Constructive Conversations #4: Ruff responds (9-25)

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?”, St. James asks (4:1).

This dialogue between Christopher Altieri and Anthony Ruff OSB began with Altieri’s first statement (#1) and Ruff’s response (#2) and Altieri’s response (#3) which are found here. Below is Ruff’s response to Altieri #3.

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Christopher, thanks for your thoughtful and challenging reply. So much to reply to! I’ll try to get some things out of the way briefly so I can focus in greater depth on the continuity/rupture question you raised.

  • “Irrational, absurd” – thanks for calling me on my use of those terms of escalation. We have to be able to do that for each other, and I acknowledge that I overshot. Concerns about the Amazon synod from all sides are legitimate. I agree that we’re not anywhere close to schism territory and those on the “Left” should avoid that inflammatory term. What we do have is a lack of what a German bishop just called a good “Streitkultur.” (But I’m getting complaints about foreign terms so from here on out I’ll stick with the… vernacular!) We need a better “culture of argument.” We need more mutual trust whereby people can affirm the legitimate concerns in others’ statements. We need more of the principles of dialogue from the “Catholic Common Ground Initiative.” (And I’m happy to be invited to CCGI’s gathering in Chicago in a week at which they’re looking at jump-starting their efforts.) I think media on all sides have a role in contributing to a better culture of dialogue – we’re trying to do our part at Pray Tell with this little series. It’d be helpful if Raymond Arroyo at EWTN, for example, could do more to help viewers see the complexity of issues and the legitimacy of a variety of viewpoints, instead of sometimes letting Fr. Gerald Murray (bright mind, his) advocate positions about the liturgy that seem to minimize what Vatican II said about diversity and inculturation.
  • Ember days and rogation days: I’m open. Good connections to environmental concerns are obvious. I would want to think through, though, what they would really mean in contexts where there is little connection anymore to agriculture as was the case when these arose (I grew up on a family farm, by the way); and I’d want the rollout not to appear as part of a “reform of the reform” agenda of a faction, but something of and for the whole church.
  • My concerns about the synod preparatory document? To varying extents, I actually share every concern articulated by Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider. They’ve usefully pulled together the most problematic bits all in one place. I’m hoping a good synod discussion starting with great sensitivity to the local culture and respect for their ways of doing theology and worshiping can still affirm the centrality of Christ and the Gospel, which must transform all cultures including the Amazon. The goal is to bring all to Christ and to the waters of baptism. I hope it’s not too old-fashioned or imperialistic to say that! As I wrote in an editorial Amen Corner I just submitted for our Worship journal, “Christ is the only savior of humanity. In a globalized world that affords heightened awareness of religious and cultural pluralism, we must reaffirm this central truth of Christianity, particularly in progressive circles where it perhaps has weakened.” But Burke’s and Schneider’s approach is not good – it’s overstated, lacking in humility, attacking positions they’ve put in the worst possible light. Could we all please admit that the Catholic Church historically has failed to respect non-western cultures? Could we admit that we have to be open to new approaches in places like the Amazon? And if you analyze the Burke/Schneider claims of heresy with a lawyerly precision, you’ll see that the evidence they proffer does not quite support their charges in any case. And with their manner of attack, setting themselves up as the sole arbiters of truth, they are unlikely to get a fair hearing – meaning the church risks missing out on what is legitimate in their concerns.
  • Which pope is really collegial, John Paul II or Francis? I’m not sure I have a lot to add to your comments, except that we all view “wins” and “losses” from the standpoint of our side! You are correct, John Paul did appoint and promote people with viewpoints other than his own (Kasper, Martini), but it’s still true that he reoriented the worldwide episcopate in a direction, and it wasn’t pointing away from him. Francis is doing something similar, but some of his appointments have been right-leaning too.
  • Women deacons or subdeaconesses? I sometimes think Francis opened up discussion of female deacons and married priests so he could advance just one of the two (the latter) and emerge as a man of compromise! But after more than six years observing his papacy, I honestly cannot tell whether everything is carefully plotted out or it really is as chaotic as he allows it to appear. I don’t agree with you that only subdeaconesses are possible based on precedent. My study of the first several centuries of the church (thanks, Paul Bradshaw) has convinced me that the Lord left the church much freedom in developing ministries to suit her needs, and female deacons are possible. The binding precedent is not to forms of office which the church developed in previous contexts, but to a mindset from the early centuries of letting the Spirit lead us in necessary developments. And if anyone says this is “modernism,” this is where I repeat that it is never helpful to bring that term into discussions if it’s informed by polarities (“modernism vs. neoscholastic orthodoxy”) from the early 20th century which Vatican II overcame. I’m not saying you’re doing that, Christopher. But some of Pope Francis’s opponents do that. I think Pope Francis’s address on the topic of development was very helpful.

Well, all that wasn’t as brief as I had hoped, but now I want to talk about my primary concern, which is the liturgical debate about continuity and rupture and Consilium’s implementation of the Vatican II reforms.

I disagree with you, Christopher, that the postconciliar liturgical reforms went beyond the Council’s mandate. The Council left a very, very wide berth for how to implement its liturgical vision, and the reformed liturgy emerging from it could well have been more radical or less radical than what we got. In its present form it falls well within the Council’s vision.

I would like to step back from stating all the usual things “my side” says, with the attendant ritual behavior of what I would expect “your side” to say in return, and attempt to state why I think there are different liturgical camps interpreting the Council differently.

It’s this: In Sacrosanctum Concilium there is a distinction between the foundational principles which implicitly give a vision and secondary directives. Regarding the latter, we can cherry pick our favorite directives and shoot them at each other endlessly (“pride of place” for chant and “grow organically” and the like coming from the Right). But the individual directives aren’t the interpretative key. The key is in the deep structures of what liturgy is and who does it. Yes, there is a “spirit of Vatican II”! And that’s where the revolution is – a rupture if there ever was one. It is a rupture of Trent/missal of 1570 vs. Vatican II/missal of 1970. There is continuity, to be sure, in many of the basics (bread, wine, priest, supper, sacrifice, memorial, praise, thanksgiving, real presence, etc.). But at Trent and in the 1570 missal there is little or no mention of the congregation. A priest, using lots of European court ceremonial which is to be universally followed, does the liturgy for the congregation so they can “get grace.” They may well be inspired, even sanctified, but there are not really agents. The contrast to Vatican II, the rupture, should be obvious. And it is not lessened by the papal statements of 1903-1963 that call for active participation in the Latin liturgy and seem to suggest continuity. Rather, the rupture between 1570 and 1970 stands, even though the 1963/1970 breakthrough was foreshadowed in increasingly stronger ways in the documents leading up to Vatican II. Papal calls for active participation from 1903 on were basically attempts to make the old liturgy do what it could not ever do satisfactorily, until the breakthrough at Vatican II acknowledged that and made the break so as to arrive at a new form and a new paradigm.

It’s as if one were given the foundational, principled vision to “do whatever necessary to fix the barn, shore up the walls so they support the roof and the livestock are safe,” but with directions also to preserve the paint on the outer walls and keep the feed troughs and watering system. Well, work begins and it turns out that one wall is worse than realized and has to be entirely replaced, and there’s now better paint available for its outer wall so it makes sense to use that on the existing walls as well but it has a different sort of shine to it, and excavations to replace the wall find that the watering system is on the verge of disintegrating and it’s most sensible to replace it with better watering systems such as are now available. Are these decisions faithful to the original vision of reform? They go beyond the specifics originally issued and involve decisions not originally foreseen, but they all are faithful to the overarching mandate to fix the barn so it serves its purpose of housing livestock. It is in this way that everything the Consilium did is in accord with the deep vision of Vatican II, even it their individual decisions were not and could not entirely be foreseen by all or any of the bishops who voted for Sacrosanctum Concilium.

I don’t expect that what I just wrote is persuasive to you or anyone else, Christopher. But I hope it is helpful in making sense of our differences to see that so-called “progressives” give great weight to a “vision” of Vatican II liturgy that they believe is found in the documents, but “conservatives” do not think is found there.

Maybe I should add that I’m a supporter of Latin Gregorian Chant (I sing it every week with all our grad liturgical music students, and every week with the schola of monks that sings an introit at Sunday Mass!), and of Renaissance polyphony (I founded a new chapel choir two years ago in our grad school that sings Renaissance among other things), and of pipe organs (I’m an abbey organist and very excited about our forthcoming organ expansion). But I’ve turned my priorities upside down so that those things aren’t intrinsically good in a supra-cultural way, or good because authority calls for them, as I used to think. Rather, one has to start with the Vatican II vision of liturgy as act-of-congregation-in-a-cultural-context, and be open in principle as to whether there should be much or little or no chant or polyphony or pipe organ music. Even when the documents seem to say that there should be those things.

My read of the scholarly landscape is this: there is a rather small bench of conservative intellectuals advocating in various degrees a “Reform of the Reform” and claiming in various degrees that continuity was wrongly broken after Vatican II and Summorum Pontificum is helpful in reconstituting continuity. They tend to repeat the same set of slogans, and they’ve pretty much said what they have to say. They haven’t really engaged the “deep structures” of the Vatican II reforms, and if they ever do, I don’t think their arguments will hold up. Their position has been artificially propped up by the highly idiosyncratic argumentation of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, but it will not and cannot stand long term. It would have fallen under its own weight and on its intellectual merits by now if there weren’t cultural dynamics (especially reactions of fear to the rapid secularization and de-Christianization of Western societies) propping it up.

On the other, the so-called “progressive” side (I’d call it “mainline”), the scholarship is deep and extensive. Grillo (Beyond Pius V) convinced me on the deep structures of the old and the reformed liturgy; Faggioli (True Reform) convinced me that Sacrosanctum is programmatic for the council’s entire ecclesiological vision (revolution), O’Malley (What Happened at Vatican II) convinced me that there is a “spirit” of the Council found in its texts; Rush (Still Interpreting Vatican II) convinced me that there is true continuity in Sacrosanctum but it’s not in the particulars; Melloni and Alberigo and a host of others convinced me how to go about interpreting an event like Vatican II.

To apply all this to the Amazon synod: some of the people critiquing the Amazon synod seem to have a rather Eurocentric vision of liturgy and theology which is not sufficiently informed by the more revolutionary principles of Vatican II as I understand them. I don’t want to brush with too broad a stroke though, either: I sense, Christopher, that you are deeply committed both to a rather traditionalist sense of liturgy and an abiding respect for the local people in the Amazon who have to make their decisions about how to celebrate their liturgy and how to do their work of evangelization. Your way of putting the pieces together is deeply intriguing to me.


P.S. Is it useful to quibble further about the vote to drop “lingua latina” from the Sacrosanctum description of the solemn liturgy, or should we just drop it? I’d like to go on record, though, standing by what I wrote. 😊