Motumania Lives

Rita Ferrone’s piece in Commonweal has gotten Jeffrey Tucker’s dander up with its criticism of the motu proprio.

What’s this? There’s a problem from the high ground of the culture of complaint? Some surprise that not every Catholic is singing Te Deum? We all still have the freedom to criticize, don’t we? I don’t necessarily equate that with “aggression.” Just words on paper, right?

Well, a certain sector of Catholic opinion is getting more aggressive, it seems. Commonweal has published what is an open dispute with the Pope’s decision to permit the free choice to offer the old form of the Roman Rite. They believe that this is a secret plot to dismantle and finally bury the new form and implicitly undermine the Council that preceded the new form’s promulgation. The article takes issue with a number of aspects of the older use, and praises the new by comparison, which is certainly their right. Nothing about the Motu Proprio requires anyone to prefer old to new or new to old. It broadens choice.

It doesn’t seem very genuine to frame this development in terms of a choice. If Catholics were given authentic choices, then we might, for example, have authentic Scripture translations with inclusive language. For the reform2 crew, the motu is about one choice: their own. Not anybody else’s. I’m fairly safe in saying they don’t give a darn about any celebrations but their own.

The problematic paragraph for Tucker may have been this one:


Given the series of concessions that have already been made to Catholic traditionalists, and the radical views and program of those to whom this pope has given his approval and endorsement in the past, it is difficult to believe that with Summorum Pontificum a definitive compromise has been reached and the matter will end there. A more plausible understanding of the present moment is that it marks another step toward a goal that the vast majority of Catholics would not countenance if it were openly acknowledged-namely, the gradual dismantling of the liturgical reform in its entirety.

Is the dismantling of liturgical reform a real danger? Not without a mass defection of mainstream Catholics. Usually when True Believers want to make a stand, they don’t attempt a makeover of the whole Church. The traditional route has been to make for the wilderness and set up spiritual shop far away from the corrupting influence of others.

I think we know from the text of the motu that Summorum Pontificum is a step. Things are wide open from here on out.

I would say that there’s something of a common ground Rita Ferrone is getting at here: a lack of trust in Catholic hierarchy. Some might call that tragic. Others dismiss it as a sign of the times. But when the Church bows to making policy based in part on a hermeneutic of obstruction, it probably shows a bit more of its weakness than it expresses the offering of true choice.

There are a number of aspects of this article that are striking. First, the liberal spirit of the Motu Proprio is nowhere noted. One could easily get the impression that the Pope has imposed something when in fact he has broadened the options and put to an end the coercion that enforced the monopoly of the new form.

Tucker badly overstates his case here. The Roman Missal, as he and his confreres at NLM never fail to point out, can be celebrated in Latin, by priests with their fiddlebacks to the people, with chant and polyphony, in traditionally architectured churches, and with as much incense as their sinuses can stand.

Why don’t they?

Bbecause the Roman Missal has little attraction for them. Most all of the clergy who could lead such services have little to no interest in liturgical reform. And for a good chunk of the laity it’s all about politics, too. The old Missal was the rallying banner for schismatics, and the rubicon of their discontent.

Second, the article nowhere grants the incredibly obvious fact that aspects of life under the new form, because of its imprudent leap into unchartered territory, has led to the alienation of many and artificially cut Catholics off from so much of our holy tradition.

Tucker overstates his case with this line of thought, too. At least in the States, Humanae Vitaewas the single most-quoted reason for people leaving behind the Catholic tradition. Are letters from the pope all about keeping the largest number of the faithful on board the Barque? Alienation is often a personal choice, and not infrequently it involves matters of personal stubbornness, if not sin. Anyway, that’s what these conservatives tell us about contraceptors and other sexual sinners.


Maybe he was talking about a lack of tradition? Exit to Tridentine Low Mass, murmured by clergy, silent in the pews. You’ll no doubt get a heaping helping of the Catholic tradition there.


Third, the article adopts the paranoid style in imputing secret motives to the Pope, whereas the motivation of the Pope is clearly presented in a personal letter, and it has nothing whatever to do with dismantling a church council, for goodness sake.

Paranoia, even if it might be Ferrone’s weak spot, is not a style, but an opinion. And dismantling a church council: that has been true from the very first one. Arians did it; why not the extremes of liturgical traditionalists? I don’t know that the pope himself has “secret” motives. I tend to think he’s given in to those who do.

How these people can be called liberals is beyond me. The old-style Catholic liberals of the 19th century believed in freedom, the right of conscience, and a papacy that led by example and persuasion rather than imposition and the sword. Benedict XVI stands with this older liberal tradition, and against those whose agenda is dependent on the use of ever more dictates and ever narrower liturgical options.

I wish these traditionalists could get their chameleon spots right and keep them that way. The motu isn’t about freedom and conscience. It’s about a church in which those who complain the loudest and the longest eventually getting their way. We’ve all seen this attempted in our parishes. Sometimes it works quite well for the complainers.

In the long run, it renders damage to unity. Some Catholics are above complaining to Father whenever a spiritual hangnail bothers our day. I’d tend to count myself in that group. At some point, an adult can opt to take personal responsibility for one’s own dissatisfactions, distractions, and hurt feelings. I do it on this web page with “sneers,” as John will tell you. Rita Ferrone writes a published criticism. It’s all about freedom, right?

Getting back to theology, I believe the “exceptional” form of Catholic worship remains a seriously flawed option. Without an intentional, and non-optional reform, the 1962 observance of the sacraments will be a self-satisfied spiritual backwater, especially the Low Masses and the celebrations of the other sacraments. In order for it to find any life, it will need to move beyond the period of rediscovery and infatuation it currently enjoys. At some point, the discoveries of the Liturgical Movement will, by necessity, need to permeate the rites, and organic growth, including the sensibility of participation, will need to take root.

And getting to the pastoral situation, I suspect that decades of sniping and complaint will render some traditionalist communities ill-prepared for the task of unity. They will get their Latin, fiddlebacks, and except for Low Masses, their musical heritage. I can’t imagine it will be easy to refrain from sniping at one another as we’ve already seen among internet Catholics who deem others’ orthodoxy not orthodox enough.

At any rate, I welcome the motu with a degree of caution. I think it has the potential to unmask the problems of Catholic liturgy and spirituality as being far deeper than red or black words on a printed page. I suspect something far more pathological is in play with our current liturgy wars. The motu is little better than deck chair redesign, but if that’s what it takes to open a few eyes, maybe some good will come of it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Motumania Lives

  1. Gavin says:

    I don’t know that the Motu is about “giving in” to trads. Benedict’s prior liturgical writings just don’t seem to imply him as being one who would give in to whining contrary to his own deeply-held principles. Or have you forgotten this is the theologian of “truth is not decided by a majority vote”? Nor is he turning back the clock on actual liturgical reform. I honestly didn’t study the document thoroughly so I can’t tell you what all it’s really about, but I think it’s ultimately about the ordinary form. We’ve seen so many uncalled for innovations in the liturgy from guitars to half hour Saturday Masses to improper vestments to lay homilies (and inclusive language texts). I think what it comes down to is to reinforce to those coming up with novelties the question of “hey, is this folk Mass really the Roman Rite that’s existed for a couple thousand years?” It’s about keeping people from pulling things out of a vacuum and imposing them on the liturgy by keeping them grounded in what tradition they work. As we discussed on NLM, I’m not ready to say guitars don’t belong in the Mass. But they ought to be used as organs are: in continuity with the tradition of the Rite. That’s about the extent that it applies to me.

    I just don’t see the fuss over ALLOWING something. As many priests have said, no Catholic will be forced to attend a Tridentine Mass, that’s not the Pope’s intention. Frankly, the whole outcry strikes me as resembling the rad-trads who think of all us Novus Ordo people as “cafeteria Catholics”: don’t let them do what makes them happy if it’s different from what we do!

    Then again, what’s with the whole “watchblogger” deal where trads seem to be seeking out the opinions of people who aren’t thrilled by the MP and advertising them as “dissenters”? To put it simply, does the Church REALLY need that?

  2. Gavin says:

    And I think I’m aware of your argument against the ex. form, namely that it’s de facto and de jure unreformed. Can’t argue with that. However, I think the Pope is perhaps opening the door to reform of the ex. form. Yes, I thought that’s what the ordinary form WAS, but the pope is perhaps looking to more subtle reform for the ex. form, such as the vernacular readings that he mentioned (actually, I’m surprised we never heard any outcry over that). Maybe at some point it will be reformed to the extent (and ordinary practice will be reformed too) that trads can join up with the ordinary form and we won’t need the 2 forms anymore.

    And just because the ex. form isn’t reformed doesn’t mean it’s harmful, does it? I’d argue not. Or at least it doesn’t provide any impediments to those that choose to attend it.

    The previous point is a bit irrelevant too because in many places the ex. form has received some reform. I must say I was impressed with the last ex. form Mass I attended; they gave me a paperback missal with all the words of the Mass, the congregation sang, there was a schola singing chant (something rarely heard I’m sure before the council). True, the priest’s words were inaudible, and a congregation really SHOULD sing more than “Amen” and “Et cum spiritu tuo”, but it’s a start.

    And finally, I don’t doubt that if the whole thing is a colossal failure the pope will say “fine, let’s just stick to the ordinary form”. He certainly seems to have the integrity that he’ll listen to his bishops in 3 years. If High Masses are flourishing and Latin is heard at the ordinary form, he will certainly stick with things. If, on the other hand, the trads of 2010 remain seperated from the mainstream church, angry, and constantly writing in to CDF about their pet peeve of the week, the motu will be a failed endeavor and the trads will have only themselves to blame.

  3. Todd says:

    “We’ve seen so many uncalled for innovations in the liturgy from guitars …”

    I can’t back you up on this one. The human voice is supreme, and the pipe organ is versatile for large groups and small, but the guitar is hardly a liturgical innovation. It’s predecessors were used to accompany sacred music in the era of polyphony.

    I think a case may be made for less-than-skilled musicians playing the guitar, but you could object to that for any instrument.

  4. Liam says:

    To merge Todd’s and Gavin’s points: the guitar and the organ can both be played in inappropriate ways during liturgy. Skill and good taste are baseline requirements for the musicianship. That said, there are fewer awful organists who get to play organ in churches than guitarists. At least nowadays. A generation ago, I would have reversed that sentence. Time has shifted the numbers: in earlier generations, there were more hack organists because people pursued keyboard the way guitar is pursued now (there were actually organs in homes, and not just grand homes). That’s much less common now, so the proportion of serious organists among the group of organists is higher. I don’t sense that’s true of guitars or that the vector has shifted in that group, at least yet. I’ve heard a lot of mediocre organists and guitarists, a few poor organists, a lot of poor guitarists, less than a handful of great guitarists, and a large number of gifted organists. At liturgy, that is.

    Then there’s piano. I don’t have conniptions over piano like many over at NLM. There are pieces (even more traditionally-sounding choral works) where the nature of the keyboard accompaniment clearly favors piano over organ sounds. As for the show-off aspects of each keyboard instrument: the organ’s tend to be mixtures/alternative harmonisations, the piano’s tend to be riffs (right and/or left hand) – if I had to choose, I prefer the organ’s vices to that of the piano.

  5. Gavin says:

    Guitar was an example, a bad one. I’d be one of the last people to say that guitar as an instrument is entirely wrong for the Roman Rite. But its use has to be in such a way that’s in harmony with what came before. An example would be the St. Louis Jesuit style of psalmnody. A counterexample would be a song of mangled and mismatched scripture references.

    Let’s use another bad example to illustrate my point, shall we? Let’s say that someone gets the bright idea to replace the Sanctus with a vernacular metrical paraphrase and, for the sake of this example, that it’s NOT against the current rules and ignore the actual precedent for that in Germany. What I’m proposing is that a thoughtful MD (or liturgist) SHOULD say “Well, replacing essential texts with paraphrases has no precedent in the Roman Rite. Therefore, it’s likely inappropriate for my parish.” Or perhaps they could attend their local extraordinary form Mass and see that they in fact do not use paraphrases, vernacular or Latin, and decide not to do it out of conformity with the Rite. Or, to get more to the point, they could realize that the proposed practice is radically different in character from other celebrations of the Roman Rite. That’s what I’m talking about, conformity within the Rite.

    For a more concrete example, take your altar server vestment issues. You could go to the local ex. form and see all the altar boys wearing cassocks and surplices and say to yourself “well, if the other churches in the Rite use cassocks, we’ll do it too.”

    Now if you know me at all, you’ll know I actually strongly oppose “going with the crowd”. But for the most part that stems from the fact that most of the crowd does things either wrong (Jesus, Lamb of God) or not as right as they could (large parishes using hymnody instead of propers). And this goes back to what you said on Cantor’s blog, if the High Mass flourishes it’ll be good for the Church. If the Low Mass does, it’ll only spell more problems for both forms of the Rite.

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