How do you say ‘counterrevolution’ in Latin?
In a New York Times op-ed today, Kenneth J. Wolfe doesn’t answer the question in my headline, but he does see a “counterrevolution” in the return of the Tridentine rite. In a piece titled “Latin Mass Appeal,” Wolfe also offers an interesting take on the liturgical development of the past century. Here’s the kicker:
Benedict understands that his younger priests and seminarians — most born after Vatican II — are helping lead a counterrevolution. They value the beauty of the solemn high Mass and its accompanying chant, incense and ceremony. Priests in cassocks and sisters in habits are again common; traditionalist societies like the Institute of Christ the King are expanding.
Chanting Latin, wearing antique vestments and distributing communion only on the tongues (rather than into the hands) of kneeling Catholics, Benedict has slowly reversed the innovations of his predecessors. And the Latin Mass is back, at least on a limited basis, in places like Arlington, Va., where one in five parishes offer the old liturgy.
At the beginning of this decade, Benedict (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) wrote: “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself.” He was right: 40 years of the new Mass have brought chaos and banality into the most visible and outward sign of the church. Benedict XVI wants a return to order and meaning. So, it seems, does the next generation of Catholics.
Liturgy posts are like waving a red flag at a bull, which is always good fun. And I’m sure many will wade in with waves of their own. I’ll start: Apart from Wolfe’s cheerleading for the old rite, I think he makes a number of dubious assertions. For one thing, he calls Benedict “a noted liturgist,” though I think Ratzinger is that only in the sense that he is very interested in liturgy, and of a certain kind. Maybe that qualifies. He also imputes an omnipotence to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini so powerful that it evidently hypnotized popes Pius XII, Paul VI and even John Paul II into indulging in reforms against their will–and even after Bugnini’s death. Hmmm…
He never seems to explain the “paradox” of Pius XII “scoffing” at modernizing the liturgy and then preparing the way for such modernization. And viewing liturgical reform as a sop to Protestants? And the idea that the Tridentine rite and traditionalism are booming seems suspect if one goes by, well, the numbers.
Hey, everyone can have an opinion, and Wolfe takes a legit approach. But I think his history is skewed. I also marvel at the terminology and triumphalism of such apologists. Wolfe, for example, lauds the unvarying “rubrics” of the past rite yet now apparently welcomes the manifold liturgical options that Benedict is introducing. Paradox indeed. In any case, I am not a liturgist, noted or otherwise, so corrections welcome.
UPDATE: Kenneth Wolfe replied in the comments below and I think it merits more prominent play. Here’s what he says:
Goodness, I love liberal Catholics — I really do.
I commend the above writers who took the time to quibble with facts and points. The argument about whether it was fair to note the barely-a-decade parish work of Bugnini in light of the pope’s resume is an interesting one.
But, sadly, I see the same, tired arguments by most others above: Vatican II is settled, the novus ordo is set in stone until the end of the world and anyone who dares remind us there was a Church before the mid-20th century will be maligned as an univited guest.
Like it or not, Benedict XVI is a fan of traditionalists. Two of his biggest actions thus far into the papacy have been the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (essentially removing bishops from decisions regarding the traditional Latin Mass and all the pre-VII sacraments) and the un-excommunication of the four living SSPX bishops. Next up is to fully reconcile the SSPX.
Yet I see scoffing and Upper West Side-esque dismissal by those who (in my opinion) don’t want to face reality. The Church is swinging back to the right. You may not like that, and you are entitled to your opinion. But you ought to act a little less surprised and angry that a traditionalist viewpoint could be aired in the mainstream media.