Thursday, 21 October 2010

The ''good'' old days...

My uncle turned 60 yesterday, so many happy returns to him. He is of the ''spirit of Vatican II'' generation, and goes to Mass (sadly in the evening) every Sunday, goes to Communion, then goes home again, and doesn't really bother much about the ins and outs of Church politics, ''behind the scenes'' stuff or anything (nor does he go to Confession). He is not involved in his parish church in any way. I met him at Hyde Park a few weeks ago, and he introduced me to the lovely men from Argentina.

I spoke to him about Liturgy a few months ago, and asked him what Mass was like in the '50s and '60s. He said that it was terrible, as indeed it was, but of course his personal reason for thinking it terrible is quite different from my own. He said that the priest had his back to the congregation and mumbled from a book (in all fairness this is true at Low Mass) in Latin, and that ''for all we knew he could have been doing a crossword.'' This is another aspect of recent Church history where I differ from certain people. The enormous reaction against this appalling Liturgy (which by 1960 was in a pathetic state) in the '60s was inevitable. If the Roman Church had cultivated its liturgical tradition instead of dogma and devotions then perhaps the present state of the Sacred Liturgy would be a lot better. As you can see my uncle knew little to nothing about Liturgy as a boy, and still knows nothing. Perhaps this is clumsily put - perhaps men of my uncle's generation know little about the Faith because they could not, and cannot, discern the Faith from the Liturgy - precisely because the Liturgy provided them by the Church was exhausted and sterile, as a result of tampering at magisterial level and long neglect. More ''informed'' Catholics (the neo-Conservative kind) are hardly better. The premise of their orthodoxy is ''the Pope says'' rather than ''I am fortified in this belief by the Sacred Liturgy.'' It would not surprise me if these Ultramontane Catholics would go along with the Pope if a future pope declared Christ's Divinity (but not his own as God's oracle) to be superfluous to the Gospel.

It seems to me that orthodoxy for the wrong reasons (like Munificentissimus Deus) is fraught with so much danger. It rather reminds me of the Forms in Plato's cave.


  1. I am reading A. Scmemann's Liturgy and Tradition and think a lot of it might sit well with Liturgy as the focal point that hasn't been that focal point for a long theology and liturgy have suffered since then.


  2. Patricii!

    You are asking your uncle what Mass was like in the 1950's - you say he was 60 years old recently so I take it he was born in 1950. Is he really going to be a reliable source on this subject?

    Of course by 1962, as you know, some priests were introducing innovations, the vernacular and saying Mass towards the people and this continued more and more up to the Promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae in 1968.

    Sorry I doubt your uncle is a good source.

  3. I am fortified in this belief by the Sacred Liturgy

    If liturgy is all that is needed to believe what we need to assent, to get to Heaven, then why would God bother to give us the sacred scriptures (which the liturgy draws heavily from), sacred tradition (the oral teachings from the apostles, which liturgy cannot substitute) and the magisterial authority of the church?

    Surely for there to be a liturgy in the first place, doctrine and beliefs must come first?

  4. Precisely Auricularis,

    Sacred Scripture, alone, as a book, is not worth much unless it is received in the Liturgy as Word. Idem for Tradition, etc. It is in Liturgy alone that they make any sense at all. Liturgy is the proper place for these to be expressed, and lived by the people of God. Through Liturgy the Divine Life is made accessible to us poor sinners. Do you think individual reading of Scripture achieves this or purely scholastic repetition of patristic teaching, or still, servile obedience to papal enunciations?

    Mass and Matins capture well this fundamental aspect of Liturgy.

    We are not one of the peoples of the 'book' as some pretend. The Word of God is not a book, not encyclicals, etc.

    Otherwise the Faith Catholic would not be distinguishable from protestantism and mohammedanism.

  5. Auricularius

    What you need to recognise is that this question could not have occurred to a pre-Modern Catholic; its underlying assumption is that "the faith" is something essentially propositional or ideological.

    Christian faith is not in the first place assent to a seies of doctrines. It is the illumined response to an encounter with the crucified, raised and glorified Christ, who Himself "opens the Scriptures to us". This is what the Mysteries present and communicate to us. The Liturgy and the Sacraments are the point of our direct encounter with the Living Christ, and our entry into the age to come. Ortho-doxy is first and foremost right-glory. That is the "dialectic of Revelation" as it appears throughout history, from the beginning of the world: right-doctrine is subsequent to a living encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; of Our Lord Jesus Christ".

  6. ...the other thing (sorry, Auricularius - please don't take it personally!), which I take to be a legacy of Scholasticism, is this ruinous, literally 'diabolical' habit of isolating things from everything else so as to treat them as separate (as opposed to merely distinct) phenomena.

    Dogma and Scripture are not something separate from Liturgy; the Liturgy is the true and authentic context of both: the "right-reading" of Scripture and the proper understanding of dogma. The Liturgy IS Scripture and Dogma, functioning and operative as "right glory".

  7. Sacred Tradition is NOT adequatley defined as "the oral teaching of the Apostles" merely! It is the "ancestral memory" of the Church, the Israel of God, from the beginning of the ages to the present day, embodied and embedded also in tangible realities, actions and forms - things capable of being seen, eaten, drunk, tasted, smelled.

    Sacred Scripture is part of Sacred Tradition; Sacred Tradition is the right-understanding of Sacred Scripture; all, both, themselves arise from the same "dialectic of Revelation".

    Simply believing things will not "get you to Heaven"!

  8. Scripture, Dogma, Liturgy are One; you cannot reconstruct one without "reconstrue-ing" the others.

  9. Thank you all for your comments.

    Moretben you've pretty much said what I wanted to say far better than I could!

    Bryan, you misunderstand me. Of course I would not go to my uncle for advice about Liturgy! My point in asking him was what his experience of Liturgy was as a boy, and what he thought of it. I am 22 years old and can remember Sunday Mass from the 1990s. This is important from a pastoral perspective because Sunday Mass in the '50s and '60s was his principle ''contact'' with Catholicism, other than school. If his experience of Liturgy was defective then is there any wonder that his faith has suffered, and is similarly defective?

    The same goes for all others of his generation. The militant types, the ''Stand up for Vatican II'' crowd, are heretics and not worth bothering with. They know nothing about Liturgy (but then some Traditionalists are like that) and there is no use remonstrating with them about it.

    Auricularis, no Liturgy comes first - always, and I do not take kindly to tampering with it for doctrine's sake; hence my fierce opposition to Pius XII's new propers for the Assumption. What Old Pius did was divorce himself, and the rest of the Catholic Church, from the ancestral doctrine of the Assumption - by the very act of divorcing the Liturgy of that Great Feast and Octave from the ancestral propers. Again the whole question of orthodoxy comes into question here. If people believe in the doctrine of Our Lady's Assumption because the Pope says so, but the pope commits liturgical and personal heresy (by reversing the Lex Orandi) by proclaiming this doctrine to be a dogma of faith then that mere assent to this doctrine has a rather shallow basis, does it not? If the Pope commits another heresy in the proclamation of another dogma (Mary as Co-Redemptrix for example), and the whole Catholic Church goes along with it, where does liturgical orthodoxy come into the picture? The Catholic Church seems to have lost (at some point, before or because of the Council of Trent) an authentic and holistic understanding of Liturgy. Liturgy is of the utmost importance - for the reasons that Moretben gives.