Sunday, August 1, 2010
THE THEOLOGY AND SPIRIT OF DENIGRATION
I'm old enough to remember when Catholics would never criticize the sacred; one's reverence and piety would not allow for it. Prior to the reforms of the Mass initiated after Vatican II, no one, except for elitist theologians but in a very respectful and nuanced way, would have dared criticized the Mass. Yes, some laity might criticize priests, their homilies and perhaps the length of sung Masses, the quality of the choir and some other small details, but the Mass itself was off limits. After all, Jesus Christ's one sacrifice was made present and in the Risen Lord's true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity presented as Food and Drink, we came into Communion with God, the Most Holy Trinity and the people Jesus redeemed, past, present and to come. In other words we experience eternity at every Mass in the sacrificial, eternal banquet par excellence. I say this for both forms of the one Latin Rite, the EF and OF forms!
The greatest abuse of the Mass prior to the Second Vatican Council was how fast it could be celebrated by some priests. I have heard of 7 minute Masses. Recently, we've heard from Phil Lawlor of 11 minute Ordinary Form Masses in Ireland where I recently returned--although I did not experience an 11 minute Mass at the Shrine in Knock.
Contrary to popular belief, Vatican II's document on the Liturgy did not reform the Mass but simply set into motion some principles for reform. It was actually an elite group or commission that created the reformed Mass based upon their understanding of liturgical history and their biases against the old Mass and their interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Like Pope Benedict who decreed Summorum Pontificum on his own authority based upon authority given to him by other councils including Vatican II, Pope Paul VI promulgated the various changes to the Mass around 1968 on his own authority and against the better judgments of some in the curia and the college of bishops. But that is the pope's authority then as now. This would set into motion a major shift in terms of Catholic piety and reverence for the Mass. Criticism of the reformed rite came from those who could not believe that a Council or even the pope could reform the Mass. These schismatic Catholics poked fun at the revised Mass and even called it invalid.
Then, priests with no supervision from their bishops and sometimes with their bishop's approval began to experiment with the revised Mass bringing all kinds of novelty to it. These novelties included liturgical and architectural iconoclasm, improvisation, folk and secular music, burlap and felt banners and vestments or no vestments at all. In the 1970's I even experienced a "Mass" that was celebrated on the floor of an apartment, no altar, just people sitting "Indian" style on the floor around a simple table cloth spread on the floor with a simple chalice, plate, Wonder bread, homemade wine and a made up Eucharistic prayer. We consumed the "elements" as they were "consecrated" leaving nothing present on the floor for the remainder of the so-called Eucharistic prayer. It was so meaningful.
Did we complain? Yes indeed. These complaints eventually went to the actual reformed Mass celebrated well. Why was it stripped down? Was what we really got "noble simplicity" or ignoble arrogance that led to irreverence? Did we need liturgical and architectural iconoclasm?
Those who did complain about the revised Mass got their cues from progressive Catholics who were denigrating the old Latin Mass as an abomination that Vatican II fixed. Much of the catechisis for the new Mass came from lambasting the old Mass, it's "unnecessary repetitions"; its accidents of time, its complicated structured, its archaic music, its medieval style. The new Mass was precisely that, new and improved over old and awful.It was contemporary and "with it!" Never mind that the older Mass has nourished, sustained and helped to communicate God's grace to countless generations of Catholics many of whom were willing to died as heroic martyrs and others who lived heroic saintly lives who were eventually canonized. Never mind that nearly 80 or 90 percent of Catholics attended Mass around the world through about 1965. These Catholics who were criticizing the old Mass were biting the very "hand" of the Mass that fed them and sustained their Catholic faith and eternal life when they received Holy Communion worthily.
This spirit of denigration and negativity still exists today and it is turned up in volume as it concerns the abuse crisis and what the clergy should do to atone for the sins of leadership and of those guilty of the actual abuse.
Ann Burke is suggesting that Pope Benedict stop wearing his white cassock modeled after the Dominican habit and to wear a black one, perhaps like the Benedictine habit. She suggests that he get rid of the red shoes of the fisherman and wear something less flashy like crocks!
Her suggestions have opened the way for others in the Church to mock the pope in all he does, his dress and the liturgical wear of the clergy for Mass and other occasions. Will they ever grow up? When will we stop denigrating, follow the laws of the Church and do what is allowed and prescribed for either the EF Mass or the OF Mass. How long will an adolescent display of anger toward authority and law continue in our Church?
I recommend not criticizing the sacred. Only criticize that which is against God, negativity towards our Masses; negativity toward our sacred traditions with a capital and little "t" and negativity toward our traditional piety and beliefs. Keep in mind, denigrating the Mass was and is a part of a larger denigration of all things Catholic, especially our sexual morality and many of our doctrines on Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders.This is to be expected from unbelievers but is shocking when it comes from so-called believers. Do you think there is a cause and effect between jettison our Catholic morality for something pagan morality and the sex abuse crisis and indifference toward it in the recent past, especially the 1970's and 80's? I believe in casualty.
There are rats in the Church, some are bishops and priests, but a good number are laity too. But conversion through God's grace leading to repentance is always possible even for human beings who act like rats and denigrate who we are by their words and deeds.