Saturday, October 30, 2010

No More Sunday-go-to-Meeting?

After publishing my last post “Humility, Liturgy and the Faith Experience” I began to have scruples about my choice of words to describe today’s common form of liturgical expression, especially in the English speaking world, which has grown up almost exclusively under the influence of priests celebrating across the altar table from the congregation. I called this form of liturgy “discursive”. Be it stated at the outset, that despite all of the abuse generated by the simple dynamics of this furniture arrangement (no disrespect intended), which is only one step removed from the classical evangelical or mega-church arrangement with no altar and where the pulpit or podium is front and center, it is within the norm and has been most folk’s experience for forty years. The common arrangement in and of itself is not an abuse but is conducive to a liturgical style which is at odds with what the Catholic world has always and everywhere known to be the proper worship decorum. The word I used to describe the most common form of liturgical expression today and for the last 40 years, the word which troubles me, is the word “discursive”.
        My Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary gives as the first meaning for discursive: “moving or roving about from one topic to another; skimming over many apparently unconnected subjects; digressive; desultory.” What makes me hesitant about my choice of words is the implication that we’re dealing with something rambling, random or just plain loose. To say that a preacher is desultory would be to evaluate or criticize his style; to say that a liturgy is rambling or loose is to judge that same to be out of touch with the very nature of genuine worship in spirit and in truth.
        At this point I have no doubt lost many, who are muttering: “Look out! Here comes the rant! He’s going to break another lance for ad Orientem worship.” That is not my specific focus today. The arguments and the discussions are out there to favor restoring continuity with our worship tradition (see Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s post “Turning to the Lord” from yesterday).
My issue here is slightly different and moves away from the profound issue of physical focus toward Liturgical East to that of recognizing a principal drawback to worship “over or around the altar table”. This innovation of 40 years ago becomes almost irresistibly discursive in its form. Arguments about gathering around the altar as a means of recognizing it as a symbol of Christ present in the midst of the community hold no water whatsoever as the architectural tendency over these past 40 years has told a very different story at the expense really of the altar as a symbol of Christ. The tendency has been to lower these altars, put them on the level (handicap accessibility?), take them off their pedestal of 1 or 3 steps, such that visibly more often than not these altars disappear (the Los Angeles Cathedral is a case in point, where massive as it is the altar disappears in that space: I think people usually refer to either the big organ or the tapestries as the focal points in that space).
           “Over and around the altar” becomes not only talking and sharing space, but the whole thing becomes discursive both in tone and in content. Without highlighting egregious abuse, I would very simple like to ask why the Mass practicum in most seminaries since my own day and before has centered on urging us priests to eye contact with the congregation…
We take it for granted that eye contact is required of us, unless of course we have broken free by returning to the tradition of older and longer date of preparing the gifts and praying the Eucharistic prayer from the same side of the altar as the people, i.e. together with them and not over and against them. This came home to me last summer in the parish as I noted the parish priest concelebrating with me, as he came to take his part in the Eucharistic prayer and in conformity with the logic of over or around the altar sought to make eye contact with his people. I did too from June 1976 until my daily habit in my own chapel became ad Orientem worship (August 1, 2009!). I doubt very much if even what some call the Benedictine arrangement with the candles and prominent central Crucifix is sufficient to counteract the eye contact compulsion.
        Allow me to be discursive and field a question at this point: “What about St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome?” Have you ever noticed that the YouTube videos of Papal Liturgy from back when, of Blessed Pope John XXIII (50 years ago), are either filmed from behind the Pope celebrating at the altar or from a side angle which catches more of the back of his head than his profile? Even in St. Peter’s with the bulk of the nave on the other side, the earliest film cameras did not look the Holy Father in the face as he celebrated at the altar, but respected the proper orientation for worship.
        “Over and around the altar table”, our familiar form of parish celebration makes for digressions and interjections, catechetical moments if you wish, but nonetheless digressions from what should be a focused action before the Throne of God. Is that abuse? I think it is perhaps the principal component of what the Holy Father refers to as a rupture with our Catholic tradition of worship.
        The proposal of renouncing discursive models of worship is bound to meet resistance from a lot of quarters. The most tragic, perhaps, reason people would want to cling to it, is that the weekend “hour of power” has become our only contact with most Catholics. Why do people abusively interject talks or lectures at the obligation Mass? Is it because the head of the parish council or that woman or that man really can explain something better than Father? I doubt it. The reason is that in a discursive worship (?) or prayer and praise format, you can add all sorts of things that have nothing to do with associating ourselves with the Heavenly Court as they do unceasingly what we are called to do in union with the Sacrifice which has redeemed us in Christ. If there are no other moments outside of church to impart knowledge the tendency is to take advantage of people and cram as much as possible into that hour, in hopes of imparting what we think the people need to or ought to know. Is it any wonder that Adoration Chapels have become so popular? Sunday worship should be restored to its proper focus, enriched by an appropriate liturgical homily.
        Moving away from discursive worship models means going out to our world once again using all sorts of other means to give God’s People the intellectual and prayer-based nourishment they need to come to the “source and summit of Christian existence” in the proper frame of mind, formed and well-disposed, to join the angels and saints in their hymn of praise.
        Sunday-go-to-meeting needs to become again what St. Justin Martyr tried to explain to his judges as that without which we cannot live, that for which the precept exists and the only manner in which it makes any sense: To assist at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Humility, Liturgy and the Faith Experience

          What might be considered an interpretive key for this Sunday’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the Temple to pray (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C) could easily be found in the words of the First Reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus: “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds…” Even with his head bowed, the tax collector is praying vertically, his point of departure is the given of his own unworthiness, whereas the Pharisee is involved in a rather horizontal and discursive exercise, which includes God if you will, but really goes nowhere, least of all to God.
          These same words “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds…” enabled me finally today to sort through a whole series of articles I have read of late and of issues I have been facing concerning my duty (and I think I have a duty in this regard) to contribute to the cause of the Benedictine Liturgical Reform happily under way in the Church. Sometimes waiting and calm are the very best approach as, for instance, I am hopeful of an opportunity very soon of doing something to encourage chanting the Mass propers and rolling back the “joyful noise” of the too many songs which have made our worship hectic. My coming to perceive the urgency of doing something I gladly attribute to daily celebration ad Orientem for a year and almost three months. Thanks to ad Orientem worship, for example, I think I was finally able to articulate for myself what is wrong with all of the rushing to get those hymns going, two and maybe even three now at Communion time.
          The issue however is one of knowing the extent to which my experience obliges me to more than barking out “Try it you’ll like it!” Not long ago, I read a very scientific study rooting much of the liturgical abuse of the last decades, as well as that which we sadly encounter yet today, in a psychiatric condition referred to clinically as narcissism. My struggle however cannot be with the puppet masters and the impenitent perpetrators of clown masses. Such pathology needs to be banished without explanation. Even the wedge driven into worship by so-called liturgical dance is an intrusion which has no place and deserves no discussion or analysis. As innocuous as theY might be, children’s skits and plays should also be shown to the church doors. Don’t forget, Everyman and sundry mediaeval morality plays always took place on the front steps of the Salzburg Cathedral and not inside. Worship of the living God is not and cannot be “something for everyone…”
          My struggle in a sense is to move the discourse ahead with people of good will. Try as I might to convince myself that it is not a question of winning or losing, however, when I saw pictures of the newly renovated Cathedral in Orlando, Florida, which will be rededicated next month, all I could see was an opportunity lost as the bishop’s chair gets centered in the apse and lectern and altar are below and on the same level. The model may be classic Ravenna, but not really. It’s 20th Century discursive. Nonetheless, I am not ready to go over to a militant stance and criticize what is clearly within the norm.
          The other day, I read a lecture entitled “The Old Roman Missal: Loss and Rediscovery” delivered recently at a conference in Sri Lanka by Martin Mosebach. Despite the issues I have with men like Mosebach, who get carried about on other people’s shoulders and pushed ahead of them into “battle”, simply because of the facility with which they wield the pen, he always has some things to say which are very right. In this lecture he incisively speaks of the “etiquette of devotion” which formerly existed, especially as regards touching sacred objects (I think of chalices in particular, which we as altar boys dared not touch). The loss of this etiquette was a great cause for scandal. Even yet today, I can picture a man who happily used to receive Communion on the tongue until he was lambasted by a priest over the contagion of swine flu and his irresponsibility in putting that priest at risk of contact with his tongue. He was genuinely scandalized by the inference made, changed his ways to hand reception, but does so with the awkwardness of an adolescent. How do you turn back the “scandal clock” by edict?
          Though the changes, especially those not foreseen either by the Second Vatican Council or by the rubrics in the published liturgical books, were imposed in doctrinaire fashion, I really believe that the Holy Father’s approach of opening discourse and not mandating them back is and will be salutary. Although I’d love to see some conversions to ad Orientem worship among my contemporaries, it may just be that we have to wait for a generation change, which will come soon enough. Mosebach is wrong about blaming liturgical abuse and discursive worship for the advance of secularization and all the defections from the Church. The one hour on Sunday morning would not have saved a world, which abandoned that hour for lack of catechism. Sunday morning does not offer an antidote to the lost silence within the home (read TV, computer and just plain sound) and a younger generation of parents who stopped kneeling down with their children by their beds to say good night to Jesus.
          As much as I admire him, I cannot identify with the strident though eloquent tones of Father George Rutler “The Liturgical Experts’ Long Tassels” (see First Things of 27 August 2010). My Catholic experience of near total ignorance of the King James Bible leaves me more amenable to the Jerusalem Bible or Revised Standard Catholic Edition. The new English translation of the Missal to come into effect a year from this Advent gives hope, that is, if it too is not betrayed by the discursive.
          “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds, until it arrives he is inconsolable, nor will he desist until the Most High takes notice of him, acquits the virtuous and delivers judgment. And the Lord will not be slow, nor will he be dilatory on their behalf.”
          My “tin ear” draws hope from such words as they challenge me, head down together with the tax collector, to put things in the Lord’s hands and dismiss the discursive approach as a Pharisee’s pitfall.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Calling a Spade a Spade

            “You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.
            Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching.” (2 Timothy 17:8-13 from the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C)

            A couple days ago I viewed Fr. Robert Barron’s latest video, “Fr. Barron comments on The Depressing Pew Forum Study”. I was impressed especially by his image of a disarmed Catholicism of decades past, colorless, beige (as he says it), running naively into the arms of a modernity which is running in the other direction and the Church or parts of it (this caricature of the faith today really) being devoured or torn to shreds by that same modernity, who wants no part of her with or without her tradition. I shared the video with some of my people only to get the surprise of my life by having it categorically rejected by a middle-aged woman, with no particular agenda or leanings to the right or to the left, as off-hand and misty-eyed, “The-Sky-Is-Falling”, Chicken Little speak. Needless to say, I was shocked and decided to sit on the matter and wait for light or some kind of enlightenment.

            If this terse dismissal of Fr. Barron’s read of the “Pew Forum Study” as something valid and telling about Church today had caught my eye in a comment box at the bottom of his blog it would have been different. This double-barreled blast came from someone outside the blogging world, unaccustomed to the frequently jaded banter of the few remaining uncensored bottoms of the pages. This is rather someone in that broad spectrum of your average people in the pew, who might even have been asked to answer questions by the “Forum”. Perhaps, as far as this woman is concerned, Father’s mistake was in lending credence to the “Pew Forum Study”, which could just as well be a setup by the same babes-in-the-woods or over-the-hill types, who still haven’t figured out that modernity is not about to be disarmed by their dull cuteness.

            The Second Reading for this Sunday kind of came to my rescue as I waited for light. “You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

            I think that St. Paul knows what is at issue in the world and he knows his interlocutor within the Church as well: an overseer appointed by him, a bishop of that early Church, St. Timothy. St. Paul picks up the thread to be woven into the tapestry of Timothy’s leadership mantle, capable of doing what Church does for itself and obviously, if we know anything about St. Paul the Missionary, also for our world (modern, post-modern or otherwise): “Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching.” St. Paul is going to build up the Church not by chasing Timothy out after anybody out there in the big, wide Roman or Greek world, but by keeping him home, with his nose to the grindstone, building up the community and otherwise moving only where the Spirit leads him.
            Fr. Barron’s interlocutor remains anonymous. Is it a bishop, a priest, a deacon, a catechist, who? Father is totally right in admonishing (…) to the hard work of recovering real philosophy, salted with metaphysics, theology in the tradition of the Angelic Doctor, and by starting with that gift for the Church in our day, which is the Catechism of the Catholic Church (I wonder if Father Barron and Peter Kreeft don’t read each other?). I’m thinking that Father’s interlocutor has to be the hope of the Church, our seminarians, right? Without being too much of the comment box, I hope you see where I am going: Father seems to be “arm-chairing” the thing in hopes that someone will pick up the ball and run with it. St. Paul took a different approach. 
For those who are in the forefront and hopeful for the Church today, beige is no longer in (the reality of these past decades oft-times might better be described as a romance with tired old heresies). The folly of decades past (all pervasive in some circles but not throughout the Church), which claimed to be courting modernity, was not so much that as the sort of improvisation which in many sectors of Church life (take parish worship and pop Church music) continues to carry the day. Father’s imagery, his caricature of the beige Catholicism, is sort of like Cinderella’s lost slipper, except that nobody is stretching a foot in Prince Charming’s direction in hopes that it might fit. Clever, yes, but not pointed enough to win the kewpie doll, I am sorry. 
I rather think that Father is too good and too ready to believe that reasoned discourse broadcast far and wide will win the day. Timothy! “All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.” I doubt seriously if I could have done a better video on the topic. My average woman in the pew has brutally posed the only question worthy of the comment box: “What’s his problem?”
These days lots of people tell me how hard it is to get catechism teachers. I know from my French territories how determined they are to have a second go at young adults by binding them into the instruction of their youngest children and giving Mom and Dad, together with sons and daughters an attempt to come to know the Lord. The challenge is that concrete and we find it at home and in our own back yard. 
            “Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching.”
            Thank you, St. Paul! Each of you Timothys out there knows who you are and what it is you are called to do. Blessed are those who weep, yes, but let St. Paul call you out to action: “You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” A bow of the head and cordial thanks also go to my sister in Christ, that average woman in the pew!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tilting Against Windmills?

          At present I subscribe to only 3 YouTube Channels: one is the Vatican and another is that of “Word on Fire” by Father Robert Barron. Recently, I took a book recommendation from Father Barron and I am glad I did: “The Rage against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith” by Peter Hitchens.
The other day Father Barron used the judgment scene from the prophet Ezekiel and the figure of the heavenly scribe marking with a cross the foreheads of those to be spared to talk about the role of the baptized in the present crisis facing the Church. Father synthesized the crisis brilliantly and spoke about “unprecedented corruption in the Church”. His overall message was masterful and I will not fault him either for his assessment or for his exhortation.
The passage from the Office of Readings for this morning (Saturday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time) and my own knowledge of history give me pause however to urge caution to the baptized who would take up Father’s exhortation and to invite Father to go back to his own book recommendation and look at Peter Hitchens’ analysis of the parallels between past forms of atheism and present anti-theistic campaigns by people like his brother Christopher or the infamous Professor Dawkins and ask himself whether “unprecedented corruption” might not be a rhetorical flourish good for fireworks but not for sharpshooting.
          If you don’t have a full breviary, let me share this familiar passage from St. Gregory the Great as a means for setting the scene.

The performance of our ministry
A homily of Pope St Gregory the Great

“Let us listen to what the Lord says as he sends the preachers forth: ‘The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.’ We can speak only with a heavy heart of so few laborers for such a great harvest, for although there are many to hear the good news there are only a few to preach it. Look about you and see how full the world is of priests, yet in God’s harvest a laborer is rarely to be found; for although we have accepted the priestly office, we do not fulfill its demands.
Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: ‘Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.’ Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge. For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly.
With reference to the wickedness of the preacher, the psalmist says: ‘But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments?’ And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: ‘I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house.’ He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock.
There is something else about the life of the shepherds, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly – compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke.
But how can we who neglect ourselves be able to correct someone else? We are wrapped up in worldly concerns, and the more we devote ourselves to external things, the more insensitive we become in spirit.
For this reason the Church rightfully says about her own feeble members: ‘They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept.’ We are set to guard the vineyards but do not guard our own, for we get involved in irrelevant pursuits and neglect the performance of our ministry.”

          I start here because here and elsewhere Gregory assumes full responsibility as a shepherd, as the Bishop of Rome and, as he called himself, Servus Servorum Dei – The Servant of the Servants of God, for failing to be vigilant with all the tragic consequences that had for those entrusted to his shepherding care. He does not take the legitimate excuse that the absence of civil authority has called him to civil service; first things first for Gregory, and to his mind, the office of bishop has been neglected.

My point is that it is not only in our day and time that members of the Church’s hierarchy have fallen “asleep at the tiller”, to use a euphemism. We can speak of shortcomings and failings even back when the Successor of Peter was one of the all-time “greats”. Gregory deserved his “Great” because he was great and did marvels, which have benefitted the Church of all times (think Gregorian chant), bequeathing her in writing not only the life of St. Benedict but a book which has been the manual for pastors, especially for bishops, over the centuries: “The Book of Pastoral Rule”. Repenting of our shortcomings and failings, admonishing sinners whether of lowly or higher station, is only one piece in the puzzle.

          I say it is only one piece in the puzzle with an eye to the tragic situation which presently has a strangle-hold on the Church in Ireland, where the mantra “unprecedented corruption” has blinded people to the fact that on lots of fronts the Church, yes in Ireland, is fighting for its life not only against the hirelings who have betrayed the flock, but perhaps more so against those who would replace God and Sunday Mass with a heroic sort of materialism which typically demonstrates its heroism as it crawls out of bed at noon or later on a Sunday after a whole night of dancing, drinking and perhaps doing designer drugs, having squandered on new clothes and a day spa what’s left after a world economic crisis which ignored God’s laws and decrees managed to cripple the “Celtic Tiger”.

          Lenin and Stalin, with Trotsky and whomever, vilified the Church in Russia, and as Hitchens points out Khrushchev continued to rage against the Orthodoxy which had been the backbone of Mother Russia ever since the Baptism of the Rus over a millennium ago. Hitchens points out the devastation is so great, even yet today 20 years (that is, almost a generation) after the collapse of the Soviet Union that faith still flags and too few children are learning their prayers. Lenin’s mummy still hasn’t been buried. Obviously, Our Lady of Fatima’s plea to pray for the conversion of Russia has lost none of its poignancy.

           Without taking the slightest away from the Western world’s shock and shame over child abuse and the objective wrong involved in the sacred trust betrayed, Hitchens points out that the bulk of what goes on in the Church is no more than what he experienced as a boy at an Anglican school in England over 40 years ago, namely homosexual teachers preying on their young male students. Hitchens warns that the anti-theists of England and other Western Countries, including the United States and Canada, feign horror over these crimes and use this situation to achieve their real end, the destruction of all religion. They have no substitute; they wish only to destroy. They are motivated not by reason but by sentiments spewing out of the depths of Hell.

          Hitchens means well also in matters of faith. The faith to which atheism led him back is a sort of cultural Anglicanism. I think he is open to more, but perhaps short on spiritual nourishment. In any case, the merit of Peter Hitchens’ book and of his cause on behalf of his brother Christopher whom he wishes to save from the ignorance of his rage against God is that he casts light on the darkness of the anti-theist agenda which seeks to compromise the truth with multiculturalism, comparative religious studies that lead nowhere, and ultimately with banning God not only from the public square but from the hearts and minds of children.

          Father Barron, go back to Hitchens for the other component of the equation and look to Gregory for the reasons why the “unprecedented” might just be an exaggeration. The exaggeration would be documented not so much by downplaying the heinousness of the crimes and corruption which may be found in some corners of the Church today, but by recognizing that God’s and our enemies use our failings not only to destroy the Church but to pervert Western Civilization and banish God from our lands.

          We pray they will not succeed, but the devastation along the southern and eastern rim of the Mediterranean has been all too lasting and complete. Just this week the news comes out of Saudi Arabia of the arrest of some Filipino Catholics and a French priest who attempted to celebrate Mass privately in a hotel in the Kingdom. Hitchens would claim that Orthodoxy has little more than a niche existence in Russia yet today. It would seem that our struggle is not only against mortals but against principalities and powers.

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, pray for us!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mutual Enrichment

One of the blogs I enjoy following (more than many others), "The New Liturgical Movement", has published in their own English translation a French language interview with Fr. Claude Barthe. In the interview, Father Barthe gives the “rules” or the recipe, if you will, for the liturgical reform according to his understanding of the mind of the present Holy Father and expresses a fervent wish as to how the thing should go:

“The reform of the reform already exists in many parishes. It suffices to encourage, expand and especially raise it to diocesan level. It would be more fitting, that instead of it being done by priests at the bottom and the Pope at the top, for it to be the work of the bishops. Imagine the wonderful effect of restoration, not only liturgical but everything that goes with liturgy: vocations, doctrine, catechism, revival of practice, produced by a bishop, then two, then three, etc., turning the altar of their cathedral back, restoring communion kneeling, reintroducing Latin and Gregorian chant, having the traditional Mass regularly celebrated. I emphasize: this reform of the reform cannot be achieved without the widest celebration of Mass according to the traditional Missal. And, inversely, the traditional liturgy, to exist in ordinary parishes, needs a spirit of retuning to traditional sources represented by the reform of the reform.”
I think his description of the scenario is more than fair. It demonstrates his good sense, springing from wisdom and a lot of other virtues. Father obviously hungers for worship in spirit and in truth. Nonetheless, I am obliged to distance myself from him just a little bit. Those who know me will also know that I doubt whether the traditional liturgy part of the plan is a universal and a sine qua non for the reform. If we could get bishops and priests everywhere to adhere to the rubrics, opt for ad Orientem worship (even over the so-called Benedictine arrangement) wherever possible and face squarely the issue of sacred music as opposed to anything goes, our world would change and we could face many other liturgical matters in need of reform with relative ease.
The changes in liturgical expression over the course of the last 40 years have been brought about quite often by violence (by fiat from on high). Most of the changes good and bad which took place over these years took place at the instance of parish priests or with their cooperation. The approach was often heavy handed and not infrequently also high handed. People have been hurt more often than we would like to admit.
This explains the reactions which a zealous young priest may encounter from parishioners in his attempts to restore in his parish worship according to the 1962 Missal. It can happen that nobody understands what he is driving at or why they should trust his judgment. It wouldn’t be the first time that caprice has reigned in their parishes. This also explains how and why parishioners have risen up (rarely, but I know of cases) to oppose “Johnny-come-lately” iconoclasts with plans to dismantle an “unused” high altar or tear out a Communion rail which survived the 1970’s first wave of destruction. Confidence in their priest or trust is the name of the game and one cannot blame people for wanting to defend themselves from caprice. The people’s trust is to priestly pastoring what knowing how to be a “pack leader” is to the “Dog Whisperer” (no offence intended by the comparison).
 When on August 1, 2009 I started celebrating ad Orientem it was easy: the chapel of the Nunciature lent itself to that kind of celebration; it was my chapel where I am the ordinary named in the Eucharistic prayer; it is nobody’s parish. More than a year later I am continually (daily!) affirmed personally in my choice; I think the experience has also been enabling in terms of my understanding of the proper role of liturgical music; it has certainly been enriching in terms of my own understanding of the importance of silence in the liturgy. Furthermore, I think it has been a blessing in the lives of the lay people who join us for Mass on weekdays in the chapel. At those three times when I turn to address the congregation, I now see unguarded looks which the old confrontational (across the table) stance tended to repress! People are freed up for that which is their work (Origin: Fr liturgie < ML (Ec) liturgia < Gr leitourgia, public service to the gods (in LXX & N.T., ministry of priests), ult. < leōs, laos, people + ergon, work).
What I am poking at really is Father Barthe’s scenario with the bishops, rather than priests and pope, spearheading the reform. Father, I think reform is rightly happening where priests and people together move in this direction; I think it is rightly happening at monasteries like Clear Creek, Oklahoma, that the laity can seek out for refreshment; I think it is rightly happening where groups like the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius blossom and flourish. It has to be in order; it has to be proper; it has to be good for everyone involved; it has to fit like a glove and it can.
I’d like to see bishops renovate their private chapels before they start “…turning the altar of their cathedral back, restoring communion kneeling, reintroducing Latin and Gregorian chant, having the traditional Mass regularly celebrated.” Father, it is not a matter of intervention from on high or house cleaning, but of each priest recognizing to what greater or lesser degree he has been caught up in the spirit of the times, which is not the spirit of the Council and not the mind of Christ. The bishop’s witness has to be integral if it is going to be accessible to his priests who join him for the Chrism Mass and Ordination Liturgies in the Cathedral.
Cathedral liturgy, just like Papal liturgy, has always enriched our tradition and led the way. Once a bishop realizes in his own person what the sense of celebration ad Orientem and with full respect for the rubrics which are on the book, I think his step will be lighter as he moves up to the altar to prepare the gifts and pray the Eucharistic Prayer together with the people before the Lord. He can insist his priests respect the rubrics, but I think he has to win them for everything else, including good sacred music.
There is a real urgency for the sake of the young not to lose any more time. Even so, young and old are all too convinced that this business is arbitrary. If we would not be discredited again, the scenario must run a bit like that in the Old Testament during the period of the kings of Israel when the book of the law was discovered in the Temple. It was shared with the people and explained to them. People were shocked to discover that their covenant relationship with God had been neglected, but as the discovery was shared with them, not only were tears shed but a feast celebrated for joy at having overcome their ignorance. Would that it were to be so in our lives as well!