Friday, August 2, 2019

The Best Vehicle for Church Renewal and Evangelization

Liturgy Summer Course 2019
Moving Forward – My Plea for Full Liturgical Restoration

Lots of water has passed under the bridge, both for me and for Sacra Liturgia, since my participation in the Sacra Liturgia Summer School of how many years ago? Back then, I was stationed in Ukraine, so was it five years ago maybe? That summer, my experience with the Vetus Ordo was still historical and theoretical, i.e. dating from the past from my childhood and youth and more recently from my reading. Let us say at that summer school it passed from theoretical to practical. It was then that I had my first tutoring in celebrating according to the 1962 Missal here and celebrated Pontifical Vespers as well. Meantime I had a great experience with the Latin Mass Society in London and with the move to Switzerland, my experience has become more practical. Thanks to the encouragement of supportive priests, a marvelous traditional community of sisters in Sankt Pelagiberg and any number of good laity, I have celebrated quite a few Pontifical High Masses, both from the throne and from the faldstool. Nor am I a stranger to the Missa Praelatitia. My house situation still will not permit me to celebrate a Low Mass in my own chapel, but that is another story and remains substantially my challenge. If all goes well in the months ahead, I may be able to celebrate deacon ordinations in 2020 for the Society of St. Peter!

On the topic of liturgical renewal and the advancement of the tradition, I wonder if the veterans of the cause, like Dom Alcuin here, would have accurately predicted all the great things that have come to pass in these five years since our last encounter! Although the various fronts in the battle remain hardened and occasionally there are brutal setbacks, in many places we hear tell of vibrant communities, with mostly young people and families. Even in places where celebrations are still infrequent, I have experienced the exuberance of people who will give of themselves generously, with or without the expertise of communities like the Seminaries in Wigratzbad in Germany or Denton, Nebraska, not far from my home in the US, to bring about liturgies of extraordinary beauty, which draw people from far and wide.

In these five years, even among supporters of the traditional Latin Mass the terms of discourse have changed somewhat. We encounter dyed in the wool traditionalists who now tend to glow and melt because of the hope inspired by annual occurrences such as the Chartres Pilgrimage. It is not that our witness is less militant or strident, but things are changing. Our Merciful Lord offers us the occasion not only to stand fast but also to be nurturing for once, in the real and ever growing hope of winning over men and women of good will for the cause of the Tradition.

“Moving Forward” then! Any right minded or right thinking Catholic should have an instinctive aversion for the notion of progress or moving forward, especially when it comes to the Divine Liturgy in and of itself. This aversion wells up not because of any prejudice rooted in some kind of antiquarian spirit or predilection, but because the obsession with progress is wrong-headed. It can be and most often is disjunctive, that is, not Catholic. It is often modernist, flawed in the most profound sense, and hence it is wrong to look for progress in things either Catholic or liturgical, as if progressing were a value. That being said, I still want to title my talk “Moving Forward”, because organic development in matters liturgical is a part of our history and rightly so. Liturgical life in the Church did not reach its apex with the death of the last Apostle. Catholic liturgy is not frozen in time once and for all. There is development in the way we worship and have worshiped over the centuries. Divine liturgy is something rational, but as such it is in continuity with the past and marked above all by a constancy which takes it out of the hands of innovators, of liturgists and even of popes and councils. Unfortunately, the postconciliar liturgical reforms were tainted by arbitrariness or caprice far more than attaining any particular improvement or progression they may wish to claim as fruits of the reform. 

Let it be said! With my presentation, I have gone a bit out on a limb. Feel free to dismiss my thesis, but do not expect me to apologize for my excesses, because I am very much convinced of my position and do not think I am overstating my case. Most places these days, Mother Church suffers from a very real and grave malaise. Liturgy is a part of this tragedy. Serious talk about a new evangelization of our world (dare I say, of our post-Christian world?) is overdue and when addressed then at best halfheartedly. It is not enough to say that the Lord expects big things from tiny mustard seeds. We need to get beyond resignation, beyond out and out denial in the face of much that is just plain bad. Sadly, you still run into denizens of the deep and not so deep in the New World who point fingers at the Old World (at old, once Catholic Europe), but should rather be about the business of pulling the plank from their own eye. Call it indifference, call it disdain or call it faithlessness, but note the lack of enthusiasm for the cause of Jesus Christ and of His Church most everywhere in the world. I am not bemoaning a lack of soapbox preachers, but rather the all too frequent failure within the “little Church”, the family, to hand on the faith to the next generation.

Liturgy is much more than a vehicle for handing on the faith, but it is that as well. The hostility toward the Vetus Ordo and much of the enthusiasm for the Council’s liturgical reform predates the Council and bases itself on the shortcomings and even abuse in the area of worship experienced at many levels in the 1950’s. 

Let me share an anecdote from my own experience of that malaise from my 8th grade year of elementary school (1963-64) at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (For those who do not know, that is on the high plains in the upper Midwest of the United States of America).

During our school year those many years ago, the 8th grade boys who served Mass took turns at sacristy duty for the weekday Masses. That meant turning on lights in church and setting out the vestments, things the servers usually did not do. Either the sisters or adults had sacristy duties for Saturdays, Sundays and summers. Those weeks during the school year when I was assigned to sacristy duty, I would leave home to walk up to the Cathedral so as to arrive at 6:00 am (I can still walk the distance in less than 20 minutes and of course by bike it would be much faster). The weather made no difference, rain, snow, pounding prairie winds… I would like to see how many parents today would let their 13-year-old son take on a commitment of the sort. Anyway, about 2½ blocks from church were the offices of Catholic Charities back then and the priest director would usually be coming out the door about the time I walked by and we would walk the rest of the way to the Cathedral together. Father would go out in church to pray his breviary and I would set up all the vestments in the sacristy for the 6:45 Mass at the high altar and prepare everything for Father’s Mass at the side altar. There were three young priests assigned to the Cathedral back then and by turns one would have the early Mass, one would have the convent Mass and the third might have Mass at the high school or perhaps a funeral later in the morning. The two assigned altar boys would come at 6:30 and finish setting up. After they were off to the high altar with the priest, I would help the director of Catholic Charities vest and serve Father’s private Mass at Mary’s altar. Once thereafter, I had set up the vestments for the Pastor’s sung High Mass at 8:00 am, I could go over to school. Most days it was just this pleasant routine, which ran like clockwork, but some days not.

The “some days”, not every day but not infrequently, when things did not go so smoothly, were those days when it was almost Mass time (6:40?) and still no priest in the sacristy. I would have to go and ring at the door of the adjoining rectory and ask the housekeeper to roust the designated priest out of bed… Often these sleepy heads were the same culprits who verbally abused my great uncle in the confessional on Saturdays for coming to weekly confession and bothering them with his recitation of faults and perhaps even venial sins…. The good old days were indeed such, but not without their share of hiccups.

My point or rather two points? 1) Back in the post-World War II period, the Mass of all times alone did not or could not have carried everyone or formed the bulwark against what happened in society and in the Church after the Council in the 1960‘s. Take the case of some of those young men ordained in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s (I have more stories), who were disenchanted with the discipline of the sacraments and more. (In this regard, I heartily recommend the book, “Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II”, by Stephen Bullivant. OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition, 2019. The author draws some very cautious conclusions, but, by the same token, enlightening in terms of seriously addressing the question of the cause for the ever increasing abandonment of Catholic practice by cradle Catholics in the post-war period.) My second point: 2) if the changes had not come as they did in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, who knows? Perhaps it would not have been as bad and we could have better weathered the storm. For those well-disposed, I think this quote from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s book Milestones bears much weight:

“It was a riveting adventure to move by degrees into the mysterious world of the liturgy, which was being enacted before us and for us there on the altar. It was becoming more and more clear to me that here I was encountering a reality that no one had simply thought up, a reality that no official authority or great individual had created. This mysterious fabric of texts and actions had grown from the faith of the Church over the centuries. It bore the whole weight of history within itself, and yet, at the same time, it was much more than the product of human history. Every century had left its mark upon it.” (p. 20. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.)

My point and the point of many, more prepared than I to discuss such matters, is that despite the frustration with the old rite, the Novus Ordo did not deliver on its promises. Instead of countering the preconciliar malaise, it contributed to it. It has banalized worship or at least rendered it less than sublime. You could argue, I suppose, that abandoning the Novus Ordo with the sole argument that we should not be pushing lemming-like over the cliff as if this were our mindless destiny in the light of the Council, does not cut the mustard. What choice do we have though? Continuing as we are seems almost an act of desperation. But why not reform the Novus Ordo? Why go back to the Vetus Ordo, especially since its last reviews in the pre-conciliar period, were mixed at best? 

Be advised that “turning back” is not so much a nostalgic turning back of the clock. Rather, it is a systematic reset aimed at recovering our footing, if you will. Why bet on a loser? Why jump into the abyss if you do not have to? Right reason would decree that a best effort be made at recovery; we need to pick up the trail that was lost or abandoned. Liturgical restoration could become a rallying point for a general recovery of faith life, or perhaps given the half century and several (2+) generations which separate us from our patrimony, represents the hoped-for bulwark against an even greater loss of faith. The Vetus Ordo could become the beachhead for a new evangelization, a renewal of faith life within the Church and for the world. I am so iffy in my affirmation simply because for now at least we cannot claim that a major revival is under way. It is all too evident that those who adhere to the tradition still do not constitute big numbers. We are not yet what you would call “legion”.

On the other hand, to the extent that the conciliar reform as expressed in the Novus Ordo did not deliver on its promises, what other choice do we have? More seriously, the Novus Ordo appears at odds with what Eucharist is supposed to be. It cannot be the vehicle for Church renewal, because it is at odds with what we should be about as Catholics. Overstated perhaps, but let me quote from Father Wojciech Giertych’s book, “The Spark of Faith: Understanding the Power of Reaching Out to God”, EWTN PUBLISHING, INC. Irondale, Alabama, 2018, Kindle Edition:

“The center of the Eucharistic liturgy is neither the priest nor the gathered community, but Christ Himself, who gives Himself out of love. His gift of self, handed over to the heavenly Father and to us, identical to the sacrifice rendered once and for all on the Cross, is the source of grace. The sinner who is conscious that evil needs to be punished and repaired in the name of justice may be freed from sin whenever he holds on to the sacrifice of the Cross that is made available to him. That is why the sacrifice of the Cross is constantly offered on the altars of the Church: so that we would not forget about this total oblation of Christ, and so that we will profit from it.”

The theologian of the Papal Household is framing his discussion of the Mass and the Sacraments in this book in the light of a rather Thomistic vision of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. He continues:

“Where the primacy of Christ is forgotten and the main emphasis falls not on His sacrifice, in which the priest is to be concealed, but either on the priest who presides over the liturgy or on the community that gathers and celebrates itself, churches quickly become empty. If the priest is in the center, immediately the question is raised: What is the value of a liturgy when it turns out that he is not particularly interesting, not very intelligent and witty, and even a sinner? And if the community that celebrates itself is in the center, then what meaning does it have for young people, who can say that the elderly people in the church do not interest them and they find a better communitarian spirit in a club, coffee shop, or pub?”

Some of you, no doubt, are even more aware than I am of the volumes of literature out there analyzing what went wrong in the Church and in the world back at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Far be it from me not to accentuate the positive, but it is time for us to face up to the hard reality. You might say that what I am arguing for is an honest effort on the part of Catholics to get beyond denial and to recognize the arbitrary nature of much of what was imposed upon us, yes, I will say it, with violence. If you do not like the word “violence”, then substitute the expression “imposed with arbitrary force of will”. 

What can a liturgical reset attain which a reform of the reformed liturgy from the Second Vatican Council cannot achieve? Firstly, perhaps, why do we hear of a rather broad-based call for the reform of the reformed liturgy at all? Is the dissatisfaction generally with church worship justified? Is it the fault of the reformed liturgy that so many people are falling away from the practice of the faith? I think the answer is in part “yes”. Men especially seem to find the reformed liturgy a stumbling stone. We all have our horror stories from the 1970’s about our fathers or grandfathers being brow-beaten or cajoled into actively participating by making the responses and singing. Why has Perpetual Adoration become so popular and not least of all among men? Why do no few Novus Ordo vocations to the priesthood blossom in connection with the positive experience of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament placed high upon the Altar? Why does the source and summit of Christian existence, in the form of the Novus Ordo Mass, not deliver when it comes to inspiring a sense of awe? Why has the reception of Holy Communion become banalized to such a point? Why has eliminating the communion rail generally opened up a chasm between the people and their Eucharistic Lord as revealed in the sacred action? Excuse the flippancy of my expression, but how can we describe Communion in the hand while standing, with multiple ministers in street clothes distributing here there and everywhere in church, front, back or choir loft, as something other than rushed, as “communion on the fly”?

I think the discursive and arbitrary nature of the reformed liturgy is a big part of the problem. Liturgical abuse is rampant, yes, but I draw this conclusion about the discursive and arbitrary (I am referring to the rubrics, which read: „in these or similar words, option A, B, or C, etc.”) also from observing young priests from various parts of the world, whom you would probably label pious or at least not abusive of worship. These priests can come from most any country and most any place on the political, philosophical or theological spectrum, that is, from the middle of the road to stock conservative. The reformed liturgy faithfully celebrated is seemingly not enough for them. They add gestures and words, sometimes deliberately and sometimes it would seem almost instinctively or unconsciously, especially during the Eucharistic prayer. They modify the Mass very simply to make it better, or so I would guess. We have a problem with the Novus Ordo that a couple of tweaks just may not solve.

To avoid sounding pedantic, I have formulated several questions that lend themselves to my dual purpose of urging the abandonment of the reform of the reform movement and pushing the agenda of striving for a full liturgical restoration. Out of cowardice, I am avoiding the burning issue of setting a date for the reset. I used to think that going back to the 1962 Missal and to St. Pius X and his breviary reform was sufficient, but the marvels of the pre-Pius XII Triduum as we have begun to experience them leave me speechless on this point. Perhaps the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI on the mutual enrichment of the two forms will provide the paradigm for resolving the question of which Missal and which breviary. My call for a return to the presently approved texts for the Extraordinary Form, then, is inspired by a certain urgency to move forward, to further the process. I do not feel qualified to take a stance in this particular matter of where best to launch the restoration.

Why the reset? Why restore the liturgy and the liturgical calendar? Why increase the priests’ burden of prayer with a return to the breviary of Pope St. Pius X? Let me talk around some of the issues! So here goes with my questions and tentative answers!

1. Was Easter duty really all that minimal?

By Easter duty, I am referring to the precept of the Church imposing, under pain of mortal sin, the obligation to receive Holy Communion once a year during the Easter Season, usually preceded by a worthy Confession.

As a child, I was wrongly given the impression that the precept represented a minimal effort on the part of the Church to get people to practice their faith. In fact, it is probably just the opposite, namely a measured effort on the part of Mother Church at inspiring a truly formed and informed reverence for Christ present in the Eucharist. The intention of the law would be to draw her children closer to their Eucharistic Lord through the worthy celebration of the Easter Sacrament. The precept put things into perspective by underlining God’s greatness and the sublimity of the Eucharistic mystery. It states unequivocally as well that that is where we belong, no matter the effort to break with sin so as to be worthy to receive the Lord.

A renewed emphasis today on the Easter Duty, effectively explained to Catholics through creative pastoral teaching, might actually help people understand Who it is that comes to them in Holy Communion, Who it is that is their Lord. Catechesis and the celebration of the Vetus Ordo could renew people’s faith in the Lord Who saves us in and through the Eucharist. 

2. Just how much Scripture can a body take?

From the general experience I have had in German speaking Switzerland, it would seem that the Novus Ordo lectionary is too much. Two readings plus the Gospel for Sundays and Solemnities is the exception rather than the rule in your average German speaking Swiss parish, that is of course if they have Mass at all on any sort of regular basis. In the Novus Ordo in German speaking parishes, the second reading from St. Paul generally falls out. The Responsorial Psalm, which often amounts to an additional Scripture reading, either gives way to silence or something from the hymnal. Too much? Has the three-year cycle of readings really acquainted people with more Scripture? It may have overwhelmed them with the sheer volume. Besides, if you only hear a Gospel once every three years, well, you are apt not to have the slightest familiarity, especially if a child acted up or a baby happened to cry at that moment. The old lectionary seems better suited to the goal, as your odds at gaining familiarity with a text grow exponentially if you are hearing the same reading every year on that particular Sunday. 

3. Officium nocturnum. What do priests do all day long, anyway? 

With the first Sunday of Advent 2018, I took on the obligation of the old breviary. So instead of five rather abbreviated hours each day in a four week psalter, I went to the one week psalter with a full seven hours. That includes Matins on most days with nine psalms and three readings, plus the surprise of high holy days with their three nocturnes, of three psalms each with the same number of readings, i.e. for a total of nine readings. Apart from the difference in length of the two offices (roughly 150 psalms per week instead of the same number per month), with the old breviary I could rediscover in prayer those less than politically correct psalm passages which the reformers had edited out of the Church’s official prayer back after the Council. Using for the most part the Baronius edition of the breviary in three volumes has helped where my discrete school Latin fails to rise to the challenge of psalmody. I am working on the breviary hymns too, which present an even greater challenge linguistically for me and for priests I know of my age group.

But back to my question: What do priests do all day long, anyway? What at first seemed for me personally to be a challenge to get the hours of Terce, Sext and None to their proper times in my daily routine actually revealed itself as a Matins issue and especially for first class feasts and their three nocturnes. Officium nocturnum! As soon as I moved Matins to the night hours, the other three little hours found their proper place without hectic in my regular workday schedule. Granted, sometimes the duties of office will steal that quarter hour pause at one time or another in the working day or when I must travel on a given day. I freely admit, the change does present certain challenges for me, but all in all the one-week psalter is a sweet burden.

Officium nocturnum. What do priests do all day long, anyway? Truth to be told, my real question or challenge is: What do old priests do all night long? With age, I and a goodly part of my contemporaries are no longer “dead to the world” once we hit the pillow until the alarm calls us forth in the morn. We are not insomniacs, but our sleep is lighter and any number of factors, including inexplicable leg or foot cramps, can urge us up on our feet at various and sundry hours of the night. While without a doubt, the monastic life is to be envied (you know: tumbling out of bed, shuffling through the cold and dark together with the brethren to sing the night office in the majestic abbey church), I must say that my waking for that hour, at whatever hour it might be, has become a joy that I am eager to keep for myself. Sometimes, back in bed after my prayer, I sense the office somehow continuing, which may just be the angels continuing with the additional psalms past the present canonical nine, which were the rule prior to St. Pius X. Hard to say, but a pleasant thought! 

At any rate, since the breviary reform of Pope St. Pius X, I cannot say that bringing a bit of effort and a sacrifice or two to the private recitation of the breviary justifies the radical postconciliar cutbacks supposedly explained by the office being too burdensome for the secular clergy. My question remains: What do priests do all day long, anyway? 

4. Should not the sanctoral cycle take precedence in the liturgical calendar? Does celebrating the saints detract in any way, shape or form from the centrality of Christ to the whole work of salvation?

As a young priest, I remember very clearly rejoicing in the special efforts of Pope St. John Paul II to raise many more holy men and women to the altars. His pontificate with an almost dogged determination worked to put sanctity close up and heroic before our eyes. I think especially of the concentration camp and gulag martyrs like Maximilian Kolbe. In His saints, Jesus comes close and draws us inexorably to Himself.

Apart from the question of why certain saint’s feast days were changed to a different date, one could ask why on weekdays we wear green vestments so much more often in Ordinary Time? Why are the saints, with optional memorials in the calendar, so often ignored? Was not Pius X’s breviary reform enough, assuring the use of each day’s psalms on all III class feasts? Is there a problem with singing the Te Deum most days outside of the Penitential Seasons?

5. While we are at it: When it comes to calendar… isn’t older better?

From me you will get a resounding “yes”, especially if we are talking about vigils and octaves, and giving the proper denomination to times and seasons. “Ordinary Time” does not cut it as a designation. We are never ordinary; we are always somehow in the midst of or following in the train of the great mysteries, like Epiphany or Pentecost. Ordinary? Not hardly!

6. Vernacular and enculturation. Do we work out of a cultural paradigm? Which form of the Latin Rite fits that paradigm better or are we asking the wrong question? What is familiarity or cultural rootedness? My childhood memories of the Dominican Rite were of something very strange or foreign. Somehow, it was acceptable because the visiting priest was a son of the parish who had gone off to the Dominicans, no doubt under the influence of the Dominican sisters who taught in the school. My point? People should not be so rash as to start defining cultural paradigms and labeling things foreign.

Latin is an issue and one I have not quite worked out for myself. Personally, I make a distinction concerning the way in Latin which Holy Mass and the Hours of the Breviary touch my heart. Maybe the difference stems from the fact that the Vetus Ordo Mass I experience as celebrated, and in this case as the bishop celebrant surrounded by ministers (deacons, subdeacons, etc.). The breviary I know from private recitation. It could also be that my memories of the Vetus Ordo from childhood and youth and of the texts in Latin speak to me on their own. With the breviary, the Latin suggests to me not itself from my childhood, but a vernacular text in English or Italian or German, which has been part of me either constantly or periodically for all of my priesthood and before… a half century? Yet the breviary touches my heart too: most recently in and through one of those tough hymns, Nunc, Sancte, nobis, Spíritus, from Terce. It is the second stanza that interests me:

Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor
Confessiónem pérsonent.
Flamméscat igne cáritas,
Accéndat ardor próximos.

Let flesh and heart and lips and mind
Sound forth our witness to mankind;
And love light up our mortal frame,
Till others catch the living flame.

I’ll keep trying with the Latin…

Excuse me if this has all been a bit rapid fire. I would love to have your observations and your requests for clarification. Instead of saying, “Moving Forward”, I guess I could have shouted out a rallying call like “The future is ours!” In either case, my intention would be to enlist you to help shake many of my friends out of their complacency. People twenty or so years older than I with very negative memories of the old rite are not so many anymore. They are not so much, nor were they ever the issue. The problem is one of perceiving the precipice and stepping out of the crowd hurtling toward the edge. Grasping the sense of the “new forward”, if you will, demands coming to a full stop, stepping back, and taking a look around.


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