Liturgical Extremism / Fetishism

Strong words in the title! Seriously, I have been looking at an interesting dialogue between Patricius and Modestinus. Both positions need to be read and understood. If I have understood Patricius correctly, the reforms introduced into the Roman missal under Pius XII in the 1950’s and enshrined in the John XXIII edition of 1962 constituted a completely new rite, and thus could correctly be superseded by the Novus Ordo of Paul VI in 1969. Therefore, those using the 1962 liturgy would be false traditionalists and doing the wrong thing.

Modestinus adopts a courteous and conciliatory tone. He points out what the average layman might have noticed in the 1950’s. Those who went to the Holy Week ceremonies would have noticed major differences, and not only in the timetable. Between the mid 1950’s and 1962, few would notice any difference. Do these differences really matter? Do they matter compared with worshipping in one’s parish or other community peacefully and just getting on with life? It seems a reasonable attitude coming from a Roman Catholic.

Patricius blames the use of 1962 by traditionalists largely on Archbishop Lefebvre. I was with them in early 1983 in their priory in Bordeaux. The issue of the moment was purging the sedevacantists out of the SSPX, because there was question of reaching an agreement with Rome. Nine American SSPX priests left and set up their own society (St Pius V) and the question of the liturgy was evoked as a major reason. Until then, Fr Black in England was doing the old Holy Week ceremonies, but the French chapels were generally doing 1962 or even 1965 in a few places. The SSPX differentiated between the “old” liturgy up to the first Paul VI version of 1965 and the Novus Ordo of 1969, because it was clearly a new rite and not a revision of the “old”.

Are the editions of 1962 (including the Holy Week rites of 1950 and 1955), 1965 and 1967 to be assimilated to the series of editions of the 1570 Pius V liturgy (not forgetting the Breviary), or to the Novus Ordo of 1969? Whatever may be the answer to this, it appears that 1962 became the means by which Archbishop Lefebvre purged the influential sedevacantists of 1983. The history of the SSPX has been one of purges of those who were too eager to sort things out with Rome or the opposite. Archbishop Leferbvre tried and largely succeeded in keeping an apparently unified SSPX through treading a via media between the “liberals” and the “sedevacantists” or at least the “hard-line” represented today by Bishop Williamson.  The 1962 was a way of playing brinkmanship with Rome, with Cardinal Ratzinger, and it would be a compromise to avoid Rome insisting on the introduction of 1965/67 or a compromise rite with features like the 1969 lectionary and calendar, necessitating radical adaptations to make it “work”. I have seen this sort of thing at the Abbey of Fontgombault and some other monasteries of the Solesmes Congregation.

I make these observations from a more detached point of view, since I only spent a short period of my life as a “convert” to Roman Catholicism from my native Anglicanism, and I am not bound by these problems of authority and ecclesiastical politics.

What about this one?

Besides, those who obsesses over liturgical particularities reveal, as Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais once opined, a superficial and ungrounded faith more concerned with form over substance. Whether one agrees or not with the SSPX’s apostolate, it was never undertaken for the sole purpose of advancing the cause of liturgical fetishism.

I would ask them why they don’t just use the Novus Ordo. Like the 1983 Naughty Nine, the reason is political and the liturgy is only the war banner, the trademark by which people can know which side they’re on. It is only a matter of degree. It is true that there is a problem with a person or a group if form is placed over substance, and concern for the liturgy is out of proportion with deep faith and spirituality.

How is this issue addressed? When I was at seminary, we had Fr Frank Quoëx as MC and specialist in liturgy. He was against the Pius XII and John XXIII reforms, and did what he could to do things the “old way”. Thus at Gricigliano was born the “usages” of using folded chasubles, doing a true Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday and some subtle restorations of the Holy Saturday rite. Even though Fr Quoëx, ever courteous and diplomatic with the superiors, was too “extreme”, some of those “usages” remain to this day and are even approved by Rome. Fr Quoëx, like others, believed that these issues could be addressed, not by bitter polemics and conflict, but by research and serious academic work, by writing and giving conferences. Polemics only make the adversary stall and refuse all dialogue!

In the Roman Catholic world, it all seems academic with the abdication of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis’ apparent indifference in liturgical matters. Nothing will be achieved at anything like an official level for many years, assuming that the next Pope has “Ratzinguerian” inclinations.

Modestinus argues from the point of someone who has his place in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world. Patricius has nothing to lose and has gone on the warpath. He has no concern for his own credibility, which may be a good or a bad thing. At least no one doubts his sincerity. Fr Quoëx’s way was something like that of Pope Benedict XVI – the library, the conference hall and the private chapel. I suppose it is mine too, as I have no parish ministry. I am older and saw many of these conflicts thirty years ago, and the fact that nothing has been achieved. Some of the Naughty Nine have stable ministries and have obtained the Episcopate from dissident Roman Catholic lineages. One of their sites is St Gertrude’s Church. They have done much better than many of the vagantes through their sense of mission, professionalism and already having significant numbers of faithful and financial resources. At my stage in life, I find Patricius’ unrestrained rhetoric unnerving and embarrassing.

I don’t have a party line to uphold, but as a priest in a serious ecclesial body, there is a certain gravitas and restraint to observe. I believe in the intellectual and courteous approach, and that is what the Guild of Saint Osmund is all about (about which I will shortly write as it has not yet been introduced). I speak respectfully of Roman Catholic authorities, also of traditionalist clergy and others. Courtesy pays. At the same time, I ceased to use the Roman rite in 2008 – and I had been using the 1920 version with the old Holy Week and all. I reverted to Sarum with the only difference of using the Gregorian calendar. It is my intimate conviction that liturgical diversity, not uniformity, will solve many of these issues – and the liturgical life of the Church will eventually regulate itself.

I know Patricius is burdened by a condition that used to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome and is now considered by the medical profession as a part of the autistic syndrome. To be frank, I have many doubts about the value of psychiatry and its scientific validity. We all have our temperaments and personalities, and we are all conditioned and affected by our childhood and other experiences in life. As adults, we have the duty of living with our difficulties and compensating. A blind man develops his hearing and touch to compensate and overcome his handicap. Patricius is frank about his condition on the internet, and I do not feel as though I am breaking any confidences here. Growing up is about making our narrow interests a part of the whole, learning to overcome our social difficulties by developing empathy. We need to learn to listen and take interest in what the other person is expressing, even if we think the person is wrong. There is always a grain of truth somewhere. Yes, it’s about growing up and making our emotional life match our intellectual capacities. I’m far from perfect and have my own issues to solve, but I’m probably further along the way through bitter experience.

We can love the liturgy and resist tendencies to tamper with it and make it into something else. Everything depends on how we do so. Fr Quoëx has left behind him a legacy of influence and memories from the day he tragically died of cancer in January 2007 at only 39 years of age. Another influence was Dr Ray Winch, the eccentric Oxford don, who never ceased to be courteous in his dialogues and vocation to teach. I have known others, including some of my schoolmasters, whose words and example remained. I wonder if I’ll leave as much behind when I pass away one day! At least there will be this blog if nothing else…

For the charge that our faith, spirituality and knowledge need to be in proportion to our love of the liturgy, this is something I take seriously. I am still a priest and do my duties, but my life is no longer spent in the sacristy (I spend about 5 minutes a day in mine to put vestments on and take them off after Mass, sometimes longer if I need to do a tidy-up). Diversifying is very good for the soul. That is something good that comes from being married. We go to singing lessons and quartet or choir rehearsals. I go sailing and get involved with clubs and boat gatherings. I pride myself on getting on with ordinary people. All this makes me no less interested in liturgy, but it puts things into perspective.

I’m a Sarum man. I don’t care about 1962 or 1920. I use the Anglican Missal when required though pastoral necessity in my Church. I believe that diversity will solve many of these issues and prevent liturgical rites being used as ideological banners. Just undo the screws! A lot will come undone, but will self-regulate in many places. Then we will celebrate the praises of God through love and not through mechanical authority and fear of sanctions.

Perhaps one needs to be a priest to understand many of these things!

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6 Responses to Liturgical Extremism / Fetishism

  1. Rubricarius says:

    It is all about ‘banners’ and comformity – what you described as conservatism a couple of weeks ago in a post. Objective truth and liturgical history is of little value when there are ‘party lines’ to maintain. As Patricius rightly observes the issues are not the ones ostensibly being discussed but the underlying ecclesiologies.

    • We are agreed about the essentials, but we do need to convey our arguments in a convincing way. I have no sympathy with the SSPX and conservatives. We are just about on our own. The sedevacantists despise us because we don’t go along with their ecclesiology, and I suspect that their pre-1962 is their “banner”. I think a part of our Guild’s work could be doing a liturgical study on this question of the Roman rite – what is traditional and what is purely the result of papal legislation, perhaps a comparative approach with Sarum and the French local uses. I feel that shrill polemics will discredit this cause.

  2. Dale says:

    Liturgically, I tend to agree with Patricius. The problem with accepting 1962 is that it also accepts the possibility of liturgical revolution; if 1962 is all right, why not 1969? It basically sets out on a psychological step that admits that there is nothing wrong with liturgical revolution as long as it is approved by the institution (which also has the problem with granting the “institution” itself as the arbitrator in all things, destroying the sense of organic tradition). What I find so interesting in much of this is that no one is really mentioning the novus ordo calendar, which is for me also very problematic.

    On the issue of how Patricius expresses is very valid opinions; I have actually written to Patricius advising him to try and “tone-it-down” a bit; and that comes from me, who often is less than polite at times as well! But once, again, his points are valid and solid. And I do understand how very frustrating it can be when issues that seem so obviously are simply past-off as inconsequential ramblings of no importance. I remember my own frustrations when telling people what would be the final outcome of the ROCOR Western rite, only to be personally attack for telling the truth.

    • As an active blogger, I do think that some things need to be reserved for printed media like books. I think these truths need to be expressed with authority and scholarship to back them up. I am considering an article on what Fr Hunwicke calls auctoritas or custom, but less from a canonical point of view than ecclesiological. These are not very well charted waters, and this kind of work can be difficult. We need to see how this concept of custom as opposed to the legislative authority of the diocesan bishop or the Roman Curia has worked in the pre-Reformation era and if it was known to canonists and theologians then.

      The way forward is credible scholarship and hard work for us all.

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