Rorate Caeli

Liturgical Polarisation: a Reply to Fr Ruff

IMG_0049
Mass celebrated Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, London, on the feast of St Cecelia.
The Mass was offered for the good estate of Vladimir Ashkenazy and his family:
he is the sole survivor of the signatories of the 1971 Petition which prompted Pope
Paul VI to grant the first of the 'Indults' allowing public celebrations.


Fr Anthony Ruff at the Pray, Tell blog tells us that the basic picture, in the debate about liturgy, is that

either one supports Vatican II and the reformed liturgy to the exclusion of the preconciliar liturgy, or one shows greater or lesser openness to the preconciliar liturgy, which seems to be equated with opposition to Vatican II.

He does not pause to explain what "opposition to Vatican II" might mean, but admits that not everyone falls into these two strictly opposed camps:

people who don’t fit neatly in either camp... [who] don’t see the preconciliar liturgy as particularly bad or harmful and don’t mind attending it at times.

Fr Ruff would like such people to realise

that the preconciliar liturgy is incompatible with the large advances made by the Second Vatican Council in ecclesiology and liturgical theology and inculturation and all the rest.

He gives the impression that he would like to see the Church become two armed camps snarling at each other from their trenches, with barbed wire, if not clouds of poison gas, marking out no-man’s land. But as for what these Vatican II "advances" might be, Fr Ruff does not say.

Fr Ruff blames Pope Benedict for “pushing people into two opposing liturgical camps”, but seems eager to do exactly this himself. In fact Pope Benedict favoured the unpolarised position, of “not seeing the preconciliar liturgy as being particularly bad or harmful”, and under his influence this position has become the normal one in many places: a liturgical live-and-let-live.

What exactly is wrong with this? Fr Ruff is coy about what features of the ancient liturgy are incompatible with what teachings of the Church, or are harmful in what way. I am speculating here but am willing to hazard a couple of suggestions as to why that might be. 

One reason he might prefer not to descend into detail may be that, if he did, we would all be able to quote a great many defences of these features from the Church’s magisterium: one thinks of Trent, the condemnation of Pistoia, Pius XII's criticisms of the Liturgical Movement, and many passages of Vatican II itself. In other words, it would open up a debate about the teaching of the Church on the liturgy which he could not win.

Another reason may well be that many of the features of the older liturgy he would like to criticise are equally, or to even greater extent, present in the rites of the Eastern Churches. Communion on the tongue? Celebration facing East? A sacred liturgical language? Traditional, sacred styles of liturgical music? Ceremonies obscured behind bodies or screens? Not only did the Second Vatican Council feel no need to reject any of these things, actually demanding the preservation of some of them in the West (notably Latin and Gregorian Chant), but  the Council's Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum actually calls for the restoration of these kinds of things, Article 6 insisting that the Eastern Churches "should take steps to return to their ancestral traditions". Was it insisting on things "bad or harmful", Fr Ruff?

Perhaps Fr Ruff and his allies fear that if they were a little more open, if the veil were lifted a little on their thinking, it would emerge that they think that the whole Church, East and West, for the whole of its recorded liturgical history, has been promoting “bad and harmful” liturgical practice. Is this what liturgical progressives say to each other when they've had a couple of drinks? It would after all only be a mild extension of the attitude of the reform-minded scholar of the 1940s, Josef Jungmann, who said that a "fog" descended to obscure the liturgy from the people in the 8th century because they could not longer understand Latin. Why stop there? The Canon of the Mass was being said silently for at least two centuries before that: an even more effective barrier to comprehension, presumably.

It was precisely this patronising attitude, that the poor benighted people got nothing out of the Mass unless and until progressive clergy could fix it for them, which is condemned by Pius XII: "Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits?" (Mediator Dei 108).

If this is what Fr Ruff and the other think, it would put the misgivings about Vatican II on the part of some of those who like the old Mass into the shade. Do they think the Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council could have been more clearly expressed? Well, here are a bunch of people who effectively reject the other 20 -- along with all the bits of Vatican II they don't happen to like.

If Fr Ruff and his allies have some terribly clever theological position which resolves all these difficulties, it would be a service to the Church for them to share it with the rest of us. I mean this in all seriousness. Liturgical traditionalists have been asking to see these arguments for fifty years. Stop gesturing vaguely towards "inculturation" and "all the rest": tell us what exactly is so bad about the Old Mass, and why? What possible argument could be made against it which would not up-end the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, or, more simply, the credibility of the Church as an authority in the spiritual life?

Neither Vatican II nor the post-Concilar Popes, including Pope Francis, claim that the older liturgy was “harmful”. The idea is ludicrous. Paul VI, John Paul II, and Pope Francis have all praised it, not just Pope Benedict: Pope Francis waxed quite lyrical about how "we in the West" have "lost the sense of adoration" due to the liturgical reform, in an interview in 2013. I give all the quotations in my contribution to Peter Kwasnieski's  From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’ War.

These Popes also contradict Fr Ruff’s astonishing claim that the problem of liturgical abuses has gone away since the 1970s. Fr Ruff clearly lives a sheltered life. Out here in the real world you could play bingo with all the things condemned by Redemptionis Sacramentum in the typical parish. There goes the celebrant leaving the sanctuary to give the sign of peace! (RS 72) I've got routine use of Eucharistic Ministers! (RS 88) Ooh let's see if they have self-intinction! (RS 104) The fact is, abuses are now so embedded that we all know it is pointless to complain about them. All the same, Pope Francis still protests, making his own the statement of Pope Benedict, in the Letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes:

In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.”

Does Fr Ruff think Pope Francis is being insincere here? Now that would be an interesting claim.

Fr Ruff’s article takes its start from one by Prof Massimo Faggioli, which criticises the book I just mentioned, From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’ War. The only conclusion on can draw from these articles is that this book’s title is apt. It was not adherents of the “antecedent liturgy” who shattered the peace brought about by Pope Benedict’s relaxed attitude—a peace attested to by many bishops when asked for their views by the Holy See last year. Still less was it the people in the middle, who couldn’t see what was wrong with the older form. No: it was a group of liturgical extremists from the “progressive” side. They felt they were losing the peace, so they wanted to start a war. In light of the paucity of their arguments, they may not win that either.

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