2013-07-07        David Timbs (Melbourne)       David's previous articles


                                                 Sacra Liturgia Conference

During June 25-28, an international conference was held in Rome. Its dedicated theme was the Sacred Liturgy but it was not just an ordinary gathering to discuss Catholic Liturgy in general. In reality, it was all about the present status and possible future of the Latin Mass of the Roman Rite. The conference took on the appearance of a social construct featuring a hybrid of sombre wake and a symposium of denial, all dressed up in the ornate drapery of self-absorbed clericalism and ecclesiastical archaism,

The idea for the conference was the product of French Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon. His primary intention was to gather the leaders of the international Latin Mass community to discuss the role the Roman Rite might have in the New Evangelisation. Bishop Rey went to some lengths to explain that while he intended the Conference to concern itself primarily with the Eucharistic liturgy as such and that he wanted the participants to explore ways of promoting the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (usus Antiquior), into the mainstream of the New Evangelization. He did not want to see a pretext for ‘liturgy wars.’ Bishop Rey went on to acknowledge the teaching of Pope Benedict on the Reform of the Reform in Continuity and the New Evangelisation for inspiring him initially to convene the conference. [1] That legacy needs to be examined from the outset.

Standing on the shoulders of the Ratzinger/Benedict liturgical agenda

Pope Benedict, even from his first years as Cardinal Ratzinger of the CDF and in the early days as Pope, moved to establish a single rite of the Eucharist, probably favouring the style of the Tridentine form. Curial Cardinal, Kurt Koch confirmed that Benedict’s liberalisation of the celebration of the Traditional Mass (Summorum Pontificum, 2007), "is only the beginning of this new liturgical reform." Benedict’s strategy was to facilitate that process by introducing a binary form of the Mass described as a "mutual enrichment" of the two Mass forms. But Benedict’s long term plan was definitely for a single Rite. Koch comments again,

"In fact, Pope Benedict knows well that, in the long term, we cannot stop at a co-existence between the ordinary form and the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, but that in the future the Church naturally will once again need a common rite."

It is abundantly clear now that, despite the intense efforts of the Curia, papal liturgists and like minded episcopal spruikers abroad, the Ratzinger/Benedict policy of liturgical uniformity and a single rite actually came to nothing. A hybrid form of the Mass would never have been acceptable either to the Traditionalists, who closely follow the SSPX line, or those committed to the revised Liturgy of Paul VI.

Koch attempted to justify the failure in the expected coded dialect and curial spin,

"However, because the new liturgical reform cannot be decided theoretically, but requires a process of growth and purification, the pope for the moment is underlining above all that the two forms of the Roman rite can and should enrich each other." [2] (Italics are mine)

From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict had sought to reign in the tides of speculative conciliar theology by imposing ‘definitive’ interpretations of the Council documents, interpretations mediated through his own Magisterium. He taught that the hermeneutics of continuity and reform of the reform represented the benchmark of authoritative interpretation of the Vatican II’s documents and of the intentions of its authors. There is a profound irony in all of this. There were 2800 Council Fathers at Vatican II. Fr Joseph Ratizinger was not one of them,

"There is no way of divorcing the authentic sense of Vatican II from that authentic sense enacted by Paul VI and the Council Fathers in the years immediately following the Council. What is much easier to do is to see the inconsistency between the work of the Council and its dismantling in recent decades." Joseph S. OLeary, Praytell, 29/11/11.


A supporting act: Prof Tracey Rowland

A keynote speaker at the Rome conference was Australian female Catholic theologian, Tracey Rowland. She is Professor, Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne. There she has the strong support of her colleague and local auxiliary bishop Peter Elliot. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Faith, Ethics and Society at Notre Dame University in Sydney. There she enjoys the active support and encouragement of Cardinal George Pell.

In recent years Rowland has become quite a celebrity among the followers of an elitist conservative boutique theology. Its narrative is almost exclusively devoted to addressing issues close to the heart of this end of the Church’s spectrum. She is at pains to acknowledge that her constant inspirations, reference points and authorities are JP II and Ratzinger/Benedict. Like some others, she tends theologically to view the former through the lens of the latter. [3]


Rowland: some of her own words

Rowland opened her address at the Conference by making an ambit claim on the primacy and efficacy of the Traditional Latin Mass of the Roman Rite (usus antiquior). In doing so, she called into question the status, value and worthiness of the 1974 Mass of Paul VI known as the Novus Ordo. In fact, she goes further than that; she heaps scorn upon it. The breath-taking scope of Rowland’s presumption, dissemblance, manufactured snobbery and hubris is clear from what she said. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that she was playing to the more exotic fringe element of her audience. High rhetoric, hyperbole, pretence, sweeping baseless assertions abound:

"I want to argue that the usus antiquior is an antidote to the ruthless attacks on memory, tradition and high culture, typical of the culture of modernity, and that it satisfies the desire of the post-modern generation to be embedded within a coherent, non-fragmented tradition that is open to the transcendent.

In wrapping the faith in the forms of the contemporary culture and generally correlating the liturgy to the norms of mass culture, the 1960s generation of pastoral strategists unwittingly fostered a crisis in liturgical theory and practice.

[The 1960s generation] dismantled a high Catholic culture by removing its cornerstone and they left subsequent generations of Catholics in a state of cultural poverty, confusion and boredom.

[Benedict XVI] compared the pastoral strategy of bringing God down to the level of the people with the Hebrews’ worship of the Golden Calf and he described this practice as nothing short of apostasy.

"Catholics of the post-modern generations want to know how the Church looked, how the faith was practiced, when there was a coherent Catholic culture."

The project of the 1960s generation was one of transposing a high sacral language into the vernacular of a low mundane culture, with the result that something sacred became more mundane, and when the sacred becomes mundane, it becomes boring." She went on to say confidently but quite presumptuously,

"The whole structure of the usus antiquior engenders a deeper sense that there is a sacrifice, not a meal.... There is really no greater antidote to secularism and what Pope Francis calls a ‘self-referencing Christianity’ than a reflection on martyrdom and the sacrifice of Calvary and the Roman Canon sustains a person’s reflection on this reality.

The usus antiquior should be the standard element of the cultural capital of all Latin Rite Catholics since it is so effectively resists secularism and satisfies the post-modern hunger for coherent order, beauty and an experience of transcendence." [4]

Rowland did attempt some disinterest when she warned Traditionalist about using their devotion to the Latin Mass as an indication of religious superiority. She rightly cautioned them that this kind of behaviour could drive a wedge between themselves and those who do not share their convictions or enthusiasm. However, Rowland then proceeded to affirm and to glorify the traditionalist position she just criticised by arguing that the Traditional Latin Mass is the only truly authentic Catholic Eucharistic liturgy.


Rowland’s real agenda

Rowland presented herself at the conference as a crusader for the Traditional Latin Mass. In fact, she is not very concerned about it intrinsically. What really consumes her and what she constantly occupies her is the promotion of religio-cultural dialectic. It is ideology, re-branded and re-packaged for the occasion.

She is reading from exactly the same script as the Catholic authors and celebrity spruikers of Culture Wars. Cardinal Ratzinger had delivered its manifesto at the 2005 funeral of JP II and the rhetoric took on a life of its own from there. Rowland’s address was yet another rehash of the same narrative.

She is also a professional advocate of the Vatican II conspiracy theory. It perpetuates the line that the Council was hijacked by conspiratorial liberal dissenters and that their intent was to cause a fundamental rupture in the Church’s Tradition. The liberal agenda, according to the theory, was to set the Catholic Church on the course of laissez faire Modernism. They had undermined the foundations of the Church by promoting ‘too much accommodation to modernity;’ they had created a culture of the secular, the mundane and the unworthy at the expense of the beautiful, the sublime and the awesome.

Trotting out conspiracy theories may be a comfort to some but usually they are the refuge of the lazy and weak minded.

Rowland’s hubris and naivete are further exposed when she delivers on her assertion that Generation Z (the so-called Millennials), having been deprived of an experience of transcendence, is now clamouring to have their religious heritage restored. She contends that it is the Latin Mass and its attendant devotions which will provide the necessary catalyst for that experience. All that is needed is for it to be made available and the Churches would be packed, Catholic life renewed and the tide of secularism turned back. Rowland demonstrates a clear ability to work a crowd but offers little or no credible evidence-based analysis for her assertions. These include relationships involving beliefs, rituals, religious experience and how these function within contemporary cultures. One such cultural dynamic involves the narcissism and self-absorption of Gen X. Even the exotic rituals and coded communications of the Traditional Latin Mass are no match for the youth culture and coded dialects of texting, tweeting, Facebook and the i-phone. It would be an education if Rowland ever bursts into print on that particular culture war!

Rowland also fails to recognise that in her home country Australia, Catholic participation rates dropped by 18.4% between the years 2006 to 2011. In the six years up to 2012 that rate slipped from over 13% to 10.6%. These were the years of Benedict XVI, the New Evangelisation and the reform of the reform but that seems to be an inconvenience best ignored!

There is another thing that is ironic. In her address at the Sacra Liturgia Conference Rowland actually subverts her own script. While exalting the sublime, the beautiful and the transcendent, she in fact limits Transcendence. In her enthusiasm to vilify the secular, the mundane and the ordinary, she finds herself, albeit unwittingly, guilty of the domestication and containment of the Incarnation itself. This is a core doctrine of Christianity: it is precisely in this mystery that the Transcendent can only be known through Immanence of God in creation and in the Word made flesh.

Selective memory

What Rowland is not saying too is that the Tridentine Mass was itself conditioned by its own time, place and space in Church history. It was shaped by the reactive theology of the counter-Reformation. In responding to the more severe limitations of Protestantism, the Catholic magisterium tended to over react. When confronted with denial of the Real Presence, the Council of Trent placed so much catechetical and doctrinal emphasis on transubstantiation and the Sacrifice that the Eucharist as the Memorial of the Lord’s Supper was almost entirely sidelined. Vatican II re-established equilibrium.


The inconvenient memory

What Rowland and her fellow apologists for the pre-eminence of the Tridentine Mass either prefer to forget or ignore altogether are the views of the younger Ratzinger. His Vat II diaries kept while a theological expert, have been edited and re-published in recent years. His opinions on the traditional Mass are refreshingly free of romanticism and nostalgia,

‘In the post reformation period the liturgy was seen by Vatican authorities solely in terms of ceremonial rubrics. In the Baroque era, High Mass became a kind of sacred opera, during which the people in the Church would be busy with their own devotions, reciting the rosary. They were united with the priest only by being in the same church with him. In endeavouring to preserve old forms, the Vatican Congregation of Rites, had brought about the total empoverishment of the liturgy. If the liturgy’s function was to be recovered, the wall of Latinity had to be breached." - John Wilkins, "Ratzinger at Vatican II: a Pope who can and cannot change" Commonweal, 04/06/11.


A conclusion

It seems increasingly clear now that Benedict’s heavily supported reversion to a Baroque style of liturgy was an attempt to soften Catholics up for the future single rite by slowly dragging the whole Church along with him. With his abdication, that programme has now run its course.

The Word became incarnate in human history. The Church, the people of God live and move and have their being in history. The Second Vatican Council solemnly affirmed these truths and taught that the Eucharist has always been expressed, understood and celebrated in authentic and appropriate cultural forms which made sense to Catholics of different times, places. Pope Francis gives every indication that he has a profound understanding of and commitment to the teaching, vision and renewal of Vatican II. [5]

This is particularly evident now in his decision yesterday to canonise Bl Pope John XXIII as a saint of the Universal Church. This gives a whole new authority to and a clear affirmation of Vatican II,  something that is now causing quite a high level of confusion and resentment to many Traditionalists.



[1] Bishop Dominique Rey discusses his inspiration in convening the Conference, here. The Sacra Liturgia website is here. Note: as this article’s publication, Conference transcripts are beginning to appear haphazardly. "The most dangerous time for a bad government is when it tries to reform itself" Alexis de Tocqueville. A reflection on this citation is in Catholica Forum, see here.

[2] See the CNS16/05/11 interview with Cardinal Kurt Koch here. And for an article on ‘mutual enrichment’ of the two liturgical forms, see here Michael McGough of the LA Times wrote in 2008 of Benedict’s preference for exotic Baroque vestments. See here.

[3] For Rowland two part Zenit articles on the heritage of the Ratzinger/Benedict perspectives on Vatican II, click here, here and here.

[4] For a summary of her June 26 speech, see here. Whose memory, tradition and high culture? Peter Elliot, auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, recently completed a series of articles on Vatican II and the hermeneutic of rupture and his version of a proper understanding of Vatican II, in the Archdiocesan magazine, Kairos. If ever that series is published in v2Catholic, I will offer a comprehensive response. For some background see here.

[5] For more by the LA Time’s Michael McGough on the ongoing tensions over papal liturgy and wider issues of Catholic Worship click here. It is even being suggested that Pope Francis might soon appoint Archbishop Marini, former MC to JP II, as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Woship.

David Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



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