In The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy (US HERE – UK HERE), Martin Mosebach writes of the offended sensibilities of a rock that has been shifted from its perennial, traditional, place. It might require centuries for the rock to settle down.
There is a great deal to be said for flexible stability. It’s the essence of Romanitas. NB: The Latin term for revolution (always bad, in the Roman mind) is res novae… new things. We might add: Nihil innovetur nisi quod traditum est… and non nova sed noviter.
I just read a piece by David Warren at The Catholic Thing about the death of the son of Marshall McLuhan, Eric, who had picked up his father’s baton. And now, apparently, the grandson Andrew is doing the same.
The McLuhans were solidly Catholic and traditional:
Like father [Marshall], like son [Eric] – both, incidentally, highly traditional old-Mass Catholics, whose first resort was to their Latin missals.
“I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change,” said Marshall more than half a century ago, in a television interview with the (still living!) Canadian cultural journalist, Robert Fulford.
“But I am determined to understand what’s happening, because I don’t choose to sit and let the juggernaut roll over me. Now many people seem to think that if you talk about something recent you’re in favor of it. The exact opposite is true in my case. Anything I talk about is almost certain to be something I’m resolutely against, and it seems to me the best way to oppose it is to understand it, and then you know where to turn off the button.”
Consider, in passing, the use of the “rearview mirror.” As Eric would explain, it does not show things moving backwards. It shows things moving forward. It orients us not to where we were, but to where we are. Only men with the ability to “read” it can have an idea of what might hit them. For the rest, there is the dead-fish stasis, of unreflective movement in the traffic stream.
I am reminded of the moment in the movie The African Queen when Humphrey Bogart explains that they have to get the propeller working because, in order to steer the boat through the dangerous rapids, they have to go faster than the current. I would add that the propeller simultaneously roots the boat in the past while giving us the option of where to go in our future.
Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”. This is why sometimes a well-placed, well-chosen photo has more impact than a 1000 words, or why McLuhan could argue that it was the genesis of the microphone and electric amplification that killed Latin and liturgy in the Church. In 1974 he wrote in The Medium and the Light: Reflection on Religion:
Latin wasn’t the victim of Vatican II; it was done in by introducing the microphone. A lot of people, the Church hierarchy included, have been lamenting the disappearance of Latin without understanding that it was the result of introducing a piece of technology that they accepted so enthusiastically. Latin is a very ‘cool’ language, in which whispers and murmurs play an important role. A microphone, however, makes an indistinct mumble intolerable; it accentuates and intensifies the sounds of Latin to the point where it loses all of its power. But Latin wasn’t the mike’s only victim. It also made vehement preaching unbearable. For a public that finds itself immersed in a completely acoustic situation thanks to electric amplification, hi-fi speakers bring the preacher’s voice from several directions at once. So the structure of our churches were obsolesced by multi-directional amplification. The multiple speakers simply bypassed the traditional distance between preacher and audience. The two were suddenly in immediate relation with each other, which compelled the priest to face the congregation.
The microphone killed Latin, enervated preaching and paved the way for Mass “facing the people”, innovations all. Microphones were in use long before the Council. But their cumulative effect, with the liturgical changes, were deadly. There are times when we should simply turn them off… and go ad orientem and use Latin.
How do people put it today?
Drop the mic.