Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Liturgy: The hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture

So I recently finished reading Pope Benedict's address to the Roman Curia from December 22, 2005 [HTML | MS Word]. In it, he refers to the "hermeneutic of discontinuity" and the "hermeneutic of reform", the two ways of looking at the documents of the Second Vatican Council. He paints a very clear (and stark) picture of the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" (my emphasis):
What has been the result of the [Second Vatican] Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done? ... Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood.
Ouch. That's a rather scathing condemnation of the "spirit of Vatican II". Make no mistake, the Holy Father says that such a fundamental misunderstanding of the Counci is oriented towards a rupture between the Church as it existed before the Council and the Church as it exists after the Council, and that is not at all on the Holy Father's list of things to accomplish during the reign which God has blessed him (and us) with!

In a nutshell, he says that this mistaken hermeneutic assumes that the documents of the Council (e.g. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) don't contain the full intent of the Council Fathers, but rather are a compromise that reconfirms "many old things that are now pointless" simply to avoid mutiny and "reach unanimity"; this bad hermeneutic claims that the true interpretation ("spirit") of the Council is one which reaches far beyond the text, giving its adherents ample wiggle-room "for every whim".

So the two questions I have, since Sacrosanctum Concilium is a "Roman" document (see this previous post for details), are these:

Why was this document "realized" far beyond its actual contents in a very liberal way (in a rather short span of time), whereas documents like Redemptionis Sacramentum are not "realized" after so many years, and even publicly ignored?

And can those who feel strongly-drawn to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite be blamed, since they are just slow in their "realizing" of the liturgical reforms envisioned (and not envisioned) by the Second Vatican Council?

Allow me to explain further. The priest I am currently in correspondence with does not "suffer the belief that the words of the Sacramentary have to be reproduced exactly" and sees nothing wrong with omitting various elements of the Mass and inserting things of his own, despite the fact that Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 22 §3 says very clearly: "Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority." Is SC, n. 22 §3 simply one of those "Roman laws" that is "a goal to be achieved (and not always realized)"? Perhaps, interpreting the document in the "spirit of Vatican II", one recognizes that SC, n. 22 §3 was simply a necessary evil, a compromise for the sake of getting the document past the vote: it's not actually what the Council Fathers meant, and they certainly didn't expect priests to be held to the "official" liturgy or any of its "approved" translations.

What would happen if I get pulled over for running a red light and tell the police officer I do not "suffer the belief that the traffic signal has to be obeyed exactly"? The officer would probably tell me that it's not a matter of belief, it's a matter of fact. (Oh, that's English Law, not Roman Law. Apparently, in the Roman system, laws are there as an ideal, and no one actively enforces them; those who do try to call attention to them (like myself) are ridiculed or belittled or simply ignored.)

This frustrates me; it vexes me; it is a near occasion to sin for me, since it saps me of charity. I'm going to pray a Rosary in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament at the chapel this evening, with two intentions: reparations for liturgical abuse, and petition for an increase of charity.


Moonshadow said...

Remember, the Pope is speaking to the Church the world over, not just in the US.

We Americans often take his words so deeply to heart as if he is addressing us and only us, focusing on our problems alone.

If you (if we all) knew more about the Church Universal, we'd understand where his words apply to another situation rather than our own. We might even find, to our surprise, we have received and implemented the Council more faithfully than others!

There's a willing humility in taking his words so seriously for ourselves, but there's also a (to borrow a word from Tim) narcissism. As in reading Scripture, it's best to take the Pope's words to prayer to discern which of them truly speak to us.

japhy said...

I certainly agree with you, but there's also the tendency we have (as humans) to assume that those words couldn't possibly have been meant for us. I'm not saying the right thing to do is assume everything IS spoken to us in particular, though.

It's just that, since I started reading these documents a year ago, they've been falling into place (as far as my experience goes).

Moonshadow said...

assume that those words couldn't possibly have been meant for us

That's the other extreme that I'm also not advocating.

The Faith may be for the poor in spirit, but it isn't for the weak in intelligence ... you well know. Peace.

Tim A. Troutman said...

If the shoe fits - wear it right?

I think this post is extremely relevant to yesterday's post. I don't think there's anyone on the planet that understands all this mess better than Pope Benedict. (I guess thats why he's pope)

Anyway, good stuff. Keep up the great posts - yours is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs.

Moonshadow said...

Yes, thankfully, Pope Benedict understands what's going on, as does, presumably, his immediate audience, the Curia. We, beg pardon, have a significantly reduced understanding from our considerably less experience, as relevant as our experience is to us.

So while it's marvelous in our day & age to be able to read the ipsissima verba of BXVI, it might be prudent, at the same time, to respect that time-honored tradition of church hierarchy and look to our local bishop for making the pope's words relevant to us directly.

There's, then, no reason to circumvent the Church structure as Christ ordained it, from some modern sense of instant gratification.

japhy said...

Moonshadow: You make two excellent points in your two latest replies.

Your first point: The Faith may be for the poor in spirit, but it isn't for the weak in intelligence ... you well know. Peace.

I absolutely agree. But at the same time, the "weak in intelligence" do not deserve to be shortchanged. In a similar way, the faith is not only for those who have read the documents on the liturgy, but those who haven't read the documents don't deserve to be shortchanged. Do you see where I'm going here?

I have knowledge now, for better or worse, that I didn't have even a YEAR ago. (And with more knowledge comes more questions, as I've found.) Now that I have this knowledge, it is very hard for me to ignore things which run contrary to it. Granted, even if I didn't know the gospel is only to be read only by an ordained minister, I would probably still sense a deviation (not only a variation) when some lay person was chosen to read it. But now I know it's improper. And I'm left with a saddening question: are those priests who do things against the instructions of the Church doing so in ignorance or in defiance? If in ignorance, it's my hope their ignorance may be enlightened; if in defiance, it's my hope that their souls may be humbled. (I mean that in a good way, I'm sure you know.)

Your second point: There's, then, no reason to circumvent the Church structure as Christ ordained it, from some modern sense of instant gratification.

I agree absolutely, which is why I'm not writing to the Pope or the CCDDS or my bishop; I'm speaking with the first person in the "chain of command". But I also know that hierarchy is to be made use of, and that if the first person is unwillingly to entertain my concerns, I have the right to seek assistance higher up.

And I do have cause for concern when it appears (or is made manifest) that those whom the Pope (or some dicastery) has directly addressed are ignoring the instruction. I certainly understand that things take time, and implementations must be pastoral. (That's the dilemma, by the way: problems are introduced unpastorally, solutions must be pastoral. Put another way, it's far easier and quicker to cause a mess than to clean it up.)

For instance, EMHCs have not had permission to purify the sacred vessels since 2005. They still do. I've heard it's a matter of "implementing" something... implementing what? There's nothing to implement! Surely priests haven't forgotten how to purify in the space of a few years.

Or pouring the Precious Blood from one vessel to another. There are visiting priests at my parish who do this. I brought it to the attention of my pastor in December, since it had been going on for months: Have you sent the [visiting priests] any sort of letter yet about the upcoming shift in Mass times? I'm asking because I have a request for an addendum to whatever letter (or other communication) is sent to them, although you're certainly free to handle this however you think best. A couple of the [visiting priests] have the habit of pouring the remaining Precious Blood from the main Chalice into one of the other cups, instead of simply covering the Chalice with the pall. They end up consuming the very last drops from the main Chalice afterwards anyway, so I don't know what reason they have for pouring from the Chalice to the cup. The "pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery" and "puts at risk the ... dignity of the Most Holy Eucharist" ( Redemptionis Sacramentum, nn. 106, 173). If they are concerned about the amount in the main Chalice, they could just consecrate less. I don't mean to sound nit-picky, but it's something I see often enough to be alarmed, since I think it sends the wrong message about the contents of the Chalice. I don't know how you would prefer to address the issue, but I figured I should come to you first (instead of contacting the [visiting priests]).

He replied thus: Yes, Jeff, I'm the one that should address it, not you. It's ok to be concerned, but we can't have everyone in the pews being 'liturgical police'. We do have to take the liturgy seriously and celebrate it within the norms, but at the same time we have to be practical and focused on praying. That having been said, I will address it in the proper way at the proper time.

I can respect that reply. I'm just curious when will be the proper time.

japhy said...

I guess when it comes down to it, here is my problem. I am an amateur. I am just a lay faithful. But I've done all this reading, and I have technical knowledge about the liturgy. But what "voice" do I have? Who would listen to me, a "liturgical police[man]", an "unqualified individual", an "axe grinder"? Most likely not those who are willfully disobedient. Possibly those who are simply ignorant. Hopefully those who are as concerned as I am and do have a weighty voice.