My memories of my grad student days–the 1980s–were ones of optimism. Those of us in liturgy were hopeful the second wave of rites, and especially the new Sacramentary would be coming soon. Better translations, incorporation of newly composed prayers for sacramental rituals that had been long lacking in Roman Catholicism.* Already in the Church, Mass settings had returned in most every sung Mass–now for the assembly to sing. The development of the responsorial psalm and now, a wide use, even in rural parishes with minimal resources. Musical genres blending and the old guitar/organ divide closing here and there.
I cannot describe my own deep discouragement at the course of the following decade. Liturgical reform was finally on track, and much of it was derailed by what I would characterize as lies and an antagonism to art. (As much as its proponents might give lip service to such things as the English translation of MR3, the final product was hardly a beacon of good literary composition.)
For the most part, I’ve served in the peripheries in parish ministry. Nearly half has been in the state of Iowa. Lovely place to live and raise a family, but not exactly the core of the Liturgical Movement. Talented young people often flee the state for greener pastures–and that includes ministry. Another half of my ministry life has been so far away from the see city that travelling there is essentially a day trip. Peripheries indeed: I was there before the Holy Father preached them.
I wouldn’t think of complaining. Much. An actor/director friend of mine once watched me at Mass, and suggested I seemed frustrated at the level of artistry I was working with. You could do a lot more, she opined, if I had the resources of a college town or a big city. I would hope the focus was more about the people God placed in my path and not going out looking for people to thrill me.
The last twenty years have been filled with more disappointment than optimism. Sometimes the disappointment has been delivered with a dose of rupture, so to speak. Twice I’ve been made to feel unwelcome in parishes during my daughter’s growing years. I’ve accepted the need to move, and my loyal, loving family has acceded to the demands of the call, as I perceive it.
As for the “sudden” appearance of Traditionis Custodes, I find I feel a great deal of empathy for many of the lay people I’ve known who prefer a more traditional form of worship. And now, they feel the disruption I’ve felt: moving to a new parish, adapting to new groups of people, new surroundings, new support systems, and a different parish culture and way of doing liturgy.
I feel less for some of the clergy I’ve read lately. The tweeting priests are often horrible. No wonder Pope Francis wants the bishops to crack down on the fringe elements. Even the mainstream guys make me wonder, as ICEL executive director Msgr Andrew Wadsworth was quoted at PrayTell:
A week ago, on this day, and at this hour, an atomic bomb fell on the Church. I have felt physically unwell for most of the time since then – a visceral reaction to this wound that has been inflicted on us.
For a priest’s real perspective on a real atomic bomb, check here.
The unwellness I can understand. Nights become troubled and sleepless. Farewells are difficult and strained. I have wondered about my wife and daughter when living with me becomes a chore of a packing and relocating neither of them chose. And all of us leaving behind friends. Sure, we have Jesus’ promise. But there are times after an exhausting move, or returning to visit my family to see niece and nephews grown up, that I wonder: could I have not taken the Lord’s words as not so literal?
I find myself somewhat like a person under a death sentence, awaiting news of when his sentence will be carried out. Both the diocese of my incardination and the diocese of my current residence and work are yet to concede what recent legislation suggests is the necessary permission for what former legislation had established as an indisputed right.
Saint Paul sounds like a man to engage here.
I don’t know if Msgr Wadsworth has ever served in prison ministry where real people are concerned for their life, or what is left of it. Many lay people have suffered far worse in their jobs and chosen professions: being downsized or having whole avenues of work cancelled or seeing savings and retirement wiped out by a serious medical condition or a theft of one’s pension.
In the small pond of church ministry, I’ve had the center of my ministry ripped out a few times. Rarely did I find a sympathetic priest available to encourage me. Well, one guy who did fire me offered to give me job and discernment counselling. Granted, I did not find the offer enticing. I was fortunate to have a spiritual and understanding wife who would pray with me and encourage me to move past my doubts.
I’m rather surprised at the worry coming from a priest who has rubbed shoulders with bishops from around the world would think “death sentence” when it might, after all, just be a rupture to navigate. Does he think that a well-regarded scholar and loyal servant of the Magisterium will be required to turn in his 1962 Missal and be given a Latin gag order? Has he no friends in the episcopacy?
I can tell you few if any lay people have the guarantee of work-for-life and an assured retirement as priests do. The angst and worry over the liturgy I can believe and trust. I’ve been there. The metaphors look a bit over the top.
You’ll notice the commentary on that PrayTell link was shut down. I confess that was my fault. I linked the Fr Arrupe piece and mentioned, intemperately, that Msgr Wadsworth might do well to resign from ICEL and take up work with lay people who suffered true disruption in their vocations: job loss, bankruptcy, death of a spouse or child, and the like. Obviously, he can do whatever he and his superiors in his order want him to do. I have no real input, nor do I crave it.
Just yesterday I was at the committal service for my predecessor in ministry. She was younger than I, finally succumbing to lung cancer after a four-year battle. If anyone suffered a bombing, it was my friends I have come to know: the widower and three children about my daughter’s age.
Things are taken away. We’ve all felt it. We’ve all dealt with it. When people are gone, it can be far more wrenching.
I still feel very little sympathy for Msgr Wadsworth. The people are far more important than the words or style of ritual. I can say that as a fellow wayfarer through liturgical disruption, disappointment, and yes, even grief. But I always found new opportunities in new places. I learned it didn’t have to be my way.
I don’t know the path forward for TLM Catholics. I certainly can’t help them and I doubt they would want my commiserations, anyway. In a way, they’ve been strung along with false hopes, and an inevitability that the 1962 Missal will fade just like all the ones that came before it. Eventually the 1970 and 2002 editions will be dropped for updated versions. Maybe, in wisdom, future forms of the Roman Rite will be developed gradually and the rupture will seem less of a challenge and more will be able to embrace the opportunity for change.
Regardless, it’s a time the Church needs prayer. Not the rites, mind you. But the people.
* catechumenate rites, the non-individual forms of reconciliation, a better form for the Liturgy of the Hours.