"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Liturgy and Ecclesiology

The great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre opened a 1976 essay on the bicentennial of the American Revolution with the amusing quip that surely everyone in that year had had quite enough of the commemorations, and the next author to utter "just one more platitude, one last cliché" will see "perhaps the population of the United States...run screaming into the oceans and the Great Lakes." A similar sentiment perhaps overtakes those familiar with the parade of books still emerging to celebrate the opening of Vatican II more than 50 years ago now. There is on the part of some an understandable, and likely increasing, sense that we have been sated with such books; but as the most important Christian event of the last century, whose effects continue to be felt and whose legacy is still far from settled, the council remains a topic of keen interest on the part of many. (For those feeling fatigued by all the turgid analysis of the council, I recommend taking a break with the hugely entertaining diaries of Yves Congar about the council, discussed here and especially here.) While we have seen many histories of the council written, including those by John O'Malley, there is still a need for an analysis of the unfinished and, in some ways, incoherent, liturgical and ecclesiological visions (and all their ecumenical implications, perforce) of the council. A recent book attempts to look critically at the connections between the liturgy and ecclesiology by analyzing Sacrosanctum Concilium and its aftermath (including the 2007 Summorum Pontificio): Massimo Faggioli, True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgical Press, 2012), xi+188pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
For Massimo Faggioli, the debate about the meaning of Vatican II too often misses the profound significance of that council's first and perhaps most consequential document, Sacrosanctum Concilium. The result is a misunderstanding of both the council as a whole and the liturgical reform that followed from it. In True Reform, Faggioli takes Sacrosanctum Concilium as a hermeneutical key of the council. He offers a thorough reflection on the relationship between the liturgical constitution and the whole achievement of Vatican II and argues that the interconnections between the two must emerge if we want to understand the impact of the council on global Catholicism.

This is in some ways an enjoyable book precisely because it is so maddeningly confused, transparently tendentious, and on some crucial matters passionately wrong-headed. In other respects, however, Faggioli has advanced crucial, unique arguments that very much need and definitely merit a wider hearing. There are many gems buried in this book, but one must do a lot of spade-work to extract them. Since I shall criticize this book rather forcefully, let me begin by laying out where I think the author is correct:

  • Faggioli is correct in his overall thesis that Sacrosanctum Concilium contains an ecclesiological vision, and that such a vision is a welcome correction to the vision coming out of Vatican I in 1870; 
  • He is, further, correct that subsequent liturgical legislation, above all Summorum Pontificum, also has an ecclesiological vision--though, as we shall see, most certainly not the one Faggioli thinks it has;
  • He is correct, albeit in a much narrower sense than he realizes, that some--but only some--of the opponents of the liturgical reforms of the council are motivated by nostalgic hankering for a romanticized past that never truly was;
  • He is correct that some of the critics of the council criticize it above all for its moving away from an ultramontane, centralized, papalist vision of the Church, and that such critics are wrongheaded and must be resisted;
  • He is, finally, correct that to return to such a papalist vision would be a disaster for ecumenical relations and, indeed, for the entire Catholic Church as such.

Now let us consider some of the weaknesses. He begins with the bald claim that "the liturgical debate at Vatican II was the first and most radical effort of modern Catholicism to cope with the dawn of the 'secular age'" (4). If this is so, then, following as I do Catherine Pickstock (whom Faggioli never cites), the liturgical constitution must be counted a failure. It remains a source of amazement to me that (so far as I have been able to discover to date) there has been almost no serious scholarly engagement in English of Pickstock's arguments in After Writing: On the Liturgical Cosummation of Philosophy, where she argues (cf. pp. 171-76 especially; but see also her essays "Asyndeton: Syntax and Insanity. A Study of the Revision of the Nicene Creed," Modern Theology 10 [1994]; "Liturgy and Modernity," Telos 113 [1998]; and more recently "The Ritual Birth of Sense," Telos 162 [Spring 2013]) that the Vatican II reforms were not, contrary to their usual portrayal, radical reforms. Rather, they “participated in an entirely more sinister conservatism. For they failed to challenge those structures of the modern secular world which are wholly inimical to liturgical purpose: those structures, indeed, which perpetuate a separation of everyday life from liturgical enactment.” The particular aspects of anti-ritual modernity that need challenging, according to Pickstock, include “such anachronistic structural concepts as ‘argument,’ ‘linear order,’ ‘segmentation,’ ‘discrete stages,’ and the notion of ‘new information’ outside ‘linguistic redundancy’ or repetition.”   For Pickstock the reformed Mass, in eliminating repetition and patterning itself on the ideas of modern communications, has lost its “apophatic liturgical ‘stammer,’ and oral spontaneity and ‘confusion’.”

Now, as I am aware (from having published an article on Pickstock and Byzantine liturgy more than a decade ago), there have been numerous reviews of her book and critical discussions of it, but I have not (yet) been able to find anybody who has seriously engaged her central points about the elimination of repetition, the substitution of linear order and segmentation, and the use of asyndeton rather than hypotactic and paratactic syntax in modern English liturgical translations (including Lutheran, Anglican, and RC translations). In failing to take up these arguments, liturgists have, it seems to me, irresponsibly overlooked what I regard as the most destructive legacy of the council, and the most critical part of her book. The book has been out for nearly fifteen years, but I cannot find people to have picked this argument up--either to reject or embrace it. And if that is the case, then I'm of the old school: qui tacet consentire videtur. 
Faggioli has no time for such arguments--or many others one could enumerate--it seems plain after reading this book: time and again he refuses to acknowledge that critics of the council even have arguments. (In this regard he clearly reminds one of Lionel Trilling's famously arch dismissal of political conservatives as not having ideas but "just irritable mental gestures."). In this spirit Faggioli  hurls what he seems (amusingly) to regard as a thunderous epithet at all critics of Vatican II: they are just indulging in "nostalgia" and nothing more. That word and its cognates appears dozens of times in the volume and is made unthinkingly and lazily to bear an enormous weight it could not, and does not, sustain. It becomes very silly after the second or third instance, rather like the child who cannot think of anything more cutting or original to say and so resorts repeatedly to deriding his enemy on the other side of the sandbox as a "dummy." Whatever you think of Pickstock's arguments--or dozens of others one could cite (e.g., Aidan Nichols' Looking at the Liturgy; Jonathan Robinson's The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward, or Joseph Ratzinger in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977, inter alia) but certainly not find, at least by name, in Faggioli--she is not engaged in "nostalgia" but in very high-level textual criticism worthy of a serious scholarly response.

Shortly after this, Faggioli makes a point that I wish he had spent more time developing: the real purpose of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) was ecclesiology, and the real purpose of its ecclesiology was "to give 'completion and equilibrium' to the bishop, to the local Church, and to the overall theology of the Church that became prevalent after Vatican I." In other words, if I understand him correctly, SC was supposed to be a corrective to Pastor Aeternus. This is a novel argument very much worth exploring, which he does a little later (p.22) in noting that SC "is the...least dependent on recent papal teaching for its inner balance and core concepts." SC, in other words, was not the product of straitened Latin theologizing (whether neo-Scholastic or whatever) or papal magisterial thought: it was, Faggioli shows, the fruit of the ressourcement movement, including, he briefly acknowledges, certain figures of the Christian East (though not including Alexander Schmemann, one of many names one searches for in vain in this book). One discovery of the ressourcement movement was that of the role of the bishop in the early Church: "the ecclesiology of the liturgical constitution embodies the rediscovery of the ecclesiology of the monarchic episcopate in accordance with the model of the fathers of the Church" (51).

There are other bon mots Faggioli drops along the way, including this: "liturgical ressourcement at Vatican II meant the ripening of the ecumenical language of Catholicism and a powerful blow to every nostalgia [!] of 'Uniatism'" (36). He quickly drops this and never engages it again in the rest of the book--though he does cite, in somewhat truncated fashion, the influence of the Melkites at the council, which Robert Taft has of course discussed elsewhere. And he rightly notes in a variety of places the fact that more than Roman-rite liturgies were offered at the council had a major, if perhaps underappreciated, impact: "the liturgies (in rites different from the Roman) celebrated in St. Peter's contributed greatly to the development of a truly cathoilc, that is, 'universal,' ecclesiology in the council fathers" (63). I think this is sound, but such a sanguine assessment of these liturgies should be set alongside the rather weary comments on them recorded (rather astonishingly, I would add, given Congar's famous graciousness towards the Christian East, and his long, irenic, intelligent study of it) by Congar, which I note here.

There are other areas where the author does not develop his arguments in sufficient depth and detail to be convincing: e.g., he tries to suggest that SC's call for "noble simplicity" (no.34) was much more ecclesiological than "aesthetic" in nature. That is an intriguing line of argumentation that I wanted to hear more of, not least because I think--and have argued elsewhere--that that phrase was the single-most destructive thing in the entire document, and the cause of a renewed iconoclasm in the Roman Church over the last half-century--an argument made by others, including Joseph Ratzinger's The Spirit of the Liturgy.

But let us turn finally to the central thrust of the book: the ecclesiological implications of SC for the life and structure of the Church today. In this Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and many others have a considerable stake. The author starts off encouragingly by saying that "Lumen Gentium is silent on the practical application of episcopal collegiality whereas Sacrosanctum Concilium is not, and, as a matter of fact, it opened the door to the most important practical implementation of episcopal collegiality in modern Catholicism: national bishops conferences" (73). I have argued elsewhere at length that we need far more such practices in the Catholic Church today--not some anemic "collegiality" but a very robust synodality, and the fact we have seen less and less of it in some areas since Vatican II is very alarming. But the one area where, since 2007, we have not (pace Faggioli) seen more centralization is precisely the liturgy. The one area where we have seen greater freedom at the local level has been precisely the liturgy, thanks to Pope Benedict.

It is at this point that the author gets matters completely backwards. Faggioli is adamant that "questioning the liturgical reform of Vatican II means undoing also the ecclesiology of the liturgical reform and the ecclesiology of Vatican II. Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007), which reintroduced the pre-Vatican II missal, entailed extraordinary consequences from an ecclesiological point of view" (86). And what are those consequences, lest we have misunderstood the author's tender sensibilities to this point? "A rejection of the liturgical reform of Vatican II would mean a premature death of the ecclesiology of the local Church in Catholic theology and its ecclesial praxis" (89); and "a great number of criticisms against the liturgical reform and its application come from a misunderstanding or from a refusal of a renewed ecclesiology" (91). Faggioli seems to think that merely repeating something enough times makes it so.

To this I can only respond, as the late Baroness Thatcher did in her fatal speech in Westminster in October 1990 discussing European federal institutions: no, no, no! I am staggered at just how backwards this argument is, at how impervious it is to actual evidence. (What's the old slogan? Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts?) The whole point of Summorum Pontificum (SP) is to take liturgy out of the hands of curial officials (whether at the Roman-universal or episcopal-local levels) and leave it in the hands of the priests and people in local communities. If there are ecclesiological implications to this decision, and there are, then they are the exact opposite of what Faggioli claims to fear: SP genuinely returns liturgy to the people, a decision I can only wholly welcome for that reason and many others (including the possibility of the "extraordinary" form influencing the ordinary form so that the manifold and manifest defects in the latter may, one hopes, be at least partially healed). This is, surely, the most radical decision not merely since the gross and unjust centralization begun after Pastor Aeternus but indeed since the Council of Trent. This is, surely, a profound ecclesiological blow to the forces of curial control and disastrous papal micromanaging of the liturgy, which should never have been allowed to run riot in the first place. This is, surely, the plain meaning of Article 2 of Summorum (my emphasis):

Art. 2. In Masses celebrated without the people, each Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular or regular, may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum. For such celebrations, with either one Missal or the other, the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary.
How a Mass celebrated in private (a theologically suspect Latin practice, but that is another matter) could possibly deal a "death"-blow to an ecclesiology of the local Church is impossible to fathom.

Consider the other relevant provisions: Article 4 goes on to say that "Celebrations of Mass as mentioned above in art. 2 may - observing all the norms of law - also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted." And Article 5 (§ 1) notes that "In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962." Thus the law provides in at least three places that the priest and people do not need to grovel to the local bishop, still less to the bishop of Rome, in sorting out their liturgical life. I fail to see why this is a bad thing. He is right that there are ecclesiological consequences here, but any fair-minded analysis could (for lack of a better word) only call them "congregationalist" in nature--in other words, the exact opposite of what Faggioli alleges. Thus Faggioli's fearful claim that even criticizing Vatican II's liturgical reform is of a package with the "death" of a local-Church ecclesiology is simply absurd on its face. (The only plausibility this argument could have, which I readily grant, is in the hands of certain members of the SSPX, whose ecclesiology tends towards the most  risibly ultramontane and whose history is indeed bogus and the product of nostalgia for a past that never was. But Faggioli does not sufficiently differentiate between SSPX cranks, a tiny number, and other legitimate and more numerous critics.) Summorum is, if anything, a liturgical charter born precisely out of a solicitude for the local Church above all.

Remember SP's author: Pope Benedict saw, and denounced in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977, the fact that the liturgical life of local churches had been so rudely up-ended by the destructive interference of international committees of specialists enforcing their will by papal fiat, a process he rightly derided as an unprecedented and unjustified papal power-grab. He was also aware of how many curialists in Rome and bishops and their own curialists in dioceses around the world thwarted the desires of people to access the extraordinary form through the somewhat restricted provisions of Ecclesia Dei Adflicta so he cut this whole lot out of the chain of command, which was a brilliant tactical move and a rightful attempt to check the excesses of papal power (and curial meddling) in matters liturgical.

Finally, it does not seem to have occurred to Faggioli that one can hold multiple positions at the same time which are perfectly congruent and coherent. By that I mean that there are many critics of the reform who have no desire to return to any kind of yet more centralized ecclesiology of the pre-Vatican II variety. I am myself--and can easily think of many others--one such critic: I think the liturgical reforms were good in some ways, but hugely disastrous in most others and as a consequence I think that the extraordinary form should be used as widely as possible; at the same time I think the ecclesiological reforms were good in some ways though they did not even begin to go far enough. I want very much to see the liturgical and ecclesiological problems fixed, but I want at least as much to see that the council's eccelesiological and ecumenical gains are preserved and not rolled back. Why one cannot hold both sets of desires simultaneously is a mystery to Faggioli but not to me. It is a pity that his ham-fisted defense of one vision of Vatican II and his love of papal centralization (as long as it is used to enforce the favored causes) blinds him to this reality, and that his de haute en bas attitude would never condescend to engage such arguments, which are more complicated than the simplistic tale on offer in this little book.

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