In have just come across the article The Laws of Organic Development. It all brought me back to my student days as a Roman Catholic trying to conciliate traditionalist ideas with “ecclesiastical bureaucratico-socialist” (a neologism I have just invented) ideas about the liturgy. In time this entire conflict was discredited in my mind. I too at one time was seduced by Newman’s attempt to channel the emerging Modernism of his day and express it in the context of nineteenth-century reactionary Catholicism, whilst at the same time giving some justification to the new papal dogmas.
The problem of language is always the same: analogy, euphemism, literal use. One person says something with the meaning he intends, and the listener understands something else. A second listener and a third listener will understand something else still. Finally, we have to understand that our comprehension of language is based on the level of our human culture and spiritual growth away from literalism.
I suppose we are trying to understand what happened with the transition from the pre-Reformation situation of the liturgy in Europe and the momentous movement of the Counter Reformation and what that set in motion. At one time, liturgy was quite neglected or was just a fact of life in a diocese. It was interpreted quite loosely and people took liberties, a little like in Greek Orthodoxy. All of a sudden, it got taken over, made uniform and became tightly controlled on pain of severe sanctions. The attempt to reverse that situation in the 1950’s and 60’s created another situation of total control and ideology which would not produce anything positive.
The problem of the Church is one of wider society, the relationship between the person, the small local community and the State. From the Counter Reformation, the Church emerged as a kind of spiritual “state” with its unified system of law enforcement and control. I don’t find the idea of “organic” liturgy at all credible. What I would see as a positive move would be the removal of the “state” bureaucracy and huge structures and leaving local communities (based on people knowing each other) to govern their own affairs. Someone has to do the controlling and regulating, but on the basis of reality rather than ideology. That might seem to be a more credible notion.
What if this “state” were jettisoned now? This is what has happened for everyone who has left that Church which no longer has any temporal power, and is despised by our modern Socialist states. We have our little independent Churches like the ACC. Some grow and acquire “critical mass”. Others don’t. What happens to the liturgy is what we do to it. I use something that is in very rare use, but actually is no more strange than similar rites that larger numbers of priests and their communities use. Some do it with military precision. Some take small liberties and others take bigger liberties. An example is the Good Friday prayers. It makes no sense to pray for empires that no longer exist or pray for the return of all “heretics and schismatics” to the stable when we ourselves are horses that have bolted. We are faced with many such contradictions in the liturgy. What about O beata nox on a sunny Saturday morning?
Many ideas behind the Bugnini liturgy were not bad, creating a loose structure on the basis of which local communities would rebuild the old diversity of local usage. The trouble was is that it was enforced by the same “state” that enforced the Tridentine liturgy. That was accompanied by an iconoclastic movement, just as intolerant of difference and humanity. The categories of immobilism and “organic development” were a brave attempt to justify change but to prevent it from becoming “abuse”. It might work as an analogy, but a very imperfect one.
The traditionalist position of returning to the Counter Reformation status quo is naive. It’s over. The only future of liturgy is doing it, not waiting for someone to make it “official” for us. The alternative is accepting what the ecclesiastical “state” will give us (the usual novus ordo fare) or giving up on organised and liturgical religion, as most have done. The “consensus of the people” is gone and we are all atomised individuals. Some of us are able to reconstruct minimal communities in which liturgy would have some meaning.
At a “state” level, the future is bleak and Christianity is beyond its sell-by date. On a smaller scale, if we are prepared to accept that reality and make the best of it, there is a chance. Of course we will no longer have money for the churches that face demolition or conversion into secular use. We have to make do with what we can afford and what we have the skills to make ourselves.