Five Questions, Plus

My friend Charles and I part company on the value we place on the Rorate Caeli site. I’ll end commentary on the source with that, but offer his five questions here:

1. Since the promulgation of the Pauline Missal (c.1970) have the goals of greater participation and greater understanding of the Eucharistic sacrifice been demonstrably met?

Participation, yes. I’m not sure what “greater understanding” would look like. I think pre-conciliar Catholics were fine with identifying what happens at Mass in terms of traditional language. I think the needle has moved a bit from a narrow interpretation of Calvary and a wider view of the Paschal Mystery. But I’m not sure most Catholics then or now could describe that. Many, maybe most of the Catholics with whom I’ve interacted in the past thirty years of ministry might be able to articulate it, but not in a theological way. I don’t think some traditional-leaning Catholics have picked up on the nuance here, though they would be able to parrot the 50’s language in such a way that Father Smith would understand and accept.

2. Have the translations of scripture and other texts into the vernaculars demonstrably raised the critical thinking skills and personal piety of the Faithful?

I don’t know that critical thinking skills were a priority of the Council bishops or the reformers. I think Scripture texts are well-integrated into the prayer lives of many Catholics. I suspect that now, as then, Catholics have little practice in applying the Word to their daily lives. Lectio divina, for example, was a practice limited to the monastery before Vatican II. The same cannot be said today. “Personal piety” may be a careless term here. Has the accessibility of the Bible at liturgy improved the prayer life of Catholics? Undeniably yes. Does room to grow remain? Certainly.

3. In addition to perceived benefits of the use of vernaculars in ritual and devotions, have there also been both subtle and obvious dangers, divisions and contentions in multi-cultural demographic regions?

This was an issue also floated in Liturgiae Authenticam. I’m not sure that Catholic contentiousness can be pinned on Mass in the vernacular. The blogosphere is certainly more to blame. I think we’re looking at a phenomenon of human nature and parochialism. But at least we have fewer stories of rival Eucharistic processions brawling in the streets.

4. Have foreign concerns to the sacred rites such as nationalism, patriotism and secularism resulted from vernacular and polyglot usage in the liturgy? What are some consistent experiential experiences of such detriments?

See above. These existed before the council. In a country like the US, the melting pot of suburbia has blended ethnic Catholicism into a fair shade of brown.

5. Does an appreciation of great diversity among vernacular usage at liturgy result in a sort of “Babel-like” confusion, or has it achieved the coherence and unity the rituals seek to convey?

I suspect that where we lack uniformity, we have the opportunity to appreciate Catholic unity in expressions of diversity.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Five Questions, Plus

  1. Liam says:

    Being Catholic, the first question that comes to mind when I see these questions are: (1) are these the right questions, and if so, how important are they? (2) what are the assumptions behind the questions? (3) what questions are being neglected?

    As an example of the last one, at a purely liturgical level I might have thought Charles would ask: Do we have enough diversity our liturgical expression? In more detail: how often do parishes make use of the full array of options provided in the reformed liturgy? Is there certain sameness that is driven less by ritual concerns and more by practice concerns?

  2. As you both know, I borrowed the content of Cdl. Bacci’s letter to scaffold those questions. That is the only “assumption” (actually, presumption) underlying those particular questions. So, they may not be all the right questions nor a prompt for other questions. The cardinal’s letter is a prompt for reflection. Liam’s question about “enough diversity” seems to have its own set of assumptions to me. My interest is confined to the Roman Rite out of necessity. There remains diversity among the so-called “uniates,” yes? Regarding the use of options, I’d call into question the practical results of the nebulous and often ambiguous ritual options afforded by the IGRM, as they at once advance both incense and man-lace as well as “themed Masses” (I didn’t say “clowns! heh heh, but think of some of the disasters at LAREC.)
    Maybe I’m just now manifesting my inner “old white guy,” once a Democrat until he got mugged, incessantly time and again by, ahem, diversity.

    • Liam says:


      I guess I was being opaque. Here’s an illustration: how often do parishes employ a reformed liturgy in Latin? How often do they use anything other than a hymn or non-propers song for the entrance/offertory/communion chants? There’s a lot of “this is the way we do things here” kinds of uniformity out there.

      Old white guys who got mugged by diversity can also get mugged by other things that might yield change in a different direction. My 92-year old rock-ribbed New England Republican father has been mugged by what’s become of his Republican party in the past 20 years, for example. He hates Clinton, but decided 5 months ago that he will be voting for her. I know many people who were conservative in their young adulthood (I am leading edge Gen-Xer – the generation of the Alex Keatons – who have been disillusioned by what conservatism has become; they may change yet again in 25 years…) Life offers muggings all the way to the point of death. Opportunities for change too.

  3. Todd says:

    I did notice Cardinal Ottoviani’s original questions. I took them to be representative of an old Catholic worldview, perhaps the wish or expectation that a council, grudgingly, might produce a Tridentine Catholicism on steroids. An organization better equipped to strong-arm the world. The counter-witness of Lawrence comes to mind. The expectation of presenting the riches of Rome in precious metals and jewels countered by the rabble of poor and needy. Cardinal Ottoviani, perhaps, would expect Latin documents in red and black on parchment, and if a rabble was present, it would be unordained and bowed down in obedience.

    To be sure, my first years as a Catholic were wrapped in a success story of the 70’s: a parish with a musical pastor who managed to get the best of the best seminarians introducing psalmody and a diversity of musical groups that got people singing. I learned “Shout To The Highest Mountain” along with “At That First Eucharist” and wasn’t out of place singing them as a teenage boy.

    To reply to Liam’s questions, 1) no they aren’t; 2) that Tridentine Catholicism is the ideal; and 3) there are many. Post-conciliar progressives missed many signs by themselves largely taking the new wine and attempting to encase it in old wineskins. Perhaps the biggest miss since 1974 (at least) is the insufficient attention given to reframing baptism as a sacrament of vocation.

    As for Liam’s call-out on diversity, I think we’re talking legion: Easter Vigil, RCIA rites , especially the Scrutinies, the parish dedication anniversary, votive Masses, more psalms for assembly singing–and that’s just for starters. This isn’t the kind of diversity that will mug Charles, but it would inspire deeper faith in his parishioners.

    • Liam says:


      And of course I didn’t mean to exclude your examples of other lack of diversity. As you and Charles ought to know by now, my questions are usually framed as opportunities for every side to consider its own limitations – because they are rarely single-edged (and therefore, ideally, illustrate neither tu quoque nor false equivalence but instead a meta opportunity for *solidarity of mutual recognition* of that – to see ourselves in the very things that annoy the hell out of in others, and to see others whom we might otherwise identify with or even oppose in the things we embrace in ourselves, et cet. – there is a purpose to my method; but I try to have hope rather than expectations).

      • Liam says:

        And, further to my point: that solidarity, in turn, can reduce barriers to a more sanctifying communio.

      • Todd says:

        Understood and agreed. I was revising my response and posting before I saw your response to Charles, but I would include your example with mine.

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