Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fr Longenecker, the Latin Mass, and the magic bullet

Reposted from October 2015.


An act of revence during Mass before the Blessed Sacrament Exposed, for Corpus Christi:
it tells us something, does it not? (What does the little chap on the left think?)
Further to my post the other day someone noted a recent post on this topic by Fr Dwight Longenecker: 'Is the Latin Mass a Magic Bullet?'. In it he attempts to put the thoughts of those 'conservative' Catholics who don't much like the Traditional Mass, about the relationship between the crisis in the Church and the liturgy, into order. The result is fascinating. Some key quotes, with a few comments of mine in black.

The problems in the Catholic church are not due to lack of reverence at Mass. The lack of reverence at Mass is due to the problems in the church. But it can't help, can it?

Simply obeying the rubrics or performing the Mass in this direction or that direction or standing here or there or wearing this particular vestment or that particular vestment or holding your fingers together there and bowing properly there do not necessarily make a Mass reverent. It makes the Mass more formal. .... So what's the point of them?

Here is my main point: I think those who blame all the problems of the church on the Novus Ordo are simply missing the point. If there are things wrong with the Novus Ordo they are symptoms, not causes. The core problem in the church is not the Novus Ordo or the liturgical abuses or the bad hymns and liturgical dance and all that awful stuff. So why exactly are these things 'awful'?

The reason the Latin Mass seems to be ‘more reverent’ is not because the language is in Latin or because the priest obeys all the rubrics or because he faces East. (remember I am not against all those things!) The reason the Latin Mass seems more reverent is because the people who attend the Latin Mass are far more likely to be well catechized Catholics ... So why do they go to this Mass and not another?

The reason the Novus Ordo so often seems irreverent is not any intrinsic deficit in the Novus Ordo. (otherwise why would Holy Church say that it remains the Ordinary Form of the Mass?) Instead the Novus Ordo is sometimes celebrated irreverently because people regard the Mass as a celebration of their social activism, or a community festival to increase their self esteem or a sentimental, individualistic, spiritual comfort session. They have ceased to really believe in sin and grace and a God who saves, and instead they look to one another for their salvation. So there’s not much reverence required there.  Aren't these beliefs reinforced by the abuses which express them?

The phrase 'lex orandi lex credendi' clearly doens't resonate with Fr Longenecker. Whether he realises it or not, he goes far further than simply dismissing the straw man claim he started with ('Some traditionalists also seem to think that all the church’s problems would be solved if only we would all return to the Latin Mass everywhere and at all times.': dude, I don't believe you have friends as stupid as that). His position appears to be the opposite extreme: that liturgy has no impact at all on the spiritual lives and religious attitudes and beliefs of the Faithful.

This is a claim of such utter insanity that I can't imagine Fr Longenecker consciously espouses it. But if he simply thought: 'Of the influences on Catholics, catechesis is on balance more important than the liturgy', then his conclusions would not follow. If the liturgy has some influence, then it would be at least part of the explanation for the strange phenomenon of well-catechised Catholics clustering around one Form of the Mass; at least part of the cause of the problems in the Church; and so on. He would, in short, find himself expressing a position we could all agree with.

The influence of the liturgy on the spiritual lives and on the dogmatic beliefs of Catholics is a constant theme of the Church's teaching on the liturgy. I could point to a score of references in the Magisterium, and it a major theme in Cardinal Ratzinger's writings. That a priest should be betrayed into suggesting, even inadvertently, that the liturgy makes no difference to what people end up believing is itself a symptom of a deep malaise in the Church.

A reverent form of receiving Communion, which expresses
the belief we have about it: or just an empty formality?
I would hope that all minimally sane Catholics would immediately agree that a range of things influence our spiritual lives and beliefs. Catechesis is one, but there are many others: our experience of religious art; cultural references of all kinds; newspapers, blogs, and books, including spiritual reading and study; the example of others; conversations; our own spiritual endeavours and experiences; and of course the liturgy. Looking at a community, or indeed the world-wide Church, we will expect to find these influences interacting, reinforcing or counteracting each other as time goes on. A big push by one or a group of them can draw the others in their wake: conversations take off from what we've read, the liturgy can be influenced by conversations, catechesis can be influenced by the liturgy (think of all those theologically weird hymns), catechesis stimulates spiritual writing or Catholic journalism or blogging, and round it goes again.

What Cardinal Ratzinger, and for that matter Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei, and Vatican II, and the whole Magisterium, is telling us is that the liturgy is not just a small part of this process: it can't be dismissed as an epiphenomenon, a 'sympton not a cause': no, it is of central importance. It's not the only thing - that idea is just silly - but it is, to coin a phrase, the source as well as the summit of the Christian life. (Many readers will know I'm paraphrasing not some loony trad, but Vatican II.)

Fr Longenecker should reflect on the fact that while all practising Catholics hear (if not actually listen to) sermons, adult Catholics are completely immune to systematic catechesis, except for temporary and atypical situations like marriage preparation. Your exciting new catechetical tools are not going to reach adults; the ones still practising, however, are going to be influenced by the liturgy. Even people who think that liturgy is a less powerful tool than catechesis in conveying theological ideas and habits of prayer, should still recognise its supreme value for those not in any kind of catechetical program, which is almost all adult Catholics.

I find it deeply disturbing that Fr Longenecker and others like him should be so deaf to Vatican II and the rest of the Magisterium on the importance of the liturgy. We seem to have bred up a generation of 'conservative' Catholics who are simply non-liturgical in their thinking. It doesn't make sense, of course, to say that you are in favour of things like Latin and worship ad orientem if you think they make no contribution to the reverence, the worthiness, of the liturgy. The contrast he offers between reverence and formality is, well, amazing, and I'm sorry he didn't have the time to explain what he means. He appears to think that the rubrics of the Mass have no meaning and convey nothing to the onlooker. The outlook all this suggests is mind-boggling.

But Fr Longenecker is in favour of Latin and ad orientem worship and welcomes the spread of the Traditional Mass, so looking at this incoherent position from the other end, it would follow that he cannot believe that it makes no difference, has no positive effect on the faithful, is not a more reverent act of worship to offer God, and so on. So I suppose we just have to leave Fr L suspended between the two positions, like a novice trapeze artist.

The rest of us, however, can hold fast to the fact that the Mass is the central mystery of our spiritual lives. The offering of the Unbloody Sacrifice with beauty and reverence, and in continuity with our predecessors in the Faith, is of fundamental importance in itself, and of fundamental importance for us. We know from experience what we are taught by the Church in the magisterium, that the liturgy is a 'school of prayer', that it is capable of softening the hardened heart, of consoling us and giving us strength to live our Christian lives. It puts us in direct touch with God in a way that nothing else can: not even the personal religious experiences of the great mystics can compare with the experience of Christ, really and objectively present upon the Altar and offered to the Father as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Experiencing this mystery, being able to grasp deep down that this is what is going on, is not guaranteed by the sacramental validity of the rite. I can feel the anger of the neo-cons rising as I write these words: how dare I say that the supernatural mystery of the Mass is less visible, is harder to experience, in a vernacular celebration larded with abuses? Sorry, guys, it is a fact we have all experienced; don't take it out on me, take it out on the Congregation for Divine Worship:

... abuses “contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament”. Thus, they also hinder the faithful from “re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: ‘and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.’”

Or better still, take it out on St John Paul II:

In various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament.

If the mystery is not vividly conveyed to you in Mass, perhaps you should try coming to the Traditional Mass.

A beautiful and profound liturgical gesture, speaking volumes about the importance of the
Gospel: the celebrant blesses the deacon about to sing the Gospel, and the deacon
kisses the celebrant's hand on the Evangeliarum.
A critique of a related opinion of the late Cardinal Hume on reverence and Latin can be found here.

Photographs from SS Gregory & Augustine; more on this Mass here.

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  1. Joseph, excellent post... but it is clear that Fr L is on a journey (as we all are) and he has not yet arrived where God is clearly leading him to! As you say, "we just have to leave Fr L suspended between the two positions, like a novice trapeze artist". Let's pray that Fr L soon comes to both know and understand the beauty, reverence and truth of the Old Rite. As we know, he is a convert and has been following the guidance of the Holy spirit for a long time now... which has brought him to the beauty of the Catholic Church in the first place.

    May we all continue to delve deeper into these beautiful mysteries for there is much learning for us all to do! God bless.

    1. The problem with this journey and patience line of thinking is that while a person (in this case, Fr. L) gets there, many others will be mislead by him. They may not be so fortunate as him in getting back on the right track.

      So I think we should only resort to patient inaction IF and ONLY IF there is no other action that we ourselves can carry out. Since writing a reply to him as Dr. Shaw has done is indeed an action we can carry out, I think it must be done.

      If we neglect what we ourselves can do and just simply resort to "patience", I think that is more appropriately called convenient laziness and will only be rewarded with more bad fruits in the long term.

  2. Anonymous2:15 pm

    Great post, but there's a shorter way of expressing this.

    Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. The "Spirit of Vatican II" mob knew this, so they changed the Orandi (made the priest turn around so he's the celebrity not Our Lord, moved the priest's chair behind the altar and moved the tabernacle to the side in many churches so we're worshiping the priest, got us to take hold of the Eurcharist standing instead of receive it meekly, so we can cavalierly take God as we wish rather than open ourselve to God's graces, etc), the Credendi naturally changes since humans can't live inconsistently too long, than thus the Vivendi changes. Returning to the pre-Vatican II Orandi won't fix everything (after all, most the pre-Vatican II priests were part of the Humanae Vitae rebellion and "Spirit of Vatican II" innovations), but it would stop the decline and regain some lost ground.

  3. The only valid conclusion that we can draw from Dwight Longenekers observations is that merely restoring the traditional liturgy and devotions wont automatically fix the problems afflicting the Church. However, I think that if their isn't a restoration we cannot even make a start (let's face it, when you study the Novus Ordo in detail you cannot help concluding that it is giant "V" sign to the Apostolic Tradition).

  4. Perhaps I am misreading him, but I think the point of the article was clearly that liturgy alone cannot be the explanation for the problems in the Church. Hence, the title implies that reviving the EF Mass as the ordinary and exclusive rite of the Western Church would have little impact without things like catechesis. The claim he makes over and over in that article is that some traditionalists assume ALL the problems of the Church stem from the liturgy, or that if only liturgical reform could come, then ALL problems would be solved. This does not seem to me to deny any impact from the liturgy; he just thinks modernism is what causes liturgical abuse (at least most often). Finally, I would offer that he believes equally in the dictum lex orandi - he notes explicitly that liturgical problems are symptoms of sickness. What he seems to mean by indicating that the EF need not be more reverent is that having vestments of a particular type or rubrics is not a SUFFICIENT condition for good liturgy. Consider how many abuses happened at various ages in the Church, despite full presence of Latin for hundreds of years. Church history illustrates this point clearly. I am fully in favor of the ancient liturgy, but I agree with Fr. L that the core problem is a false ideology that crept into the Church and, as a symptom, distorts our liturgical practice.

    1. I think the point of the article was clearly that liturgy alone cannot be the explanation for the problems in the Church.

      And I think the point of Joseph's response here is that 1) Fr. Longenecker appears to be at risk of attacking straw men by claiming that traditionalists actually hold this position in significant number; and 2) that there *is* a tendency on Fr. L's part to really diminish the role of the ritual overhaul to a very minor part of the explanation of what has happened.

  5. While Fr. Longenecker's perspective on this may have a peculiar matrix of influences - blogging at Patheos (where pretty much all the bloggers have an even more circumscribed view of liturgy, up to Mark Shea's "just show me my lines and blocking"), or simple reaction against some of the more toxic trads who crop up in Patheos comboxes (he has since closed his) - I think the biggest cause is the Novus Ordo itself. With its arrival, the Catholic Church completed its journey from high ritual church to low ritual church. The liturgy itself, with its casual talkiness, endless options, greater focus on the sermon, and minimal rubrics, seems to send the message that the liturgy is not so important - that it is a means to an end, and a means that can vary quite a lot, as you like. In short, it's an exercise in lex orandi, lex credendi. And the fact that western society itself, at least outside the military (which few participate in any more), is increasingly anti-ritual, only reinforces this.

    Of course, that journey to low ritualism did not begin in 1962, or even 1951. The Roman Rite in practice had in too many places (especially in the Irish dominated Anglophone world) drifted into an increasingly fragmented, privatized piety of Low Mass Culture some distance removed from the Late Middle Ages, something we traditionalists have to be sensitive to in rebuilding tradition. I love the Low Mass, but the normative celebration is supposed to be sung (hopefully well sung), and not just necessarily by the choir only.

  6. The false ideology argument only works with those versed in the scholarship of it, while most can only be reached by the liturgy. Fr L misses this.

  7. "People are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year -- in fact, forever. The church's teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man's nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God's teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life."

    -- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas

    1. That's a passage by Pius XI that could stand a lot more repeating.

  8. Thank God Dr. Joseph Shaw responded to Fr. Longenecker; I think Fr. Longenecker is a good, solid priest yet when he writes on the liturgy like this he not only deserves this response, he deserves a hose of responses. It's hard to even know where to begin as Fr. Longenecker gets so much wrong

    Fr. Longenecker writes: "Some traditionalists also seem to think that all the church’s problems would be solved if only we would all return to the Latin Mass everywhere and at all times." Now reword it like this: "Some [conservatives] also seem to think that all the church’s problems would be solved if only we would all return to [good catechesis] everywhere and at all times."

    Now, I don't know that any conservative would believe "all" the Church's problems would be solved by good catechesis but would it help out a great deal? Absolutely. Would it help solve a number of problems in the Church? Assuredly so (the problem of poor catechesis being one of them).

    Fr. Longenecker writes: "The reason the Latin Mass seems to be ‘more reverent’ is not because the language is in Latin or because the priest obeys all the rubrics or because he faces East." He also says: "The reason the Novus Ordo so often seems irreverent is not any intrinsic deficit in the Novus Ordo. (otherwise why would Holy Church say that it remains the Ordinary Form of the Mass?)"

    Setting aside the fact that yes, a Pope (like Paul VI) can make a prudential decision to release an inferior form of Mass, Fr. Longenecker (as Dr. Shaw noted) seems to be making the argument that there is nothing inherent in either form of Mass which makes it more reverent (or less so). This is simply wrong and rather absurd. The entire traditionalist argument for the traditional Latin Mass centers on arguments that the prayers and rubrics of the Gregorian rite are more Chistocentric and centered on the supernatural than the Novus Ordo and this is why you will often find more subjective reverence among parishioners at the TLM than at the Novus Ordo. An objectively superior rite will help instill that sense of reverence in the attendees and an inferior rite will consistently instill the idea that "this is really no big deal".

    Fr. Longenecker seems to be making the argument that no (Church-approved) rite can possibly be objectively superior to another and that any reverence experienced at Mass has nothing to do with the prayers and rubrics of a particular rite itself but the reverence (or lack thereof) supplied (or not) by the celebrant and attendees themselves. No. Supply an objectively reverent liturgy and celebrate it well and you will start seeing parishioners behave better at Mass and more reverently as it will begin to dawn on them that they really are at a stupendous supernatural event.

    1. (Church-approved) rite can possibly be objectively superior to another and that any reverence experienced at Mass has nothing to do with the prayers and rubrics of a particular rite itself...

      I can't tell you how many times I have encountered this attitude in the Church - and mainly from conservatives. (Liberals generally seem to believe that the Pauline Missal is substantially superior, and are not afraid to say so.)

      It is hard to say how much of this is some sort of unconsciously received Rahnerian thought and how much is just plain ecclesiastical (and papal) positivism - "the Church can do no wrong." But it's there, just the same, and seems to be only slowly coming undone, a process we should not inhibit by making such judgments personal about those Catholics who have not reached that point yet - it is a judgment about the rite, not them.

      It is sobering to reflect on this. Because if there was a providential lesson in this revolutionary epoch that has been inflicted upon the Church, it has been a very expensive lesson.

    2. That a legitimate option given by the Church may be insufficient in even the vast, vast majority of cases can be easily demonstrated when you consider that she only commands us to confess our sins and receive communion on an annual basis.

  9. It's as if Fr Longenecker does not understand what the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is - how it sanctifies, teaches, remedies . . .
    That it is the source and summit of the Faith. That the outer gestures, words, etc. flow necessarily from the truths of the Faith.

  10. He's begging the question. (He's assuming that which he must prove.) He writes, "If there are things wrong with the Novus Ordo they are symptoms, not causes." Well, that's kind of what you have to demonstrate isn't it? Your whole thesis is based on something you refuse to even try to prove. But that's the whole crux of the matter. The question is precisely that.

  11. He never should have been ordained.

  12. He never should have been ordained.

  13. The Latin Mass, we are referring to the Gregorian Mass, is the Catholic Mass although Gregory allowed other Masses (and they are yet allowed ), was confirmed as the Western Catholic Mass by St Pius V in Quo Primum in 1570.
    There has always been dissent in the Church. The Arian crisis is recognised as the greatest although the protestant Lutheran heresy was a close runner up.
    Some enthusiasts give wrong impressions as Fr Longenecker points out. But there are worse things than that. For instance, the New Mass which I attended this week was surprisingly busy, lots of visiting families from elsewhere with lots of accompanied children, ( first sacraments ) except that I did not see one young person, say 18 – 35 of either sex. That is unusual since there are normally 2 or 3.


    There is no future for the Church in the New Pauline Mass.
    The Gregorian Mass is a valuable bullet, but it will now need a salvo of such bullets to put right the mess the Church has got itself into.

  14. "I was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, I went to study theology at Oxford University. Eventually I was ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight.

    Realizing that the Anglican Church and I were on divergent paths, in 1995 I and my family were received into the Catholic Church."

    While his journey to the Catholic Church is laudatory, Longenecker constantly demonstrates that one ought not go to Oxford if one would be able to think profoundly and logically.