Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Enabling a Labor of Love

Besides noting the frequency of terror attacks and a disrespectful and aggressive social scene in most of the west, the social media are heavily commenting a political culture ruled by what we used to call the law of the jungle. Whether it is fair to say that inner Church discourse has gone to the dogs as well would be hard to say, but there is no small amount of aggressive behavior, spilling over into violence, here as well. Even rather highly placed figures in the Church don't seem to be able to distinguish between intelligent critique and verbal violence, born of a fundamental dread, if not hatred, of the other. Justice, decency, but above all love of the sort which Christ commanded in the two great commandments seems in short supply.

Patrick Archbold has published at The Remnant an article which poses the question as to whether Summorum Pontificum (now nine years down the line) was indeed the efficient instrument for promoting liturgical renewal, reform or restoration in the Church. Pope Benedict presumably sought to achieve his goal principally by recognizing the Roman Rite as having two forms and seeking their mutual enrichment through acquaintance and open exchange.

Archbold expresses appreciation for Summorum Pontificum but illustrates its handicaps. He does so respectfully, but his remedies for a status quo deserving critique edge toward the too energetic, when not high handed and almost violent. Very rightly, he doesn't see the playing field as sufficiently leveled or, if you will, would illustrate the number of ways in which the Extraordinary Form is hamstrung by that document. He offers a list of suggestions for remedying the situation.

As much as I would like to agree with him on the point that the label "Extraordinary Form" is a misnomer and a hindrance, it probably best fits the psychology of where or how we are at in the Church these days. Archbold takes one "bull by the horns", rather ill advisedly to my way of thinking, and namely by his proposal to require that priests already ordained show proficiency in celebrating the Mass according to the 1962 Missal and by a certain deadline. The approach is too aggressive and to my mind smacks of the same violence with which the Missal of Bl. Paul VI was often imposed a half century almost ago. What to do?

A culture needs to be built within the Church and where it can bear fruit in freedom. Tension and debate must be dynamic; they must be constructive, ample and nurturing, not small minded or oppressive. Giving orders to the priest in the parish to get his act together and learn something new is confrontational and counterproductive. Start from a smaller and potentially more empowering base! Not enough has been done to engage bishops and seminary rectors. Major seminary is indeed the laboratory for experience and reflection, especially in this case concerning the merits of the two forms of the one rite. Without any new legislation, with the blessing of the bishop, in the seminary a new openness is freely possible and could lead to a much more serene approach on the part of future priests to this important issue.

On the level of the Universal Church, I would repeat my insistence from earlier blog posts that a pre-tridentine model for fostering the organic development of the liturgy may again be in order. Maybe the Bishop of Rome and his Curia need to prepare a proper Missal for the Patriarchal Basilicas and the station churches of Rome; maybe it is up to the supreme legislator to show the way in matters of liturgical renewal and restoration. I pray about this every day. That the Holy Father would not only celebrate publicly according to the 1962 Missal, but would undertake calendar reform and more; that in conformity with his proper role, he would be the one to jump-start the process of finding a proper basis for putting us back on track for the kind of organic development the tradition demands. 

To focus on liturgy alone and rooting out abuse is insufficient; sadly, over these years, not enough attention has been paid to the fact that Eucharist, Sunday Mass in particular, is source and summit (fons et culmen) of something, namely the Christian life. If we are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our people in so many ways, it is because of the sort of reductionism which has pared down Catholic life to a weekly church-going, without other supports. The lack of private prayer in the home, that children are ignorant of basic prayers, that the rudiments of Catholic culture are withheld from the young, that individual celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is neglected, are all impediments to living the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and focusing our life as baptized into Christ.

The prophets, especially Hosea, sought on God's behalf to speak to the heart of the bride. We need to do the same today. Able people like Patrick Archbold need to find words and ways to speak to the heart of a faithless spouse. More than a call to order, as truthful and justified as it may be, we need to speak the truth in love; we need to enable that labor of love, which will open hearts and minds to Christ. It is not at all easy in the present climate, but it is the kind of sacrificial love which St. Dominic demonstrated on behalf of the conversion of Albigensians; it was in grand part the greatness of the teaching and counsel of St. Francis de Sales.


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