30 November 2021

Propping up Traditionis Custodes

An analysis of the article in H&PR, Shepherding the Flock Out of the 1962 Missal. I agree, H&PR used to be solidly Catholic. Not anymore!

From Happy Despite Them

By Leila Marie Lawler

Sometimes I need to write about two things at once, and this is one of those times. The need arises from my age, really -- I sense the urgency of making sure people get a context that might be lost in the passage of time.

So, first, let me say that I'm old enough to remember that the purpose of the Homiletics and Pastoral Review, a somewhat obscure publication you might not be familiar with, but which nevertheless has had its influence, was to offer clear teaching in a form that a priest could use in a homily. Its longtime editor, the redoubtable Father Kenneth Baker, SJ (that rare creature, a good Jesuit) established its reputation for providing solid doctrine to busy priests in the midst of the intense confusion of the post-Conciliar time. 

The HPR is not a scholarly journal per se. But its mission had been to offer carefully supported reasoning in the light of Scripture, the Magisterium, and Tradition; not polemics and certainly not propaganda. In the 70s, when Fr. Baker took over, the idea of the New Evangelization hadn't been formulated in those words, but that was the spirit of what you could find in its pages -- a trusted resource for encouraging the faith from the pulpit. It's telling, of course, that such an initiative became necessary; one would have thought that the Magisterium itself fulfilled that role and that those ordained to its promulgation would have continued to be given the formation necessary for the task, but such are the questions we are only now asking ourselves.

On to the second thing: a particular article published in the Review: Shepherding the Flock Out of the 1962 Missal by E. Tyler Graham. In reading it, we need to keep in mind the context I'm speaking about -- the purpose of an otherwise somewhat insignificant article found in its pages: to be a resource for a priest who might need, shall we say in contemporary terms, "talking points" for the congregation.

There's a big difference between offering someone solid material for reference in his own understanding of a problem, and disguising false conclusions in a cloak of rhetoric that can be easily assimilated without the bother of the person using his own mind to evaluate them -- in short, propaganda. I take issue with this magazine leveraging its reputation for faithfulness against those not necessarily equipped to detect hidden assumptions and contradictions. It's really a breach of trust, all too common these days (yet, sadly, reflective of intellectual, not to say moral, corruption at the very top).

Let me be specific.

Mr. Graham begins by folding the reader into an assumption about the Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, Traditionis Custodes. That assumption is that the document constitutes a "command" -- that it is an act of authority over matters that cannot be questioned. For Mr. Graham, the only issue is how high to jump, not whether to jump. At no point in his treatment does he examine, theologically or historically, whether the form of the liturgy is something that can be abandoned or capriciously changed, both considered in itself (worship handed down essentially unchanged for centuries if not more than a millennium) and in light of Pius V's Quo Primum, the previous teaching on the matter. 

Others have written on this topic quite expertly, something I cannot do. I will simply point out that to mention, as Mr. Graham has done (how can he not!), the teachings of both Pius V and Benedict XVI on the matter of the Traditional Latin Mass is to throw the message of TC into the swamps of contradiction -- not the other way around, as he seems to assume. In the spirit of Fr. Antonio "Two Plus Two Equals Five" Spadaro and other papal apologists, Graham is prepared to do his part in the normalization of contradiction.

Graham says at the start of his article, "it might not be easy for our Shepherds — the Church’s bishops — to fulfill the command" of TC. Well, that is certainly true, because it's not easy to fulfill something incoherent. The bishops must both "fulfill the command" to lead us out of the 1962 Missal and be mindful that "the document offers tremendous leeway for bishops. Article 2 boldly states: 'It belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese. Therefore, it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See.'" This statement in itself contains a contradiction (as nearly every line of TC does). 

Does the bishop have the right to regulate such things or must he abide by the guidelines of the Apostolic See? The ever-handy "law of gradualism" is a concept wrested from John Paul II; see Familiaris Consortio #34: "And so what is known as 'the law of gradualness' or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with 'gradualness of the law,' as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God's law for different individuals and situations." It can't quite do the heavy lifting of reconciling the call to eradicate the Tridentine liturgy to justice owed the faithful -- and God. 

Graham's putative concern is that the authority of the papacy itself would be undermined, should the 1962 Missal not be abandoned post haste, but he can also foresee that "maybe, if we look at it all in a few years, not much really will have changed outwardly in Church liturgical celebration (at least in areas where bishops are largely favorable or indifferent to celebration of the 1962 Missal)." 

He puts the problem in a nutshell, without understanding the implications: 

"The 1962 Missal can never be the proper answer to the 1963 call to reform it, for such a claim would breach the principle of non-contradiction; one would effectively be saying that something could be “reformed” and “not reformed” simultaneously! Thus, there is always a danger in celebrating the 1962 Missal that one fundamentally rejects the call of the Council, however wonderful the older Missal liturgy may be."

Do you see the hidden assumption, that the newer document automatically supersedes the older --  that the 1970 Mass is a) a fitting conclusion derived from Vatican II's 1963 call to reform and b) that the contradiction lies in rejecting it? For there is another choice, c): the Mass of Paul VI is itself not what it purported to be (while still retaining validity), let alone Traditionis Custodes? Graham's "Thus" elides all these very real problems while wrapping his conclusions into one big ball of syllogistical error. 

But if you're there for the contradictions, you have no choice but to see them through to the end, even if it means conveniently leaving all the important issues out. I find it ironic that the very people always cautioning us not to cling to black-and-white analyses seem incapable of acknowledging complexity in matters spanning decades and whole eras, not to mention the motives, actions, and writings of those subject to forces that haven't been sorted out yet. 

Graham thinks that the real meaning of TC is theological, but he isn't ready to delve into what the Council wanted the reformed liturgy to look like (or even whether it knew), what other things the Council said besides what he quotes, whether the Mass of Paul the VI (1970) is the Mass the Council envisioned (if anything), whether the contradictions he warns against are not inherent in what Pope Francis wrote (and the question of TC's contradiction of Summorum Pontificum and Quo Primum). He isn't prepared to grapple precisely with the connection between tradition, worship, and knowledge of God (that is, theology). 

I have, until this pontificate changed my mind, characterized myself as an adherent of Pope Benedict's "reform of the Reform"; I've read a good deal of his writings. It's from that perspective that I say that I find it unintentionally ironic that Graham refers to the Mass that existed before that of Paul VI as "the Mass of John XXIII." It's Pope Benedict in Summorum Pontificum who made use of this term. As Fr. Richard Neuhaus explains:

By associating the Latin Mass that is now universally approved with John XXIII, Benedict steals a card from the deck of liberals and progressives, for whom John XXIII is always "good Pope John," in contrast to his successors. But this is much more than a deft rhetorical move. "Summorum Pontificum" is a thoroughly liberal document in substance and spirit, remembering that liberal means, as once was more commonly understood, generosity of spirit. In his letter to the bishops , Benedict is directing them to be generous in embracing the fullness of the Catholic tradition and responding to the desires of the Catholic faithful. This is proposed in contrast to the rigidity, bordering sometimes on tyranny, of a liturgical guild that mistakenly thought that the Second Vatican Council gave them a mandate to impose their ideas of liturgical reform on the entire Church. Benedict writes of the Mass of 1962 and that of 1970: "It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two Rites.’ Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite."

I fear that Graham uses the term for another purpose, to follow Pope Francis in his attempt to downplay differences in kind between the Old Mass and the Novus, the old pronouncements and the new. The idea, I take it, is to make it seem like popes just come up with Masses (just as they come up with Motus -- Traditionis Custodes, Quo Primum, what's the difference?).  But at this point, anyone who cares to delve into the matter the tiniest bit knows that the entire liturgy as a whole remained virtually unchanged from the time of its codification up until our era. It required and received reform at various points, but it never needed to be "led out of" in favor of something new. To pretend otherwise is not merely superficial; it's quite simply a lie.

Graham certainly does not grapple with the actual results of the near-universal implementation of the Mass of Paul VI (not even noting the mention of problems with the Novus Ordo made by Pope Francis in his Motu): the casual incorporation of irreverence, such that most of it has to be overlooked, even by conservative critics; the outright abuses that occur on such a regular basis that the beleaguered Mass-goer hesitates to travel or go on vacation without careful research or adoption of an attitude of fatalism; the incorporation of political agendas in prayers and visuals; the sad state of homiletics (which again, this very publication exists to remedy; one has to question its success); the blurring of fundamental roles of the sexes when they aren't trampled on; and on and on... He prefers to reduce the Traditionalist argument to a mere preference for Latin, as if the Latin in Traditional Latin Mass refers merely to language and not to the Roman rite itself, with all its rich history and meaning: "Furthermore, does the Catholic think that the 1962 Missal alone is celebrated in Latin, or is he/she aware that the current Missal can also be celebrated largely in Latin?" But is it? Let's be honest here: is it? 

Here we have an example of what Pope Francis has bestowed on the Church he has made a vow to protect: the intolerable stress of pitting obedience to him, even if what he wants could be ascertained, against obedience to the truth itself, which is above all in that very principle of non-contradiction that we see weaponized here in this article. Certainly, this effort is not new. We saw it early on when random statements from Pope Francis were explained away, and I did some of that myself at first, for who among us does not have the desire to protect the Pope's integrity from criticism? 

We saw it emerge as a consolidated professional endeavor when formal teachings began to appear: the veritable industry, mostly academic but also journalistic, of reconcilers of papal pronouncements, kept humming with its work of assuring us that allowing adultery is a development of doctrine contained in the Sixth Commandment, that the perennial teaching of the Church that capital punishment is in principle correct has changed, and that God is fine with other religions. If we see a problem, the problem is with us. In the new dispensation, we must submit to have our reason overturned.

This stress is fatal. If we don't want to lose our faith in the God of Truth, the person who imposes the stress of obeying contradiction must be resisted. Those who enable it the way Graham does in this article are, wittingly or not, accomplices to spiritual abuse. But in a special way, this article commits the offense of using subtle yet superficial arguments and faux scholarship to undermine trusting priests simply seeking some help in their quest to teach the faithful from the pulpit. Don't overlook the fact that this article is listed under the journal's "homilies" tab -- it is overtly meant to be lifted whole and presented to the people in the pews. 

Propaganda is never honorable; it's not magically normalized when put in the service of furthering false obedience in religion. Pulling the unsuspecting into the ranks of dissent from the truth is cowardly.

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