05 April 2015

The Liturgical Revolution: failure and collapse

A post from five years ago. . .now that I am directly involved in the education and formation of seminarians into priests, I can see how the reaction to the Poundians is faring. It's not going well for them. Seminarians and religious students are almost universally rejecting the Poundian liturgical revolution. Thank God and All the Saints! Now, this doesn't mean that they are eagerly embracing the Extraordinary Form. . .though many are. . .it does mean that we will likely see the complete collapse of the "Spirit of Vatican Two" liturgical revolution by mid-century. We'll look back at the 1980's, shake our heads, and ask, "What were they thinking?!" 
Though there is almost no chance that our young priests and religious will plan a Clown Mass or wreckovate a beautiful old church, there is another temptation hovering over their enthusiasm for tradition-oriented liturgical worship: the means of achieving tradition-oriented liturgical worship
Having lived through Fr. Hollywood's abuse of pastoral discretion to denude his parish church of any and all Catholic iconography, Fr. Youngster has in mind a restoration to Full Roman Catholic Glory. Good for him. How does he do it? If he looks to Fr. Hollywood's example of pastoral abuse, he will simply decree that It Be Done. . .and do it. Without consultation, without catechesis, without any sense at all of what his people need or want. . .he will decree Make It So. . .and then make it so. This is a HUGE mistake. Correcting small liturgical abuses can be easily done, but re-orienting a modernist, suburban parish toward a more formal, traditional style of worship takes time, energy, and tremendous amounts of patience and love. To rush such a reformation on nothing more than the word of the pastor is authoritarian and counter-productive. In the minds of parishioners, tradition-oriented liturgical worship is associated with the abuse of clerical power and poisons any chance that the reformation will take hold organically.
Fr. Youngster, remember: "Gentle as doves, wise as serpents." Patience, love, wisdom, and then a lot more patience and love.
The Post:
In the early 20th century, the American crypto-fascist ex-pat poet, Ezra Pound, issued a three word manifesto that came to define the modernist movement in poetics:  "Make it new."  Reacting to what he saw as the calcified conservativism of formal verse in the West, Pound urged poets to strike out into unexplored poetical territories and bring to the art of the image and line the perpetual revolution of novelty for novelty's sake.

Pound's orders were faithfully followed by his loyal troops and the hydra-headed monster of modernist poetry laid waste to traditional versification.  The influence of his revolution of novelty was not limited to the arcane practices of poets.  Novelists, dramatists, artists, musicians, dancers, architects, all heard the call of "make it new" and went about deconstructing centuries of subtle, complex beauty with the fierce simplicity of the single, powerful image. 

As any Catholic who has witnessed the dissolution of our faith's liturgical heritage can attest, Pound's revolution had no respect for the Church or her treasures.  The central document outlining the Second Vatican Council's plan for liturgical renewal, Sacrosanctum concilium, was snatched by Poundian revolutionaries in the Church and used to dismantle the 500 year old tradition of worship in the Catholic faith.  Pope John Paul II, and to a much greater degree, Pope Benedict XVI, have mitigated, if not yet entirely reversed, the lasting damage done to the liturgical heritage of the Church by insisting on the organic development of liturgy and the need to read the Council documents with a hermeneutic of continuity.   What remains of the Novelty Revolution lies mostly in the misplaced creative efforts of priests and religious who, for whatever reason, see it as their vocation to make sure that the Church's worship remains "relevant" and "up to date." 

By placing relevance and novelty above organic development and continuity, liturgical Poundians ignore the historical and ecclesial nature of the liturgy and privilege their subjective cultural assessments above the real spiritual needs of their charges.  The widespread phenomenon of liturgical abuse is an insidious form of clericalism that encourages those with clerical power to use that power to inflict their private preferences, political agendas, and ideological quirks on congregations powerless to stop them.  Though Catholics have seen a dramatic decline in liturgical abuse in the last twenty-years, abuses still occur, and in some places, abuses are the norm.

Liturgical abuse comes in three varieties:

1).  a misplaced emphasis on the immanent at the expense of the transcendent
2).  the elevation of the purely intellectual at the expense of the affective/experiential
3).  an emphasis on the local at the expense of the universal
(NB.  there is absolutely nothing wrong with the liturgy expressing the immanent, the intellectual, or the local.  The problem is an emphasis on these aspects at the expense of their balancing opposites.)

Immanent vs. transcendent

In reaction to the over-clericalization of the medieval liturgy, Poundians worked hard to redirect our liturgical attention to the presence of the divine among us.  Initially a necessary reform, this redirection quickly became a foil for all-things-transcendent.  The most notable example of this abuse is the almost-disappearance of the notion of the Mass as a sacrifice.  In order to displace the over-hyped role of the priest, Poundians turned the Mass into a communal meal, distributing the larger portion of the priest's role to the community and making Mass all about bringing the community together.  We still see this happening in the unnecessary use of communion ministers; the priest refusing to use to presider's chair; folksy language used to replace liturgical language; and the illicit use of gender-inclusive language.

Intellectual vs. affective

Many older Catholics lament the demise of traditional devotions after Vatican Two.  In an effort to bring our undivided attention back to the celebration of the Mass, Poundians waged war against devotional practices.  Seen as private, affective luxuries, devotions were railed against as willful acts of rebellion against the need to build community through individual "active participation" in the Mass.  Modernist innovations in the secular arts always required some knowledge of the theory that produced the art.  Pollock's paintings only make sense if you understand what he is trying to do in the context of traditional painting techniques.  Poundian liturgical revolutionaries were quick to dismiss criticisms of their innovations with ringing calls for more catechesis--more education would somehow diffuse the overwhelming discomfort most Catholics felt when confronted with disruptive, alien liturgical practices.  We still see the intellectual being privileged over the affective in abuses like monologues on the meanings of liturgical symbols; an insistence on equating stark, barren sanctuaries with "noble simplicity"; the deconstruction of traditional church architecture as a way of embodying ideas about the nature of community; and the dumbing down of liturgical language so that immediate cognitive understanding trumps the more profound experiences to be found in elevated language and ritual.

Local vs. universal

As part of the effort to undermine a universally told story about the faith, Poundians began emphasizing the need for more and more local options in the celebration of the liturgy.  Citing the Council's call for inculturation, the "Make it new" crowd attacked the notion that our liturgical worship connects us to a historically-bound narrative of God's Self-revelation; in other words, their novelty revolution would not tolerate a liturgy that privileged tradition as the clearest lens through which the Church understands her historical relationship with God.  Building on the growth and spread of subjectivity and relativism, the Poundians latched onto a rarefied notion of the local church ("this church-community") and opposed it to the universal Church as the most authentic expression of catholic identity.  This move allowed them to argue for more and more specificity, more and more idiosyncratic innovations in how the liturgy was celebrated at the parish level.  It quickly became commonplace for parishes to be identified by their "worship-style," and even Masses celebrated at different times within the same parish were described in terms of style.  This abuse is most clearly seen in so-called ethnic parishes where attempts are made to accommodate the dominant culture of the parishioners (Latino, African-American, Vietnamese) at the expense of the universal story of our faith. (NB. not all cultural accommodation is necessarily an abuse; abuses are always perversions of allowable uses.)

Liturgical Poundians are on the decline.  Like their counterparts in literature, the excesses of novelty for novelty's sake have proven that the revolution has no underlying principle of restraint, no intrinsic limits.  What counts as "new" is itself subject to the whims of those deemed avant-garde enough to define the term.  Poundians have been rightly criticized for becoming staid, predictable, and highly orthodox in their privileging of a late-20th century liturgical aesthetic. Anyone who has clashed with a professional liturgist knows that the principles they espouse are as plastic as they need to be to justify the preferred worldview of the liturgist.  Rubrics, magisterial documents, liturgical law, tradition, all form a  repugnant canon to those who see it as their sacred ministry to shape the liturgical lives of the less enlightened.

Though it is not entirely clear that young Catholics will embrace the ancient liturgical tradition of the Church in large numbers, what is clear is that the age of experimentation is over.  Novelty for the sake of novelty is an exhausted project.

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  1. Anonymous7:52 AM


    Make It So.

    By tomorrow, a priest can opt to exclusively use the Confiteor and Roman Canon. By tomorrow he can place a pray dieu in front of him while distributing Holy Communion for those who wish to kneel. By tomorrow he can continue what was probably his Lenten practice of the praying the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin.

    By tomorrow, he pray the Canon in a quieter, more reverent tone.

    Three Sundays from now, after two Sundays of catechesis, he can begin offering Mass from the Preface to the Great Amen ad orientem.

    A month from now, after four Sundays of catechesis, he can begin distributing Holy Communion almost exclusively on the tongue.

    Two months from now, he can change out all the missalettes in the church for a traditional hymnal.

    By the first Sunday of Advent, after constant explanation, he can eliminate or confine the use of altar girls and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

    In six months, he can begin offering the Extraordinary Form at least once a week.

    Make It So.

    1. Easier said than done. Howls of protest. . .sexism, throwback, "turning back the clock on Vatican Two," exclusionary, rigid, authoritarian. . .the bishop will be on his case after the second email.

    2. Jon's post has some problems that I would respectfully point out.
      1) Praying the Roman Canon and using the first form of the Penitential Rite are always available, true.
      2) Putting a kneeler out for people to use at communion is fine, unless the bishop tells him to remove it, as ours did in another parish.
      3) Praying canon quieter, fine.
      4) ad orientem liturgy (I did 3 years of catechesis, but then I'm probably not a good catechist) Is fine until the bishop tells you to stop because it's "against the law."
      5) Given the present discipline, it is the communicant, not the priest, who decides whether to receive on the tongue or in the hand. I don't see how changing that is possible.
      6) Missal-ettes are truly the bane of worship, and I get rid of them whenever I can.
      7) Altar boys only would be good, except in a parish like mine in which there are only 3 boys.
      8) And you can offer the EF Mass w/o any catechesis right now. I've been doing it every weekend for the past 4 years. It took on at my previous parish. Here, not so much.

    3. Anonymous10:34 AM

      Yep happened to me. Complaint about no more extra hosts in communion line for homebound. (We have volunteers for that). Complaint about my preaching defending marriage. Complaint about new hymnals. The bishop was knocking down my door. This after he gave every priest the book "Rebuilt" where the pastor basically bulldozed over people to implement the Church he thought best. I thought the method in Rebulit was good but the goals subjective. Where my bishop liked the goals in Rebuilt but thought the pastor was not very pastoral.

    4. If I may play Bugnini's Advocate, many of these suggestions seem to be a matter of a priest imposing his own liturgical sensibilities on a parish. I don't object to any of the sensibilities as such -- and what rational mind can object to changing out missalettes -- nor of the right (all else being equal) of a priest to adopt them. I would object if they were imposed in either the "my way or the highway" style of "Rebuilt" or a manner that connotes second class status to those who don't share the priest's sensibilities -- say, Catholics who receive the Eucharist in the hand.

      I can see how a kneeler could be something of a stumbling block, and not just in the literal sense. A typical parish might have a handful of people who kneel for Communion without a kneeler, and some number more who would kneel if there were one, as well as people who will kneel if it's clear that Father thinks it's the best way to receive (i.e., out of reverence for the priest, not the Sacrament), people who don't much care what Father thinks (these are my people), people who won't much notice one way or another, and people who are outraged at every perceived attempt to turn back the clock to 1955. If adult Catholics were predominantly grown-ups, a kneeler could be put out and used by people who want to use it, without any fuss. It's not so straightforward in the real world.

  2. Fr. Philip is unfortunately correct. I go to a traditional type parish run by Dominicans and if there is the slightest hint of changing out the stuff we have kept there is almost a riot. A few years ago the altar rail was TEMPORARILY removed to allow the installation of a gate. The pastor had to put in the bulletin in all caps THE ALTAR RAIL IS NOT BEING REMOVED!!!!!!! And people still were uneasy. Probably because they know how quickly things can fall over the cliff.

    And despite our supposed traditionalism the priests and the people are both very resistant to the TLM even though when a Dominican rite Mass is held here there is a "packed house." Though some are visitors from the TLM parish down the street of course.

    There is traditionalism and there is traditionalism I guess.

  3. Too much old school Latin was the cry after Sanctus along with Agnus Dei was used during Lent. Our Deacon suggested the parish council write a mission statement clarifying the direction the parish council would like our little mission church to go. What points would you make to start with Father? I printed out your post so I could share with like-minded council members.
    Thank you very much,