Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Missale Romanum of 1948 and Traditionalist Indicators

Twenty four hours later, and I am still greatly intrigued by this project.

The possibility of publishing any other edition of the missal of the classic Roman liturgy has hardly been considered since the 1962 Missal came back into print.  The publication, if it ever gets off the ground, reflects a certain shift in the area of Traditional Catholicism.

As I mentioned, previous to this, no one has seriously considered bringing anything other than the Missale Romanum of 1962 back into print. This is, of course, because the debate over the Latin liturgy has largely been framed as between 1962 and 1970. 1970 is fairly obvious; it is this edition of the Missale Romanum that introduces a new liturgy into the West. 1962, so far as anyone can guess, seems to have been settled upon because that was the edition Lefebvre adopted for the SSPX and it was, ultimately, the last edition of the traditional Latin liturgy before the Concilium embarked upon a course of radical deconstruction of the Roman Rite. To be fair, there is still the matter of the Missal of 1965 to consider, but that is another matter entirely.

It has been known, since at least the 1980s, if not earlier, that there were groups who adopted editions of the Missale Romanum prior to 1962. The reasons for adopting earlier editions may vary. I have heard that one group in communion with Rome uses the Missale Romanum as it stood in 1954. Clearly though, most of the groups utilizing earlier editions of the Missale Romanum are of a Sedevacantist variety. However, in the past few years, there has been a more sober discussion about the Roman Missal as it stood prior to Pius XII's reforms of Holy Week. The discussions were limited to an avant-garde few, but the discussions were happening nonetheless. Granted, it is not a mainstream discussion, but nothing involving a Latin liturgy is all that mainstream to begin with.

So, what to make of an attempt to republish the Missale Romanum as it stood prior to Pius XII's reform of Holy Week?

The idea that we could begin to look to the Traditional Roman liturgy before 1962 is, in ever so small increments, not looking like an absurd proposition. In the aftermath of the Novus Ordo Missae, it is no longer considered taboo to question the wisdom and merit of pontifically induced changes to the Latin liturgy. Interest in the Roman liturgy prior to the Pian reforms is only natural.

This publication, if it ever happens, comes from a Sedevacantist outlet, however. There is a lot to consider here. The potential publisher indicates that, among those who are not in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Sedevacantist position has the potential to gain ground, if it hasn't already. This puts the line the SSPX is trying to walk into perspective. The position of the SSPX wants to hold that the office of the bishop of Rome exists and is filled by a legitimate successor to Peter, however, it also holds that the successor of Peter's authority is not without its limits. In some respects, the SSPX is forcing a Latin formulation of the Eastern understanding of the Roman papacy; to the degree that the Bishop of Rome maintains the Tradition is the degree to which he has authority. In other words, the Roman Pontiff's authority is accountable to Tradition. Not a precise parallel to the East, but I think the affinity is there.

The fact that a Sede group could make a run a this publication effort suggests that Sedevacantism could come into its own in the following decades. Plainly, there is a contingent  among the Traditionalist that do not acknowledge the Bishop of Rome and for whom the position of the SSPX is too compromised. How well this publishing effort goes will provide an indicator of how well Sedevacantism has positioned itself.

In some respects, it is only natural that such a push to republish a Missal that would be a symbolic rejection of the papal authority should happen now. In some quarters, there was disappointment with Summorum Pontificum seven years ago, the conviction being that it did not go far enough and did not genuinely restore the old rite. More recently, Rome has seen an revitalization of certain trends that were hoped to have been put to rest, trends which, for the Traditionalist, are symptoms of Rome's decline.

Of course, there's a few things the publishers need to resolve. How one lambasts the Pian reforms and then proudly notes that this Missale will contain the propers to Pius XII's Signum magnum of the Assumption seems counterintuitive. Nevertheless, this publication if it ever happens, could prove to be an indication that a second waive of Traditionalism is coming, one that, conspiracy theories about conclaves aside, genuinely feels it has no need for Rome...if it ever gets off the ground.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Republishing the Pre-1950 Missale Romanum

This might be interesting for a handful of reasons.

The mock up looks beautiful, assuming the publisher can get the project off of the ground. The price, as with most Latin editions, is absurd and will likely prevent wide diffusion.

The publisher, so far as I can tell, is a "Sede." That only increases my interest in learning how many of these will actually be printed and what churches will have them at the altar, or at least in the sacristy.

I'll be honest: if this thing sees the light of day and is readily available, my jaw will drop.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Challenge of Pentecostal and Evangelical Movements to Apostolic of them, anyway.

Recently,  the report of Pope Francis' meeting with Evangelical leaders has made the rounds in more conservative Roman quarters. The Bishop of Rome's outreach to Evangelicals and other Protestant groups has raised the ire of more than a few in his flock; in their eyes, the Roman Pontiff placates schismatics and heretics.

Theology and Ecclesiology aside, Evangelical Christianity (in which I am including Pentecostal movements) represents a major phenomenon in Western Christianity, one which Rome must wrap its head around without falling back on dated Tridentine polemics. Evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity is, in many ways, the only Western type of Christianity that experiences any appreciable growth in the traditional geographic strongholds of Western Christianity.

There are a handful of reasons that immediately come to mind for the expansion:

1) High Grid Experience: To paraphrase a certain sociologist of religion whose name escapes me now, Evangelical and/or Pentecostal Christianity typically includes a close community experience with defined moral behavior, required beliefs and observance, and a clear social identity.  Most importantly, association with other church members is heavily promoted. Any association with non-church members should have some objective of introducing the other to the community.

2) A simple and direct body of doctrine: Western Theology often comes across as a convoluted intellectual exercise, to the point that very basic notions of religion are abstracted to a point of irrelevance. By contrast, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity maintain a straightforward doctrine and attempts at qualification are often seen as indications of a crypto-heresy, or, more bluntly, crypto-Catholicism.

3) There is no dinting of the supernatural: Whereas the majority of mainline Western churches are at times either embarrassed or treat it largely as a philosophical notion having little immediate impact in our waking reality, Evangelical and Pentecostal groups are unapologetic in their treatment of the supernatural. The supernatural exists and it acts -'nuff said.

4) The promise of an unmediated access to God: Although current theological fashion at most universities and divinity schools dictates that a "proper" theologian should meet claims of unmediated experience of the divine with "in so far as language is an external descriptive process used to formulate reflection upon an event or object, everything is somewhat mediated," for persons of an Evangelical or Pentecostal bent, there is no substituting an experience of the spirit with the seemingly laborious process of liturgy and ritual. God appears to be encountered head on, whilst mainline denominations seem to make such an encounter impossible.

5) You can't run away from the poor: Mainline Catholic and Protestant churches have increasingly closed their doors in urban areas and poor rural communities, increasingly retreating to cozy confines of the suburbs. Pentecostal and Evangelical churches are increasingly moving in to this spiritual vacuum and meeting the needs of groups who would have once belonged to more established religious bodies.

These are not conclusive reasons; doubtless there are many more factors at play. Nevertheless, they are very real factors behind the rise of a form of Christianity that the more established churches have yet to adequately understand. The Evangelical and Pentecostal movements represent sociological as well as religious critique of established Christianity, especially those groups which claim an apostolic lineage. This is not to say that all manifestations or Evangelical or Pentecostal Christianity are legitimate. Truth be told, these movements have been and continue to be the wellspring of some the more disturbing presentations of Christianity in recent history. The notions of near unfettered/unmediated access to God often attract some megalomaniac, if not sociopathic, personalities who invariably progress to identifying themselves with some form of manifest divinity. The results can range from embezzlement to an abusive personality cultus. This does not, however, negate that data pointing towards Evangelical and Pentecostal movements as a phenomenon within the sphere of Western Christianity (including Latin American Christianity) as the variety of Christianity that will likely continue to grow in the West.

I have offered five reasons as to why. I would like to hone in on two overarching concepts that emerge from the five. Again, I do not treat any of this as conclusive and, it should be noted, all of this is from observation and investigation undertaken in American society.

What should immediately strike anyone investigating Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian groups is the regional base of most of these churches. In the Northeastern United States, these churches are not typically found in the "posh" areas of the city or the well to-do suburbs. More often then not, they are located in working class to poor urban areas or poor rural communities. They frequently minister  to and then empower the Caucasians who never went to an Ivy league school or landed a middle wage salary, as well as minority groups (very frequently newly arrived immigrants). Among the immigrant population, they are often groups what would historically be Roman Catholic, however, they often have no spiritual home as the Roman Church continues to retreat from many urban areas via parish closings. Plainly, these churches have identified a real need in contemporary American society. They go directly to the forgotten and alienated. I want to stress this. While Catholicism and mainline Protestantism wrestle over what to do about women, divorcees and homosexual marriage, these churches are swooping in on the large number of people who seem to have been forgotten by more affluent Western denominations. This is not to deprecate the groups that seem to have most of the established churches' time and attention (be it positive or negative), rather, it is to point out that there is a mass of people who are functionally forgotten by the established churches. When the established churches do try to minister to these same people, it is so woefully inept that it serves more to sooth the nagging consciences of the congregation (or a few cliques in the congregation) than actually address the needs of the alienated. This is due, in my estimation, to both the self centeredness of American suburban culture and the self-laudatory nature of the theology offered in universities and divinity schools.

I have a brief personal anecdote of this. During a seminar, the presenter, a theologian of a certain liberationist stripe, after enunciating all of the subtle evils in traditional theology, proudly announced that we were making a difference by inserting the voice of the marginalized into theological discourse at the university and ecclesiastical level. I kindly interjected and asked how many professional theologians or ecclesiastical theologians were persons with an intimate experiential knowledge of the plight, hope, expectations, and prayers of marginalized and brutalized of contemporary society, as it seemed the only thing people could talk with any real knowledge about were matters involving genital activity. The silence was both deafening and defining.

Apart from going to the alienated, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches function within a worldview in which the supernatural or the divine is a potent and active force in the world. Mainline Christianity often qualifies the supernatural to the point of irrelevance. Conversely, these churches cultivate the belief that all of the apparent accounts of the supernatural found in sacred scripture if of crucial relevance. The knee-jerk reaction among mainline denominations would be that this is because the majority of people ministered to by Evangelical or Pentecostal churches are more superstitious than there non-alienated counter parts. My response would be twofold.

First, the tendency to qualify the supernatural results from a perspective of privilege. When routine is working for you, the notion of a reality that is not neat, compartmentalized and ordered threatens one's basic suppositions of how life works. The alienated of society have ample experience to argue against routine; either the routine does not work or the routine simply does not exist.

Second, whatever the income base of those people drawn to Pentecostal or Evangelical churches, it is worth noting that both churches are thriving at a time when literacy can be safely presumed in the West. This has everything to do with the insistence on a more-or-less direct encounter with the divine. There is little need for mediation, be it scholarly or ecclesiastical, when a founding pillar upon which one's church edifice stands is the notion that the Bible is an essentially open book. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches presume that there is a direct avenue for divine encounter, either through engaging the biblical text without much qualification or through the Holy Spirit itself.

The challenge Pentecostalism and Evangelical Christianity pose to established Christianity is very real and unlikely to go away. Again, there are doubtless more reasons for its growth than those I have briefly presented here.

Although the Orthodox are prone to think such varieties of Christianity are uniquely Western problems, I offer one brief consideration. Only a few miles outside of Boston, Massachusetts, well within the metro Boston area, there is a "Greek Evangelical Church." I have met a few of its attendees over the years. They were all, as one might presume, "refugees" from the Orthodox tradition. Men, by and large, who had enough education and literacy (including Greek literacy) to make a determination that the religion of their baptism was not sufficient.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A little light from the East...

Woah, woah woah, theology, liturgy AND Great Cthulhu??? Sir, why the hell aren't you publishing on a daily basis?

Cthulhu fhtagn.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Twilight of gods...

The history of religion is marked with odes, fables, and myths recalling the overthrow of one pantheon of deities and rise of another. Sometimes, these changes in cosmic order are commemorated in ritual in an effort to establish or maintain a common sociological bond of myth and cultus. So it was the ascendancy of the new god Marduk over the old deity Tiamat was celebrated in the Enuma Elish. In Egyptology, it is now a common theory that the god Set is probably a surviving deity of pre-dynastic Egypt, whose association with the old divine order made him a dark god in the new pantheon. These are but two examples. In the history of religion, gods come and go and the societal cultus eventually shifts in reflection of the epochal change, with a few survivors of the old religion.
This week, the near complete disestablishment of Christianity in Mosul by ISIS (and the strange irony should be well apparent) has brought home the point that the last vestiges of some of the oldest churches are being erased from there land of origin. The cycle of history of religion continues.
There are a multitude of reasons we can argue for the depletion of Christianity in the Middle East. There are many root cause analyses we could perform in the hope of finding the ultimate source for its desolation. However, the most immediate analysis is probably the most relevant and in that analysis, in some areas of the Middle East, Islam has become fanatically radicalized. As part of its pursuit to shore up a new social order (in regions that were profoundly destabilized by a history of disastrous Western policy), a religious movement pursues the absolute eradication of the remnants of the older cultus in the effort to shore up the societal integrity of the new social order. Christianity reached the region before Islam. Its cultural foot print, though diminished, is still a reminder that there was a time when Islam was not, and for a group attempting to establish a new Islamic social order (given that none of its adherents likely have any memory of the last caliphate), the reminder of an older religion and an older society is terrifying. Christ is, practically speaking, the dark god for Islam, the forbidden deity of a cultus that somehow survived the transition of from the Christian to the Muslim age, the transitus of aeons. 
How the West will interpret this event is uncertain. Outside of Christianity, there is little thought given to it. While Christians see this as a loss, the secular world is unlikely to give it much regard. Plainly, Christianity, if practiced with integrity, challenges every assumption of post-modern Western society. Perhaps, indeed, that is the only regard the West will give the recent events in ISIS controlled Iraq. On some level, these events, depressing as they are due to the loss of a very ancient church, demonstrate the limits of the Western vision of the world, a primal push back against a worldview the West has exported steadily in its most current version since the conclusion of World War II. As much as the events are redolent of ethnic conflicts in the region, they carry with them the mark of resistance to the westernization of the region. The West, plainly, cannot get too overwrought over the disintegration of Christianity in the region. To do so would only serve to create a nagging conscious quietly casting doubt upon the development of secularism in the culture. Although, if there is even a shred of Christianity left in the underlying base of the culture, perhaps some long dormant spirit will be awakened.
Ultimately, the analysis is somewhat superfluous. A very real event has happened or is close to happening. An ancient Church, with a liturgy and customs and spirituality of venerable antiquity, is being pushed towards eradication and very real people is watching its world being dissolved. One can only hope that all these events are not without some greater meaning.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Of Weight and Venerability

Long ago, I had read Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy. It was during a very turbulent point in my theological development. I had endeavored to find some way of harmonizing the reform of the Latin liturgy with the spirituality and worldview it seemed the Latin church had left behind at the close of the 1960s. I sought to find a point of substantial convergence between what came before and what came after; there had to be something which could demonstrate a most profound continuity between the two. It ought to be something that could be researched and argued. In sum, it ought to be something more substantial than arguments from authority or religious confession.

The reason for so doing was very simple; it was to find the reason. There had to be a reason to justify dismantling the structure of the Latin or Western liturgy as it had been inherited. It had to be more than just the will of authority. There must be, perhaps laid away in the passage of centuries or the dusty shelves of some well stocked, thought scantly visited, theological library a text that could elucidate the need for revision and the harmony of the new form with the Latin tradition.

And such the time was when I encountered Dix's work. It was amid the long attempt to find something that, ultimately, could not be found. In that moment, however, there was no regretful introspection on a failed intellectual, if not spiritual, quest. There was only the moment of studying a book that had garnered the reputation of being an important landmark in the later half of the liturgical movement.

In some respects, The Shape of the Liturgy solidifies a shift in Western liturgics. Within its pages, the scientific understanding of the liturgy is presented as the enescapable interpretative course upon which Western liturgics must tread henceforth. The book conveys this not so much by explicit statement or decree, but rather by means of the industrial automated appeal to historical data as demonstrating the meaning of the liturgy. Dix was clear in the introductory matter of the book that he envisioned the historical data presented in its pages as defining the clear shape or combination of elements that "make" the liturgy. He envisioned this data as having practical effect in the Church; Christians would have greater comprehension of the liturgy as action and in turn be drawn into the action of the liturgy.

Whether or not Dix's work achieved this aim is uncertain. Certainly, and regrettably, subsequent liturgists, or at least the greater majority of them, ignored Dix's admonition that although the data demonstrate the liturgy can change, it did not follow that the form of the liturgy as it had "finally" developed indicated that the form or shape should be changed by the present generation. Data demonstrating that liturgy changed in earlier centuries was used to propose that liturgy could in fact change in the present century, even in radical ways. The liturgical tradition of the West was reduced to historical data. Having reduced the liturgy to one set of data, a window was opened to supplement the sparse content with other sets of data, most often sociological or political.

Liturgy, in our own day, is data. It is conceived as so many historical, sociological, or psychological models. Liturgists wait for the next study to apply to a restless conception of liturgy, liturgy that rushes to stay current in an age of near instant information/infotainment. Any attempts at stabilization are interpreted as an affront to data, particularly the primordial data of liturgical change in the earliest decades. It doesn't matter that the data behind the data points to a context in which Christianity's position in relation to the larger culture was in flux and that upon stabilization the classical or post-Nicene form of the liturgy begins to quickly emerge and substantially crystalize. The data indicate change has happened, therefore change can and should happen.

Liturgy is data. Furthermore, it is data that can be and often is manipulated. The somewhat traditional notion that liturgy is something we receive is often repugnante to contempotrary Western liturgists. However, the reigning alternative, liturgy as malleable data, is perhaps a more cynical alternative. It is certainly more disasterous in the long run. While liturgists find their creativity stifiled by the notion that we receive the liturgy, the notion that liturgy can be changed has turned  it into an ideological weapon. Certainly, the two attempts at translating the contemporary Roman liturgy into English have demonstrated that liturgy is used, one way or another, to promote ideological agendas to the left and to the right, the actual content of the liturgy being secondary to the ruling currents of either the liberalism or conservativism of the day.

The notion that there should be no taboo surrounding liturgical change is perhaps an unintended consequence of Dix's work, if not the liturgical movement as a whole. If the manner in which a particular religion worships reflects its conception of reality, then we are left with a rather gloomy prospect. Western Christianity does not see itself as answerable to anything, other than its own notions, no matter how ephemeral they are. Indeed, it is debatable if Western Christianity considers itself accountable to God or itself. The West has adopted an almost brazen attitude to its liturgical tradition, if not an embedded animosity to its treasury of liturgical prayer. Even in the reformed form of the Roman Rite, the Latin text and the history of prayer that has withstood centuries is spurned in favor of contemporary emotive outbursts.

Compare the attitude of contemporary Western liturgics with Dix's delicate thesis. There are points at which the historical record seems to suggest he stated more than was demonstrable with the available evidence. We cannot, in my estimation, claim that we have a detailed description of the rubrics, readings, and prayers of the ancient Roman rite and how those elements were executed and intersected with each other. Nevertheless, along the road to constructing his proposal of a Western Rite as opposed to a Roman Rite, Dix does not overly contrast the obscure ancient Roman liturgy with the liturgy synonymous with the "Tridentine" and high church traditions. He carefully notes that the Western liturgy follows the general Roman form as opposed to other liturgical traditions. He duly notes the antiquity of the lectionary found in both the old Missale Romanum and many of the reformed liturgies, observing that the old lectionary had such antiquity that most reformers could not imagine that it could or should be changed. Although Dix advocated the scientific study of the liturgy, although he may have over estimated the value of the scientific study of the liturgy for deepening an understanding of the action of the liturgy, Dix fully comprehended the weight and venerability of the liturgy as the West had inherited it.