Richard McBrien’s insight into Summorum Pontificum and people who want the older Mass

Notre Dame University’s dissident Richard McBrien has an article circulating about the older form of Mass and Summorum Pontificum.

I got this in the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, The Tidings.  He references… or better yet simple cribs… an article in America by the retired auxiliary bishop His Excellency Most Reverend Emil Wcela which I wrote about here.

My emphases and comments.

Published: Friday, October 26, 2007
The Latin Mass

The pope’s recent authorization of the Tridentine Latin Mass, without the need to seek the local bishop’s permission, has stirred some measure of debate within the Roman Catholic Church, especially in letters-to-the-editor and on blogs written by individuals who seem not to have day-jobs.  [Or by people who are smart enough to think and write quickly?]

The overwhelming majority of Catholics, however, are apparently unaware of, or have already forgotten, the July 7 papal letter, entitled Summorum Pontificum (Latin, "Of supreme pontiffs"). [I wonder if he consulted any books by J.N.D. Kelly on this point… if you know what I mean…. namely that a remarkable amount of his (unattribtued) material seems to be pretty much the same as Kelly’s….]  Indeed, those who attend Mass regularly would never prefer Mass in a language other than their own.

Those who do claim to prefer the Latin Mass, [claim?] whether Tridentine or Novus Ordo (that is, in keeping with the reforms of Pope Paul VI), constitute a tiny minority [in contrast to "overwhelming majority"] of the Roman Catholic Church, which is not to say that they have no right to speak their minds about the matter or to take advantage of the concessions which the Vatican has offered them.

But if such Catholics are under the ages of 45 or 50, they have little or no hands-on experience of the pre-Vatican II Mass. It is a mystery how one can be nostalgic for something one had never experienced.  [Here is the flaw: it isn’t nostalgia.  Unless he is obtuse, this is mandacity or intellectual sloth: it is too easy to reduce the desire people have for the older form of Mass to "nostalgia".]

In the past three months, liturgical scholars [care to name some?] have published articles which carefully pick apart the reasoning behind the papal document that authorizes the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass. (The document is technically known as a motu proprio, in that it is produced by the pope "on his own initiative.") Each critical analysis usually provokes a flurry of indignant reactions from a handful of Latin-Mass advocates.  [Again: this is just too facile.  The reactions could be justified, after all.]

Again, while no one should question their freedom of speech, not one of them, to my knowledge, has presented a credible justification for their preference. A few substitute ridicule for reasoning.  [Sort of like what McBrien is doing.   He is essentially saying that people who want the older form of Mass might have a right to express themselves, but they are stupid.]

The challenge to offer a specific, compelling argument for the Latin Mass has just been made more difficult by a witty, down-to-earth article in the October 8 issue of America magazine, written by Emil Wcela, [THAT article made a defense of the older Mass "more difficult"?!??] the retired auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Rockville Centre, who also happens to have a degree in Sacred Scripture from Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute[And the Holy Father who issued the Motu Proprio also has university degrees.  So?  Bp. Trautman of Erie has a degree from the Biblicum.  Is this therefore a good credential?  Fr. John Echert has a degree from the Biblicum.  He has implemented the older Mass at his parish very successfully and irenically… which is itself a more compelling argument than anything offered here, so far.  It is concrete.]

Bishop Wcela, however, proceeds neither from biblical evidence nor an exegetical analysis of the papal document, but from common sense and long pastoral experience. [Okay… only people who are on McBrien’s side are allowed to assert their own experience and common sense analysis of the question.  Others need a "compelling argument" or "credible justification".] One does not have to be a liturgical scholar to understand what he is saying.  [Oh the irony.  McBrien says above that he hasn’t seen a well-articulated defense of the older form of Mass, and then he refers back to this blather in America?  But wait: Pope Benedict XVI is widely acknowledged as a liturgical scholar… and he issued the Motu Proprio….]

Entitled "A Dinosaur Ponders the Latin Mass," the article avoids the scholarly path favored by specialists in liturgical studies.  That type of work is absolutely necessary, but it is over the heads of most readers, who do not know a motu proprio from an encyclical — nor do they care to know.

Unlike many Latin-Mass devotees, Bishop Wcela (who is 76) learned and recited the Latin prayers as an altar boy (all altar servers were boys in those days). [Odd… I think the Holy Father who issued the Motu Proprio is older.  So… we are supposed to grant some magical insight to Bp. Wcela on the grounds that he is 76?] There were no sermons at daily Masses, no congregational responses, and few Communions.  [Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad.  People who go to weekday Masses probably don’t want sermons, want some peace and quite as the go to and from work, and may not be able to go to Holy Communion because they haven’t been to confession… FWIW.]

He also recalls his years in the seminary where each day began with a Latin Mass. (At my seminary in Boston, there was a second Mass, called a "Thanksgiving Mass," which followed the community Mass. We remained — always silently — for only part of it.)  [Okayyy… here is deep analysis of the issue… he rehashes Bp. Wcela.  I sense a pattern. Is this his usual M.O?]

On Sundays and major feasts, a solemn high Mass was sung, complete with priest-celebrant, deacon, subdeacon, and a host of altar servers. The seminarians, however, would never receive Communion at this Mass since they had already done so at the early community Mass.

As a young priest, ordained in 1956, Bishop Wcela knew and celebrated only the Latin Mass, in which the celebrant "proclaimed" the Epistle and Gospel in Latin while facing the back wall. On Sundays, he would also read the Gospel in English from the pulpit, just before the sermon.

While doing graduate work in Rome in the early 1960s, Bishop Wcela and other student-priests celebrated a daily Latin Mass without a congregation, but with a priest-partner. Concelebration had not yet become common.

After teaching in the seminary for several years, he became pastor of a large parish. By 1979, he writes, "Latin had pretty much disappeared, except for some hymns." His parish, however, had the custom of a Latin Mass one Sunday a month — and in prime time, at 10:30, with full parish choir.

During the summer months, however, the Latin Mass was suspended because of vacation schedules and the influx of visiting priests. "After one of those breaks," Bishop Wcela continues, "I suggested to the other priests an experiment: in the fall, we would not reintroduce it unless people asked for it. The months came and went without a word of interest. So the Latin Mass simply stopped."

More on Bishop Wcela’s thoughts next week.  [Good heavens.  Really?]

Fr. Richard McBrien is the Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. 

UPDATE 1734 UST 28 OCT 2007

Since I have the combox switched off, to avoid the sort of comment that creates more heat than light, I invited people to write in with reactions.  Here are a few pieces I received.

Father Zuhlsdorf,
 
You invited commentary by e-mail on Fr. McBrien’s speech about the inadvisability of saying or attending the usus antiquior Mass. I don’t need to address what you have already so accurately commented on in your posted comments; Fr McBrien obviously has a sarcastic streak that is inappropriate as the basis of serious discourse. I’ll write, rather,  on the larger issue of the damage that such speeches bring to a great number of the Catholic faithful who, taken in by glib and slick humour disguised as logical argument, come around to the speaker’s erroneous views.  Fr McBrien’s talk and the many comments with similar themes that we have heard  of late, run the serious danger of scandalizing the people of God (I use the verb "scandalize" and its other forms in their theological acceptation, i.e. "to cause to stumble, to tempt or trap into error").
 

Fr. McBrien, by dint of his considerable public speaking talents, other clergymen, by the authority of their offices, and certain prominent figures who have the ear of many believing Catholics have the obvious duty to preach and teach the truth regardless of their personal opinions (which they should make conform to the teachings of the magisterium – but that is another essay). This is where I find Fr. McBrien’s  speech so disheartening: by paying verbal obeisance to the free speech rights of everyone, including the advocates of the Summorum pontificum, ("while no one should question their freedom of speech") he appeals to a false "right" in order to establish a sense of fairness and to make his American audience feel good about their laws. This relatively subtle ploy has a dual impact on most people: it assures them that the speaker is not a bigot and reassures them that the right to say whatever you want is inviolable. In short, the gratuitous reference to free speech sets an emotional tone that soothes the listener into feeling that the speaker is, after all, on the side of the U.S. Constitution and that therefore the remainder of his argument rests on solid ground. Similar ploys are used in similar arguments against the Summorum pontificum: nearly all of them assure the audience that the authors have nothing against adherents of the Latin Mass and recognize their right to be attached to the older forms. The problem is that "freedom of speech" and "the right to one’s own opinion" are civil rights, wise and good in their own way but limited by the higher rules of common sense (and in some instances by Supreme Court rulings). The Church adheres to an analogous practice: it is okay and even good to argue points of contention, but for those figures with the authority to teach in the name of the Church, the freedom to express publicly opposing opinions ends when the matter is determined by the Church’s teaching magisterium. I am reminded that the famous Bishop Strossmayer did not take his vigorous opposition to the pronouncement of papal infallibility at the First Council of the Vatican back to his home diocese at Djakovo; indeed he became one of its greatest defenders after the dogma was pronounced. Such a change requires humility. [I am not convinced every Catholic has a right to express dissenting views.  In the case of dissent, people should avoid scandal and strive to conform their opinion to that of the Church.  When people can’t, they should simply keep their mouths shut and at least be obedient.  In the case of theologians, they can express their concerns to proper authority, such as the CDF, but not rake muck in the press or publish obvious dissent.]
 
Here is where the current detractors of the usus antiquior need to learn their lessons. Had Strossmayer persisted in his opposition and remained publicly opposed to it he would caused serious scandal among the faithful and led many into error (as the Old Catholics did in Germany and Poland). Certainly Fr. McBrien’s speech indicates a lack of the humility required to form one’s conscience to Holy Mother Church’s official teaching. Now that the Church  (of course, Fr. McBrien clearly does not understand that the Pope can speak for the Church)… now that the Church has determined that a wider use of the extraordinary form of the Mass is good and desirable, Fr. McBrien and others who have the faculty of preaching and teaching must conform to that determination. In this sense they do not have a "right to freedom of speech" because it causes harm and scandal to the faithful, just as shouting "Fire!"  in crowded movie theater causes harm.  [Exactly.]
 
On the one hand, it is natural to be angered by facile comments like Fr. McBrien’s. On the other hand, when the momentary anger diminishes, the sense of grief over the larger harm that such comments can cause  remains a heavy cross to bear.

Good observations.

 

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2 Responses to Richard McBrien’s insight into Summorum Pontificum and people who want the older Mass

  1. Michael says:

    It’s just stupid to say that young people who have made the 1962 Missal the centre of their devotional life are somehow nostalgic. People might come to a TLM to see what it was like in the old days, but they stay because of what the Mass offers, not because it’s what people did when grandma was a kid.

    It’s absurd to say that there aren’t convincing or articulate arguments out there. His arguments against the TLM are always the same tired cliches with some “bad memories” from seminary thrown in, as if to say, “I know what I’m talking about because I was there.” Are thousands of priests, prelates and laymen who experience it every day not qualified to speak with authority? McBrien doens’t think so.

  2. UPDATE

    The blog of Ignatius Press has a reaction to McBrien’s dopey piece:

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    Who’s really nostalgic? Richard McBrien, that’s who.

    And cranky. And more than a little incoherent. From his October 26th column (see main entry above):

        The pope’s recent authorization of the Tridentine Latin Mass, without the need to seek the local bishop’s permission, has stirred some measure of debate within the Roman Catholic Church, especially in letters-to-the-editor and on blogs written by individuals who seem not to have day-jobs.

    Ooooh. That was light’ning in a bottle, Jethro! Zing! Bang! Boom! Fortunately for me, part of my day job is to write for this blog. But, honestly, if your day job includes writing columns for Catholic newspapers, shouldn’t you make some sort of effort to make them readable? If I had thrown down that opening sentence on a sixth-grade English exam, Mrs. Hermiston would have smacked me silly. And rightly so.

        The overwhelming majority of Catholics, however, are apparently unaware of, or have already forgotten, the July 7 papal letter, entitled Summorum Pontificum (Latin, “Of supreme pontiffs”).

    Make up your mind: either people should be busy working their day jobs like mindless drones, or they should be paying attention to papal documents and blogging about them every single day. Which is it?

        Indeed, those who attend Mass regularly would never prefer Mass in a language other than their own.

    Never! None of them! And that, folks, is from the Chair of Richard, which means it can be placed right next to that glorious work of catechetical brilliance, Catholicism, nominated for several doctrinal errors by the USCCB. Well, every Sunday, my family and I attend Divine Liturgy at a Ukrainian Catholic parish, and some 20 to 30% of the liturgy is in Old Slovanic, a language that is not “my own.” Do I “prefer” Old Slovanic? I don’t think of in that way, I suppose; my preference is for reverence, a palpable sense of the sacred, decent music, a lack of experimentation, a good homily, a valid Eucharist. Is that so much to ask?

        Those who do claim to prefer the Latin Mass, whether Tridentine or Novus Ordo (that is, in keeping with the reforms of Pope Paul VI), constitute a tiny minority of the Roman Catholic Church, which is not to say that they have no right to speak their minds about the matter or to take advantage of the concessions which the Vatican has offered them.

    Please tell me he doesn’t actually get paid to write these sort of sentences. Doing so makes it very difficult to decide if I should be more offended by the sloppy, inept writing style or the empty, condescending blathering.  Here, then, is a glimpse into the world of Fr. McBrien:

        1. No good Catholic prefers Mass said in a language not his own.

        2. Some claim to prefer the Latin Mass.

        3. But since Latin is not their language, they are only claiming to prefer the Latin Mass.

    Thus, we can conclude that these folks are liars or that Fr. McBrien doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Tough choice.

        But if such Catholics are under the ages of 45 or 50, they have little or no hands-on experience of the pre-Vatican II Mass. It is a mystery how one can be nostalgic for something one had never experienced.

    Right, just like the “nostalgia” a bride and groom have for one another before they are married. Sure, they’ve never enjoyed the marital embrace, but for some strange reason they look forward to it, and for whatever reason anticipate its goodness. Nostalgic morons!

    The point is that the use of “nostalgic” here is simply an empty (and bumbling) polemical device. But it also exposes the fraudulent nature of Fr. McBrien’s “argument,” which began with the bald assertion that no one, especially anyone under “45 or 50″ would prefer the Latin Mass, but since many younger people do, they must be “nostalgic.” But since you can’t be nostalgic for what you don’t know, they must be idiots. No, it’s worse than that: they aren’t “liturgical scholars”:

        In the past three months, liturgical scholars have published articles which carefully pick apart the reasoning behind the papal document that authorizes the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass.

    [Similar, I presume, to how McBrien’s Catholicism attempted to “pick apart” the reasoning behind certain core Christological and ecclesiological doctrines of the Church.]

        (The document is technically known as a motu proprio, in that it is produced by the pope “on his own initiative.”) Each critical analysis usually provokes a flurry of indignant reactions from a handful of Latin-Mass advocates.

    Those Latin-loving, nostalgic ingrates! Just because the Pope has taken the step of allowing folks the right to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite doesn’t free them from their obligation to cower before the liturgical scholars (of McBrien’s choice, of course). How dare they question these expert denouncements of the papal motu proprio!

        Again, while no one should question their freedom of speech, not one of them, to my knowledge, has presented a credible justification for their preference. A few substitute ridicule for reasoning.

    “No one should question  their freedom of speech…” What is this, fourth-grade debate class? Forget freedom of speech, how about freedom from yapping silliness? And, to your knowledge? Don’t even get me started. Oops, that sure sounded like ridicule, didn’t it? But, once again, I’m free from criticism since I’m not a Latin guy—remember, I attend a Byzantine Catholic Church. Yes, yes, I know. No real Catholic would prefer an Eastern Catholic parish when he could go to a Western rite parish. Let’s just say that, having been raised in an anti-Catholic fundamentalist Bible chapel in western Montana, attending Divine Liturgy is all about nostalgia for me.