Friday, July 04, 2008

Vigil of the Next Big Decree

Rocco's got the latest buzz on yet another papal tidal wave regarding liturgy:
These would be changes which would be added to the changes in the liturgy and regarding sacred vestments which the Pope, together with his Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, has made in recent months, to recover ancient traditions: the restoration of the crucifix at the center of the altar, the distribution of Communion to the faithful in the mouth while kneeling, the recovery of the pastoral staff of Pius IX (the ferula), the changing of the style of pallium (the strip of white wool with red crosses worn by the Pope), the restoration of the papal throne used in the Consistory and the celebration of Mass with the back to the assembly, as happened in January in the Sistine Chapel.
Benedict's too smart to not be aware of the problematic bootstrapping logic underlying his actions on liturgy, which is why I'm a little confused. Clearly, Benedict believes the Holy Mass must be accorded the highest dignity and be rooted in a hermeneutic of continuity. Yet here he is changing this or that by papal fiat alone. The substantive correctness of the changes are not the real issue (I'm usually gung-ho about anything Benedict does). What is worrisome is the apparent precedent of popes tweaking the liturgy to suit their theological convictions, however "correct" they may be. Many argue that Benedict's renovations are merely corrective of the errors of the "Spirit of V2" but what's to stop the next pope from arguing the same according to his understanding of the erroneous interpretations of V2?

Imagine we elect a Cardinal Mahony to the papacy (a truly bone-chilling thought). How will Benedict's actions today affect the way a "Pope Roger" will mandate on the liturgy? I don't reject Newman's doctrine of development, but its weakness seems to be an inability to handle this very scenario. We either believe the Mass has an unchanging essence guided by Holy Tradition, or it's something that floats according to whoever's in charge justified by rationalistic rationalizations.

I'm just getting tired of this recurring Vigil for The Next Big Vatican Decree, as if my ability to pray with the Church requires breathless attention to dicastery stationery. It's a process that creates its own cynicism and apathy, mainly because it's so destabilizing and political in nature, not too different from our anguished obsession with 5-to-4 Supreme Court rulings. Does this decision help the people enter more deeply into the Holy Mysteries or does it just cause more alienation from the res of our liturgical and sacramental life?