Maybe the Liturgical Extremists Have a Point?

Update 4/6/16: It appears that Rorate Caeli has taken down the post linked below. A cached version can be found here.

Rorate Caeli has a fresh post up detailing the small, but growing, number of Latin Mass communities which celebrate Holy Week according to the pre-Pius XII rite. Numerous other parishes could probably be added to that list, and it is generally well-known that an increasing number of communities freely incorporate at least some elements of the older Holy Week ritual. In calling attention to this reality, Rorate felt compelled to write the following:

The liturgical reforms that were implemented in the Roman Rite from 1951 to the end of 1962 remain a subject of much contention among Catholic Traditionalists and their friends, and for this reason this blog has tended to strike a “middle way” in discussing these reforms. It should be acknowledged that the vast majority of Catholic Traditionalist communities — whether with the SSPX or under Diocesan / “Ecclesia Dei” authority — continue to faithfully celebrate the Mass, Office and Sacraments according to the liturgical books and regulations in force as of the end of the year 1962. Furthermore this blog’s record in promoting liturgical celebrations according to the 1962 Missal speaks for itself. In its official stance (as distinct from individual contributors’ opinions) this blog has never had any problem with the liturgical reforms of Pius XII and John XXIII.

That’s a troubling position to take since there are many problems with the reforms of both Pius XII and John XXIII. So why not just come out and say so? (That doesn’t mean, however, that the “1962 books” are the summum malum as the sedevacantists and liturgical extremists opine.) It seems that blind fealty to “the authorities” has clouded some traditionalists’ better judgment when it comes to things liturgical, or perhaps the climate of fear in the Church is so strong that not even the more vocal traditionalists want to “rock the boat” lest they lose access to the old Mass altogether.

If this sort of complacent attitude were present among the Greek Catholics of the last century, we’d still be celebrating the Divine Liturgy with eviscerated service books and a calendar bereft of Slavic saints. It was only through the tireless — and critical — efforts of churchmen such as Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Blessed Leonid Feodorov, and the members of both the Recensio Ruthena and Recensio Vulgata commissions that the Eastern Catholicism’s Byzantine liturgical heritage was restored (even if only on the level of theory). It would be a shame if Latin Catholics failed to take a more proactive approach to reestablishing their authentic patrimony out of either misplaced obedience to ill-conceived liturgical changes or useless fear. There should be little doubt by now that the Holy Week reforms of 1955 lack either firm historical or theological footing and that continued celebration of the 1962 rite will only serve to normalize an inferior liturgy in the hearts and minds of the faithful. What a shame that would be.

Leithart Looks East

I am not sure what inspired Peter J. Leithart to take an interest in Catholic liturgical reform, but over at First Things he has an post up on it entitled “Liturgical Orientalism.” For the most part, Leithart leans on an earlier academic presentation, “Eastern Presuppositions and Western Liturgical Reform,” by Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. For those familiar with Taft’s previous work, much of what he says (and what Leithart summarizes) is old news: “everyone” agreed that liturgical reform was needed at Vatican II; Latin liturgists took a shine (perhaps too much of a shine) to Eastern liturgy; the post-Vatican II reforms are a mixed bag (at least as far as the Liturgiae Horarum is concerned); and so forth. Unfortunately, Leithart doesn’t have much to add to the conversation, preferring instead to defer to Taft whose conclusions are, at points, contestable.

There can be little doubt now that Latin liturgical reformers “looked East” for inspiration (or perhaps just ex post facto justification) during the tumultuous decades of the 1950s and 60s, though subsequent scholarship has poured cold water on the idea that all of the reforms undertaken were truly “Eastern” and/or “ancient.” And while neither Taft nor Leithart make mention of it, some of the Latin liturgical reforms undertaken during the last century actually had the effect of driving contemporary Roman Rite praxis further away from widespread Eastern praxis as exemplified by the Byzantine Rite. For instance, the Latin reform of Holy Week, which ushered out the possibility of anticipating services like Tenebrae and the Easter Vigil, stands in contrast Eastern Christians anticipating the services (e.g., Holy Friday Matins on Thursday evening, Holy Saturday Vigil Liturgy in the morning, etc.). Other, more noticeable, reforms, such as the three-year lectionary, priests commonly serving Mass versus populum, “Extraordinary Ministers,” and such find no legitimate basis in the Christian East.

Review: Bringing Back the Saints

While I plan to devote several posts to aspects of Michael Petrowycz’s 2005 thesis, Bringing Back the Saints: The Contribution of the Roman Edition of the Ruthenian Liturgical Books to the Commemoration of Slavic Saints in the Ukrainian Catholic Church (available online for free from the University of Ottawa here), I did want to call attention to this important and fascinating work which serves a dual function as both a history of the (Slavic) Greek-Catholic reclamation of its authentic patrimony and a challenge to the Latin-dominated model of sainthood in the universal Church. As some are no doubt aware, recent decades have seen Greek Catholics of all stripes chipping away centuries-old layers of inorganic Latinizations and Roman-centric impositions in an effort to fulfill one of the central promises of the historic unia, namely the right to be both fully Eastern and fully Catholic. Part of that reclamation process has been to discard petty Western-based fears that drawing eastward in liturgy, spirituality, and theology meant a slide toward schism, though there is some distance to go. What Petrowycz’s thesis shows is that the origins of this project began well before the Second Vatican Council, when the Eastern Slavic churches, in concert with Roman authorities, sought to restore their traditions in full, including recognizing the heroic saints of the ancient Kyivan Church who, for largely political reasons, had been ejected from Greek-Catholic calendars beginning in the early 18th C.

Some Thoughts on the Recent Tridentine Mass Dustup

Traditional Catholics have been weeping and gnashing their teeth since the appearance of Msgr. Charles Pope’s National Catholic Register blog post, “An Urgent Warning About the Future of the Traditional Latin Mass.” I confess I don’t know why. Though Pope relies largely on anecdotal evidence and some odd comparisons to the tragic decline of Catholic schools, his main point about the need for traditionalists to engage in more evangelization is sound. Joseph Shaw, the former head of the Latin Mass Society, disagrees. Writing over at Rorate Caeli, Shaw takes umbrage with Pope’s analysis, pointing out that the numbers don’t lie: the number of traditional Masses around the world is growing; traditional Catholic communities foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life; and traditional Catholics can’t be blamed for the fact their non-traditional brethren of the past two generations or so have been grossly under-catechized and are thus not in a position to truly experience – or have “fruitful participation” in – the Tridentine Mass. I don’t disagree necessarily with Shaw’s first two observations; the last comes a bit too close to cheap blame-shifting for my tastes. I always thought one of the central “points” of the traditional Catholic movement was to correct the catechetical problems introduced by bishops and priests over the past 50 years and that promoting the Tridentine Mass came hand-in-hand with delivering orthodoxy Catholicism. Why does Shaw seem to be disavowing this element of the traditionalist apostolate?

Remarks on Galadza on Byzantine Liturgy

Fr. Peter Galadza, whose thoughts on Byzantine liturgy I have discussed before, delivered an interesting talk at last year’s Sheptytsky Institute conference, The Vatican II Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches, entitled “Full, Conscious, and Active Participation: The Influence of Vatican II’s Liturgy Constitution on an Eastern Catholic Worship Aid.” The “worship aid” in question is The Divine Liturgy: An Anthology of Worship which has become the normative liturgical text for English-speaking Ukrainian Greek Catholics. Throughout the presentation, Galadza draws attention to the anthology’s attempt to promote greater lay participation in the services through congregational singing while also highlighting the book’s focus on proper spiritual preparation for the Divine Liturgy (prayer, repentance, and fasting). He also notes places where the book presents abbreviated forms of lengthy Byzantine services such as the Vesperal liturgies for Nativity and Holy Saturday in an attempt to entice more parishes of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) to begin serving them. Despite expressing general satisfaction with The Divine Liturgy, Galadza offers some sobering remarks about the considerable distance the UGCC still has to go (at least in North America) before it truly recaptures its authentic liturgical heritage.

The Feast of Christ the King?

Something strange must be happening in the world if so many of my (non-traditionalist) Catholic friends are heralding the Novus Ordo Feast of Christ the King and citing Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas, as if the two are somehow compatible. For those following the traditional Roman liturgical cycle, the Feast of Christ the King arrived nearly a month ago and in the form Pius XI intended. This is made strikingly apparent at Mass, where the Collect for the feast has been intentionally mutilated.

  • Original: Let us pray, dearly beloved, for the holy Church of God: that our God and Lord may be pleased to give it peace, keep its unity and preserve it throughout the world: subjecting to it principalities and powers, and may He grant us, while we live in peace and tranquility, grace to glorify God the Father almighty.
  • Novus Ordo: Almighty ever-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe, grant, we pray, that the whole creation, set free from slavery, may render your majesty service and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the new Collect per se; but it redirects the liturgical day away from a celebration of Christ’s social reign toward a heavenly expectation which will only be fulfilled at the end of time. One has to wonder how much of today’s feast would Pius XI even recognize.

Public Prayer II

In several recent posts (e.g., here) I have discussed the absence (or, rather, loss) of the Divine Office, that is, the public prayer of the Church, among Latin Catholics. By comparison, the Eastern Orthodox (and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Catholics) have done a much better job offering services like Matins, Vespers, and the small hours to the faithful. It remains my contention that public prayer outside of Mass will not return to the Latin Church until the clergy takes up the cause. Lay demand for these services is, at best, minimal, mostly due to ignorance or a (false) belief that it is not “their place” to address the matter. This does not mean that the lay faithful have to be shut out of praying liturgically even if they cannot participate in a formal parish setting. Although the vernacular Liturgy of the Hours has been around for decades, traditionally minded Catholics—or those who are simply not thrilled by the U.S. Catholic Church’s official translations—have mostly steered clear of it. Thankfully, a number of liturgical resources, in both Latin and English, have started to become available so as to allow the faithful—and their families—to pray with the Church even if, for now, it must be done in the privacy of the home.

Public Prayer

An acquaintance asked the other day how much of the Divine Office (Chasoslov or Horologion in the East) Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic priests are required to recite each day. My response: None…I think. Although a shell of its former self, the breviary—now commonly referred to as the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH)—remains the cornerstone of a Latin priest’s prayer life. Failure to recite the office in full each day is a mortal sin, though it seems that some priests aren’t terribly concerned about that. For the Orthodox, the liturgical hours have always been, and remain, a true public work. Although some monastics, clergy, and pious laypersons recite some of the small hours privately as part of their individual prayer rules, the cornerstone offices, such as Matins and Vespers, are almost impossible to recite outside of a proper ecclesial setting. Attempts to make these offices “manageable” for individuals have been made, but not very successfully. Both the old Jordanville Chasoslov, along with the edition published by the Ruthenian Catholics in the 1940s, contain daily votive services that can be “plugged in” to Matins, the small hours, and Vespers each day. The fact that none of these services save one have been translated into English their irrelevancy, at least among Anglophone Orthodox and Greek Catholics.

None of this is to say that Eastern clergy have a “weak” or “lax” prayer life compared to their Latin brethren. The LOTH is not exactly a taxing rule. What the Byzantine Rite has not lost, and the Roman Rite surely needs, is the central importance of public prayer to the life of the Church. For most Catholics, that prayer is the Mass and only the Mass. If there is ever anything “more” it is typically a para-liturgical devotion such as the Rosary or a novena. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but for most of Church history reciting the Divine Office in choir was as natural as serving Mass. Today, unfortunately, that is simply not possible for most parishes to carry out all of the time, but why can’t more Latin churches strive to serve hours like Vespers and Compline at least some of the time? The easy answer is, “Because there’s no demand for it.” But the chances are there will never be a demand unless the clergy, in concert with dedicated members of the laity, create one.