What is one to say, that has not already been said, of the December 18th response to the eleven dubia, raised in light of Traditionis Custodes? There is the intriguing swiftness of the brusque and brutal directives, in contrast to the still-unaswered dubia of Amoris Laetitia, a half decade on.
There are calls for open defiance, to ignoring the law, to careful discernment in the Holy Spirit, to invoking Canon law, or all of the above. Here are just a few thoughts: The dubia following upon Amoris had to do with fundamental moral principles, without the keeping of which we cannot attain heaven. Yet unlike Christ’s clear and direct reply to the rich young man – keep the Commandments! – the lack of a reaffirmation of Christ’s clarion call leaves one free floating.
On the contrary, the recent dubia had to do with disciplinary matters of Liturgy, and, here, the Magisterium responds clearly and swiftly, leaving little room for doubt that their aim is to isolate the pre-conciliar Liturgy, so that it dies to die from sheer attrition, even strangulation.
One may think they have their priorities out of order – crushing the ‘gnats’ of the miniscule minority of the Church’s membership constituting the TLMers, while turning a blind eye to the ‘camels’ of grave violations of the moral law – but, upon deeper reflection, perhaps not.
For one thing, the TLM community, although small, is zealous. Even if they are 1% of the Church, nearly 100% of them attend Mass, at least every Sunday, often daily. Those numbers are nearly reversed for the vast majority for the Novus Ordo.
Also, they are having lots more children. And making converts, not least in these bizarre covidian days. So the threat from those attached to the ‘old ways’, to those who think the ‘new ways’ are all that there must be, everything else null and void, is not so miniscule.
At a deeper metaphysical level, we should recall that there are three aspects to living out the Christian path: Lex orandi, lex credendi and lex vivendi. The law of praying, the law of believing and the law of living, in that order. We live, as we believe, and we believe, as we pray.
In other words, prayer comes first. And the highest form of prayer, is the Liturgy. And the source and summit of the Liturgy, is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is the primary link between this world and the next, earth and heaven, our soul and God. It may not seem like it from a worldly perspective, but God’s ways are not ours, and how we celebrate and pray at Mass shapes, forms and directs everything else, in life, in society, in the world.
There was some development required in the Liturgy after the Council – analogously to the ongoing development of doctrine, there is also required some development in Liturgy – but even a brief perusal of the minimal tweaks called for by the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium shows they went too far. And praxis – the way the Mass is actually celebrated – has gone even farther still, so that many Masses signify, if still valid, not the holy sacrifice of Christ on the altar, but a festal community gathering, a hymn-song, a glee club, with the Consecration – the Eucharistic Prayer – tucked in there somewhere, often the shortest option.
Hence, Benedict XVI urged the traditional Mass to inform the Novus Ordo, to provide a lodestone and exemplar, to keep the New Mass on the right track. It is still possible – and to my mind, ideal in the Novus Ordo – to celebrate the Mass much like the old Mass, ad orientem, the Roman canon, with proper chants, even in Latin.
Yes, one rarely, if ever, sees that – the aptly, if sadly, termed ‘unicorn Mass’’ – which is a big part of the problem, one which may only get worse if the Old Mass (mostly) disappears. What will hold the centre together then, and will things fall apart?
Whatever path we choose, or are able to choose, in whatever milieu we find ourselves, the Liturgy is God’s work, and we must trust in Him to see that the Mass of the ages will never go away – underground, perhaps, kept alive here and there, like sparks amongst the worldly stubble and chaff. But those sparks will one day again become a glorious and cleansing fire.
Christ is on His way, with winnowing fork in hand.