There is a blog on which fewer posts are put up, but when they are, they are well thought out and often profound. One is Gathering a Sense of the Lay of the Liturgical Land : The contemporary context.
I share many of these reflections, to a large extent through my own experience in the parishes of Quarré-les-Tombes and Saint Léger Vauban in the French Archdiocese of Sens-Auxerre. It was once of those badly calculated efforts to “mainstream” the Tridentine liturgy in an ordinary parish in the French countryside. The priest was hurriedly ordained in Rome as the opportunity arose. I was later sent there as a deacon to help the inexperienced priest. As time wore on, by 1995, the depressing reality became obvious. If you want to be Roman Catholic, you have to accept the Novus Ordo. That message has become that much clearer since the abdication of Benedict XVI.
True, there will remain traditionalist priestly institutes and religious communities as legislated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Under Pope Francis, they will receive no support or encouragement – and perhaps restrictions may be on the horizon if the Argentinian Pope can be bothered. We have to face the fact that it is over in Europe. American Catholicism becomes less conservative, or at least less liturgical, and Africa is a whole different world. Even traditionalist Anglicans are using altars facing the people and probably rites close to the Novus Ordo.
We have our own choices to make, go in a different direction that may have a future, or be prepared to die with our liturgical traditionalism. I have often felt pressure in my life to conform for the sake of evangelism. They say that the page has to be turned. It seems like the eighteenth century in Lutheran Germany when the Catholic ways were abandoned in favour of Pietism and low-church services. Perhaps that is the way it has to be, and it brings me to ask very profound questions. If all we have known and loved has to go, why was it there in the first place? For some of us, the choice seems to be between going on with it for our lifetimes and let go for any consideration for what will follow our deaths. We have nothing to offer the youth, but they don’t go to any services anywhere. The old fallacy of twanging guitars to get the young people back to church is worn out and trashed. The other choice under the pressure of the sheer indifference is “if you can’t beat them join them” – give up and become non-religious people. The existential questions and the emotional scars remain…
My reaction has been to try to find inspiration in monasticism but in a way as can be honestly lived by those who don’t have a monastic vocation, who live in the modern world, are married. Perhaps we just have to cross that one out too, or try to make something of the idea. It worked quite well in nineteenth and early twentieth century French parishes. In our days, we have idealistic young men who adopt the liturgy and old religious observances as a kind of “hobby”, and acquire a degree of knowledge about liturgical history, theology and ceremonies that matches or even exceeds that of priests. Even these men are too individualistic to act in their own best interest and found some kind of community or regular celebration of the Office. That takes a lot of self-discipline, and many of those “romantics” just don’t have it.
In 2019, the Novus Ordo will be fifty years old and that is more than enough time for the Tridentine liturgy to be as forgotten as the Sarum Use that attracts liturgical historians and romantic enthusiasts. The pontificate of Benedict XVI raised expectations, but the hammer blow came with the abdication of February 2013 and the election of Cardinal Bergoglio.
Many of these things went through my mind in my many divagations between high-church Anglicanism in its London version (as I was exposed to it in the years 1978-81) and traditionalist Roman Catholicism. Exposure to the “normal” Church was cruel and bitter, since I have to admit that my being attracted to liturgical Christianity was primarily aesthetic before acquiring the theological and spiritual dimensions. I noticed that monks in monasteries were living in totalitarian societies and sacrificed their very personalities, like in a cult. Have choices to be made?
Catholicism is growing in the world outside Europe and North America, but by assimilating the externals of evangelical Protestantism and pietism in the form of charismatic pentecostalism. It is the same thing with the Anglican Communion in those countries, even when they are conservative in terms of sexual ethics and doctrine.
The great advantage of the Anglican Catholic Church and other continuing jurisdictions is the relative flexibility due to our being less institutionalised than the “official” Anglican Communion or the Roman Catholic Church. We have a vernacular liturgy. I celebrate in Latin when alone, but in the vernacular (English or French) when there are some souls at Mass from my in-laws. Most priests in my Diocese use the Anglican Missal, and I have expressed my willingness to use it in a pastoral setting with lay Anglicans accustomed to it. My choice of Sarum goes back to about 2009 when I clearly disassociated myself in my mind from the Roman Catholic traditionalists. I was at the time in the TAC and still used the Tridentine missal until early 2008. I celebrated the Novus Ordo two or three times (London Oratory style) and found there was no point in it, at least for me. It made no difference. I found the various Anglican attempts to twist around the Prayer Book rites in the old Ritualist and Dearmerite tradition unconvincing. Sarum was a liturgy I didn’t have to do anything with – just use it as in the book and be a part of the historical Church. It enabled me to settle emotionally and spiritually.
There is the argument of culture and art in the question of using Latin, especially musical settings which would otherwise be confined to concerts and recordings. Few churches have choirs and competent organists, so the question is academic.
Many Roman Catholics have opted for the Society of St Pius X, but they find it is not like the parishes in the old days (for those born before 1930 or 1940). It represents traditionalism that is self-conscious. Continuing Anglicanism is also self-conscious, but perhaps a little less so. There are small sedevacantist communities, some of which have acquired some measure of stability and others that bear many vagante characteristics. I can’t help noticing that most people are not interested in religion. Most of the minority are interested for the wrong reasons (political ideology, family reasons, etc.). Many of the “elect” with the “right” reasons are too unstable to perpetuate a sustainable community.
In the end, Roman Catholicism implies the Papal ecclesiology that goes back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, codified in the nineteenth. The Roman Catholic Church will never go back to the old liturgy, and the criticisms of the new liturgy are valid but increasingly irrelevant. This brings Roman Catholics to a clear choice: go along with the mainstream wherever it goes, become Orthodox, become continuing Anglican or give up. To be honest about the Anglican Catholic Church, it became so messed up in the 1990’s that it is very difficult to re-establish its reputation as a serious Church and its stability. We are working on it and men like Bishop Damien Mead have obtained wonderful results with very little money and little in the way of a “big picture” view among the clergy and people. We are still at a balancing point. I am aware of our fragility and the fact that western liturgical Christianity is presently on its last legs. Tridentine, Sarum or Prayer Book, we are made to feel like museum pieces with a limited shelf life. There is the Orthodox option, but conditions in that Church (or collection of churches more or less in communion with each other) seem to indicate the possibility of the kind of blow-back that happened in Roman Catholicism in the 1960’s. They are ethnical churches and are not interested in western converts with the same kind of “romantic” outlook as converts to Roman Catholicism in the nineteenth century. None of us can afford to be triumphalistic because we can so easily saw off the branch from under us.
I think the essential thing for us is to live in the world as best as we can, responding to everything with Christian love but by keeping ourselves to the Catacombs in terms of stereotypes. It was the reaction of many French priests after World War II in their desire to reach out to the people where they were – at work, at home, engaged in hobbies, sports and culture. I don’t seem to have found a better idea, except that I stay out of politics. Christianity is a religion of self-sacrifice and abnegation – some would say we have to go with the majority – others will see things more profoundly and prepare for obscurity and death, terrena despicere et amare cælestia – the formula we find in many of our prayers in the eschatological view of our faith. We care little for our own lives, following the teaching of Christ, because something better lies beyond our bodily death. That is a dimension of Christianity that is largely forgotten in the “happy-clappy” parishes with which we cannot relate without malaise and bitterness.
The Church is facing this death, to be resurrected in this life or another. To those of us attached to old liturgical forms and the theory of the liturgy expressed by Orthodox theologians and German Benedictine monks, we live another life and an anticipation of this Paschal mystery. Perhaps a few of us can go on through the dark tunnel of sadness, yet of hope, and do what we can for a better future. It isn’t without reason that I continue to refer to New Goliards, the drop outs and “hippies” of the middle ages who were marginal clerics who saw the world through humour and satire. Many of us are not made for the mainstream or for the way things are going. We can’t claim to be the only “true” ones to be “saved”, but we can continue to be ourselves as we seem to have been made. Marginal people can also be ministered to, and Christ came above all for them as for sinners and the sick. Perhaps our pain will bring us to a more radical view of the way Christ gave us, and to a deep spirituality a vision that goes beyond the usual fare. I can only hope so…