It’s Not Just About Language and Liturgy

In his latest article in Commonweal, Massimo Faggioli reflects on the significance of what he now observes as the entrenched bi-ritualism of the Catholic Church’s Latin Rite, as represented by the existence of the Ordinary Form (often referred to as the novus ordo) and the Extraordinary Form (the ‘old’ Mass in Latin from before Vatican II). It is a pertinent article to read and reflect upon, not because of its liturgical focu, but because of the significance of what attachment to the various forms of the Latin Rite’s liturgies can signify beyond them. As Faggioli observes:

Those reforms—including the liturgical reforms—were intended to build unity: among Catholics, between Catholics and other Christians, and between the church and the entire human family. Instead, these reforms and the reaction against them have become a symbol of sectarian division. We are well beyond the point when Catholic theologians and liturgists worried about the appearance of a new “bi-ritualism” within the Catholic Church: thanks to Benedict, a bi-ritual Roman rite is now fait accompli. Of course this innovation, which introduced a radical discontinuity in the life of the church, was carried out in the name of continuity with the church’s past, paradox that does not bother most traditionalists.

At the heart of the liturgical differences, however, is a more subtle yet sophisticated issue, which goes beyond liturgical preferences to the very understanding of Church and it’s place in the world. And this understanding centres, not unsurprisingly, on the reception of the Second Vatican Council and the various reforms instituted by it in the life of the Church. As Faggioli again observes:

This new bi-ritualism is not, for the most part, an accommodation for those who grew up with the old Latin Mass; it’s aimed at a new generation of traditionalists, born after 1964, who grew up with the novus ordo. The disputes between the advocates of the liturgical reform of Vatican II and advocates of the extraordinary form are—another paradox—disputes between an older generation advocating the new and a younger generation advocating the old. These disputes have wounded the sense of communion between Catholics.

And further:

The bi-ritualism of the Roman liturgy is an emblem of the polarization of the Church in the West. It is, to be sure, a lopsided polarization. Only on the internet do the two sides appear to be roughly equivalent; on the ground, the vast majority of Catholics have accepted the liturgical reform, while only a small minority has challenged it. But the polarization will continue, I believe, and it will remain an important problem for the church, whether the minority grows or shrinks as a percentage of Catholics.

Although Faggioli is writing from a specifically American Catholic perspective, the phenomenon on which he is reflecting is not limited solely to the American Church; there are overtones of it in Australia as well, and, I suspect, in many other ‘Western’ countries. It is, therefore, a very live issue that must be engaged with, reflected upon, and, ultimately, addressed in light of the Church’s tradition…including that espoused at the Second Vatican Council.