Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reform of the Reform: what is the key issue? Part 2

The Traditional Mass is about the Peace of Christ.

In my last post I wrote about the bewildering variety of issues which those involved in the Reform of the Reform movement are concerned about - or should be. These issues are urgent: whether through liturgical abuses, some of them reluctantly authorised after years of conflict, or through ill-conceived aspects of the Reform which Cardinal Ratzinger criticised, sometimes with considerable force, these aspects of the Novus Ordo (as it is usually encountered) are doing damage, year by year, to the Faith of Catholics in every country in the world. It is not surprising that the Church is having problems proclaiming the Gospel.

The obstacles to dealing with these issues are, however, huge. While keeping a grip on the seriousness of the problem, we also need to understand the impossible situation conscientious parish priests are in. At its simplest, going too far can simply end the priest's tenure in the parish, with nothing achieved. e.e. cummings expressed it nicely:

Don't go too far, said she.
What's too far? said he.
Where you are, said she.

It's not so different for the Monsignori in the Curia. There are good, as well as lazy, stupid, and bad people in Rome - like everywhere else. They tried, especially from the mid 1990s to the end of St John Paul's pontificate, to put a brake on abuses with a series of official documents. These weren't pointless, because they drew attention to the problems and stooped the abuses from being seen as de facto permitted, but they made no discernable progress in stopping the abuses. Since then, we've had the new English translation of the Missal, Summorum Pontificum, and the Anglican Ordinariate: top-down reforms which made an important difference. But they also demonstrated the problem of opposition from bishops around the world. We aren't going to have more things like that because Pope Francis does not want a civil war in the Church over the liturgy. That, I should say, is a perfectly understandable position.

Movement, outside of a handful of parishes, on the issues I discussed in the last post, is not going to happen unless there is a change of mood among the Faithful themselves, and ideally the Bishops as well. This is not going to happen as a result of the Reform of the Reform, because it is a precondition of the Reform of the Reform happening in the first place. It's not going to happen as a result of ordinary Catholics reading scholarly books, or even blogs, either, because only a tiny percentage do either.

Is it offputting to children?
Many in the Reform of the Reform movement have argued that the Traditional Mass is a step too far, something ordinary Catholics will never accept, which is why they (priests and scholars) have to focus on tweaking the Ordinary Form. They sometimes say that this would be a way, not only of addressing the serious problems I have mentioned, but of preparing the ground for the Vetus Ordo. However, the opposite is the case.

The Reform of the Reform agenda strikes directly at the spiritual lives of Catholics completely unprepared to go down the path of tradification. That is why its supporters see it as such an opportunity, because - they say - these Catholics need better liturgy more than anyone, but it is also why it is not going to work. Catholics - and there are many - who see their attendance at Mass largely in terms of human contact with the priest and their fellow worshippers, are driven up the wall by each and every one of the items on the Reform of the Reform wish list. Not only that, but these Catholics often sense their power as representatives of a dominant ideology, and are willing to use that power to make their priests' lives impossible. If the Reform of the Reform is going to work, this group needs either to be converted or somehow made less significant within the parish.

The thing which can be done, in a parish, to bring this about is the introduction of the Traditional Mass. Yes, obviously, the liberal die-hards will hate it. They may even complain to the bishop. But he is much less likely to listen, for two reasons. First, the rights of the priest and any traddies in the parish to have the Vetus Ordo are settled by Summorom Pontificum, and secondly, the complaints are much less reasonable.

Let's consider things from the Bishop's perspective. Bishops are not solely motivated by ideology. They respond to complaints because, ultimately, they are concerned about people's spiritual welfare. If a priest drives his flock away by praying in Latin with his back to them, this - it is natural for the Bishop to think - is a problem. But if busybodies are complaining because other people in the parish are doing something which those other people find spiritually beneficial, which is permitted by the Church, that is not a real problem. The liberals should perhaps learn to live and let live.

Once established in a parish, the Traditional Mass can start to have an effect. Some people will attend it. Their numbers will gradually grow. If it is at a reasonable time, and above all if it is on a Sunday, it can easily become as big as one of the other Sunday Masses over a few years - this has happened in many places. People will discover it by accident, when it is convenient for them one week. It will make them think; it may stimulate them to read up on it. It has the power to change them. It has more power, because it is not just an improvement on the unreformed Reform in one respect, but in a whole lot of ways, looking at it from the Reform of the Reformer's perspective.

If it changes enough people, the balance of political forces in the parish will itself begin to shift. The possibilities start to open up. This is not the work of a moment; this is something which takes years, but difficulties are bearable if one can make progress.

Ultimately, the knowledge, even a slight one, of the Traditional Mass, and the understanding that it is legitimate, valuable, and represents many centuries of Tradition, on the part of the Novus Ordo congregation, will make them far more amenable to the Reform of the Reform type changes than they were before. It is important to remember that many Catholics have been educated not just in ignorance of the Tradition, but to vilify it.

The Reform of the Reform is not an easier, more practical, more politically astute alternative to introducing the Traditional Mass in a parish. It is more difficult, less practical, and less politically astute. The Reform of the Reform is not the only way the Traditional Mass can be made acceptable to the average Catholic in the pew. The Traditional Mass, as part of the liturgical life of the parish, is the only way the Reform of the Reform is ever going to become acceptable to the average Catholic in the pew.

The Rosary Walk at West Grinstead


  1. Agreed. Now if you can just find me a priest who is prepared to offer both forms of Mass for my parish....

  2. I don't think that "Many in the Reform of the Reform movement have argued that the Traditional Mass is a step too far". I firmly believe that if the Pope dropped the NO and mandated TLM tomorrow, most of the people in the Reform of the Reform movement would submit (perhaps after a bit of bristling).

    I think that many in the Reform of the Reform movement it's too radical a step for the average Catholic. There can be no progress on this from while the average Catholic believes the narrative that in TLM, the priest is turning his back on the people to ignore them, mumbles so no-one can hear him, speaks in a language no-one understands, forces people to kneel *to him* to receive communion, keeps people out of the sanctuary, and exclude women from the Church.

    That narrative has to be changed since it is wrong at every level. The main question point of difference is how? Reform of the Reformers believe that these issues can be handled gradually with catechesis along the way (first deal with ad orientem, then communion in the hand, then introduction of Latin for common prayers (e.g. Agnes Dei, Kyrie eleison, etc), then ...). The main motto for this approach is "draw them in and elevate them".

    TLM purists believe clean break is needed and see that co-existence with NO is the best approach and that NO attendees should be coaxed into attending TLM. The main motto for this approach is "If you build it, they will come. Come and see."

    My own perspective is that both approaches are needed. There are an awful number of Catholics that need milk, and would choke on meat, There are also a lot who are starving because they have not told that meat exists or provided with it. Neither can be neglected, but we must not be content with leaving Catholics malnourished on milk alone.

  3. I suspect the answer will come from the bottom up, that is from our priests. Both Summorum Pontificum and Quo Primum, give all priests the right and authority to say the Vetus Ordo. This is not subject to Episcopal authority.

    A new generation of priests, familiar with the internet, and sites such as this, are now more aware of their ancient Catholic roots.

    Another factor is the continuing collapse in the numbers of priests. In my diocese this is becoming critical. Parishes will have to close on a large scale over the next 20 years and I mean large, minus 50 – 60%. It can be done in a planned way, highly unlikely, or in a reluctant panicky and chaotic way, likely, but it will happen.

    The Church will be much smaller and the Traditional orders growing rapidly will have to come into the equation. These priests, alongside new priests once again familiar with the ancient Catholic Mass, will mean a convergence of the two major forms of the Latin Rite to a point where the Vetus Ordo will again be the Mass (the 11.00 Mass?) in most parishes, as it used to be.

    And then we can start to think about evangelisation?

  4. In fairness, it is more than understandable why the Reform of the Reform came into being, and had such staying power. Consider the history: The project really got going in earnest in the 1990's, thanks to groups like Adoremus and a handful of noteworthy scholars like Ratzinger and Gamber. By that point, there was a growing realization of how dangerously banal the liturgy had become, but the TLM was essentially off limits, even despite Quattor abhinc annos and Ecclesia Dei - no one wanted to be at risk for association with the SSPX, and the TLM was simply seen as radiocative, whether one's career was lay or clerical or (God help you) academic.

    So the answer was the reform of the Pauline Missal. Not just because it seemed achievable in a way that a restoration, however limited, of the TLM was not; but because proponents generally sprang from the Communio school or nearby precincts, and were genuinely dedicated to retrieving the Council through a hermeneutic of continuity long before Pope Benedict popularized the expression. And once their standard bearer was elected Pope, they could genuinely feel that they were now moving from strength to strength. Only in the latter years of the last pontificate were the limitations of that approach becoming evident. Today, they seem glaring.

    One can find the rare case where a parish has been able to pull off a RotR, to the extent that a parish can do so: Jay Scott Newman at St. Mary's in Greenville, SC, for example. But these have been very rare, and they required, in every case I know of, an extraordinary pastor, a great deal of hard work, and a congregations that were unusually conservative to begin with.

    Which is why I have come to think that Dr. Shaw's approach has a lot to be said for it. You can't change everything. If you try, the resistance will be too fierce. But you can create oases of tradition, within dioceses, and then within parishes, and watch them grow and multiply. Tradition becomes a generally available *option*, but not mandatory. In short, greater liturgical diversity is going to be the order of the day. At some point, a multiplier effect comes into being.

    The reality is that it was far easier to destroy than it is to rebuild. But that is true of other human endeavors (which the liturgy is, in part), too. Rome itself took over a millennium to recover physically from the work of the Vandals and the Goths. May we all pray that the restoration of the Roman Rite liturgy does not take quite so long to recover from the handiwork of the mid-20th century liturgical reformers.