Monday, October 30, 2006

"If you tell a lie big enough..."

Some of you will recognize the subject as the beginning of the infamous line from Joseph Goebbels which continues, "...and keep on repeating it people will eventually come to believe it." if that isn't a big enough lead-in to any post...

A friend at the catholic-pages forum posted a link to a story from James Carroll of the Boston Globe. If you haven't already heaved a sigh at that combination you may not know of their combined, err, "issues" with the Catholic Church. The Globe, of course, is where the priest child abuse scandal really broke in Boston and they have angled after the Church ever since.

In this piece, Mr. Carroll goes after the desire of many in the Catholic Church to be allowed to celebrate the Mass in the manner stipulated by the Second Vatican Council. No, that does not mean free-form Masses, the "four-hymn sandwich" (thanks Amy - I love that term!) or the complete removal of Latin or chant. As a quick refresher in case you've been asleep for the past forty years, let's review some of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.
Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.
And wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.

Now, if you've read this carefully you'll realize that Latin was, in fact, never to be removed from the Mass in the first place. The closest one comes is in Art. 36 wherein the phrase "some prayers and chants" could be construed to mean "all prayers and chants". But then, one is left to wonder, if the Council had meant "all", why did they not in fact use the word "all"? Occam's Razor would suggest, in fact, they never did mean "all" and its interposition is in fact an error.

This contrasts sharply with what James Carroll posits, having of course introduced himself as one "in the know" by repeating a well-known Latin phrase and citing his credentials as a former altar boy:
The first vote taken by the bishops of the Second Vatican Council in 1962 concerned liturgical reform, centering on use of the vernacular at Mass. If the Council fathers had voted against worshipping in language ordinary believers could understand, the revolutionary impulse driving that Council would have been stopped dead in its tracks, but the tally was overwhelmingly in favor. The Latin Mass was finished. With that single vote, the Council set loose a current of change that is still running.

Once Catholics entered into the mystery of the Mass as literate participants instead of as dumb spectators, an unprecedented renewal took hold.
For anyone who can read between the lines, Mr. Carroll has clearly insulted just about anyone who attended Mass prior to the upheaval following the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. In his estimation you all were akin to sheep, or perhaps more accurately cows, meandering along an unwitting path totally devoid of knowledge of your surroundings as the hammer raised over your head. Is it true that many people did not know enough Latin to understand the "old Mass" and that there were liturgical abuses such as the "McMass"? Absolutely. But is it not also fair to say that many, if not most, people were raised with a sufficient knowledge of Latin to understand the Mass? Indeed, if you look into almost any Missal even today you see Latin on one page and English on the other. It doesn't take a PhD. to learn the translation one to the other.

Now, as Pope Benedict has said previously (for instance, in his book Principles of Catholic Theology) given the length of time this error has been in force it is entirely probable that a surgical removal of this error and complete replacement of it with what had originally been intended would likely cause harm to the Church, much as its original implementation harmed the Church. This is why, I believe, the Pope is leaning towards not so much a universal indult but a universal clarification, possibly in the form of an indult (how's that for cutting hairs?) that the use of Latin in the Latin Rite Churches is to be restored as a universal right not dependant on the whim of the particular Ordinary at the time. The further restoration of the Tridentine Latin Mass (or, as many of those who are strongly drawn to it would say, the "TLM") is likely and I would expect it to be received as any of the other Rites of the Catholic Church only, I believe, in much greater number.

The one thing that seems missing from the whole discussion on liturgy among Catholics of different persuasions is often, sadly, respect for differing viewpoints. Is the Novus Ordo the cause of all of the current ills in the Church? Hardly. Abuses of the Novus Ordo are clear signposts, however, of those ills and at the same time pointers to what must be done to remedy them. Here's a strange thought - it is possible the Novus Ordo is a movement of the Holy Spirit designed to highlight the dark corners of abuse which the Tridentine Rite with its strict regimentation and whispered (or mumbled or slurred or perhaps ignored all together) prayers may have left unlit. Is that a fault of the Tridentine Rite? Not at all - those participating in it, both at the altar and in the pews are called to an actuose participet (Art. 113), an "actual participation" (not the "active" participation that has led to some "interesting" liturgical inventions) which also presupposes a spiritual predisposition to performing a respective role properly and with humility.

I suggest that, now that these corners are lit, the time has come to allow the Church to reconnect with Her history and allow both the Tridentine Rite and Latin in the Novus Ordo to co-exist as equals with the vernacular Novus Ordo. After all, is this One Holy Catholic Church big enough for these Rites, properly observed? I think it is.

Update: Gerald has been good enough to give his own riff on this subject and link over to this post as well. Heavens! I have company coming - I'd best tidy up the place! Welcome to anyone coming here from his The Cafeteria is Closed blog!

Update 2: Diogenes has picked up on this story too (thanks for the pointer Lilo!). And, might I say, in his own unique way, nailed it. And he is precisely correct - how is it that the Globe manages to keep publishing personal vendettas like this and still call itself a responsible journalistic source?