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.