So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Rigid Derigibles

A recent post at the excellent Rorate Cæli blog is, along with many other references to a statement of the Holy Father's, causing folk real concern. It reads:
The simplicity of children makes me also think of adults, with a rite that is direct, participated intensely [translator's note: reference to (the highly misunderstood) notion of 'actuosa participatio'], of parish masses experienced with so much piety. What comes to mind are proposals that encourage priests to turn their backs to the faithful, to rethink Vatican II, to use Latin. I ask the Pope what he thinks of this. The Pope answers:
[Pope:] "Pope Benedict accomplished a just and magnanimous gesture [translator's note: the motu proprio 'Summorum Pontificum'] to reach out to a certain mindset of some groups and persons who felt nostalgia and were distancing themselves. But it is an exception. That is why one speaks of an 'extraordinary' rite. The ordinary in the Church is not this. It is necessary to approach with magnanimity those attached to a certain form of prayer. But the ordinary is not this. Vatican II and Sacrosanctum Concilium must go on as they are (should be). To speak of a 'reform of the reform' is an error." (Well, we can be sure that the Holy Father is, because of his use of a familiar vocabulary, somewhat acquainted with the reform proposed by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. Because Pope Francis has stated on other occasions that he affirms Pope Benedict's liturgical reforms—Pope Francis wants Vatican Liturgy chief to continue the work of Pope Benedict XVI (2015)—perhaps it is too strong to assert that Francis is against all reform. Surely he cannot be against the Ordinary Form being celebrated in continuity with the actual—not mythical—reforms mandated by the Council which he cites? The same Council did not mandate a change in direction in which the Mass should be celebrated, for example. The Council merely allowed for exceptions to the ancient norm (ad orientem). It would be rather rigid to suggest the Council proscribed ad orientem worship, would it not?)
I ask him: "Other than those who are sincere and ask for this possibility out of habit or devotion, can this desire express something else? Are there dangers?"
[Pope:] "I ask myself about this. For example, I always try to understand what is behind those individuals who are too young to have lived the pre-Conciliar liturgy, and who want it nonetheless. I have at times found myself in front of people who are too rigid, an attitude of rigidity. And I ask myself: how come so much rigidity? You dig, you dig, this rigidity always hides something: insecurity, at times perhaps something else... [sic] The rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid." (Perhaps Pope Francis could be more specific. Is he talking about radical traditionalists who talk conspiracy theories, or is he speaking unfairly about the tradition-minded who, at least in my experience, are joyfully orthodox and, in many cases, attend both the EF and well celebrated OF and Ordinariate liturgies? To be sure, there are EF-loving folk who, regrettably, express themselves in particularly annoying ways and hardly seem motivated by love for the Usus Antiquior. Perhaps Pope Francis is speaking about those Catholics who belong to some fringe group or who, in their zeal for authenticity—which is never, in its service of the truth and charity, an undesirable trait—tire of shabby worship of the Lord they love?)
I insist: what about tradition? Some understand it in a rigid way.
[Pope:] "But no: tradition blooms!" he responds. "There is a Traditionalism that is a rigid fundamentalism: it is not good. Faithfulness instead implies a growth. Tradition, in the transmission from one age to the next of the deposit of the faith, grows and consolidates with the passage of time, as Saint Vincent of Lérins said in his Commonitorium Primum. I read it always in my breviary: 'Ita etiam christianae religionis dogma sequatur has decet profectuum leges, ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate' (Also the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws. It progresses, consolidating with the years, developing with time, deepening with the age.)" (The manner in which dogma is expressed may change, but the received teaching of the Church most surely does not change in essence. We must remember, Pope Francis does not speak with the ease of a theologian, especially one comparable to a Ratzinger or Wojtyla. Neither does he express himself with the ease concerning the Sacred Liturgy. The ease, say, of a Cardinal Sarah, Burke, Schneider, et al.)
Pope Francis tends to be a creature of the moment. His comments rarely transcend the particular, even while perhaps some people imagine, for better or worse, that he is speaking in deep strokes. More accurately, he speaks in broad strokes. As one who very much values the Extraordinary Form and who could be offended, but is not, by the Holy Father's comments, I would conclude from the excerpt above that the Holy Father is speaking to a very concise context or encounter without defining it as such. His fault, if you will, is that his criticism is too broad. So broad, in fact, that it is difficult to reconcile his comments cited above with earlier comments that he has made which express agreement with the Benedictine Reform (of the Reform). That said, it would appear we have a zero-sum game.

It is easy to understand why some people are concerned and unsettled given the recent personnel changes made at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Those who see in the changes a conspiracy of sorts will, of course, see Pope Francis' comments in a negative light. They should not feel badly for being unsettled by the Holy Father's comments on rigidity. They would be right to expect the Holy Father to express himself with greater precision. This wouldn't be the first time Pope Francis has created a situation where his comments beg clarification.

To conclude:
2 Thessalonians 2:15
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

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