their website, If you have the disposable income, then now is the time to take stock of any wanted items for your library and start hedging your bets. Discounts are 25% for February, 50% for March and 75% for April.

For the theologically inclined, this will be a loss. There's plenty of pop devotional material out there. Newman's was one of the few outlets for acquiring any substantial material (especially liturgical books) Stateside.

R.I.P. Fr. Kizito.

Very sad.

It has been some time since I was up at St. Joseph's Abbey. This morning, I learned that the always affable Fr. Kizito passed a few weeks ago. You can read about it on the abbey's blog.

Fr. Kizito was always a presence at the abbey, whether working at the abbey's gift shop or as principle celebrant of the liturgy. Always welcoming, always insightful, always an exemplar of the good monasticism could produce.

He will be (and is) missed.

Pope Benedict XVI's Resignation: the liturgical influnece of Joseph Ratzinger.

Anyone who paid close attention to papal liturgies during the previous and current pontificates has noticed a distinct change in style. The liturgies of John Paul II were massive, almost Hollywoodesque affairs, often utilizing styles from the regions of the world in which the Roman Church is expanding. These were liturgies of cultural scope and (at times) content, attempts to apply the principle of inculturation on the grand liturgical stage. They were, for twenty five years, representative of  the typical model of liturgical theory (or interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium) that came to dominate many Western (certainly American) theological centers. When Benedict XVI assumed the papacy, a shift in liturgical style was detectable - or, to be blunt, it was clearly manifest. Benedict quickly appealed to the historical mode of liturgical celebration in the Latin Church. Latin itself became more common (as has been use of Missale Romanum of Paul VI as opposed to the Italian Messale Romano) and sacred polyphony has returned to the Roman choirs. These are all part of a larger liturgical shift that has occurred during Benedict's papacy and which have had, to varying degrees, influence beyond the Sistine Chapel.

During his time as head of the CDF, at least since the Lefevbre affair in 1988. Joseph Ratzinger represented a model for interpreting Sacrosanctum Concilium that ran contrary to the school of thought that became dominant  in the years after the Council's conclusion. Upon his election to the papal throne, the underground current of liturgical theory finally came to force. The past eight years have seen a gradual attempt to put much of this school's theory into liturgical praxis.

Benedict accelerated his return to a typical "Latin" celebration of the liturgy when he appointed a new papal master of ceremonies. The pontifical masses increased in solemnity and many liturgical items that had seemingly been discarded after the Council were appropriated for use. These visuals were combined with the increasing use of Latin and chant with the intention of rediscovering an aura of the sacred in the Roman liturgy. How effective has this been? There have been some notable attempts to duplicate Benedict's liturgical style at the parish level. It must be noted that these are, by and large, typically done by priests or parishes with an active online presence, however, they also represent a minority. The average American parish, for instance, has not seen many notable changes in the celebration of the ordinary form of the Roman rite.

For years, Joseph Ratzinger was also the most prominent proponent in the Vatican for liberalizing the celebration of the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum. Not only for reconciling certain break away groups, but also under the conviction that the old Missale Romanum has much to offer the Roman Church. Shortly after his election to the papacy, rumors began circulating that Benedict intended to grant a universal indult for the Missale Romanum of 1962. In July of 2007, Benedict released the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and its accompanying explanatory letter. Therein, Benedict adjudicated that the "Tridentine" Missal had not been abbrogated by Paul VI propagation of the Missale Romanum of 1970. Additionally, priests were within their rights to celebrate it and the laity were within their rights to be provided with a celebration of the old liturgy. Since then, there has been a steady stream of successes and failures to establish regular "Tridentine" liturgies in parishes that previously lacked a priest with an Ecclesia Dei indult.

Of course, for English speaking Catholics, the most notable liturgical item of Benedict's papacy is the Third Edition of the Roman Missal and its significantly revised translation. The project was at least a decade in the making and the results, thus far, seem mixed. There was much drama from certain quarters, although the predictions of rebellion and incomprehension have proven baseless. Much that was left untranslated in the previous English edition has finally found expression. It remains unclear if the new translation has succeeded in revealing the supernatural realm to the religious body, although I suspect those persons who would normally have an interest in liturgy have more to chew on, as it were.

These are the three things that immediately come to mind when reflecting upon the liturgy in Benedict's pontificate. Others may likely have additional entries, although these seem to me to be the most notable. With every milestone in one pontificate, there are corresponding questions in another. Precisely what will remain going forward is any one's guess. While Benedict may have appointed a significant portion of the cardinal electors (presumably they share some affinity with his thought) it must be recalled that the remainder are appointees from John Paul II's pontificate. John Paul, as mentioned, had and cultivated a different approach to liturgy compared to his successor. We may or may not see some of evidence of this distinction in the future pontiff.

It seems the new English translation safe. Simply, too many bishops from Africa favored a new translation of the English text (including Cardinal Arinze). There will be no return to the previous English text. This edition is here to stay, at least until the liturgical calendars have been fulfilled (around the year 2039). Most publishers designed their books for long term use. Additionally, the expenses invested in producing the translation, creating educational materials and, finally, purchasing the new books will likely slow down any motions to revise the new translation for the foreseeable future.

Whether or not Benedict's celebration of the liturgy, the example he provided from St. Peter's, will survive into the next pontificate is more complicated. There have been attempts (by web savy priests or parishes) to incorporate Benedict's style at the parish level to varying degrees. How much Benedict's liturgical theory represents the direction in which things will go largely depends upon how well his thought represents the thought of the cardinal electors and the episcopate as a whole. If this is not simply Benedict's pet theory, then it is likely his successor will continue with this manner of celebration to one degree or another. Ultimately, whether or not Benedict's liturgical praxis reorients liturgy in the Latin Church is contingent upon how well his liturgical theology is diffused in the Roman Church. Benedict's liturgical praxis is a result of his liturgical theology, a liturgical theology that often runs contrary to the minimalist theology of the post-Vatican II liturgical establishment. It will not be popularly understood or accepted, although its success will be measured by whether or not the "right people" in the right ecclesiastical places utilize it to any appreciable degree. If Benedict's liturgical theology succeeds in becoming the new reference point for future Roman Catholic liturgical theology, then it is likely his liturgical praxis will influence even the most common parish liturgies over time. For what it's worth, it seems to me that in a world of minimalist liturgical theology, Benedict stands a good chance of being remembered for his liturgical work.

Benedict's decisions regarding the old liturgy are perhaps the liturgical item that whose fate in the immediate future is most uncertain. Summorum Pontificum was greeted with division among Benedict's cardinals, to the degree that he had to both summon a group of representative cardinals to the Vatican and address the matter in the explanatory letter that accompanied the motu proprio. Among the most notable cardinals who expressed disagreement with Benedict's measure was Cardinal Arinze, who reportedly felt the motu proprio undermined the bishop's authority over the liturgy in his own diocese. Other cardinals were simply indisposed towards any sort of revival of the "Tridentine" liturgy. Even among the cardinals and bishops appointed during Benedict's pontificate, one is hard pressed to find a consistent approach and appreciation of the "Tridentine" liturgy. Furthermore, Benedict himself has not (and likely will not) celebrated a pontifical Mass according to the old liturgical books. Furthermore, it seems that on a mainstream parish level, the "Tridentine" liturgy is viewed as either a) an obscure curiosity of a few eclectic groups or b) something more appropriate for memorializing a few limited occasions. If there is any upside for the old liturgy, it is that a commission has been established to determine what methods should be followed for updating the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum. This being said, it must be noted that the status of this commission and that status of Summorum Pontificum could conceivably be altered by the next pope of Rome. Again, it is all contingent upon how well diffused Benedict's perspective on the old liturgy is within the Roman Church. Certainly, the majority of the laity are unaware and, to be frank, couldn't care less. But all it takes it the right people in the right places, for both well and ill.

Once again, I will not make any claim that this is exhaustive. However, it is a good list for consideration. It is possible that every liturgical mark from Benedict's papacy will carry over into the next. It is equally possible there will be some notable changes, with the status of the "Tridentine" liturgy possibly most in danger of being on the chopping block depending upon who is voted in. Time will tell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns: The Symbolic Consumation of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Benedict's abdication of the papacy on February 28th is historic. It is the first occurrence of such an event in 700 years and leads the Roman Church through charted but still unfamiliar seas. It is also the symbolic consummation of the theological generation responsible for the Second Vatican Council and, indeed, the ultimate closing of the Council itself.

Whatever one's estimation of Vatican II, it was a watershed event. The past fifty years have been spent warring over what the Council really did or didn't do, what the Council intended versus distortions. The generation of bishops and theologians who actually participated in the Council's proceedings, who were on the ground floor of all the thinking, debates and actions, is passing. The bishops who presided at the Council are largely deceased and the theologians who played such an active role have similarly ventured into the great beyond and met whatever awaits them. There are very few left who were there and who were, more importantly, involved in shaping the Council's theological perspective.

As Pope Benedict XVI prepared to resign and, presumably, walk away from the "business" of the Roman Church, he becomes something of an incarnation of a theological generation reaching into the deepest shadows of its twilight. As the sun sets on Benedict's papacy, so too the generation responsible for the product of the Second Vatican Council similarly declines into darkness. The numbers of those remaining who can speak on the authority of having been in the midst of the theological debates and formation of conciliar documents grows perilously low. John Paul II was a young bishop during the Council's sessions. When he died, it was the death of arguably the most well known Council Father. Benedict is one of the last remaining theologians who exerted influence on the Council documents. Benedict could speak with some authority when discussing the theological intentions of the Council's documents. Upon his resignation, there will be no theologian who was active at the Council's proceedings influencing the doctrinal expression of the Roman Church. From here on in, any invocation of the Second Vatican Council and its teaching authority will be an interpretation based on secondary or tertiary knowledge, not primary experience of the Council. A recent discussion with a colleague has convinced me that the magnitude of this shift in the quality of interpretative knowledge. At best, we will have interpretations of a given theologian's thought. The Council itself will become increasingly distant. Eventually, the Council's relevance will come into question. This, I believe, is inevitable.

Benedict's papacy represents, in many respects, the last ditch effort to establish the proper implementation and interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and thereby solidify its standing in the tradition. The immediate "liberal" over reaction coincided with the rapid decline the Roman Church in the West. Benedict attempted to apply a "conservative" corrective to the previous excess. Benedict's papacy implemented many of the aspirations for the Second Vatican Council held by the more so-called "conservative" elements in the Roman Church, most notably in areas of doctrinal clarification, liturgy and Catholic identity. How successful this was remains to be seen - one could argue these moves were too late. The famous "hermeneutic of continuity" speech, though perhaps factually accurate, needed to be delivered many years prior. While ecclesiastical appointments since this speech have favored candidates that see the problem in similar terms, it is uncertain how well placed Benedict's hermeneutic of continuity is in the Roman Church as a whole. Is this concept popular among an eclectic conservative few or is has it become a common place idea within the Church? It is, in my estimation, too soon to tell.

What is certain is that we will no longer have the voice of a primary player in formation of the theology of the Second Vatican Council. We will not have a pontiff who is able to present the teaching of the Council with the authority of such intimate experience in the development of its doctrine.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Benedict XVI's Resignation: the coexistence of two pontiff's.

One of the most jarring aspects of Benedict's resignation is that it occasions a circumstance that has not been seen since 1400s: a new pontificate coexisting with the previous pontiff. What we are to witness on February 28th is a situation totally foreign to the modern expectations of papal transition. Benedict XVI's assumption of the papal throne was occasioned by the great fanfare and outpouring of devotion in memory of his predecessor, John Paul II. This time, the transition to a new pontiff will provide no such opportunity - a major component in the ritual process of transitioning to a new pope will thus not be in place. Naturally, one wonders if Pope Benedict will be entirely passive during the pontificate of his successor or if he will be in the wings with some hand involved in the process. Remember, Ratzinger was powerful cardinal, as much a force in John Paul II's papacy as the deceased pontiff himself. If Benedict is intent upon walking into the sunset, then the new pontiff will likely have space build his papacy as he sees fit. However, Benedict is an intellectual force and he still has his network of loyalists in place within the halls of Vatican. It is therefore not inconceivable that Benedict could exert some influence in the next pontificate, either by his own volition or under appeal from his intellectual devotees.

Then again, Benedict may genuinely wish to retreat from the mechanics of the Roman Church. Joseph Ratzinger undoubtedly had a profound vision for the Roman Church. One can read his masterwork, Introduction to Christianity, and readily see that he has a vision for the Christian kergyma in the wake of Modernity. When promoted to head of the CDF, Benedict's intellectual vision, which was so often sweeping in scope and challenging of enshrined aspects of Catholicism, was brought into conflict with the clearly defined role of his new office - a position he railed against during the Second Vatican Council. This tension was brought into view once again while pontiff. Reading the volumes of Benedict's treatment of Jesus of Nazareth, one sees, if one reads the text closely, another rift between the theology of Joseph Ratzinger and the demands of his position as Roman pontiff. Indeed, the conflict between Ratzinger and the restrictions of the papacy came out in many venues. I recall during the first few months of his pontificate, Benedict entertained the idea of revisiting the Church's prohibition on divorced and remarried persons receiving communion on the grounds that it is very much possible that, for whatever reason, such persons could not comprehend the nature of the sacrament they were participating in and only later, through their new relationship, understood the sacramental nature of marriage. The mercy of God, it would seem, would permit full communion. This statement by the pope made no headway during his pontificate. One can also review the two year long build up to the release of his social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Benedict's personal remarks on the intention of the document (going so far as to say the document would focus on the incompatibility of serving God and Mammon) were a far cry from what was eventually released. For months leading up to the document's release, Benedict sounded a critical tone with regard to the global financial system and economy. Caritas in Veritate was, at best, a plea for the system to act humanly and devoid of any systematic critique. Let's not forget that the last two years of Benedict's pontificate were marred by the resurgence of the sexual abuse scandal and the deep divisions within the Vatican (some hostile to Benedict himself) as revealed by the "Vatileaks" documents.

As a theologian, Joseph Ratzinger developed a theology that had much promise for Catholicism. As pontiff, Benedict began his pontificate with promise. In both roles, the grind of the Vatican machinery proved unstoppable. I challenge anyone to review the first six or so months of Benedict's pontificate. Review every audience and address, read those texts carefully. Compare the vision of Benedict's first months with the direction that eventually established itself as the norm for this papacy. Benedict has, to a certain degree, watched his theological vision constantly be eclipsed by the Church's institutional pressure and obligations and the last two or so years have been marked by ever increasing fissures caused by a profound institutional crisis. Benedict has proven unable to manage the deficiencies that run deep in the Roman Church's structure, all of which seem to have risen in the last period of his papacy.

It may well be Pope Benedict XVI proves most comparable to Pope Celestine, the medieval hermit who was elected pontiff and resigned after encountering institutional largess of the Roman Church. Celestine was vilified immediately, however, history has proven sympathetic to Celestine's rejection of the Church's institutional apparatus and decision to resign as pontiff. When the polemics surrounding Benedict's papacy have cleared, when both his supporters and detractors commit themselves to a thorough reading of his writings, I suspect Benedict will be seen as having been ultimately unable to cope with the Roman Church's institutional girth. Joseph Ratzinger's theology was never suited to institutional process; it is not an intellectual exercise for him, it is the means by which he understands reality, visible and invisible. I suspect that Benedict, like Celestine, simply had enough with the superstructure of the Roman Church.

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign February 28th.

Well, this news has positively exploded.  Pope Benedict XVI will resign February 28th, 2013. You can read Benedict's address to the Cardinals here and here.

Many questions are circulating in response to Benedict's decision: why now? are there any other motivations? who is the probable successor? what shape has Benedict's pontificate left the church on the eve of electing his successor? These questions loom in the background. Benedict, whether he intended to or not, took the Roman Church in a more rightwing direction. Will an ideologue assume the papacy? If so, the ideological trends which sprung up in recent years will be solidified for the near future. Yet, recent years have also demonstrated the weaknesses in the current pontificate. It is equally possible that another direction could be charted.

Benedict's papacy, though cast in the shadow of his predecessor, began with some shades of expectation. Ratzinger's comments about the filth in the Church had many thinking some program of reform would be launched and vigorous campaign to address the pedophilia problem in the Catholic Church would be undertaken. Liturgical conservatives hoped for a strenuous reform of the reform of the Roman liturgy. Theologians were divided between those hoping for more intellectual rigor and those fearing a new inquisition. His it was hoped his one major social encycliccal would address the world economic crisis in strong terms and provide some point of orientation for the Church. To what degree any of this was accomplished is debatable.

Many commentators are now reviewing Benedict's most recent cardinals in the hope of discovering whether or not he had some sense that this announcement was forthcoming and had taken steps to set the stage for the new conclave. Such inquiry requires more reflection. Certainly, Benedict was aware of the precarious situation in which  the Roman Church finds itself at this moment in its history. Cardinal Martini addressed Benedict in very frank terms regarding the state of the Roman Church in the weeks leading to his death. Under Benedict's pontificate, the decline of the Roman Church in Europe has continued and shows no signs of abating. As a young theologian, Ratzinger was well aware of the decline facing Christianity in the west and he was willing to propose some extraordinary methods to address it in the hope of reinvigorating the Roman Church. His papacy, by contrast, was tame, the man seemingly frozen in place in the face of an expansive decline in the west.

In the coming weeks, there will be more analysis of Benedict's pontificate and more predictions of what the future holds. In the moment, however, there is the sense that the Roman Church has been forced into a moment of history, one in which a complex mixture of crises, currents and concerns pose to influence Catholicism's future.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Byzantine Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the Unifying Factor between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to two priests in the Latin rite mulling over what to do in response to a parishioner from the Greek Catholic Church (or rite, as the Latins are prone to call them). Being from the Melkite community, his children were appropriately baptized, chrismated and eucharized. He has since had to relocate his family and would like to enroll his children in the local religious education program. His young children have already received their sacraments, as such, they will not repeat first communion in a year or confirmation in their teens. A proposed solution was to impose a restriction upon the Melkite children, forbidding them the reception of communion until the Latin rite children of the parish have done so. I was, at the time, shocked into silence that this scenario was honestly being entertained as a solution. The children have been validly and licitly baptized, chrismated and eucharized, according to immemorial custom. There can be no justification for a disciplinary measure to deny them communion until their Latin rite peers have fulfilled the requirements of the Roman Church. Yet, this was honestly entertained. An immemorial custom for receiving the sacraments, a method of initiation that predates the severed Roman steps of initiation, was seriously being devalued in deference to Roman custom.

To some extent, it doesn't surprise me. The Roman Church has a long history of viewing the earlier Greek tradition with suspicious or condescending eyes. When thinking about it, the conversation I've recounted above illustrates two notable trends in Western Christianity: the Greek/Byzantine/Orthodox struggle for legitimacy in Western eyes and the "Latin" homogeneity that covers the expanse of Catholicism and Protestantism.

Greek Catholics continuously fight for legitimacy under the weight of the overwhelming Latin or Roman Church. They choose communion with the bishop of Rome and tread a minefield of attempts to Latinize their traditions, sometimes by means of benighted Vatican measures, most often by pressure applied by popular ignorance. This largely stems from the close proximity of Orthodoxy to the Byzantine Catholics. Stemming as the do from smaller Orthodox churches who sought to reestablish communion with Rome, Byzantine Catholics of all varieties have historically been under pressure to affirm both Papal authority and the preeminence of the Latin tradition over the Greek tradition, even where history often points to the Byzantine tradition having earlier precedence. Vatican II denoted a shift in the official stance of the Roman Church to the Orthodox and the Byzantine Catholics. Byzantine Catholics were encouraged to pursue a policy of delatinization and the Orthodox were counted as part and parcel of the same Church. Since then, at its highest levels, the Roman Church has kept the same policy. John Paul II was a great admirer of the Orthodox and sought to have Orthodoxy inform Roman Catholicism. We can see as much in Orientale Lumen, particularly with regard to methods of liturgical methods. Benedict XVI, though not expressing as much desire for pollination from the Orthodox,  still profoundly respects the Orthodox Church. Be this as it may, on a popular level there is much disparity. Paranoid suspicion of Byzantine Catholics persists as does the pressure to include such Latin practices as the rosary and other devotions. Additionally, we are slowly seeing a return of popular fear of or animosity towards the Orthodox Church on the part of many lay Catholics and a return to a position of Latin supremacy among lower ranking clergy.

As much as Western Christianity likes to make much of apparent divisions, the Orthodox are quick to point out there is more unity between Catholics and Protestants than may often occur to most adherents. Namely, both Catholicism and Protestantism (and this runs through the many Protestant denominations) maintain the conviction that a Western interpretation of Christianity is the correct reading of the religion's origin and development. Both Catholicism and Protestantism go so far to say that these uniquely Latin or Western accounts of Christian origins are present and recognizable at the very inception of the Christian movement. Roman Catholics read papal authority, priestly celibacy, Roman ecclesiology into the very beginnings of Christianity. Protestants read such propositions as sola scriptura into the Canon itself. In both cases, scholarly evidence argues to the contrary. A monarchial episcopacy cannot be established in Rome until (safely) the third century, let alone the notion that the bishop of Rome is the supreme juridical authority in the Church. The notion of a self authenticating Canon hardly stands its ground when faced with the amount of material the New Testament authors utilize as Scripture, a great portion of which falls outside of the boundaries of the Canon excepted by most Protestant denominations. This does not even consider the varieties of Scripture utilized among proto-orthodox groups in the early centuries.

If there is any mark of unity between Catholicism and Protestantism, it is that, to a large extent, both are distinctly Western models of Christianity divorced from the earliest Greek expression of the religion and its predecessor in late Second Temple Judaism. The gulf between the two began as early as Augustine; the renowned bishop of Hippo openly acknowledged his deficiency in Greek, a major block to maintaining a connection with Christianity's earliest expression.  Nevertheless, Augustine maintained a healthy respect for the Greek tradition, even if he often times could not engage it without the aid of a translation. With Gregory the Great, the gulf has not only widened. Gregory is openly suspicious of the Greek tradition and, like Augustine, the linguistic barrier had something to do with it (although Gregory found Greek theology itself to be too adventurous). Gregory had no knowledge of Greek and even found the Greek material incomprehensible in translation, whether due to the translation quality or Gregory's own intellectual faculties is uncertain. Gregory openly derided the Greek language (and hence the original composition of the New Testament) and extolled Latin as the optimum language for the religion. While the Renaissance brought renewed interest in the Greek language and various pre-Reformation translations from the original Hebrew or Greek text, the Reformed traditions followed the Roman Church's path of continual divorce from the Greek or Orthodox tradition, which in many places could claim greater antiquity than the Western Church.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Where the "Tridentine" liturgy is heading.

Traditionalist leaning Catholics are abuzz about an interview given by newly appointed Archbishop Sample to The Oregonian. He's evidently a rising star in the episcopate. On the subject of the "Tridetine" liturgy, Sample mentions his appreciation for it and his experience celebrating it and that while he will not force any parish to adopt it, he will be generous with those who wish to celebrate it. You can either search for the online posting of the interview or check out various blogs for the relevant excerpts. In any event, Sample's comments on the old liturgy are illustrative of the bind in which the traditionalist movement has fixed the classic Roman missal.

Traditionalist are almost universally adamant on their instance that the old liturgy be preserved in its "pristine" form, either the Missale Romanum of 1962 or some earlier variety. Any proposed modification to the old liturgy is deemed to be infected with Modernism, and hence a spiritual danger. This was the case almost immediately after the promulgation of the Missale Romanum of Paul VI. In response to what was, admittedly, a sweeping change to the Roman liturgy, traditionalist groups insisted upon inflexibility for the traditional Missale Romanum. While traditionalist enclaves received the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum as a victory for their cause, Archbishop Sample's comments ought to shine a sobering light on any overly sanguine estimations. Indeed, they show the stark reality facing the old liturgy.

Sample's comments show the old liturgy to still be by and large the liturgical expression of a few select groups or a decidedly small minority. The Novus Ordo remains the norm for liturgical use by a considerable margin. Additionally, Sample's mention that he has had three occasions to celebrate the old liturgy reveals the extent to which the "Tridentine" missal has made in roads into the broader Roman Church since Summorum Pontificum: it is used by interested persons in the majority on occasion, otherwise, said persons retain the Novus Ordo as the norm. In other words, to put it more bluntly, the "Tridetnine" liturgy has become a liturgical curiosity at best, the property of some odd groups or taken out here and there for a taste of the past. A slightly better estimate is that the old liturgy, as Sample indicates, is being utilized as a reference for how to celebrate the new liturgy, not with the idea of increasing its presence.

I must reiterate, as this comes up often, that I am not writing to attack the old liturgy or those attached to it. I have an appreciation for the strengths and weaknesses of the old liturgy and the old liturgy was, for a time, a substantial influence in my life. I am, however, pointing to the short sighted vision of those proponents of the old liturgy. The old litrgy, contrary to every hope and expectation in traditionalist circles, is, if things keep developing on their current curve, heading towards obsolescence. The refusal to see the old rite undergo development, the steadfast rejection of the codification of the old missal as it was presented in 1965, the almost superstitious (or dare I say neurotic) insistence on the missal as it was published in 1962 for fear of Modernism or the influence of the Second Vatican Council and the fanatical and almost apocalyptic belief that those parties so attached to the old missal were a faithful remnant, all of these factors have succeeded in perhaps irreparably isolating the old liturgy from the religious experience of the Roman Church. If there is no room to reform the old missal where it has needed it, if there is no option to undue "traditional" modes of celebrating the old missal that where the result of the larger liturgical degeneration that swept the West in the middle ages, if the only option for traditionalists is to continue isolating the old missal in an attempt to retain its purity, then a liturgy which legitimately has much worth treasuring and utilizing in greater measure is destined obscurity. This has been the root of my frustration with so-called traditionalists and persons/groups whose idea of a new liturgical movement is little more than restoring the old mass to pride of place.

There are rumors the Vatican is studying the manner by which the old missal may be updated. The proposals include revising the calendar, adding in the new prefaces and perhaps even looking at the lectionary, all measures that are designed to make sure the "Tridentine" liturgy does not become the equivalent of a liturgical civil war reenactment and, I suspect, one step on the long road to settling into one liturgy of the Roman Rite. I hope the Vatican succeeds - it's the only way for whatever is genuinely worth preserving and utilizing in the "Tridentine" liturgy has any hope for use among the broader Roman Church.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Art Bell's Return: Is the king of all things that go bump in the night heading back to the airwaves?

If you listened to late night radio in the 90s, you undoubtedly heard Art Bell. His late night radio juggernaut  was the soundtrack to many a late night in my youth. Bell's show was truly a product of its time. The interest in the paranormal was part of the larger interest in spirituality that grew throughout the 70s and 80s and reached its zenith in the 90s as part of the lead up to the turn of the millennium. Bell managed to play off the growing interest in all things strange and unusual, especially the burgeoning interest in UFOs that went into high gear with the popularity of the X-Files. Bell also profited from the increased paranoia regarding government control and the belief in a global conspiracy that accompanied the rise of globalization. Those were exciting times in the exchange of ideas, and Art Bell provided a national forum for the fringe. Bell eventually retired from his regular slot at the end of 2002. His popular Coast to Coast AM was passed on to another host.

The change in hosts, after about a year of keeping things close to Bell's road map, eventually transitioned the show into a different  format, one which Bell increasingly disliked. For the passed two years, Bell has been silent on the mic and any trace of his original brainchild has vanished. Now, via his facebook page, Art Bell has announced that he is negotiating with another network for a new show. Now, you may ask yourself, "what does this have to do with theology?" Simply put, more than you may imagine.

Bell's original show was a forum for modern myth making. The mythos of Area 51 took on colorful definition with callers claiming to either be former employees on the run from the base or, in one instance, a caller claiming to be flying a private jet into its airspace. For added realism, this caller had his girlfriend fax Bell updates when his cellphone went out. There were tales of strange encounters with alien and ghostly beings. Then there were the truly out of left field conspiracies featuring odd instances of government control. For instance, a Washington man claiming to have a hole in excess of 25 mile deep (apparently bottomless) with strange properties. The property was later "confiscated" by government men in black and the Washington man has never been back. Or a certain notable figure who maintained there were artificial structures on Mars, with an Egyptian connection. Art Bell even reinvigorated interest in both Eric von Danniken and Zachariah Sitchin, two authors alleging that ancient extraterrestrial contact lay at the heart of man's religions. Most famously, Bell brought the work of the controversial Catholic priest Malachi Martin into the modern age, his interviews helping to create an enduring mythos for the late traditionalist author. Of course, Bell's active engagement with the human need to find the fantastic had deadly results. In the months leading up to comet Hale-Bopp's passage, Bell trotted out various guests who stated that there was a companion object travelling with Hale-Bopp. Whether through "remote viewing" or through claims of having encountered a secret government document, a narrative was told over the course of several months in which an extraterrestrial spacecraft was accompanying the comet on its way to establishing contact. The members of the Heaven's Gate cult followed Bell's program with much interest and referred to his shows as evidence that the mother ship was coming to beam them off of the earth and into the next plane of existence.

For those interested in the sociology of religion and/or the creation of new folklore, Bell's program was nexus of ideas. It will be interesting to see what might happen the second time around. The creation of new folklore has become more complicated. Google earth makes it difficult to weave tales of a bottomless hole in your backyard if anyone can load up the image and search. Accounts of secret government documents are harder to sustain in a world of wikileaks  and advanced computer hacking - one would think someone would find something about UFOs or the Kennedy assassination. The criteria for establishing new folklore, urban legends or religious beliefs has changed and in the past ten years no one of note has succeeded in developing something new. Perhaps all they need is a ring master to direct the circus; Bell is an expert at identifying cultural trends or memes worth exploiting. If the weird and wonderful world of the paranormal is going to have a rebirth, I suspect Bell will once again be coloring the emerging narrative.

It'll be fun. Just watch...and listen.

Cardinal Mahony Responds

As I mentioned before, Gomez's action against Mahony is incredibly rare. I could only imagine that, for another bishop, it would also be extremely jarring. Accordingly, Cardinal Mahony has responded to Gomez's decision. You can find this response here.

Mahony repeats much of what has been said by himself and other bishops who were there for ground zero of the sex abuse crisis. Briefly, LA followed the general trend in 1980s of sending accused priests to facilities that stood by the position that pedophilia could be cured and they could be returned to active ministry. In the 1990s, after learning these theories could not be proven out, the archdiocese began moving towards more sever disciplinary procedures. One must necessarily question why it was the general trend to send accused priests to "rehabilitation" centers when it has been known for some time that pedophilia is not "treatable" - the only effective treatment is to keep the person with such predilections away from children. It seems to me, if Mahony is correct about this being the general trend among US bishops, the American bishops willfully opted for spurious medical science for reasons known only to them. Second, yes, it was a general trend to opt for a more sever approach to the problem in 1990s. Mahony's statement, however, would lead one to believe that there were no instances of reassigning priests in the 1990s - in other words, there is a real lack of context here.

Mahony goes on to state that the archdiocese of LA had been found to be in compliance with the Dallas charter since the charter's implementation. The purpose of mentioning this is clear: Mahony wishes to defend the last years of his tenure as archbishop. Mahony does not mention that numerous persons concerned with addressing the root causes of this crisis in the Catholic Church have mentioned that Dallas charter does not solve the problem of episcopal actions having facilitated the crisis. There is no system of discipline set up to deal with bishops who make the decision to shuffle accused priests or keep them in active ministry. Additionally, the Dallas charter is not binding - there is no force of law to compel a bishop into compliance. Finally, there are larger questions, questions of moral, theological, and spiritual formation (in the Church as whole) which need to be addressed in relation to this crisis. These particular questions may be generational. It is argued, for instance, that younger priests generally have a healthier view of sexuality thanks to John Paul II's theology of the body. Time will tell.

Mahony makes a blunt critique of Gomez by stating that for two years as archbishop, he (Gomez) did not utter one critique of how the LA diocese handled cases of sexual abuse by clergy. First, it must be asked, in what forum would Mahony have liked Gomez to raise an issue: public or private? Second, in 2010 Gomez walks into the aftermath of the sexual abuse crisis, the context of which spans not only Mahony's tenure as cardinal archbishop but in fact has cases that reach into the 1950s as well. It is now Gomez's responsibility to clean up this mess, reevaluate how the diocese has handled things and determine a future course as well as deal with financial repercussions. Mahony does not seem to respect that such decisions are not going to be talked about lightly and are not going to be undertaken until there is a somewhat firm idea of the direction in which things should head.

Mahony raises the now tired defense that he (and other bishops) simply didn't know that pedophilia or sexual abuse was a problem and that his views on the subject evolved over time. In all due respect, this seems utterly absurd. I cannot think of any decade in Mahony's lifetime during which pedophilia would not have been recognized as a moral evil if discovered by any concerned parties. I don't doubt that Mahony is contrite in retrospect, but it seems that only the magnitude of the crisis as it exploded in 2002/2003 caused him any serious reflection. Were there such statements and sentiments in the 1990s, before he came under the gun of press inquiry and massive financial law suites? Mahony also does not concretely address the information that has come out about his role in facilitating repeated instances of sexual abuse as revealed in documents either obtained by the courts or released by the diocese itself.

Gomez's action against Mahony recognizes two important aspects in the process of repentance and redemption. First, as contrite as Mahony is, his failures have a magnitude that seems far greater the any individual act that demands repentance. This is a point that Mahony seems oblivious to. Evidently, when reading through the files recently released, the magnitude of his role became unavoidable. Second, the true repentance that leads to forgiveness requires a concrete act of contrition. In this case, it is more complicated. The archdiocese of LA must make a concrete action to the victims, their families, its people and to God. While Mahony often seems to ignore the gravity of his role and claims ignorance, Gomez does not see it so simply. Gomez recognizes the legitmacy of those voices crying for some form of discipline to be levied against the cardinal for his role in the crisis. The archdiocese of LA needs repentance to seek forgiveness. It's act of contrition must come in the form of recognizing the legitimacy of those who have called for some form of accountability on the part of Cardinal Mahony and providing some example of said accountability. There are limits to what Archbishop Gomez can do. He has chosen the action that is in his power against a high ranking prelate. Mahony probably feels this action is audacious. Nevertheless, true repentance demands it.

Mahony had the chance to do the noble thing a decade ago, the action which would have demonstrated repentance and facilitated reconciliation. He could have resigned as archbishop of Los Angeles. He opted to remain in active ministry, defying any such accountability for his actions. Gomez has given his flock the second best option and Mahony will face some form of accountability. It may not be ideal. It may also not address the visceral desire of some to see Mahony defrocked and/or on trial. However, Gomez pursued the actions in his power to provide some form of accountability to his predecessor's actions and in the process provides some hope that the episcopacy is not beyond facing a reckoning for its actions.

Cardinal Mahony Suspended from Public Ministry

It would be impossible to ignore what has suddenly become the major news story in Catholic quarters Stateside. Namely, the suspension of Cardinal Mahony from any official public or administrative function in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by his successor Archbishop Gomez. This move is in direct response to the Cardinal's role in the sex abuse crisis that has swept the Catholic Church in the United States and been felt in Europe (most notably in Ireland). You can find the details and the original statement by archbishop Gomez here.

Predictably, the news of Gomez's action has generated a lot of buzz. In my estimation, only the following can be said with any certainty:

1) Gomez's action against Mahony is incredibly rare - a bishop does not usually impose any measure against another bishop, let alone against a cardinal archbishop. The Vatican, if it hasn't already, will review Gomez's decision. In the world of "deep" ecclesiastical politics, there will likely be some reverberations, though what those are will be largely unknown outside of the Vatican.

2) People alleging a conspiracy for political gain on the part of Gomez (mostly on the NCR comments page) are histrionic at best, delusional at first. The theory goes that because this decision took so long since Gomez was appointed to LA, this must be a calculated political move on his part. To these same focus I pose a very simple question: how long did it take for the Vatican to finally defrock and excommunicate a certain Maryknoll priest who happens to be a darling of left leaning Catholics? That decision was years in the making, so to the investigation of US nuns. This decision follows the preferred Vatican pace for committing to most any disciplinary procedure. The Vatican doesn't rush such things, whether on account of principle or bureaucratic largess. The time it took for Gomez to come to this decision is the norm, really. There are additional conspiracy theories alleging that Gomez took this action after having read some damning files that the LA diocese has subsequently hidden or destroyed. Without having any concrete proof of what particular files those would be, such allegations (again, mainly coming from NCR's readership) ignore the fact that Gomez has indeed read every file being released by the diocese. It is fair to presume that he has read everything regarding this matter since taking over episcopal duties of the diocese. What this breadth of knowledge means will have to be teased out over time, I presume.

3) It is certain that Gomez does not want Mahony representing the archdiocese of Los Angeles in any manner from here on in. It is uncertain if we can lump Gomez in with Cardinal Schonburn of Vienna or Archbishop Martin of Dublin as members of the hierarchy who want to take a more aggressive approach to the child sex abuse crisis, one which would involve penalizing bishops for their roles in the crisis. Certainly, thought, where Cardinal Schonburn openly accused another cardinal of blocking the prosecution of Marciel Marcel of the Legionaries of Christ, this is the first time a bishop has taken concrete action against another bishop in relation to the scandal.

4) Once again, this story is a sober reminder that the Catholic Church has not gone over the hurdle of a decade ago. The memory is still present and painful. Where Gomez's action falls in the process of healing and rebuilding is anyone's guess.