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Sr. Joan Chittister on B16’s recent shannigans

July 12, 2007

Sr. Joan has excellently articulated my concerns regarding the pope’s decision to allow unilateral access to the Tridentine Mass as a way to placate conservative Roman Catholics.

I particularly like these excerpts:

But why the concerns? If some people prefer a Latin mass to an English mass, why not have it?

The answer depends on what you think the Mass has to do with articulating the essence of the Christian faith.

The Latin Mass, for instance, in which the priest celebrates the Eucharist with his back to the people, in a foreign language — much of it said silently or at best whispered — makes the congregation, the laity, observers of the rite rather than participants in it.

The celebrant becomes the focal point of the process, the special human being, the one for whom God is a kind of private preserve.

The symbology of a lone celebrant, removed from and independent of the congregation, is clear: ordinary people have no access to God. They are entirely dependent on a special caste of males to contact God for them. They are “not worthy,” to receive the host, or as the liturgy says now, even to have Jesus “come under my roof.”

The Eucharist in such a setting is certainly not a celebration of the entire community. It is instead a priestly act, a private devotion of both priest and people, which requires for its integrity three “principal parts” alone — the offertory, the consecration and the communion. The Liturgy of the Word — the instruction in what it means to live a Gospel life — is, in the Tridentine Rite, at best, a minor element.

In the Latin mass, the sense of mystery — of mystique — the incantation of “heavenly” rather than “vulgar” language in both prayer and music, underscores a theology of transcendence. It lifts a person out of the humdrum, the dusty, the noisy, the crowded chaos of normal life to some other world. It reminds us of the world to come — beautiful, mystifying, hierarchical, perfumed — and makes this one distant. It takes us beyond the present, enables us, if only for a while, to “slip the surly bonds of earth” for a world more mystical than mundane.

It privatizes the spiritual life. The Tridentine Mass is a God-and-I liturgy.

The Vatican II liturgy, on the other hand, steeps a person in community, in social concern, in the hard, cold, clear reality of the present. The people and priest pray the Mass together, in common language, with a common theme. They interact with one another. They sing “a new church into being,’ non-sexist, inclusive, centered together in the Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Galilee curing the sick, raising the dead, talking to women and inviting the Christian community to do the same.

The Vatican II liturgy grapples with life from the point of view of the distance between life as we know it and life as the gospel defines it for us. It plunges itself into the sanctifying challenges of dailiness.

The Vatican II liturgy carries within it a theology of transformation. It does not seek to create on earth a bit of heaven; it does set out to remind us all of the heaven we seek. It does not attempt to transcend the present. It does seek to transform it. It creates community out of isolates in an isolating society.

There is a power and a beauty in both liturgical traditions, of course. No doubt they both need a bit of the other. Eucharist after all is meant to be both transcendent and transformative. But make no mistake: In their fundamental messages, they present us with more than two different styles of music or two different languages or two different sets of liturgical norms. They present us with two different churches. (emphasis added by me)

I’ve talked about the desire of some folks to return to Mayberry on my blog before, and I’ve said I have conflicted feelings about this. I believe what Sr. Joan says, when she says that “both need a bit of the other” transcendent and transformative. I don’t believe that the reason Pope Benedict XVI has made this decision is because he wishes to give lay people more “choice” – quite the contrary. I believe he is actually looking to go backward – to try to return to Mayberry.

I think that is very dangerous.

Look at the uproar regarding his recent statements about who exactly is THE church. In one statement how much ecumenical work has been undone. Sr. Joan notes sagely that while conservative RCs are placated, it does nothing for women nor for world religious harmony in general. The film is being rewound – the lines in the sand, erased to some extent in Vatican II are being redrawn. Because, reigning things in, making them tighter, will surely make things safer – more like when we were children and our parents controlled all that we did, because we were too young, and they knew what was best. Father Rome knows what is best for all Christians, and that is Roman Catholicism.

How can we even begin to try to live in global harmony if we are constantly trying to prove the unproveable: that my God is THE God, and if you don’t get spiritual in my way, you are doomed. That my God is a man, and that my God will only let you in if you agree with me that this is a men’s club only, and only for Roman Catholic Christians, because the rest of that lot know nothing of the real God. That lay people are meaningless, and there is no point in living in Christian Community. None at all.

Thankfully, God decides who gets to attend his parties. Not little men in pointy hats or those holding bullhorns yelling on street corners.

This thought allows me to sleep at night. OICBCOMPLETELYW….but I like the comfort my delusion provides.

Sr. Joan’s article can be read in total here.

Thanks to Michael at The Wild Reed for posting this article with comments to get my brain moving on this matter.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2007 7:07 pm

    Not really on topic, but… What is the “Tridentine” Mass? Eucharist with a pitchfork? I get the three-something, but I don’t know enough to connect this.

    Thanks for what you said at my place. Much love.

  2. episcopalifem permalink*
    July 12, 2007 11:03 pm

    Hi Kirstin – here is a llink that can ‘splain all about the Tridentine Mass better than me.

    I knew it was a Latin Mass, said with the priests back facing the people, and that there was very little interaction between the priest and the people in terms of prayers, etc.

    Hope this adds to your body of religious knowledge.

  3. rick allen permalink
    July 12, 2007 11:33 pm

    The word is from the Latin name of the city of Trent, “Tridenitus.” But of course the “Tridentine Mass” has not gone unchanged since the council; the form approved by Benedict is the revision by John XXIII in 1962.

    It is one of the strange ironies of the situation that now those identified as “liberal” are complaining about the lack of uniformity and those identified as “conservative” are singing the praises of diversity. More evidence of the apparent elasticity of those terms.

    The argument that different liturgies mean different churches strikes me as rather strange–after all, the Novo Ordo has four different canons of the mass, just as you Episcopalians have your Rite I and Rite II. Now we have five instead of four “Latin Rite” liturgies (and that doesn’t even consider the variety of Eastern Catholic liturgies).

  4. episcopalifem permalink*
    July 13, 2007 12:07 am

    I agree about the elasticity thing, Rick.

    And if it’s really a choice, I’m all for it, as long as there is nothing contained there in to destroy ecumenical work among world religions.

    I just don’t think that’s what those who want a Latin liturgy want, though.

    I personally think I would enjoy hearing a Latin Mass – I really like Latin chant (although I don’t understand it, but at the barest minimum) – I do understand the ephermeral aspect of liturgy/worship. It’s not the language that rankles me per se, it’s the motivation for many of those who wish to see ALL services return to the Pre-VII Tridentine Mass.

    And I’m not convinced that this isn’t what the Pope is trying to do in opening up this can of worms. He doesn’t strike me as a “choice” kind of religious leader. OCIBW, and I sincerely hope that I am.

  5. July 13, 2007 12:29 am

    Ah. Thanks, both of you.

    I’ll comment on the actual content later.

  6. July 14, 2007 2:34 pm

    How can we even begin to try to live in global harmony if we are constantly trying to prove the unproveable: that my God is THE God, and if you don’t get spiritual in my way, you are doomed.

    You don’t believe that your God is The God? Last I knew (and I might be dating myself) the Episcopalians believe that their God was The God too.

    Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. Loving our neighbor is wishing what is best for him or her. I believe that worshipping my God the way He wants is what’s best for him or her. I will tell them this, not in a pushy, counter-productive way, but in a kind and gentle way.

    Ignoring substantial theological differences in the name of non-confrontation is not love, it’s the opposite of love which is apathy.

    If your friend were an alcoholic, would you leave them alone for the sake of “ecumenism”? Or would you tell them the hard truths they need to hear?

    That my God is a man, and that my God will only let you in if you agree with me that this is a men’s club only, and only for Roman Catholic Christians, because the rest of that lot know nothing of the real God. That lay people are meaningless, and there is no point in living in Christian Community. None at all.

    Well, my God is a man, I know He is, because it says in the Bible where he was circumcised. 😉 Jesus the man (who had a penis who was circumcized), tells us to pray to God by saying: “Our Father who art in heaven…” (you guys in the Episcopal church don’t say “our mother” or “our parent” or some such PC hogwash like that, do you?)

    So, my God, if not a man, has the attributes of a Father.

    I find it interesting that the people who are not Catholic have the most to say about Catholic doctrine.

  7. catholicfem permalink
    July 16, 2007 2:55 pm

    //In their fundamental messages, they present us with more than two different styles of music or two different languages or two different sets of liturgical norms. They present us with two different churches.//

    If this were true, then why are there over thirty practicing rites (many of them requiring the priest to face God and not the congregation) within One Catholic Church?

    //Look at the uproar regarding his recent statements about who exactly is THE church. In one statement how much ecumenical work has been undone.//

    How does repeating a Vatican II document undo ecumenical work? If anything should be blamed for harming inter-faith relations, it would be the media for misleading the public on the contents of the document.

    //that my God will only let you in if you agree with me that this is a men’s club only//

    In the Catholic Church or in heaven? I’m not exactly sure where you are going with this. Also, how is it a men’s club? Yes, certain roles are restricted by gender, but that does not mean that women are excluded. There are plenty of women, both consecrated and members of the laity, who are actively involved in the Church. Saying that Catholicism is a men’s only club silences the voices and contributions of influential women like St. Therese de Lisieux, a mystic and Doctor of the Church. Wow, a Catholic woman whose writings are so important that the Pope himself declared her works important to the faith?! Or is she and other women such as Mary, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna (those last two are both Doctors of the Church), St. Mary Magdalene, St. Edith Stein, Mother Angelica (founder of a television network currently broadcast in 127 countries), Blessed Mother Theresa, and Mary Ann Glendon (President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences) all tokens?

    //That lay people are meaningless//

    Catholicism thinks lay people are meaningless? How so?

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