Monday, June 18, 2007

Headed to D.C. for Sacred Music Colloquium

Very, very early tomorrow I'll drive to D.C. for the CMAA Sacred Music colloquium, which I attended last year and blogged about. This year, the music director for the two parishes here will join me--in fact, he quickly signed up, and because I did so rather late, it rather looked as though I would not make it. I'll be there through the weekend, and--a shout-out to friends in the area--I hope we can get together. I may stay around a day or two for some of that.

This is a small but significant movement, indicating something important happening more broadly in the life of the Catholic Church in our country. What do I mean?

> The re-integration of timeless, venerable, deeply meaningful and beautiful liturgical music into the general experience of American Catholics. I mean principally chant and polyphony.

> A re-thinking more broadly about the liturgy. What's really interesting is that some of the grumbling comes from those who see themselves heirs of the old "Liturgical Movement" which arose in the 20th Century, and led to the Council's liturgical work, are now the "old guard" who swat at anyone associated with the "New Liturgical Movement" (a term coined by our holy father, before he was pope, by the way), and ludicrously call them...wait for it: "reactionaries." Hahahaha! I mean, you have to say it: "you wanted liturgical reconsideration, re-evaluation...well, you got it!"

> Most fundamentally, the reconsideration just how to interpret what Vatican II truly means. The best summary of this is expressed by two high-faluting terms: a "hermeneutic of rupture" vs. a "hermeneutic of continuity."

Now, the next 10 paragraphs or so, I will explain some of this, because most folks don't spend time on these subjects. But you may want to skip down for the "so what" question.

"Hermeneutic" means method or principles of how something is interpreted--each of us sees things through some interpretive "lens." In social and political discussions we do this all the time. Martin Sheen came to Dayton recently to visit a homeless shelter, and looking at signs of increased need, seems to think government should do more. Someone else, beholding the very same facts, can just as reasonably conclude government should do less; or, perhaps, the futility of seeking further solutions along that route. The reason this is important to point out is that once people in a political discussion actually notice they are looking through different "lenses," and they start talking about that--that's when the really interesting conversation begins.

Well, that's where we are -- or rather, perhaps and hopefully, where we are soon to be -- regarding Vatican II and the life of the Church as most Catholics experience it. Again, that will be more fruitful, if we can have that conversation, than many of the contentious discussions we've had in recent years about the Council, the liturgy, devotion, discipline in the Church, etc.

The "hermeneutic of rupture" views Vatican II as essentially a break with the past, and it has been the dominant, if not all but exclusive, way of viewing the Council. Very curiously (but not surprising to me, from my political background), it is something that bitter enemies agree on! I.e., both the "progressive" crowd at one extreme, and the "traditional" crowd at the other, both insist on this motif. The "progressive" end does so to justify a marginalization of what went before the Council, even to the point of a kind of test of orthodoxy! I.e., if you don't agree with marginalizing the old, if you like it too much, doubt is actively cast on your "commitment to the Church of today." The "traditional" end does so to justify rejecting Vatican II, and a whole train of reaction comes in its wake, moving in both directions along the timeline: you have "traditionalists" who find less and less to like since the Council; and you have those who, seeking to explain this catastrophe (as they see it), go looking for antecedents -- and some things I've read see them as far back as Pius X and Leo XIII, a reasonable hypothesis, if they were right about the Council.

As I say, this hermeneutic has been overwhelmingly dominant, too often without much serious reflection. When you have DREs, catechists, liturgists, priests, teachers, and therefore, the faithful, continually speaking of two churches, before and after the Council, you see my point.

The problem is, there is but One Church; or, there is No Church. I mean that the Catholic Church--if she is who we profess her to be, must be essentially one, or it is none. Meaning however apparent and interesting the "discontinuities" in relation to the Council's impact, the continuities are vastly more significant. And we risk a grave misunderstanding of the Church and of Christ's promises to the Church, if we miss that.

Example: so-called traditionalists who are lurching into very odd ecclesiology: they seem to do just fine without a pope, they -- I mean the most extreme fringe -- are on the verge of forgetting about the papacy altogether, as they approach a half-century without a valid pope. (Some claim Pius XII, who died in 1958, was last validly chosen pope, others, John XXIII, who died in 1963. If there are other variations, it isn't important for our discussions here--other than that this bizarre idea has taken root among those who call themselves "traditional.") A broader, damaging effect I believe is that many, if not most, Catholics have almost lost touch with the profound revelation that the Church is far more than an "institution," but is really a supernatural, organic being: "the Body of Christ." A sound understanding of the true identity of the Church cuts through all the issues of "what about what happened in history," and all the "what becomes of Protestants, Hindus and atheists?" and all the superficial "two church" discussions of Vatican II.

...Which is why the "two church" motif, the "hermeneutic of discontinuity"* is going to defend it's ground tenaciously. Because when you reconsider the whole mindset, the questions being raised about the liturgy, past, present and future, take on a vastly more significance. A lot of what has taken hold has little to justify it if the hermeneutic of continuity is applied. I.e., it's not even a question of, "should we have Mass entirely with Latin and chant" but merely, "how can we justify having Mass from which such elements are banished? When you see the Church as continually "reinvented," who cares?

There is a seemingly unassailable argument: "you can't turn back the clock," aka, "those days will never return," or "its too late" or "the Church as a whole just won't go there." Set aside the very specious "turn back" and "go back" stuff. Really, that is not an argument. If "going back" is a bad thing, then first, recall that much of the justification for Vatican II's reforms was, precisely, "going back" to truths and practices of long ago, that had been obscured or forgotten! How many know that? Read the documents, particularly on Christian initiation--it's all about "going back"! Second, if "going back" is bad, then toss out the Scriptures, for heaven's sake!

Also, this sort of argument makes assertions about the future that no one but God can meaningfully make. I simply have too little information to know what can, and cannot, happen. I think we do better to leave that to God, or history, or however you want to describe what will determine future outcomes. Even our recent history is punctuated by events and outcomes that smart people all said would never happen. Reagan was being foolish and dangerous in saying, "tear down this wall." The Zionist movement was ridiculous. Hitler was no one to take seriously. The sunny, almost euphoric anticipation of the future, as viewed by the world powers, circa 1900, as they looked ahead to the coming century. Abolish the slave trade, Mr. Wilberforce? Don't be daft. And so it goes.

Now, some might wonder what I think is the practical effect of all this.

Some will say, how naive, he thinks this will sweep the nation. No, I don't. I do not see any imminent upheaval or dramatic change in Catholic liturgy in this country. But remember, the idea of "revolution" did not always mean "upheaval," but recall it's meaning in astronomy--a gradual, orderly turning. Nothing to be afraid of. And such an outcome may, perhaps, be coming. God alone knows. But the "sit down and accept the inevitable" argument doesn't wash.

Others will get rather frightened. I had a parishioner who told me she knew that what I had in mind was making the whole Mass in Latin. She was sure of it. Nevermind I have no such intention, and have said nothing of the sort, and have explicitly said otherwise. She told me, that's what she "read between the lines."

Of course, one of the shocks for some people is merely to discover that Vatican II never abolished the use of Latin, even for the entirety of the Mass. So I have no power, other than arbitrary, to promise we'll "never have" an all-Latin Mass. I.e., I've raised the possibility of a periodic weekday Mass mostly in Latin, but haven't done it; the cardinal in charge of liturgy in Rome, Arinze, himself said a Sunday Mass in Latin, in parishes, would be a good idea. Will that come? I don't have a crystal ball. All I can say is that is an extremely ambitious thing, and I am aiming for vastly more humble things. And everything we have done, I've told people we were going to do. Use a bit of Latin, more than in the past.

So...back to the question more practical folks may ask: "who cares?"

This is what is going on in the life of our Church. It may not be the task of most parishioners to wrestle with these things, but it is the task of our pope, our bishops, and to some degree, our pastors. In a word--we have to get these things right! I mean, maybe we should never have had the Council, okay, that's an argument (not mine, by the way). But we did! Now, we have to think about what the Council said, what the fact of it happening, meant, and try to get it right. And we're going to have several "drafts" of that. You and I are working on, perhaps, the "second draft" of "implementing Vatican II. Sorry, you don't do that very quickly.

So, this is happening, and it's going to keep happening for our lifetimes. And many may not know a hermeneutic from a Herman Munster, but they do want to know what's going on with the Mass. They do want to know why their pastor thinks its important to use Latin, to do more than the minimum.

Does it matter?

Honestly, the answer could be, No, it doesn't. That is a possible answer. Because, after all, it may be just what a brother priest said to me--I am not making this up--that it "doesn't matter" to Jesus whether we use bread and wine, why not something else? Maybe it really doesn't matter if we have the Eucharist, if we have Mass--at all? Why should pouring water and saying words...matter? Why should muttering words in the ears of a priest, and his words back, matter? A smear of oil on the forehead? Who cares?

I really don't know what you believe about such things. But as Christians, and moreso, as Catholics, we believe God became a human being, according to his plan and providence. He chose to make certain things matter. He chose the elements and essential form of the sacraments, and he chose the form of the the Church. And he is the Lord of providence; the Holy Spirit, despite all other commentary, is the pilot of the Church's navigation of the perilous seas of history, and without being able to express just why, it remains intensely intuitive that how that actually happened, in the vast bulk of our history, cannot and must not be simply...set aside! I mean THE LITURGY.

Our seminarians, staying with us this summer, recently cleaned up the church basement. The easy thing would be simply, "throw it all out." But I said, no, we have to figure out carefully what to keep, what to throw away. Humility says, "I may see no reason to keep this, but time may eventually show me what I couldn't see." This is how church basements get to be such messes; yet St. Mary's did need attention. The same is even more true with the liturgy, which is, after all, miraculously bound up with the Divine in a way that church basements almost never are.

As a pastor, it really would be easier to ignore it all. That is what a lot of pastors are doing. And I don't blame them, there is so much else we can fruitfully do, it's not as though they are inactive. It would be easier to wait until "higher ups" insisted on this or that, so that when folks grumble, as they will, over "more change," the pastor can point somewhere else. Again, no blame--because you can only fight so many battles at a time, so maybe other pastors have chosen better than I, in postponing grappling with these liturgical issues.

My approach is, right or wrong, to raise the question, and to invite parishioners to join the discussion--but not in terms of liking or not liking this or that, although that's very understandable. But would it shock you if I said there are things I don't like about the liturgy, as it is? As I'm expected to celebrate it? Shall I act on what I like, rather than what I believe the Church expects, and in some cases, mandates? So why do I ask the same of parishioners? Welcome to the priesthood of all believers, a la Vatican II!

We're going to have a series of talks beginning July 23 on the holy father's recent exhortation on the Eucharist; and it will include reference to Vatican II materials, the current norms, and the pope's other writings on the liturgy. There will be discussion most welcome, but the focus is what the Church calls for, and what the successor to Peter teaches.

* I changed this to discontinuity to correct an obvious error (MEF 7:45 pm).


Dad29 said...

Best wishes to ALL who are at the Colloquium.

And please extend my fond long-distance greetings to Fr. S., who puts it all together.

Patrick said...

Wonderful post...I'm teaching a course on Ecclesiology, and I think I'll pass out your post as a discussion point!

I just spent class today reminding that at least the three main constitutions flowed from encyclicals of Pius XII. Mediator Dei turned into Sacrosanctum Concilium, Mystici Corporis Christi turned into Lumen Gentium, and Divino Afflante Spiritu formed Dei Verbum. Anyone who claims that Vatican II broke from Church History hasn't read Pius XII...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that wonderful explanation...i don't really understand it all though but am mighty glad that Priests like you & Fr Tim Finigan do!

God bless

Anonymous said...

Father, I'm so happy that you'll be at the Colloquium after all! You and all the attendees will be in my prayers this week -- and I'd love to be there again this year. DIdn't work out, but God willing, next year.

Have a wonderful, wonderful few days in DC, and please pray for me as well!

Patricia Gonzalez

Mary Margaret said...

Father, I am really enjoying hearing how you are trying to implement gradual, sensible liturgical changes at your parishes. I have long felt that we foolishly threw the baby out with the bath water when the new liturgy was promulgated. There are certainly changes that I welcome (love the additional reading, the new three-year schedule, more responses from the general congregation, and probably, a lot of things that I don't really remember) but I have observed the loss of the sense of the sacred in the Holy Mass. Not that it matters, but I think you are doing things just right--more Latin and chant, without going Tridentine. Nothing against the TLM, but I doubt that most parishes want or need it.

God bless you, Father. If I am ever in your vicinity in Ohio, I'll definitely come to Mass at one of your parishes.

Anonymous said...


what a great post - even I can understand - the Mass is most important

to further the goal of widespread discussion, why not write a book??

Tom S. said...

Thank you for your wonderful and insightful post. You do write really well, Father. And you've got a good head on your shoulders.

Maybe you should write a book.

Cantor said...


How would one procure a Lectionary in Latin? Or, would we have to construct our own readings from the Order of Readings and the Nova Vulgata? The Lectionarium from is listed as being from 1970 (i.e. not updated for the 1981 Order of Readings) and unavailable regardless.

Father Martin Fox said...


I don't know. I suppose there might be a Latin lectionary published, but I know nothing about it. Is there really much demand for that? I.e., the focus of most people I know seeking to re-include Latin in the celebration of the Mass focus on the prayers, there seems to be little interest in Latin readings, that I know of.

Cantor said...


I agree that there seems to be little interest in having readings in Latin.

It seems to me that there is value in this for multicultural liturgies: for example, in a parish that has strong Spanish- and English-speaking populations, I can see some value in Latin readings at Triduum liturgies, possibly intermingled with vernaculars.

I have often thought that major churches (cathedrals, tourist-y places, etc.) ought to have at least one regular Sunday Mass entirely in Latin; travelers, then, could become accustomed to the use of translational hand missals.

beez said...


Thank you Father for, among other things, helping me to see that I may, in fact, be on the right track here. As someone who returned to the Church through a Tridentine Rite, I was surrounded by the very people who sit on the verge of schism. (My parish only became a parish when the SSPX opened one in the same city!)

I walked the "traditionalist" line for a while, but I finally realized that that was, well, stupid. As you say, it ultimately argues against a Church since there can't be two, there is either one or none.

So, thank you. Because if I can find myself agreeing with someone who has become a "must read" for me, I must be on the right track.

Anonymous said...