Sunday, May 18, 2014

We All Have Our Agenda

In my blog entries for March 21 and 22 I mentioned that this blog, What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You had come to the notice of Father Anthony Ruff, OSB of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville and the blog he edits, Pray Tell: Worship, Wit, and Wisdom (  What I should have realized is that the positive recognition I received from Father Anthony would bring down the plague of Katholic Krazy gnats that buzz around his site looking for something with which to disagree (and be disagreeable).  I am a little naïve about the blogosphere and don’t spend a lot of time trolling around.  A friend of mine alerted me to be Father Anthony’s tip o’the hat and I have since learned to check out Pray Tell from time to time and have found it to contain excellent material that has stimulated much conversation and even more thought on my part.  But for some reason the other day I ended up on the site of The New Liturgical Movement/Novus Motus Liturgicus (  Now, to be fair, the various authors that blog on this site are not, at least for the most part, Katholic Krazies but men and women who, for the greater part, know what they are writing about.  I probably would not agree with much of what they write, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate both their work and their thoughtfulness.  Of course, they have an agenda and their agenda lines up with a significant group of the KK’s—and guarantees their readership.  The self-appointed mission of TNLM/NML is to put the toothpaste back into the tube and restore the Church to its monarchial model that we can remember from the 1950’s.   While they are not, for the most part, the Society of Saint Pius X sort of strict restorationists,  TNLM/NML follows the “Reform of the Reform” philosophy outlined by Monsignor M. Francis Manion in an article he wrote for America Magazine about twenty-two years ago.  (Unfortunately I don’t have immediate access to the article and so can’t give you the exact date of publication.)  The Reform of the Reform approach to liturgical renewal is that the Novus Ordo of Paul VI far exceeded the reforms of the Roman Rite called for by the Council and should be dialed back in favor of a Rite that would still be celebrated—for the greater part—in Latin with the priest facing away from the congregation, and without the structural changes of the 1970 Missal.  Gregory DiPippo, the managing editor of the TNLM/NML blog, recognizes the threat to this agenda posed by What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You’s critique of the old liturgy and why Father Anthony picked up on it.
Fr. Ruff’s reason for bringing them to the readers’ attention is, as he writes, that the original author “… shows why for so many of us there can’t be a going back to the old rite – no way, no how.”
And that is precisely my point.  We aren’t going back; we can’t go back. The Tridentine Rite, and some of those medieval rites on which it was based, have several serious theological flaws.  (By the way, so does the Novus Ordo and—in my opinion—the recently revised translation has not only failed to clear them up, but made them worse.  Notice I refrain from saying “humble opinion” as I am the first to admit there is nothing humble about my opinions.  Humility would deprive me of the pleasure I have in doing this blog.)  In the end, there will always be flaws in the Liturgy.  Our faith, or at least the doctrinal expression of our faith, is always a living reality that needs constant modulation to approach ever more closely the Truth of the Divine Mystery.  And that is one reason why we cannot ever again allow the liturgy to be frozen for four hundred years—or forty years, for that matter.   Like it not, we live in history and not yet in that timeless realm where there is no benefit in change. 
In any event, Mr. DiPippo, a graduate student studying for his Master’s Degree (more probably the License or STL) in Rome at the Augustinianum (The Pontifical Institute for Patristics which is one of Rome’s more credible faculties), goes on, by clipping quotes from Father Anthony or myself, to set up a straw man whom he can refute.  By quoting Peter Lombard (whom I agree is the “gold standard” of medieval theologians) he implies that all Scholastic theologians who followed him were orthodox in their doctrines of Eucharistic Sacrifice.  Would that there was truth to that.  We may have been saved the Reformation.  But alas and alack, to use one of my favorite archaisms, all one has to do is read medieval sermons or devotional books or even popular hymns to see that there were gross exaggerations of the Church’s authentic faith in the popular imagination.  And those exaggerations became part of the commonly accepted teaching of the Church over time.  Bad liturgy does that.  The lex orandi becomes the lex credendi which is why the reform of the liturgy is a constant task and needs to be an ongoing work. 
Mr. DiPippo  makes his error in methodology when he writes:
As a first principal, I will take it for granted that liturgical texts must be understood according to the sense in which the Church gives them to us. Furthermore, I take this to be true, even when another sense at variance with the Faith may be plausibly found within them. (
The liturgical texts should be understood according to the sense in which the Church gives them to us.  But they often aren’t.  Unfortunately once I utter a word or commit it to paper it no longer belongs to me but to the listener or the reader. This is what permits Mr. DiPippo to put his interpretation on my text and while I may insist that is not what I meant or said or wrote, I can’t deny his understanding.  The same is true for the teachings of the Church whether Papal Encyclicals, Council Documents, or Liturgical texts.  One of my favorite Latin axioms is Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.  (That which is received is received according to the manner of the recipient.   Or in other words, while I can tell you what I said, only you can tell me what you heard.)  No, maybe Peter Lombard or Thomas Aquinas never said that bread and wine become a secondary sacrifice in the offertory of the Mass—and depending on the rite with which they were familiar perhaps there was no ambiguity about this.  But by the time we had the Mass of Pius V for 350 years the Catholic Encyclopedia would have something to say in refutation to Mr. DiPippo’s claim that
Now obviously, the claim that the Scholastics (or anyone else) thought that there were two sacrifices in the ritual of the Mass, one of bread and wine, and another of the Body and Blood of Christ, is absurd.
So no one thought there were to two sacrifices in the Body and Blood of Christ?  Check out the pre-Vatican II edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia ( ).  
The question therefore arises first: Is the sacrifice comprised in the Offertory? From the wording of the prayer this much at least is clear that bread and wine constitute the secondary sacrificial elements of the Mass, since the priest in the true  language of sacrifice, offers to God bread as an unspotted host (immaculatam hostiam) and wine as the chalice of salvation (calicem salutaris).  So much for no once claiming that there were two sacrifices in the Mass. 
Now to be fair, the article in the older Catholic Encyclopedia clearly locates the essential sacrifice of the Mass in the Consecratory Prayer, but it does above admit to the offertory rites involving offering in sacrifice to God bread and wine.  This is a clear flaw in the Tridentine Liturgy and the revised 1970 Rite does not eliminate sacrificial language but redirects the focus away from the bread and wine and places it on the Eucharist in which we proclaim the Death of the Lord until he comes again.  Does this mean that the Tridentine Liturgy is not valid?  By no means.  But it does mean, at least to those of us who value a clear focus on the Sacrificial Death of Christ on the Cross, that we have no desire to return—“no way, no how” to use Father Anthony’s words—to the old liturgy.  That may make TNLM/NML folk unhappy but be content that you can find your Summorum Pontificium and your Reform of the Reform versions of the Novus Ordo while the rest of us sing a little Gospel or have our Mass for kids with special needs or just enjoy the fruits of Vatican II and how the liturgy helps us to pray.  O—and by the way—we aren’t finished yet and the work of Liturgical renewal (and reform) is an ongoing mission. 

1 comment:

  1. Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to this blog's author for his trenchant insights, this time regarding the ongoing liturgy wars as represented by the two referenced blogs by other authors. I too monitor the postings at these sites and am in different ways and for different reasons sympathetic with each perspective, though more so with Pray Tell. I find the Reform of the Reform crowd often overweening and precious. There's something about high church liturgy that masks so many other, sometimes unsavory, things going on hidden beneath all that incense and brocade. As to the question of sacrifice, I have been taken aback at the new translation of the Roman Missal's very frequent referring to the bread and wine at the Offertory as an oblation, etc. Whatever hermeneutic one may wish to apply here, I think it is inescapable that the gifts presented at this point in the Mass have a sacrificial character, however secondary. May I humbly -- yes, humbly -- suggest a tertium quid between the views expressed above? Clearly, the bread and the wine are indeed "sacrificed" via the consecration insofar as they cease to be what they were sans their sensory properties. So in that sense they are oblations or offerings made by the church although once caught up into the perpetual Sacrifice of Christ are by comparison nothing. For surely the church present at the Eucharist does intend to unite itself to Christ's sacrifice and does so in the symbolic offering of gifts of bread and wine, presumably representing the existential self-offering of its participants who exercise their own derivative priesthood in manifold ways and contexts. All of this is placed on the altar as signs of this self-donation and are sacrificed, if you will, by their transformation into the Body and Blood of Christ, the one true Priest. (On a final note, it would be nice to see more comments on this fine blog!)