"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)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Catholic Liturgical Wars

Apologetics and random musings from the Bible Belt.

I apologise for the title of this article. While descriptive of what I am about to write, it does sound like an oxymoron. Perhaps that's because the times in which we live are somewhat of an oxymoron. This article pertains strictly to the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church and the chaos that has erupted over the last forty years concerning the celebration of the liturgy.

I am an outsider, or at least I was. I did not take part in the battles that erupted after the institution of the New Roman Missal in the 1970s. I was living in the Protestant world, raised in a Protestant family, and attending Protestant churches. I was oblivious to the problems in the Catholic Church and could care less. Having been born Lutheran, and attended a few Lutheran services as a very small child, I was not entirely a stranger to liturgy. Eventually my family went Baptist, but the style of Baptist church my parents chose ("Northern" American Baptist) still retained a shell of liturgy nevertheless. My grandmother was Catholic, as were most of my childhood friends in Southern California. So while occasionally attending mass with them, I got reminders of what more structured liturgy should look like. This is the full extent of my exposure to liturgy in my youth.

As a young adult I became a nondenominational Evangelical. (That's an "unaffiliated Protestant" for those of you who don't know what that is.) The style of worship we did there was about as unstructured as one can get. Yet still there was a basic shell of liturgy nonetheless. There were times for standing and singing. Times for sitting and praying. A time to listen to the sermon. Once in a blue-moon a responsitory psalm was read, and this had a strong feel of liturgy. Once a month, we even had a little communion ritual, which had the feel of liturgy. Without going into too much detail here, my wife and I eventually left our Evangelical church to search for a more liturgical one. We ended up in a little Episcopal Church, and there we became accustomed to the Anglican liturgical tradition. Within a short time after that, we converted to Catholicism, and found ourselves right smack dab in the middle of what I can only describe as an all-out liturgical war! I have since found the whole thing to be exhausting and ridiculous! In truth, had my wife and I known what we were getting into, and had we not been so committed to unity with the Chair of Saint Peter, we would have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy instead.

Yes, I said it. THUD! There it is.

Now allow me to explain. First and foremost, we are 100% committed to unity with the Chair of Saint Peter (meaning the pope), and because of that we chose Catholicism and we will remain Catholic indefinitely. Second, we love the Catholic Church, and there is no chance of us leaving. To do so would be as painful as an amputation. So that's not going to happen. Third, I am absolutely convinced that God's liturgical plan is unfolding in the Catholic Church, and I am eager to see what the result will be, and to be part of it. Now that that is out of the way, let me explain why I find this whole liturgical war in the Catholic Church to be exhausting, unnecessary and ridiculous.

You see, I know a little something about modernism and traditionalism. Contrary to the beliefs of some Catholics, these things do exist outside the Catholic Church. In fact, they are pervasive in all religious traditions these days. During the 20th century, modernism swept over the entire religious spectrum in the West like a tsunami. Not a single Christian denomination was left unaffected. The same even holds true for Judaism. Modernism became the sweeping heresy of our time, and it didn't matter what church or denomination you belonged to. If you lived in Europe, North America or Oceania, you were exposed to it.

Now religious modernism is best described this way. It is a break with the past, or a "hermeneutic of rupture" with the past, lacking any continuity with historical religion and values. It is marked by rationalistic approach to scripture, focusing on the text itself before even considering the traditional context from which it came. Sometimes this traditional context is discarded entirely. It is also marked by the embrace of secularism in matters relating to the state and society at large; almost a relativist approach to faith and morality. Liturgically speaking, it is marked by a total disregard for the organic development of tradition and custom, preferring instead an artificial and manufactured approach to worship, created entirely from the imagination of modern people.

Traditionalism is the polar opposite of this. It is a tendency to cling to the past, and while some traditionalists long to return to the "good ol' days," others understand that to be unrealistic. Among those who are practical, there is simply a desire to recover the good things that were lost, and then move forward in a way that preserves organic continuity with the past. Unfortunately, not everyone is practical. Some people can't see anything good in progress as all, and this is usually a knee-jerk reaction to the abuses of modernism that have already taken place. These extreme traditionalists not only want to return to the past, but some even develop elaborate conspiracy theories to explain why things currently are the way they are. At the root of this psychosis is a failure to understand that Christ's Church is imperfect and history is riddled with examples of her mistakes.

Now when we look at the 20th century, we can clearly see modernism beginning to take shape as early as the 1920s through 1960s in religious denominations across the board. By the 1970s, literally everyone was caught up in it to some degree or another and this would include (but is not limited to) the Catholic Church. Now to be sure, there were plenty of modernists within the Catholic Church prior to the 1970s. We can find there kind going all the way back to the 19th century. But what was somewhat hidden before the 1970s, came out into the open during the 1970s, and in that sense, the Catholic Church joined the "party" of Protestant Christianity in celebrating the modern age. Indeed, if the 1970s and 80s were a "party," then we are now living through the "hangover."

As an outsider, coming into the Catholic Church in the year 2000, I found the way the Catholic Church dealt with this "party" to be strange and bizarre. You see Protestants have a common sense about them. When the modern changes to the liturgy (and sometimes doctrine) were introduced to their churches, they knew that the older generation would have a hard time accepting them. They even understood that some young people may not be interested. So what just about every Protestant church has done, in an attempt to accommodate everyone they can, is deliver a minimum of two services on Sunday mornings. The first is usually more traditional, and the second is more modern (or contemporary). As to how this might affect the doctrinal teachings, well, that all depends on the denomination. Some gradually moved into a more permissive (modernist) theology related to faith and morals. Others simply retained their traditional theology, but permitted the modern (contemporary) worship anyway. I would have to say it is the latter that turned out to have the most success in the Protestant world. In all of these groups however, there was a clear recognition that radical change is bad. It just wasn't seen as a good idea to dump one form of worship in favour of another. When some members of the congregation called for modern (contemporary) worship, accommodations were almost always made for those who preferred the old ways. This eliminated infighting, reduced hard feelings, prevented schism and provided for a smooth transition between old and new.

Not so in the Catholic Church! No! Instead something entirely different happened; particularly in Europe, North America and Oceania. It began with the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. Now, when you actually read the conciliar documents themselves, without others trying to influence your interpretation, what you'll read is a relatively traditional text. Yes, some accommodations are made for modernisation and updating here and there. Yes, some touchy issues are left a little vague. Yet, if these things are interpreted in a hermeneutic of organic continuity with First Vatican Council, and the Council of Trent, it's really not that radical at all. That's the trick you see. Vatican II is incomplete without Vatican I. You can't even have a Vatican II without a Vatican I. They are two halves of the same pie. Both of them fit into the crust of the Council of Trent. It's all one package you see! If you interpret them all together you'll get it right. If you separate one out, and try to interpret it in a vacuum, you'll get it wrong. Unfortunately, that is the problem with modernism you see. It seeks a total and complete break with the past. So when the modernists of the late 20th century got a hold of the documents produced by Vatican II, you can just imagine what they did with them.

What followed was a reworking of Catholic liturgy. Now Vatican II didn't directly call for a whole new missal to be produced, but nevertheless, Pope Paul VI seemed to feel that the Church would best be served by a new missal that could easily adapt to some of the updates called for in Vatican II. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing is something Catholic historians will have to decide a hundred years from now. The point is, it happened. Now had the Catholic Church employed the methods used by many Protestants in introducing changes, it likely wouldn't have had the problems it did. First and foremost, when the new missal was introduced, with vernacular translations, it should have been made crystal clear that the old missal was never suppressed. This would allow local priests the opportunity to celebrate one mass according to the old missal in Latin, and one mass according to the new missal, likely translated into the local vernacular language. That didn't happen. Even though the old missal was never suppressed, and was always permitted, that message for whatever reason, didn't get through. Thus, faithful Catholics who had been attending the Latin mass all their lives, were subjected to a "ripping away" of the missal they had always known and loved, in favour of this new missal that seemed very strange and foreign to them, even if it was translated into their local language. A whole lot of people were hurt by this, and it was completely and totally unnecessary.

What followed that was something that can only be described as chaos. Now granted, keep in mind, I was a Protestant child at this time. I had no idea any of this was going on, nor did I care. I am approaching this whole topic as a historian here, looking back on it in a disconnected way. I didn't live through this epic in the Catholic Church's history. I was not personally affected by it. I am however living through the results. As I said, what followed the introduction of the new missal, and the effectual (though not literal) suppression of the old missal, was liturgical chaos. It seemed that everyone had their own idea of what this new missal was all about and how it should be interpreted. Some tried to maintain a hermeneutic of organic continuity with the past. These were the more practical traditionalist. Others, sought a hermeneutic of rupture, or total break, with the past. It is this latter group from which the majority of the chaos came. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out in the final days of his pontificate, this hermeneutic or rupture was largely caused by the mainstream news media. Namely because the press was "reporting" on changes the Catholic Church had made through the Second Vatican Council, which in fact, it had not made. Thus, the majority of Catholics, both clergy and laity, were under many impressions that were false and promoted by the media. Benedict XVI described this as the "council of the media," which stood mostly in opposition to the real council of Vatican II, yet claimed to be reporting on it.

The fallout of this was catastrophic and totally unnecessary. Modernists came up with all sorts of goofy innovations that turned the liturgy into a dry, banal shell of what it once used to be. To compensate for this, they came up with some more goofy innovations to "spice it up a little," which in some cases, created a circus atmosphere. Practical traditionalists tried to make things work as best as they could, celebrating the new missal with the reverence of the old. Sadly, these faithful souls dwindled as modernists increased, and a growing number of traditionalists fell into the very impractical and extremist camps. As I said above, extreme traditionalists are the result of a knee-jerk reaction to modernism. This is true for all fundamentalists of various types, and an extreme traditionalist really is just another way of saying "Catholic fundamentalism." To be perfectly clear, extreme traditionalists (fundamentalists) do not create themselves. Traditionalism is never a movement that arises on its own. It is always a reaction to something else, and it's usually the result of some kind of abuse by that something else. In this case, that "something else" was modernism. What happened in the 1970s and 80s can only be described as abuse, in that I mean the modernists abused the Catholic Church, both in liturgy and teaching, and as a result of that, extreme Catholic traditionalism was born. Like all fundamentalists, they rejected everything that is perceived to be "modern," and they selected Vatican II as their starting point. They developed elaborate conspiracy theories to explain the liturgical and doctrinal predicament the Church currently finds herself in. On the less extreme end are those who say the Second Vatican Council was illegitimate. On the more extreme end are those who say every pope since John XXIII was illegitimate (sedevacantism)! All of these radical traditionalists tend to dismiss the historical fact that the seeds of modernism were planted in the Church a full century before the Second Vatican Council, and that modernist tendencies were already beginning to develop before the 1960s. They fail to recognise, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out in the final days of his pontificate, that these abuses were not the result of the Council itself, but rather the result of a spirit of modernism, promoted by the media, and already prevalent in every Protestant denomination worldwide.

So here we are, in the early days of the 21st century, and this is the current situation. The modernists are still with us, albeit diminished in number (due to age), but still very powerful in influence. Thanks to the efforts of Pope John Paul II in 1988 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, the traditional Latin mass of the old missal has been restored to it's proper place and can no longer be effectively suppressed by those who were influenced by modernism and the false "council of the media." This movement of PRACTICAL traditionalism, supported by the pope emeritus, seeks only to recover some of what was lost, and move forward in a hermeneutic of organic continuity with the past. What the pope emeritus has done is given a rebirth to practical traditionalism, and taken some of the wind out of the sails of radical traditionalism. The radical traditionalists are still with us of course, and they are larger and stronger than ever. They've got nowhere to go now, but they still remain an imposing figure. Remember, these are not "bad" people. On the contrary, they are good people who are attempting in every way they know to be loyal to the historic teachings and practises of the Catholic Church. The problem is they were victims of modernist abuse, and it has left them scarred, unable to cope with the current reality the Catholic Church new faces. Finally, we have a new pope - His Holiness Pope Francis - who's forthcoming reforms are uncertain, and that has left many on all sides a bit nervous.

There is no way we can know at this point what the future holds. What we do know is this. Pope Francis comes from Latin America, and Latin America would seem to be the land the liturgy wars forgot. Latin American priests often celebrate liturgy in a very modernistic way, yet at the same time maintain a certain bare minimum of decorum and respect for the sacred rite. Simultaneously, the often do this with a staunch adherence to orthodox Catholic teaching. Now, please don't think I'm stereotyping here. There are always examples of blatant abuse and painful heresies. These however, would appear to be the exception to the norm, rather than the norm itself. So it would seem, there is a disconnect between modernist liturgy and modernist teaching in Latin America, which is not the case in Europe, North America and Oceania. Usually in these places, a modernist liturgy is almost certainly connected to modernist doctrinal teaching (borderline heresy), usually coupled with an outright harassment of traditionalists (both practical and extreme). While in Latin America, so it would seem, the traditionalists are at least respected, even if they don't always get what they want. These are just the reports I'm getting right now, and it would seem to be consistent with my own personal experience with Latin American culture in Southern California. Like I said, there are always exceptions to the norm, but it is the norms I'm trying to relay right now. So it is believed, it is hoped, that Pope Francis will in some way be able to draw upon his Latin American experience to help heal the rift that has developed in the liturgy wars of Europe, North America and Oceania. Now however, is not the time for assumptions and prognostications. Now is the time for prayer and patience. We wait to see what will happen.

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