N DISCUSSIONS OF LITURGY, one often notices people lumping together problems that are really quite distinct and, therefore, demand different treatments. As a Thomist, I find it helpful to make distinctions and place phenomena in categories.
It seems to me that we are dealing with three categories:
1. The Discontinuous.
2. The Dubious.
3. The Abusive.
As an example of the first, one may cite the new calendar of the modern Roman rite, with its substitution of Ordinary Time for the Season after Pentecost, its abolition of the ancient octave of Pentecost, the removal of pre-Lent, Rogation days, and Ember days, and so forth. Speaking generally, many features of the Ordinary Form are discontinuous with the liturgical tradition that preceded it. This is a problem so serious that it can be repaired only by a pope or an ecumenical council, although naturally bishops and priests can do much to circumvent it simply by returning to the last integral expression of the Roman Rite, the 1962 Missale Romanum, and celebrating it more and more widely. This, in itself, will bring long-term healing by setting up the highest standard and introducing many faithful to the timeless riches of the ancient form of the liturgy.
The second category contains things that are anti-traditional but currently permitted―for example, communion in the hand, females in the sanctuary, the celebration of Mass against the people rather than towards the East, the use of organ during Lent, and other departures from centuries-old practice. Unlike the first, however, this category can be addressed directly by bishops and priests. In particular, bishops are empowered to keep the liturgical life of their dioceses safe from corruption or, if it is already damaged, to bring it back into harmony with Catholic tradition.
The third category refers to things that are not permitted by the Apostolic See but are nonetheless widespread, of which by far the most common example is the “habitual use of extraordinary ministers of holy communion,” which has been repeatedly excluded by church legislation. Of course, the combination of worldwide rebellion against the rules and an utter lack of will-power on the part of ecclesiastical authorities to implement them means, in practice, that nearly everything is tolerated and the rules are made a mockery of. Still, problems in this category are precisely the kind that any priest is allowed to repair on his own authority, since they are abuses of the discipline that he is required to uphold.
THE MORE OUR YOUNG PEOPLE become educated about their Catholic Faith, its traditions and history, the less they will be able to tolerate the postconciliar aberrations in any of these categories. The hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity can survive only to the extent that people are poorly catechized and educated. Give them the truth, and they will say: “Why are we doing all this other stuff?” A sound theological education is pretty much the direct opposite of the spirit of Vatican II.
The Church is changing: the youth are more demanding and discerning, and they are not satisfied with glib, sentimental, condescending, or duplicitous answers. They are attracted to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite for its awesome stillness, its eloquent gestures, the richness of its prayers. It breathes the spirit of prayer, and if prayer is what you’re looking for, you want the real thing―glowing hot coals in the woodstove, not the electric heater. Yes, the rupturists and discontinuists will be around a lot longer, but the logic of their own position is such as to push them increasingly to the margins of the Church, from which they will eventually bail out when they see that their progressivist-modernist agenda is never going to win the day. Meanwhile, the tightly-knit, highly motivated, and extremely pro-clergy, pro-religious, and pro-family traditionalist movement, though relatively small in numbers, has the bloom and boldness of youth on it, and, simply from a demographic point of view, looks poised to be the major force shaping Catholicism in the coming decades.
As Fr. John Hunwicke so rightly said: “Benedict’s Age is a good age in which to be alive, an age of the very truest instauratio catholica.”
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