I received this from a reader.
Good questions are raised in the wake of Summorum Pontificum and "Save the Liturgy Save the World", as well as "Say the Black Do the Red" and many other of the points I raise on this blog and elsewhere.
I write this note in all sincerity, being a convert of 25 years. I have still never been to anything other than a Novus Ordo Mass but after spending so much time on your site, I am close to finding one to attend. The recent interviews with Fathers Finigan and Paisley were quite compelling. [They will be pleased to know that.]
Even after following so many discussion threads on WDTPRS (over which my eyes often glaze, esp. concerning the status of the SSPX) I have to ask a question about the cultural assumptions your readers make. You, your guests and your readers all posit that when there is a better translation of the Mass, the priest returns to his stance ad orientem, and the liturgy is offered with reverence, devotion and integrity, the laity will revive and the Church will be strengthened. I understand the theory and how grace works.
But…. Didn’t we have all of this before the Council? Strengthened by all these things, the bulk of the flock still embraced the sexual revolution with abandon and jettisoned years of this very foundation that your readers propose to be the answer. In fact, speaking primarily with women over the last 20 years, I find that the older women are the ones still whispering to their granddaughters to “be safe,” delay marriage, to get advanced degrees and mark out their independence. I repeat, it’s not the mothers so much as the grandmothers in so many cases, and they were the ones with a better education, more exposure to the old Mass, and time to mature before the real recklessness gained speed.
One could argue that the Council rattled the faithful at the very time that they needed to stand firm in age-old truths, but the rejection of Humanae Vitae by such a widespread Catholic population (then and now) seems to weaken the case that a better liturgy carries the weight that its worthy supporters propose.
I don’t mean to be irreverent, but I cannot see that it’s a “silver bullet” [okay] to save us from our current trajectory whose coordinates seem to be self-indulgence and willful blindness. Perhaps I’m of a darker mindset, but I rejoice over the restoration of the EF (from afar) realising that we have the potential to carry a better liturgy (and a host of excellent priests prepared to offer it) into the new catacombs, for sustenance in the coming years.
It will take repeated attempts to address this before we get something like clarity. There are tough theological questions at stake.
Keep in mind that this question will keep popping up:
- If the TLM was so great, why did things fly apart so fast?
- If the Church was so great in the 50’s, why did the 60’s tear her apart so fast?
- If Catholics were so well formed, liturgically and otherwise, why did so many dissent and quit and lapse?
Different ways of phrasing it. All the same question.
Critics of Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum make fundamental errors when they criticize the derestriction of the TLM based on what happened after the Council. So do traditionalists.
Let’s start by responding that the questioner got one point right.
Absolutely correct is the fact that the TLM is not a "silver bullet". It is not the cure-all for all the ills of the Church. I have never made that claim on this blog, in sermons, talks or in my weekly column. Don’t think when I say "Save the Liturgy Save the World" that I think that the TLM is the only perfect liturgical solution.
There is far more at issue. And at the core of the issue are theological questions.
We have to make essential distinctions.
This is all about ecclesiology, that is, our theological understanding of the nature of the Church. Ecclesiology is itself at the intersection of Christology (who is Christ?) and anthropology (who is man?).
Throughout history we have had to deal with the errors that result when people forget that Holy Church is a communion of saints and sinners. St. Augustine said in the midst of the bitter ecclesiological battle that was the Donatist controversy, that the Church is ecclesia permixta malis et bonis… a Church mixed through with good people and bad. The Lord of the Harvest will sort this out at the end of time.
The upshot is that we mustn’t be surprised if we find out that there are sinners in the Church. We mustn’t be surprised or shocked that bad things happen, or that mistake are made. We shouldn’t lose a grip on reality and think that just because we enjoy the fullness of membership in Christ’s Church that we are therefore not going to sin any more.
Seems obvious put like that, no? But people fall into this trap all the time, through history and also today, in the trad camps and amongst the progressivists.
We mustn’t be shocked that even though before the Second Vatican Council we had the TLM, full seminaries, the Baltimore Catechism, orders with habits, etc. etc. etc., when we got to the 1960’s things flew apart. The Church is mixed through with good and bad. At the heart of who the Church is, there is who man is. Man is a sinner.
Also at the heart of who the Church is is who Christ is.
Our experience of the Church is shaped in many ways, but the principle and probably most important way is through her official, public, communal prayer which is the liturgy of Mass.
Who we are must be experienced in the Mass and who Christ is must be experienced in Mass.
Let us never forget that before the Second Vatican Council, Holy Church was not Shangri-la, a perfect harmonious entity without sinners. Mass was often not celebrated with care and reverence. Often it was.
But that really isn’t the point.
If we experience Christ as Savior in Holy Mass that experience doesn’t remove the reality of who we are – sinners.
It doesn’t matter which liturgy we are participating in, TLM or Novus Ordo or Divine Liturgy or Anglican Use, Holy Church will remain a communion of saints and sinners. Holy Mass can be "perfect" in form or style or execution, but that will not change the fact the nature of man.
Whether the Church is "exalted" in this world or it goes into the catacombs, the fundamental nature of man will not change.
The form of liturgy, however, is critically important because it directs our thoughts about who we are and who Christ is.
I will be writing and speaking on these issues a lot in the future.