I have not commented on the recent reports about Pope Francis wanting to restrict the older Roman liturgy in opposition to the legislation of his predecessor Benedict XVI. It is not my war, but I am ready to listen to those who have a balanced and evidence-based judgement. One such person is Dom Alcuin Reid who has published some of my own work in the T&T Companion to Liturgy. He has just published an article On liturgical wars and rumors of wars.
Dom Alcuin begins by saying that a level of concern exists in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world. I am now very out of touch with this world, even in France where there was the most resistance to the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s and 70’s, especially that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his Society of St Pius X. The Fraternity of St Peter and the Institute of Christ the King have been most successful is assembling people of a conservative mindset who bring up large families. Many of those people go on retreats to the various religious communities and monasteries of the same general tendency that often colludes with far right-wing political opinions.
Like in the political world, the traditionalists and the diocesan establishment have placed themselves in quite rigid ideologies. We are fifty years on from 1971 and the apologists for the liturgical reforms still talk of “renewal” and “return to pristine sources”. The situation in most parish churches outside the cities reminds me somewhat of the eighteenth century in England against which the first aspirations of Methodism and Anglo-Catholicism reacted. One big problem in the Roman Catholic Church is its rigid authority structure, something like Erastianism in England in the days when Ritualist vicars were sent to prison for non-compliance to the 1662 Prayer Book. The ideological parallels continue.
I appreciate Dom Alcuin’s reflection on sectarianism and the ghetto mentality among some traditionalists. At the same time, it is not easy to cultivate tolerance in the face of clerical intolerance of diocesan bishops and bureaucracies. There are problems with the way clergy are trained in some of the seminaries. The implications are quite clear, especially measured by my own experience, when I read the words self-serving narcissism in clergy and content to live in a gilt cage decorated according to the tastes of their preferred century in history. These strong indictments are not only targeted against priests celebrating the Pius V liturgy. I saw it in the faces and manners of some of the cassock-wearing clergy I saw in their little groups at Pontmain – closed to the world.
Dom Alcuin sees things as a monk – One of the first tests of a young man seeking to enter the monastic life is to see whether he is capable of hard manual work without complaint. Monastic life can also involve totalitarian control and breaking of persons. I very much agree, and it is why I appreciate the fact that my Church does not have the resources to pay stipends to the clergy, but that we must earn our own living through work unless we are retired and on a pension. Our clergy are not afraid to be in civil dress when “off-duty” or socialising with people for reasons other than church. There are situations when the cassock is appropriate and when it is not. I have expressed my ideas about clergy training, which is just about what we do in the Anglican Catholic Church – have men do serious studies and be involved in parish ministry for their “apprenticeship”. There are problems associated with married candidates, but this issue is beyond my ability to express myself with credibility.
I do think that were the Roman authorities to restore the status quo of the 1970’s, many would revolt as people kick back against what may be excessive Covid lockdown measures in the countries where we live. Such measures against the old liturgy would undermine their authority. Blind obedience is no longer a part of the Roman Catholic ethos.
The article is interesting but struck me by its irrelevance to my present life. I am no longer in that French traditionalist world, but I am isolated as an Anglican in a place where there is no interest in Anglicanism. One can’t have it both ways. Thus you will see our clergy as much in suits and ties or casual dress as cassocks, and celebrating ancient forms of liturgy and referring to other times in history when Christianity meant more in the world. We socialise in a world where “churchy” things put people off because of the negative associations. Should there arrive a real persecution of Christianity in the future, we need to be able to become scarlet pimpernels and live in the catacombs.
One day, things will become clear to us whichever institutional Church we belong to.