Friday, January 11, 2008

Two Left Shoes

In what may or may not be one of his finest moments ("There but for the grace of God..."), my friend and colleague Mark Shea offers his thoughts about the recent motu proprio allowing regular, if juridically extraordinary, use of the 1962 Missale Romanum, also known as the "Tridentine Mass," the "Old Latin Mass," incorrectly as the "True Mass," or bass-ackwardly as "The Mass of All Time."

I should say at this point that Mark is a decent fellow, one who endeavors tirelessly to witness for the Faith. No one taking issue with his writing should doubt that, for they would be wrong.

Everybody got that? Good! Now then...

Shea makes a analogy with the comfort level found in a pair of good-fitting shoes: "The point of shoes is not to notice them, but to walk in them. Shoes you constantly notice are Bad Shoes. Liturgy you focus on is liturgy that's not doing its job, which is to refer us to God, not to itself." This is correct. The purpose of any and all ritual, from time immemorial and in all cultures, is not to call attention to itself, but to draw attention to something beyond itself. That focus can be lost just as easily when introducing the usual hand-holding and back-slapping before Communion, as it can when frowning indignantly on anyone who responds in a low voice in their pew along with the altar servers. In addition to being wrong, both miss the point of being there.

Unfortunately, Shea falls into the same trap, less for what he says than for what is left unsaid, as pundits who don't get paid (and more than a few who do, including some bishops). The most common misconception about Summorum Pontificum, is that the Holy Father issued it to placate the aspirations of a particular group within the Church. In fact, anyone with an eighth-grade reading level will know -- and you actually have to read it to know this, right? -- that the decree was intended for ALL who worship in the Latin rite, whether the Old or the New. Even if they never attend the Old Mass in their lives. Even if they don't want to. Even if they don't need to.

If Shea meant to say this all along, it must have been lost amidst the defense of himself against his detractors. Spend enough time in the arena of public opinion, and they do seem to pile up, don't they?

Now, for all you one-dimensional thinkers out there, the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is the only "Mass of All Time." There are many re-presentations of that one event in real time, both in the Western tradition, as well as in the Eastern (where they don't appear to suffer from the same myopia). Some re-presentations are more thoughtfully executed than others, and none of them changes the original. But it is precisely that lack of thoughtful execution that has the potential to subvert the belief of the faithful, in that to which they are witnessing. Irrespective of which set of books is used, Pope Benedict has determined a solution for the whole Church. This is but one component of that solution. People need to understand that. They may have their own souls getting into Heaven to worry about. They should be grateful not to have to answer for over a billion of them.

At the end of the day, maybe we can all stop picking on Mark and talk about something real. But first, click here before responding. You know you want to.

I know you need to.
.

7 Comments:

At 1/11/2008 02:09:00 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

This is correct. The purpose of any and all ritual, from time immemorial and in all cultures, is not to call attention to itself, but to draw attention to something beyond itself.

Actually, it 'ain't. As you wrote on my site, "comfort" is a byproduct of ritual and worship. The primary purpose of the Mass is more akin to transformation, and sometimes that means going beyond comfort, at least as most people understand it. (Many liturgical abnormalities are so ingrained that we hardly notice them. People are, at the very least, comfortable with them.) If by comfort, Mr. Shea means "free from distractions," that's fine. But in choosing the word shoes, he's conveying something different; something not too far removed from complacent.

And let me also say I've found Mark's apologetics work edifying.

 
At 1/11/2008 02:12:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"The primary purpose of the Mass is more akin to transformation, and sometimes that means going beyond comfort, at least as most people understand it."

In other words, "beyond itself."

 
At 1/11/2008 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

My reference isn't so much to what you wrote as to what you identified as "correct." I don't think it is.

 
At 1/11/2008 02:49:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"I don't think it is."

Very well. You give it a shot: "The purpose of any and all ritual, from time immemorial and in all cultures, is..."

 
At 1/11/2008 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

My objective isn't to finish Mark's sentences, but to identify the limits of his analogy.

 
At 1/11/2008 03:13:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"My objective [is] to identify the limits of his analogy."

In so doing, you challenged a definition I presented, one that happens to reinforce his analogy. I challenge you in turn to present an alternative, by which you may happen to further "identify the limits of his analogy."

And so, at the end of the sixth comment, my definition remains unchallenged.

(Seventh inning stretch: "Na na na na, hey hey...")

 
At 1/12/2008 04:19:00 PM, Blogger fdarcy said...

It seems to me that perhaps one problem is not necessarily with your definition as such, but a possible ambiguity in what is meant by "beyond itself." (Mr. Shea, for example, I think displays an incorrect understanding of what this means in the liturgy through his shoe analogy.) That which is "beyond," to which liturgy points us, is not beyond in the sense of being external to the liturgy. The liturgy is not merely a means, but a mediation, so that we are brought into contact with the "beyond" to which it points us precisely in the liturgy. Liturgy is not just a tool you use to get to God. It is being with God. Thus, it is not strictly true that the more perfectly the liturgy fulfills its task of pointing beyond itself, the more the concrete character of the liturgy itself will disappear from focus (which seems to be Mr. Shea's position, if I understand him correctly).

 

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