Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sailing through rough seas...

The anniversary of the election of Pope Francis occasions an opportunity for reflection. It should, of course, be sober reflection. As one may imagine, this is not the case with the media coverage. Among mainstream American media outlets, the anniversary of this papacy is portrayed as analogous to a great healing and enlightening of the Roman Church. The reality is more complex, and it is detectable despite the glosses.

There were many considerations that undoubtedly went into the election of Pope Francis. Benedict's papacy concluded in chaos. The leaking of documents which offered a glimpse into the power struggles and intrigues that surrounded the Bishop of Rome, including veiled allegations from a Sicilian hierarch, caused many of the Cardinal electors to believe the secretive world of the Vatican required transparency. There was the unavoidable fact that the mass of the Roman Church largely resides in the Southern Hemisphere. In the West, there was the desire to regain some of the footing lost for the Roman Church since the death of John Paul II, coupled with dissatisfaction with the restorationist elements that surrounded Benedict's papacy. 

It is hard to measure the impact of any pope. These days, our celebrity obsessed culture seems to condemn any pontiff to the fast fashion of post modern tastes. There has been, to be sure, a media circus producing every possible headline of positive press for Pope Francis. There are a myriad of human interest stories too.
We read of various people who felt so ashamed at their religious association in previous years, but now with the wider culture accepting Francis, there is no need to apologize and a sense of pride in one's religion. We are treated to accounts of priests who were censured during the previous papacy now making dramatic gestures, often times in the context of the liturgy, imbibed with the nebulous virtues of post-modern America. I suspect, at the root of all of this coverage, there is a window into the collective Roman Catholic psyche. You have, in large part, a generation of baby boomers who on the one hand cling dearly to the new set of morality and ideals they imbued into the American culture, and on the other hand are approaching those crucial years of one's life in which one must begin to accept human mortality. There is, then, a desire to retain generational identity and reengage the religion of the their youth as they have begun to enter the next period of human liminality. 
One cannot fail to notice that, in the American landscape, Roman Catholicism feels the pains of cultural pressure. Many of the exposes on the first anniversary of this papacy contain unmistakable themes of reconciling Catholciism to American culture and finally feeling the relief of cultural acceptance. This is demonstrable from the bishops to the laity. Perhaps it was inevitable. Whereas Orthodoxy had to often find a way to survive in cultural climates that were opposed to Christianity, Catholicism, in its Western homeland, has rarely been the true cultural outsider, surrounded with suspicion and contempt. Rather, Catholicism has often been one the of primary hosts for the culture. Being at odds with the culture, being a genuine other in the culture, is not something Catholicism knows readily nor do many of its churchmen and adherents understand how to function in such a climate. Indeed, in many respects Vatican II was designed to assure Catholicism could continue to engage with Western culture, working as it did to re-frame many of the propositions that were becoming difficult for the West to accept. 

Yet, whatever acceptance or media obsession the Roman Church has acquired under this pontificate has to be balanced against unmistakable disadvantages. First, Pope Francis's many off the cough remarks and his penchant for the press interview has caused no small amount of confusion among clergy and laity. Some believe he is affirming a progressive agenda, others are pained to perform hermeneutical acrobatics to reconcile his statements with the previous two pontificates. Everyone seems to agree that, at first glance, he is pushing for changes to the application of Roman Catholic doctrine. Second, Francis's papacy has been marked by a plethora of affirmations, to the point that this pontiff seems to affirm things that, when examined for their consequences and connections, appear irreconcilable. It is impossible to affirm, for instance, the Orthodox Tradition, and then proceed to affirm some of the propositions Francis has offered on certain social issues in the West. Any Orthodox theologian would point this out. Third, numbers rarely lie. Despite the media attraction, despite inculcating a sense of reconciliation for an aging generation to its childhood religion, there has been no demonstrable "return" to the Roman Church. Statistics demonstrating a continued decline in the West remain the norm. As much as certain persons want to claim it is not about numbers, plainly, religion is about numbers. Without the numbers a religion fails to perpetuate itself to succeeding generations and eventually becomes obsolete. Without the numbers, a religion has a dwindling ministerial class. Without the numbers a religion looses its ability to provide institutional support. Without the numbers, more churches are shut and sold off to become the latest trendy rental dwellings among yuppies and hipsters. Without the numbers, your media papacy and everything it symbolizes becomes a mueseum exhibit. To be blind to Francis's inability to boost the numbers and its significance is self-delusion. Fourth, as much as Benedict's  papacy was to the right of John Paul II, Francis's papacy is to the left. No amount of interpretive gymnastics changes this. The capability of the Roman Church to change with the wind based upon who holds the papal office exposes the serious deficiency in Roman ecclesiology. The insistence upon a papal primacy redolent with universal jurisdiction and infallibility has created the situation in which the mind and personality of the Roman Church changes with the reigning pontiff. If we saw the same traits in an individual, we would say that he or she is either schizophrenic or suffering from multiple personality disorder. In any case, we would see such changes as evidence of a psychological disorder. How then are such traits acceptable for a religion? 

I write this as someone who did not live through the pre-Vatican II period, who has experienced it largely through studying its liturgy, its thinkers, and the body of prayer and spirituality that never managed to transfer through the filtering and sifting that took place after the Council. I write this as someone who has tried to comprehend why any religion would institute a revolution upon itself. I write this as someone who has watched a once great Tradition abandon its own heritage in favor of transient models that would scarcely distinguish it from any other charitable NGO. I write this as someone who has had to accept that the Church which once held that Tradition has determined to embark upon a certain process until the process is either deemed complete or said Church can simply no longer go on. God only knows which one will come first.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


"my motor-psycho nightmare freak out
inside of me - my soul salvation liberation on the drive -
the power of the blaster move me faster - 1965 - yeah -
wow! - five - yeah - wow!"

The topic of the Missale Romanum of 1965 is a funny thing, really.  In all of the debate that ensued in the West after the promulgation of the Missale Romanum of Paul VI and the subsequent implosion of the Roman Church in the same West, this missal seems to have been largely ignored. It comes up occasionally as part of the Traditionalist polemic. In their line of reasoning this was the first step to deluding the glorious missal of 1962 and creating the Novus Ordo. Among more moderate voices, it is seen as one of those missed opportunities, an example that the old liturgy could be reformed with its ethos intact as well as addressing the aims of the original liturgical movement, that is, to bridge the gap between the liturgy contained in the celebrant's books at the altar and the hand missal prayed by the faithful.

In the last decade, a more positive reading of the Missale Romanum of 1965 has circulated. Again, it is on the margins of the liturgy debate in the Roman Church (a debate which is as much about ecclesiology as it is liturgy), but it exists and has even received some positive mention. There was a conference about two years ago that addressed the possibility of utilizing the Missale Romanum of 1965, and the usefulness of inserting it into the liturgical scope of the West. Indeed, it seems that settling on the Roman Missal as it stood in 1962 is somewhat arbitrary, at best a response geared more towards Traditionalist groups. So far as history is concerned, the Missal of 1965 is, essentially, the last chronological version of the ancient Roman liturgy before the modern reform. In principle, it deserves to be the Missal under discussion. Yet, as a former colleague of mine observed, it fails to satisfy the two very present extremes in the Roman Church; it is too traditional for the liberal extreme, too much of a response to Vatican II for the traditional wing. Be that as it may, it seems that subsequent years were providing a healthy perspective on this edition of the Roman Missal.

Every now and again, you get something like this. To be fair, it is based off of the recent series on the "death of the reform of the reform," on Joseph Shaw's blog.

My first reaction is that between the two of them, three rather juvenile ideas are in circulation.

First, the Missale Romanum of 1965 was the inescapable point of Bugnini's reform. While acknowledging that Bugnini's influence is felt upon the Holy Week reforms and additional reforms in the 1962 Missal, somehow, there is this certain quality to the 1965 Missal that compromises the Roman liturgy's purity. Simply, there is no offered explanation as to how the work of reform (a work that at this point was not solely Bugnini's) was qualitatively different from the "modernizing" reforms found in 1962 or 1955. This is conspiracy theory carrying over into something trying to pass itself off as legitimate research (at best), or an unfortunate example of the neurosis the Roman Church is often accused of instilling in her members.

Second, the 1962 Missal, with its silent Canon and said entirely in Latin, accurately conveyed the content of the faith to the faithful for centuries. This is pure fantasy. It ignores the social and cultural conditions and the often deep seeded mentality among many "Catholic" countries or cultural groups that led one to operate on the assumption that there is a certain order to things in which everyone has their place and everyone should accept things as received. The prospects of economic improvement and class mobility shattered that mentality. All the silent Canon and Latin exclusivity are certain to produce is a very private spirituality, an extremely individualistic interpretation of what the religion is, informed by highly subjective reference points. It is highly doubtful the liturgical praxis of the Roman Church as it was in the majority of parishes at the damn of the twentieth century was really conveying any content. Indeed, that was one of the prime motivations behind the liturgical movement - a profound theology was not being communicated and the richness of the Roman liturgy was kept opaque by praxis.

Third, there is an astoundingly incoherent ecclesiology, especially as pertains to the papacy. One the one hand there are the claims that just because Vatican II called for reforming the liturgy, it does not follow that the Missale Romanum of 1962 needs to be reformed. This is bolstered by an appeal to Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum. It should be noted that the observation and determination that the "Tridentine liturgy" needs to be reformed goes back at least to Pius X who, after reforming the psalter schema, determined that a more thorough study of reforming the Mass itself needed to be commissioned. Pius XII returned to the theme, pushing to commence the study of the Roman Mass that Pius X determined was necessary. In the same breathe that one of the authors critiques "Bugnini's reforms of 55 and 62", the author goes on to exalt the liturgical principles of Pius X and Pius XII, both of whom acknowledged a reform of the liturgy was needed.

I once responded to Anthony Ruff's dismissal of the old liturgy that one cannot make an informed statement on a liturgy one does not observe or practice. Until one has substantial experience of that liturgy, one cannot adequately understand its strengths and weaknesses. I prefer the old Latin liturgy, to be sure, however, this does not blind me to its limitations. Something, in my estimation, was lost to the Latin liturgy with Trent. The liturgical movement made strides to reclaim it, and the numerous hand missals produced by this same movement provide a glimpse as to where things could have gone. Of course, taking this and applying it to the broader corporate body is another story, one which has thus far been marked by confusion. Going back to the Missale Romanum of 1962 and treating it as solidified in stone is an easy answer, not necessarily the best one.Yes, I think it reasonable to treat the Missal of 1965 as a reasonable starting point to restore something that was lost to the old liturgy. I accept that, in the current climate, this will not happen.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Understanding Context and Reading the Grand Narrative.

There are times when it seems the landscape of Western or Latin Christianity resembles that of a post-nuclear wasteland. Much is evaporated, survivors are mangled or mutated, and the promise of a land left inhabitable appears to be dwindling.

It is a bleak context, but context is everything.

I have frequently lamented that the scope and goal of the original liturgical movement has been lost to history, it's moment having passed without any firm capitalization upon all of its many promises. The end results in  Roman Catholicism were the imposition of the Novus Ordo Missae and Liturgia Horarum of Pope Paul VI. Mixed bags to be sure. On the one hand, Roman Catholicism's numerical growth in Africa and Asia coincides with the thorough revision of its substantially ancient liturgy. On the other hand, it's decline in the West and the development of fissures in its Latin American stronghold are ignored only by means of the most strenuous form of intellectual acrobatics. Context is everything, but delusion oftentimes makes reality.

The common argument is that the reform of the Roman liturgy translated into Catholicism's catastrophic decline in the West. Sometimes, the argument is more broad and instead Vatican II's flirtation with modernity is considered the impetus of decline. About a decade ago, I would have been sympathetic to either argument. Although I cannot fathom how the Missale Romanum of Paul VI can be thought to be an improvement  over what came before it, especially when there was a brief period of time during which the old Latin liturgy proved it could achieve the aims sought by Sacrosanctum Concilium, I will not go so far as to argue there is something intrinsically deficient in it. And although it is near impossible to deny that Vatican II produced texts fraught with ambiguity and deliberately structured so, there are large portions of the global Roman Church that have made it worked, evidently oblivious to modernity's impact upon the documents.

The Latin Church, it seems to me, was on a long path to its present collapse. The Church of Rome, however much it railed against modernism, was not immune to it. This applies to its most characteristically anti-modern popes. Alcuin Reid, I believe, had pointed criticism of the liturgical changes of Pope Pius XII in The Organic Development of the Liturgy. His criticisms are echoed in Geoffrey Hull's The Banished Heart. Much has been written regarding the slippery slop Pius XII walked upon with his reforms to the Roman Holy Week in 1955. However, it was Pius XII's dogmatic definition of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the following revision of its Mass and Office that reflected a solidification of a liturgical tendency in the West. As, I believe, Hull argues, the change in the ancient Mass and Office of the Assumption reflected an inversion of the notion "Lex orandi, lex credenti."

The change can perhaps be best demonstrated by contrasting the Secreta of both Mass sets.We read in the pre-Pian Mass,

Subveniat, Domine, plebi tuae Dei Genetricis oratio: quam etsi pro condicione carnis migrasse cognoscimus, in caelesti gloria apud te pro nobis intercedere sentiamus.  (Missale Romanum 1930)

The secret is changed to,

Ascendat ad te, Domine, nostrae devotionis oblatio, et, beatissima Virine Maria in caelum assumpta intercedente, corda nostra, caritatis igne succensa, ad te jugiter adspirent. (Missale Romanum 1955)

The Secreta in the pre-Pian Mass set reflects the ancient belief in the Dormitio, or falling into the sleep of death of the Virgin Mary before her body is translated into heaven. After the definition of the dogma of the Assumption, the Mass and Office were thoroughly revised so as to make the issue of Mary's physical death ambiguous. The significance should not be lost to the reader. I would refer any interested parties in Stephen J. Shoemaker's The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption. Pius XII was well aware, I presume, of the weight of ancient text leaning towards the death of Mary before she was taken into heaven. Yet, the previous dogma of the Immaculate Conception, defined by Pius IX in 1854. Here again, a Mass and Office were entirely recast. The Immaculate Conception created a problem for the ancient Latin observance of the Assumption: if Mary was entirely conceived without sin, how did she experience Dormition?

Now, the Immaculate Conception itself raises a host if theological issues and pinpoints one of the more profound gaps between Byzantine and Latin theology, none of which shall be addressed here. My concern is the alteration of the liturgy. Pius IX set the trend that the Roman liturgy could be subject to arbitrary, if not artificial, modification. Pius XII's changes left no doubt on the matter. Although, ultimately, Pius V set the precedent. Whatever the legitimate reasons were for Quo Primum in the face of the radical alterations made to the Latin or Western liturgy by various Protestant groups, and whatever the many strengths of the old missal compared to the product of Vatican II, one cannot ignore that Pius V's papal bull had the consequence of denuding Latin Christianity of much of its great liturgical patrimony. The immediate consequence was the loss of many sequences and local customs. Shortly there after, pressure was placed upon numerous religious orders and dioceses to drop their liturgies in favor of the "Tridentine Missal."

With a broader perspective in view, it is not hard to see how Paul V's Missale Romanum follows in a trajectory that had been going for at least 400 years in the Roman Church, one which reflected a broader tendency in Latin Christianity, demonstrable in both Catholic and Protestant forms. Rather than being an ancient and experiential wellspring which plays a crucial role in the formation of dogmatic or doctrinal definition, the liturgy was conceived as a "thing" that was to be molded by the final results of intellectual exercise or, perhaps better understood, exercise of authority. One cannot, it seems to me, understate the importance of this shift. Christianity begins with experience, specifically with the apostolic experience of Jesus Christ, culminating the Resurrection. However murky the earliest years of the Christian liturgy are, liturgy, and we can glean this from such documents at the Didache and the apparently liturgical pieces dispersed in the New Testament, liturgy was the means by which the experience of the Resurrected Christ was communicated. If the apostle Paul is any authority, and given his place in the Biblical Canon, it seems he is, then we also find textual evidence that liturgy was employed as evidence in the earliest statements of Christian doctrine. I won't bother citing the hymns of the Pauline corpus as I believe they are common knowledge at this point. I think it fair to say that when such hymns are employed, they provide the most clear exposition of who Paul ultimately thought the Resurrected Christ he encountered actually was; whatever ambiguity was present in his own ruminations could be oftentimes mitigated by the citation of a more precise hymn. Of course, one also has to consider the compositional purpose of the gospels themselves. These are documents that were designed for liturgical use, not necessarily private devotion as they commonly utilized in later centuries. Indeed, the liturgy is and was the functional sitz im lieben of the gospels and removing them from this context. These are not concise doctrinal treatises, rather, they narratives written for the purpose of worship. Whatever intellectual exercises they are later employed for does not change the fact that their first function is liturgical.

This is not to say that liturgies do not develop. Liturgies, including the liturgies of the Orthodox tradition, have undergone varying degrees of change. This being noted, I would caution from adopting the theory of "organic development." It is to say that simple solutions, contrary to popular belief, are not always the best. Simple solutions are concise, although by necessity they often require that we leave much data unaccounted for. It is easy enough to claim that Paul VI promulgated a missal that constituted a break with Tradition. It is easy enough to argue that the missal promulgated by Paul VI represented the Roman Church's acceptance of the modern worldview in what is supposed to be its most sublime expression. It is even easy to go back to Pius XII's Holy Week reforms and claim that the principle of lex orandi, lex credenti had been turned on its ear, or that Pius X essentially promulgated a psalter schema for the Roman Breviary that rejected the Roman Office as it has been attested to in the textual tradition currently available.  I would not deny any of these propositions. I would however question the intellectual integrity of the persons who cite them while ignoring proper context. Since the counter-Reformation, the Roman Church has not had a problem subvert the principle of lex orandi, lex credenti, especially to the will of papal authority. In fact, as early as the thirteenth century we find alterations in the rubrics of the Roman Canon that reflect the pre-Tridentine emergence of the concept of Transubstantiation. Again, however, context is everything. By at least the thirteenth century, the unity of Latin Christianity was coming undone. The Reformation left little doubt that a homogenized Latin Christianity had vanished in the West. So, there was a need to have the law of faith determine the expression of prayer. The modifications of the Conception or Mary and the Assumption were just as egregious and propelled by the heavy hand of papal authority as any subsequent development. But, if a tendency has been present for so long, five or perhaps six centuries. It doesn't really suffice to focus on specific historical events, especially if one is trying to say a particular event is the watershed, pivot, or breaking point.

I have no problem with accounts of well organized cliques pushing an agenda through during and after Vatican II. I have no problem with this not because I believe in a sort of Manichean ecclesiology that sees the Roman Church as the stage for a war of the sons of light and the sons of darkness. Rather, it is because the Roman Church has spent a considerable portion of its existence being the stage for major power brokering in Western culture. Yes, a group probably manipulated a system and pushed its agenda through at the Second Vatican Council. Subsequently, that group of Churchmen, that was such a product of modernity, split among itself, until we saw the agenda of Benedict XVI's papacy. Yet, this is no different than previous centuries. The Roman Church is a place where larger agendas go through. At times, these agendas are epic in scope. This is something that I think is often ignored or glanced over with pious eyes. The Roman Church is often discussed as though it is somehow immune or opposite to Western culture. In reality, the two are intimately connected, even if these days the culture increasingly wants to go in different direction. Long before Paul VI or Vatican II, long before there was such a thing as modernism, the mind of many leading figures in the Roman Church had begun to reflect the shifting currents of Western culture. It may reach or hold different conclusions, but much of its though process is the same as the surrounding culture. As such, the Roman Church, much like the West itself, had long ago begun migrating to more rational, cerebral conception of reality.

Perhaps this is why Catholicism still "works" in Asia and Africa. Whatever the changes, these areas have not adopted the Western worldview, a view established portions of Roman Catholicism struggle to extract themselves from. Catholicism, as is appropriate for a religion that has played such a formative influence, has followed the general trajectory of the West, and the Roman Church in particular stands in a very nebulous place. Over the course of centuries, not decades, it has participated in the development of West as we know it. In so doing, it long ago severed itself from its genius, a Catholicism that was Latin and Orthodox. It now struggles to define itself, to choose from carving a new identity, re-establishing the old counter-Reformation identity, or rediscovering something it lost long ago. To some extent, I imagine the reform of the Roman liturgy thought it could successfully hold all three in balance. But amid the grand narrative, one must make very concrete, perhaps very pragmatic decisions. The grand narrative can be read until one is exhausted. Reading, however, does not solve the problem of actually having to do something, to find some model of life that reflects the conviction that reality is not merely the quantifiable, that our greatest purpose for existence far exceeds the limitations of sense perception. Towards that end, we may one day view the decades leading up to Vatican II, the Council itself, and even the promulgation of the reformed Roman liturgy, as a series of missed opportunities, as sequence of chances to strike at a reinvigorated Catholic practicos, that was repeatedly missed in the Western world. As I've said, one would be hard pressed to tell those members of the Roman Church in Africa or Asia that there is a problem with the liturgy that has come to define their experience of Catholicism. More than likely, they would retort that we "just don't get it." Perhaps they would be correct. Perhaps the fundamental characteristic of our context is a series of missed opportunities because we just couldn't "get it;" the best we could do was reduce a once rich religious expression to "liberal" and "conservative"....and re-establish some good ol' Gnostic dualism into our ecclesiology while we were at it.

The situation in which Catholicism finds itself is complex.