måndag 14 augusti 2017

The Journey East #1

I became a Catholic in 1975. The circumstances of my conversion are summarised here. The subsequent four decades proved to be a something of an ordeal as the Catholic church underwent a period of radical change, to the point that I can hardly recognise it as the church I joined. This manifested at parish level in ways that were distressing for a great many. The reforms were a major factor in the implosion of the Catholic church in recent times. There was a widespread loss of faith. A handful went off to SSPX. People returning after a break during their teens found a church so different that they were unable to relate to it. My own experiences of this period are recorded in this series of seven blogs, Four decades of Catholic music.

From the mid-1990s, however, it looked as if a recovery was beginning, following the publication of books by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, such as "The Spirit of the Liturgy", and Fr Michael Lang's "Turning towards the Lord". Then, in 2005 came the election of Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum, which set free the Tridentine Mass, with the declared intention that it should influence the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass, henceforth to be referred to as the "Ordinary Form" (OF). My own parish priest at St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton, embraced this "reform of the reform" with enthusiasm. There was indeed progress.

And then came Benedict's mysterious resignation in 2013 and his replacement by Pope Francis. It was immediately evident that he had no sympathy for moderating the changes which have taken hold since 1970, despite the fact that they are clearly not what was originally intended by the Vatican Council fathers, or are outright liturgical abuses.

With hindsight, the reform of the reform canbe seen to have been exceptional and sporadic. The slide has resumed, stiffened by support from "head office". Locally, the majority of priests refuse to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. In fact, they resist the use of Latin at all. They regard it as anachronistic and elitist, dismissing those who attend Latin Masses as reactionaries; in this, they are not entirely wrong, since the Tridentine Mass occurs at marginal times and only enthusiasts would seek it out.

Locally, there has been no improvement in the way the OF Mass is celebrated in the ten years I have been in the parish. It is on its third organist since I arrived ten years yet the overall sound of the Mass remains resolutely Protestant. The Proper is replaced by the obligatory four hymns which are almost invariably Lutheran, Anglican or English Nonconformist classics. The spirit of this music is entirely at odds with the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass in its traditional Catholic understanding.

I find it difficult even to maintain my hold on what is happening in the liturgy; indeed, I find it hard to avoid getting angry at the willful discarding of our musical tradition and the crass ugliness of what has replaced it.

Then there was the morning when I had to receive communion from a female Extraordinary Minister wearing jeans so tight that it was a wonder how she had managed to squeeze into them; kneeling down before reception of the host... That is not a spiritual state in which one can receive communion with a good conscience.

Other recent events have also disturbed me. There was the Pope's visit to Sweden last autumn. There were three funerals of parishioners who had been devoted followers of the Tridentine Mass, one of a man who died tragically young at the end of 2015, and the other two of very old men who had attended the Tridentine Mass whenever they could. A Tridentine Requiem would have been an obvious and natural choice for all three, but it did not happen.

In the overall scheme of things, we are, it must be said, fortunate in having two local priests who are willing to celebrate the Tridentine Mass at all; our parish priest, when he is not away, now celebrates once a week on a weekday evening, and on Saturday evenings; these are moderately well attended. Another, based out of town, celebrates on Sunday though at an inconvenient time and has congregations usually in single figures. But there is no continuity; there are weeks on end when it does not happen at all. Realistically, this speaks of an institution, and people, who stand on at the margin of the Catholic church.

The same applies to the use of traditional Catholic music within the context of the OF liturgy. It has been reduced to the status of items that can be picked from a buffet-table of choices. There is no sense or understanding that the liturgy is something given and fixed, which has to be performed as an essential component of the work of the Church.

So I find myself right on the fringe, to the point that there is almost no-one to whom I can even express my concerns without being attacked or regarded as a crank. It is not a good place to be.

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