Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Liturgical validity and authenticity

In Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church,T&T Clark Studies in Fundamental Liturgy (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, October, 2010), author Geoffrey Hull writes (p. 38):
One of the most pernicious consequences of the Latin West's downgrading of theologia secunda [systematic reflection on the lived mystery of the Church] is its concern for validity, the automatic product of doctrinal orthodoxy, to the neglect of authenticity, the natural fruit of orthopraxis. Differently put, this is making text all-important and context a matter of indifference. Indeed most Catholic debate about the liturgical revolution has centered on the question of whether the new official text makes the Mass and sacraments valid or not; the cultural packaging of the same rites is meanwhile relegated to the realm of relatively unimportant 'externals'.
Addendum: A number of readers have asked for clarification. Just a word now, and perhaps something more substantial in a later post. As a system of beliefs, Catholicism is propositional; but it is far more than that: it is also a way of life, the primary work of which is worship -- a fact indicated by the etymology of "liturgy" -- from Ancient Greek λειτουργία < λειτ-, from λαός, people + -ουργός < ἔργον, work (the public work of the people done on behalf of the people) (Wiktionary). Geoffrey Hull writes (p. 42): "... for centuries orthodoxia 'right worship' had been giving way, in the Western theological hierarchy, to orthopistis 'right believing', and orthodidascalia 'right teaching'."

An undue emphasis on one to the exclusion of the other results in distortion. Thus, the emphasis of existential theolgians (e.g., Barth) on "personal encounter" at the expense of downplaying or excluding the propositional content of revelation and Church teaching tended toward an irrational fideism in the last century; while an undue emphasis on propositional teaching to the neglect of the conventional habitus of Catholic devotional life, results in a disembodied doctrinalism lacking the necessary practical reinforcement to sustain it as a way of life. This, I think, is at least in part the reason for the phenomenon of Catholic converts from Protestant backgrounds sometimes reverting to their erstwhile Protestant communions. They may have been intellectually convinced, after having spent arduous hours in apologetic games of one-upmanship; but Catholicism never 'took' for them, since it remained a disembodied system of beliefs.

For some time I have thought that a good many of those Protestants who have been converting to the Catholic Faith persist in having an overly propositional 'take' on Catholicism, and that even major portions of the conservative wing of contemporary Catholic life exhibit something of this tendency. In this light, I found it interesting that the next paragraph following the one I extracted (above) in the original post, Hull writes: "this problem has been exacerbated by Protestant influence channelled through converts who apply to study for the priesthood and are accepted as ordinands by vocations directors, seminary professors and bishops typically unconcerned to scrutinize the candidates' mentality and cultural outlook which, far too often, are alien and antagonistic to Catholicity." He even goes on to refer to a "veritable 'Trojan horse' phenomenon," which occurs "when such convert-clerics who have recently acquired a Catholic mind but (through no fault of their own) have never had a Catholic heart" are received into the Church and elevated to positions of authority and influence (p. 38).

Cardinal Dulles, the Presbyterian convert to Catholicism, for example, once averred in the pages of the evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, that he could imagine a Protestant convert to Catholicism never developing a Marian devotion -- never praying the Rosary, the Memorare, or even embracing the intercession of the Saints as part of his or her personal devotion -- and finding this quite acceptable as long as the convert did not explicitly reject Church teaching on the matter. Dulles, himself something of a minimalist when it comes to what he considered extraneous packaging of the Faith, once wrote: "If there be anyone who contends that in order to be converted to the Catholic faith one must be first attracted by the beauty of the liturgy, he will have me to explain away. Filled as I was with a Puritan antipathy toward splendour in religious ritual, I found myself actually repulsed by the elaborate symbolism in which the Holy Sacrifice is clothed" (Hull, p. 38).

Note the word "clothed" here; and then return to the distinction drawn in the original post between text and context. Text (propositional doctrine) is obviously critically important, but ignoring context is far from being an indifferent matter. True, a validly consecrated Host is the true Body of Christ whether I receive Him kneeling on my tongue at the altar rail or in my hand while lounging in a papasan chair with my other arm lolling over the side. But eventually the practical disposition and deportment is going to have its effect -- either to reinforce belief in Christ's true Bodily Presence, or to erode it in such a way as to spiritualize Christ's presence, if the conviction is sustained at all. One "language-of-the-body" says "I believe this is Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of my Lord Jesus Christ." The other says ... or rather yawns, "Yeah, whatever."


R.V. Miole said...

Oh thank God for interlibrary loans. I don't have $40 to spare.

thomas tucker said...

Owww. My eyes. My eyes. I may never see again. What a horrid picture.

Steven Andrews said...

This picture could be a snapshot right out of my own chidlhood in the 1970's. My parents were involved in the charismatic movement and we used to have "folk masses" said in our house. Even as a child I remember thinking that this was somehow not right, although I was not able to atriculate why.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat on topic me thinks. We went to the closest Catholic Church (not our parish) for Mass on Thanksgiving. Or tried to anyway. After the procession the priests (there were three) stood silent while a young woman prayed "grandfather" in english and a foreign language I believe that I have never heard before asking him to bless the east, west, north and south. This is similar to what happened in another Mass that my hubby attended except the procession was a bunch of people dressed in American Indian clothes and dancing some sort of Indian dance. I didn't mention that there was incense that smelled like tobacco. Has anyone else experienced such a thing?


Anonymous said...

The photo looks more reverent than most eucharists.

JM said...

Hey, he's wearing flip flops!

See, for all the tut-tutting, pictures like these make all the brittle Traddie behavior pretty understandable. And if Benedict XVI and the saner guys at the Vatican had to worship in subjectivity to the whims of hippie faeries like these, they might be a lot more reactionary themselves.

anon said...


Help me out, I have attempted to read this through a number of times now without actually understanding the meaning.

I believe my problem is partially owed to that... picture. It is quite distracting. (Makes me squirm a bit.)

Anyway... I am slowly catching the drift... but can you provide a alternative summary?

Anonymous said...

Would you explain the tut tut part of your post? Have you ever been to a Mass like pictured. I have been to a worse one if you can imagine a worse one. And pardon me, but what is a "tradie" and what do you mean by brittle? I attend a parish that has one Tridentine Mass on Sundays. Every other Mass is novus ordo. On a given Sunday I may go to a Tridentine but another I may attend a N. O. Please explain what you mean.


Pertinacious Papist said...


I'll try to help out a bit with an addendum to the post. Not a lot right now, but maybe just a prolegomenon.

anon said...

Thank you Dr. That clarified it perfectly. Somewhat related to "Lex Orandi - Lex Credendi"

Roger said...

I’m a convert, as in Protestant to Catholic, and have been for 41 of 54 years and formally recognized for the last 18 years. I say formally recognized because before being confirmed through the RCIA process I attended the Catholic Church all those many years. I can tell you that while I lacked the propositional understanding of the Catholic faith I firmly professed the faith, believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the authority of the Holy Father, and devotional spiritual life in Mary the Virgin Mother of God and the communion of saints just to mention a few. I agree that propositional doctrine, spiritual devotions, and a Eucharistic life are foundational for Catholic faith. However in reading your post it seems to me that you are a bit critical, in a negative sense, toward Protestants who seek propositional understanding. I believe, at least in my case, that propositional understanding of the faith has strengthened my faith. If you want to be critical I could certainly cite many examples of Catholics that lack devotional spirituality and are extremely weak in doctrinal understanding. For example, I went to mass on all souls day to find very few people. I know there were many deaths of loved ones during the year so what happened to indulgences, after all part of the proposition involving indulgences is receiving the Eucharist, but then again we could just let the priest do it for us. This is only the tip of a very large iceberg that is a plague in our day. Next time, if you please, present a more balanced approach when criticizing converts vs. “Cradle Catholics.” And by the way, as for leaving the Catholic faith, I would gladly and joyously while totally conscious be drawn and quartered or ripped apart by wild horses before ever rejecting the Catholic faith and you can take that to the bank.

Pertinacious Papist said...


I'm afraid I've opened a can of worms here, which may require en endless regress of clarifications of clarifications. Where do I start?

This post may be the very first one ever in which I have criticized an lop-sidedly propositional mentality that is found often among Protestant converts. More often than not, I have been far more critical of the dearth of catechesis (propositional doctrinal knowledge) among Catholics over the last half-century. In that respect, I have often repeated the refrain that converting Evangelicals in RCIA classes often know the Catholic Faith (propositionally) far better than their RCIA teachers, sad to say. My point in this post is a very specific one, and requires some nuance.

First, to put things in perspective, I would much rather have a Cardinal Dulles any day than a "sacramentalized pagan," which seem to be a dime-a-dozen these days. Hence, I appreciate the importance of doctrinal clarity (what is today called "doctrinal orthodoxy") found among Protestant converts as well as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Catechism of the Catholic Faith, para-church ministries like Karl Keating's Catholic Answers, and the exegetical homilies of local priests such as Fr. John Riccardo. These are salutary developments, especially in the face of the aforementioned dearth of catechesis found among most contemporary Catholics.

Second, having said that, I'm suggesting in this post that even at its best, such a doctrinal emphasis may be missing something if it neglects the issues Geoffrey Hull is addressing in his monograph. "Sacramentalized pagans" is one problem. But "unsacramentalized believers" may be another -- if you follow my meaning and don't take the term "sacramental" here in a literal sense as applying to the seven Sacraments (a better term may be "desacralized believers," although I also want to underscore the rapidly eroding "sacramental worldview" of historic Catholicism.

I think the reason the latter problem is so hard to see for so many good, doctrinally-informed Catholics and converts today (and I would count myself among them until relatively recently) is because they haven't stopped to ask themselves and seriously think about this question: "What would be lost if our worship and devotions and practices as Catholics were indistinguishable from those of evangelical Protestants, say, evangelical Presbyterians?" Would it matter?

If we removed the Tabernacle and kneelers, stopped genuflecting, abandoned the Friday penance, stopped crossing ourselves when we pass in front of a Catholic church, and started having informal (perhaps charismatic) Masses such as that pictured here in our homes with friends, but had a robust belief in Church doctrine, what difference would it make? Some might argue that we would be better off. While not discounting the value of "robust belief in Church doctrine," however, I would suggest that more than window dressing would have been lost. This is my point.

I do think, however, that it will be quite difficult to make this case today, because the prevailing options seem to be "sacramentalized pagans" or "desacralized believers."

Anonymous said...

Pertinacious Papist,

From reading your response you may have read a far more critical response in my post than was actually the case. I’m sorry I wrote with such conviction that it seemed as if I was shaking my finger at you. I know you from several classes and you are much to kind to ever have any ill intention toward Protestants or Catholics. I do understand your point of the need for both doctrinal orthodoxy and orthopraxis, however I do believe the weight needs to be on necessity of doctrine. The reason I say this is because I believe if the faith is weighted on practice three things may be the result. One, the believer merely passively participates through the motions never understanding what they mean, hence “sacramentalized pagans.” Two, such a lack of understanding produces confirmation from someone who believes liturgy is wrought with superstition, hence, again we have “sacramentalized pagan.” Or three, the person find emotion the driving force for attending worship, hence… This last point may be the most dangerous since, as you point out, there faith is weak and fails during stress filled events and God gets the blame as they leave the faith. With all being said a well-balanced knowledge and spirituality will only serve toward the good if God’s grace is at the center of it all.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Anonymous Roger,

Appreciate your most recent remarks. Not only do I have no quarrel with them, I heartily affirm them. Having said that, the other point still needs to be made -- in tandem, if you will, with the points you've summarized so well.

The definition of a Sacrament is "an outward sign of an inward grace." This is more than a definition of one of the seven Sacraments, however. It's the definition of the Catholic incarnational and sacramental worldview, which is the bane of Manicheans, Docetists, and other werewolves. Outward sign. Inward grace. Flesh. Spirit.

The pagan mind tends exclusively toward one or the other -- either toward a hedonistic embrace of the fleshpots of Egypt, or to a docetic spiritualism eschewing the physical as evil.

But there are also quasi-Christian variations on these themes. Quakerism, for example, eschews all sacraments, since it holds that the "spiritual" meaning of the sacraments is all that matters. An analogy is that of the husband who, when his wife asks him why he never touches her or tells her he loves her anymore, responds by saying that he promised his undying love for her at their wedding, and why shouldn't that suffice!

On the other side of the aisle is empty liturgical formalism, where people go through the motions without meaning anything. An analogy would be the sailor's portside visit to the brothel, where he goes through all the motions of committed love without any intention of commitment.

Flesh and Spirit. They belong together. A husband who loves his spouse in his heart has something fine, but it needs to take expression in outward signs: words, gestures, passion, embrace. A Catholic who has all his doctrinal ducks in a row has something fine, but it needs to take expression in outward signs so that the body can say what the mind says. It's good and right that we have love for the Lord in our hearts; but this love needs to find expression -- not only in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, not only in the pursuit of personal virtue, but in quotidian and Sabbatarian moments of worship: contrition, reconciliation, adoration.

Why do we kneel? Why do we bow? Why do we make the sign of the cross? Bless ourselves at the Holy Water font? We could dispense with these and still love God. Or we could kneel and bow without loving God, and then our "language of the body" would be a lie. Ideally, we should intend and mean what we do when we kneel and bow; just as we should mean every word of the Our Father when we recite it during the liturgy.

Is this mere window dressing? My fear is that many Catholics are beginning to believe so, and thus taking a turn toward the gnostic and docetic in their "spirituality."

Roger said...

The “fleshpots of Egypt.” What a great way of expressing the real. You have a way with word Dr. B. I’m not sure why my post came up anonymous on your blog (Musings of a Pertinacious Papist)(Did you detect a plug there?) I entered Roger. Quakerism is sort of a perverted twist on through the works worked. Thanks for the post.

Charles said...

Taken as a whole, Hull's book is an Eastern Catholic critique of the Counter-Reformation mentality in the Latin Church. Hull sees the catastrophic collapse of liturgy in the West as a direct consequence. It is tendentious at points but largely reflects my own views as a Latin Rite Catholic that worships in the Byzantine Rite by preference.

Hull does not spare any of the modern popes from criticism, particularly Pius 12 and JP2. Nor does he spare traditionalists that are rigidly attached to the EF.

Pertinacious Papist said...


I remember that about you, that you're a Latin Rite Catholic who attends a Byzantine liturgy by choice. It's a choice that certainly offers an attractive draw amidst the current turmoil of the post-V2 West.

Hull is right, of course, about the issues not being merely liturgical. The question of liturgy would be only the central focal point of a set of problems that is as pervasive as the eviscerated ranks of desacralized Roman religious orders, seminaries, and parishes over the last half-century -- the roots of the problem lying centuries antecedent.