Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Letter in The Tablet: Liturgical pluralism

The Dominican Rite celebrated in Oxford, alongside the Traditional Roman Rite, and, of course,
the Novus Ordo. The Carthusian Rite is also regularly celebrated in England; before the Council, the
Norbertine and Carmelite Rites were also found here. Before the Reformation, the Roman Rite was
celebrated by the Franciscans, and secular clergy would have celebrated the Sarum Rite.

The current Tablet carries a letter by me, in response to an article by a Jesuit priest, John Baldovin. The Tablet descibes him as a 'professor of historical and liturgical theology at Boston College, and author of Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics.' What is astonishing, then, is his assertion (in his article): 'A number of legitimate rites have always coexisted in the Catholic Church: the Byzantine, Coptic and Armenian Rites, for example, but these are rites of independent churches in union with Rome: there not two “forms” of the Armenian Rite running in parallel.' Is he really so ignorant of the history of the Latin Church as to imagine that the Roman Rite was and is the only Latin Rite? 

And here's the funny thing. He doesn't actually assert that there were and are no non-Roman Latin Rites or Usages. He just leaves his expression of indignation hanging in the air, with that implication. To me this suggests that he knows that the bald assertion would be a lie, so he holds back. But maybe I'm wrong, and he's an ignorant ass.

Anyway, here's my letter.

I was pleased to see John Baldovin SJ (Towards the summit, 22nd July) distinguishing the question of the 'Reform of the Reform' of the Ordinary Form from the question of the Extraordinary Form. The conflict over the first is fought out in parishes up and down the land. By contrast, there need be no conflict between the two forms. The celebration of one need not impinge on those who attend the other, if each is given proper space.

Fr Baldovin complains, however, that it is anomolous to have two 'forms' or rites in the Latin Church. He appears to have forgotten that the Roman Rite has long embraced Dominican, Norbertine, Carthusian, and other usages, the remnants of a still greater variety from the days of the Sarum and Gallican Missals. The anomoly, surely, is in the post-conciliar liturgical homogenisation, which flies in the face of the Council's instructions: Sacrosanctum Concilium 37 rejected 'rigid uniformity' (cf. Unitatis redintegratio 17).

What puzzles me most however is Fr Baldovin's quest for ulterior motives in those attracted to the ancient Mass, such as a stronger Catholic identity, or a rejection of the Council. He himself writes that it can be 'wonderful, a thing of beauty', 'a kind of reverent transcendence that is often lacking' in the OF. Isn't this explanation enough? And should we not be encouraging the celebration of such a liturgy?

Yours faithfully,

Joseph Shaw, Chairman, The Latin Mass Society

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. Sir,

    I congratulate you on this timely correction of error. It is, alas, all too frequent now to read such nonsense in the press, both real and virtual. I nearly choked on my breakfast when I read the following:
    Here again, we find an "eminent" scholar pushing forward the agenda of his faction, resorting to a mixture of truths disguised, half-truths sexied-up, and blatant untruths, all rehearsed in what can only be bad faith and a most malignant intention to deceive.

    No amount of sound and independent scholarship will ever sway men ( and women) of that school. One can only look at the case of Robert "Daft" s.j. whenever he opens his mouth to pontificate about the Roman Rite (I cannot fathom how the Orthodox can endure such a man).

    F. Arabin, LLD, DD

  2. PS: I seriosuly think we need to advocate bi-ritualism instead of the more vague bi-formism put forward by the late Pontiff. It is indeed always strange to hear arguments from unity from those precisely who care the least with unity and communion with the Church of the past, with their revived Joachimite eschatology of the New Pentecost.

  3. Actually, I think Fr Baldovin has a point of sorts, even if it accommodates his preferred narrative less readily than some narratives he would find much more awkward. And the point as I would make it goes like this: There have been any number of Rites of the Latin Church (Roman, Ambrosian, Braga, Dominican, etc.) but, until the post-Vatican II era, only one universal Roman Rite - even if it had a fair number of local uses (Sarum, Aberdeen, Paris, Cologne, Lyons, etc.). Even the Ordinariate missal does not really complicate this picture, since it really just amounts to a (admittedly quite different) use of the Roman Rite, one tied nominally to the tradition of a specific region (England).

    But there is something rather unprecedented about having, juridically, two distinctly different forms of the Roman Rite for the universal Church, as opposed to mere local or religious usages. In fact, I think we're all mostly agreed that this was really a juridical fiction of sorts promulgated by Benedict XVI, since the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms are so radically different from one another as to constitute by any reasonable measure two different rites, - certainly the tradition Roman Rite of 1962 has more in common with the Ambrosian Rite than it does with the modern "Roman Rite" of 1970! - which I think is what Laszlo Dobszay was trying to get at in referring to the Novus ordo as the "Neo-Roman Rite." But that was simply, in Benedict's view, the least politically explosive path for liberating the old Mass which was open to him in 2007.

    But the fact that such an (forgive the unintended pun) extraordinary situation has arisen at all is due to the rupture which happened in the Roman Rite in the 60's. If the current situation is in a certain sense unprecedented, so is the crisis in the liturgy which provoked this new legal situation in the first place. Minor tweaks (or even more substantive tweaks like Pius XII's Holy Week) of the Roman missal never provoked such a situation. Cobbling together a radically new missal was bound to do so.

    1. If he'd wanted to say that then he should have said it, but with these qualifications it is a much weaker point. It invites the response: so what? Until Vatican II some of the Latin Rite Faithful attended rites and usages other than the universal Roman Rite. That's also true today. It would indeed still be true if the EF ceased to exist, though the numbers affected would be smaller. The sui generis legal status of the EF makes no difference to the experience of the Faithful. They have a measure of choice, as they had in the past (leaving aside the obligation to attend one's geographical parish found in the 1917 Code of Canon Law).