The usual suspects are fisking the NCR liturgy editorial which takes aim at the hermeneutic of obstruction. I think Fr Fox and others have missed the editorial’s point. NCR is concerned with a bigger picture, not just the conciliar theology of the 16th or 20th centuries.
By the time the Council of Trent was convened, the Catholic Church had pretty much written off the Reformation. Only twenty-eight years (pretty much the pontificate of JPII), and Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans were consigned to the far Tiber shore. If not hell. If the struggle for souls was waged on a philosophical battlefield, Rome withdrew from much of Europe. They left the battle to the physical world: purges, politics, pogroms, and wars across the face of Europe for the next several decades.
The liturgical products of Trent are undeniable: a uniformity of worship Christendom had never known, a cohesive and comprehensive training for seminarians, and the potential for a sense of identity in the lands that remained Catholic. In the US, this was realized with a highly successful Catholic culture.
By the time Christians arrived in North America, the wars and inquisitions were left behind. The various settling groups escaped oppression for their religious views. Where else would Puritans, Quakers, and others find common ground with Catholics?
The Second Vatican Council, in contrast, wasn’t ready to give up on non-Catholics. That must be the most significant departure from Trent. And it was defined not through theology, but from the view of evangelization and a quest for holiness. The Church’s theology wasn’t altered, but its pastoral and philosophical approach to the world outside itself was.
At its worst, Trent was philosophically ready to consign non-Catholics to hell, and not blink an eye in doing so. This caricature remains with us. Maybe it’s not totally fair. In my own theological studies, Trent was presented as a council of reform that did its best with the tools it had at the time. Catholic theologians might well say Trent was perfect. But the implementation of the Council, of which Catholic conservatives are always prepared to remind us, was far from perfect.
At its best, Vatican II showed a Church ready to embrace a certain optimism: never change for the sake of change, but reform for the sake of a more complete and aggressive approach in the world. And as with Trent, the implementation of this Council gets a mixed grade.
I see a certain nostalgia for the past. What concerns me in particular is that this nostalgia seems especially strong among some young priests. How is it possible to be nostalgic for an era they didn’t experience?
To a degree, I disagree on the nostalgia diagnosis. I think many Catholics see themselves beset upon, perhaps like the churchmen of the 16th century. The very notion of reform might imply that what we were doing before was defective. It might also open up doubt as to what we might change. Maybe we’ll be wrong again. It’s much safer to go with the well-trod path.
Fear of making a mistake: this is one factor contributing to the hermeneutic of obstruction. The modern recovery of rubricism: this seems to me to be rooted in a futile quest for perfection. As a perfectionist myself, I can say that this aspiration is immature. We cannot escape failure. It dogs us human beings at the most inopportune moments, as well as most of the time in between. Mother Teresa reminds us that a proper aspiration is to being faithful. As important as rubrics may be, they cannot save the liturgy. It seems easy to say, “say the black, do the red,” but in practice, liturgy is much more complex than that.
Liturgy presents the Church in miniature. We have people who want to sail for deeper waters and cast the nets far. And we have people who don’t want to make a mistake: we might sink the ship, we might not find fishing waters, we might get lost. I think we’ve seen this in the past two decades worth of hand-wringing over the 1962 form. The giving up on form III not more than ten years after it was established to address venial sins. The near-total withdrawal from composing Roman Rite prayers in vernacular languages. It all speaks of a theology that may well be uncontested, but it paints the extremes of traditionalism as fearful, timid, and lacking in faith.
I readily concede these generalizations don’t always fit every circumstance. Reformers were certainly tainted by fear in attempting to fast-forward liturgical change before the curia got their paws on the effort. And the rightful aspiration to beauty and reverence is not colored by a fear of the future.
I think the attempt to read too much into media editorials is likewise colored by over-generalizing the content and intent.
From this Catholic’s view, Trent gave Catholicism many thing it needed. But it’s time, well past time, to junk its worldview. Vatican II gave Catholics what they needed forty years ago, and as was true in the 1570’s and beyond, the implementation was imperfect.
The real locus for reform and renewal is in the local communities: the family and the parish most especially. But on those levels, the articulation of theology often fades to irrelevancy or incomprehension. And for the simple tasks of growing in faith and holiness, fear is useless. What is needed is trust. These simple, but far-from-easy tasks, are the real big picture aspects we Catholics could be working on.