Saturday, 30 March 2013

Please, drop the ultramontanism!

One of the less attractive movements of the nineteenth century was ultramontanism - the school of thought that thinks the Pope can do and say no wrong.

One might have thought it would have died with Vatican II's encouragement of the laity to take a more active role in the Church, and the 1983 Code of Canon Law that made speaking up a positive duty in some instances.

The silence of the blogs

But alas, ultramontanism is alive and well particularly amongst the American blogs.

The New Liturgical Movement, which previously poured over papal ceremonies with loving care, seems to have adopted a policy of studied silence when it comes to the innovations of our new pope.

And over at the Big Pulpit, a blog whose selection of posts I normally enjoy (and occasionally feature on) the list of posts on Pope Francis' Maundy Thursday foot washing ceremony in the jail is filled up largely with apologists for the event, such as Jimmy Akin and Fr Z's strained attempts to justify the event.  Yes, it does include Dr Peters' canonical critique of the example being set, but it is a very gentle critique indeed, and includes links to a rationale for dropping the restriction on washing the feet of women as well.

Now I'm certainly not advocating the level of bile in the comments box over at places like Rorate.

I don't think we should be getting upset about every minor change the Pope makes on minor things like red shoes.

Indeed, I think there is much to like about a greater focus on simplicity of living.

But the liturgy is never an unimportant thing, and I do think it is important to discuss issues of this kind.

Attempting to help people understand Pope Francis' agenda, as Fr Z does, is certainly laudable and a useful approach to the foot washing issue.

But why aren't the blogs asking some of the hard questions raised by the event?

The hard questions

Take for example the issue of washing the feet of Muslims amongst the jail population.

The Mass was in a jail: one has to suspect that a degree of pressure was applied in relation to the attendance of the inmates.  So how do those Muslims who were 'encouraged' to attend and even actively participate in a Christian ceremony actually feel about the matter?  How would we feel if it were Christians being forced to participate in a Muslim one?  And how do their parents and co-religionists feel about the matter?  Personally, I'd be a bit outraged.  In fact, it all smacks a bit of the religious imperialism that saw forced baptisms and the like in ages past.

And then there are the implications for the ongoing battle over the nature of the priesthood.  Yes Pope Francis is orthodox on this subject.  But why do orthodox priests and bishops not understand that belief has to be reinforced by practice: lex orandi, lex credendi?

Pope Francis clearly has an important agenda for the Church, and wants to move quickly to get the message across.  But he has also chosen to live in a Vatican hotel so he is not cut off from what people really think, what people are really saying.

So let's not self-censor unduly, but rather try and help him as he shapes his tactics.

Respect and obedience does not mean subservience.


Saturday and Sunday's updates show a more robust debate starting to come out on the blogs.  Big Pulpit has linked to this post, and the excellent Pewsitter has put up several links to robust posts on this subject.  Here are a couple of key links:
  • Fr Z - Pope Francis' action is promoting the EF!
  • Fr Ray Blake - elected to drop the mandatum in order to avoid the washing women's feet issue;
  • Pamela Geller - how will Muslims react?
  • and the list of those bishops who followed Church law - and those who didn't - is starting to emerge.
*****The inimitable David Timbs, desperate member of the spirit of 'V2Catholics' Club, has written on this post:  read more here.


Fr. Benedict M. said...

Thank you Kate... great post. Expressing constructive criticism of the Holy Father's liturgical example does not mean a lack of love and respect for the Holy Father, yet that is what we are being shown via the blogs... heaven forbid if we question his prudence in such matters. Worse today we get this from the Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi SJ:"That the Holy Father, Francis, washed the feet of young men and women on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions (Zenit)" Well isn't that just the biggest slap in the face given to 1000s of faithful priests who are trying to do the right thing. I will be spending my Easter having to explain to many curious parishioners as to why I only have 12 men at the Washing of the Feet!

Salvatore said...

To be fair, the NLM appears to follow a editorial policy which strongly favours publicizing positive developments rather than condemning negative ones, so their silence is not necessarily ultramontane, it’s just that there’s no longer anything about the Papal liturgies worth commenting on.
As to the rest, well, I’ll admit to a certain grim amusement in seeing the My-Pope-Right-or-Wrong brigade rushing to laud what yesterday they would have condemned.

SCEcclesia said...

Papa Benny used the word "docility" on a regular basis - not the same thing as subservient - but the attitude of Pur Lady... What you call "ultramontanism" is, for others, only the living put of communion with the See of Peter.

Sentire cum ecclesia...

Kate Edwards said...

SCE - And yet Pope Benedict also often talked about the co-responsibility of the laity.

We do indeed need to be docile to the word of God - but that not mean we have to accept uncritically agree with and accept every aspect of the strategy and tactics of our pastors.

Maintaining unity with the Pope does not mean applauding everything he does no matter what it is.

Salvatore said...

And surely docility is not just a virtue for the Laity? Shouldn’t the Clergy also exhibit docility to (amongst other things) the liturgical traditions of the Church?

fr jim said...

if one is seeking after truth, one should not speculate on motives.... matters that are best left to God, who sees the heart.... to presume pressure was exerted on the guests of the prison is rather unfair, I have said mass in those places & believe me, if there is pressure, it is not what you are presuming.
a last thought on the controversy, as others have noted, admit it, y'all are just unhappy that b16 resigned, that the H Sp chose F & nothing he does will satisfy a thirsty mob, even if it is under the guise of co-responsibility.

Kate Edwards said...

Fr Jim - The pressure doesn't have to be overt, but in a jail environment, how can we assume there is none? In any case, Muslim customs normally absolutely preclude males touching females, so it is at best culturally inappropriate.

As For B16, I for one have no problem with his resignation. And I'm happy to take the view that it is very early days in the new Pontificate and it will take Pope Francis some time to settle into the role (as it did for B16 for that matter).
That's why I've previously urged people not to overreact to the relatively small things.

The liturgy, though, is not a small thing.

A Canberra Observer said...

I wonder what the equivalent catchcry to "JP2, we love you" will be for Pope Francis?