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Liturgy Wars: A New Pope

With all the excitement of Pope Francis comes a bit of concern from traditionalists who believe his approach to the liturgy may be “liberal” in nature. The good news is that “Catholics debating liturgy” is not really news at all. It’s normal for us to be doing this. If we weren’t, I’d be shocked. I’m seeing respectful discourse, for the most part, and voices of reason across the spectrum.

The Anchoress does a good job explaining the situation.

Because it is true that a mass can be both simple and tremendous, it’s easy to feel like the rad-trad hand-wringing over form and fabric is excessive, and to an extent I do feel that way. Making a sartorial martyr out of Monsignor Guido Marini, the Master of Papal Ceremonies — who has not been dismissed and will be in charge of 14 Franciscan Friars during the Papal Installation — strikes me as something Marini could not like, himself.


All that said, I do understand the fear that is driving some of this reaction, and it’s not really about the vestments; it is a fear that having, in their view, managed an escape from the land of clown-and-puppet liturgies thanks to Summorum Pontificum, this new era of simplicity might find that refuge taken from them.


Absurdists liturgies have more or less disappeared, but even so, I don’t think that will happen.

I agree that the absurd will always be found somewhere. We are, after all, human beings. We mess up a lot. Worries over Pope Francis are misplaced, though, as Fr. Dwight Longenecker points out.

Pope Francis may well turn out to be more “low church” and folksy in his style. That doesn’t mean he is going to ban the Latin Mass. He may be more informal and personable in his celebration of Mass. That doesn’t mean he’s going to send his liturgical police to confiscate all the lacy cottas and birettas in the world. Just because he wears a chasuble with grapes and wheat on it doesn’t mean he’s going to make everybody sing Eagle’s Wings every Sunday.

Father Z makes an excellent point.

People who say that these things are not important, or are bad, or that they should be eliminated are just plain wrong. That is a naive, shallow, approach to who we are. Catholics are not “either/or” when it comes to the dynamic interplay of the humble and the lofty. We are “both/and”, in proper measure, time and place.

That is, indeed, the most important point of all. In Catholicism, “both/and” as opposed to “either/or” is applied frequently. Engage yourself in an apologetics debate with an adherent to Sola Scriptura and you’ll soon find that it is the Catholic “both/and” way of reading Scripture that often causes disagreements between Catholics and protestants, who apply the “either/or” principle in places they should not. An example of this would be our belief that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist. Protestants will say that the Lord’s Supper is only a “memorial” and not the true presence of Jesus. We say that it is both/and, not either/or. It is both a memorial and His Real Presence. If one gets entrenched in “either/or” thinking about what God wills for us, one can become a protestant quickly. You may believe yourself to be “holding fast to the truth,” but protestants believe that about themselves, too, when they bind “either/or” thinking onto the Lord’s Supper and other teachings.

Fr. Longenecker is right to say that this issue is generally a cultural one.

There are a couple of things to remember here. First of all, in the United States the liturgy wars are part of a bigger cultural divide within the American Catholic church. Liberal liturgy very often also means liberal theology. [...]

[...] In the developing world however, the more informal modes of worship are much more of a general cultural phenomenon. An informal style there doesn’t necessarily carry all the baggage it does here. Just because a priest, bishop or pope is a bit more informal in his style of celebrating doesn’t mean he is a theological liberal or will compromise the faith.

Exactly. As Cardinal Arinze has pointed out, dancing at a Mass in Africa and Asia is not the same as dancing at a Mass in Europe and North America. Know the difference.

Fr. Longenecker goes on to say:

Indeed, everything about Pope Francis indicates that he is not only completely orthodox in theology and moral teaching, but that he has suffered for being so.

If true, then we can imagine Pope Francis will have an approach to this topic that is in keeping with the understanding that Cardinal Arinze expressed about liturgical dance. In other words, he will be a truly Catholic pope.

One last note. Could such things change? The answer is that, technically, yes, these things can be changed, because they are matters of discipline, not doctrine. The Pope could bind everyone to the Latin Mass, as a matter of discipline, if he thought it best for everyone. Having said that, as a matter of doctrine, it does not have to change…and that is the point. It is the point that keeps us at peace with one another.

I’m sure I have said something wrong somewhere, especially since the topic of liturgy is one that I am not well-versed on. Please don’t freak out if I did. I mess up a lot. Thankfully, I am not a bishop. I am but a sheep, and am quite happy as such. Baa baa baa.

By the way, many thanks to The Anchoress for the link in her post on “liturgical balance.”

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