Thursday, September 06, 2007

The "Trajectory" Argument

A priest I know recently expounded to me a theory on the Reform of the Reform which I have called the "Trajectory Argument." I have heard this position from many conservative Catholics, both popular speakers and in private conversation, and it seems to be gaining in popularity. I will here expound the Trajectory Argument and then, Lord willing, show why it is deficient.

The "Trajectory Argument" goes something like this. I will set it up as an Aristotelian syllogism.

Premise 1: Liturgical matters are complicated, very complicated indeed.

Premise 2: Therefore, any liturgical change or reform must be carried out delicately and over an extended period of time so as to make sure no toes are unnecessarily stepped on and nobody is confused or hurt by any changes.

Conclusion: Therefore, we ought not to desire any sudden reform but should be satisfied that we at least appear to be on the right track (ie, that the Church is heading along the correct "trajectory."

Second Conclusion: Therefore, those are to be blamed who accuse the pastors of the Church of liturgical innovation and aberration because, on the whole, the Church is on the right path and we ought to be content with that.

Have you heard something like this before? That we ought to just be content that we have an orthodox pope and that Traditional Catholicism is making gains? That we should be content with that and dare to hope that, maybe, in the next 35 years we will see a dignified celebration of the Novus Ordo coupled with a wide and generous use of the older form of the Rite?

(1) I say that this argument is defective for several reasons. First, liturgical abuse and poor liturgical worship are offenses against God, violations of the First Commandment (proximately or remotely depending on the type of abuse). A violation of the First Commandment is to be halted immediately, not over a long period of time. When Gideon saw the men of his village offering sacrifices to Baal, he went out and destroyed their altar, that very night (Jdg 6:25-32). When worship of God is being perverted, there is no "time table" for reformation; there is simply action. (Check out this post to see what kind of "time table" God went by when correcting liturgical abuse in the Old Testament)

(2) Secondly, doesn't this view betray a modernist conception of time as equivalent with progress? That if we just allow enough time to pass, that things will automatically get better? That is not at all the case. Reform is brought about by persons, persons who are connected with the Tradition of the Church. Every day that goes by without authentic reform, the gap between the present and the authentic Traditional praxis of the Church grows wider and wider. Right now the gap is about 40 years; how much demand for reform will there be when it is 60, or 80? In the Anglican revolution, there was quite a movement to return to Catholicism in the years immediately after Henry's innovations (like the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536). But how much a demand to return to Catholicism do you think there was in 1605? In 1688? What about in 1715? By this time, Catholicism was but a distant memory and everybody had gotten used to Anglicanism. If reform does not happen soon, the Church's Tradition will be a distant historical memory. Sure, groups like the FSSP, The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and the SSPX will keep alive the Tradition, but as more and more time elapses between the present and the era when the Tradition was universally accepted, it will have less and less relevance to new generations, just as Catholicism had very little relevance to an Englishman living arounf 1715.

(3) Third, and I would say most importantly, this Trajectory Argument backfires on itself because we can simply ask, "Where was the moderation and careful approach when the original reforms were instituted after the Council?" Did the liberal reformers care about offending people or confusing the faithful when they ripped out the High Altars, removed the sacred images and relegated the Tabernacles of the world to closets? It was that quick; Friday the High Altar was there, and Monday it was gone. If reforms can be brought about that quick in an errant cause, there is no reason it cannot be brought back that quickly in a righteous one.

(4) Finally, I would argue the point that liturgy is a "complicated issue." It may be a lofty, sublime and theological issue, but it is not complicated. The rubrics are plain to see: you either do it right or you don't. End of story. If you are doing the Mass wrong, it does not take a generation of catechesis and training to do it right. You just start doing it right. Period. If the people don't like it, that is their problem. God is more important. If people are scandalized by a properly done Mass, then perhaps we do not need them around anyway. It is a harsh saying, but I stand by it. The liturgy has only been complicated because of the constant creativity imposed by liturgists and other similar periti.

In conclusion, I would like to offer some quotes from a famous individual: Martin Luther King Jr. Though he is not Catholic and not referring to liturgy here in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, try to apply his words to our discussion and see how applicable they are. These are but excerpts and do not belong in any order. King is of course discussing racial matters, but think about what he is saying about gradual change vs. immediate change in the context of the renewal of the Church:

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will [this phrase expresses admirably the frustration of so many Traditionalists in the face of lukewarm support and general misunderstanding by conservatives]. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

White moderates would accept the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "An Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." [ie, You Traditionalists ask too much; it has taken 39 years to get the Motu Proprio; give the hierarchy time!] Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. "

See! Traditionalists can use Martin Luther King Jr. for their benefit, too! Maybe next time I can find some quotes from Gandhi supporting Traditional Catholicism!

Click here for MLK's full text of Letter from a Birgmingham Jail

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is agreat article! So many times we approach our Pastor who is a bit ignorant liturgically but is open to more Traditional liturgies and even the TLM and he constantly backs down from Liturgical renewal. We find ourselves only fixing the peripheraries of the Church and never changing the Liturgy, it brings about such frustration. He believes if we take care of everything else the Liturgy will fix itself which I find absurd. To continue to wait is to cause much suffering to Catholics of Tradition.