"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The quest for a reform of the reform

“Voices” in the Ordinary Form, Rite of Modernity

22 SundayJul 2012

Posted by John Gerardi

This was a rather thought-provoking article by Fr. Robert Pasley, recently posted on The Chant Cafe. The enormous possibility for variation within the Ordinary Form is a real problem; Fr. Pasley goes so far as to say that different expressions of the Ordinary Form of the Mass can almost seem like the expression of different religions. It’s worth a read.

I’ll add this thought. The Novus Ordo’s never-ending series of options makes it the child of modern philosophy. With the ancient rite, the Mass came to the Church from above and demanded that we conform ourselves to it. Other than maybe 3 options (high or low Mass, read the epistle or chant it, use incense or not), there wasn’t much for the priest to do beyond reading the words written in black and doing the things written in red.

It was an objective reality which we obeyed, but not in any servile way. Rather, it was similar to the obedience that is the necessary response of Christian Faith. The truth, when the full measure of its beauty and goodness is presented to us, makes demands upon how we live, think, act, and worship. Just as the Church instructed man in what to believe by presenting him with the truths of faith, so the Church instructed man in how to worship by presenting him with her traditional rites.

Nowadays, it is Enlightenment Man who does not receive instruction, but rather selects from a pu-pu platter of options to tell the Church how HE is going to worship. Mass facing the people, or ad orientem? Latin or vernacular? Which vernacular language? Entrance chant or a sing-songy hymn? Penitential Rite A, B, or C? The shortened form of the reading, or the longer one? And on, and on, and on, as man shapes his own reality of what worship is and looks like.

In a sense, the modern Mass is a reality emanating from the subject. It is Kant, it is Descartes’ Cogito-ergo-sum, it is the full swathe of subjectivist thought, and all of it expressed (insofar as it is coherent and capable of expression) liturgically.

Even among more traditional adherents to the Ordinary Form we see this kind of near-subjectivism, particularly at the fringes of liturgical expression. Some don’t think women should serve as lectors while others allow it; some think it’s better to speak the Eucharistic Prayer, others think it’s best to chant it; some think we should only use the Roman Canon, while others think we should use all of the several Eucharistic Prayers; some think the Responsorial Psalm is ok, others think it should never be sung in place of the Gradual. And this disagreement exists among the hardcore “traditionalist” adherents to the Novus Ordo, the very people who desperately desire an objective reality to which they can conform themselves. Even for people who have an objective standard to follow (the Extraordinary Form’s shadow), it is impossible to escape the idea that WE are imposing OUR WILL upon the Mass, that we are shaping our own lex orandi, and Lord knows what lex credendi will result.

This imposition of man’s will on the Mass is totally opposed to its very nature. The fact is, the Mass IS an objective, transcendent reality; it is not simply some cultural expression of a certain group at its own time and place. It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, presented to us again in an unbloody fashion. Because of the eternal, changeless nature of the reality at hand—that is, because Christ eternally offers Himself to the Father forever in heaven—it is fitting that the Mass be changeless, enduring, transcendent, instructing us in a certain truth rather than allowing us to shape our own reality.

While the project of offering the Ordinary Form in a more traditional, beautiful, and reverent style is worthwhile and important, it is not enough. Ultimately, the Church needs to fix the root problem: a liturgical rite that is inherently weakened by the spirit of modern subjectivism. This is what the Reform of the Reform is all about: we don’t want simply to choose the better options, we want the Church to take away the worse options.

I pray and truly think that a reform of the modern Mass will occur, because I trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. And if certain men become Pope, I think I will be alive to see it happen.

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