Sunday, March 11, 2007

Critical Mass: My Dinner with Athanasius

There is a story of how, when Harry Truman was leaving the presidency, he was heard to remark about his successor, Dwight Eisenhower. It went something like this: "Poor Ike. He'll get in here and think he's still in the Army; telling everybody, do this, do that, and wondering why it doesn't get done."

Getting enough authority figures with minds of their own, from all corners of the world, to move collectively on anything, is a lot harder than some pundits in the Catholic blogosphere make it look. Even in some imaginary "golden era," it never has been easy. Sometimes agreeing on what needs to be done about anything is like "belling the cat." All the mice can agree on the need to be warned when the cat is near, but someone has to bite the bullet and put the bell around its neck. A similar impasse can be reached when determining how the classical Roman liturgy can be re-integrated into the life of a parish or a local diocese. Some years ago, I moderated an e-mail list devoted to the traditional Mass. I posed a challenge to my usually lively audience; what if the Pope issued the universal indult tomorrow? What steps would be taken, and how?

I didn't get a single response. Not even from people who had it all figured out what the Pope should or shouldn't do about damn near everything.

I had an exchange last night with a more reasonable and well-read fellow, the unnamed author of Athanasius Contra Mundum in the comments box of "Critical Mass: Before the Ides of March." He explains at length a few difficulties with the official reform, notably changes to the lectionary. But he also refers to his post entitled "How do we reform the liturgy?" For those interested in the subject, his twelve-step program is worth reading. My interest piqued at one comment in particular:

"One of the perspective horrors of the coming Motu Proprio is the emergence of priests trying to say the Mass with the Novus Ordo mentality, who will either impose a dialog Mass..."

Admittedly, a "dialog Mass," in which the faithful join in virtually all the responses previously reserved to the servers (including the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar), can be cumbersome in large enough numbers. But I take issue with any contention that its use is tantamount to what some have called "creeping Novus Ordo-ism." (Huh???) Even Pius XI encouraged the use of the dialog Mass as early as 1940. (Annibale Bugnini, an architect of the post-conciliar reform of the Mass, was at the time a parish priest in the outskirts of Rome, so that's one less boogyman right there.)

I can distinctly remember, during the late 50s and early 60s, when people responded to priest turning and saying "Orate fratres" ("Pray, brethren...") at the Offertory, or "Ecce Agnus Dei" ("Behold the Lamb of God...") as Communion was being presented. Not quite the extent to which the people's reponses could go, but I could get dirty looks for that much at some places today. The source of this wrath would likely be some self-righteous twerp who wasn't even BORN in 1962, let alone be in any position to tell me how to pray the Mass in a "traditional" way.

People of this ilk have no objective authority for their indignation, save a rash of conspiracy theories that pervade the internet. They really piss me off.

If we're going to agree to use the 1962 Missal, there needs to be an understanding that "1962" is the operative year -- not 1958, or 1955, or 1951, or however far back the more-traditional-than-thou crowd clamors for in the blogosphere. That means the "third Confiteor" preceding Communion has got to go. That means the faithful could conceivably recite the Pater Noster at a low Mass. (No kidding, I looked it up.) But most of all, that means acknowledging an authority over the matter, namely the one in Rome. With things relatively out of control for so long, we've gotten used to imposing our own justice.

Dispensing with that had better be the thirteenth step, or we can just forget about the other twelve.

9 Comments:

At 3/11/2007 06:14:00 PM, Blogger Athanasius said...

You also need to check out my post: Why the dialog Mass was a bad idea and remains so as concerns the dialog Mass. I would like to receive your feed back to my argument.

However, when I said "impose" a dialog Mass, I was referring to the fact that the Novus Ordo as a whole is a dialog Mass. I don't know if you have ever been to the Novus Ordo in Latin but I used to go all the time, and it is as disjointed as the dialog Mass of old, because some people pronounce the Latin wrong, some say the responses faster or slower than others and some people accidently respond in English(!)

I think where we can have some dialog (no pun intended) is on how the people should respond at High Mass/Missa Cantatas. For example, a choir responding "Et cum spiritu tuo" with organ accompaniment outside of Lent commands a uniformity, which people can join and it avoids all the problems I spoke of in the post I linked.

In the end, if it is decided to permit dialog Masses, there should be Masses for people to go to that are in fact silent, so as to respect the diverse manner by which people make "actuosa participatio" which Vatican II quotes Pius X as saying.

 
At 3/11/2007 06:53:00 PM, Blogger Christine said...

David, thank you very much for this informative post. I have had a feeling that the pre-Vatican II Masses were not all as perfectly serene as I hear. I've never been to ANY Latin Mass (NO or Tridentine), but I am intrigued by the idea of adding more Latin to Mass again. In preparation for such things (and because the Holy Father asked us to), I am learning and teaching Latin to my children during school. We are learning prayers (the specific request of the Holy Father) plus other vocabulary. With God's grace, we'll get along with it and have a decent background in Latin. Of course, that will also help us when we take Spanish as a family, or try out Italian and French.

Anyway...back to the Mass. Maybe next time I'm in Alexandria for vacation, I'll see if there is a Tridentine or even N.O. Latin Mass during the week that I can attend without the children (though they might enjoy trying out their new prayers). I'll email you when I'm going back to that area, and maybe you can help point me in the right direction to a Mass. :)

 
At 3/11/2007 08:39:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

Athanasius, thou hast writ:

"I don't know if you have ever been to the Novus Ordo in Latin but I used to go all the time, and it is as disjointed as the dialog Mass of old..."

I have. The findings are as varied as you can imagine.

(Goodness, is there no end to the reading assignments here? I'm going to start giving out some of my own if this doesn't stop. Whew...)

People like to hold up the Brompton Oratory as an example. The late Michael Davies was heard to say that if the Missal of Paul VI were celebrated in that way, "there wouldn't be any problems."

Obviously, that hasn't happened. The Mass is more than a series of words and texts to be gotten through. It is an action performed. Beyond the words, beyond the mere rubrics, are the details of ceremonial shrouded in books by Charles Borromeo and Adrian Fortescue, as well as customary law. The modern vernacular celebration of Mass has not benefitted from that, not because of anything inherent to the ritual, but because of the attitude of the priests celebrating it, and those who trained them. Most of the ink ever spilled over the problems of liturgical reform (although I am sure you have personally risen above the fray), has less to do with the official Latin texts, than with how they are used. The result is that a deconstructivist mentality has developed over time. Take the products of that mentality, and even the "Trid Mass" will come up short. They can read the right words all they want; if they don't get it, they won't get it.

One thoroughly mediocre suburban parish tried to start a Latin Mass, using the rreformed missal. On the first occasion, right after the greeting, the celebrant started yammering about Latin Masses in the good old days, or some such nonsense. He seemed to go on forever. The Latin Mass at this parish, thankfully in this case, did not.

On the other hand, you can go to Old St Mary's in Cincinnati, or to St John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, and find a very different experience with the "Novus Ordo" Latin Mass.

People are not accustomed to dialogue through chant. They have forgotten how. In the parish where I grew up, we had a beautiful High Mass in the vernacular, and the dialogue was chanted where appropriate -- in English. As I remember, it was cast aside by the middle 70s. But it happens in many "Anglo-Catholic" parishes, where people understand that chant is not to be confused with singing. (Your first clue to the clueless is when the celebrant sings "Let us pray" near the top of his natural pitch.) At the time of Christ, there was little difference between chant and public oratory. We see remnants of that in the calling of street hawkers and hot dog vendors at the baseball game. The three note call-out, like that of the town crier of old, has its origins in chant.

Believe it or not.

 
At 3/11/2007 08:40:00 PM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Having been born in 1962, and attended fewer than a dozen Tridentine masses in my memory, this is all quite over my head.

I expect to see the Motu Proprio soon, but I honestly also expect that there will be remarkably few priests either willing or able (or willing to become able) to celebrate according the 1962 missal. In the short term, the effect will little more than zero.

I think.

 
At 3/11/2007 09:30:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

Paul:

I think. You might be right.

My kid sister was born in 1962. It was a very good year.

 
At 3/12/2007 12:42:00 AM, Blogger Athanasius said...

I expect to see the Motu Proprio soon, but I honestly also expect that there will be remarkably few priests either willing or able (or willing to become able) to celebrate according the 1962 missal. In the short term, the effect will little more than zero.

I disagree, only because I used to be in seminary and knew several seminarians who wanted to say the Mass but were afraid they would be black-balled for doing so, as there are also priests who are in a similar predicament. It will not be what some have said, but it will have a substantial affect in comparison to the way things are now.

I think it is clear in my "12 steps" post, but no one intelligent is claiming that the MP or mere attendance at the Tridentine Mass is going to change someone. After all, the modernist crisis arose when the Old Mass was prevalent and there were no dialog Masses, no Pius XII reforms, the Easter Vigil was not added, and the 2nd confetior not suppressed let alone what happened after 1964. The Tridentine Mass changes people the way babies change people. When a baby is born it does not cast a magic spell on the father who up to that point has been less than mature and responsible and transform him into a responsible young man. Rather, seeing his child he may feel the need to change being moved by the desire to do something for someone more important than himself, and this creates a desire to act more responsible.
The Tridentine Mass likewise does not cast a spell on someone who goes to it and transform them into a well catechized morally upstanding Catholic. It is a channel of grace that unambiguously presents not only the Church's theology of Sacrifice but the whole mystical event, and the soul disposed to take advantage of it can be moved to live a better life, and some of us more extreme Traditionalists would suggest this is done much more and in a better way than at the Novus Ordo. It is like a man who walks into a city with huge reserves of water. It doesn't hydrate him to know that there is water there, unless there is some vehicle to bring the water to him.

The effects of the possible MP if it says what I hope it says, will be of great benefit over time and lay a foundation, but they represent no quick fix.

Lastly, you make an excellent and valid point as concerns chant vs. oratory. It is something that I believe can be relearned. I mean, I was a charismatic who did not know a word of Latin or one thing of the Church's Tradition liturgical or otherwise, but because of good priests and good parishoners (unlike those giving you dirty looks for saying some prayers out loud) I learned the method of participating at a Traditional Mass. I think with with faithful who wish to help other faithful learn more about the Mass a change is indeed possible, even when the foundation is not there. It just takes patience like anything else. Sometimes it might be a process that moves over time, someone might go to a Tridentine Mass, not get it, go back to their parish and think it over, saying hmmm, well this was nice, and that was nice, and before they know it they are back. It is all dependent on how well the graces are presented for the senses to absorb them into the soul.

As regards what Davies said, most certainly it would be significantly different, but it would not eliminate problems. I have spoken many times about the problems with the Novus Ordo before it hit translators or ICEL, that which is in the rubrics and in the Latin itself. But that should be for another day.

 
At 3/12/2007 11:39:00 AM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"I disagree, only because I used to be in seminary and knew several seminarians who wanted to say the Mass but were afraid they would be black-balled for doing so, as there are also priests who are in a similar predicament."

If you had finished, you would have been ordained, and most likely would have been assigned to a parish. There you would have found that customizing the regular Sunday Mass schedule to suit your own preferences, or even those of a small group within the parish, is not as easy in real life as it's made out to be in the blogosphere. Such is the distinct impression I get from priests within my own diocese, several of whom could say the Trid Mass right this minute, and don't even have to hide the fact. Imagine the trepidation of those who do.

Of the two parishes in Arlington that have the Old Latin Mass, one is out in Front Royal, and was able to use it as the principal Mass of the day, with no addition to the schedule. The other is closer to the city, and added a Mass to the schedule, at 12:30 in the afternoon. The place is half-filled at best, with many from other parishes.

There are, at bare minimum, two other parishes in the diocese where the Indult could be applied right now. Given a broader application, practical matters could still impede it. The reality is, that most parish priests have their hands quite full on Sunday morning. All the more reason why a rectory is the last place to find them on Sunday afternoon.

 
At 3/12/2007 08:17:00 PM, Blogger Athanasius said...

If you had finished, you would have been ordained, and most likely would have been assigned to a parish. There you would have found that customizing the regular Sunday Mass schedule to suit your own preferences, or even those of a small group within the parish, is not as easy in real life as it's made out to be in the blogosphere.

Certainly not, but it is not as hard as what you make it out to be either.

For example, you seem to be approaching the MP with the idea that every parish will now have to have Tridentine Masses, and that every priest will now have to stop what he's doing and give up his one chance to grab a cup of coffee in between 9 and 10:30 Masses. Consider it this way.

A group of people in a given region want a Tridentine Mass, and by themselves they constitute a small group within their parishes, but collectively they constitute between 2-300 people. Under the current system they petition the Bishop, and if he grants their request at all it is in some Church 50 to 100 miles from where all of them live at 2pm. Under the MP (again if it says what has been suggested it says) the same group of people could ask for one or two locations in their area, 10-20 miles, and if the priest is unable to accommodate them in his schedule then the group or the priest invites an outside priest to say the Traditional Mass, or else through an entity like the Fraternity of St. Peter a parish is created specifically for the needs of this 300 or so people. It is not going to be that the priest must throw a wrench in the whole schedule because one person wants the Traditional mass.

 
At 3/12/2007 09:07:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"Certainly not, but it is not as hard as what you make it out to be either."

Did I mention I've been serving Trid Masses for the last ten years?

I'm not suggesting a particular scenario to apply everywhere (which is why I mentioned two that were different). Aside from that, I don't think we have much disagreement here. Your scenario is quite plausible. My contention is based on the experiences of the priests who actually work in parishes, and who ultimately must be able to make this happen. There is nothing in what I have written, that would suggest that all situations are the same.

So I mentioned two that... well, you know.

And on that, I would like to close this, but not without thanking you, dear Athanasius, for your civility and your insights. Oremus pro invicem.

 

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