Bootleg Liturgy under Prohibition

I couldn’t resist the temptation, since I have been offering reflections on drugs, addiction and prohibition. I can almost imaging the cops in some American village descending on a church and demanding to see what books are on the altar during Holy Week, tasing the priest or clobbering him over the head or even shooting him dead – and beating up the servants before carrying them off to jail!

A little closer to reality, Rorate Caeli put up an article about the use of the pre-Pius XII Holy Week rites in the Roman rite, and very quickly took it down. This article Maybe the Liturgical Extremists Have a Point? has given a link to a cached version: Holy Week notes – On the tiny (but growing) number of TLM locations celebrating the pre-1956 Holy Week.

This is embarrassing evidence that the older rites are favoured by some of those who are not ideologically motivated like the sedevacantists. Even for those who are theologically and politically “moderate”, objections to the modifications to the Roman liturgy under Pius XII and John XXIII are comparable with those criticising the Novus Ordo of 1969. This was a tendency I found at Gricigliano in the early 1990’s, and Fr Quoëx (our MC) managed to tweak things as best as possible within the limits of tolerance from the superiors and Rome.

Somebody got very cold feet over this article, probably after some nasty e-mail from a bully. Just imagine trying to revive Sarum in the Roman Catholic Church! The last one who tried it in the 1990’s got reported to Rome by some little prig with a gripe, and had to stop. It is not my intention to provoke polemics or attack personalities.

Perhaps the issue of the liturgy is of no importance and we could all be like the Quakers or American mega-church evangelists.

There are and always have been differences between rites and uses, and getting steamed up about the details of one of them can seem un-Christian. On the other hand, liturgical rites have their history and sometimes an obscure rationale, which is destroyed by rationally-based modifications and reforms. The Holy Week rites are witnesses of the oldest liturgical forms in the history of the church, predating much of the knowledge we have from books and other archaeological sources. Destroying them is like building a car park over an archaeological site. Car parks are useful for those who need to park cars, but man also needs his collective memory of the distant past and a sense of continuity in a tradition.

This seems to be a valid reason for conservatism in liturgy even if it celebrated in the language of the people as we Anglicans do.

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6 Responses to Bootleg Liturgy under Prohibition

  1. Stephen K says:

    Father, I think this liturgical bickering is plain nonsense. Liturgies, however long or short they are in their particular making, are man-made constructs. The various rites were not revealed or handed down in tablets from on high but, incrementally or brusquely, brought into legal existence by decrees and publications, and into organic existence by local innovation and acceptance. I have no problem with either Sarum, Pius XII, John XXIII or the various Pauline versions. None is more angelic. (We simply prefer on various grounds one or the other).

    I understand the religious desolation of someone who cannot participate or celebrate the rite one prefers; I cannot understand the shrill insistence of someone who can, that everyone else must also be subject to it.

    These liturgical polemics suggest that the essence of religion is ritual expression, which I don’t accept is the case. The essence of religion is in my view much more complex, and in the Christian context, has to be qualified by the various ways in which the two equally greatest commandments may be understood.

    It seems to me that liturgical pluralism is the answer, but I often doubt whether this would satisfy everyone.

    • I would agree that liturgical pluralism is the answer and that there should not only be no prohibition but also no pressure against the options taken by this or that community or parish.

    • ed pacht says:

      I can’t entirely agree with Stephen here. Yes, liturgical pluralism is a good thing (and incidentally is, in itself, a solid part of Christian tradition), but if the content and form of the liturgy do not matter, nothing else matters either. Tradition is not absolute prescriptive law. It certainly does change with time and place, but tradition is not disposable or so flexible as to have no substance. Christianity is not a philosophy of the moment only, but an expression in time and place of a continuity in both content and practice. To throw it away as being not “up-to-date” is to, in effect, excommunicate the very ancestors who have brought the faith down to us. Yes, it is possible to bind oneself up with so many petty rules that the Spirit has no room to work, but it is also possible to throw out so much that the treasure contained is lost as well. I can’t just sit back and say that whatever a group decides to do in liturgy is OK, but, even if it is not my group, if I am to have anything at all to do with it (and if we are all one body, that can’t be avoided) I have to evaluate what it is doing as to the content of the words and the way they are expressed in action.

      tradition, though not infallible, is the safest guide to making such judgments. Much (perhaps most) of modern liturgy fails on several counts, sometimes with words that inadequately express truths (or even distort them unrecognizably), very often with actions that mask the depths of what they should be expressing, and all too often with an open attitude of sneering at the past and idolizing the present.

      I think the wrangling over details (even picayune ones) is a healthy thing, up until it degenerates into name-calling and judgmentalism. Disagreement among brethren is healthy. Bitterness and condemnation are not.

      And, Father, I believe a certain amount of pressure (so long as it be short of oppressive) is essential if there is to be any church discipline at all.

      • Dale says:

        Ed, this response is very well reasoned and I would like to add more to it, but I am falling behind at work and need to do catch-up. But one of the issues I do have with liturgical revision that borders on revolution is that it destroys not simply tradition, but gives to those who have the power to destroy ancient received manners of prayer a great amount of power over everything in the church. The ecclesial institution that simply believes that everything is simply under their power to change at will can easily become arbitrary. The idea of a continuing tradition is or was one of those checks and balances that kept those who wish for complete control and power to force their own private agendas in check.

        I think that within especially modern Roman Catholicism the wholesale destruction of the Roman rite patrimony has actually increased the personal power of the Pope. He can now, at will, do whatever he wishes, he is not part of tradition, he is the tradition. He can destroy at will centuries of a received tradition, with almost no opposition. For me this is frightening.

        Also, we do believe in an unchanging Faith that is expressed liturgically, most modernist liturgical changes do indeed have a theological agenda behind them as well, usually parading as an attempt to make the church more relevant. But usually this attempt is not too much more than personal aggrandizement.

  2. In a culture of legal positivism, such as “thrives” (not the right word) within Roman Catholicism, what else would you expect but whistle blowing? To be honest, I can sympathise with the prigs and bullies. Where they are confronted with obtuse people, who claim to be obedient and disdain their fellow churchmen on the “liberal left” for their dissidence in matters liturgical, and yet themselves do their own thing with disregard for what is technically allowed…I can well understand the desire to put a stop to hypocrisy and triumphalism. The prigs may be a manifestation of righteous anger, after all, and not just pedantry or malice. How do we know what drives people in their actions?

  3. Rubricarius says:

    It is a very peculiar phenomenon and rather like children at primary school trying to get an apple from the teacher for ‘telling’ on their classmates. The late chair of the SLP, a dear and much missed friend, told me of the one time black folded chasubles were used at the $$PX church in Holloway. One member of the congregation got up and rushed to the nearest telephone (in 1983 mobiles and the Internet had yet to arrive) and ‘phoned Schmidberger to tell of such malevolent dark praxis going on rather than something more modern.

    When one looks at it logically one realises how bizarre the real extreme ‘Traddies’ like the Lefebvrists and RetRorate crowd are: they maintain what was the ancient praxis before the 1962 books were adopted is wrong, ‘cannot confer grace’ (said by a former $$PX cleric who has now left and got married), schismatic, sedevacantist etc and, contrawise, anything after the 1962 books, i.e. what came in on either Advent Sunday 1964 or Lent 1 1965 depending on one’s particular country is also wrong. So these people are asking us to take seriously their, at least implicit, claim that the only time the Roman liturgy was ever right was between 1962 and 1964 – and some takes these people seriously! (The fact that virtually none of them actually bother to follow the rubrics in their beloved – once happily abrogated – 1962MR is another matter and example of Traddie hypocrisy).

    I think we are going to be in for some fun as it looks as though Francis is going to ‘recognise’ the $$PX cult. If that happens they will expect everyone to conform to their way of thinking. They are going to be in for one almighty shock!

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