Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dispensable Disciplines?

Traditional Catholic disciplinary practices have suffered greivously in the post-Vatican II Church due to a misunderstanding of their role and very nature. As "small-t Traditions," they are often believed to be completely disposable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that their disposability is actually seen to be their very essence. Look at how they are defined. Usually, the standard EWTN friendly conservative Catholic apologist will discuss disciplines in opposition to dogma, and he will frame the definition like this:

"Well, a dogma is something that the Church has always believed and which is binding upon all the faithful at all times as divinely revealed by God. A discipline, on the other hand, is something that the Church institutes by her own authority. It may change with time or even be discarded all together."

Now, I made this definition up, but it is an accurate reflection of what I have heard dozens of times over. Notice that the definition of discipline does not even attempt to talk about what a discipline is in place for: it merely mentions that it is not revelation and that it can be changed or even thrown out. This seems to insinuate that the very definition of discipline is mutability. Consider the Catechism's statement on disciplines (which it lumps together with other "small-t traditions") in paragraph 83:

[D]isciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions [were] born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In light of the Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified, or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's magisterium.

Well, at least the CCC points out that disciplines are expressions of the great Tradition. But again, the emphasis is on the mutability of the disciplines. It is true that disciplines can be modified, of course, but is that the most important and essential thing we have to say about them? If they are an expression, a working out, of the great Tradition, why is it that all we can say about them is that they are dispensable?

In some cases, I'd question how dispensable disciplines really are. Who can deny that when clerical celibacy has been weakened in the history the Church, tremendous chaos has ensued, and great scandal to the faithful? Yet it is true, technically, that celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma. We tread dangerously when we regard disciplines as merely disposable.

One I've thought about lately is the Eucharistic fast. Now, prior to Vatican II, this fast had to be 12 hours long. Now, it is one hour. We must ask ourselves this: what has changed? Let's look at it this way:

The Eucharistic fast is in place in order that we might worthily receive the Eucharist. It is ordered towards the Eucharist, not us. The reason for the fast is outside us. It affects us, insofar as if we violate the fast, we commit sacrilege and make a sacriligious communion. But the reference point of the fast is the sacrament, not us alone. I think this is obvious.

Now, we must ask ourselves this question: the 12 hour fast had been a long standing tradition, and if one ate food within that period then received communion, it was deemed a sacriligious communion. Therefore, how did eating food and receiving communion within three hours of each other go from being sacriligious in 1962 to not sacriligious by 1965?

Now, you will naturally say, "Boniface, this was a discipline, akin to not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating meat: it was simply forbidden on one day of the week, and to violate this discipline was a sin of disobedience. There is no problem in changing the Eucharistic fast period required."

Ah, but the two situations are different. One practical idea of the Eucharistic fast is that we don't want the Body of Christ to go down into our stomach and mingle with the half-digested chesseburger and milkshake we may have ate before we come to Mass. Therefore, the Church ordained a fasting period to help ensure that our stomachs were empty when we recieved Jesus into us (remember, He is still present in the sacrament after He goes down your throat, at least as long as it is intact and sense perceptible). Now, if a person in 1950 ate a bacon and egg breakfast and then received two hours later, it was understood that the Body of Christ was being mingled with the digested bacon and eggs in the gut, and thus became sacriligious. Eating before reception is the physical equivalent of receiving in a state of mortal sin. In one case, we mix the physical matter of the sacrament with profane matter (half-digested food); in the other, we take something holy into something made unholy by sin. Thus, both the disciplines of the fast and of being in a state of grace to receive are ordered towards preventing sacriligious communions.

Now, ask yourself this: what has changed since 1962?

Does it take any shorter time to digest food? No.

Is the sacrament any different? No.

Essentially then, we still have the possibility of mingling the Eucharist with half-digested food, the same thing that was declared sacriligious before, only now it is deemed not sacriligious anymore. Yet, nothing has changed. The discipline, as said above, is ordered towards the sacrament, and nothing has changed there. Our digestive processes have not changed. So how is it that eating within twelve hours of receiving the Eucharist could suddenly be not sacriligious anymore? Imagine declaring that it was no longer sacriligious to receive in a state of mortal sin, yet that is the equivalent of what has happened with the shortening of the Eucharistic fast.

See how this "mere discipline" is not as disposable as one thinks? Now we are enmeshed in many difficulties. Nothing has changed, nobody is more holy because of it (how can lessening the discipline increase holiness? Try that line of reasoning in a monastery and see if it works). I do not deny that teh Church had the power to make this change, but I think it was ill-thought out, as many other post-Vatican II alterations.


Anonymous said...

Now, ask yourself this: what has changed since 1962?

We have.

We have become lazier, more worldly, selfish, and self-centered. We insist on having more.... more of anything. Food, clothes, gadgets, entertainment.... just more.

As Sister Bridge McKenna said, we need to have less of us, and more of Him. Instead we try to have more of us by giving into the big easy. Only stands to reason that what will follow will be less of Him.

And too many weak-kneed bishops and priests are too afraid of losing money, power and ego to stand up and preach the Truth.... which has not changed since 1962 or since the dawn of creation.

As un"disciplined" as we are, it is unbelievably awesome that God still loves us.

Perhaps we might consider ignoring the latest Church "teaching" and instead accept more difficult tasks - like longer fasts, and more abstinence. And even prayer and adoration. And more of the sacraments.

More of Him..........less of me. Not easy by any means. But who ever said being a Catholic was easy? (yeah, I know, the Protestants say it as we become more like them)

If I can suggest a definition of a "traditionalist" :
One who follows (or tries to follow) in the footsteps of the Apostles, the disciples, the Early Fathers, the Saints, the Doctors, and those Catholics who chose to seek Him in more prayerful, more difficult, more demanding ways.... instead of choosing the easy and more current "changes".

These actions, as the Liturgy, are the monuments spoken of by Fr Ripperger. Things we should be protecting and safeguarding.... not removing or ignoring.


Anonymous said...

The root of the word discipline means "to learn", which is evident in our English words "discern" and "disciple".

I would note that although a discipline can be legally relaxed or abrogated, this act is itself disciplinary, in that it teaches something. So while it's legally possible, it's not without consequences and lessons. Transience doesn't imply a ghost-like neutrality, where the discipline can come and go without affecting anything.

The only case where a discipline or tradition should be modified, is where the replacement better reflects Catholic teaching. If that's not the case, the discipline really can't be abrogated, just as a load-bearing wall can't be taken out of a house without being replaced by something as strong or stronger. I think many changes, especially recent ones regarding fasting, were made because it was thought that the Church shouldn't force people to do anything. In other words, the decisions had little to do with what is true. There seems to be a common current of thought that modern people are more mature and independent and should discipline themselves out of their own volition, and not be coerced in any way. Such a view is characteristically optimistic about the human condition. So much for the virtue of obedience, let alone man's inclination to laxity, laziness, irreligion, worldly comfort and sensuality!