Monday, 3 May 2010

Today is NOT the Feast of the Finding of Holy Cross


Today is not the feast of the Finding of Holy Cross.  But it should be.

Calendar reforms

The Finding of Holy Cross is one of those feasts that fell victim to the calendar reforms of the 1950s and early 1960s, when it was combined with the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross (which celebrates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcre).  It celebrated St Helena's (mother of Constantine the Great) discovery of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem, and subsequent discovery of the Cross at the site. 

So a nice feast, one that can presumably still be licitly marked by a votive mass.

Hmm, could you use votive masses to effectively recreate some of the old octaves?  Presumably....

Following the rules

Claims though that it is in fact the feast day of Holy Cross today (seen on at least one Australian website), despite the Church's abolition of the feast, really do seem deeply problematic to me.

One of the reasons that the traditionalist movement hasn't grown as much as I think it should have in my view is because of a lack of clarity about what it stands for.  Most of us perhaps come to the traditional mass for aesthetic reasons - we prefer it for its beauty, its ritual and the sense of the sacred it creates.  It is only over time perhaps that its other sub-texts become more self-evident. 

But to some these things never becomes self-evident, as a few blogs by alleged traditionalists advocating abolition of things like priestly celibacy testify.  Similarly, I'm always surprised by traditionalist men who get upset at miss out on having their feet washed on Maundy Thursday, or don't get to do a reading on one of the couple of occasions of the year when extras tend to get dragged in.  And those of both genders who religiously struggle to read every word of their missal at the exact same time the priest says it at every single mass, because it all seems to suggest to me a failure to understand what genuine active participation involves.  I could go on with a long list.

Why do these understandings fail to develop?  Perhaps it's largely a matter of catechesis, but I think there are some things inherent in the practices of many traditionalist communities that encourage a lack of understanding and a separatist mentality.

Many of us come to the EF repelled by the constant failure to follow the rubrics in the majority of Ordinary Form masses.  It is the ad libs, schmaltzy hymns and stuff that screams 'it's all about me' that makes us search for something where it is not all about either priest or congregation.  Extraordinary Form communities, though, too often develop their own ideosyncratic liturgical 'traditions' reflecting the priest or community's preferences.  When they do, the EF loses some of its teaching power (though no doubt many will continue to attend given the lack of reasonable alternatives).

Personally I think traditionalism needs to stand for following the norms set down by the Church - a rejection of the 'whatever I (whether the priest or cabals of the laity) like is what will happen' mentality so evident in most Ordinary Form parishes.

That's not to say that priests can't encourage particular devotions or types of spirituality - the rubrics do give considerable scope to do this through the use of votive masses, use of sacramentals and the like (though of course appropriate priority to temporal and sanctoral cycle also needs to be maintained).  But there isn't a license to simply add in new or old feasts to the 1962 calendar, however much we happen to like them.

Reaction and attaining normality

The major advantage of the Extraordinary Form is that there is relatively little scope for, or tendency to priestly innovation.  It is human nature however to find some!

Unfortunately the history of the traditionalist movement has tended to foster, on the part of both laity and priests, an attitude of excessive and unhealthy reaction to the Novus Ordo rather than an attitude of positive adherence to the liturgical norms set out by the approved form of the mass according to the 1962 rubrics.

So the laity lobby for and priests feel free to add back in abolished sequences or parts or all of older versions of ceremonies (such as the Easter Vigil), to use blue vestments for Marian feasts (in countries where their use is not approved), construct their own calendars from both older and newer feasts, and much more.  Things that are optional are seen as compulsory and vice-versa, and become tests of orthodoxy.  And the laity get upset about relatively minor aspects of the ritual, losing sight of the wood for the trees.

Most of these practices might seem relatively harmless taken individually.  But if we fail to follow the rubrics and rituals set down by the Church as they are now approved, we are surely reinforcing the message of the last decades that obedience to the Church's rules on other perhaps more important things is optional.  It sends the message that we aren't really part of the mainstream diocese, no matter how many diocesan events we might participate in, in which we reside, that our relationship to our bishops is just lip service, albeit no different to the type of lip service provided by many other parishes in the diocese. Still, it is the lack of a properly balanced relationship between bishops and priests that lies at the heart of many of the current problems in the Church in my view. 

Of course, presumably priests could (and maybe even do) gain their bishops' permission for additions to the calendar if they have one who is relatively sympathetic.  That has its dangers too though - setting a precedent that could come back to bite under a different regime.  There are real risks too to the gains made by the traditionalist movement from such individualism, as the attempt by the British bishops to force traddies to abandon the celebration of major feasts such as the Ascension on their actual date a year or two back illustrates.

The 1962 calendar could certainly do with an overhaul.  There is scope to use votive masses and so forth to test out the directions such an overhaul might take.  But for now we need to balance that with the need to defend its integrity until the time is right for Rome to do a reform that will not compromise it altogether.

More importantly, all traditionalists need to give some thorough thought to what is important and what isn't, and focus on the intended and unintended messages of how they approach the liturgy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Terra!