Thursday, 10 May 2012

Restore the EF to fight abortion?...

So what’s the link between the restoration of the Extraordinary Form to the altars of the Church, and the fight agains evils such as  abortion, eugenic murder, euthanasia etc.

That’s the gauntlet thrown down by Stuart of eChurchblog, and as is my wont, I am rushing in where angels (or those on their side) hesitate to tread.

There are a few ways into this, and I think I’ll take all of them, so bear with me.

Firstly, I think there is a connection between right belief, right prayer and right action.  There is an old saying, lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief.  That is, as our prayer is, so our belief will be.  I would add to that, that as Christians our actions should derive from our prayer and our belief, if it is to be right action.  I mention that as occasionally people (say American nuns' leaders, for example) are silly enough to say we shouldn't worry about issues like liturgy when there are so many social ills to fight.

But the commandment to love our neighbour is the second great commandment: the first is to love the Lord our God: and to do that as He wants requires right prayer.

I would add to that initial starting point, a consideration of the phrase ‘cafeteria Catholicism.’  I don’t really want to get into what that might or might not be, but rather use it as an excuse to move up-market a bit and talk of A la Carte Catholicism and Table d’Hôte Catholicism.

For I believe that one can reasonably, and without being too offensive, compare the Ordinary Form of the Mass with an A la Carte approach, where the priest, liturgy committee and so on can select from a range of options those which will in their view produce the best liturgy for a particular group on a particular day.

On the other hand, the EF is the Table d’Hôte: you receive what you are given, and are grateful and learn to love it.  Isn’t Host a happy word in that context? One thinks of the Eucharistic Host, of course, and of the Hosts of Heaven, and our Heavenly Host, the Lamb himself.

And the good things the Host offers us at His table are not necessarily those which we would choose, but those which He knows, in His infinite love, are going to be best for us. Remember this is a restaurant and the word restaurant is very rich in this context: restaurer in French means both to take refreshment and to restore.

And then the wine: the cup of charity which we are offered to drink, which both warms and consoles, but also may contain our death: Can you drink of the cup?... Not that it is a poisoned chalice, but because Greater love has no man...

(I have previously pushed this metaphor even further, possibly further than it can sustain, here)

My point here is that if we are formed in this way, we are more likely to accept and act on the Church’s teachings and instructions with regard to social and even sexual matters.

Likewise, if we treat our Liturgy in an A la Carte fashion, there is at least the risk that we will treat the teachings of the Church in the same way, and also our obligation to act on them.

That is not merely a theoretical assumption.  When one looks at the congregations in the EF, (and also in those parishes, such as the Oratory parishes, where the approach to the OF is much closer to a Table d’Hôte approach) one often finds, pro rata, more children, more large families, and more pro-life activists.  Or to put it the other way around, people who dissent from the Church are likely to feel more comfortable in an A la Carte liturgy (particularly if they shop around for one which suits their particular tastes) than confronted by the immutable EF.

I think, further, that the vertical attitudes particularly cultivated by the EF make one more aware of one’s duties to God and neighbour, even those duties one might not feel drawn towards, and to define those duties in terms of what God, via His Church, is telling one to do; whereas the more horizontal orientation of the OF may incline one to favour those duties which are more obviously ‘social’ and to define those duties in terms of what one perceives, oneself, to be the ‘loving’ thing to do in any situation.

The old style favours an objective approach to the formation of conscience; the new a more subjective commitment to following one’s conscience.

The trouble with that is that our perception of the most ‘loving’ thing, and the development of our conscience can be affected by original sin, and by the world, the flesh and the devil.  Thus we find Catholics who, despite the clear teaching of the Church, don’t think that abortion, euthanasia and eugenic murder are wrong.

Related to all of this is the issue of a distinct Catholic identity.  It seems to me that that has been significantly eroded by making our liturgy much more similar to that of some other Christians, by losing Latin as our language of worship, by losing many of our Holy Days of Obligation (and until recently by losing Friday abstention).  We have lost what it feels like to be counter-cultural, and have become comfortable in our current culture - which makes it much harder to fight such cultural trends as accepting abortion etc as a 'necessary evil' or even as 'essential for equality.'

Finally, the restoration of the EF would force people to confront the fact that they are under authority.  The final authority is, of course, God Himself.  But the Church, particularly in the person of the Holy Father, is His vicar. That reminder, that we do not choose our own path, but must take up the Cross whether we like it or not, is more likely, it seems to me, to galvanise concerted action against great but slightly distant moral evils, than the OF approach.

This feels like a rather rambling attempt at an answer: I will be interested in any questions, counter-arguments, or indeed demonstration that I am wrong or flawed in my reasoning.


Joseph Shaw said...

Very good.

Another argument: the content of the prayers. Emphasis on sin, penance, grace, sacrifice, the intercession of the saints. We can't defeat abortion - we can't achieve anything as Catholics - if we have lost touch with these things. So the EF will help.

And another: the late Patriarch of Moskow said that his faithful survived persecution because of their fidelity to liturgical tradition. When everything was lost - schools, hospitals, all public presence - the liturgy communicated and maintained the Faith. Fidelity to liturgical tradition meant that they had something which was not corrupted by the Communists.

Left-footer said...

Ben - In total agreement - wishy-washy prayers and 'worship-songs lead to wishy-washy beliefs, and we know where those lead.

Joseph Shaw - excellent arguments.

God bless!

Part-time Pilgrim said...

This response is going to disagree with you much less that the one I would have posted earlier if I had had time. Having reflected on what you have said I realise that you have a point. (There is a lesson in that alone).

Firstly it is undeniable that advocates of the EF are more orthodox; they accept more readily the teaching of the Church. This is why I find that I tend to read their blogs rather than others. There might be mildly vexing opinions (such as promoting the holiness of the sanctuary by keeping women off) but you are not going to get nonsense like this:
for example

Secondly I claim that choosing to visit holy places once a month makes be a better Catholic, husband, father and teacher. Others especially those of no faith might find that claim specious. If someone else says that attending an EF mass makes him and others more pro-life (amongst other things) I should accept that.

Thirdly liturgy is important. We are called to transform the world with love but we cannot do this unless we allow Almighty God to transform us; the key to this is prayer and the summit of our prayer is the liturgy of the Church especially the Mass. The better we pray the more God’s grace can transform us and the more difference we will make to the world.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

However there are some things I must challenge. Lex orandi, lex crendendi is true but more direct than you seem to think. Thus the way we pray the Mass informs what we believe about the Mass rather than moral and social issues. (Of course we will receive graces that achieve this end by attending Mass but the form of the Mass won’t have this direct effect.)

I can’t accept your eating metaphor either: it’s very powerful but ultimately misleading I think. For a start it is not the case that I can arrive at church and say: “I’ll have the usual with the Confiteor, parts of the Mass sung in Latin, EP1 (because I find EP2 far too bland) heavy on “Christ be Our Light” but hold the “Shine Jesus, Shine” and it you try to serve it with that “Bring Flowers of the Fairest” like you did last week I’m sending it back!” (Would that I could.) No. I have to put up with the Table d’hôte that my Parish Priest chooses to serve up. And isn’t this the same with the EF? Here I am going to set sail on a sea of ignorance risking floundering in error but there is High Mass, Low Mass, Sung Mass with different settings again to be chosen by the celebrant; isn’t that how it works?

The vertical/horizontal metaphor is a good one especially as it calls to mind the cross and the sign with which all our prayers are started. Clearly we need both elements correctly balanced. In some OF celebrations there may be too much of the horizontal and EF celebrations too much vertical. This is best addressed by reforming the OF rather than restoring the EF. Also I can’t see how a more “horizontal” approach to liturgy would make you less aware of the duty owed to one’s neighbour.

I am always suspicious of “Catholic Identity” arguments (even when our bishops use them). Surely we do things because they are right, what Almighty God wants in his wisdom for our best interests. Talking of identity makes the Church seem like a sociological construct rather than the Bride of Christ. We need to run counter to the prevailing culture not because being counter-cultural is a virtue in itself but because modern understanding, morals and ethics are seriously flawed and we need to be a sign against them. Then the things you identify (Friday abstinence and moving Holy Days) are not, in my view, anything to do with the OF Mass.

As an aside, the move of the Ascension from Thursday to Sunday ought to make you happy if you think we need to be different from other Christians as only Catholics; we’ll be celebrating it on a different day from all the other Christians in the country. Unfortunately it’ll be on a different day from the Pope as well but you can’t have everything. (Has anyone ever met anyone who thought the Holy Day change was a good idea?)

In reality an imposition of the EF on all would upset many, alienate and demoralise some and lead to a further fall in Mass attendance, none of which would help the unborn or anyone else in need. In fact it would achieve the reverse.

However I am sure liturgical action can help. I am going to speak to our PP about Sunday Vespers, Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction during the next 40 Days for Life Vigils in October. Benediction to fight abortion – that would work.