Motumania: The Justification

Dan at Holy Whapping surfaces a theory of the motu proprio as Ressourcement. What does that mean?

In the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, a handful of Jesuits and Dominicans began a movement to ground Catholic theology and liturgy in what they saw as forgotten aspects of the Church’s history – that is, the theology of the Church Fathers and the organic development of the liturgy thorugh time. They felt, correctly, that the regnant neo-Thomism at the time with its emphasis on the Aristotelian philosophia perennis, and corresponding tendencies in liturgy to view the Mass as unchangeable in its Tridentine form (later brought out it with a vengeance in traditionalist claims to a “Mass of the Ages”), were unhealthy for the Church and needed to be informed by a better historical sense which could in turn influence the present. This was not a kind of antiquarianism, and indeed Balthasar helped remind the patristic wing of the Ressourcement of the dangers of such a tendency in his brilliant essay “The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves,” as Pius XII correspondingly did in his liturgical encylical Mediator Dei. The success of the Ressourcement, however, helped to influence the works of de Lubac, Balthasar, Bouyer, Gilson and others, whose work laid the groundwork for the necessary reforms of Vatican II, and who deeply influenced Wojtyla and Ratzinger in their early years.

It’s a thoughtful justification, but it overlooks a few historical realities and conciliar principles:

  • Every conciliar reform in Church history had it’s major detractors. I’d say the faults of liturgical traditionalists are far less grave than arianism, but the resistance to change is cut from the same cloth. I’d be surprised if this didn’t enter into the pope’s thinking, and perhaps his delay in releasing the content of this motu proprio.
  • Organic change, however it was trumpeted (or not) before the Council seems more of a desperation adoption by some traditionalists in its aftermath. Dan points out that some Catholics were bitterly opposed to any change whatsoever. Well, like it or not, we have Roman liturgical change now. Organic liturgical development was back-seated at the Council in favor of more pragmatic and pastoral principles. The main notion was the need to reconnect liturgy on a grand scale to the lived life of the laity.
  • One of the reasons why I feel fairly sure the Tridentine observance is not only an artistic dead-end but a spiritual one is the amount of energy misspent by traditionalists that would be better put into the notion mentioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium and the follow-up documents as one of the fruits of good liturgy: charity. This isn’t to say that poverty levels or instances of violence should be plummeting around every SSPX or ICK chapel. But its curious that no traditionalist parish hangs its hat on the gospel principle, “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.”

Many traditionalists have become so embittered I doubt the pope’s document will be in any way satisfactory. They might already have a celebration of the 1962 Missal at hand. What difference will that make for them? Setting up another chapel at the other end of town or in the next neighborhood: what will that do? People may well gravitate to the priest who is more kindly, to the Mass with the better music, to the celebration with less music, to the one in more traditional architectural surroundings, or to the one where they can avoid the person they don’t like.

A more widespread use of the 1962 Missal would introduce unified regional congregations to some of the less laudable aspects of post-conciliar Catholicism: parochialism, dilution of resources, politics, joining parishes for the charisma of the clergy, etc..

Things that won’t change:  Catholics will still complain. Progressive, conservatives, and especially pragmatists will still commit liturgical abuses and sins. The road to better liturgy will still consist of better music and preaching: and that takes hard work, much harder than complaining about abuses or whining about special treatment.

Real liturgical reform remains not only in the hands of preachers and musicians, but also of the laity who pray on Sunday and try to make the connection to a more holy life outside of Mass.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Motumania: The Justification

  1. John Smith says:

    “I’d say the faults of liturgical traditionalists are far less grave than arianism,”

    This is complete apples and oranges. Arianism is a heresy, it involves denying a dogma of the Church. There is nothing inherently heretical about prefering the old mass over the new. While traditionalists may be guilty of heresy on other counts (indeed, some fraction of them have already left and joined crazy sedevacantist groups), the fact remains that liturgical traditionalism itself does not involve repudiating any doctrines.

    Your statement seems to be calculated to give the impression that the difference between Arians and traditionalists is only a matter of degree, when in truth the two are fundamentally incomparable.

    “amount of energy misspent by traditionalists that would be better put into the notion mentioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium and the follow-up documents as one of the fruits of good liturgy: charity”

    This is a quite serious charge, that I would be curious to see any evidence in support of. Because, truth be told, a good many progressive parishes could be politely termed “uncharitable”.

  2. Gavin says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head in the last few paragraphs. The real problem with motumania is that there’s already so much that CAN be done but isn’t. The priest who asked for a Tridentine Mass but got turned down (and I don’t know of any of these..) can improve his preaching, use Latin at his parish, or any one of a number of things (see the “Sense of the Sacred” series). Instead, people get picky about the age of the rite.

  3. KTOvox says:

    HELP … HELP … HELP …

    Attack of a catholic comunity in the village of Niafles in France.

    The anarchist anti-catholics attack the church before the sunday Mass.

    Diffuse this video … to know what’s happend to a catholic comunity who celebrate the Mass of Pie V until 40 years without broching the bound with the local bishop and the Holy Father.

    Before the publication of the MOTU PROPRIO of Benedict XVI, many anti-catholic groups try to clean the place before before the publication of Motu Proprio.

    HELP … HELP … HELP …

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