Both-And

To speak of a Catholic “Both-And” has become something of a cliché – which is unfortunate, since it expresses an important truth.

Either Scripture or Tradition? Either faith or good works? Both-And, Catholics are fond of saying.

To be sure, Scripture and Tradition are one source of revelation. And good works do not earn grace but are our response in faith to a God who always and entirely has the initiative in saving us. But let it pass for now.

And some have called for a distinction: not every issue in Catholic theology is a Both-And. Some issues call for a Barthian, dialectical Either-Or, even for Catholics. Sin and Virtue, for example, is surely not a Both-And, not even for the most thoughtless Catholic lefties. As our former grad school dean Bill Cahoy once put it: “It’s not either Either-Or or Both-And, but both Both-And and Either-Or.”

Got that?

But this is a post about Both-Ands. I think of several:

  • Both meal and sacrifice;
  • Both horizontal and vertical;
  • Both immanent and transcendent;
  • Both symbolic and real.

Others could no doubt add to the list.

In all these cases, it’s important to understand what Both-And means in Catholic theology. In each case the two elements of the pair are not in some kind of a zero-sum game, as if more of the one means less of the other. The two elements are mutually supportive.

The more the Mass is a true meal, properly understood, the more it takes on its true sacrificial nature. The more the Mass is a true sacrifice, properly understood, the more it takes on its true character as a meal. The kind of eucharistic meal we believe in is the kind that calls us, in Christ, to offer ourselves to one another for the sake of the world – which is pretty much the whole point of sacrifice for Christians. The kind of eucharistic sacrifice we believe is in the kind that does something, that saves us by drawing us into the dynamic of reconciliation and deepened communal bonds – which means it needs to be a truly communal meal.

OK, I’ve worked through the first one on my list. I leave it to you to work out the others. The “answer” in each case follows upon what I did with the first, but each pair requires its own particular nuancing.

Now here’s another pair that isn’t a zero-sum game: God and humanity. “The glory of God is a human fully alive,” Irenaeus said. Rahner reminded us that humans do not have to become less for God to become more. God is glorified when humans are sanctified, and vice versa. And note, nothing in this detracts from the absolute priority or perfection of God.

I bet you’ve already intuited my main point. There are those who say that the Mass has become a mere fraternal banquet, and the solution to the problem is to reassert its sacrificial aspect. The Mass has become too horizontal, so let’s dial that back and bring in more of the vertical. And so forth.

Nothin’ doing, I’d say.

awr

Share:

14 comments

  1. Agreed. Arguments that insist on that zero-sum game have become infected with the worst of a certain modern heresy, the indulgence to turn beloved encounters into contests. Nothing need be worshiped at the altar of competition.

  2. I forget where I read it, possibly on this blog, but someone analyzed the language of the revised Roman Missal and calculated that the ratio of meal references to sacrifice references was something like 60/40. Can anyone remind us of that study? It was a good corrective to anyone who claims that one or the other has been forgotten in the current books.

  3. “Now here’s another pair that isn’t a zero-sum game: God and humanity”

    Whenever I’ve tried to think through how Jesus can be fully divine and fully human without it being a zero-sum game, my head has ended up exploding. Reading your post, I’m wondering now whether my error is to be thinking that “fully” is a synonym for “wholly”.

  4. Another common and implied but false dichotomy: the Mass as a re-presentation of Calvary vs the Mass as a re-presentation of the Last Supper. Both are incomplete if not considered within the fuller contexts of the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery and the eschatological foretaste of the Wedding Banquet of The Lamb.

  5. I don’t think it is an idiosyncratic thought to suggest that the liturgy needed to be reformed because some aspects were out of whack, out of proportion, out of balance – however you’d wish to state it. For example, that the people’s proper role in worship was not sufficiently brought out in the pre-reform mass. Or that devotionals exercised so prominent a role among the people that the mass was not fully appreciated as the summit of worship and the font from which the church’s activity flows. Or that the introductory rites should be simplified in the reformed mass.

    More is not always better, and I didn’t take Fr. Ruff’s post to be an argument that more, more, more of everything is ok. Rather, he seems to be saying that, when it comes to worship, two just and true aspects of a thing aren’t in opposition to one another, but instead reinforce and deepen one another. The priest’s role and the people’s role aren’t in competition; instead they complement one another. Bringing the people’s role to a more full, conscious and active state as the reformed mass does, doesn’t thereby “demote” the priest’s role. And yet this erroneous conception of the priest as demoted surely explains part of the traditionalist agenda – as seen for example by the rather exalted vestment preferences in some traditionalist circles. The mass brings out the real and true nature of priestly ministry, and the real and true nature of our ministry which we all exercise by virtue of our baptism. They complement and reinforce one another.

  6. Theoretically, what you say makes perfect sense. But then you commit a fallacy in your conclusion:

    “I bet you’ve already intuited my main point. There are those who say that the Mass has become a mere fraternal banquet, and the solution to the problem is to reassert its sacrificial aspect. The Mass has become too horizontal, so let’s dial that back and bring in more of the vertical. And so forth.”

    The reason this is a fallacy is that, as a matter of fact, certain symbolisms are incompatible with each other. You cannot have Mass facing eastwards and Mass facing the people simultaneously. Each brings a different aspect to the fore, but a choice has to be made. You can’t have the numinous and sacral qualities of chant and polyphony AND the toe-tapping sing-along quality of contemporary pop music at the same time. You’ve got to choose. So there’s a pretty obvious sense in which EITHER the vertical OR the horizontal element will be emphasized.

    Here, the argument can and should be made that one of the two elements in your list does, in fact, have predominance. Thus, grace really is more fundamental than works; and God is greater than man, even in the hypostatic union of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the liturgy, the sacrifice is foremost, and it is a sacrifice of which we are (wondrously) invited to partake. The vertical is foremost, because liturgy is the worship of God first and foremost — adoration, contrition, supplication, thanksgiving. The horizontal follows from this and is distorted if not seen as flowing from it.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      Of course there are issues that are Either-Or and a choice must be made. I explicitly said this. Not every supposed Both-And really is one – and hence I registered my difficulties with putting grace/works in this category, and didn’t include it on my list. And then I let it pass. You and I agree on this point. I’ve reworded my opening (“…are fond of saying”) to make my original point clearer – that I’m leery of some of the things some people put into the Both/And category. Thanks for the helpful feedback.

      My point is that some supposed Either-Ors are better seen as mutually complimentary and not zero-sum. I would include meal/sacrifice in this list, and also immanent/transcendent. We disagree here, and we can leave it at that.

      God is greater than men and women – we agree on this point too. My point is that that doesn’t make it a zero sum game, and we don’t need to put down humanity in order to exalt God.

      awr

    2. @Peter Kwasniewski:

      “The vertical is foremost, because liturgy is the worship of God first and foremost — adoration, contrition, supplication, thanksgiving. The horizontal follows from this and is distorted if not seen as flowing from it.”

      And the horizontal is foremost, because God desires mercy, not sacrifice. God gave us Christ to be our savior, “who, though he was in the form of God… took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.” Christ called us friends, not slaves, and that bond is the basis for the Church. The vertical is distorted if we forget who God is, and that he came as a human to save us.

      It is not a zero sum game. (sorry. It has just been bothering me that the vertical side was expressed without the equally important horizontal.)

  7. “You can’t have the numinous and sacral qualities of chant and polyphony AND the toe-tapping sing-along quality of contemporary pop music at the same time. You’ve got to choose.” A breathtakingly fundamentalist reduction of the matter and a classic example of “either-or” written with the finest of prejudice.

  8. Suggest that some choose to focus on either-or when their theological ideology can no longer sustain analysis; stand up to historical investigation; and ignores the early Church understanding and the lived experiences of faith. e.g. meal/sacrifice.
    Examples abound – EWTN, Fr. Z, Catholic League, The Wanderer, to name a few.

  9. Why do we always think we have the ‘power’ or the ‘authority’ or even the wisdom to discern channels of revelation? Judaism never seemed to have had that problem. ‘The heavens unfurl the glory of God…..’ ‘My God, you search me and you know me….’ There is more than a grain of truth in Protestantism which doesn’t seek to restrict the means of communication God has with us. But somewhere along the line, though I am open to the accusation of parochialism in time, that we determined we needed to be protective of God an allowing only 2 channels of revelation, by deciding the ways the Deity is allowed to speak to us. This works well in the Catholic Roman Model because it is a system based on channels of grace, and therefor needs to be endorsed by channels of revelation. But supposing there are more paths than one to God? And that the One we refer to as God is, in the powerful words of Bernadette Farrell, a God beyond ALL names?

    Either or…. or both and. While we flourish in our vertical, theocentric image of a self-revealing God, do we thrive as equally in our horizontal awareness of the God among us, the Stranger who joins us on the road to Emmaus? The Roman Missal would not endorse this. Yesterday’s Ascension was all about ‘God going up’ and us ‘going out to the whole world’. But the model which came to my mind was not going ‘out to’ but ‘into’. A world charged with the presence of God (to misquote Gerard Manley Hopkins). But we certainly don’t seem to have an effective God, One whom we’re forever praising, when it come to the socio-economic and political arena. The God of the liberation theologian is One who intervenes in human history to break down structures of injustice. Rome balks at that idea because this kind of intervention can’t be regulated by doctrines or isms.

    I listen for the vox in deserto, where there are no books, no rules, only paths to be discovered. And while we wait at the foot of the mountain to hear the next utterance…. perhaps he had already gone…

  10. Still not sure about

    both symbolic and real

    Don’t we believe that symbols ARE real? Otherwise, that horrible USA Today question “Is it real or just a symbol?” (the sacramental version of “Have you stopped beating your wife?”) question still has its pinnings underneath it.

  11. Alan – our theology experts spent hours and days on the significant differences and distinctions between *sign* and *symbol*.

    To add above – ideology must have an *enemy* in order to support its own navel-gazing. Once the search for an adequate rationale fails, then an *invented* enemy props up the ideology e.g. meal becomes the *enemy*; vernacular becomes the enemy; anything other than Gregorian Chant becomes the enemy; horizontal worship is the enemy; etc.

  12. When I was in seminary I was taught that sacraments are sacred symbols. There need be no opposition between these terms, but some traditionalists cling to the notion that the word symbol and symbolic infers un-real. They are fond of claiming that Catholics in very large numbers no longer believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist but only symbolically. I assert that this is pure nonsense. If Catholics prefer the word symbolic to real it is only because in common parlance “real” often infers physical. Thankfully, most Catholics don’t believe they are receiving the physical flesh and blood of Jesus Christ but are partaking of it sacramentally. Since they have little or no understanding of Aristotelian or Thomistic philosophy they are barely, if at all, conversant in the language of substance and accidents. But they firmly believe that when they receive Holy Communion they are receiving, in the words of Jesus, true food and true drink. They “take and eat, take and drink” so that the Lord can unite them to himself and to all the members of his body so they may be transformed and go in peace to glorify God by the way they live their lives. For fifty years we have been teaching that Christ is truly or really present in the Mass in four wonderful and distinct ways:
    In the people who have gathered in His name
    In the proclamation of the Word
    In the ministry of the priest
    In the most holy sacrament of the altar.
    While we give the pride of place to the Eucharist, Christ is no less real in the others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *