Roman Uniformity

Fr John Hunwicke is active again in his blog Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment. He is one of the highest profile Anglo-Catholic priests from the Church of England to have become a pillar of the English Ordinariate. I esteem and respect him as a scholar, someone who has quietly achieved in life and done a good job as a parish priest. The theme of his blog seems to be that of a convergence of the 1962 Roman rite and the Novus Ordo to produce a single rite that, theoretically, all priests and laity would accept. His latest article is Mix and Match.

He looks forward to the Ordinariate rite that is to be officially rolled out this coming Sunday in all its parishes. This new rite contains elements from the Roman missal of 1570 according to familiar translations such as the English Missal and the Anglican Missal. Fr Hunwicke sees this as a stage of Pope Benedict XI’s vision of “re-unifying” the Roman rite and producing something every priest and lay Catholic would accept. The idea is laudable, that of settling decades of dissidences and polemics, such as the Society of St Pius X and the sedevacantist minority who believe that there has been no true Pope since Pius XII died (yet it was Pius XII who first introduced the hermeneutic of rupture in the liturgy through the new Holy Week and the Bea version of the psalter in the Breviary).

A theme seem to be appearing in the thought of Pope Francis, that of returning to the standards of the Council of Trent in matters of general reform in the Church. That might delight many a traditionalist’s heart, but a notion of change and “organic development” would have to be accepted – such as the vernacular and the three-year lectionary.

Another assumption that might prove to be a fallacy or an illusion is the idea of the Ordinariate liturgy having influence over “ordinary” Roman Catholics. That might happen to some extent in England and the United States, but that leaves the rest of the world, non English-speaking. I don’t imagine French traditionalists asking Rome for a translation into French of the Ordinariate rite for the sake of uniformity with those using the Novus Ordo. Same thing in Germany or the Latin countries.

I am highly dubious about any ideal of returning to rigid uniformity as prevailed from the late sixteenth century until the 1950’s and the Pauline reforms. As in my article a couple of days ago about Sarum, the basis of liturgy seems to be folk religion. Nowadays, the only ones attracted to Christianity are “thinking” folk, with a certain level of education and culture and a clear idea of their philosophy of life. I am one of those myself! Perhaps there are still “popular religion” people in Italy and Spain. Lourdes and Lisieux are still popular, but mostly for pilgrims from outside France. There is something I find profoundly distasteful about bus-loads of Spaniards making a lot of noise and bustling in piety shops looking for John Paul II screwdrivers and luminous plastic statues! Generally, apart from traditionalists and liturgical “experts”, Roman Catholics are totally indifferent to the liturgy. They don’t care.

Fr Hunwicke has never hidden his sympathies for the traditionalist Roman Catholics and sees links between their movement and the Ordinariate push by the Forward in Faith bishops and the TAC. He sees the issue from an “old” Anglican Papalist point of view which converges with the New Liturgical Movement perspective. As Pope Francis shows himself not to be a liberal but playing a very subtle game as only Jesuits can do, he entertains hope of a reprise of the “Benedict bounce”. Benedict XVI was finer in his theological, cultural and liturgical approach. Francis is more pastoral and political, a convergence indeed.

But, are convergence and uniformity necessary? It might be so for the urban intelligentsia and liturgical enthusiasts, and popular Catholicism is just about gone except perhaps in the Latin countries where liturgy just isn’t an issue. There is another category, those influenced by monastic ideas on which I have already commented. The Ordinariate Anglican influx is something important, as it originated in a movement that was very rich culturally and appeals to Tradition more than authority – something very healthy.

There are different kinds of Roman Catholic traditionalists. The general tendency is to have made of traditional (pre Vatican II) Catholicism a political ideology to reinforce the old anti-semitic and pre World War I Europe conservative values in general and a sense of national or social identity. Ideology tends to get the upper hand over the more contemplative and mystical dimension of Catholic Christianity. The divide is less felt in England than in France or the USA.

Benedict XVI’s idea was to improve usages in the Novus Ordo by the moderating influence of the old (“extraordinary”) rite and bring traditionalists to accept some of the reforms like the vernacular in a good quality translation and things like the three-year lectionary and an increased number of prefaces and eucharistic prayers. Will the experiment work? I have my doubts, but keep an open mind and an eye on the internet.

Liturgical diversity or “anarchy”, as I advocate, can’t be something institutionalised and normalised. We just need an absence of coercive uniformity and a sense of being “policed”. Ironically, most of the policing is done not by Church authorities but by enthusiasts of the urban and intellectual “category”.

In reality, I have the impression that the Ordinariate clergy feel that they have found a strong sense of identity and security, having become Roman Catholic priests. They certainly believe in this “hinge” role for re-unifying traditionalists and “ordinary” Roman Catholics. Time alone will tell, since such a role alone would pull them out of obscurity and a marginal position. It is the quest of a foundational myth, something that fires the imagination, an almost “messianic” role. If they can do good, I would be happy for them and wish them the best.

What lessons can be drawn for those of us who are not going that way, and who are more sceptical of the existence or effectiveness of a “new Tridentine movement” and a further “militarisation” of the Church? My gut feeling is that the future of Christianity is in the hands of God, and neither we or our imaginations can do anything significant. Liturgical uniformity would achieve no purpose outside itself or the identity self-affirmation of a minority of urban Catholics. The lesson of St Benedict in his Rule is just getting on with our own lives with no fuss or letting our imaginations get the better of us – and in a total lack of ambition. I’m certainly far from the mark myself, but this kind of interior Christian idea remains my ideal.

I personally, if I were in communion with Rome (which I’m not), would not be interested in a hybrid liturgy – however clever and “well-designed” it is. I don’t identify with the traditionalists and am drawn to older liturgical traditions such as Sarum, even though it is the subject of such love-hatred. Whatever floats one’s boat, so it would be said in a world where Christianity is discussed with a tired and bored yawn. The traditionalists themselves are quite incoherent through their defence of the new Holy Holy Week ceremonies and all the stuff done by the same bête noire Bugnini since his installation in the Congregation of Rites from 1948. Even Pius X did a complete overhaul of the Breviary that would have been rejected by someone like Paul IV who rejected the Breviary of Quinõnes on the basis of its having broken with tradition. In the end, every single modification made to the liturgy by Rome could be called into question, even when it was something justified such as a correction of misprints or faults in the calculation of the calendar.

Are we preserving something out of a fear of change, or are we throwing babies out with bathwater in a rush to defer more to authority than to Tradition? Thinking about it too much can lead us into confusion and anger. It seems best to be in a Church in which there is liturgical discipline but a sensible level of flexibility in the application. I only use the liturgy of the rest of my diocese (Anglican Missal) when called upon to serve an existing community accustomed to it. Out here on a limb and alone, no one cares what I do as long as I don’t commit sacrilege! (I think my Bishop would mind if I were doing the Novus Ordo. No danger of that!) Sorry to sound cynical…

We need diversity and for the screws to be loosened so that we can grow spiritually and in human terms. We have our human needs such as control over our own lives and a sense of identity. We also need a healthy sense of asceticism and self-denial to find God and hack through the undergrowth of ideologies and worries to find spiritual peace.

Perhaps they are right in their quest for identity. The danger is setting themselves up on a pedestal of status and exclusivity, with something they can have and nobody else can have – something so urban English and “club class”! I hope that isn’t the case. Anyway, it’s their mess, not ours. We keep an eye open all the same…

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