Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mgr Loftus attacks the Ordinary Form (as celebrated)

Oppression! Oppression!
Readers might have receive the impression that Mgr Basil Loftus is dismissive of the idea that priests and people should be slavishly obedient to the minutiae of ceremonial legislation. His phrase, from his column only last week, about 'rubrical nit-pickers' may have added to this impression. But how wrong that is! No, it turns out that he is actually in favour of rubrical nit-picking, as long as it is he who is picking the nits - or pointing out which nits should be picked, and which nits (or, as it may be, camels) should be left alone (or swallowed).

It seems he has the highest regard for the role of rubrical nit-pickery as a form of liturgical catechesis. He is oddly obsessed by the importance of the 'Communion song', but he is interested in other matters too. 

'But on some occasions it is a relief to be able to speak from the conviction of specialised knowledge. This is one of those occasions, and it allows me to say that as far as canon law is concerned we are still being oppressed by non-essentials, which ignore Paul's decision not to burden the Church with them (Acts 15:28). Our interior growth in holiness may not be positively impeded, but it very often isn't helped either.

'...The energy, and indeed the money, recently expended in the imposition on the English-speaking world, an unwanted and unwelcome, artificial and stilted, unprofessional and occasionally theologically inaccurate translation of the Mass, which did not even originate from the "competent territorial authorities" entrusted with liturgical translation by Vatican II (SC, n.36.4), must have been at the expense of more fruitful ways of achieving the goal of "full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n14).

     'Certainly, it appears to have been to the detriment of of emphasis on elementary measures to improve participation. When was the last reference to Vatican II's "hearty endorsement" [ie not command] of the use of hosts consecrated at the Mass in which they hare to be given in Communion (n.55). How may parishes still routinely and abusively [abusively? In conformity with immemorial tradition] turn to the tabernacle for the Communion hosts, imitating the television cook who explains: "Here's one I prepared earlier"? How many ignore the ruling that, in order to preserve the dynamism of the Presence of Christ in the altar where Mass is celebrated, the secondary altar which houses the tabernacle should not be reverenced or decorated with lights or flowers during Mass? What of the Church's wish that people be educated to appreciate that reception of Holy Communion under both kinds is "fuller" in its symbolism? No urging on that seems to have taken place recently. And every week people in many parishes are deprived of fuller participation because, in total contravention of an explicit General Instruction in the Roman Missal, their view is impeded by a crucifix and six candlesticks [as Pope Benedict did: see photo]. Nor does there seem to be any concern that there is also very widespread ignoring of the equally forceful instruction that there should be a Communion song...'

In short, the way the Ordinary Form is celebrated is commonly lousy (or nit-infested) with liturgical abuses that "contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament". Those are the words of the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum; more of that later.
The worthy man goes on to rail some more about the new translation: faced with its phrases 'priest and people lose the will to live, let alone try to understand Church teaching about the hand as a throne for Christ at Communion, the fuller symbolism of Communion from the chalice, of the need to sing during the Communion procession. In consequence a liturgical catechesis, which is not only desirable but mandatory, is not taking place.' 

Well let me let some light into the darkness Mgr Loftus has generated here. To go into all the issues of liturgical law he raises would be tedious indeed, but briefly on three narrow points: the use of 'hieratic' language in the new translation of the 1970 Missal, the 'secondary altar', and the reception of Communion under Both Kinds.

The problem of the obscuring of the teaching of the Church and its intelligibility to the Faithful by poor translations is real enough, but this was the problem with the old translation far more than the new. Who could defend translating 'Credo' as 'We believe', 'pro multis' as 'for all', and so on? Actually many people defended them, with spaniel-like devotion, but they were nevertheless indefensible. It is impossible to deny that the new translation is more faithful to the Latin original than the old one. It isn't perfect: no translation is. That's one reason why the liturgy should be celebrated in Latin: then we actually use the canonical liturgical text, and don't tear the Church in half every couple of decades arguing over the best vernacular equivalent: see the FIUV paper on Latin. But the point about the new translation is that it uses 'hieratic' (Loftus: 'posh') language because the Latin does. The Latin is not everyday Latin, it is funny church Latin with lots of grand adjectives, archaic words, and (dread word) poetic phrases.

The 'secondary altar' business is complicated, but many churches either do, or ought, according to the rules, use an altar with the tabernacle fixed to it, a practice Loftus clearly abhors. Here's the Congregation for Divine Worship: 

Cases must be considered in which the sanctuary does not allow for the placing of an altar facing the people or in which it would not be possible to maintain the existing altar with its ornamentation intact and at the same time install a forward-facing altar that could be seen as the principal altar. In such cases it is more faithful to the nature of the liturgy to celebrate at the existing altar, back to the people, than to maintain two altars at the same sanctuary. The principle of there being only one altar is theologically more important than the practice of celebrating facing the people.’ Notitiae 29 (1993)

Communion under both kinds: yes, Sacrosanctum Concilium suggested this might be allowed for certain highly restricted and intimate occasions. What rulings following this repeated again and again was that it is innapropriate for the Chalice to be offered when there are large numbers of communicants: as in a typical parish on a Sunday. Thus, Inaestimabile Donum (1980) tells us:

Episcopal conferences and ordinaries also are not to go beyond what is laid down in the present discipline: the granting of permission for Communion under both kinds is not to be indiscriminate, and the celebrations in question are to be specified precisely; the groups that use this faculty are to be clearly defined, well disciplined, and homogeneous.

Some time after this the Vatican gave up trying to stop bishops from permitting it as widely as they liked, but the document's point is still valid. Offering the Chalice routinely to large numbers of people is asking for trouble, practically (given how it is distributed in the Latin Church) and theologically (obscuring the reality that Our Lord is present entire in the Host), and was never the intention of the Council Fathers.

Inaestimabile Donum in 1980, Redemptionis Sacramentum in 2004, and a number of documents in between represent the concerted, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to reign in liturgical abuses in the Ordinary Form, under Bl Pope John Paul II. They failed because there was no system of enforcement, and if things are better now it is not because of fear of sanctions from these rules, but because a new generation of priests, and in some cases bishops, want to be stricter about the rules even if it makes them unpopular, even if people like Mgr Loftus attack them for it.

Loftus is suggesting that the failure to persecute priests who don't conform to his favourite liturgical fads is oppressive. He proudly points out that some of these fads are permitted, and is sad that they are not widespread. Last week he violently attacked priests who keep other rules, which he think are themselves oppressive. All in all, he is very dissatisfied with the way the Ordinary Form is celebrated, not just because of failures to keep the rules but because of the rules themselves, a position which seems to be widely shared right across the spectrum of opinion in the Church.

Bishop Rifan incenses the Altar at an LMS Mass in Leeds last year. Notice the candles and flowers embellishing the tabernacle (a normal feature of this church I assume). It is an irrepressible Catholic instinct to honour Our Lord in the Sacrament.

Take some advice from me, Mgr Loftus. If you want to criticise the Ordinary Form, do so in moderation, and without impugning the good will of those who disagree with you, or who take advantage of liturgical options are not to your taste. Otherwise, you end up embittering the debate and entrenching positions.


  1. Just when you think the Monsignor could not possibly embarrass himself any more than he has hitherto...

  2. "And every week people in many parishes are deprived of fuller participation because, in total contravention of an explicit General Instruction in the Roman Missal, their view is impeded by a crucifix and six candlesticks..."

    There's an incredibly easy solution to this difficulty: Celebrate Mass ad orientem. (It's even permitted in the GIRM!)

    At that point, there won't be anything at all between the congregation and the priest - not even the altar.

  3. Was Basil receiving on the tongue in his last photo above?