Friday, October 22, 2010

Thoughts from Theology on Tap (10-22-2010)

Warning: I'm writing this, and I'm not a sacramental theologian. My thoughts are somewhat scattered; this should be taken as a slightly frustrated set of thoughts, and not as a well-structured argument. Please do not attempt to engage this as if it were argument.

Went to Theology on Tap tonight. Lots of good discussion. The priest who gave the talk that night was discussing the Eucharist and the Mass. Now one thing he'd said struck me wrong, which was that he almost seemed to suggest that the Eucharist being an object of adoration was wrong. (Someone, much to my relief, asked about this, and I was delighted by his clarification which seemed to suggest that he was more against people going to Mass just to adore the Eucharist and ignoring the fact that (a) it was also to be received, and (b) the Mass is not merely to be observed and wondered at but also taken part in. There was a lot of spirited debate because he said some things (not all of which were correct, or correctly phrased, in my mind) that seemed to denigrate the Tridentine Latin Mass. People of course stood up in defense of the TLM, and there was a lot of debate about things that in my mind don't hold so much water either way--things like how many of the faithful want, or would want, a TLM if it were offered at their parish, etc. Those things are important, but not the most important thing, I don't think. And I don't want to give the impression that I think only the TLM defenders were contributing to discussion that may or may not have been entirely fruitful. Lots of things the speaker said seemed questionable and were very hard to interpret charitably coming from where even I am coming from--and I am no Traditionalist.

At one point I have written in my notebook, from sometime in that whole exchange:

I wonder:
Would this be such a problem if were simply willing to fall in love with Jesus?

By "this" I think most of what I meant was "all this liturgical business about the N.O. vs. the TLM, etc. etc." I'll get back to that later.

Now to give some background, about a week ago a Deacon gave a talk on everyday spirituality. Somehow or other this connected with something G.K. Chesterton once said about St. Francis, in his biography of the same, which I remembered only imperfectly at the time but which I quote in full below:

The practical reconciliation of the gaiety and austerity I must leave the story itself to suggest. But since I have mentioned Matthew Arnold and Renan and the rationalistic admirers of Saint Francis, I will here give a hint of what it seems to me most advisable for such readers to keep in mind. These distinguished writers found things like the Stigmata a stumbling block because to them a religion was a philosophy. It was an impersonal thing; and it is only the most personal passion that provides here an approximate earthly parallel. A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfil the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will do things like this, or pretty like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love. [...St. Francis] was a Lover. He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation [...] as Saint Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. (Italics mine, copied from an electronic copy on this webpage)

Chesterton recognized that the oddity in much of Francis's behavior was that it was something one did when one was in love. So I'm trying to adopt this quality, to make it my own, to cultivate the quality of being in love with God and with the world. Going to Mass is one definite way of doing this, and surely a huge expression. If one believes that Christ is truly and specially present at the Mass, and one is in love with Christ, surely one goes where one's beloved will be? Would I not do this for another human being, if I felt I were in love with her? Why not, then, for God?

Quite frankly, I'm not a Traditionalist. Though I do consider myself pretty conservative, and my ballot will probably wind up backing that up. But I'm not really a TLM kind of guy. I have some Sundays--not all--that I like Holy Rosary's 11:00 AM Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, but that's not the TLM. I'd be lying if I said my reasons for the other Sundays got much holier than "some Sundays I like a folksy Mass" or "some Sundays I want a slacker Mass that lasts forty-five minutes and is said in words I understand immediately." At the same time I know some people prefer to meet Jesus in the TLM, and that's their deal. I'm not going to intrude, and it bugs me when other Novus-preference people want to, because they call it the Catholic Church for a reason. It's universal.

Anyway, I said I'd get back to that original note I made. So here goes:

Is it naive of me to believe that maybe if we all--that means people who are more liturgically 'liberal' and those who are more 'conservative'--simply focused on loving the Eucharist, with only a secondary focus on those technical details which pertain strictly to licitness, that much of this logistical debate would go away? That maybe a Church-wide revitalization of that reverence could be--even if saving the liturgy could help it--part of the process that catalyzes us to save the liturgy in the first place?

Of course, Legitimate concerns about validity of sacraments go strictly under reverence for the Eucharist and for God; an invalid Mass is not proper reverence. Legitimate concerns about licitness are also quite pertinent but sometimes get overstated in my book. Thus, I risk undervaluing them here because sometimes I think they just lead us to legalistic conversations and debates about pastoral needs that nobody in the audience or anyone speaking can verify. Maybe the new translation will help some. I hope it does, and maybe I'm overthinking the debate that happened tonight. It was certainly helpful and informative, and I don't mean to suggest that debates like that are useless. But I'm not entirely sure it was the most productive debate we could have had, and it seems like maybe the one guy's question about whether we should adore the Eucharist was the main point at which the more debate-like questions actually worked towards deepening our understanding of what happens at the Mass.

Of course I have relatively useless theological things I like to debate all the time, so maybe I've got some work do to, too.

Those are some thoughts Theology on Tap brought out for me tonight.


M.A. Schmitz said...

And even beyond arguments of licitness, pure matters of taste as well.

I think a corollary would be loving the liturgy (which presupposes of course, a love for the Lord), whatever one thinks of particular developments. Because then I think most licitness problems would go away. No one would be seeking to impose their own will upon it.

And if we loved Jesus and loved the liturgy, in which we pre-eminently meet him...a lot of good could come from that.

EricBrooks said...

I think it's important to recognize that the liturgy is not just worship, but is the way God has ordained us to worhip him. It is not in the first place our expression. It has more in common with the worship ordained by God in the Laws of Moses than it does with you or I writing a love song for Jesus. Certainly the ancient Hebrews would do well to love God above all else, including above their ceremonies, but that does not mean they could simply mess up or alter what was given to them so long as it was done with the love of God in their hearts. The same goes for us. The Church would not have spent so much time and such serious language on this throughout her history if it were a "well, as long as we have a valid sacrament and a feeling of devotion in our heart, we shouldn't worry" kind of thing.

I do agree that increased reverence for the Eucharist would probably do more to revitalize the Church than more debates about liturgy, but I do not think this would happen in the way you seem to suggest. I do not think it would mean just putting this debate aside, but would mean that our attitude of reverence would make the reasons why, say, tabernacles are placed in the center of the Church and lay people don't distribute communion become obvious. The change in attitude would make these things obvious, and would thus do away with much of the need for legalistic debate.

I think it is a very protestant attitude to talk as if all the externals simply don't matter so long as we have the right spirit of devotion internally. I do not mean to insult or attack you, but I do not think it is a Catholic attitude. It seems to me that the Church, East and West alike, has always taken the laws of worship incredibly seriously. Obviously conversion of heart has priority, but having priority doesn't mean we can simply brush these questions under the table.

The debate about the liturgy is not in the first place a debate about licitness or taste. I am certain that many of the practices I reject are not only licit, but even encouraged by much of the hierarchy. As far as taste goes, whether or not I happen to like a certain style is irrelevant. I like bluegrass music, and I think many of the old mountain-singer style harmonizations are beautiful and reverent, but I would not support a bluegrass mass despite its appeal to my taste. The issue here is the destruction of the ancient Roman Rite of the Church and the imposition of a man-made liturgy based on protestant practices that were consistently condemned for hundreds of years. It is not a question of licitness or taste.

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

My apologies if I gave the impression that I intend to brush any of those questions under the table. Of course I know and probably knew when I wrote it that the stance I was taking was exaggerated and naive. To give some context, the rant came in the wake of a night of Theo on Tap at which I felt the debate was particularly unproductive and all-but devolved into a "yes" vs "no" match. Now for the record, in that discussion I got an idea of some anecdotal evidence which suggests (along with other evidence, such as some you've related to me) that the impact that older forms of the Mass on pastoral needs could be great. But in that particular context it cultivated some of the feelings that went into that rant you see up there. Now I'm probably going to maintain a sort of "Mass and let Mass" attitude, but that doesn't mean I have the intention of stifling any and all liturgical-theological debate. Your comment is a solid reminder of the principle lex orandi, lex credendi for me. I didn't mean to imply that all the externals "simply don't matter"--and I should have watched my phrasing more (or looked over it when it wasn't 1am or whatnot.) Now I still don't think determining which externals to use would be anywhere near as much a problem if we all held ourselves to falling in love with Christ, but (here I suggest a both-and) I agree with you that this problem may decrease by way of being galvanized by reverence into taking a harder look at liturgy. In retrospect I may have been able to say more that I don't think stopping debate necessarily helps us get better, but again, if I gave the impression that I thought we should stop debate, this wasn't really my intent. I certainly wish we could, but in an ideal world we'd all worship God perfectly with no need for written-down rubrics, and that world's not coming till Christ does, or till we die and we go to it.

I gather that what you mean by saying it's not a question of licitness or taste is to say that it's all well and good to talk about licitness, but that licitness (which I'm taking to mean the right under Canon Law to do a thing, liturgically or otherwise) doesn't imply an ideal or even the way we should behave at all (that we should do such a thing, liturgically or otherwise). Please let me know if I've understood you correctly.

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