Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Grace or Infection: Making the New Mass Look Old

The New Liturgical Movement and
the New Old New Mass

Not all of the Katholique Krazies (I know, the spelling keeps evolving—English is, after all, a living language unlike Old Church Slavonic or its Western equivalent) are careless in their appropriation of catholicitatis antiquae.  One of the better sites—an often serious academic investigation of liturgical history though directed towards a bat****crazy agenda—is “New Liturgical Movement.”  An intriguing assortment of scholars, professional and amateur, covering a wide range of topics from the Ambrosian Rite to Sacred Architecture regularly post meticulously researched articles aimed at stemming the tide of the Novus Ordo and restoring credibility to the usus antiquior.  I regularly read their postings—not because I agree with their agenda of Instaurare Omnia in Vanitate, but because, well because they are worth reading from a historical point of view.  The interpretation of historical data can be skewed towards their particular agenda, but the data itself is fascinating.  But I was a bit taken aback by a recent posting that implied that the “Ordinary Form” of the Liturgy is somehow in need of a strong infusion of spirituality as was found in the golden days of yore when the 1570 Rite was the ordinary rite and before we surrendered to all this vulgar tongue and even more vulgar guitars and more vulgar yet, women on the altar, and all the other abominations brought about by that detestable crypto-Freemason, Annibale Bugnini.  (By the way, I notice that New Liturgical Movement not only keeps women off the sanctuary but off their editorial board.  Hmmm,  that’s the problem you know: first the editorial board and then altar girls and who knows where it ends up.  The Church of England began its steady decline into post-modern Witchery when they started to let women serve on vestries.) 
In any event, I can’t quite figure out what the folks over at New Liturgical Movement mean by “spirituality” in this context. I used to teach courses in spirituality back in the day.  Admittedly it was the classic Catholic approach—monastic spirituality, John of the Cross, the devotio moderna,  17th century French Spirituality—you know, the usual diet.  I think what they are speaking about is not spirituality proper, but piety.  There is a difference, one that unfortunately is not often covered in seminary classes leaving many priests to confuse the two.  Now, piety is not a bad thing; to the contrary.  But it is not spirituality.
I always over-simplified it to my students until they could get a sense of it for themselves from reading the texts, as: Spirituality marks the relationship of God with the person in which God takes the initiative and invites the person into relationship and sustains the person in that relationship by God’s grace.  Piety, which comes from the Latin pietas, meaning our duty towards our deities, our parents, our mentors and others who have guided us through our formative years or who otherwise have a claim over us, piety marks the relationship of the person to God in which the person, inspired by grace, takes the initiative and seeks a deeper relationship to God.   Though I never used this image in class, it is somewhat like who does the leading when we dance.  Now piety is often the foundation on which God builds the relationship we call spirituality, though piety can easily become short-circuited and engender religious feelings without the genuine sort of conversion God works in us through spirituality. 
So back to the New Liturgical Movement and its suggestions how to infuse the New Liturgy with Old Time “Spirituality.”  Some of my favorite suggestions are:
1.   Wear the maniple and biretta, and the cope for processions or the Asperges/Vidi Aquam. 
2.   be sure to lower your gaze so not as to make eye contact with the people when greeting them with “the Lord be with you” and other liturgical greetings.
3.   Stand at the altar with your back towards the congregation, the ad absidem position. 
4.   Add all the old offertory prayers silently alongside the current rite (also to be done silently) as a “private devotion.” 
5.   Recite the Canon (Roman of course) is a “more subdued voice.”  A footnote suggests that it might even be said inaudibly 
6.   Bend noticeably over the host and chalice when reciting the Words of Consecration and recite them slowly and deliberately so as to give them “due metaphysical weight.”
7.   Omit the sign of peace which is, after all, optional (again, we don’t want too much intimacy with the folk—nothing destroys spirituality like other people)
8.   Hold one’s thumbs and forefingers together from the consecration to the ablutions
9.   Omit the prayer of the faithful whenever possible. 
10.                 Use only the Roman Canon, mentioning all of the saints and using the “through Christ our Lord conclusions. 
11.                 Say the prayer “Placeat tibi” or the Prologue of John’s Gospel (the “last gospel” of the TLM) as a “community devotion” at the end of Mass. 
While such practices may increase a certain piety in the liturgical celebrations, I am not sure, given the difference between piety and spirituality, how all this relates to “spirituality.” The article’s author, Professor Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College, claims
Since the usus antiquior preserves in a specially intense way the theology and piety of many centuries of faith, a judicious emulation or adoption from it of elements of holiness and “good form” will make a real difference in the devotion of the celebrant and the ensuing fruitfulness of the Mass.
I can’t disagree that the usus antiquior preserves the theology and piety of many centuries of faith, but that is no guarantee that it will bring about an increase of holiness for either the priest-celebrant or the faithful attending.  I have no doubt that the faithful attending a devoutly celebrated TLM can benefit from the graces thereof, but I have seen no convincing evidence that there is either a quantitative or qualitative superiority of the graces bestowed in one rite over the other. 
Certainly Professor Kwasniewski’s suggestions go back to the Liturgy as theatrical performance model as his suggestions push the faithful to the edge of irrelevance to the Rite, something that might inspire a certain sense of awe but which would not normally be taken to result in a deepening of spirituality.   That sense of awe or mystery, taken for itself alone, remains a subjective experience which is not to say it could not be a channel of grace but it remains only piety.  I think this is the problem when people have not studied Christian spirituality sufficiently well and they confuse feelings of aesthetic pleasure of spiritual experience.  As I have often said before, go and see the last scene of Act 1 of Tosca and you will be transported to the seventh heaven with incense and chierichetti and copes and ombralline galore.  I confess that the “New Mass” is too often poorly celebrated with ugly churches, overly chatty priests, servers that show little attention to their duties, music that is banal at best, and people who come late, leave early, and show precious little interest in what is going on at the altar.  I don’t go to those churches and I don’t know why other people do.  But I am old enough to remember fly-specked altar clothes, albs with ripped lace, altar-servers who kept nudging one another to make each other laugh, a old lady with a chipped larynx warbling the Missa de Angelis from the choir loft, and a priest with last night’s whiskey still on his breath.  I know now that the old rite is so rarely done, few priests are still quite so casual about it, but why does it now have to reduce the celebration of the Mysterium Fidei to something akin to Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo?  No, the Novus Ordo doesn’t need to look to the Usus Antiquior for guidance.  It just needs to be done with an incarnational mixture of human authenticity and divine gravitas.


  1. Dear Consolamini, it is so unlike you to get your C of E terminology wrong that I cannot resist pointing out that women cannot serve on a 'Church of England vestry' because the thing does not exist. The Parish Vestry was for much of the modern period a parish meeting with a varied set of responsibilities, from purely church business to setting the rates and administering the Poor Law. It consisted of all rate-payers, so a property-owing woman would have as much right to participate as anyone else. This body lost most of its responsibilities with the Local Government Act in 1894, eventually being replaced by Parish Church Councils (PCC) by the 1921 Parish Church Council (Powers) Measure. The last sole remnant is the name given (now unofficially) to the Meeting of Parishioners held about this time of year to elect new Churchwardens. Interestingly, women have always been able to serve as Churchwardens, even in pre-Reformation times [see Duffy, The Voices of Morebath, where they were rather charmingly called 'high wardens']. I believe that the term 'vestry' is still correctly used for the church management committees of the (non-Established) Scottish Episcopal Church and also of some non-conformist churches.

    Please forgive the irrelevance to your main point. I do agree that there is a very widespread confusion between spirituality and piety, especially among those who value a more traditional-looking liturgy. It seems to me that the Catholic Church in England lost a particular kind of spirituality, represented by Challoner's Meditations or even further back by the writings of Fr Baker, when the more Italianate type of devotions came in with Wiseman. The one might have tended somewhat towards quietism, but the latter encouraged a kind of religious busyness (or 'self-absorbed Promethian Pelagianism' perhaps) that often seems to become an end in itself.

  2. Thanks for correcting me. I guess I should watch the Vicar of Dilby more often. I have never paid much attention to parochial governance in the CofE and had must pretty much projected the American Episcopalian system on them. And i love the term "self-absorbed Promethian Pelagianism. I am going to have to save that for future use. But you are right There were the giants like Baker and Challoner and all of a sudden we had Faber talking about moths circling the candles of a gay benediction.

  3. If I may add my two pence. The point is well-taken about a difference between what I prefer to call devotionalism rather than piety since the latter, after all, is one of the traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit, is it not? Devotionalism in my view suffers from three related disorders of the spiritual life and which are much in evidence among the traddies: 1) Aestheticism -- an unbalanced emphasis on the sensory aspects of liturgy especially and an accompanying confusion between the via pulchritudinis as a legitimate opening onto the Transcendent and a kind of voluptuary, if not sensual, absorption into the "smells and bells"; 2) Externalism -- a related unhealthy attachment to the outer form of religion lacking a corresponding interior resonance resulting in the requisite moral and spiritual fruits; 3) Emotivism -- the seeking after and, at times, the preoccupation with the consolations that devotional practices can provide but are easily confused with an increase of the theological virtues and, in particular, are certainly no guarantee that one has advanced in what is, after all, the perfection of the Christian life, namely, charity.

    On the other hand, I also get concerned when the word "spirituality" is bandied about and so often sounds rather amorphous if not disincarnate. In spite of what I said above, I believe devotion(s) have an important place in Christian spirituality and I bemoan the loss of regard among so many Catholics for things like the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, devotion to the Saints, Benediction, etc. Safeguarding against the dangers listed above, and they are rampant among the Krazies, to wit that ridiculous article at the NLM about how certain Tridentinisms can (mutually?) enrich the Ordinary Form of the Mass. (Such enrichments never seem to go in the opposite direction, by the way).

  4. While I will probably go on speaking about piety as different from spirituality, I agree with your points--including the better use of the term "devotionalism" than piety. I also agree that there is room for devotions in the spiritual life--how could I not when Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, Therese of Lisieux and pretty much the whole pack encourage devotions in proper use and proportion. But I really think you nail it with your disorders of the spiritual life. I will undoubtedly reference your remarks in future lectures and articles

  5. Thank you for the kind comments. I was in a hurry when I wrote that entry and wanted to add another disorder that is hinted at by Adrian above and, if I may, I am going to plagiarize his designation for it: 4) Promethean Pelagianism -- a self-absorbed and self-satisfied focus on the precise execution of various forms of devotion as part of one's "spiritual life," the accomplishment of which fosters a kind of rote compulsivity, if not scrupulosity, and even worse, a works-righteousness mentality.

  6. Not my designation, Anonymous (would that I could come up with a phrase like that!), but words from Evangelii Gaudium. I thoroughly approve your point about 'devotionalism' rather than 'piety' - I suppose that the real equivalent of classical Latin's 'pietas' would be keeping the Precepts of the Church, rather than performing rosaries, novenas and stations of the Cross. One of the interesting things about the ultra-Traditionalists is their almost complete silence on the interior life. I may be doing them an injustice, and they all spend hours daily in infused contemplation, but the impression given is one of relentless activism that I am sure is offered to God with a willing and generous heart, but which seems essentially earth-bound. It is as though, just as dogmatic and moral theology get trumped by canon law, so the spiritual life gets swamped by an obsession with rubrics and 'orthopraxis'. The result is, quite frankly, infantilism: placating a distant and irascible God by showing him what good little boys and girls we are. Or, of course, pure aestheticism and self-indulgence, as you suggest in your first comment.

    1. I think you are right on. It has always struck me as noteworthy that these various neo-traditionalists have a deep fear of any meditative practices and are quick to mark them as "new age."