Monday, March 21, 2016

Reacting to novelties in the Church

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LMS Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Caversham. Come on in.
It must be a perennial truth about the Church, that to every issue some people will criticise what you do - whatever it is- as too 'soft', and others as too 'harsh'. Since Vatican II, this has gone from being a parlour game to a major industry, as those who have wanted to maintain the Faith in its integrity cheer themselves up by criticising each other for being either too accommodating of novelties, or too suspicious of them.

The 'circular firing squad' this easily becomes is not helpful to the cause, but the question, of how suspicious or accommodating one should be, is an important one and does need to be addressed seriously. Which new initiatives, new theological perspectives, new structures or new forms of worship, are perfectly ok, and which are not? Of the latter, which need to be criticised, where possible evaded (by not using them), or repudiated? Each initiative should in principle be treated on its merits, though the scale of the avalanche of new things since 1960 is itself open to critical assessment.

(Anyone afflicted by the thought 'Anything the Pope says must be ok' should, of course, read my posts about Papolatry, but can still follow the argument in this post by considering examples where the Pope had not actually mandated anything. In a number of cases Popes have condemned novelties, which have still spread through the Church, such as routine use of EMHCs, or General Absolution.)

The difficulty in most cases has been that the problem presented by the new things has been not that they contradict the teaching of the Church in a propositional way - only in seminaries and certain academic institutions have Catholics actually been asked to deny the faith in as many words. Rather, where the old version of whatever it is pointed towards the teaching, the new one points away. They are typically accompanied by official documents which are worded in such a way that they can be read, perhaps with a little effort, in accordance with the Church's teaching, and also read, with a little effort, in accordance with a new view which is not compatible with the teaching of the Church (although this may depend on ignoring some of the document in question).


To avoid tiresome abstractions, let me give an example: Communion in the Hand (CITH). It was allowed, we all know, by Paul VI, though strictly speaking Memoriale Domini was an Instruction of the Congregation of Divine Worship. It is perfectly obvious that CITH points away from the Real Presence. It is, in fact, acknowledged by Memoriale Domini itself, which pleads that the practice be introduced, if at all, only after 'adequte catechesis':

The result of this catechesis should be to remove any suggestion of wavering on the part of the Church in its faith in the eucharistic presence.

By contrast, communion on the tongue evidently points towards the Real Presence: as Pope Benedict expressed it, it marks it with 'an exclamation point'.

That is not to say that CITH is propositionally incompatible with a the Real Presence: heck, it's a practice, not a proposition. And it can be favoured by those who genuinely believe in the Real Presence, on other grounds, though it is notable that these grounds do not derive directly from the teaching of the Church. They might include, for example, an ecumenical motive (to bring the practice of the Catholic Church into line with that of Protestants), a desire to emphasise Christian 'adulthood'; the idea that the traditional practice emphasised the Real Presence at the expense of other features of the liturgy or the Christian life; or that the old practice was just embarrassing.

This kind of thing raises the question: 'How bad does a novelty have to be (how emphatically must is point away from the teaching of the Church), how radically must it infringe normative tradition, on the one hand, and on the other hand how weak must be the arguments in favour of it, and the mandate of legitimate authority in favour of it, for it to be a duty to evade or criticise it?' In many cases, priests are involved in implementing the novelty, so they have a particularly stark version of the question to answer. One thing which is obvious is that there is no simple way to answer such questions. No one can propose a formula for weighing the different considerations against each other, or a scale of seriousness by which the different aspects can be assessed in themselves. Reasonable people, thoughtful people devoted to the good of the Church, will draw the line in different places. It is essential that we recognise that. It is essential that we recognise the good will of those who draw the line in different places than we do ourselves.

This recognition must, however, be carefully distinguished from an attempt to turn the issue into one of personal preferences. A lot of Neo-Cons say things like: 'I personally prefer Latin / Communion on the Tongue / whatever, but I don't criticise those who don't'. If CITH, or whatever it is, was a mistake, it was a mistake for everyone. If it was a good idea, then (certain cultural and historical situations aside), it is good for everyone. In either case, the reasons for and against have got nothing to do with personal tastes. It is a matter of theology, and perhaps of human psychology.

This may be hard for people to do, or for people who aren't used to the kind of disagreement academics engage in, but we have to hold these two things together: I can accept that my opponent on one of these issues is sincere while still maintaining he is objectively wrong. Again, I can maintain that the matter we are discussing is one of objective truth and of great importance, while still respecting the moral integrity of those who disagree with me. Of course, there are positions so extreme or poorly motivated that the integrity of those holding them is called into question, but not all positions except one's own are like that. There is at least a range of options which are not completely unreasonable, and this range is wider than the range which is objectively morally legitimate, and this latter range may well be wider than just one option.

A major source of disagreement on such matters is naturally the weight to assign different factors. No doubt those who accept and even promote CITH do not regard it as as damaging to belief in the Real Presence, as those who criticise CITH. How damaging it is to the faith of ordinary Catholics is an objective question, just one not easy to answer. Suppose it were very damaging, and many Catholics did not realise this, then their acceptance of the practice would be objectively wrong, but it would still be subjectively reasonable. They would not be committing a sin by accepting it, unless their failure to realise how bad it is was itself a result of sin (of negligence, say).

Saying such issues are matters of personal taste trivialises the issues. It also obscures the effect of the novelties on the Church as a community. The novelties affect everyone, even those who do not accept them (in this case, those who go on receiving on the tongue), because it affects the general tone and atmosphere, what actions are regarded as normal and what as eccentric or singular, and of course it affects people's beliefs. If the congregation in my local Church, or the parents involved in my local Catholic school, weaken in their faith, this is a problem for me. I can't just pretend nothing has happened, and carry on as normal.

This is clearly true also for attitudes to marriage. Already we have a situation when most parents sending their children to a Catholic school accept same-sex marriage, contraception, cohabitation, and remarriage after divorce, without annulment. Things have got so bad, in fact, that it is regarded as the height of straitlaced orthodoxy, to say of a case of institutionalised adultery, 'well, let's hope that they can get an annulment', as if the only correct view to take of a sinful lifestyle is to close our eyes and imagine, without any particular justification, that for obscure reasons it may not be as bad as it looks. A lot of things the Church has done at the institutional level, a lot of post 1960s novelties, have contributed to this collapse of the Faith by 'pointing away' from the Faith. The weakening of the Church's official opposition to civil divorce, and to mixed marriages for Catholics; the failure to preach against contraception; and a widespread collapse of discipline over who can receive Communion, or be involved in Church activities.

It is unimaginable that Pope Francis is going to reverse this trend when he publishes the Post-Synodal Exhortation. The only question is how far he will go in accommodating the Church still further to secular attitudes, thereby reinforcing them within the bosom of the Church. There has been little, if anything, lay Catholics or ordinary priests have been able to do to manifest a rejection or criticism of the policies which have led us to this pass, when those policies have been a matter of changes to Canon Law, to catechetical textbooks, or to Bishops' statements on forthcoming civil legislation. As far preaching about contraception, and refusing Communion to public sinners, the pressure on priests not to do such things has been intense, and there has been little lay Catholics could do to assist them.

Developments in the future may make it harder, or in some ways easier, to criticise novelties, but how it can be done depends, as I keep saying on this blog, on the precise form they take. On the recent change to Canon Law procedure, the accelerated process for annulments, the matter is in the hands of bishops. I doubt that it would be justified for individual priests to deny the Marriage Rite or Communion to a couple who had had a 'quickie annulment', and they'd be for the high jump if they tried it. What can lay Catholics do about it? Write blog posts, I suppose.

Over the last fifty years, resistance to novelties has coalesced into the movement in favour of the Traditional Catholic liturgy. Not all novelties, of course, have been liturgical, but one's ability to make a critical assessment of any of them is crippled if one is ideologically committed to a huge number of liturgical ones. This movement has provided a home, a friendly environment and a source of moral support, for both clergy and laity uncomfortable with a wide range of novelties. It is to this movement, in my view, that we must look for any kind of sustained, collective resistance, to the next things coming down the road.

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The Stripping of the Altar, at the end of Mass on Maundy Thursday.
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9 comments:

  1. A good article for those within the TLM movement. Those who understand already. Not strong enough perhaps to clarify, as Bishop Schneider has done, the issue of CITH, EMHC etc. Apparently these practises are being reintroduced now to Churches that abandoned them over the last 10 - 12 or so years. The wolves are waiting to sweep in and brush the
    cobwebs of 'novelty' from under the bed back onto the floors of parishes. We can't see the hidden webs but they are still there as they haven't been gathered up and thrown onto the rubbish heap of the reform of the 60's unfortunately. The windows have again been opened and the novelties won't be flying out.

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  2. Just my opinion for what it's worth. A sidenote: QUOTE: This movement has provided a home, a friendly environment and a source of moral support, for both clergy and laity uncomfortable with a wide range of novelties... I am one of the fortunate who has found refuge within the arms of a Personal Parish within Tradition and will stay there. A haven in the madness!

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  3. Thank you for a very excellent post, Dr. Shaw. Absolute correct, unflinching, and charitable, as ever.

    Memoriale Domini is an interesting point, and ties back into your earlier argument that what matters is the 10% that's remembered of any given document and not the 90% that's forgotten. As a test of this, I once registered a guest account at Catholics Answers Forum and posted arguments against CITH from Memoriale Domini in a relevant thread, changing only a few words here and there (and without quotation marks or a cited name, so as to make seem it was my own opinion). I was, naturally, almost immediately, accused of disobedience (even schism!) and a lack of charity toward bishops. Bizarre.

    An excellent point, too, about the argument to personal taste missing what's really at stake. We expect secular liberals to say things like "if you disapprove of pornography, then don't watch it," because they are individualists whose deranged ideals have alienated them from careful consideration of the social consequences of their beliefs. But it is baffling that Catholics should make more or less the same arguments in so many ways, despite a body of social teachings that make clear that man is a social animal whose good is bound up with the health of his community. When people behave abysmally and irreverently at Mass, it negatively impacts my own ability to behave reverently. And it is bitterly amusing that the liturgical reform, conducted in part on the grounds that the communal elements of worship needed to be communicated more effectively, has inaugurated a dynamic whereby those whose spirituality is actually harmed by the community are told their concerns are irrelevant or even contemptible.

    Finally, your point about traditionalism becoming a lodestone for general resistance against the novelties of the postconciliar Church is well taken. It is very easy for a faithful Catholic paying attention to make a connection between the liturgical laxity of the reformed Mass and the moral and disciplinary laxity of its adherents, and the growing doctrinal laxity of the clerics shaped by it. My own traditionalism is two parts love for traditional liturgy for every one part turning away in disgust from the spectacle of priests conducting themselves like women at Mass and criminals elsewhere.

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  4. Recently I had to go to Mass in an adjacent Parish. In the leaflet Father X was described as the 'Presider'. To my way of thinking Presider suggests a Chairman who is going to preside at a meeting but not actually take part other than to regulate what happens. I thought that a priest celebrated mass i.e. he alone did the job. Am I being pernickety?

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  5. heck, it's a practise, not a proposition.

    heck' it's a practice.

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    Replies
    1. Ha ha! The spell check has been 'correcting' refereneces to 'practices' annoyingly.

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  6. CITH and the indissolubly of Marriage are good examples which illustrate a major problem in the Church today. That is Gradualism

    A new practise can be introduced and discussed, but a sizeable number, in my parish about 98+ % , with CITH, will go along with it, and without taking any of the procedures for removing particles of the Consecrated Host, which the priests do. After one generation it is standard, contrary to the thinking of century's of Catholicism, and belief in the Real Presence is diminished if not eliminated in the minds of that generation.

    Accidental or intentional?

    Blogging incidentally is here to stay in some form. But, I have commented elsewhere on my impression that there is an attack now on Blogging from within certain quarters in the Church . This takes the form of individual bloggers being “nobbled”, or an increasing denial of comment with the Blog and/or a decease in the number of controversial subjects being discussed.

    Am I just being a bit paranoiac?

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  7. @Jacobi@Sean
    Very good points and no Jacobi you are not paranoid. One must be vigilant today as it is also obvious that those within who are not simply looking at the Traditional Latin Mass as yet another novelty in the Church, but from the aspect of survival of such are a threat to the status quo. We must pray for these as we pray for the hierarchy. That eyes are opened to abuses etc. Fraternal correction didn't end with the Acts of the Apostles but must be done with charity in order to bear fruit. Paranoia is seeing something imagined as a threat that doesn't exist. The threat exists within and without the Church. It's called Modernism. The worse heresy that incorporates all heresies declared anathema by former Councils.

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  8. @Jacobi@Sean
    Very good points and no Jacobi you are not paranoid. One must be vigilant today as it is also obvious that those within who are not simply looking at the Traditional Latin Mass as yet another novelty in the Church, but from the aspect of survival of such are a threat to the status quo. We must pray for these as we pray for the hierarchy. That eyes are opened to abuses etc. Fraternal correction didn't end with the Acts of the Apostles but must be done with charity in order to bear fruit. Paranoia is seeing something imagined as a threat that doesn't exist. The threat exists within and without the Church. It's called Modernism. The worse heresy that incorporates all heresies declared anathema by former Councils.

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