Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Critical Mass: Thomas Wolfe and Panaceas Revisited

Last month, I made the case that "the more strident advocates of a complete return to the pre-conciliar form of the Roman Rite, have made the official reform (the so-called 'Novus Ordo') into the whipping boy for all manner of devious shenanigans in the last forty years. The reality is that most of it would have happened anyway." I even offered proof.

Still, my colleague and long-time correspondent Jeff Culbreath wrote: "I see your point, and perhaps you're right. But the Novus Ordo is still an appropriate whipping boy. If not the cause, then it is the consummation of all the mischief you described." This would make it the effect, not the cause, therefore NOT "an appropriate whipping boy." John L asked: "What I would really like to know is what were the deficiencies in culture, selection of seminarians, theologians, and bishops, and spiritual formation, that led to this widespread acceptance?" Those "deficiencies" were in the seminaries and theology departments for much of the 20th century, years before anyone so much as imagined the Words of Consecration being translated into the vernacular. Entire books have been written on the subject.

Why is this important now? Because those on both sides of the issue of the traditional form of the Roman liturgy, who either dreaded or looked forward to "turning back the clock" are in for a big, fat surprise: you can't go home again.

In a recent column of The National Catholic Reporter, John Allen wrote: "One outstanding question being raised by some bishops and canon lawyers is whether rulings over the years that apply to post-Vatican II liturgies should apply to the '62 Missal as well. The pope's motu proprio says the '62 Missal was never abrogated, but it doesn't spell out the status of subsequent disciplinary law. For example, can a vigil Mass be celebrated according to the '62 Missal on Saturday evening? Can communion be administered under both species? (In the old rite, only the consecrated Host is distributed, and only on the tongue.) Can altar girls as well as boys serve Mass?"

It may appear that the Missale Romanum of 1962 is frozen in time for now. Such is not the case with the world around it. In a recent column in The Wanderer, Father John Zuhlsdorf raised issues which have been the subject of dinner conversations in rectories for some months now: "The Motu Proprio pertains to a certain set of liturgical books, none of which defined what they didn’t define. For another example, the Holy See now says that conferences of bishops can allow Holy Communion to be distributed in the hand. Most conferences have permitted this and described how it is to be done. Once the permission was given, people have the right to receive Communion in the hand, no matter how inappropriate most of the readers (and the writer) of this column think it is. Nevertheless, the older liturgical books did not describe how Communion was to be received. The law in force today applies to all Masses, not just the Novus Ordo. It would be wrong to deny someone Communion in the hand at a celebration of the older form of Mass on the grounds that it wasn’t done that way in 1962. That’s how it is done now, for good or (more likely) for ill. Naturally, the communicants themselves ought to be sensitive to this as well. We can hope that the rest of the congregation will set such a good example...." (08/17/2007)

Father Z doesn't stop there: "[A]n authentic interpretation of canon 230 § 3 that females can substitute for officially installed acolytes [would mean that], according to law, altar girls would be permitted to serve 'Tridentine' Masses. Clearly, a parish priest who would impose that on people would be either cracked or malicious. But the law would be on that side." (08/17/2007)

Fortunately, I can already tell you how this is going to play out, after speaking with an eminent canonist on the condition of his/her anonymity. The older liturgical usage will not override subsequent universal law, but will have to be applied in light of it. The result will, for the most part, preserve the tradition, but it will not exist in a vacuum. It never has.

Somewhere in Ohio, a new pastor has been approached by his parishioners to offer the Roman liturgy in the classical form. Meanwhile, he is reorganizing the altar servers so that boys and girls will no longer be working together.

John L asked the right question. A set of books is not the culprit; the culture is.

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[NOTE: I prefer not to quote so heavily from a print source such as that of the good Father, but there is no accessible online link of which I am aware. If one is brought to my attention, I am more than happy to make the proper adjustments.]


Anonymous said...

I tell people sometimes that I remember saying "And with your spirit" in English at Mass long ago and they think I'm lying. But I grew up in a "progressive" parish and that was the original English response. My parents worked to get the Mass said in English and then grieved for the rest of their lives when they got English but not the Mass as they knew it. All they wanted was the latin they knew, translated for others who weren't working as hard...

Anonymous said...

Well, David, thanks for validating the worst fears of traditional Catholics everywhere. If true that communion in the hand, altar girls, versus populum, etc., etc., can be legally imposed on the TLM, then rest assured they will be, Summorum Pontificum will be dead on arrival, and the SSPX can expect a new influx of disillusioned Catholics in the coming months.

However, I think it more likely that the EDC will rule in such a way as to preserve the culture of the ancient form, and that any new permissions will be unique to and congruent with the same.

David L Alexander said...

Well, Jeff, I wish I could take the credit, but this has been going around for months now. And as Zuhlsdorf himself said: "We can hope that the rest of the congregation will set such a good example, and the priest’s treatment of the Blessed Sacrament and his preaching will be so edifying, that people will more be inclined to receive in the traditional manner. However, it remains that people have rights under the Church’s law. Are we not outraged when a per­son is denied Communion because he is kneel­ing, as is his right? It works both ways."

Hopefully, the law will be amended as you suggest. But as of this moment, no definitive ruling has been reached. None, you got that? It is extremely unlikely that what is theoretically possible here can ever happen on the practical level.

The best tactic, it seems to me, is to start out slowly, so as not to appear to be a threat to those who are easily threatened. That's a big adjustment to the die-hards who want everything they want right this damn minute -- but it's probably the best long-term strategy.

Until then, these innovations are not forced on the people who originate them, but can be avoided by the priest, and probably will be. Besides, anyone who gets a weed up their @$$ because one person out of two hundred receives Communion in the hand, and uses that to justify attending an SSPX chapel, where confessions and weddings would be invalid -- no, not just illicit -- is just looking for an excuse. "Traditional Catholics everywhere" have been heard, and got what they wanted. So they need to cut the crybaby $#!† and get to work!

Anonymous said...

The idea that because current pronouncements by the Holy See say that communion in the hand is permitted, people have a right to such communion, is mistaken. The whole point of the traditionalist argument is that the constant tradition of the Church on liturgical matters is binding on both laity and hierarchy - including the Pope (see the Catechism, 1125-26), and cannot be abrogated by a pronouncement from a curial official. Your remarks about traditional Catholics getting what they wanted are offensive. Obviously what they want is respect for the Church's liturgical tradition as a whole, and that tradition is not simply contained in the rubrics of the 1962 missal. It is not at all a matter of 'getting what they want', in the sense of being given the liturgy they happen to prefer. It is a matter of getting what God wants. That is the whole traditionalist point; the liturgical tradition of the Church (which includes such things as no communion in the hand and no altar girls) is something we receive from God and that we have to respect regardless of what we want. It is a part of sacred tradition, as the Catechism (following the universal consensus of the Fathers) says. Fr. Zuhlsdorf's comment that denying communion to someone who is kneeling is equivalent to denying communion in the hand is foolish. The former is a gesture of reverence, the latter is sacrilegious; that is why there is a right to do the former, but no right to do the latter. Most people who receive communion in the hand (which includes myself until quite recently when I learned more about the issue) are not culpable for this sacrilege, but the fact that such communion was banned as sacrilegious by the Church for as long back as we have records (3rd or 4th centuries?), except in exceptional cases of necessity, means that it is in fact sacrilegious. The Church is not like Big Brother in Orwell's 1984, entitled to change the past and the truth at will. I would be interested in references to the books describing what went wrong with the training of priests in the 20th century!

David L Alexander said...

"The idea that because current pronouncements by the Holy See say that communion in the hand is permitted, people have a right to such communion, is mistaken."

Says who, John? You and a bunch of malcontents on an e-mail list?

No, that comes from elsewhere, and a big challenge among traditionalists now is to accept that there is such an authority. The Catechism does not prevent "curial officials" from acting within their bounds on behalf of the Holy See. That's why they're there.

Now I used to receive communion in the hand, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you why I don't anymore.

Yes, John, this decree is what we who love Catholic tradition (and I should take pains to stress that I do mean "we") have hoped and prayed for. We must pursue our cause with joy. Father Zuhlsdorf did not make the comparison that you suggest, merely that the discipline of the Church allows for both.

Tradition, by definition, does not stand frozen in the past, but is a living thing. Acknowledging that does not change the past, but links it to the present. There are many things to clarify in the near future. But until then, we have an opportunity to set the proper example. We can be the model of true Christian joy that flows from a love of the Mass and the Eucharist. But first, John, we just gotta lose the attitude.

As to that book you mentioned, if I ever come across one, I'll write about it here. But I wouldn't be surprised if someone like Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote of such things in any memoir of his teaching years.

That's just a guess, of course.

Anonymous said...

St. Basil the Great was one person who said this; he lived before the time of email lists. Here is a resource mentioning some of the points connected with the practice of communion in the hand; http://www.unavoce.org/cith.htm. In addition to the particular saints and Church councils mentioned there, there is above all the constant practice of the Church prior to 1969 of forbidding communion in the hand precisely because it shows lack of respect for the Eucharist. (The practice even now I believe is not simply permitted, but is theoretically an indult for various diocese and countries.) Agreeing with this tradition on communion in the hand is not 'attitude'; it is a serious position (accepted I believe by John Paul II) that needs to be met with argument, not contemptuous dismissal. You rightly say that 'Tradition, by definition, does not stand frozen in the past, but is a living thing.' However, the living development of tradition does not involve its explicitly rejecting what it once solemnly taught. Such conradiction is not development, but corruption (as pointed out by among others Cardinal Newman in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine). Here again we get to the basic disagreement between the traditionalist view on this issue and the non-traditionalist view (to avoid any opprobrious names). The traditionalist view is that the liturgy is not something like canon law, which is subject to the power of the Pope and can be changed to suit the times. It includes a certain amount of leeway, such as choices of which saints' days to celebrate, but its central aspects, which have been produced in the Church through the action of the Holy Spirit, are not subject to change by ecclesiastical authority. That is what is expressed by the passages from the Catechism (I cited the wrong ones above);

'1124 The Church's faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles - whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi according to Prosper of Aquitaine [5th cent.]).45 The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.46

1125 For this reason no sacramental rite may be modified or manipulated at the will of the minister or the community. Even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily, but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.'

This idea is the basis for the claim that curial officials do not have the power to make what is forbidden by the constant unwritten tradition of the Church permitted. There are different levels of authority in the Church - obviously the Pope ranks higher than his officials, so a curial official does not have the power to make acceptable what the Pope forbids. A fortiori, such an official does not have the power to change a part of unwritten tradition. If you think that it is unreasonable to suppose that curial officials can act in violation of Church law and tradition, you should consider the history of the traditional mass itself; the congregation for liturgy - which is responsible for the communion in the hand indults - stated that the old mass had been canonically suppressed and was forbidden, although, as the motu proprio states, this was not true.

David L Alexander said...

"[O]bviously the Pope ranks higher than his officials, so a curial official does not have the power to make acceptable what the Pope forbids..."

But the Pope did permit communion in the hand. As to the current situation, he also permitted the Code of Canon Law, and any legitimate disciplinary decrees after 1962. The general norms of canon law say that, while custom is the best interpreter of law, it can be abrogated by subsequent law. Whether it should be is another issue entirely.

Now, whether subsequent universal law (as opposed to constant teaching; let's not confuse the two) has any effect on a previous liturgical tradition which has never been abrogated (not a bone of contention here, so quit acting as if it is), has yet to be determined, as there is no precedent for this. The consensus appears to suggest that it would -- as the law stands now. There is a different pontifical commission that handles this as opposed to PCED (the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, I believe it's called), so it could take at least a couple of years of going back and forth.

Perhaps the writers of the motu proprio (including Benedict himself) did not anticipate this. From my own experience, the influence of the assembly as a whole can wield a powerful influence over individuals in any group setting. But I am sure it will be dealt with soon enough, right along with bishops who are adding illicit restrictions. If it's any consolation, the issue is largely confined to the hypothetical, and I am not aware of any instances where, for example, girls have been allowed to serve the TLM. (You get the feeling they might be unwelcome, wouldn't you?) And I only know of one instance where a woman received communion in the hand at a TLM. I was serving that Mass, but it was five years ago, it was the priest's call, that's all I know about it.

By the way, in case I didn't make it clear, I don't approve of communion in the hand either.