Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What is Adoremus Society's mission?

On July 21, 2005 I posted an article entitled "Three Liturgical Movements?" reprinting a letter I wrote to the editor published in the Adoremus Bulletin of July-August 2005, but adding the parts that were deleted in the print edition. In that letter, I distinguished three liturgical movements in Roman Catholicism today: (1) the Tridentine rite, which continues under an officially encouraged indult, (2) the reform of that rite called for by Vatican II, and (3) the Novus Ordo, which incorporates numerous innovations never envisioned by the Council, and which Pope Benedict has called a "rupture" with liturgical tradition. My question to the editor was essentially this: Of which liturgical movement is the Adoremus Society seeking a renewal -- the reform of the Tridentine rite called for by V-II, or the Novus Ordo? My suggestion was that Adoremus has not at all seemed clear about its mission in this regard.

Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from Rev. Thomas M. Kocik, the author of Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (San Diego: Ignatius Press, 2003) -- a volume I suggested for further reading at the end of my "Three Liturgical Movements?" article and have recommended from time to time (e.g., "Ratzinger on Liturgy," Nov. 22, 2004; and "I, Liturgist," March 1, 2005). With his permission, I excerpted the major portion of his letter in a poste entitled "Adoremus Society opposed to the 'reform of the reform'?" (August 11, 2005). As some readers may recall, his remarks appear to corroborate my suspicion.

Next, in the September 2005 issue of the Adoremus Bulletin (Vol. XI, No. 6), we read the following (on p. 10) in a letter to the editor from Bernard M. Collins, of Frederick, Maryland:
"AB Is Patronizing"

Dr. Philip Blosser's letter ("Three Liturgical Movements?"), published in Adoremus Bulletin July-August 2005, articulated something that has been troubling me for some time, and I think his analysis is quite accurate. Furthermore, I think your response seemed evasive. The whole thing puzzles me.

The current Missal and its use are clearly seriously deficient on many levels, regardless of its legitimacy and validity, and this according to some of the highest officials and theologians in the Church. The pope himself has spoken his mind on this. When the Mass is offered according to the rubrics there is a modicum of decorum and a measure of acceptance that is possible for persons who must tolerate its banality, ineptness, bad translations, etc. When it is offered in its usual style by what is often referred to as "the idiot clergy" and their multitudes of "ministers" it is a travesty and painful to attend.

Your treatment of those who prefer the older Missal was patronizing. "Adoremus does not oppose those who make us ..." seemed to imply they have an empty-headed attachment to the past. While some may suffer from that problem, there is a great body of much more profound thinking among faithful who want a truly appropriate celebration of the Mass, and feel that a return to something very close to the past is the only way to go. After 40 years of witnessing so much insanity and inanity on the altar, I have come to that opinion.

I have long been convinced that very appropriate modifications were possible under the old Missal without any significant authorization. As examples, the priest would not have been prohibited from reading the Epistle and Gospel in the vernacular; the recitation of the "Corpus Domini..." at Communion could have been shortened and said in the recipients' language; a conscious effort to limit the "Requiem" Masses that so dominated weakday celebrations, in favor of the calendar of the Saints, would have been welcome; with the participation of the national bishops, the Scriptural readings could easily have been expanded.

I cannot honestly figure out where Adoremus pleaces itself in the ongoing examination of the "reform." The things you bring up in the Adoremus Bulletin are usually a repetition of official documents and an unnecessarily drawn out and somewhat pedantic explanation of what is "permitted." The errant clergy, bishops and priests, are well aware of both.

Bernard M. Collins,
Frederick, Maryland.

In response to this letter, the Editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, Mrs. Helen H. Hitchcock (pictured below right), writes:
We find your letter puzzling. Especially your comment that the current Missal itself is "seriously deficient on many levels," implying that the pope agrees with this.

We are very sympathetic with Catholics -- clergy or lay -- who long for the beauty, holiness and power that they should find in every Mass, but so often do not -- and we hope our efforts are helpful to them and to the Church.

Adoremus has not changed its focus, nor altered its objectives. (See our "mission statement" in our 10th Anniversary issue -- June 2005.) Our commitment to a more reverent and beautiful and authentic celebration of the Sacred Liturgy -- for all Catholics -- has been our guiding principle from the beginning.

Our mission statement is clear about this objective: "the mission of Adoremus is to restore the beauty, the holiness, the power, of the Church's rich liturgical tradition, while remaining faithful to an organic, living process of renewal." The statement quotes then-Cardinal Ratzinger in a passage from
Feast of Faith, in part, "... What is exciting about Christian Liturgy is that it lifts us up out of our narrow sphere and lets us share in the Truthy. The aim of all liturgical renewal must be to bring to light this liberating greatness."

Our statement also affirmed: "With the Holy Father [John Paul II] ... Adoremus believes liturgical changes approved since the Council should be reviewed and measured against a deeper understanding of the Council's teaching. We believe the Church should reflect carefully on these changes, and evaluate them in the light of the original Council texts and of the experience of the faithful since the Council."

We do not "place ourselves" elsewhere than squarely with the Church and the Vicar of Christ. And our aim is not to educate "errant clergy," but to provide encouragement and useful information for faithful Catholics of good will in all states of life.
Mrs. Hitchcock's answer, as well as the Adoremus mission statement it cites, is in many ways excellent. In particular, it is significant that the statement asserts that the "changes approved since the Council should be reviewed and measured against a deeper understanding of the Council's teaching."

Less clear, however, is what the statement means when it asserts that "the Church should . . . evaluate [these changes] in light of the original council texts and of the experience of the faithful since the Council" (emphasis added). It is unclear what authority the "experience of the faithful since the council" has. Setting aside, for the moment, the implicit question of authority, it is clear, on the one hand, that millions of Catholics has been disaffected by the liturgical chaos following the council. Until the provision of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei of July 1988, it was not clear that the experience of this vast, disaffected throng of Catholics counted for much in the scheme of post-Vatican II developments. It was only the threat of real schism that evoked the indult Latin Mass. Even then, it is far from clear (to put the most generous spin on things!) that the "wide and generous application" of Pope John Paul II's directives has been seen among the bishops of the Church.

On the other hand, it is no less clear that millions of Catholics have made shift to adjust and accommodate themselves to the "changes" that have been thrust upon them, in the process becoming desensitized by these changes, as well as through the increasing remoteness from (and decreasing familiarity with) the old Latin Mass through the passage of time. It's certainly not clear how such desensitized subjective experience could serve as an authoritative index of liturgical virtue in any credible way.

Again, when the Adoremus mission statement refers to its mission of restoring the beauty, holiness and power of the Church's rich liturgical tradition "while remaining faithful to an organic, living process of renewal," it's not clear exactly what this could mean. What is particularly ironic is the fact that the "organic, living process of renewal" proposed during Vatican II is precisely what has been betrayed by the "changes" imposed on the faithful during the decades-long aftermath of the council. In view of this, it's hard to see what "remaining faithful" to such an "organic, living process of renewal" might mean.

Nevertheless, there's no question that the Church's liturgical tradition is rich in beauty, holiness, and power, and that this is what the faithful need restored in their liturgies, regardless of whether they understand this and experience this "need." When will our bishops and priests (and Catholic periodical editors) recollect that Mother Church is a parent and cannot always expect her children to know what they need? What mother, if her daughter has acquired a taste for junk food, will be satisfied to allow her to consistently indulge her taste in the nutritional equivalent of sawdust laced with crack cocaine?

Finally, Mrs. Hitchcock's opening paragraph deserves comment. She says that she finds Mr. Collins' letter puzzling -- "Especially your comment that the current Missal itself is 'seriously deficient on many levels,' implying that the pope agrees with this." But of course it's no secret that he does.

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