Friday, April 27, 2007

Mark Shea yawns over the motu whazzit?

Mark Shea writes (Motu Proprio Mania, April 25, 2007):
Got word yesterday from a well-spaced plource [sic.] that the long-awaited motu proprio will be out in May. I mention this, not because I care about this, but because so many at St. Blog's do--passionately.

Me: I haven't even bothered to find out what a motu proprio is, nor have I much been interested in the subject of this one.
Shea says his eyes start to cross when St. Blog's begins obsessing over the "nitnoid details of liturgy," and so he has habitually skipped over motu proprio discussions except for this one.

Shea says that he shares with Tom Kreitzberg a profound disinterest in liturgical policing. His own attitude, he says, is "Just give me my lines and my blocking"; and then he will endeavor to learn and forget about them in precisely the same way he endeavors to break in his shoes. "The point of shoes is not to notice them, but to walk in them. Shoes you constantly notice are Bad Shoes. Liturgy you obsess over is liturgy that's not doing it's job, which is to refer us to God, not to itself."

I'm not sure whether Shea is alluding here to the well-known analogy C.S. Lewis once made between liturgy and dance, suggesting that a dance succeeds only when one can forget about his steps and enjoy focusing all of his attention upon his Partner. Of course, that cannot happen if the steps of the dance are constantly being changed. It's a good point.

But this point tends to get lost in Shea's dismissiveness of traditional Catholic liturgical concerns -- concerns of the kind that (as anyone familiar with the former Cardinal Ratzinger's writings on the subject of liturgy may suspect) might even motivate the Holy Father's eventual publication of a motu proprio liberalizing the Traditional Latin Mass.

Shea writes:
There are two basic reasons you focus on liturgy instead of God, just as there are two reasons a man will focus on his shoes. It may be that the shoes or the liturgy hurt. But it may also be that the man is a hypochondriac who imagines pain where there is none or who grossly exaggerates small irritations into great ones. I've no doubt that there's lots of little and big liturgical abuse out there (which is the fault of the abuser, not the liturgy, and I doubt a motu proprio will stop such people). But I also know there are an awful lot of Liturgical Police in the pews who spend far more time obsessing over nitnoid details of liturgy and grumbling than actually praying. Far better to "look along" the liturgy at God than to spend all one's time looking at it.
First, while Shea makes an important point here about the importance of focusing on God, this is too facile. He is too dismissive of the first option. Not only can shoes pinch. Some shoes are incapable of ever being broken in. They deserve to be scrapped and replaced.

Second, when abuses have become an institutionalized part of our liturgy, it's too facile to absolve the 'liturgy' and blame the 'abusers' of the liturgy. The problem is that so many mainstream Catholics have grown so accustomed to the way things are that they've lost any sense of historical drift. Part of the reason for familiarizing oneself with the Traditional Latin Mass is to get his bearings and see where he stands today. In fact, the most frightening situation is where people have gotten so inured to the numbing pinch in their shoes that they don't feel the damage they may be doing to their feet.

Third, while I know that Shea understands that liturgy is intended as an means of focusing on God, there is just a hint of a possibility -- in his disjunction between focusing on liturgy vs. focusing on God -- of seeing one's relationship to God as separable from liturgy, ritual, priesthood, sacraments, and the Church -- as in Protestantism. But as he points out, good liturgy draws our attention to God and is thus precisely our means to focusing upon God, whereas bad liturgy draws attention to itself, hampering our efforts to find and focus upon God. In the sacramental outlook of Catholicism, worship is embodied in liturgy -- the two are inseparable; and I know Shea wouldn't disagree.

More helpful, I think, if more painful, is the suggestion of Zippy Catholic in "For Christ's Sake" (April 11, 2007):
Personally I think it would be wonderfully healthy for the Mystical body of Christ if the majority of Catholics who presently attend Novus Ordo masses were required to attend exclusively the Tridentine Rite for the next twenty years; and likewise, if the majority of those who presently attend the Tridentine Rite were required, for the next twenty years, to attend a Novus Ordo guitar mass exclusively. And kneel at the rail and keep your hands to yourself/sing along if you want Communion, respectively.

The reason this occurs to me isn't, by the way, because I think the particulars of the liturgy are unimportant. The reason this occurs to me is because I think the particulars of the liturgy are extraordinarily important.
Zippy, by the way, describes his own orientation (in Liturgical Codependence, April 10, 2007) thus:
My politics are almost medieval; my liturgical and cultural orientation is arch-traditional; I don't think much of modern democracy (in fact I think voting for anyone in many races is probably a sin); I think the Inquisition was mostly a good thing that got out of hand in some isolated cases because of political corruption; I believe in objective standards of beauty; I disagree profoundly with my friend Mike Liccione about embracing the label "neo-Catholic" as a positive thing (I think "traditionalist" needs to be restored to its rightful linguistic status as high praise), and my most common visceral disagreements with the things written by my other friend Mark Shea arise when what he says comes off to me as too modern and conciliatory. He is just too much of a punch-pulling lovable teddy bear and a coddler of modernist attitudes, the big wuss.
Mark Shea, my friend, just so you know: I would never, like Zippy, call you "a wuss." Nor even a "knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing liturgical troglodyte." That would just be so ... philistine. Love, peace, and happiness.

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