Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Contrasting Low Mass Expectations with Aggiornamento Aspirations


Recently, when an old friend was visiting the area, I agreed to go to a Traditional Latin Mass with him.  While I firmly agree the Pope Benedict's motu propio Summorum Pontificum (2007) which confirmed the licitity a Tridentine Mass, my prior experiences, particularly of Low Masses, had not fed my soul.  Alas, this particular Extraordinary Form of the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass also lived up to my Low Mass expectations.  So many traditionalists gush about about the Mass of Pope (St.) Pius V.  As I appreciate history and I love languages, I am not intimidated by the Usus Antiquior.  Moreover, I was prepared to occasionally being lost in the mystery of liturgical worship.  With all of that in mind, so many elements of the Missa Privata left me cold.

Granted, I am a child of Vatican II who appreciates worshiping in the vernacular. However, I can see the beauty of centuries of tradition contained in the Traditional Mass.  I appreciate the silent reverence of the People of God when inside the sanctuary.  This solemnity is also reflected by communicants at the altar rail (made more tolerable by padding at the edge of the marble altar). Yet is seems that the Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form seems to lack the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful which was envisioned from the Vatican II constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963).

Radical Traditionalists (“Rad Trads”) will insist that only the Old Mass is legitimate and ought no be changed.  This is echoed in the motto Semper Idem (“Always the Same”)  of Cardinal Ottaviani, a leading proponent of the Usus Antiquior during Vatican II. Such a train of thought convicts some like the Priestly Society of Pius X (SSPX), to reject all of Vatican II.  This leads some to to adhere to sedevacantism (believing that the Chair of St. Peter has been empty since 1958).  “Mad Trads” still have papal  allegiance  but chauvinistically believe that the 1962 Mass  is superior worshiping than the 1969 Novus Ordo Mass of Pope (St.)  Paul VI.   

“Glad Trads”, like Scott Hahn and Matt Fradd, joyfully embrace the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy.  Glad Trads may hope that that elements of the Traditional Mass may make it back into the Novus Ordo (echoing the hopes of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI). 

Alas,  that seems unlikely given the recent row at the Vatican prohibiting side altar Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica.  This questionably issued procedure relegates the Traditional Latin Mass to the intimate grotto St. Clementine Chapel.  Many appreciate this move as another example of the ever simmering Liturgy Wars which seems to suppress the licit Extraordinary Form which is skeptical about the patrimony of so called “Mass of the Ages”.  More poignantly, Fr. Tom Reese recently suggested that young people should be prohibited from attending the Traditional Latin Mass. 

While I am unaccustomed to the practice, I appreciate the ad orientem orientation of the priest celebrant on the altar in the Traditional Latin Mass, as the whole congregation ought to be facing liturgical East when worshiping.  

But the brief gestures towards the congregation of
"Oremus" struck me as pro forma and almost gratuitous as he recited the Divine Liturgy.  For me, as the old Low Mass progressed, the silence became deafening.  It seems logical that the cleric would lead on the propers portion of worship, but there seemed to be no opportunity for the congregation to participate in prayers at a Low Mass, aside from the Agnus Dei and the prayer of Divine Access ("Lord I am not worthy").   The faithful recited more prayers verbally at the foot of the altar after mass ended than during the actual liturgy. 

When the third translation of the Roman Missal was promulgated in English speaking countries in 2011, a big deal was made over the linguist change of  "I believe" being said during the Nicean Creed in the Ordinary Form of the Mass rather than using a communal voice.  In this Low Mass, the Priest definitely said "Credo" but no one else, even my Latin fluent friend, joined in. So much for a personal creed.

 There was also communal silence beyond the altar during the Pater Noster, the perfect prayer which Jesus taught His believers to say.  The congregation mostly sat there quietly, with some praying a rosary during Mass. Not only is the Lord’s Prayer a unifying prayer throughout Christendom, but if we deeply reflect on its tenants, it challenges our practice of faith.  But when the “Our Father”  is said sotto voce from a celebrant on the High Altar during a Low Mass, it risks becoming a mere ritual.

These observations highlight the philosophical difference  between the Tridentine and Novus Ordo Mass.    The Old Form emphasizes humanity's sinfulness and unworthiness save the grace of Christ dying on the Cross at Calvary.  The Novus Ordo seems to have a more communal narrative, focusing on the institution of the Eucharist. This re-presentation of the Last Supper feeds the communicant's soul and is made more profound by active participation in the Liturgies of the Mass.  

Some Protestants bristle at the Sacrifice of the Mass. They  mistakenly believe that Catholics re- crucify our Savior during the Liturgy instead of appreciating that we celebrate the new Passover when Jesus freely gave his Body and Blood during the Last Supper to forgive our sins and nourish the faithful via the Eucharist (i.e. Communion).  This is made more evident by emphasizing the Lord's Supper in the Novus Ordo.

Another sticking point for me of the Extraordinary Form was how the Liturgy of the Word is conducted.  Traditionalists will suggest that we should be adhering to the original language of Latin, yet the history is a little more complicated. While the Roman Church is steeped in its Latin tradition, the Mass originated in Aramaic  and Greek (which was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire until Latin became the language of liturgy).  This shows some evolution of worship and proclaiming the Good News in the vernacular.  Citing lex orendi, lex credendi, I can appreciate having the ordinary portions of the Traditional Mass being recited in Latin.  However, what good is proclaiming scripture in Latin when it has to be repeated in a rushed reading before announcements and the sermon?

At the Low Mass, I missed having the Old Testament proclaimed.  In the New Mass, the first reading from the Old Testament reminds us of God's love affair for His people and it usually gives dimension to the Gospel reading with which it is paired. This practice makes typology more evident to those faithful in the pews. Without that connection with the Hebrew Scripture, it misses out on the depth of God's love letter to his "very good" creation and adopted children in scripture.  Moreover, it can further the division between followers of "The Way" with God's chosen people fostering an unfortunate lingering veneer  anti-Semitism. 

 During the Easter season, Novus Ordo Masses are blessed with readings from the Acts of the Apostles, to appreciate how the early Church lived out the Good News of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension. Since there was only the Epistle and the Gospel, an E.F. homily runs the risk of being a quick restatement of the reading or an opportunity for an unrelated doctrinal sermon. 

Prior to Vatican II, there was not a three year Lectionary in which the bulk of Salvation history is proclaimed from the ambo, but a non-rotating one year cycle.  In the Old Mass, daily mass readings either echoed the prior Sunday or the Saints day or Ember days.  I greatly appreciate the liturgical cycle from Vatican II, as we revisit scriptural readings every few years.  This cycle of scriptural readings allows an attentive Mass goer an opportunity to listen to a familiar scripture and process it with some life experience or hearing a parable with different emphases rather than tuning out a too familiar yearly text.  

My traditionally oriented friend lamented with all of the options for Eucharistic Canons and prayers that it threatens the unity of the Catholic church.  Of course, this ignores that Catholicism has 24 particular churches, along with Ordinariates. Even the Roman Catholic church has historically had different rites, some of which remain to this day, such as the Ambrosian in Milan (Italy) the Mozarabic in Toledo (Spain)  and the Braga rite in Portugal.   In fact, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger cited the Braga rite in 1998 to show that variety in the Latin Church demonstrates that unity does not require liturgical uniformity.

To allay my objections to the laity's passive role in the Traditional Latin Mass, a parable about active participation was proposed.  I was asked to consider an atheistic boyfriend being dragged to Mass each week by a pious Catholic girlfriend.  After a while, the atheist learns the proper responses (presumably in the vernacular Novus Ordo Mass) and recites them without truly believing them.  Then there is Mrs. McGillicuddy, who cannot hear the quietly uttered Extraordinary Form prayers, much less understand them in Latin, but who uses the reverential silence in the Mass to pray the Rosary.  

The dialectical question posed from this pious parable is who is actively participating? Parables are succinct didactic stories to illustrate a deeper point, but often they have the effect off making a listener feel uncomfortable as one can sympathize with both viewpoints.   A traditionalist is inclined to believe that the active participant is Mrs. McGillicuddy who is reverently praying.  Granted, she is piously praying and doing the best that she can.  But Mrs. McGillicuddy was praying a personal prayer rather than actively uniting herself to the Liturgy (public worship).  On the other hand, the atheistic boyfriend lacks faith but he is participating in the public worship of the Church.  Granted, these prayer recitation may remain as a ritual to ingratiate himself to his girlfriend. But this active participation in the liturgy may create an opening for a moment of grace to inspire a metanoia which inspires faith. I have heard enough stories of how the Holy Spirit can break down barriers to those attentive to Catholic Church liturgies, from Satanists (Zachary King) to Presbyterians (Scott Hahn)

Seeking direction from Sacrosantum Conciliam, the laity are extolled to not be silent spectators but they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing with full devotion and collaboration (para. 48).  In fact, in communion the faithful are not just nourished by the hands of the priest in the Eucharist but are urged to offer themselves through Christ our Mediator.  This echoes the pious practice of "offering up" your tribulations during the consecration as taught in the Baltimore Catechism.  This is hard to do if one can not follow the Liturgy due to language and amplification, thus one opts to use the sacred time to rattle off a rosary.

Traditionalists bristle at the infiltration of Modernism in the Catholic Church.  Many look askance at the products of the Second Vatican Council, and champion skeptics like Archbishop LeFavre.  But LeFevre voted for all sixteen documents of Vatican II in the mid 1960s, ten years later rejected them in "I Accuse the Council" (1976).

Later in 1981 LeFevre accepted Vatican II in the light of tradition and then recanted.  LeFebvre was not exactly a rock of faith, but he  was a bishop that  prized the faith and tradition of the old Latin Mass. Thus LeFevre  had concerns with the implementation in the Spirit of Vatican II, which often barred little resemblance to the documents of the Council.

It is understandable to balk at what Bishop Robert Barron calls the Banners and Balloons Beige  Catholicism from wild and wooly Catechism of the 1970s (some may compare it to the Rolling Stones compilation album "Sucking in the Seventies").  

Then there was the improv license which some priests took from the dynamic translation of the Second Translation of the Roman Missal making them the center of secular attention. The renovations (a.k.a. “wreckifications”) of many churches during this period smacks of Modernism.  But these excesses do not negate the "aggionamento" aspirations of Vatican II to encourage full and active participation in the Mass and dialog with the outside world.

Personally, I am happy to see implementation of the Hermaneutic of Continuity in some parishes, in which some portions of the Mass which  contain Latin and Greek have been integrated into response that the laity actively participate.  When followed, the new Missal abates many of the liturgical abuse associated with the Spirit of Vatican II.  In accompanying Catechumens into the Church, I can appreciate how they are drawn to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist as emphasized through the recapitulation of the Last Supper.   Prior to the Coronavirus 19 pandemic, the Church was scandalized by polls showing the dearth of belief by American Catholics in the  Real Presence in the Eucharist.  As Churches again resume normal liturgy, we will see if the faithful will return to Mass and if they hunger for the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity contained in Communion. 

I also welcome Glad Trads who faithfully reverence the Traditional Latin Mass.  Even though my several experiences with the Low Mass have been uninspiring, I appreciate the beauty and history of the Missa Cantata.  Moreover, the regality of the Papal Traditional Latin Mass is awe inspiring.  May they continue to be spiritually nourished in celebrating "The Mass of the Ages".  

That being said, I am put off when “Frozen Chosen” proponents of the Traditional Latin Mass deride the Novus Ordo as a "Man Made Mass" or imply that it is inherently inferior.  Often they tout the history of the liturgy, which is undeniable.  They will allude to the reverence, which is also quite evident.  They point to the beauty, which from my perspective can be diminished by a lackluster Low Mass in which the priest silently does everything.   What I find it lacking is fully conscious and active participation by all.  As a layperson, I lack the faculties to confect the Eucharist, but my baptism makes me part of the ordinary priesthood which should not be effectively sidelined in the Holy Mass, which is considered to be the source and summit of our Faith.

I have found most elements of the Traditional Latin Mass liturgy paired with the vernacular language and active participation by the faithful at Masses in the Anglican Ordinariate, also made possible by Pope Benedict XVI’s moto propio Anglicanorum Coetibus (2009).  But it can be hard to find parishes with the Anglican Patrimony which swam the Tiber and rejoined Mother Church. 

It is my hope that Catholics can appreciate the faith that unites us in Christ, understand that this religiosity may rightly be expressed in various manners and that we can be strengthened in faith with the plurality of pieties.  Not everything which emanated from the Second Vatican Council was bad, though some of the latter documents (1964-65) suffered from the ambiguity of trying to reach 90% consensus.  However, not every innovation said to be done in the “Spirit of Vatican II” was good. And it was lamentable how some citing the direction of the “Spirit of Vatican II” unmethodically discarded what they believed were dated liturgical practices and Catholic Culture.

Now that we have had over a half a century to digest implement and reconsider Vatican II, we ought to be able to discern the goods from the pastoral council and reconsider unanticipated liturgical mistakes and excesses. On the one hand, those in authority in the Church ought to quit trying to stifle licit and legitimate traditional forms of the liturgy, and be responsive to some of the younger faithful who are drawn to the reverence of the Traditional Latin Mass. On the other hand, the TLM faithful need to drop the sub rosa Liturgy War superciliousness and chauvinism which are premised on the notion that their form of liturgy is the only right rite.  No doubt that some “innovations” seem ill advised or perhaps even heterodoxical.  But we should appreciate that much like differences in the Gospel or the practice of our many rites, the form may be slightly different as it highlights different aspects of our one true Catholic faith.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Watering Down Baptism?

 While listening to Personally Speaking, a  Catholic interview program hosted by Monseigneur Jim Lisante, the prelate host shared sua sponte that he recently was approached by two lesbians who sought to have their child baptized.  Despite being turned away at two other parishes, the priest proclaimed to the couple:  “There isn’t anything in the bible about being gay so it must be OK” thus he consented to perform the sacrament.

The cleric’s superficial scriptural analysis speciously seems to ignore Jesus’ perspective on marriage in MT 19 as a married man and woman become one flesh. That passage clearly does not include alternative arrangements.   But the conundrum is on the propriety of baptizing a child to parents who manifestly are living contrary to the teachings of the church. 

While I appreciate the pastoral inclinations, the scenario calls into question the rationale for the sacrament of initiation and what is involved in infant baptism. Ideally, baptism claims the person as a child of God with an indelible mark on the soul. But an infant is unable to make baptismal promises, so those proclamations of faith are made by parents and godparents. Thus, pastoral discernment is required of the parents and godparents

Canon 1255 anticipates that the faith promise given infant baptism be supplemented by the parents, godparents and community.  In Acts 2:38 St. Peter exhorts us to “Repent and be baptized” which requires a metanoia (i.e. turning away from sin) in those professing the faith.

Practically speaking, the faith must be nurtured by the practice in the home church as well as with the People of God. The difficulty is when parents are living lives that are manifestly and publicly contrary to the tenants of the faith.

Those inclined to seek the mercy of God would surely say that an innocent child should not be punished for the sins of the parents.  But baptism involve promises made in rearing the child in the faith.   In this scenario, we can assume that they are living as a same sex couple and have pride in their lifestyle.  If one of the couple is biologically the mother, it raises issues about artificial insemination or procreation outside of marriage. This would mean that a child would be expected to be raised in the faith by a couple co-habitating outside of sacramental marriage and with orientations that the church teaches are disordered? 

 Despite Monseigneur Lisante’s claims, the Church in Canon 2357 considers homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered.   It is unclear if the couple was civilly married but the Church does not recognize such unions as being covenantial or sacramental. Perhaps the couple was not church going and those pastors deemed the sacrament of baptism being used as a ritualistic rite of passage rather than a conferral of grace.

Near the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy, the Holy Father chided young priests to not become “little monsters” doggedly adhering to doctrine but instead to focus on compassion, evangelization and inclusion.  In that spirit, pastors may be reluctant to turn away anyone from the Church, even if adherence to baptismal promises made for them seem tenuous so as to see if takes hold. This calls to mind the conversion story of Fr. Donald Calloway who was baptized at age ten at the behest of Episcopalian kin even though his parents were not practicing their faith.  The only thing that he remembered from his baptismal sacrament of initiation was the donuts they eat afterwards.  Hearing his hair raising testimony, the graces of baptism did not take from merely that liturgical ritual.  Is it merciful to give the impression that one is saved by baptism but has no context to living properly as a Catholic Christian?

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Amoris Laetitia, attempted to reconcile the practice of the Catholic faith with the Modern Family.  Pope Francis declared that marriage was between a man and a woman for life (para. 62), same sex unions can not be equated with marriage (para. 52) and that education is the of a child is the “primary right” of parents (para. 84).  It is hard to believe that the child would be brought up in the ways of the church in the aforementioned scenario, which argues against  a profligate administration of baptism.

Pro arguendo, one could attempt to apply the logic of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia in this instance.  After all, Pope Francis opined that pastors ought not throw moral stones and be done with irregular situations.  In footnote 351, the Holy Father sought to reconcile those in irregular marriages (Catholics civilly remarried after a divorce without obtaining an annulment) with the Church through a circuitous procedure in lieu of canon law.  

This alternative approach required extensive pastoral counseling for the couple so they could understand the wisdom of the Church and conforming their lives to the teaching.  In conforming irregular marriage to the norms of the church, the couple would need  to be catechized and gain an informed conscience. If children were a consideration and couples could not easily separate, so they would be enjoined from marital relations in order to receive the sacraments. And the couple would be encouraged to join another parish so as to avoid the appearance of scandal.  Of course, that is asking a lot. But the Gospel exhorts us: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” 

So how would this Amoris Laetitia logic be applied to parents of a child seeking baptism who are flagrantly living their lives contrary to Church teachings?  That’s the rub.  Those making the baptismal promises are more than falling short of virtue.  They are publicly living their lives contrary to the teaching of the Faith.  Amoris Laetitia anticipates some metanoia as well as a resolve to sin no more.  Is it reasonable to expect the child to be raised under the Church’s precepts, particularly with the Home Church defies the theology of the body and a sacredness of the covenant of marriage?  

In America, we fret about the lack of Sunday Mass by many baptized Catholics  and of the glaring lack of understanding of fundamental precepts of faith (e.g. the Real Presence in the Eucharist). So many poorly catechized Catholics are poached by Evangelical denominations since they hunger for the divine, but are sacramentalized but not catechized.  So much for the fruits from the Church of Nice. For seekers of Divine Truth, it is disheartening if they discover that were holy fools for playing by the rules because mercy to the unrepentant overrides all.

While it sounds merciful to baptize a child from a proud lesbian couple, sadly it seems that the child would be left as a spiritual orphan through a perfunctory ceremony which waters down the sacrament.