Friday, 3 May 2013

The present situation of Traditional Catholicism

1. An alternative magisterium

There is, of course, an irony in suggesting that Traditionalists (or those who are of similar mind to them) act in some manner as if they are an alternative to the structures/office in the Church. One element of this arises from an expression of a "no compromise" Catholicism, with its risk of absolutising prudential judgements about a particular issue as if they are directly matters of belief,  and the consequent public attack on those who do not accord with their own particular prudential judgement. Another element arises from seeing the exercise of pastoral office in the Church, either exclusively or in an exaggerated manner, in the exercise of its aspect of juridical authority. The absence of public exercise of juridical authority is then equated with weakness in holding and teaching the faith. [I happen to think that the most significant exercises of the universal pastoral office of the Successor of Peter in recent years to have been the various "Years of ...", which, while totally respecting the liberty of the local Churches, nevertheless provides a lead and encouragement to pastoral activity in those local Churches]

So one can see among the Traditionally minded a tendency for a publicly critical stance with regard to a local episcopates or ecclesial bodies, a tendency to say "Rome says X" as a basis for a critical stance towards those who do not say X (when Rome has not always said X, even in the document cited by the Traditionalists to support what "Rome says ..." and, as I write this, I have a particular instance in mind) and a tendency to champion particular bishops or priests who they see as matching their understanding of the exercise of office in the Church ("courageous bishops" and, by implication, also the non-courageous).

Now, the first of these tendencies seems to be alive and well in, for example, the criticisms of Archbishop Nichols (over his remarks about complaining) and Catholic Voices (over their post on vocations numbers). The second tendency seems to have been put on hold since the election of Pope Francis, as the Traditionalist inclination cannot quite work out if the Holy See might now promote policies not to their sympathies. The third tendency took a rather hard knock with the events surrounding Cardinal O'Brien.

The underlying current to all of this is a sense of an essentially Traditionalist criterion of judgement - an alternative exercise of office which seems to be of its nature contentious. Whatever the precise rights and wrongs of Archbishop Nichols remarks about "complaining bloggers", and their relation to Pope Francis' own remarks cited by the Archbishop, the underlying thought that there is a contentiousness latent in the Traditionalist-style activity (which has colonised the electronic media out of all proportion but is also expressed in other media) deserved a more considered reflection than the rather dismissive response of many.

2. Raising the drawbridge on mutual enrichment

Again, there is an irony in my suggesting that the Traditionalists have not really come to terms with the full implications of Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict's accompanying letter. Or rather, they have come to terms with the aspects they liked (greater freedom for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form), exaggerated the intent of Pope Benedict XVI (I do not think he ever intended any restoration of the Extraordinary Form at the expense of the Ordinary Form, or that the Extraordinary Form should be celebrated in every parish) and ignored the bit that was inconvenient to them (mutual enrichment and the insistence that it is the Missal of Pope Paul VI that will unite parish communities). I have posted on this in the past. From the very start, those areas of celebration of the Extraordinary Form that are open to enrichment from the Ordinary Form (spoken Canon, insertion of new Prefaces, the adoption of a common calendar) have been resisted with a combination of rubricism (everything exactly according to the 1962 books, we can't change anything) and academic argument (though, in the case of the FIUV position paper on new Prefaces, for example, one might be forgiven for thinking that the essential argument once one cuts through the historical detail is little more than "no change"). The use of celebration in the Extraordinary Form to facilitate celebration of those Days of Obligation recently moved to Sunday is a symptom of this;  the consistent refusal to use the language of Extraordinary Form is another. But then neither of these suit ...

I can see that the "mutual enrichment" agenda was to an extent "on hold" while there was a potential for reconciliation of the Society of St Pius X with the Holy See.  That, of course, was part of what I described as a second direction of glance for Summorum Pontificum. Every indication now is that such a reconciliation is not going to happen. That, and the election of Pope Francis to succeed Pope Benedict, should put an end to the dalliance that some in the Traditionalist fold might have had with Lefebvrist thinking (though, if I recall correctly, a useful observation  emerged from that dialogue about the circumstances to which Vatican II's declaration on Religious Liberty was addressed being different than those toward which previous teaching was addressed). Perhaps the Traditionalists saw this coming and got the drawbridge on Liturgical development raised quickly in anticipation ....

In my earlier posts, I observed that Traditional Catholicism should not, post-Summorum Pontificum, define itself only in terms of attachment to the Extraordinary Form, and this because juridically speaking Summorum Pontificum establishes the two forms as being equally "traditional".

3. Where do Traditionalists go under Pope Francis?

I do not yet feel that I have understood Pope Francis' stance towards the Liturgy. One part of me has to forgive him for being a Jesuit, as Jesuits notoriously do not really "do Liturgy" - and can one see that in a tendency towards informality in style of celebration on the part of Pope Francis? I am not sure of that. Yes, the morning celebrations in the chapel of the St Martha House have a touch of informality (so called "off the cuff" homilies). But what I have seen of the more "set piece" celebrations appear to have a clear continuity with the style of Pope Benedict, perhaps most notably in the "Benedictine arrangement" of the altar. Some aspects of his approach seem to be driven by Pope Francis' own language skills. The Traditionalists certainly don't seem to have him sized up at all from the Liturgical point of view. And Pope Francis certainly has not done anything to encourage a vision of the Office of the Successor of St Peter in its juridical/authoritarian aspect.

I suspect that the perception of the significance of the Traditionalists in the wider Church is more  accurately apparent with Pope Francis than it was with Pope Benedict (my view is that the Traditionalists thought they had rather more than was there in reality as far as Pope Benedict was concerned and their presence in the electronic media acted as a magnifying glass for it). If the election of Pope Francis encourages a reality check in this regard, I do not think that will do the Church any harm.

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