Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Hard Hitting Treatise

Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church
Kwasniewski, Peter
Angelico Press. (2015-01-03). Kindle Edition.

I never thought I'd be referring to anything as a "hard hitting analysis". The expression sounds somewhere between sensational and trite, but it actually says something very important about the Kwasniewski book. The book is truly upbeat and hopeful, despite some of the tough criticism it chooses to level in making its points. I liked it a lot because it is born of some of the bibliography on the topic of liturgical reform that the author and I share in common. Kwasniewski is very much cognizant that the question of renewing the Church involves renewing Catholic culture. I am certainly not that feisty in expressing my opinion and I think he should review his stance on a very few points. Let me first share a true gem from the book and then attempt to explain myself. From the get go, let me say, I think this book is a must read for those interested in the life of the Church. The quote!

"The traditional Latin Mass is celebrated for God, on his account, as an act of profound worship directed to Him. The new Mass, as it has been allowed to be celebrated around the world, often looks like an exercise mainly for the sake of the people—almost as if the people are the point of the Mass, and not God. Are “for God” and “for the people” necessarily in conflict? No, but only if what is truly to the people’s benefit is borne in mind; then there is no conflict. The way the liturgy should be for the people is by turning their minds and hearts toward God (versus Deum), aiding them to reach contemplative and sacramental union with God." (Kindle Locations 1070-1075)

Permit me one compliment, one criticism and then some thoughts on Papal Primacy!

The most exciting pages of Peter Kwasniewski's book were those where he is dealing with the Traditional Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal as speaking more eloquently to children than does the Ordinary Form Liturgy. The author is from my perspective a very young man and hence what he states as discovery really is something for which nothing in his own life prepared him. Granted, as a pre-schooler up through kindergarten in 1955-56 I was probably more focused on the organist and grand organ back up in the choir loft in our cathedral, but my elementary school memories of another parish in northern Minnesota, my recollections as a boy of sung Solemn Mass with our three Benedictine priests serving as celebrant, deacon and subdeacon were of something into which I could thoroughly insert myself, especially as an altarboy. I even knew which Gospel went with the Low Mass for a Virgin Saint. If for no other reason, pick up the book for what he has to say about children; it very well illustrates the sense of the quote above.

Kwasniewski limits his discussion of reform of the 1962 Missal pretty much to the Lectionary, and suggests eliminating the two year cycle of readings for weekdays in Ordinary Time and restoring the Sanctoral Cycle to its fullness, while enriching Advent weekdays with readings. His argument in favor of abolishing concelebration is legitimate but heavily weighted on his monastic experiences in Europe. Albeit a limit case, he does not consider, just one example, elderly and feeble priests. Not long ago, I had a bishop present a conscience issue to me. At some point, for frailty, he had received a dispensation to celebrate private Mass while seated. I think it had been given to him years back because of an illness and for the length of the malady. His question was whether now in advanced age he needed to apply again to the Congregation in Rome (he celebrates according to the Ordinary Form). I assured him that he could in good conscience celebrate while seated. This summer, visiting the nursing facility where my brother lives, I had three elderly priests confined to wheelchairs who concelebrated with me each day. All were wheeled into chapel and reverently assisted in donning their stoles for Mass; they attentively and gratefully took their part as priests in the Holy Sacrifice. I would like the author to think again about the possible role of concelebration in certain cases for consideration in the organic development of the 1962 Missal. That would be my criticism.

Papal Primacy comes to mind in the sense that the author weighs in quite heavily on Blessed Pope Paul VI, especially for not having reined in Bugnini and the Consilium. I know we generally term the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Papacy as monarchic and absolute in authority, as opposed to the synodal model of the Byzantine Church. In reality, the Papacy is and was always no less synodal than the Byzantine model, even granting that we do refer to the Pope as the Supreme Legislator, especially in matters of liturgical law. Even so, as Kwasniewski rightly points out, much of the abuse associated with the Ordinary Form has nothing to do with positive legislation, but rather with a capitulation to the "whirlwind".

I bring this up because the challenge has become no less in these intervening years since Summorum Pontificum. It has to do generally with the times and not just with Roman Catholics. I see it here in Ukraine in conjunction with the Epiphany Water Blessing of 19 January. Not so much with Greek-Catholics, but this annual event and the associated ice baths in various rivers, streams and lakes seem to unleash something among Orthodox folk. While Catholic people might mitigate their judgment in such matters noting that it is a question of para-liturgy, in point of fact for Orthodox we have a situation not unlike that which used to reign among 1950's Catholics, and that most anything could be labelled communicatio in sacris and some of the wildness and unclad bathing on the Epiphany would be a concession to the spirit of the world and not a sign of devotion. My point being that holding the line is no easier for Orthodox than it is for us today.

Kwasniewski does well to point out liturgical abuse and does better in pointing out the full restoration of the Extraordinary Form as the best remedy; he does less well to vilify and assign blame, simply realizing the amorphous forces unleashed by the Enlightenment putting us all to the test. The urgency of liturgical restoration as a prime vehicle for propagating the Catholic Faith and saving souls seems all too evident. We need to pray for the Pope and hope he will find ways to set forth the wisdom-filled process initiated in 2007 thanks to Summorum Pontificum.


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