Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Certitude Gave Way To Mystery, And Reverting Back May Lead To Revolting Rather Than Reforming


Sometimes I think progressives and traditionalists pick particular arguments in order to avoid confronting the fact we actually are talking about two different Catholic Churches with two really different world views.  It's much easier to write the notion that some of us are Vat II Catholics and some are Vat I or Trentan Catholics-which I have personally done-than it is too admit these are really two fundamentally different views of the Church.  This recognition will become more obvious as discussion heats up around the coming changes in the Mass scheduled for this Advent.  These changes are about a whole lot more than lousy English translations.  They really are about the kind of redemption story the Mass itself tells.

There was a comment along these lines to the latest Eugene Kennedy NCR article that I found really interesting.  Too bad it was from an anonymous commenter because it really deserves a better attribute.  It focuses on the writing of Joseph Ratzinger circa 1966:

For a little bit of irony, consider the following extracts from Ratzinger’s book “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”, published in 1966. (Paulist Press Deus Books). (It’s a fascinating little text, although probably out of print.) Providing background to the 1964 Vatican II discussions on liturgy, Ratzinger describes the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent in the following terms (pp86–87):

“The main measure [of the Council of Trent] was to centralize all liturgical authority in the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the post-conciliar organ for the implementation of liturgical ideas of Trent. … the fate of the liturgy in the West was now in the hands of a strictly centralized and purely bureaucratic authority. The authority completely lacked historical perspective; it viewed the liturgy solely in terms of ceremonial rubrics, treating it as a kind of problem of proper court etiquette for sacred matters.  (this is a great descriptive line.) This resulted in the complete archaizing of the liturgy, which now passed from the stage of living history, became embalmed in the status quo, and was ultimately doomed to internal decay. The liturgy became a rigid, fixed and firmly encrusted system; the more out of touch with genuine piety, the more attention was paid to prescribed forms. We can see this if we remember that none of the saints of the Catholic Reformation drew their inspiration from the liturgy.” (Part of this also had to do with the fact that laity were only allowed to receive communion on Easter Sunday, a situation which was really difficult for lay people like St Thomas More who attended and witnessed Mass daily, but that was as far as he was allowed to go.)

[After discussing this point with respect to John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, Ratzinger continues as follows:]
The baroque era adjusted to this situation by superimposing a kind of para-liturgy on the archaized actual liturgy. Accompanied by the splendor of orchestral performance, the baroque high Mass became a kind of sacred opera … The entire performance seemed aimed at a kind of festive lifting of the heart., enhanced by the beauty of a celebration appealing to the eye and ear. On ordinary days, when such display was not possible, the Mass was frequently covered with devotions more attractive to the popular mentality. Even Leo XIII recommended that the rosary be recited during Mass in the month of October. This meant that while the priest was busy with his archaized liturgy, the people were busy with their devotions to Mary. …”

This quote sent me off to find other quotes of Ratzinger's from his other writings of this time period and I stumbled across a traditionalist critique of the 'heretical' Joseph Ratzinger that pretty much sums up the difference in the intellectual approaches to the Church pre and  post VII:

 For example, in 1966, the progressivist Father Joseph Ratzinger rejoiced that in the Council's document Lumen Gentium, "the title of the text no longer referred in scholastic fashion to the 'nature of the Church,' but rather spoke of its mystery."

Here's what's happening. Before the Council, we spoke precisely of the "nature of the Church," which had a strict definition. Now, instead, we speak of the "mystery of the Church." Before the Council, we spoke of the unchangeableness of Sacred Tradition. Today, however, we talk about the "mystery of living tradition." This is a semantic tactic to introduce confusion. The progressivists take our defined certitudes and refer to them as "mysteries." Once they do this, they can do anything they want with the terminology, and open the door to their novel theological concepts.

And what were some of those defined certitudes that were turned by novel theological concepts?  Well, when it came to the Mass, which is now defined as the Pascal mystery, they were these changes:


"By affirming that Christ did not die on the Cross in order to satisfy the debt of punishment demanded by Divine justice offended by sin, the theology of the Paschal mystery openly contradicts a truth of the Catholic Faith as taught by the Council of Trent." In fact, "the infallible teaching of the Church, chiefly expressed in the text of the Council of Trent, obliges us to consider the vicarious satisfaction of Christ as one of the principal truths of our Faith." That is, Christ's sacrifice satisfies the justice of God, offended by sin. (Truthfully, I have not bought this concept in a long long time.)

"By making the sacrificial aspect of the Mass flow from the memorial dimension of the Mass, the theology of the Paschal mystery calls into question the teaching of the Council of Trent in this area. The Council of Trent's infallible teaching in this area is that "the Mass is a vere et proprie [truly and properly] a visible sacrifice." [This teaching is defined dogma and can never be subject to change or updating in the name of a "deeper understanding."]. This makes "the emphasis placed by the theology of the Paschal mystery on the memorial aspect of the Mass unacceptable." (This memorial aspect is referencing the idea that the Mass is a memorial meal rather than a re enactment of a blood sacrifice.)

"By relying upon a new concept of sacrament, the theology of the Paschal mystery shows itself to be very dangerous to the Catholic Faith. By favoring heterodox theses on more than one point, this theology shows itself to belong to the modernist theology condemned by Pope St. Pius X."

"The doctrine of the Paschal mystery, with its serious doctrinal deficiencies is, then, at the origin of the liturgical reform. That is why one cannot say that the reformed rite of Mass of 1969 is 'orthodox' in the etymological sense of the word: it does not offer 'right praise' to God." (if a person buys into the sacrificial appease God in order to avoid hell kind of Church, the whole notion of mystery in relationship to the Church is heterodox.)

 For me the whole problem with any idea of the 'reform of the reform' is exactly the returning to the Trentan concept that the Mass is the reenactment of a blood sacrifice of atonement, rather than an incredible gift of spiritual life in the context of a meal.  There is an enormous difference between the concepts of Jesus sacrificing Himself to appease God the Father for my sins, as opposed to offering a free gift of spiritual life.

It's not just a matter of how one views the Mass.  It's also a matter of what one thinks of their humanity and how they view their God.  I could never quite do the mental gymnastics required to hold the two ideas of God as our Father and font of unconditional love as taught by Jesus, with the idea of God demanding the sacrifice of His own son to make ammends for human sin.  That's not precisely unconditional love and not very demonstrative of loving parenting.  By today's standards it's about as abusive as a parent can get.

I've frequently wondered if the masochism and lack of appreciation for the worth of humanity that was built into the Trentan Church didn't fuel a lot of the clerical abuse crisis.  Couple that with the mostly gnostic attitude towards sexuality (and material reality in general) and one does have the foundational matrix for some seriously pathological behavior and a whole lot of miserable people willing to do what ever they are told to do to avoid eternal damnation.

Those days are long gone for the vast majority of educated people in the West.  But I still wonder what happened to one Joseph Ratzinger that he's pretty much reverted--Caritas En Veritate being mostly an exception to the reversion.  If he thinks his own reversion is something other than an isolated exception to the rule, he's mistaken.  People who move beyond static certitude almost never ever revert.  Catholicism has spent the last forty years enculturating it's adherents into a different view of Jesus and humanity and it's been done through it's central ritual act.  People are not going to revert, but they might revolt.  This is not just a matter of changing some words to better reflect a form of archaic ritualized Latin.  It's about taking the mystery out and putting the certitude back.  It won't work well, and of that I'm pretty certain.


  1. Great article Colleen,with a lot to think about.
    Certainly we are being exposed constant references as to what we need to do to get to heaven,need to have our sins forgiven, do penance etc. Even the little girl who talked about Catholic Schools Week before Sunday Mass said that they are taught that the most important thing is to get to heaven.
    When I read the changes, besides the horrible grammar and translations, and the thought of the millions of dollars involved in changing all those books, I was struck by the constant references to our sinfulness, emphasis on the Crucifixion as what God demands to satisfy Him so he won't destroy us, as well as God's need for praise, glory and adoration-or else. The Resurrection which to me is the cornerstone of out faith, has become an add on that we profess to believe but doesn't matter all that much.
    I used to get more outraged, now it is more like helplessly watching a slow motion train wreck.

  2. Thoughtful and well written as usual, Colleen. My question comes to what we focus on.

    Do we focus on our own weaknesses and flaws (which we have plenty of, thanks) and weigh ourselves down with that sin?

    Do we focus on a hierarchical social structure made from and by those same weak and flawed people who seem more interested in the temporal than the eternal?

    Do we focus on the intricacies of legalistic interpretation and hang our belief in salvation on the difference between 'may' and 'must'?

    Do we focus on an invincible and perfect God who loves us and calls us to be better than we are?

    As Sirach said in the reading this weekend, it's YOUR choice.

  3. And lo, all my irks with traddies are laid bare. Where to begin?
    This crushing need for certitude is Dogmatism fallacy first off, no human being can fully encompass the vastness of the divine. It's not possible, and anyone who tries to is not only doomed in the attempt, but feeds an insidious prejudice that has caused wars.

    Secondly, human blood sacrifice is barbaric. And any god who would demand that is no god at all. Plus this just makes that old atheist criticism of Christianity vibrantly true- god (who is incidentally his own son) sent himself to be sacrificed to himself so he didn't have to torture you in flaming agony for all eternity (assuming of course you believe everything just said, if not, you will still be damned).

    Aww heck, I would recommend Spong to these folks or possibly St. Abelard, but I know they're allergic to learning anyway.


  4. @Kallisti

    The necessity for dogmatic certitude really starts the 19th century with Vatican I. Sure, Trent lays down a lot in writing, but most of that is a dogmatic 'double-dog-dare ya' thing going on with the Protestants.

    Consider, though, that the hallmarks of the Victorian era were that of increasingly rapid change, shifts in social order, technological development and the resultant political and economic upheavals. As one can see, we all live in HRM's shadow some 150 years later.

    Can you be shocked that people are wanting SOME security in their lives? That they would look to one of the oldest and most enduring organizations EVER for stability in a very unstable world? I can't blame them for that, though I believe that they have misplaced their faith.

    Though I have my own reading list regarding Tradition, I would instead recommend that the laity read the Scripture for themselves (which they, by and large, don't) and ask God to open their hearts and minds to what the Divine is trying to say to them.

  5. Honestly, problems with the old rite notwithstanding, I can't see anything "mysterious" about the new one. I think it takes the experience of mystery for granted and that's why it was so exhilarating at first.

  6. There is a problem when we as humans idealize anything or anyone. The dogmatist is full of idealizations of right and wrong and who are good and bad people. Very often when those who idealize get a glimpse of someone or something that they have idealized and see it less than ideal, they begin to move completely in another direction. They have hoped for a perfection that is not possible. As the dogmatic parts of the RCC push for more and more idealization, they are in fact pushing people out over time. Yes it would be wonderful to feel secure in an organization of integrity that we could look up to. Where is that organization. Certainly is not the RCC.

    Any organization that hopes to succeed in inspiring spirituality in humankind will need the integrity to be honest and open! This is where reform or revolt comes in. Without reform, there certainly will be a turning away from a group lead by such very unwise leaders as we have in the RCC Episcopacy. An organization can not remain wonderful just because we feel we need it to be that way or we want it to be that way. It takes the hard work of humility. This is something we just have not seen very much of in the JP II and Benedict bishops. Perhaps it is because these men did not express much of that virtue either.

  7. One Sunday in 1971, after school mass, Sr. Catherine Thomas chastised me severely for having "snatched" the Eucharist from her hands when receiving communion. She reminded me that what I was holding was "The Body of Christ" and must receive the The Body of Christ with great gratitude and humility. Today, I am so grateful that she did that for me. For I learned years later, in college, that one of the first documents promulgated at Vatican II was that on the Sacred Liturgy. I also learned that they did this for a serious reason - because the act of worship defines the faith. The act of receiving communion within the hands says something entirely different than receiving communion on the tongue. In one, The Church is feeding you the Faith. In the other, The church is you are taking hold of the Faith and consuming Her yourself – from your own hands. I was thus raised to take hold of the Faith, my relationship with Divine Incarnation, in my hands and in my heart and I do so with Great Gratitude and Humility. I've also learned that nuns don't just say things for the moment; that Sr. Catherine Thomas was a forward thinking woman, even if it stung me at the moment...

  8. This encapsulates the problem quite precisely.
    When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, it is not a community of people giving it to us, not the priest (or EMHC) but Christ Himself giving Himself to us, and graciously so.

    To reach out and "take hold of the faith" and "our relationship to the divine incarnation" is really quite antithetical, symbolically speaking, to the posture of a creature before its Maker and Saviour.

    Grace is received, not taken hold of.

  9. Not necessarily JD. I'm thinking of the woman who literally grabbed the robe of Jesus in order to be healed. She was commended for her audacity because hers was not an act of a greedy person, but an act of one who knew with out any doubt that what Jesus offered in His person was truly present for the taking. Granted, not all had her audacity, but we are not all cut from the same mold.

  10. @JD

    Though I recognize and affirm your view regarding Eucharist, I hold a different view regarding the sacrament of Eucharist (and, most likely, all sacraments). As St. Augustine said so long ago...

    "If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying "Amen" to what you are -­ your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith."

    Ergo, Eucharist is an affirmation of our re-union with the Divine and re-connection with each other as the larger Body of Christ.

  11. New visitor. Nice post.

    I am very saddened that many priests and catechists after the Council have completely ignored the dogma of the Sacrifice of the Mass. I remain a Catholic only because I have a very deep love for the Holy Sacrifice, both the bloody sacrifice of Calvary and the unbloody sacrifice of the altar. The crucifixion-atonement and Mass are not the hallmarks of a cruel Father. Rather, God the Son literally breaks his body open for us both at the Cross and at the Mass so that we might break the chains of death. Mass must be a viceral and literal sacrifice in order to fully envelop us in Christ's inestimable grace. Otherwise, we would participate in our salvation from a historical distance that could never be bridged.

    The new English translation of the Roman Canon is a great improvement over the 70's version precisely because is does not obscure the Latin's graphic recollection of Christ's human sacrifice. Just after the Consecration the Host is again praised as the "pure, holy, and immaculate Victim". The Latin word for victim is "hostia", or literally, an animal for sacrificial offering. The 70's version deleted this very important verse. Perhaps some might shy from a liturgical re-presentation of an actual human sacrifice. Without the physical and tangible sacrifice however, we are at just another memorial meal. Is is not better to be in Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity at every Mass rather than "remember Christ" with bread cubes?

  12. Tim, I wouldn't argue with what you posted from Augustine. Insofar as we are members of Him, it is our mystery. But that mystery, however much ours, remains something God has graciously included us in, a mystery by which He is saving us.

    In fact, Augustine's words strike me as highly pertinent to the theology of the Mass as a Divine Sacrifice: The sacrifice of the Lord is our own, that is to say, we must make it our own. We are called to bring ourselves and our lives to the altar so that, in union with Christ the High Priest, the temporal dimension of our fallen state can be wedded to the eternal dimension of Christ's eternal offering. Suffered, slain and risen, we too can go along with Him in his transfiguration from the Cross to risen glory.

    So, when we do come forward to receive from that altar we receive not only Him, but ourselves too, as we are in Him, blessedly restored.

    Colleen's example of the bleeding woman is well taken, but it is only a single individual example, I would argue, with no typological force. I don't think that same Augustine, of all, would argue against the ritual gesture of humility and unworthiness. After all, immediately preceding the Sacrament is both "Lamb of God have mercy on us" and "Lord I am not worthy to receive you", soon to be once more "I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof".

    Ultimately speaking, in the narrative of salvation, God is the active one, the one who moves first, who loves first, who draws us to Him. Preceding the bleeding woman's "reaching out and taking" of Christ's power is the entire movement of God towards humanity and His reception in the virginal womb of our unstained nature. For this reason, and others, I do think communion in the hand- at least especially while standing- is a grave mistake and not just personal preference.

  13. I appreciate the comments, especially since they are well articulated and carry emotional/spiritual impact. Now for some personal exchange, so to speak.

    In my own mystical path, I have been given to understand the Mass much more along the lines of Augustine as quoted by Tim. I have been shown the Transfiguration as a far more important event than Catholicism has generally presented it. This event comes very early in Jesus's ministry and demonstrates a manifestation of the truth He taught about the Divinity with in. I see the Eucharist as another aspect of Transfiguration rather than transubstantiation. It does indeed say something profound about our own nature. Resurrection is contained in the truth of the Transfiguration.

    The Crucifixion is as well, because once Jesus experienced the truth of His own self, little of what passed for religious truth had any real meaning other than the concepts of love, conversion, and right relationships. He could teach God as Father because He knew it as a form of literal truth. He also called us his brothers and sisters and that too is literally true in relationship to His father. It is up to us to discover that truth and that was the Good News Jesus came to teach.

  14. I see from our conversation here that the Mass is BOTH a Sacrifice and a Memorial Meal - a Sacrificial Meal. Jesus said-Take and Eat, This is My Body and My Blood, Given up for You. Do This In Memory of Me... Memorial in the ancient sense means to "Make Real Again.” In this sense, the Mass is surely a Memorial Meal. But the Mass is also Sacrificial - It is a Pascal Meal. In Mass we "Make Real Again" The Pascal Mystery - The Suffering, Dying and Rising of Christ. You can't have the Dying without the Rising; nor can you have the Rising without the Dying. But then, there’s that bit about the Suffering - Christ’s Passion – Passio – To Suffer. Christ Shared in our Suffering that we might Share in His Rising. How Compassionate is That!? . . . Both aspects of The Mass and more, must be held with Deep Reverence and Gratitude. We must be open and versatile enough to Worship Either Way; lest we risk Worshipping only half way . . .