Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why the Novus Ordo is Great plus a Long Ramble plus Power Rangers

To hear conservative American Catholics talk it sounds like the Catholic Church ended after Vatican II, with the introduction of the Novus Ordo. While most will just politely say they prefer the Extraordinary Rite some are less.... kind. I mean, Bugnini (the chief architect of the Novus Ordo) had to be a Freemason! He just had to be, despite the fact that there is no evidence, even for the most uncharitable. Why else would the Catholic Church dump the most beautiful liturgy ever created? This requires a bit of a history lesson, because while the Church has not "dumped"  the Extraordinary Form it certainly has very good reasons for wanting a new liturgy drawn up.

Before I start, a caveat: I'm not a huge fan of the TLM.  The fact that they have a special option for the lay people (y'know, the people who are actually supposed to be celebrating the liturgy) to respond to the priest and that it's something they had to put in as a matter of renewal is... disconcerting. It goes against every last current in my Byzantine soul to such an extent that, if not for the sheer beauty of the TLM, I'd just chuck it out the window and tell the Traddies to weep. Nothing that beautiful deserves to be destroyed and forgotten, even if I dislike it on a genetic level.

The Church's missionary efforts post-Trent (with those Jesuits we keep hearing about) ran the gamut, from being perfectly intentioned to dubious to outright spiteful. Going into other people's cultures they tried to uproot the culture and put their Western culture in. Nevermind the fact that Western culture is no more enlightened than any other, the arrogance inherent in some of these missionary efforts was overwhelming. And it got worse when the Jesuits encountered other Apostolic Churches not in communion with them! They'd try to uproot that brand of Christianity and put their oh-so-superior Latin rite in its place. This had predictably violent results and the Jesuits were usually thrown out of these countries relatively quickly. Some countries still have statues of the people who threw the Jesuits out enshrined proudly.

While the intentions of the Jesuits and other similar missionaries were good, they'd forgotten something very important: there is more than one way to be Catholic. The Orthodox and the long-suffering Byzantine Catholics have expressed the same mysteries of Christ for just as long (if not longer, if you want to go with who kept their liturgy the longest) without any approval of Rome. This fact had been forgotten by Trent, however, and instead of trying to preach Christianity to the natives the Latins tried to preach Latin Christianity to the natives, with predictable results.

Then the World Wars happened. I cannot overemphasize how impactful these wars were on the rest of the world. While America prospered after World War II the rest of the world was going through a huge crisis. Vatican II may have appeared to have come out of the blue for us Americans but the rest of the world, tired from two wars, was in sore need of some of some renewal. And there's a fair bit of compelling evidence that the Tridentine Mass was not the Mass for the world.

Because, ultimately, the purpose of missionary work is not to spread Latin, Byzantine, Maronite, or any other *insert adjective here* Christianity. We spread the news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we are to spread. Not our brand of it, not our take, not our boasting in our flawed but redeemable culture. No, we are to spread the Good News and to boast in the cross of Christ. No more, no less.

Which finally brings me to my point: the Novus Ordo is an example of the Mass that the world needs right now. Not because the Tridentine and Byzantine rites aren't good, far from it! But there are as many ways to be an Apostolic Christian as there are nations and cultures. Pentecost did not make us all speak the same language, it made our all our languages understandable. That wasn't done so there could be one sacred language, one sacred rite. It was done so that all languages and rites could be made sacred.

Yes, the Novus Ordo is "incomplete", the way mustard seeds are when first planted. On their own they're really not much but, given enough sunshine, rain, and good soil and they'll turn into the largest of bushes. And by stripping  the Mass down to it's bare essentials and writing the most flexible General Instruction ever seen Rome has begun to address the needs of its Churches, which need to be able to decide for themselves how they will express the Tradition handed on to them. The uniformity that Rome thinks of as it's greatest strength can really be a horrible weakness because not all cultures are going to think like Rome.

Don't believe me? Look at Africa. The whole continent is bursting with Catholics who are full of life and love and who have made the Novus Ordo their own. They've put in their own chant and have edited parts of the Mass to fit more with their understanding of how to pray and worship and it's worked wonders for them. For the first time in the history of the post-Schism Church we have real and actual growth in an area that we couldn't get before, and all because the Church stripped all the Latin out of the Mass and presented it humbly to a culture, asking for them to do what they could.  Missionary friends of mine who have gone to Africa come back inspired by the incredible things they've seen there, by the up to 2 HOUR long Novus Ordo Masses that happen there, all filled with love, reverence, and 100% African worship. Do they know Latin or Greek or Old Church Slavonic? Not a lick, but if the key to good liturgy was language then the Church of Africa would have died and withered a long time ago.

So yes, go to the Tridentine Mass and the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint James and Saint Basil and Saint Mark! Express it all. But please don't take our rebellious, dying, and evil culture for being the only way the Novus Ordo is being celebrated. That does all the people who have found it, recognized it for what it is, and have used it to full effect a huge disservice. If Africa and our monasteries can do something beautiful with the Novus Ordo there is no reason the rest of the nation can't.

Christianity is more than Latin and Byzantine and Coptic and Maronite and all the rest. And it is our God-given duty to make it so. The Novus Ordo, our first true missionary Mass, is our key to that.

***

I was going to leave this blog post alone. I really was. But, the thing is that I did a lot of soul searching afterwards and found that it was incomplete for me, because I can hardly claim to want complete unity with the West and profess a genetic dislike for the TLM, now can I? As a Byzantine Catholic I've moved beyond the silly notion that we must have exactly the same theology to be a united Church, because the last time I checked men and women have different ideas of how to live life all the way to the grave and they still get married and live to a ripe old age together. If a man and a woman can do it why can't the rest of us?

So after I wrote the first part of this blog post I started digging around in earnest. I've linked to Fisheaters before because that's where I first started to dig. But nothing they said about the TLM really got to me, because I've heard that mumbo jumbo before except with the serial numbers changed to say "Divine Liturgy". While I'm partial to Eastern Triumphalism (seriously, how can you NOT be? We made monasticism, Thomas Aquinas based a lot of his stuff on Pseudo-Dionysius and Chrysostom, and things like the Responsorial Psalm were stolen right from the East and put into Western Liturgy to make it less somber!) I know this isn't all there is to the story. Saints have come from the West, honest-to-goodness saints that I love and respect. Any rite that helps shape someone as awesome as Saint Francis of Assissi, one of my favorite saints of all time, deserves my respect.

So I kept reading. I asked questions. I didn't like a single answer, because it all smacked of the same bullcrap that I've heard every single religion say time and time again. "We're the best because of.... (insert overused reasoning about what the world actually is and how your religion explains it)". 

No, your religion does not have the most beautiful rites ever. Stop saying that. Cut it the hell out, cause it's pissing me off because it's simply not true. My brand of Christianity converted all of Russia based off of the beauty of its Liturgy alone and I don't think it's the most beautiful thing ever. That privilege belongs to God, the one who makes all these things beautiful in the first place.

And all I found in support of  the TLM, which did not give it any points in my book. If I wanted half-baked points about the superiority of one religion over another I'd go read Russian Orthodox Anti-Catholic literature because that stuff is hilarious. Of all the branches of the Orthodox Church they claim Rome is the devil? Two centuries ago they were seriously latinized, they were the lapdogs of the Communists and now Putin and they want to get on their high horse about staying pure? That makes for good entertainment.

I guess you could call me jaded then. Oh well.

Another thing you may have gathered from my blog posts is that I'm not exactly a logical person. If you were to give me a Myers-Briggs right now you'd find that I was either an ENFP or ENFJ, depending on the minute you caught me (the ENFP is when I"m having a good day and... just don't catch me in a judgmental mood, OK?). The thing is that, according to that test, the Feeling aspect of my personality is almost off the chart. I do not process things through cold hard logic. I do it with my gut. I feel out the truth. You can tell me all your rationalizations for doing something but the thing is that I"m not listening to your words at all. I listen to the emotion behind the words. Are you OK with what you're saying? Do you believe it? Are you at peace? Because if you are then I'll listen to you. I might not agree, but I'll listen and try to respect your words to the best of my ability because I"m sure they come from you, the dude/tte talking to me.

This makes things like reasoned debate very difficult.

So, after reading all this stuff about the TLM (and rereading my 1960 Daily Missal of the Mystical Body by the Maryknoll Fathers several time) I ran out of patience and I just decided to ask my Traddy friends what the hell they found so enticing about a Liturgy that thinks that congregational response is innovative. I got more lines that I knew would help a rational human being but, unfortunately, didn't do as much for me as I'd like, until one of my buddies posted the following (yes, you were quoted. Yes, I hid your name. You're welcome)

"I have only been to one Divine Liturgy, but it did seem to me that your description there is right on. However, in a lot of vernacular OF masses, that is not at all how things end up. Honestly, and call me a traddy, but I think that our liturgy is built in such a way as to support a liturgical language. Not that the vernacular is bad, but that Latin is better. It took me, a Latin teacher who speaks the language, 5 or 6 TLMs to get the hang of it, but now it is way more powerful to me than the OF which I grew up with (I didn't go to a TLM until I was nearly 20).

 I guess what I am saying is that it takes getting used to, but is worth it in the end. I don't know anyone who went to 5 or 6 and then said "No, this is still too difficult/distant." If we in the West had all had this growing up, it would not be new to us as Catholics. I know this is barely touching on the issue though, as there are an enormous number of variables and personal experiences that change this experience dramatically."

While I've known some people who grew up with the TLM and never adjusted to it what my friend had written hit me particularly hard, and I'll explain why, assuming you're still reading this rambly thing.

As I've mentioned time and time again on this blog, I'm Byzantine Catholic, among a group of Orthodox who think that, while salvation does not hinge upon the Pope, to not be united is scandalous in and of itself and so we unite ourselves to Papa Rome, hoping to God that he doesn't trample on us again (Newsflash to all Roman Catholics: it's happened a lot. Yes, I'm bitter about it on bad days). But I was not raised so. I was raised Roman Catholic until the age of thirteen. I did the whole first communion thing and got to swing my streamer and sing "This is the Day the Lord Has Made. Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad in It" and not understand a bloody thing I was doing. The point is, I didn't see my first Divine Liturgy until I was thirteen years old.

I hated it the first two times I went. I could not figure out what the hell was going on. It was an incomprehensible mess. 

But my family continued to go and I found that I was falling in love with the East. That I wasn't converting to the East so much as finding out that I was never Western to begin with and never could have faked it past a certain point. The more I learned the more eager I became to realize my identity in this most ancient of Churches.

So when my friend said that it took him, a Latin professor, 5 to 6 times to get the TLM it finally clicked for me. As a matter of fact, Catholicism in general clicked for me. There is a learning curve. Period. You can't not genuine apostolic Christianity without this learning curve because Christianity does not make sense according to the world's thinking. I mean, why would you get up on a perfectly good Sunday morning to either go pray with some celibate man for an hour and a half or sing at the top of your lungs for an equally long amount of time? Because you have seen Christ and you want nothing more than to dump this shitty little world behind you and go become something that you can actually be proud of. Because the way of least resistance gets you least results.

Because, deep deep down, we were all made wanting to be gods. And being a god is hard friggin' work. And anything that tells you can come just as you are and that no change is necessary is telling you horrific lies. 

So grow up. Life is difficult, and so is religion, and Catholicism is about as hard as it gets without being immoral. There are as many ways of being Catholic as there are cultures and people. And, no matter what you may think, there is no one best way to get to heaven once you believe in the Faith of the Apostles. 

Go Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Go Novus Ordo not celebrated with crappy modernist leanings. Go Dialogue TLM (sorry, couldn't resist). Show the world that being Christ doesn't make us little Latin or Byzantine clones and confound the rest of us by your fruits. Go.


And just because I kept saying "Go (whatever)" here, I must put this in. Don't hate me too much. Or jam out and glory in the nostalgia and un/intentional thematic links between this blog post and song.



Or just shake your head and wonder if I'll grow up when I hit 30. A lot can happen in 3 years!