The Church moves slowly. This is a truism for anyone who has joined or followed the effort to accomplish the great task of the Church in our time– cleaning up the wreckage of liturgical and theological destruction left in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.
In fact, one of the most notable things about the destruction is that it was accomplished with great speed and violence in a very short time. It takes years to build a Gothic cathedral, or even a beautiful parish church. It takes minutes to smash an altar or tear out a communion rail. For the Catholic faithful, forms, rites, and rituals of venerable age, developed organically and in a real sense “handed down” as gifts of the Church for more than a thousand years (some nearly two thousand years old) were changed radically by liturgical experts in committee. And by “experts”, I mean by those who claimed the term, much like global warming experts have claimed their exalted status.
Speed. That is what was necessary. Why? Because the changes made to the Mass and the architecture of sacred spaces, not to mention the nuancing of traditional Catholic doctrinal formulations, would never have been accomplished had these come as a result of the normal process of things Catholic– had these taken the time to develop organically, to be desired by the faithful and justified in the light of Tradition and prudential considerations.
Speed was needed; it was a blunt force weapon. Take a 1,500 year old Mass and simply remove it. It’s there one day and gone the next. The altar ripped from the wall, or replaced with the “table of plenty”. Shock and awe. The only problem is that the shock of these changes did not produce awe. They weren’t designed to. They were designed to elevate the banal. They were designed to desacralize and make vulgar the mysteries of faith.
Once the damage was done, and the seminaries, convents and churches were denuded of their doctrinal, human and architectural beauties, it was clear that the Church was in decline. Of course, the Church will exist to the end of time, and cannot ever be defeated. Yet it was not only down in temporal terms. The faith of her members also went through a kind of desert. In this Octave of Pentecost (which by way of fitting illustration no longer exists in the new calendar) I would point to the words of Christ Himself:
He that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst for ever. But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting. (John 4:13b-14)
The Church is Christ’s holy spouse, and this fountain will never be extinguished. But by way of imperfect analogy may I suggest that the flow “springing up” within her was in some sense diminished?
The traditional Mass, now called the Extraordinary Form, was never abrogated. It was always in principle permitted. Yet it was essentially choked off and practically suppressed nearly everywhere. Without going into the history of the recognition of the Extraordinary Form’s continued liceity and vitality, it is enough to point to Summorum Pontificum, and the Pope’s accompanying letter to Bishops, for recognition of its continued status.
During the leanest years it was, practically speaking, a kiss of death for any priest in the typical diocese or order to stand for the principle of celebrating this Mass. Celebrating it was a very good way to ensure that one would never advance. Discretion, silence, heroic suffering and forbearance were the keys for survival. Priests attached to the traditional Mass were practically forced to live an eremetical life within the diocesan setting.
Moreover, the de-coupling of worship and belief that was made possible by the way the new Mass was typically celebrated produced a generation or more of Catholics who were not taught their faith outside of Mass, nor reinforced in their faith during Mass.
To address the serious problem, many good-hearted and well-intentioned priests, religious and faithful opted to attempt to “reform the reform”– to fix what went wrong with the new Mass in the aftermath of Sacrosanctum Concilium. This was seen by most as the only practical way to find a solution, since it did not “reject” the new Mass in favor of the old, but rather was an attempt to get at what the Council fathers “really wanted”.
It is now decades later, and I ask what has done more to address the problem of reverence in the liturgy: the reform of the reform, or the wider celebration of the traditional Mass and the growth of traditional Catholic societies? Some would say this wider celebration is itself part of the reform of the reform. I concede that for many this is part of the strategy. But I maintain that the Mass itself, the Extraordinary Form itself, is the catalyst for whatever resurgence is slowly but steadily taking place. Three years of the motu proprio have done more than forty years of trying to defend the Maginot Line within the new liturgy, or spackling the more obvious cracks from without.
All of which leads me by a very long route (as usual) to my point. It is time to celebrate the return of the classical forms of Mass and the other sacraments. It is time to celebrate what makes us Catholic. As I said in an earlier post, why should the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite be a matter that seems so embarrassing that it must be hushed up, as though one saw their grandfather going to a nightclub? Why do faithful Catholics have to tip-toe around modernism and its adherents, whether they are in parishes or rectories?
Even in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, considered one of the most vibrantly orthodox Archdioceses in the world and a leader in liturgical restoration, there is still great reticence by priests and faithful to take up the standard in a public way. It is thought best to continue to keep this restoration low-key, to avoid sticking our necks out for fear of offending some, or of having our necks cut off. Perhaps it is the province of a blogger to lack patience, but I ask you–Why should this be?
I think it might be uplifting to many of beleaguered faithful who attend parishes throughout the Archdiocese– who have suffered through years of “Table of Plenty” and “Gather Us In”, liturgical committee politics, inclusive language, rubrical abuses and questionable homilies– that many more priests are now being trained in the Extraordinary Form, have an affinity for beauty and reverence in the liturgy, and have sound theological formation. More and more priests are regularly celebrating the classical Roman Rite as part of their priesthood.
These priests are bringing this approach to the life of the typical parish setting; they are bringing beauty and reverence to both Forms of the Mass, they are preaching from the pulpit in such a way that parents don’t have to be on high alert to explain to their children after Mass “what Father really meant to say” in order not to scandalize them. They are the first signs of that New Springtime we have been promised. Can we not celebrate this?
Or should we just pretend that the Extraordinary Form is for those crackpots who are (to paraphrase someone famous) bitter, clinging to their [Mass] and religion?
The Pope has spent the five years of his Pontificate calling for priests to be formed precisely in this way. For the traditional Mass to come back into the life of every parish precisely in this way. For faith and liturgy to support and enrich each other precisely in this way. For the faith we profess and the liturgy we pray to inform our lives, and our culture, in precisely this way.
But if this restoration of faith, liturgy and culture continues to be ignored in the Catholic press and in Catholic rectories, is it any wonder it remains unrealized in Catholic homes?