Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"Motu Proprio" is not Translated: "Abandon Ship"

I generally try not to write a lot of posts that follow the form, "Here's what I think about this development over on this other blog," mostly because it seems that that kind of commentary could get very insular very quickly. I suppose the division between this and commenting on the ideas presented by another blogger (always a good and fertile source of posts) is rather fuzzy, but I think it's a matter of discussing the editorial stance rather than any of the individual posts. Of course, as is so often the case, I state this general rule with the express intention of breaking it in this case.

As perhaps has been clear, we've become increasingly interested in liturgy over the last year or so, and in the course of that time one of the blogs I've found particularly useful has often been The New Liturgical Movement. Their music discussion and links have been of great use to MrsDarwin, and I've been put onto several good books on the liturgy by them. One of the things that I've really enjoyed about NLM is that while they have a very traditional approach to liturgy (perhaps at times verging on historicism -- but then that's a danger that has a certain appeal to me, so even our weaknesses are similar) they have generally had both coverage of the old and new missals. I appreciated this, because I'm interested in tradition and history, and in regards to the mass when you deal with history going back more than 40 years, you're talking about the old form of the missal (last codified in the '62 typical edition) rather than the new (first issued in 1970). And yet, in my experience, far too many of the blogs which discuss the old missal (in a positive light) do so with the assumption that it was enshrined, unchanging, not in need of any sort of post-conciliar reform, and indeed either the only valid form of the mass in the West, or the only desirable one.

As an ordinary Catholic going to an ordinary parish, who wants to work towards parish worship that is rooted in the tradition of the Church without insisting on a permanent enshrinement of the way the mass was celebrated in the US circa 1930 or so, I find the attitude of many '62 missal fans unhelpful.

It has, thus, been with disappointment that I have watched NLM gradually shift its focus (mainly since the announcement of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificorum) almost entirely to the old missal. Saturday Shawn Tribe ran a post which essentially answered the question of "Whence the Reform of the Reform?" with: Right now the increased celebration of the old missal is the most important thing for the reform of the reform.

Another regular contributor to NLM, Michael E. Lawrence, added in the comments, "In short, it seems to me that if the reform of the reform seeks to go in the direction of tradition, then the Traditional Latin Mass is where it is at. For my part, I have decided to focus much more of my effort on the Extraordinary Form. The spread of the dignified celebration of the older form of Mass is the best way to return to tradition."

Various commenters who are not contributors at NLM went much farther (as is often the case when people get started on the virtues of the old missal over the new) with comments such as "A real reform of the reform would obviously entail an improvement for the Novus Ordo but also its slow death." or "Reform of the reform so far has been feel good rhetoric for conciliar dreamers like Fr. Fessio. If it meant the restoration of the traditional mass in its substance if not every detail, I'd be down for that." or "Question: does 'reform of the reform' mean dressing up the Bugninian Ordo with chant and incense, or modifications of the Novus Ordo to bring it closer somehow to the classical rite?"

Perhaps the reason that I find all this so personally frustrating (and if you go look at the comments you'll see some indignant fuming of my own -- which I cannot necessarily claim is much more temperate than that of the '62 missal fans) is that it was in many ways the muto proprio which served as the stimulus to us to get more actively involved in our parish. Not because we wanted to request that the mass be celebrated according to the old missal at our parish, but because that was the thing that made us think, "You know, if we want things different we need to get up out of our pews and start stirring the pot."

Since then MrsDarwin has been instrumental in getting a small schola started, I got myself appointed to the pastoral council, and I'm currently working at getting a group off the ground to say Vespers as a group a couple nights a week. Yes, progress is slow and sometimes one bumps one's head up against parish bureaucracy, but progress is happening, and we're no longer sitting around being passive.

While doing all that slow work, it's nice to be able to read other people's experiences and advise, and as such I'll be very disappointed if NLM becomes strictly a wateringhole for people who are or wish they are in groups surrounding the use of the old missal. For the forseeable future (outside the imaginations of the more excited traditionalists) 95%+ of US Catholics will be attending masses celebrated according to the current missal, and as such it's helpful to have resources out there focused on doing so in a matter rooted in the traditions of the Church.

I hardly think that what Pope Benedict XVI intended, in issuing the motu proprio, was to suck all of the more traditionally minded people out of normal parish life and into self-contained "TLM" communities.

UPDATE: Two different authors on New Liturgical Movement have responded to this post (directly or indirectly) Jeffrey Tucker here and Shawn Tribe here. Todd of Catholic Sensibility has one here. Darcy of Gregorian Chant Blog has one here. I'm going to leave the topic alone for a little while, not out of lack of interest, but because I'm concerned that over-focus on this kind of thing can result in a certain near-sighted-ness.


Anonymous said...

Concerning the protests against your critique, I find them predictably defensive and narrow-minded.

A few of the NLM contributors and many of the commentators strike me as "terrors" who can hold their own with the worst of the liturgy folk of the past century. It could be their feelings of marginalization might be due more to personality than their artistic or liturgical sensibilities.

At any rate, many NLM folks seem happy to be denizens of a ghetto of sorts. I don't think the mainstream of Catholics will miss them. Many complained and stomped off with their toys in the 70's. That's not to say some of them didn't have good reasons to be upset with their mistreatment. Those of us who stuck with mainstream Catholicism weren't always happy with the arts getting rolled over by sports and parish beancounters.

If NLM is going with the news flow to report on every EF burp in the blogosphere, then it seems clear their motto is indeed "Abandon ship!" and to heck with the unwashed Masses of Catholicism.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Mr. Darwin. I was just saying the same thing about NLM to my husband this weekend. I would like to read more about the reform of the Novus Ordo. You've inspired my own entry for today on my blog.

Darwin said...


It's certainly true that anything that seems like an old missal themed post (in most parts of St. Blogs, not just NLM) always brings out a bunch of the "out with the nasty new NO" type comments. (Indeed, the reliability with which any discussion of the old missal brings these types out is one of the things that makes me a triffle leary of EF groups.)

At the same time, however, I want to emphasize I was very impressed with the respect that Jeffrey Tucker gave my post, despite the fact he clearly disagreed with it.

And indeed, it's because I've generally found many of the posts on NLM helpful as I've been learning more about liturgy over the last year that I'm concerned about what seems like the drift in editorial emphasis.

Jason said...

Marginalization is a good word for the more vocal 'traditionalist catholics'. Atlanta has had a TLM parish for several years, and I only see them at weddings and funerals, so I think the 'islands of isolation' concept Mr. Darwin was describing is what we'll probably get with this Muto Proprio.

I though would love some of the 'cross-fertilization' that B16 spoke of in his commentary on his Muto Proprio to actually happen. Unfortunately, it will take a VERY long time to see that happen... at least 3-4 more years.

Unknown said...

The Motu proprio is a watershed moment for both Trid people and for Reform of the Reform people. The Old Rite and the various other rites of the Church are our liturgical heritage, THE source for the renewal of the ordinary rite.

Let's not have an unnecessary backlash. Many of us, like Jeff Tucker, have been working within the system for years, doing everything possible for the ennoblement of the ordinary rite. I myself have just started the Old Mass at our parish, we should have both! The old should fertilize the new!

Let Old Mass Catholics have a moment, we have been second-class citizens for a generation. Pop a cork with them and let's work together.

Anonymous said...

My statements are neither unnecessary nor backlash. I think NLM has misaimed and missed the boat on the continuation of liturgical and musical reform in the Catholic Church. I appreciate some of their contributors being grounded in scholarship. I envy (more than they dream) their parishes more open to musical development than I've ever experienced.

But the battle for quality music in the Church is not organ vs guitar, and chant vs praise chorus, and it never has been. The reform2 movement still lives in some rose-colored idealized ivory tower if they think it to be so. By so thinking, they've marginalized themselves in any place other than their islands.


Darwin said...


Fair point. My my big hopes in regards to the motu proprio are that more serious Latin study and hopefully training in (or at least experience of) the celebration of the old missal will become normal for new priests in training -- and that over the coming decades this will start to have exert a strong gravitational pull on the way the new missal is celebrated in many parishes.

Also, I will be eager to see how getting some younger priests who are used to annunciating clearly and reverently saying the old missal. I know I harp on this, but the "blessed mumble" drives me nuts.

All these may take a long time by blog standards, but it will be only a short time by the standards of the Church.


Understood, and believe me I am very, very happy for '62 missal enthusiasts (and the rest of us too) over the motu proprio.

What I do get rather testy about (and maybe I've let this go to my head a bit in this case) is the claim one gets from the more wild and wooly comboxers that the new missal is inherently either invalid or unworthy. If anyone doubts this tendency, a read of the combox at NLM linking to this post underlines it.

And since the new missal does look like being what the vast majority of Catholics experience most of the time in the near future, I hope that we won't see all traditional-minded liturgist types heading off for calmer waters in the extraordinary form. We need the help.

James H said...

Great post. Later tonight/early morning I am going to comment on my blog using your piece as the focus.

I emailed Father Z at

and asked him to look at this entry. I ahve the same concerns you are pointing out.

Darwin said...

Thanks, James.

Which reminded me, I really need to blogroll you -- so I did.

Archeopterix said...

I definitely agree that there has been a little bit too much EF focus on the NLM, but I think you critique has been a little narrow. There have been plenty of posts about other issues including music, links to books and histories of the Dominican rite. A few posts about EF masses because it is now 'in the news' and is very new is not particularly bad nor suprising.

Similarly, quoting from a few comments and one or two posts is also a bit tight. Shawn tribe has written various articles about how the 'reform of the reform' goes with the Motu P and this was well before its release. Remember the discussion about the 1965 use?

Using comments quotes as any basis for your ideas I think is far too troublesome. Comments from others does not constitute what THE NLM thinks. I think you would agree that the editors and contributers of the blog are very very balanced (though I do agree with you slightly about E. Lawrence )

what about posting up their response to your critique on your blog to get some discussion started?

Michael E. Lawrence said...


You might also wish to highlight my subsequent comment that I do not oppose progress in the OF.

Michael E. Lawrence said...


What about me? I was quoted by DarwinCatholic, but no specific opinion is given about me. FWIW, my observations about the reform of the reform are based on my experience in average Catholic parishes. So I urge you all not to look at my conclusions as having come from any direction but the on-the-ground experience that I've had.

Finally, I'd like to note that there seems to be a misconception among some that liturgical and parish life is always bright and sunny in Traditional Mass communities. Aside from the fact that this supposition is very telling, it's also false. We sacrifice and deal with frustration just as much as everyone else. There is no such thing as the perfect situation. When I see phrases like "watering hole," it gives the impression that we're just having a big old party with the 1962 Missal. Hardly.

Darwin said...


Understood on the "no opposition to reforming the OF" point.

And just to be clear that I'm not coming off wrong -- my fears don't so much center around people going over to the EF (I honestly am seriously happy for folks about the motu proprio -- indeed as soon as it was announced I went down to the cathedral to attend the then-still-indult mass a few times.)

If a car analogy may be employed, I guess my frustrations are along the lines of a Honda owner whose favored site discussing mechanics and tuning shows strong signs of going over to discussing pretty much only Acura models and work rather than 50/50.

Athelstane said...

Hello Darwin,

Up front: Thanks for creating an opportunity for a much-needed discussion.

As an Gen-Xer, my baptism, first communion, catechesis, confirmation, were all in the Paul VI forms and life.

It's also true that of late I have been increasingly attended the TLM. Almost exclusively so now. Why so?

Mainly: I'm tired.

I'm tired of running into a stone wall at every gentle suggestion of more traditional rubrics or music. I'm tired of the battalions of eucharistic ministers and flagrant disrespect for the Body and Blood of our Lord. Tired of the OCP hymnals. Yes, I know, somebody has to stay and work to better things, but sometimes that just isn't possible. If the priest and the liturgist are happy with Things As They Are, and break out in hives at the thought of anything that seems pre-1965, you're really out of luck. You stay and suck it up, or you move on. And if you have children, I think it's really fair to ask if it's really unreasonable to move to a more reverent and supportive environment. If that's a ghetto - that's unfortunate, but so be it.

Honestly, I'm not the grumpy liturgy freak in the back. I don't come in to catalog liturgical abuses or improper rubrics into my little notebook or blackberry. But I also don't want mass to become (for me) an occasion for relentless chains of uncharitable thoughts.

Of course this is only part of it. The TLM is not "perfect;" It was not meant to be frozen in amber. The idea that it existed in perfection in the 50's or 30's (even 1630's) is a myth. On the other hand, it was and is, essentially organically the same mass from Gregory the Great onward. The Novus Ordo is certainly not invalid or illicit (at least if done properly, which at a minimal level is mostly the case, I think), but I do think its problems extend beyond the lack of ad orientem, Latin or chant, reverent rubrics, good translations, or the use of altar girls or lay eucharistic ministers. So many of the prayers - in the Latin original - were rewritten or created ex nihilo, and the shift in theology is remarkable when placed alongside the old ones, as Lauren Pristas of Cladwell College has done in a few studies: much less emphasis on personal sin or on God's action, much more on our action and desires. Fundamentally it's a much more anthropocentric mass.

This hardly makes it irretrievable. Or not worth the effort to reform for those with more patience or less to lose. But if there is a true equipoise that extends the long liturgical tradition of the Church of the Latin Rite, I do think it's closer (not identical with, but closer) to the 1962 missal than the 1970.

As for NLM, I wonder how much to really read into the balance of contributions over the last few months. The big news, as Shawn has said, is the Motu Proprio; certainly the biggest thing for the extraordinary form since, well, 1970. If there were comparably big news in the reform-of-the-reform vein, I would have to imagine that would be occupying a lot more bandwidth at NLM.

Thanks again for opening this discussion.

best regards
Richard L.