Over a Rorate there is something so good that it compels me to overcome even their animosity toward me, extend an olive branch again, and direct you there to read patiently and completely. Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College (where students can’t have cellphones but they can have guns) did a presentation for the new translation into Czech of his fine book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church. US HERE UK HERE
Peter makes an argument, reflected in the talk’s title: “Reverence Is Not Enough: On the Importance of Tradition”
Here are a couple samples with my emphases and comments:
But after this extended metaphor, an objection might be raised. “Why is tradition so important? Isn’t it enough just to have a reverent liturgy? As long as we are sincere in our intentions and serious about our prayer, all these other things—the language of our worship, the type of music, the direction of the priest at the altar, the way people receive communion, whether or not we keep the same readings and prayers that Catholics used for centuries, and so forth—are just incidental or accidental features. They are ‘externals,’ and Jesus taught us that externals aren’t the main thing in religion.” [All of us who have promoted the traditional Roman Rite have heard this countless times. Right? “The Novus Ordo where I go is reverent! Don’t tell me that that isn’t enough!” I say, it might be enough, but why not have more. To use one of my old analogies, a grown man can survive on jarred baby food, but he won’t thrive. He needs a steak and cabernet. At the same time, many people today have to be brought carefully, prudently, to the steak and cabernet so that they, unready, are not overwhelmed.]
There is, of course, some truth to this objection. Our intentions are indeed fundamental. If a non-believer pretended to get baptized as part of a play on stage, he would not really become a Christian. No externals by themselves will ever guarantee that we are worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth (cf. Jn 4:23–24), and an attitude of reverence and seriousness is the most crucial requirement of the ars celebrandi. Nevertheless, I believe that the objection as stated is erroneous, and dangerously so, because it presumes (and thereby fosters) a radical transformation of the very nature of the Catholic religion under the influence of Enlightenment philosophy.
Prior to all arguments about which practice is better or worse is the overarching principle of the primacy of tradition, meaning the inherent claim that our religious inheritance, handed down from our forefathers, makes on us. We do not “own” this gift, much less “produce” it. Tradition comes to us from above, from God who providentially designed us as social animals who inherit our language, our culture, and our religion; it comes to us from our ancestors, who are called antecessores in Latin—literally, the ones who have gone before. They are ahead of us, not behind us; they have finished running the race, and we stand to benefit from their collective wisdom. [That’s a good insight. Our forebears are ahead of us!] St. Paul states the principle in 1 Thessalonians 4:1: “We pray and beseech you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, so also you would walk, that you may abound the more.”
[NB] The rejection of tradition and the cult of change embodies a peculiarly modern attitude of “mastery over tradition,” which is the social equivalent of Baconian and Cartesian “mastery over nature.” The combination of capitalism and technology has allowed us to abuse the natural world, treating it as raw material for exploitation, in pursuit of the satisfaction of our selfish desires. In a similar way, the influence of rationalism and individualism has tempted us to treat Catholic tradition as if it were a collection of isolated facts from which we, who are autonomous and superior, can make whatever selection pleases us. In adopting this arrogant stance, we fail to recognize, with creaturely humility, that our rationality is socially constituted and tradition-dependent. By failing to honor our antecessores, we fail to live according to our political nature and our Christian dignity as recipients of a concrete historical revelation that endures and develops organically over time and space. [Superb.]
Kwasniewski later in his talk does something quite useful: He shows the contrast between Joseph Ratzinger’s view of liturgy and Walter Kasper’s! There’s quite a bit to it, but here are a couple tastes…
[On the topic of how the Novus Ordo is often implemented…] Every celebration is, in a sense, a new project, a new compilation, a new construct of the human agents involved. Even if the same “traditional” options were to be chosen as a rule, the very fact that they are chosen and could be otherwise makes the liturgy not so much an opus Dei as an opus hominis. [A “work of human hands”?]
This voluntaristic malleability of the liturgy, joined with an emphasis on local adaptation and continual evolution, is precisely the liturgical equivalent of the decades-long dispute between Walter Kasper and Joseph Ratzinger in the sphere of ecclesiology. For Ratzinger, the universal Church and its sole Lord and Savior take precedence—and therefore the liturgy, which is the act par excellence of Christ and His Mystical Body, should embody, express, and inculcate exactly this universality, the faith of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”
In contrast, we see Cardinal Kasper’s group-based “ecclesiology from below” reflected in the localist Novus Ordo Missae—not in its abuses, but in its essence as a matrix of possibilities destined to receive its “inculturated” form from priests and people at each celebration. It is a liturgy in a constant state of fermentation, re-visioning, re-invention, which is antithetical to orthodoxy in its original meaning of “right-worship-and-right-doctrine.” It is worth pointing out that proponents of Kasperian ecclesiology and liturgy also tend to repudiate Constantinian Christianity and its universalizing aspiration to “re-establish all things in Christ” (Eph 1:10). This is because they hold, with Karl Rahner, [yep… there he is… lurking…] than every man is already Christian at some level, and that the world as such, the secular world, is already holy. [Well done. Rahner thought – and this really bad idea has had serious and deep consequences for those upon whom it was thrust in seminaries and universities and therefore congregations after them, that sacraments mark pre-exiting realities. Think about how that starting point would affect every single liturgical choice, right down to architecture!] Thus there is no clear distinction between ad intra and ad extra, between sanctuary and nave, between minister and congregation, between tradition and innovation, or even between sacred and profane. All things collapse into immanence, into the choice of the moment, the quest for instant inculturation, the transient emotional connection, the self-proclamation of the group. It is a liturgy of the Enlightenment, ahistorical, sociable, accessible, efficient, unthreatening. It is supposed to be pleasant, convenient, thoroughly free of magic, myth, or menace. There must not be any of that primitive or medieval mysterium tremendens et fascinans, [A phrase from Rudolf Otto which I use all the time when talking about the ends of sacred liturgical worship.] none of that groveling of slaves to their masters: we are grown-ups who can treat with God as equals. [Sound familiar?] As a matter of fact, we will edit out “difficult” passages from Sacred Scripture and rewrite “difficult” prayers so that offenses or challenges to our modern way of life will be, if not eliminated, then at least kept to a polite minimum. [And there is the connection to reinterpretation of Scripture, such as Christ’s teaching about indissolubility of marriage. Add to that the Church’s teaching about scandal and about reception of Communion in the state of grace. Everything is up for grabs!]
This is excellent stuff. Peter also underscored Kasper’s approach to interpretation of Scripture. Scripture is constantly to be reinterpreted according to the times. What it once meant doesn’t confine us now. We interpret Scripture differently than our ancestors did. Thus, Christ’s strong and clear injunction about matrimony does mean what it meant. You get this also in his latest offering in Stimmen der Zeit about Communion for the divorced and remarried in Amoris laetitia. Robert Stark, in CWR, some time ago described Kasper has replacing philosophy with politics: majority rule can change interpretation of Scripture, doctrine, whatever.
In any event, you might head over there and read the whole thing. It is worth the time and trouble.