Monday, November 5, 2012


A couple things recently read have gotten me to mull over again for myself the whole rupture vs. continuity business and not only as it regards our order of worship. When the Holy Father opts for the hermeneutic of continuity it is not only a healthy choice (like fresh fruit in your diet over pastries) it is the only reasonable option. There is no alternative to living within the tradition, dialoguing with it and allowing it to chart my course through life, be "I" or "my" - "me" or "we", as in Church. According to family oral tradition, the men of my great grandmother's generation who heeded the slogan "Go west, young man!" invariably came back from California to the prairie and to the family they had abandoned, if only to recover their bearings. For us I would venture to say that living in continuity is remaining grafted on the vine. Am I saying that a different Vatican II might have spared us the heartache of these last 50 years? No, "instant" is not a category with importance for assessing things (when in the history of the Church has an ecumenical council not also brought trial with it?) and perhaps the "winnowing" which has brought so much to light in our day, will ultimately bear fruit for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel.

The first read was a reflection and plea by Fr. Mark Kirby on his blog, Vultus Christi, to get on with the reform of the liturgical reform by finally putting legislation in place to curb abuse and promote the reform already now overdue. Father's approach called back to mind for me an important book of Laszlo Dobszay, published postumously: "The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite" (T&T Clark, 2010, London). Even more so today, I guess I would hold for Dobszay over Kirby and namely in the sense that there are more arguments in favor of returning to where we left off in 1962 and setting forth organically the development of the Roman Rite. I say this doubting whether something of the sort is even doable. The Holy Father's expression of hope in the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the rite seems more down to earth and promising as a way forward or out of our malaise.

The other thought comes from a book I'm reading and addresses an issue regarding Church life more generally, in so far as it touches upon the quite commonly experienced 20th Century touting of something called renewal, to be preferred (seemingly) over reform, as the way forward for the Church in the midst of social change. Even when the possibility of reform is conceded we can say that for more than fifty years now there has been an opinion abroad concerning reform, which claims it as something other than restoration or regrouping, if you will. This book I'm about half way through by Borys A. Gudziak, "Crisis and Reform, The Kyivan Metropolitanate, The Patriarchate of Constantinople, and The Genesis of the Union of Brest" (Harvard University Press, 1998, Cambridge, Mass.) goes about setting the world stage for the Ruthenian Orthodox revival in the late 16th Century. My mentors here in Ukraine recommended the book to me as a "must read", if I am going to understand something of the origins of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. I am grateful to the author, now Apostolic Exarch in France, for the gift of a copy of the same.

Gudziak adheres to a very popular school of historians, which saw parallels between the various reform movements in the sixteenth century and the twentieth century's popular sentiment on how to face social upheaval... I don't see it that way. These popular historians or theoreticians are in many ways enlightened folks; those within the Catholic community at the time of the Council would break or did break with the past, star-trekking into the brave new world with their own particular canon and interpretation of the documents of Vatican II. Some are still alive today and some are terribly unhappy with the rereading of the Council in continuity with the whole Tradition which is already well under way. Gudziak's authorities on the Reformation do likewise projecting popular 20th Century strategies or analyses back into the 16th Century.

I distance myself from this school mostly because of my own reading of Hubert Jedin on various aspects of the Council of Trent, done back when I was writing my doctoral dissertation. Jedin held his ground, though immersed in that mid-twentieth century climate which, I think, strove to turn its back on our whole historical patrimony given the horrors of two world wars, Soviet and otherwise godless violence as ongoing, and more. Many of Jedin's contemporaries readily criticized the Council of Trent as an inadequate Catholic response to a world in flux. Jedin did not buy this thesis but rather explained that the way to the future, back then and now, cannot rest elsewhere but on firm foundations which cannot be traced out and built new but must be those of the past; I reform and face the present by retrenching as did the Tridentine Church. To say it another way, no matter how well-read, no matter how smart or clever you might be, if your present is shaky or uncertain, the only way into the future lies in recovery of your past. Hermeneutic of continuity?

Do you remember some years back the big push in radio advertising in favor of a program called "Hooked on Phonics"? The advertisers were targeting parents and grandparents to sell them a tutorial in good old-fashioned phonics, as a way to recover English language skills which schools were no longer imparting. Common sense and/or popular wisdom forbids imagining a world disconnected from its past. God forbid that a faith which comes to us from the Apostles should get caught up in the rupture illogic of abandoning our past or cutting ties with our roots!

I hope and pray that during this Year of Faith parents especially will get caught up in the "back to basics" movement in matters religious. Gudziak describes the perplexity of Polish-Protestant and Ruthenian-Orthodox nobility whose sons chose Roman Catholicism back in the last decades of the 16th Century. I have no doubt that the Lord in His great mercy will not leave His flock untended and will find ways of gathering in a new generation. We owe it to the Lord and to His and our children to do right by them by losing no more time in getting back to basics. I think the liturgical reform or restoration will take care of itself and the Council will bear the desired fruit in a still very unsettled world to the extent that we turn to the Lord, living our faith and gladly sharing it with all of those who are given to us.


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