Thursday, October 22, 2020

Some More Lío from the Papa

So, apparently Papa Francesco caused some lío this week with his statement on same sex civil unions from some sketchy documentary.

I don't pretend to know what was in the pope's head when he (a) chose to make such statements publicly (b) on camera so there was a permanent record of the words coming out of his own mouth (c) allowed the footage to be used and the video to go public (d) issued no clarification or context or denial (e) offered no means of reconciling his statements with the Church's official pronouncements on the subject, or even some of his own prior statements (f) chose to offer no correction to gossip that he is being "misquoted" or "mistranslated." I can't even fathom.

Predictably, the neo-Cath "He was misquoted!" crowd was out en masse within 24 hours. Perhaps he was. If so, I look forward to Francis's forthcoming formal, unambiguous clarification that he actually believes all homosexual unions of any sort are intrinsically immoral and should not be given civic recognition. That will happen, right? Probably right after he answers the dubia.

The amusing thing here is that Pope Francis probably thinks he is being very cutting edge, but civil unions are really such an outdated idea. They are soooo 2005. They were a compromise measure proposed during a transitionary period when there was increasing support for some sort of civil recognition for homosexual liaisons but there was still sufficient political will to resist making them equal with marriage. It was argued at the time that civil unions actually "protected" marriage by legally recognizing that same sex partnerships were fundamentally different than heterosexual matrimony—that they essentially draw a line in the sand by offering a clear, legal distinction between marriage and civil unions. Kind of like when an army in a chaotic skirmish makes a tactical withdrawal in order to establish a clear front line. It may seem like the army has given ground, but the withdrawal actually puts the unit in a much stronger position because the lines are clearly established and more easily defensible.

I always found this argument to be weak. The question isn't whether a line is drawn, but what is the real difference in being on one side of the line or the other? If you have the exact same legal recognitions on both sides of the line, in what sense are the two different? Civil unions make sense only if we are interested in merely protecting the name of marriage without the substance. I mean, are we Nominalists now? I can't see how this idea was ever any sort of win for Catholics. 

And yet, if you read Francis's statements about civil unions along with his commentary on homosexual marriage, you see this is exactly the line of thought he takes—civil unions somehow "protect" traditional marriage by drawing a circle around it in the sand. Obviously faithful Catholics are mortified by this outdated opinion that only ever satisfied the small sect who wanted to pay lip service to traditional marriage while tripping over themselves to show that they were open-minded.

While homosexual activists fifteen years ago might have appreciated the position as an incremental step forward,  they would surely not be thrilled with such a proposition today, given that full out gay marriage is accepted through much of the west with full legal equality. For example, one progressive Italian comedian and political commentator I saw made the following comment on his social media:

The Pope said YES to Civil Unions between homosexual people because "they are God's children and have the right to the family".

But NO to marriage, neither civil nor church. NO to adoptions (but didn't they have the right to family?). NO to any complete equation with heterosexual couples. Because for the Church, despite the pop breakthrough, there are anthropological dogmas that are perfect like this.

And he told a secular world, to read himself as a political and temporal figure. He did it with a rhetoric that, while on the one hand, opens to simple CIVILITY, on the other hand, reinforces the idea that there are ANYWAY differences between couples.

Nothing, all this just to tell you what your dear liberal progressive PAPA really said yesterday that gets you so excited.

In other words, a position that offends everyone. It's a laughable proposition to be affirming in 2020 and one Catholics should never affirm at all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Traditional Mass, Too, Depends Upon the Priest

I want to pose this article as a thought experiment. This means I am not trying to argue a point I absolutely agree with, nor drawing any hard conclusions. I am merely following a train of thought to see where it leads and if others agree, and—if not—why.

It is often repeated that the very structure of the Novus Ordo lends itself to abuse and irreverence while the Traditional Latin Mass is impervious to such innovations. This is because the Traditional Mass has a "built in" structure of reverence, whereas the Novus Ordo is a blank slate; it has so many options and vagaries that it essentially becomes whatever the celebrant wishes it to be. Ergo, while the Novus Ordo can (by design) be endlessly improvised and created anew according to the whims of the celebrant, the Traditional Latin Mass has its own unity that comes down to us from Tradition and must simply be received.

It seems, however, that the conventional wisdom that the Traditional Latin Mass is inherently immune to novelty is incorrect. It seems that the reason the TLM is not subject to innovation is not because the structure prevents it, but because the priests who celebrate the TLM are not the sort of priests who would innovate.

Currently, priests who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, whether diocesan or part of a fraternity, do so because they believe the traditional liturgy is a perfect act of worship. They choose the traditional Mass because they have come to treasure everything the traditional Mass is and stands for. The love the old liturgy. Therefore they (rightfully) have a deep fidelity to the liturgy and its formal structure. And hence they would never dare impose their innovations upon it. 

But this is only because they have no desire to change the Traditional Latin Mass, not because the Traditional Latin Mass itself is impervious to being changed.

Let us suppose that after Francis, we were to get a hypothetical Pope Pius XIII who mandates that the Roman rite return to the Tridentine liturgy. The Novus Ordo is suppressed. The TLM becomes the normative Mass across the entire west. Deo gratias.

If that were to happen, the Traditional Mass would then no longer be celebrated exclusively by priests who are devoted to liturgical excellence. Rather, every slip-shod parish priest who was accustomed to carelessly fumbling his way through the Novus Ordo is now saying it. Charismatic priests accustomed to incorporating drums and tongues into Mass are now saying it. Retirement age priests who just don't care and can no longer keep track of the shits they don't give are now having to say it. And most are not saying it out of deep love for that liturgical form, but merely from ecclesiastical dikat.

Furthermore, this is all being overseen by the same crop of bishops who have always exercised minimal interest in the liturgy and are likely, at best, to give the new regime a mere shrugging adherence. And it would be rolled out to the same apathetic Boomer congregations that are ubiquitous throughout the Novus Ordo world today.

What would the Traditional Latin Mass look like in these hands? What would stop it from being improvised? Is there anything inherent in the liturgy that would save it from being mutilated?

As far as I can see, the answer is no. A priest can violate the rubrics of the old Mass just as much as he can the new, the only difference being that the terms upon which he violates the New Mass are much more ambiguous. The integrity of the liturgy ultimately depends upon the integrity of the priest saying it, regardless of the specific liturgy being said.

Now, it could be argued that there was no a widespread problem with liturgical innovation prior to Vatican II, so this is good evidence that the Traditional Latin Mass would never have this problem in the future. While this is true (although I should say it is most true of the period between the Council of Trent and Vatican II), this was due primarily to the formation of the priests in those times. They were formed in such a way that respect for the integrity of the liturgy was paramount and innovation would have been unthinkable. Bishops enforced this, popes safeguarded it, and congregations expected uniformity.

So again, the integrity of the liturgy comes down to the will of the priest saying it. It has been observed that a priest following the rubrics of the TLM fades into the background. He allows the liturgy to glorify God through him, becoming, as an individual, of no importance. This is all true...if the priest follows the rubrics. But for that to happen, you need priests who are disposed to follow the rubrics to begin with. Would we have that if the TLM were suddenly mandated universally?

The point is that bringing back the Traditional Liturgy alone would be insufficient unless it was accompanied by a general spirit of metanoia throughout the entire Church. I understand that when we talk about the formation of priests to love the liturgy, that it is not so one-sided. A priest is formed to love the liturgy. And the liturgy itself forms that priest. In a certain sense, merely exposing priests to the traditional liturgy and requiring them to say it will instill in them a respect for it. But we cannot assume this effect will be universal, given the state of the Catholic priesthood. There needs to be a general turn to tradition that is bigger than the liturgy.

Thus, to some degree, the success of the Traditional Latin Mass is just as dependent upon the particular priest saying it as the Novus Ordo, the only difference being in the Traditional Latin Mass the disposition of the priest to do the liturgy correctly is simply assumed whereas in the Novus Ordo it is not. But, if we assume the good liturgical sense of a priest saying the TLM, it is only because today the TLM specifically attracts priests who are already disposed to respect the liturgy. This would not be the case if the Traditional Mass was mandated across the entire Church.

That's my thought experiment. Very interested in your observations and critique. God bless you.