A Colorful Analysis of Whining Versus Critique


Shawn and his commentariat at NLM ask a decent question in the midst of more complaints about how Catholic liturgy was hijacked after Vatican II.

As a parent of a pre-adolescent, I can assure you I’m a relative expert in discerning whines from legitimate complaint. When I get asked about multiple times about postponing a bath or a tiresome chore till the next day … I know that’s whining.

Now, the NLM folks report the re-release of a book criticizing post-conciliar liturgy. As I understand it, it was first printed in 1974, reissued in ’95, and now a chapter was printed in an online version of a periodical dated this month. Pretty much the same idea repeated three times in thirty years. If my daughter is still complaining about baths when she’s forty, well, I know I sure as shootin’ won’t be dealing with it.

Here’s a quote from author James Hitchcock as printed on NLM:

The mood which followed the conservative reforms of the Council was one of swelling exuberance at the sense of emancipation from the hand of tradition, the dead weight of the past. It was a mood which would be quickly dissipated, leaving a good deal of bitterness and confusion, by the discovery that the Council had not issued a charter for endless liturgical experimentation, and the practically simultaneous discovery that even most of the unauthorized experiments were not proving highly satisfying. Liturgical experimenters found themselves caught between the remnants of a past they were eager to be rid of and a future which somehow refused to be born.

He characterizes the council reforms as conservative: an interesting choice of words. Some conservatives seem to have missed them, for we still have an unreformed 1962 Rite with a teenier Lectionary, lots of medieval accretions, and absolutely none of the other changes suggested by virtually all of the world’s bishops. Different strokes, and all, but the facts are undeniable.

I can understand how some conservative liturgists would be bitter and confused in the 70’s. Their hopes for a restoration of chant were dashed. Their allies were heading off to eventual schism. Latin and chant were turned into political tools instead of being promoted as essential recoveries for the Roman Rite. It was left to an ecumenical monastery in Europe to bring Latin to US parishes via one of the BBP’s*. More people today sing plainsong from mainstream missals than the Adoremus or St Gregory hymnals.

I think I’ve presented the idea for this chart before, but let me offer it again. (For a science-type guy, just about anything can be put into a diagram or a graph.)
Along the x-axis (that’s horizontal for my non-science friends) you have the spectrum of the style of implementation. On the far left, gifted pastors and other liturgy leaders doing things with much sensitivity and understanding. On the right, pastors and other leaders acting as dictators with litttle or no regard for the people.

On the y-axis (vertical, natch) you have at the top wonderful reforms implemented: great music, architecture, etc., moving on down to less artistic ideas at the bottom. By the way, if you think the directions have something to say, you’re probably right.

In the real world, these four possibilities are far more shaded. Even good leaders can have a bad day and bite somebody’s head off or come up with a really dimwitted idea. Or bad leaders can promote the right thing, but in the wrong way. For the sake of a black-and-white … er, I mean a four-color argument, go with me on this.

My experience of Vatican II liturgy has been mostly green: good leadership implementing good things. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones, but I think many Catholics share my sense that’s it’s been easy bein’ green. Mr Hitchcock possibly had a red experience, as have many disillusioned folks. P***-poor ideas imposed by people with the pastoral sensitivity of a chain saw. Sometimes you get good ideas chain sawed into a parish, or you get really weak notions presented by a pastor or liturgist everybody likes.

In the NLM world, there seems to be only one color. Red. Write a book to complain. Reprint it. Then get your wife (I think) to reprint it again. Once was enough; we get the point. Does anybody else have a more nuanced take on complaint? If not, I think we’ve progressed to whining.

Here’s my take:

It is impossible to characterize the possible success or failure of the liturgical movement based on a single person’s experience and those of his or her comrades-in-arms. We know the blogosphere reinforces dittohead thinking. With the rare exceptions of my few conservative (and welcome) friends poking in here and me making a nuisance of myself in open books and reform2 sites, people pretty much keep to their own kind, sort of like country clubs and ant colonies. (It sort of started in live parishes first, so let’s not put the whole fault at the feet of the conservative blogodocios.)

What the Church needs more of is cross-fertilization, and less cloning, if you’ll pardon the sexual reference there. We’ve had lots of inbreeding the past forty years, and it’s not helping. I’ve found a better approach. I’ve had good and holy parishioners approach me about things that make many of my liberal colleagues wince: adoration, Divine Mercy, consecration bells, and the like. Everybody with an idea gets a hearing. Decent ideas get due consideration. Not everybody gets what they want, but my parishioners don’t have to whine to make themselves heard. I respect and value their input, and they make the parish better with their energy, ideas, and most of all, their faith.

My parish has had a colorful history, if you get my drift. I’d like to think it’s been more green (and life-giving) since I arrived. That’s been my hope and aim. (If you’re a parishioner looking in, feel free to comment.) Perhaps soon there will come a time when we can all move past our historical experiences of red, wimpy yellow and blue to arrive at a place at which the whining and complaints lessen and people can start working together to realize the Council’s true vision, which was a laity energized by liturgy to get out in the world and show it what’s meant by being a Christian.

And that’s it on that topic tonight.

* Big Bad Publishers

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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