Reason #10 for Summorum Pontificum

There is great virtue in simply remaining grounded in the Church’s teachings, following the liturgical books carefully, and minding your p’s and q’s.  If nothing else, the Church can help to keep you under control.

That is certainly the case with, for example, the older, “Tridentine” form of Mass and the ad orientem celebration of Holy Mass.

The orientation of Mass and the rubrics for Mass (with the threat of mortal sin for violations) kept a priest in check so he wouldn’t impose too much of himself on the Mass and on the congregation.

The clarity of the Church’s doctrine provides enough grist for any sermon without straying into completely unknown fields and looking foolish as a result.

As if to underscore this, I found a great quotation of H.L. Mencken (+1956) who, while rather anti-Catholic, admired the Roman Church.

“This folly the Romans now slide into. Their clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, ridiculous. It is a pity. A bishop in his robes, playing his part in the solemn ceremonial of the mass, is a dignified spectacle; the same bishop, bawling against Darwin half an hour later, is seen to be simply an elderly Irishman with a bald head, the son of a respectable police sergeant in South Bend, Ind. Let the reverend fathers go back to Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that all the faithful may be convinced by it.”  H.L. Mencken, Smart Set Criticism, October, 1923

Mencken was obviously a fan of Darwin, but you get the point.

The priest should stick to priestcraft (I am trying to rehabilitate that word from its bad connotation) and the liturgy should be handled so as to retain its mysterious power.  When we try to make it too comprehensible we get into trouble and its impact is gone.

When doctrine, prayer, music and gesture are reduced to the lowest denominator, when we twist the rites to our own whims, we make what is glorious and uplifting merely dull and commonplace.

And people fall away.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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27 Responses to Reason #10 for Summorum Pontificum

  1. yatzer says:

    I wish I could think quickly enough to say intelligent things like this when trying to explain why I prefer the EF to the OF, generally speaking. My brain just will not work that fast, sadly.

  2. Robert of Rome says:

    To yatzer (above): Your frustration is understandable and is shared by many. Don’t give up trying to explain why you prefer the EF to the OF. Keep reading this blog. Read Martin Mosebach’s tremendous book “The Heresy of Formlessness”. But above all, don’t give up explaining your reasons.

    [Excellent book! Here's the link to make it easy.]

  3. teomatteo says:

    “priestcraft”. hmmm…. tell me more.

  4. Bosco says:

    Apropos clarity of the Church’s doctrine and striving to mind our ‘p’s and ‘q’s, Father Z., how does the doctrinally challenged p & q minder in the pew understand this admonition:

    “94…self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism.” -Evangelii Gaudium

    [Perhaps you are trying to pick a fight. Firstly, I have no idea what "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism" means. If it means what I think it means, it applies aptly to liberals who ignore the transcendent. They are modernists and, therefore, immanentists. Next, I suspect the Pope is talking about the trads he knew in Argentina, to wit, SSPXers under Williamson (who was down there for years) and perhaps some other groups. Then, who knows why "soundness of doctrine or discipline" and "inspecting and verifying" are mutually exclusive with "opening the door to grace" and "evangelzing"? Are these things automatically opposed to each other? I guess they could be, if one were out of balance, but I don't think they are mutually exclusive in themselves. "Inspecting and verifying" sounds to me like making an thorough examination of conscience! One's own conscience, that is. Or is the Holy Father saying that we mustn't ever make judgments about words and observable deeds of others? It seems to me in reading his little fervorini that he does that all the time. He does that in this paragraph, too. So, it is hard to say what he means here. Lastly, the trads I know, the trad priests at least, both in North America and across the pond, are deeply into "evangelization" in concrete ways appropriate to their state in life. I wish I knew of more trad lay people who were first and foremost in getting active in parishes in performing corporal works of mercy. They ought to be the most prompt of all to volunteer and get out there, especially these days, when liberals - thinking that Francis backs them up - will in their smug moral superiority denigrate the characters of traditionally leaning Catholics with accusations that their pleasure in seeing lace on an alb or hearing the Gregorian chant and Latin required by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council means that they don't care for the poor.]

  5. LadyMarchmain says:

    What a great quote! Thank you, Father, for posting it.

    Yatzer, we are all in awe of H. L. Mencken, one of the swiftest wits of his time. Perhaps the only way to really explain is in the words of the disciples, “Come and see!”

  6. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Small insight —

    There are some so-called traditionalists who really behave more as if they have a Protestant mentality; there are some modernity-loving people who still [i.e., nevertheless] think that the most important teaching of the Church is Fatima, and that the Church should keep out of our bedrooms; there are a GREAT many so-called Vatican 2 Catholics who would meet this description:

    A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.

    I don’t think His Holiness has his guns aimed at tradition-loving Catholics. Rather, he is identifying an evil in anthropocentric theology and worship.

  7. Bosco says:

    @Father Z.,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I am grateful.

    You suggested: “Perhaps you are trying to pick a fight. ”

    Nope. Just giving the old Socratic method a go to draw out a bit of your insight on (what I believe to be) an obscure, dense, and ultimately Rorschach-like theological statement.

  8. John of Chicago says:

    Perhaps a bit analogous to the realms of cosmology or the quantum world, can one truly make the liturgy “too” comprehensible? Richard Feynman wrote of his efforts to comprehend his own field of study–physics…
    “Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars— mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is ‘mere’. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination— stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern— of which I am a part… What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it?”
    Perhaps true mystery–the ineffable–deepens wonder and awe the more we stretch to speak, to comprehend.

  9. kpoterack says:

    “there are some modernity-loving people who still [i.e., nevertheless] think that the most important teaching of the Church is Fatima, and that the Church should keep out of our bedrooms.”

    This is fascinating. I have never encountered such people, but I am not overly familiar with the “Fatima crowd.” Do explain.

    I suppose my general concern with this and some other of the Holy Father’s statements (e.g. on economics) is a) the rhetorical overkill and b) that he seems to speak out of a very limited Argentinian perspective. This is what they used to accuse JPII of (speaking out of a limited Polish experience), but it seems to me to stick more with Pope Francis. I have encountered liturgy and doctrine obsessed Trads (perhaps I have been guilty of this at times myself), but this hardly exhausts the movement. Bishop Williamson SSPX Trads, frankly, represent only a small fraction of the traditionalist movement – however they can be rather vocal.

    I hope and pray that, over time, as Pope Francis gets to know the whole Church, he will learn otherwise.

  10. LadyMarchmain says:

    But what about the anthropocentric immanentism?

  11. Mike says:

    Thank you, Father, not least for the last three sentences of your reply to OP Bosco’s first comment. Were we tradition-lovers the examplars of mercy that all Christians are called to be, modernism — not to mention the nominalism whence it springs — would be much further on its way to history’s dustbin.

  12. “I wish I knew of more trad lay people who were first and foremost in getting active in parishes in performing corporal works of mercy. ”

    I wonder whether your experience might not largely be orthogonal to the multitude of traditionally-believing Catholics who indeed are active in ordinary parish affairs. In my experience, these are in the majority among TLM attenders in ordinary diocesan parish churches, though they definitely seem to be the minority in blogdom.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [And thanks for "orthogonal".]

  13. Mr. Green says:

    “Self-absorbed promethean neopelegianism” is a mouthful, but I’m sure we can sound it out: It’s clearly not complimentary, and it packs a punch with those pronounced prefatory P-sounds. Prometheus defied the gods, and Pelagius denied original sin. The Modern Prometheus creates his own life — he doesn’t need a Church — he’s a heroic rebel, righteous in himself (or as we would normally say, self-righteous). Note that the Pope does not say soundness of doctrine is something bad, but rather the puffed-up Pelagian’s supposition of soundness. If one has not been corrupted by original sin, then his mind is perfect; there is no need for him to inspect or verify his own conscience, though he surely is happy to help out the rest of us by letting us know how far we fall short of his standards. If one’s own power if perfect, then of course he will be anthropocentric, not God-centred, relying on his immanent goodness instead of humbly crying out for grace and mercy. Genuinely sound doctrine comes from submission to the Church’s authority; it does not lead to “narcissistic and authoritarian elitism” because it acknowledges my own sinfulness and weakness, and it encourage evangelism because I want to share the cure I have discovered.

    …smug moral superiority…

    It means trading percussion for sibilance, but the suspicious sneakiness of “smug moral superiority” makes it a reasonable paraphrase for “self-absorbed promethean neopelgaianism”, I think!

  14. Lin says:

    Not following the rubrics is a mortal sin for a priest?

  15. Bosco says:

    @Mr. Green,
    Hats off to you for your attempt to hash it out. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the passage is an inkblot for which every reader can offer their personal interpretation.
    A ponderous, tortured, shibboleth served up for the faithful to chew on and somehow digest that they might then assent to whatever it says/doesn’t say/implies?
    You hit it on the nail when you referred to “…smug moral superiority…” a state of soul that plagued the haughty Pharisee in the Gospel of Luke 18: 9-14. Now that concept is clear to all.
    Self-absorbed promethean neopelegianism is a tad more obscure.
    In any event it has been my experience with the traditionalists I know that, having keen, tender, and informed consciences, they are more likely to be merciless to themselves in the arena of self-examination than others.

  16. Magpie says:

    The biggest frustration for me as a reader of this blog, is that, as a layman, there is nothing I can do, beyond pray. The clergy in my own parish have their own ideas. Even the newly ordained priest who just got here is bound over by the existing abuses, like the vast overuse and abuse of EMHC, whilst the other priests have their own abuses, from sermonising at the start of Mass, to dumbing down the Mass by explaining each reading before it is read, and providing a running, pseudo-catechetical commentary through the Mass, and other such things. They have their own ideas Fr. Z, and they would say that you and I are just stuffy conservatives. Of course, they wouldn’t say it in those words, but they’d smile pridefully and knowingly: those poor stuffy conservatives fixated on doing things ‘by the book’, but we, well, we’re more pastoral…

  17. robtbrown says:

    I attended 8:15 mass this morning at a parish with a semi-retired Jesuit saying mass. He wore an alb with no cincture and a stole with no chasuble. He sat down while lay people distributed Holy Communion.

    I wonder what Pope Francis would say about such a practice by a fellow member of the Company of Jesus. More importantly, I wonder whether he intends to do anything about it.

  18. Bosco says:

    @robtbrown,
    “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”
    Better hock the ruby slippers, Robert.
    God bless and keep us all in His care.

  19. Magpie says:

    robtbrown, I’m sure Pope Francis would refer you to your local bishop!

  20. robtbrown says:

    Bos co,.

    Red shoes not needed. The church where the mass took place is in Kansas

  21. Mr. Green says:

    Bosco: A ponderous, tortured, shibboleth served up for the faithful to chew on and somehow digest that they might then assent to whatever it says/doesn’t say/implies?

    I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Obviously any piece of writing needs to be “interpreted”, but even if you don’t immediately know what a “promethean pelagian” is (I certainly didn’t), it’s quite clear from the rest of the passage what the Pope is talking about. And in that context, a pretty straightforward meaning of the phrase stands out.

    In any event it has been my experience with the traditionalists I know that, having keen, tender, and informed consciences, they are more likely to be merciless to themselves in the arena of self-examination than others.

    Of course. That in no way precludes some people from going too far — and I don’t think anyone is going to deny that there are some people who could fit that description. More importantly though, it serves as a warning to those have not gone too far to take care that they don’t. It is human nature (fallen nature, for us non-neo-pelagians) to divide the world into Us vs. Them, and to elevate the distinction beyond its proper place. Sound doctrine is good; elevating doctrine above the Church, the very source of that doctrine, is not. But surely we all agree to that, so I don’t see a problem.

    Anyway, I think “self-absorbed promethean neopelagian” has a pleasing ring to it, and I shall be on the lookout for opportunities to employ the phrase myself!

  22. Bosco says:

    @Mr. Green.
    “Anyway, I think “self-absorbed promethean neopelagian” has a pleasing ring to it, and I shall be on the lookout for opportunities to employ the phrase myself!”

    I’d like to be there when you try! To my ears it has the sort of rhythm, beat, and whimsicality you would have heard in a 1950′s beatnik cafe poetry recital, ala Jack Kerouac.

    Peace.

  23. Christophe says:

    Another good Mencken quote about Catholicism:

    “The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its frequent astonishing imbecilities, has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is not a syllogism, but a poem. . . . Rome, indeed, has not only preserved the original poetry in Christianity; it has made capital additions to that poetry-for example, the poetry of the saints, of Mary, and of the liturgy itself. A solemn high mass must be a thousand times as impressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in him, as the most powerful sermons ever roared under the big-top by a Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better convinced by letting them alone. . . .

    “[But the Roman] clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, ridiculous. It is a pity. . . . If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that the faithful may be convinced by it.”

  24. robtbrown says:

    A. I have not read the Mosebach book, but I assume his thesis is that the Novus Ordo (at least vernacular, ad orientem–NOvao) is formless, at least partly owing to the influence of Existentialism. If so, I heartily disagree. The form (i.e., structure) of the NOvao is that of a meal. In fact, there is a Manfred Hauke article on Cardinal Ratzinger’s thought on this topic.

    There are three possibilities: 1. The Content of the Mass is a Sacrifice, and the Structure should reflect it. 2. The Content of the Mass is a Sacrifice, but the Structure is that of a meal. 3. The Content of the Mass is a Meal, and so is the Structure.

    It shouldn’t be hard to see which is the Ratzinger position.

    B. And so the question is whether the celebrant is making us present at the Last Supper (often obvious in celebrations of the NOvao), or whether he is making us present at the Crucifixion.

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    Self-absorbed promethean neopelegianism

    This sounds like a painful condition. It is probably contagious. The treatment is almost as painful as the condition, from what I gather. It is probably not covered under Obamacare.

    The Chicken

  26. LadyMarchmain says:

    Masked Chicken, hilarious!

    Mr. Green, thank you for a reasonable parsing of a difficult paragraph. What I notice, and perhaps the Spanish diverges, is the use of immant*ism* rather than immanent. I take immanentism to refer to a philosophical/theological concept implicating the spiritual in the physical. My understanding of “anthropological immanentism” is that human constructions of divinity or the spiritual replace actual divine immanentism; therefore, I read this sentence–in the context of the entire paragraph– as a criticism of those who place man-made spiritual exercises where divinely inspired gifts of the Holy Spirit should be.

  27. LadyMarchmain says:

    correction; I meant to type “anthropocentric” rather than “anthropological”