Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Organic Abuses?

The Pray Tell blog recently had a bizarre post about how liturgical development arises through people breaking liturgical law. Paul Inwood, who had the nerve to say that people attached to the traditional Mass were disobedient and that Summorum Pontificum was a 'reward for disobedience', has done an extraordinary back-flip to suggest that such rewards are not only a good thing, but an established part of the way the Church develops the liturgy.

He writes:
Fritz is absolutely right. This is the Church’s common modus operandi — practice supersedes edict, and edict eventually catches up with practice.
It happened with Communion in the hand and female altar servers, as Fritz points out. It also happened with Communion under both kinds and lay Ministers of Communion. (Interesting that so much has centred on the distribution of Communion.) It also happened with some gestures and some words (”in these or similar words”) in the main rites.
These are words of a man who clearly knows and cares only about what has been happening in the Church since about 1950 - a period characterised not by healthy development, but by 'accelerated decomposition' and 'self demolition' (Paul VI), liturgical abuses which cause 'profound grief' (Bl John-Paul II), 'a manufactured liturgy' and 'the collapse the of the liturgy' (Benedict XVI). If this is liturgical development, give me liturgical sclerosis.
How, in fact, does organic development actually work, in the history of the liturgy?
First, while Inwood and his friends have grasped the idea that organic development is about incremental changes, not sudden and radical ones; they simply ignore the possibility that such changes to the liturgy could be made by people with the authority to make them. This may not necessarily only be the Pope: it could be the religious superiors of religious orders, bishops, or even priests, depending on the change and depending on the legal situation at the time. Today, a new feast, for example, even one only for local celebration, would have to be approved by the Holy See, but this clearly wasn't the case in the 4th Century. Even today, the practice of having the Angelus before Mass starts, when Mass is scheduled for 6pm, or the practice of singing a Marian Anthem after Mass ends, is a matter of the preference of the priest, and such practices could one day spread to the point that they are an established custom of a part, or the whole, of the Latin Church, and be regarded for practical purposes as part of the Mass.
(On issue which may be confusing the Pray Tell writers is that rubricists and writers of liturgical manuals over the centuries often condemn practices which they don't like, but it does not follow that those practices were actually illicit. These liturgical experts, even if their work is recommended by bishops and the Pope, don't have episcopal or papal authority, and their views are not decrees.)
Second, they also ignore the possibility that development can take place by the increasing use of one legitimate option over another, until one becomes universal and the other disapeers.
Third, they ignore a key feature of the vast majority of the liturgical developments in the history of Catholic liturgy, which is that features of the liturgy which become mandated for universal use were first licit practices locally, or, alternatively, something which is introduced into one Rite was a longstanding, licit feature of another, or, again, something is made universal which was previously a feature of the liturgy on a particular feast or during a particular season. (On the last of these, think of the Preface for Trinity Sunday, now used throghout the year with some exceptions, and the Gloria, a Christmas devotion also used throughout the year except in penitential seasons.)
In all these ways organic development can take place without the classic move of the totalitarian liberal: that what was previously everywhere forbidden is now compulsory. This move never fails to cause scandal and upset to the faithful, and to sow dismay and confusion among those foolish enough to abide by the rules. It punishes the orthodox and rewards the rebel. Contributors to the Pray Tell blog seem to be in love with this way of doing things, until the boot is on the other foot, as with the new Missal translation...
To illustrate, here are a few examples of liturgical development.
1. The fusion of the Roman and Gallican Missals and Chant traditions under Charlemagne and Alcuin. This is one of the most important developments of the first millennium of the Latin Rite, and it happened with the acquiecence of the authorities of the day. The process was a long, complicated and to some extent adventitious, rather than planned, but it did not involve committees writing new texts or priests making things up on the hoof, nor did it involve introducing elements into the Catholic liturgy which were up to then utterly foreign to it. Rather, the decision was made to use particular parts of existing, legitimate, and living texts and chant traditions, and to discontinue others.
2. The incorporation of features of Eastern rites into the Latin liturgy in the High Middle Ages. The Crusaders were deeply impressed by the liturgy they found in the East, and we can thank them for the use of Greek in the Easter Vigil, for example. There was no making up of half-witted novelties by self-appointed liturgists incapable of understanding what is conformable to the Catholic liturgy and what is not.
3. The spread of feasts and devotions, some with important doctrinal significance, from the Immaculate Conception to the Sacred Heart. Such things were made universal after they had been legitimate local practices for many years, in many cases for centuries. Another example of this is the rise and then the decline (under the influence of the liturgical movement) of votive Masses, vis-a-vis the sanctoral and temporal cycles. This was and remains to a large extent a matter of legitimate choice by priests but it reflects, and influences, the liturgical devotion of the faithful.
So no, Mr Inwood, the 'Church's modus operandi' of organic development is not that a few priests or lay liturgical planners too full of themselves to be content with the overwhelming riches of the Church's liturgical patrimony decide to force on the faithful some practice which has been universally forbidden for centuries as undermining the faith - no, that's not how it works. Instead, practical and devotional reasons suggest a development which is either already legitimate or which can be made so by appropriate authority.

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