One is better off with who in charge?

Not that it matters to me personally, but I am observing comments of both traditionalists and progressives about the latest news from Rome. Surely many will shun off such concerns as those of mentally unstable people or at least having missed the point of Christianity in their attachment to externals like the Pharisees of Old Testament times. The point is something said not by Pope Francis himself but by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa for his Good Friday homily.

It seems to be a programme of renewed iconoclasm – text in an unofficial translation. When I was up at Fribourg, we studied Cantalamessa’s book on Easter in the early Church, a magnificent piece of work. He can say beautiful things like I used to hear from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in London, but why this desire to reinvent the wheel? It looks like a programme that is very definitely a hermeneutic of rupture, very similar to that of the Lollards, the Protestants, the Jansenists and Archbishop Annabile Bugnini who was charged with compiling the new Roman Catholic rites in the 1950’s and 60’s. It is a theme with which we are familiar, one of bathwater and babies. It seems encouraging to want to be rid of “true church” ideologies, division between Christians, bureaucracy, legalism and so forth. But what does getting rid of the residue of past ceremonials mean? It seems dangerously to mean the liturgy itself and the entire notion of Tradition. Cantalamessa uses the analogy of old buildings ad their fittings, restoring primitive / pristine simplicity to use language that we read in the documents of Counter-Reformation and Vatican II popes, in the writings of the Reformers and the Jansenists. We have heard all this before – and within our lifetimes.

I have read observations saying that Fr Cantalamessa preached in quite a “traditional” way under Benedict XVI. Yes, I remember as a small boy learning the traditional English folk song – In good King Charles’ golden days, When loyalty no harm meant… I knew little about Christian doctrine, but I understood that the song described a man with no convictions, an opportunist. All the same, we still hear echoes of the guffaws of men like Kasper and Mahoney, perched atop the gallows like as many carrion crows!

Traditionalists who were considered as quite “mainstream” until two months ago are now crazy or fanatical in the minds of some, which probably doesn’t exclude the possibility of some being so in reality. A friend of mine in France says very sensibly (my translation):

I see no confusion but blinding clarity.

We we really again in a period of destruction. Active destruction.

I also think that auto-destruction, progressivism is going to shoot its last cartridges into its foot whilst it believes itself to be surviving.

What he [Pope Francis] says is not entirely wrong, but the patrimony that he will leave us , if he disowns us, will be heavy to cope with.

We weren’t at the bottom, we are going down yet further.

Benedict XVI was going very slowly, obviously having to get each jot and tittle past the heavy Vatican bureaucracy on pain of something extra being added to his soup, no doubt. It was easier to bring back items of dress than do anything more profound about a reform of the reform. I think that was the point about Benedict XVI. He went to war out-gunned and out-horse-powered.

It remains to be seen whether Pope Francis wishes to pursue a deep reform of the reform whilst making abstraction of the tat. The Benedictines in France don’t use lace and their vestments are rather more modern and sober – but their liturgy is beautiful and uplifting. I go more for simplicity myself. Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and very few Jesuits have ever been interested in the liturgy. We are until now led to believe that, as for Paul VI, the liturgy is some kind of optional accessory that can be discarded at will according to “missionary” imperatives. In this way of thinking, form has no importance, only the rationally apprehended “truth”. That’s what it seems to look like until now with Pope Francis. I know the discourse by heart – Fribourg University in the 1980’s made me immune!

As mentioned before, it would seem doubtful that Pope Francis would abolish the English so-called Agatha Christi indult of Paul VI, the 1984 indult and legislation of 1988 by John Paul II and finally Summorum Pontificium of Benedict XVI. The problem would be the possibility for priests and priestly institutes availing of these faculties to minister in an “ordinary” diocese. It is much easier to treat all that as Anglicanorum coetibus was dealt with, made dead letter except in a fairly skeletal form. This is a very cogent concern. Perhaps, under Benedict XVI, some bishops accorded permissions unwillingly but out of a feeling of obedience to the Pope. With that incentive gone – Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop. For those who don’t read French, we English say that The leopard cannot change its spots. Many traditionalists will return to the Society of St Pius X, which is now saying that they are relieved not to have accepted a deal with Benedict XVI! Right or wrong – posterity will judge.

As men like Dr Luc Perrin say, it is too early to judge with certitude. There are indications that seem to fit into a pattern, and those who go along with the reformer (as in Lollards, Protestants, Jansenists, etc.) mindsets like Kasper and Mahoney still seem to be delighted. Naturally, those who want abortion, gay marriage and women priests may be disappointed – but yet so might those wanting traditional liturgies.

I was a Roman Catholic for only a relatively short period of my life, but I still have my contacts and influences. I really do wonder whether we are better off under triumphalist conservatives who were at their most vocal during the Benedictine Pontificate, and who talk in whispers now – or under the way things were in the Paul VI era, when you had to be extremely conservative to react against the heresy of formlessness.

None of us has any reassurance of being in a Church or particular jurisdiction with a future, something to which we can leave our earthy goods and entrust our children and grandchildren. We Continuing Anglicans are fragile and are ourselves regaining stability brick by brick. Many Roman Catholics two months ago thought they could lord it over everyone else and boast their solidity – they are now walking on eggs as they wait for things to “pan out”.

I feel sad and worried about others who wait for Godet like many of us Anglicans did as we laboured with our illusions two to three years ago. I yet have confidence that Pope Francis’ pastoral sense would prevail as he considers the need for cultural diversity in the Church, between his own people and the Africans and Asians – and the Europeans of both post-modern and classical cultures. Perhaps this view might come across as a way to restoring the pre-Tridentine kaleidoscope of local rites and uses together with the customs of the historical religious orders. This would be my hope and my prayer for our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.

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12 Responses to One is better off with who in charge?

  1. jordanstfrancis says:

    Remarks like those of Father Cantalamessa are very disheartening and amount to an obstacle for a warm reception of Francis on my part. It was painful over the Triduum to have to constantly fight off the worry inside, “will this be here next year? how will it change under the next bishop? What is the next little sign or gesture to go? What new thing will they do?” How can one pray when one is constantly being reminded that the manner in which one prays and the ritual/ symbolic life from which one is nourished are, in the end, just contingent and disposable forms that will probably have to be cleared away to make room for modern conveniences?

    Postmodernism has turned the liturgical landscape into a market place and people of my spiritual orientation (and readers and author of this blog most likely) are in the minority, and therefore likely to get little to no spiritual care from the Institution itself, it seems. For my part, familiarity and repetition are the essence of contact with the sacred– to have the grace of dying in the same thing I was born in. The need to always update, as though the Mass and the devotional life were computer software to be treated for every glitch and each new app. is the death of the sacred, which is supposed to be the living continuum of the dead. Without the sacred, I personally don’t need the Church, nor does it have any claim on me, having renounced itself in the name of its mission.

    It seems to me that there are several spiritual orientations, and mine is repudiated in the Church. That is the Platonic. How wonderful to see in the local newspaper that the Pope is trimming down the Easter Vigil, checking his watch during his inaugaration (like we’re burdening him in asking him to take up his ceremonial role), wanting Mass to be “short and to the point”. I became an adult Catholic only under Benedict’s reign, so I must have had a skewed vision of things. If there is anywhere in the Catholic world where Mass ceremonial ought to drag on, where the most demanding liturgical “option” ought be taken, it is the papal liturgy in Rome. None of the options offered for “convenience” ought, in principle, be taken by the liturgy was is allegedly the ideal. Otherwise we are forced to conclude there is no ideal.

    In Platonic terms, it’s as though the realm of ideas is disfiguring itself after the shadows– its own shadows! The word for that is collapse. One might say that the problem with that line of thinking is that it renders every parish in the world a “shadow” releative to its prototype in Rome. Perhaps. Perhaps we are on the otherside of the hump now. Rome steadily hoarded everything unto itself, not trusting the tradition could be protected without an absolute centre, and now the centre itself is folding. It’s last act of authority will be the abbrogation of its own authority.

    • Two things come to mind, the influence of Nominalism as the nemesis of Platonic and Aristotelian realism in metaphysics. I am also more for “extreme realism” than the “moderate realism” of Aristotle. Study the implications. When the “icon” of the Universal disappears, the Universal remains beyond our reach. All we have left are concepts and individual morsels, above all intellectual and emotional memories. In such an environment, the Sacraments are weakened as they are in the Reformed churches – the significatio ex adjunctis is diluted.

      The other thing that comes to mind, and which is very frightening. I am careful about the prophecies of St Malachy, according to which this Pope is Petrus Romanus, the last before the great cataclysm. If there is any credibility in this prophecy, it might simply mean that the world will go on – no big bang – but not the Papacy. The Church, insofar as it continues in little communities of faith, would be in communion – not by being under a common authority – but sharing the same Faith and Sacraments. We return to the pre-Constantinian Church. I don’t say this is so, but merely suspect the possibility. Was Benedict’s abdication a part of this “plan”?

      What we need is independent Catholic Churches – like the Society of St Pius X, but also other communities that are less “up tight”, fanatical and “counter-reformation” in their style. If we can get together small communities without the “typical” eccentricities of some “vagante” clergy, we have to be serious about what we’re doing and enter into links of communion from the ground up, that would seem to be the way. We Continuing Anglicans have had great difficulties with fragmentation, as have had the traditionalist RC groups. We always fall into the same sins!

      The alternative is to give up and accept a post-Christian world with all the horrors it promises, something like living under Nazism, perhaps much worse! Even if we’re on our own, keep the Office going, the Mass for those who are priests, and trust in God’s mercy and care for us. That’s what keeps me going even when my nearest and dearests show désinvolture and apathy. It breaks our hearts, but think of Fr Charles de Foucault in the desert!

      It will kill us, but what does that matter?

  2. Dale says:

    The mere fact that the media love this man and his humble circus, scares me.

  3. Francis says:

    Indeed, Father, I know many “Bishops” of Bray who would turn the cat in pan and roll back all favours reluctantly conceded under the previous pontificate. And what can be said of the Rev. Father Cantalamessa and his belief, shared by many, alas, in a “Baptism of the Holy Ghost” separate from the sacramental one? Facts speak for themselves.

  4. Stephen K says:

    Dear Father and co-readers, my first reaction to this post and responses was that they were unduly pessimistic, or, if accurate, represented an attitude that was not detached enough on the spiritual plane.

    What I mean is that I think we always want what we think is ideal (to our minds and feelings) and get disappointed, even desolated when it does not come about. It is not wrong to aim for an ideal – indeed, the civilising life demands that we do – but it never comes about or for very long. We are confronted by constant change at some levels and apparent permanence at others (because of our short lives); we need and crave stability and refreshment at turns. Heraclitus and Parmenides were both right and both wrong. Hence, at some point we must cultivate some resilience and detachment and practical application – we adapt or move or re-construct depending on what is possible.

    I don’t pretend for a moment it is easy or pleasant, but the more and more I think about the meaning of life and religion, I see that controlling others – and seeking a universal order (or church) is about controlling one’s environment – is antithetical to the spirit of Luke 12: 22-31. The latter is perhaps not quite the same as the way of Zen, but to my mind at least it involves a similar naturalness and acceptance of the organic and surrender.

    I like particular expressions of religion and not others; must I allow myself to dwell in an instinctive disheartenment when a Pope does one thing and not another? Ought I to expect him to do what I want, or am I more realistic in expecting him to do the opposite? Does my particular belief depend on the Pope or the Synod of bishops or the priest or the whole assembly etc? Must I not be content to draw what I can and what inspires me to be generous and ignore the rest?

    As a long-time former philosophical student, the question of realism and knowledge are always challenging. I follow the explanations and probably have to admit that, within the limits of my understanding, I harbour elements of various approaches. I don’t think any of them articulates the whole truth of the issues. But they’re very worth reflecting on at length to incline to one or the other, for convenience or workability.

    In fine, my own view is that surrendering our tendency to control-anxiety is not a Vicar of Bray Syndrome; it is more about interiorising within one’s circumstances at any one time what is most important to one. There is nothing stopping any of us from the challenge of reforming ourselves no matter what happens at the public level. We are lucky if we do not have to face lions or gulags. If we do, the religious or spiritual life takes on new practical challenges. By comparison, liturgical pains are mere mosquitoes.

    • The point I make is that some of the traditionalist reflections are quite hysterical. They were the ones lording it over us a couple of months ago, and now the boot is on the other foot as the anti-cyclone gives way to another low pressure front and some rainy weather. However, I can see some genuine fears among some of these people.

      It would seem that the future is not the ultramontane Church the traditionalists want, but a free-for-all – unless of course the local bishops put a stop to all that and take all the sweets and Christmas presents away, leaving the children to wail and gnash their teeth.

      I agree that it’s going to take time to understand the changing climate and make distinctions between the iconoclasm of the past and what’s happening now. The only question left will be whether Pope Francis will attempt a pastoral outreach to the worried or whether it will be a cynical brush-off.

  5. Pingback: Fr. Chadwick’s interesting observations | Foolishness to the world

  6. Maximilian Hanlon says:

    Why do so many churchmen believe that traditional art forms can no longer mediate the transcendent to modern man and serve as a means of evangelisation?

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