Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Advocatus Diaboli: Supply Reconsidered

By David L Alexander

[Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles. A proper understanding of the author's intent presumes a reading of the series as a whole. This would include the first, second, and third parts of the series.]

Upon leaving the office of President of the United States, the late Harry Truman commented on the fate which awaited his successor. It went something like this: "Poor Ike. He'll get in this job, and think he's still in the Army. He'll tell everybody, do this, and do that, and then wonder why it doesn't get done."

His Eminence Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which oversees the implementation of the Traditional Latin Mass for the Roman rite. Following his celebration of a Pontifical Mass at Westminster Cathedral in the UK earlier this year, he had the opportunity to remind the press (and by extension, anyone who didn't get it the first time), that the classical form of the Roman liturgy was not meant only for the few who get down on their hands and knees and beg for it, but for the whole Church. As if that were not clear enough, according to the Telegraph, he indicated that the Holy Father's wish for the Traditional Mass, was that it be celebrated in all parishes.

That's right. All of them.

Here's where the buzz continues on Angelqueen, CTN-GREG, and all the other internet fora, in which the huddled masses of armchair pundits will demand that this transformation take place by... well, how's next Sunday? No kidding. There are plenty of otherwise educated and informed people out there, who genuinely wonder out loud how this could not have happened immediately, simply because someone in charge wanted it to happen badly enough.

In our last installment, we covered some reasons why said transformation is not going to happen in quite the way that its adherents imagine. But even for those who are willing, there is the prospect of co-existing with those who are not.

For one thing, no matter how perfectly clear a leadership is, on that which is to be carried out, "prefectly clear" is never clear enough for someone who doesn't want to hear it. And you've got an entire infrastructure in the Church, that is accustomed to doing things a certain way, regardless of how necessary a change may be. To give you an example, I've got a dear old friend back in Ohio who's a priest, a very good and conscientious one in all respects, except maybe for one. He tells his parishioners that "the Latin Mass" simply will not happen on his watch, and that his parishioners who want it are free to attend old Father Fezziwig's place down near the water treatment plant. (Something like that.) All this is to say, that it is not enough for those who love the Old Mass to want it. Those who couldn't care less have to learn to live with it, and their collective hand has yet to be forced.

What we would require, in the end, is a dramatic series of events equivalent to that which happened in the five or six years following the Second Vatican Council, the one that culminated in the "Novus Ordo Missae" of Pope Paul VI -- in other words, that which supposedly unraveled fifteen centuries of unbroken tradition to begin with.

Even for those parishes that want the Traditional Mass -- and I mean really REALLY want it, every Sunday morning at the same more-or-less convenient time -- you need at least two priests in residence (or at the very least, two who are readily available) who are competent to celebrate it, to ensure that this will happen regularly. If Father Number One gets called away at the last minute, or is otherwise indisposed, you have to have a Father Number Two, or the best laid plans... you get the idea.

Next, and for the long haul (the one we never consider when wanting something immediately), you have to require seminarians to learn to celebrate the Traditional Mass. To do this, means not to make it an option, but to require it. That's "require," as in "learn this or don't get ordained." If you are successful at pulling this off starting -- er, uh, today, your mandate will bear fruit in six years.

But we all know that won't happen today, don't we? (See "not clear enough," above.) Any future clarification from the Holy See, if there is to be any "value added," will have to be explicit, not to mention take the form of a directive, in articulating what is to happen, and by what time. Anything short of a direct order will be met with resistance in some parts of the world. Indeed, it is possible that even a directive would be ignored in a few cases. Historically (and I'm stating this in terms of two millennia of history), this cannot be ruled out.

Now, getting past all that, we have roughly half a century of iconoclastic architecture for new churches, and really bad makeovers for older churches, around which we have to maneuver. That would be hard enough in a place originally built and/or functioning exclusively for the ancient form. But when both have to co-exist, the fact is that some situations facilitate co-existence better than others. If you have, say, a half-hour between the previous Mass and yours, you can expect to spend half of it re-arranging the sanctuary appointments, only to put them all back afterwards. (Try getting half a dozen boys to do that in a timely manner every Sunday. It's not as if these guys signed on to be furniture movers.) Once I served at a parish that had a huge free-standing altar sitting in the middle, while the priest would say Mass on the unconsecrated shelf behind it which was deemed "the altar of repose." It looked perfectly ridiculous, but depending on where what I like to call "the elephant in the sanctuary" is placed, it may be the only way. Even when it's NOT the only way, some of the rabble in the pews have a real thing about a free-standing altar, regardless of the orientation of the priest.

Of course, at the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, no one is complaining about a free-standing altar. Not in the last few centuries anyway...

And what about the faithful themselves, the ones who want the Traditional Mass badly enough that they'll drive across town for it? They can be a positive force in the life of the parish, especially older urban places that would otherwise close down or fall apart. A perfect case in point is St Mary Mother of God Church in Washington DC, east of Chinatown, with the traditional sanctuary and magnificent marble altar and reredos still intact, its view unencumbered by a fixed "people's altar." On the other hand, they can be just a group of malcontents that take over for two hours, complain about their limitations, then leave like a thief in the night when it's over, often after contributing nary a pittance to the financial health of the parish. (If you believe things like that never happen, click here.)

Some have a reason to complain, especially when they're treated badly by the host parish. I've never known this scenario personally, but I do notice that some parishes are "forced" to add a later time to their schedule, rather than replace a regularly scheduled (and more reasonably timed) Mass.

This is how you handle a situation that's meant for everybody. Uh-huh.

It comes down to this: It doesn't matter that a family threw their TV out in the trash, homeschools their kids, and spins their own cloth to make their matching outfits. That family is a product of the society in which they live, and like most of their neighbors, when they want something, they want it right now! There are some unavoidable reasons why that's not going to happen in most places, so they'd better learn to settle in for the aforementioned long haul. They need to look at the big picture, wherein may be found the brighter side, as reports are coming in from all over the country about the growing popularity of the "Extraordinary Form." (Does anyone else hate that term as much as I do?) As I've written before, and have said in different internet discussions time and time again -- tearing something down is much easier than building it back up again.

How that might happen, and what the faithful can do to facilitate it, is the subject of our fifth and final installment.

(UPDATE: While these segments have been appearing every two weeks, the fifth and final segment is expected.... whenever the author can possibly dig a crowbar into his schedule and get around to it.)


TheCrankyProfessor said...

This is a GREAT series!

You ought to put in a hard link in the right column that will summon them all up so people have no excuse for not reading them ALL!

David L Alexander said...

Thanks. I'll have to take it up with the content management department.