March 13, 2009

Against Polarization

It's hopeful to me when Catholic blogs of very different points of view converge a little on the issues of our divisions. Consider these two quotes:

First, just one section of this post from Aún Estamos Vivos:

(Please read the whole of the post; it's worth the time for any Catholic who cares about the polarization of the Church and the caricature of it that the Catholic blogosphere provides.)


Now, as to this whole SSPX thing in particular... Hardly anyone I speak to has ever heard of these people, yet the Catholic blogosphere would lead you to believe that the SSPX and the Tridentine Mass are the only things that matter out there. I tried taking a stab at offering an explanation as to why the Pope reached out to this group, but this strange solicitous attitude towards them still seems odd nonetheless.

Here's something for liberals to consider in that vein... It's a sacramental church. Popes and cardinals and bishops say Mass. They dispense sacraments. They notice who shows up looking for them. To them, that's the pulse of where the Church lives... The laity in Germany and France and Austria and other European countries who are so upset about this SSPX decision need to consider this:

If they had been showing up to Mass every week, this ridiculous overture to the SSPX would have never taken place.


Second, consider a section of this post from What Does The Prayer Really Say?:

The obvious type of rupture and discontinuity is in the form of a break with the past. Progressivists see the Council, for example, as a break with the past, a new theological, ecclesiological starting point. They do great harm by working from this view. If you take insufficient positive consideration of the past, you work great harm.

Another type of rupture, less obvious, comes from those who defend the past while not taking sufficient account of present progress or the possibility of authentic development without substantive change in doctrine. Those who freeze the Church and deny the possibility of broadening our theological reflection do great harm. The world does in fact present new exigencies even if human nature doesn’t "mature" out of its perennial needs – as many progressivists falsely assume.

Rupture from the past. Rupture from the future.

The former is far easier to correct than the later. The later is far more dangerous than the former.


Though they come from bloggers with very different concerns, both are concerned Catholics and both are quite right. Too often we allow our differences push us into an ever-hardening polarization. On the contrary, we need to learn from each other. "Progressive" or "liberal" Catholics need "conservative" or "traditionalist" Catholics to help them recover the values of reverence, piety, disciplined observance, and the value of a Catholic culture that is stronger than the anti-values the secular world would like us to have. On the other hand, conservative or traditionalist Catholics would benefit much from allowing their liberal or progressive brothers and sisters to lead them into a reflection on the implications of the "universal call to holiness" (Lumen gentium, chapter 5) and the Church's embrace of the "joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties" of all humanity as her own. (Gaudium et spes, 1)

These battles are often fought through the liturgy. In a way this makes perfect sense, as the liturgy is the "summit" (Sancrosanctum concilium, 10) of our life as Church. In this I have three suggestions:

1. Summorum pontificum has established two expressions of the one Roman Rite, which proceed from the Missals of Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI, respectively. On any given Sunday some of us are praying one way and some the other. We cannot live as parallel worlds. The two expressions must arrive at a mutuality of interpretation and correction. In this, Benedict XVI's cover letter to Summorum pontificum is quite instructive. Though very different in some ways, each Mass is fully the Roman Rite. The virtues and foundational theologies of each can enrich and correct the other.

2. The 1962 Missale Romanum, though it is being prayed each day all over the world and is thus part of the living tradition of the faithful, remains a historical document. In order to fully recover the Tridentine Mass, along with the immense musical and artistic legacy that enriches it, the Missal needs to be updated to include, for example, those who have been canonized since 1962. We must pray within a living tradition extended through all time, and not according to a very particular snapshot of it. That's not what it means to be catholic.

3. Here in the anglophone world we expect a new version of the ordinary form of the liturgy one of these years, when the English Missale Romanum tertio editio typica emerges from the translation process. There are a couple of implications that we can use to our advantage. First, much of our service music will become obsolete. Thus, we have an opportunity to create music that takes its continuity with the tradition more seriously than what we have now. We could even take the radical step of singing the Mass instead of substituing hymns and songs for it. This practice has become so ordinary that it is wrongly thought to be normative. Second, priests will have to look at the book and learn the new prayers. This will be a great opportunity to return to an actual following of the Mass instead of everyone doing his own thing and making the liturgy into a cooking show or a cult of personality around the "presider."

We have opportunites to meet the challenges before us. Let's take them.

5 comments:

ben in denver said...

This is a great post!

I think that too few people realize, for example, that fully half of French catholics who regularly attend mass attend the extraordinary form. Now many of these attend legitimate services, but it is likely that more than half do not. I think that this is an extremely important statistic to understand.

Another thing that is important to understand is that traditionalism is not fundamentally about liturgy. It is about doctrine and adherence to doctrine.

For example, the reason that my family started attending mass at the FSSP parish did not to do with liturgy. It had to do with wanting to belong to a community where everybody takes the teachings on marriage and sexuality seriously. We were tired of being twice the size of the next largest family at Sunday mass. We wanted our kids to have friends who would not think they were strange simply because they came from a large family.

Fidelity to Peter is necessary at every level. Clearly the bishops and priests of the SSPX, as well as much of the laity they serve have difficulties with submission to Peter. However, the 90-95% of catholics who reject Pual VI's teaching in Humanae Vitae have likewise broken faith with Peter and his successors.

The christian life can be very difficult. It can be especially so in our culture which is so opposed to truth and life. If you have 8 kids, total strangers feel comfortable insulting you in public. Clearly, Our Lord has not called all of us to live out our vocations in isolation. Yet one can feel isolated when fellow parishoners give unsolicited advice about which priests will give you permission to have a vasectomy, or when a pastor complains about too many children at a baptism.

Most traditionalists, even those who attend SSPX chapels, are truly trying to live lives obedient to the Lord. Many have been made to feel unwelcome in other parishes because they have a lot of children, and there are not a few women who have been riddiculed for covering their heads.

The Holy Father understands all of this.

Brother Charles said...

Wow, Ben.

A pastor complained about too many children at a baptism! That's sad. Now I have a lot of grief over infant baptism; mostly over unqualified godparents and people who are from here and should really go instead to the parish of their domicile, but too many children at a baptism? That's just sad.

And as far as women being given a hard time for covering their heads, that's just ignorance of the Scriptures, not to mention bad manners.

Part of my own journey with the Extraordinary Form is similar; I first attended out of curiosity and was then impressed by things I didn't always see at home: people of all ages attending Mass devoutly, utter reverence for the Word of God and the Most Blessed Sacrament, and a spirit of prayer taking precedence over socializing. And I saw families whose openness to new life showed in blessed evidence as well.

Further, I think you are right on the issue of traditionalism being about doctrine and adherence to doctrine. That's why it's a surprising but wise development to see Ecclesia Dei placed under the CDF.

4narnia said...

wow, Fr. C! thanks for sharing such a wonderful post. there's a lot of things you mention that we can all learn from. PEACE!
~tara~

Anonymous said...

Fr. Charles, this is one of your best and most thoughtful posts. From reading yours and other blogs, I have become much more attuned to the essential beauty of the liturgy and more cognizant of things that tend diminish from the sense of mystery and of the sacred. Thank you.

dolorosa said...

Ben in denver wrote:Clearly the bishops and priests of the SSPX, as well as much of the laity they serve have difficulties with submission to Peter.

The above is not true. For example when Pope JPII went to Assisi with false religions. Not to mention the horrible abuses that I and others have witnessed in many Novus Ordo mass locations. Catholics are NOT obligated to do anything that is against the Catholic faith and many have fallen into apostasy. The Catholic Church didn't start at Vatican II and the Jews are NOT still waiting for their Messiah and still need to convert like before VII.
There wouldn't even be a Latin Mass today if it wasn't for Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX. I was led to believe the Novus Ordo replaced the Latin Mass. I was deceived as so many others were too. I suggest sincere catholics read some books at Angelus Press to understand the crisis in the church that is ongoing today. Also, Our Lady of Fatima told Sister Lucia that if the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart was not done then communism would spread throughout the entire world and America, with socialist Obama, has made that correct. She also said nations would be annihilated so we need to pray for the Pope to do the consecration or the consequences for the world will be horrific. www.fatima.org