Thursday, July 17, 2014

"The Mass of All Time": Part IV

[This is the last installment of a Facebook post by a Dominican novice, Anthony J. J. Mathison. I’ve done some minor detail work, such as replacing straight quotes with “smart quotes”, justification of the margins, inclusion of links, and so forth. I’ve also broken down long paragraphs into two or three smaller paragraphs for easier reading. Otherwise, I've left it pretty much as it appeared in Facebook. For this last installment, the combox will be open; I'll have my own final observations posted tomorrow.—ASL]

Part IV

“Organic Development” Reconsidered

Perhaps now it would be best to leave the weeds of this issue of “organic development” and revisit the larger paradigm; especially considering how fundamental it is to criticisms of the liturgical reforms.

I contend that the “organic development” of the Sacred Liturgy is better understood as a garden than a forest. I grew up in the country, so I ask that the reader please humor me. A forest grows wild and the changes that occur in its environment are due to natural events (storms, wildfires, animal life, etc.) which lack any human design or interference (generally speaking). A garden however is often changed due to the decisions of the gardener. Of course the gardener cannot change the nature of what he is growing or alter the substance of the herbage(!); he can and should however intervene (sometimes rather violently) in moving plants, pruning them, or even rooting them up entirely.

So it is with the Sacred Liturgy. The Pope and the Bishops alone are the stewards of the liturgical practice of the Church. Period. Like gardeners, they watch over and intervene in the liturgical life of God’s People to better allow the Sacred Liturgy to perform its intended action. If things arise in it that are detrimental to this goal, or are even simply seen as detrimental by the Magisterium, she will remove or change them as she sees fit. A Coptic Catholic helped to teach me that, so it’s not just a “Roman” thing.

Many reject this view however as giving too much authority to the Pope, but this not the case at all. To support their opinion, the critics quote Joseph Ratzinger before his election to the Papacy, but I hesitate to remind these same critics that a Cardinal’s words are not immediately given authority at the election of that hierarch to the Papacy. This especially goes for the previously mentioned and famous “banal, fabricated” quote that is used both out of context and endlessly. In any case, the quotes cited do not say what critics appear to think they are saying; but even if they did, it does not really help them. Why? Because Pope Benedict XVI said this about the OF in relation to the EF:

“There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.” (Letter to the Bishops w/ SP)

This quote alone destroys any attempt to pit Ratzinger against Pope Benedict XVI (a characterization that may be erroneous to begin with, anyway). The ecclesial reality is that numerous other Popes (notably Ven. Pius XII) make clear that the Holy See has both the authority and the power to do just what Ven. Paul VI did. I have no time to cite all the quotations, as they abound in voluminous numbers. Cherry-picking quotes from isolated theologians is useless against the teachings of Ecumenical Councils and genuine Papal decrees. I know; I’ve tried. To prove this point, I lead the reader to some more historical facts behind how the Roman Rite developed in the first place.

Throughout its history, the Roman liturgy has been tinkered with and even drastically changed according to what can only be described as the well-informed but arbitrary decisions of the Popes. Let us present some examples.

The earliest form of the Roman Rite (as attested clearly by St. Justin Martyr and St. Hippolytus) was of a Greek, Eastern type (probably Antiochene-based), and it differed in both text and ethos from the Roman Rite as we have it today, including the EF. Between these aforementioned and Pope St. Gregory the Great, the liturgy of the Church of Rome went under a drastic change that touched such varied things as from the language of the Mass to the very structure of the rite itself. No one knows how or why this happened, but Fr. Adrian Fortescue points out that it was due to the decisions of Supreme Pontiffs, whom, it appears, felt quite justified in radically changing the liturgy of Rome from a Greek form to an entirely new, Latinate form. This was an inorganic development; if it wasn’t, then we’d use a Antiochene-based rite for Mass today.

Following this massive change, we have the already mentioned shift from the pure Roman to the Romano-Frankish liturgy of the Middle-Ages. This was not an organic change either, since non-Roman elements not only crept into the Mass but, in the case of Bl. Charlemagne, were forced into the Missals by Frankish emperors and clergy. But perhaps the greatest example is Pope St. Pius V himself who, by the force of his Papal will alone, literally foisted onto the entire Latin Church a single set of liturgical books to be used by all (with some exceptions). Hundreds of years of organic liturgical development in the West was stifled by this same Pope who gave us the “Tridentine” Mass. This is an inorganic development of great magnitude, but one often ignored by reactionary partisans.

So we have clear examples that the Roman Rite did not, in fact, develop as “organically” as some critics would have us believe. On the contrary, there were many “great shifts” (as I call them) that drastically altered the Roman Rite to suit the decisions of the Church. Not only did this happen in the Roman Rite, it occurred even in the Byzantine Rite (though to a lesser degree, cf. Fr. Thomas Pott’s book), which is a rite of Christendom so mistakenly considered inviolate from change.

What this means is that the Magisterium can do as it wishes on liturgical reform; such changes do not affect the Sacred Tradition which cannot change, but rather the lower-case “t” traditions which can, do, and should change with the passage of time. Vatican II’s reform was this kind of “great shift”, but, ironically, it was nowhere near as far-reaching as, say, the Greek to Roman change of the Early Church! As I have showed above in the first few paragraphs [Part I], much care was taken to maintain the old use in the new.

The simple reality is that organic development also entails going back to the sources when necessary; that is, to previous forms or developing new forms based on older ones (very few such novelties are actually in the OF) to meet new situations. The Church has both the right and duty to do this, and such a right was made abundantly clear in numerous pre-Vatican II documents and historical instances.

“Catholic” Implies Variety

Lastly, we must now deal with what is the most common failure of reactionary arguments: the inability or willful rejection of distinguishing between official changes and liturgical abuse. Much of what many critics cite in their objections are examples of liturgical abuse and true banality ... neither of which is either imposed or expected in the rubrics of the OF. And even those things that are tolerated by the Church (Lifeteen Masses, for example) are manifestations of Catholicity rather than true deviations.

If we truly want liturgical uniformity and such in all places, then we could join any number of schismatic churches. The problem though is that, however aesthetically pleasing the liturgies in these churches may be, the churches in schism cannot claim to be truly “Catholic” because they reject legitimate variations (nor have the capacity to even denote that which is legitimate variation!). Part of what makes the Church truly “Catholic” is that she can embrace within her fold numerous, and often oddly diverse, liturgical and spiritual expressions without either quenching those movements (something Scripture warns us against, cf. 1 Thess. 5:19) or dividing the Church into numerous shards. This reality should excite us and cause us to exult in the glory of God, not denigrate needlessly the expressions of others. Whether you or I like it or not (and, frankly, I don’t), things like Lifeteen and other (non-abusive, rubrically faithful) variations are legitimate. I stand with the Church, even if I don’t like something; I submit that this is precisely the Catholic Way.

In the end, the liturgical reforms are both legitimate and salutary for the Church. Those real instances of liturgical abuse and banality are dying away, and newer generations of priests and religious stand poised to reaffirm and reestablish the very liturgical beauty that Vatican II sought. The liturgical chaos is not due to the implementation of Vatican II, but to the failure of many in the Church to do what the Council asked. That is changing, and I firmly believe that my own eyes — God-willing — will see that new springtime that was foretold by Pope St. John XXIII.


Part I
Part II
Part III

© 2014 Anthony J. J. Mathison. Reprinted by permission.