Editor’s note: In these final days of 2013, we feature some of the most interesting and popular posts of the past year. Other retrospective features have been Anthony Ruff, Pope Francis’ Liturgical Revolution, Jonathan Day, “Reading the Language of Papal Clothing,” and Fritz Bauerschmidt, “The Power of Papal Example: Whence and Whither the Reform of the Reform?“
At The Chant Café Fr Christopher Smith has posted a lyrical report on the recent conference, Sacra Liturgia 2013, held in Rome.
Its thesis is that we are entering an age of liturgical pluralism and peace, a cease-fire in the liturgy wars. The whole report is worth reading; here are a few excerpts:
There were no more suspicious glances, clerical catfights or mutual recriminations … the spirit of peace and energy that now reigns over St Peter’s on weekday mornings was also very much evident …
…going to the conference, I wondered … whether we might lose time and energy in harsh denunciations of the liturgical practices of Pope Francis, and turn on each other in division and hatred. … Nothing could be further from the truth. This was a group which truly “thought with the Church”, not in a slavish manner, but as free men and women of God. We were able to raise serious questions about the liturgical reform without having them turn into gripe sessions or anticlerical bashes. There was a profound experience of communion, conviviality, prayer and study.
There are many people who have discovered the beauty of the liturgy conceived, not in restrictive terms as saying the black and doing the red of one particular Missal, but in terms of an ars celebrandi which respects legitimate diversity. A traditionalism which looks only backwards, and only with an eye to criticism … will eventually run out of steam. … Far from being critical of Pope Francis, a traditionalism freed from being tied into the critique of Vatican II and crisis rhetoric, embued with a spirit of communion and the spirit of the liturgy, shares in the desire of the Bishop of Rome for the Church to reflect Christ ever more.
The brief reports I have heard of the conference suggest that a combative tone was not absent. And, Fr Smith positions Pope Benedict XVI as a peacemaker, the leader who has ushered in a pluralistic and more irenic age. I struggle to believe that. On both fronts, though, I would be very happy to be wrong.
I want to take this post in a somewhat different direction, building on a phrase in the title of Fr Smith’s thoughtful essay, “The Transformation of Traditionalism”. He asserts that the traditionalist movement has been transformed, or is being transformed. What would a transformed, mature traditionalism look like?
By way of opening the dialogue, let me offer four suggestions.
First, it would have a more profound sense of history – not only of the historical contingency of the liturgy and the Church, but of simple facts. As just one example: some traditionalists talk of the Council of Trent as though it was simple and straightforward: Europe was infected by the virus of Protestantism, so the bishops, speaking as one, anathematised error. None of the political manoeuvring or ambiguous language that emerged from Vatican II! In fact the council took decades even to open because of political squabbles; its agenda was highly influenced by secular princes; and on a number of issues it either failed to make a decision (scripture in the vernacular) or emerged with a somewhat ambiguous one (Mass in the vernacular).
Second, it would be more positive and less oppositional. Its starting point would not be to find errors but to look for sparks of truth everywhere. It would avoid attributing guilt by association. Its favoured Gospel story would not be Jesus expelling the moneychangers or cursing the fig tree. Again, an example: Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing presents a learned (if difficult to follow) appreciation of the Tridentine Mass. But wait, respond a number of traditionalists: Pickstock is an Anglican not a Roman Catholic, and she advocates the ordination of women!
Third, it would make much less use of satire and irony, rhetorical moves that create distance and that impede learning. Some blame the prevalence of satire on bloggers; my theory is that many traditionalist writers fancy themselves followers of GK Chesterton. Even those who dislike Chesterton tend to admire his facility with prose. None of the traditionalist writers who follow in his footsteps shares his skill. The tools of satire and irony don’t serve them well.
Finally, it would take a less ‘technical’, objectifying and consumerist approach to the liturgy. At times, traditionalist discussions remind me of my children talking about Pokémon creatures – a priest can give “real blessings” but a layperson “fires blanks”. The older blessing of water puts more “spiritual power” into holy water than the new. Yes, and Pikachu stores up electricity and zaps its enemies with lightning bolts.
A closely related trend makes some traditionalist discussions sound like motorcycle enthusiasts comparing models, or foodies discussing the latest knife. The whole “liturgical eye candy” trend has disturbing similarities to what the feminist critic Rosalind Coward termed “food porn”:
Cooking food and presenting it beautifully is an act of servitude. It is a way of expressing affection through a gift… That we should aspire to produce perfectly finished and presented food is a symbol of a willing and enjoyable participation in servicing others. Food pornography exactly sustains these meanings relating to the preparation of food. The kinds of picture used always repress the process of production of a meal. They are always beautifully lit, often touched up.
(Cited in Wikipedia; see Coward, Female Desire: Women’s Sexuality Today. Paladin, 1984 p. 103).
The food writer Anthony Bourdain speaks of
the “objectification” of food: displays or descriptions of food — and its preparation – for an audience that has no intention of actually cooking or eating any of it … Like the best of pornography, the best of food porn depicts beautiful “objects” arranged in ways one might never have previously considered; star chefs, like the porn stars before them, doing things on paper which few amateurs would ever try at home.
(in the San Francisco Chronicle, 4 November 2001)
To support Fr Smith’s view that things may be changing for the better, another priest, Fr Gabriel Burke, ended his report on the conference with the following note:
The only fly in the ointment was a well known American priest blogger who, while in choir dress, distracted me and others by taking photos. He seemed to have forgotten all that we had learned the last two days.
Thanks to The Chant Café and Fr Smith for a thought-provoking essay.
Do you notice a transformation in traditionalist circles? What has changed? What would benefit from further change?