Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sacrosanctum Concilium, Pt. 10

In our last entry, we closed with a comment about concelebration, and how manufacturing a new rite for concelebration in the West appeared to contradict the liturgical constitution's own terms that spoke of restricting innovations. Moving along, we now reach a new chapter that discusses the other sacraments and sacramentals:

The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity.

This is a loaded paragraph. In a day and age where the sacraments tend to be reduced entirely to exercises of feel-good Oprahism. Here, the emphasis is on the supernatural order, the worship of God, and the faithful's need of grace. I'm not sure that there has been anything more devastating to the liturgy than the loss of sense that the Mass is the supreme act of worship. It is, quite literally, the most important thing that happens on the planet, and its status as an act of worship is what makes it that way. Yet few seem to grasp this.

It is therefore of the highest importance that the faithful should easily understand the sacramental signs, and should frequent with great eagerness those sacraments which were instituted to nourish the Christian life.

For me, this sentence encapsulates something that should be an approach that everyone should take to the Council. The Council had a goal for the faithful to better understand certain things, such as the sacraments. With the complete collapse of the Faith in the last half century, it's obvious that the Council was a miserable failure on this point. It wouldn't be the first time a Council bombed on an important goal. Lateran V did likewise. So did Florence. And they were dogmatic councils. A big part of the problem here has been the constant drumbeat of absurd optimism and praise about Vatican II.

There's no shame in admitting the Council failed. Continuing to double down on what a huge success it was doesn't make it true.

Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.

I guess now is a good time to mention that most Catholics probably have no idea what a sacramental is.

Thus, for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.

The last sentence poses a problem because, while true, such things only function in that way when  they are adopted as such on God's terms, rather than our own. It's easy to read this in after decades of abuses, but if VII has taught us anything, it's that stuff like this can be reinterpreted to suit the needs of the reader. In this case, you see it when folks use this line to justify their own activities above the Church's. For example, going to Seder meals and such during Holy Week. Sure, it might be an educational experience, but I see more and more Catholics trying to make such events into a religious ritual, often whilst scorning legitimate Catholic traditions.

With the passage of time, however, there have crept into the rites of the sacraments and sacramentals certain features which have rendered their nature and purpose far from clear to the people of today; hence some changes have become necessary to adapt them to the needs of our own times. For this reason the sacred Council decrees as follows concerning their revision.

Adaptation. Again. Somehow, these rites and sacramentals were able to nourish the faith of Catholics for centuries, across all continents, and through myriad cultural settings. What happened in 1963 that demonstrated this need for change? The fact that Catholics actually participated in these rites or used the sacramentals? The 80%+ Mass attendance and literacy in the Faith?

And has the adaptation worked? Are things better? Take a look around and let me know what you see.

One other thing about this section (and the document as a whole). Notice that there isn't a lot of detail on what the problems are and why they are so bad or ineffective. This makes fixing any potential problem very difficult since you don't really know what the problem is.  It also makes novelty more palatable, as folks can come up with their own view of what the problem is, then go about "fixing" it in the manner that they feel is appropriate.

Because of the use of the mother tongue in the administration of the sacraments and sacramentals can often be of considerable help to the people, this use is to be extended according to the following norms

And we're back to the vernacular again.

The vernacular language may be used in administering the sacraments and sacramentals, according to the norm of Art. 36.

But not really, since any use of the vernacular is subject to the prior point that Latin is is to be preserved as the regular language of the Western Church.

On this point, I'd like to refer back to one of our commentators, Mr. Gary MacEoin, from his book What Happened in Rome? MacEoin foresaw these sorts of items as leading to a demolition of liturgical Latin altogether. Of course, this is done without reference to Blessed John XXIII's views or the language of the Council itself. Here's what Mr. MacEoin said on pg. 68:

In January 1964, Pope Paul set up a permanent committee in Rome, charged with the duty of completing the liturgical reform according to the principles established in the Council decree. This will mean not only an extension of the use of the living language, perhaps to the entire text of the Mass, but a reformation and reformulation of the content of the Mass and other public prayers of the Latin rite. The result will be a liturgy closer to that of the early Church and at the same time more meaningful to twentieth-century man.

Not only does this analysis ignore the principles of SC that are supportive of Latin, but he basically refers to the stated norm as being on its way to extinction. This shift will lead to a more "meaningful" liturgy. Just check out the average wardrobe at Mass and discern for yourself if its more meaningful now than 50 years ago.

In harmony with the new edition of the Roman Ritual, particular rituals shall be prepared without delay by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, of this Constitution. These rituals, which are to be adapted, also as regards the language employed, to the needs of the different regions, are to be reviewed by the Apostolic See and then introduced into the regions for which they have been prepared. But in drawing up these rituals or particular collections of rites, the instructions prefixed to the individual rites the Roman Ritual, whether they be pastoral and rubrical or whether they have special social import, shall not be omitted.

First, notice that there is only a mention of a new edition of the Roman Ritual. It's not that there is going to be a whole new thing created, merely a new edition of the old. Of course, that isn't what happened.

Second, the latter part flings open the door to all  sorts of shenanigans. We've already discussed the problems with Art. 2, 22, but the remainder seems to give a blank check for novelty at first glance. That's not the case either. Any adaptation, whether linguistic or cultural must be approved by Rome. Even if it gets approved by some whackjob cardinal, the other restrictions on all other rites of the Church are still maintained. In other words, if you're only supposed to be using water for baptism, it doesn't matter if you're in a society that likes beer a lot. You can't baptize with beer.

The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this, means the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.

I have no idea what this means. The Rite of Election perhaps? I'm not aware of there being any other "successive intervals" here or anywhere else. Somebody out there know?

In mission lands it is found that some of the peoples already make use of initiation rites. Elements from these, when capable of being adapted to Christian ritual, may be admitted along with those already found in Christian tradition, according to the norm laid down in Art. 37-40, of this Constitution.

We've talked before about the value of pulling from the local culture for liturgical practice. It's not that it's bad. It's just something that has to be monitored closely, lest the local element overpower the Catholic part of what is going on. Like Skillet vs. chant. Anyways, the other side of this is the cases where our existing Catholic heritage should be enough. We've seen how the TLM can be welcome, even in diverse places like Africa. Why the urge to jump immediately to novel developments, rather than first seeing if what we already have will work?

I must add that, like with so many other provisions of Sacrosanctum Concilium, none of the assertions made in the foregoing sections carry a single footnote or other reference. There is nothing from Scripture, the Magisterium, the Fathers, or the Doctors of the Church that might be used to judge what the parameters are for the benefits of  inculturation, the instruction period for catechumens, etc. to give anybody a better idea of what is supposed to be going on. As mentioned above, people tend to fill in these gaps with their own ideas. It's been with poor results for the Church. For what it's worth, even MacEoin admits that the sections here are ambiguous on purpose:

The Council decreed that the national and regional bishops' conferences should decide whether and to what extent the living language was to be used. The point was left deliberately vague in deference to some Fathers who were opposed to any change.

In other words, it was vague in order to deceive them. As we know from Cardinal Stickler's testimony, the issue of replacing Latin altogether was mentioned at the Council and met with derision. By making it sound conservative, it was easier to rope in the orthodox bishops' votes.

This is running a bit long, so I think I'll close out this entry there. We're probably about halfway done with the whole thing now. Maybe I'll do a better job of keeping up with it.


Mark of the Vineyard said...

The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this, means the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.

I have no idea what this means. The Rite of Election perhaps? I'm not aware of there being any other "successive intervals" here or anywhere else. Somebody out there know?

- After having participated at our daughter's EF Baptism and having read St. Cyril of Jerusalem's lectures, I take this to mean that each catechumenal rite on sees in the traditional baptismal rite is supposed to take place over the course of several weeks, as it was in the early Church during Lent.

Throwback said...

Reasonable, I think.

I really need to get back to this series...