Monday, July 14, 2008

The TLM Leads Youth To Idolatry?

Such is the claim in an incredible article that appeared in the latest issue of Today’s Liturgy titled “Avoiding the Golden Calf”. Reading this article I had to wonder what the author, Robert Feduccia, was trying to accomplish. Like the review of Sing To The Lord that also appeared in this issue of Today’s Liturgy, it seems to be an agenda driven editorial more than anything else, but let’s take a look.

The author begins with a touching story about his visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington D.C. The focus here is the complex ceremony performed by the Old Guard at the tomb. The precise attention to detail and the expertly performed actions, while impressive, cause the author to begin worrying about whether they are actually honoring the Unkowns in the tomb, or are they more concerned with the ceremony itself.

"…my thoughts go to the next question: What do they love? Do they love the unknowns or do they love the ceremony? I hope they love the ceremony. It is noble, worthy of preservation and demonstrates the honor the fallen deserve. But more than the ceremony, I hope they love the soldiers to whom the honor of the ceremony is directed. "

"I think this can serve as a good analogy for worship and can also help frame the question for those seeking to make an offering in spirit and truth. "

OK… aside from insulting the Old Guard at the Tomb of the Unkowns, the author hurls a few insults at Catholics who worship in the Extraordinary Form, although he hasn’t yet made that connection, so you don’t know you’re being insulted until later. It is comforting to me that the author believes that the Extraordinary Form liturgy is worthy of preservation.

To begin, I question whether this is really the “good analogy” that the author claims. Comparing a military ceremony, contrived by men to honor men, with worship inspired by the Holy Spirit to Honor Almighty God may lead to some false comparisons. In the case of the Old Guard, the unknowns are honored through the commitment and dedication of the men who spend many hours learning this complex and precise ceremony. The point of learning the ceremony is to perform it perfectly. By performing it perfectly, the men have accomplished that goal for which they have sacrificed. This is how they honor the dead.

The author seems to want us to apply this same paradigm to the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form, as he mentions it in the very next few sentences:

"I see today’s committed young adult Catholics drawn toward worship. I find there are those who are attracted by the Traditional Roman eucharistic liturgy. The grace of sacred art, the nobility of chant, and the sense of mystery and transcendence that the Missal of Blessed John XXIII or the Novus Ordo can provide all have great resonance with a large group of younger Catholics. Another form of worship that seems to truly appeal to younger Catholics is one where Praise and Worship songs, those written and published by both Catholics and the larger community of Christian believers, are frequently used. "

A few comments are due at this point. This article pretends to be a criticism of the concept of “worshipping the liturgy”, and the author would like you to believe that he is criticizing both Traditional liturgy and Praise and Worship style liturgy at this point. However, the analogy of the Old Guard at the Tomb of the Unkowns and its precise ceremony really don’t apply to P&W style worship, so it is obvious that the criticism is being leveled at the Traditional Mass. Note that “there are those who are attracted by the Traditional Roman Eucharistic liturgy”, but P&W worship “truly appeals” to younger Catholics.

This simple comparison reveals a serious bias on the part of the author. Consider if the author would have said “I find that the Traditional Roman Liturgy truly appeals to younger Catholics”. Such a statement would require that the author then criticize the liturgy itself and demonstrate some actual flaw to make his point that these young Catholics are being misled. Instead, by making their preference for the Extraordinary Form into an emotional response (attraction), it leaves open the argument that their attraction is actually to the external elements of the liturgy, and not directed towards the worship of God. The author is clearly implying that there is an intrinsic flaw in the structure of the Traditional Mass and its distinctive rubrics that opens it up to the type of “worship of the liturgy” that he is critical of.

Compare this to the P&W style worship which “truly appeals” to younger Catholics. The implication here is that this style of liturgy is authentic, and the individual’s attraction to it is justified because of it’s worth. The author’s eventual criticism is not of the liturgy or its form but of how some individuals lack the depth to experience liturgy beyond mere externals, and end up being attracted by this or that song. This is not a criticism of the worship style, but of those who worship. From this point on, the article is dealing in apples and oranges.

Another odd moment in the passage above is in need of comment:

"The grace of sacred art, the nobility of chant, and the sense of mystery and transcendence that the Missal of Blessed John XXIII or the Novus Ordo can provide all have great resonance with a large group of younger Catholics. "

Is this a blunder, or is the author saying that if the Novus Ordo is implemented with a sense of mystery, using sacred art and noble chant it will also have great resonance with a large group of younger Catholics? If this was his intention, then his criticism is also expanded to the Latin Novus Ordo as well, and his actual agenda becomes clearer.

The author goes on:

“I hold dearly the truth that we are destined for an eternity of worship. Our Catholic understanding of salvation is that all creation will be summed up in Christ, will be fused with him. In that union with him, we will enjoy the same blissful, ecstatic and eternal relationship with the Father that the Son enjoys."

“Anything that draws the young Church into this relationship is a friend to me, and I am its ally. That said, there are concerns that I have, not in these forms, but in our humanity that is so given to efforts that miss the mark.”

What are these “efforts that miss the mark” that he is speaking of? Is he saying that we aspire to worship perfectly but never are able to? Is he trying to imply that we construct methods of worship (like the Extraordinary Form) that may lead us to false worship? Is he talking about the Extraordinary form at all, or is he possibly claiming that P&W style worship is an effort that misses the mark? The very next paragraph makes clear what he is referring to here.

"The Missal of Blessed John XXIII is beautiful; it is transcendent. If we understand art as a human effort to express the reality of God, the Missal is itself a work of art."

So.. the Missal of Blessed John XXIII is a work of art. Art is a human effort. Our humanity is so given to efforts that miss the mark. Get it now? He goes on…

“It is noble, rooted in timelessness, artful and divine. It is obvious why people can feel so passionate about its use. Nonetheless, I find that there are dangers in making the Latin Mass, as it is commonly called, an idol. “

And so here we are at the point of the article. Latin Mass = Danger. Latin Mass=Idolatry. Lest you think I’m reading too much into this... the article continues:

“Relating back to the question about the sentinels, what is being loved? Is it the form or is it the one whom the form makes present? In other words, is the Father being worshipped by our communion with His son, or is the liturgy being worshipped? We should want to give our best for the Lord. The attention to precision and detail that draws many young Catholics to this Missal can become the focus of the worship. It is a danger that demands great spiritual attention. The form of worship should not be idolized.”

The italics on the word “form” belong to the author… his criticism is of the form of the worship, specifically of the Extraordinary Form of worship. The comparison to the ceremony performed by the Old Guard forces the reader to accept his view that the Extraordinary Form developed as a method of honoring God through the completion of a complex series of precise actions, dressed up in beauty and reverence performed for the purpose of attracting the faithful. If this was all there was to it, the author would indeed be correct in warning unwary souls of the danger of worshipping form over substance. The problem here is a matter of the author’s misunderstanding of the purpose of worship. The next passage sums this up…

"The Missal of Blessed John XXIII is a noble and precise offering to the Father. Praise and Worship are meant to capture the heart of the individual. I have been to gatherings where I felt that my chest could not contain my heart. Those times, where the love that I felt for the Lord was so overwhelming are among the greatest moments of spiritual consolation I have ever encountered."

Apparently, for the author, worship is about how we feel, and the purpose of worship is to elicit feelings in us, to arouse our emotions and “draw us into” the experience of loving the Lord. The Missal of Blessed John XXIII is a “precise offering to the Father”. Praise and Worship “captures the heart of the individual”. The Missal of John XXIII is about form. Praise and Worship is about feelings.

Notice that the author talks at length about his meaningful experience at Praise and Worship, but never mentions how he feels while worshipping in the Extraordinary Form. The clichés and tired platitudes about the EF being “noble” and “beautiful” and “transcendent” are empty praise at best, sort of like the person who claims they aren’t racist because they have “black friends”. I doubt that the author has much experience worshipping in the Extraordinary Form, but I am certain that he doesn’t want that experience to be available to young Catholics.

The author then goes in what seems like a new direction, taking up the issue of musical selection in Praise and Worship style liturgy.

“I have found that many people attach themselves to certain songs. When that song isn’t used during a service, they claim the worship experience wasn’t good. ‘I just didn’t feel it’ they say. People have commented to me about feelings of resentment and anger toward the person leading music when he or she doesn’t play a certain song or doesn’t play it properly. The worshipper felt disconnected as the others sang the song poorly or in a different way from how he or she learned it.”

What a positive and resounding endorsement of P&W liturgy this is! The author apparently doesn’t see this as a problem with the form of the liturgy though, but as an issue with the individual and how they feel. The result is a dilemma, elegantly expressed by the author as he concludes his argument:

“This kind of emotional attachment to songs has even made its way into the liturgy. Songs to be used during a specific liturgy are chosen because people like them, not because they draw attention to the present liturgical action. These songs get an emotional response, but not necessarily the type of emotional response we should be aiming for. Is greater immersion into the liturgical action desired, or is the emotional response of familiarity on the part of the congregation desired?"

That is the question! Too bad he doesn’t answer it. The truth is, it can’t be answered without repudiating the purpose of Praise and Worship liturgy, which is to elicit emotional responses and feelings from the participant. A greater immersion into the liturgical action would make worshipping God the object of the liturgy. The author is torn by the realization that P&W liturgy is about US! He wants it to be about worshipping God, but understands that ultimately it is about how we FEEL. He knows that if he answers that we need greater immersion in the liturgical action, he admits to a flaw in the form of the worship itself and would have to propose selecting music that is liturgically centered, abandoning the popular-music based liturgy model. If he answers that the emotional response of familiarity is desired, he admits that the current model disregards the liturgy itself. And so he doesn’t answer.

Besides, this article isn’t about criticizing P&W style worship. Notice that he had no problem definitively answering his questions regarding the Extraordinary Form Mass:

“…is the Father being worshipped by our communion with His son, or is the liturgy being worshipped? We should want to give our best for the Lord. The attention to precision and detail that draws many young Catholics to this Missal can become the focus of the worship. It is a danger that demands great spiritual attention. The form of worship should not be idolized.”

So, in the spirit of the author’s article, I’ll leave it up to you to decide: Is the author actually concerned about the souls of young Catholics being led astray, or is he just expressing a personal prejudice against Traditional liturgy? You decide.

And one more thing; why is he so concerned about young Catholics attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form anyway? Everyone knows that it only appeals to a few breakaway ultra-orthodox groups and there is no interest in it anywhere else… right?


Dad29 said...

Everyone knows that it only appeals to a few breakaway ultra-orthodox groups

You forgot to mention "the Old..."

Maybe the author's problem is that The Young are visibly (VERY visibly) present at EF Masses.

Mary Jane said...

I have to congratulate Chironomo on his ability to parse articles like these. I just read them, fume for awhile, and then beat my head against a wall until the fit passes.

What's unclear in the article is what the author really wants people to do? And how is he going to judge both the object and quality of their affection and attention? This is similar to articles in which a person's expressed desire for increased devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is somehow seen as a sign that the individual is deficient in concern for the poor.

And because of the fuzzy nature of this charge there is no way to refute it.

Greg said...

I wonder what Robert Feduccia makes of Leviticus? Would he conclude that God worships the liturgy, given His apparent obsessive attention to detail associated with offerings and sacrifices? Mr. Feduccia should recognize what any wife recognizes - that her husband's love is revealed in the details of what he does. Without love, such details are a burden, but with love, they are a joy. So he should understand that the careful attention to detail in the TLM is a joyful expression of our love for God.

Mara Joy said...

This is in "Today's Liturgy"?! Which issue exactly?

Chironomo said...

Mara Joy;

Ordinary Time II - August 31st-November 29 2008 (current issue).

Yes, I was a bit shocked by the boldness of criticizing something which he seems to know little, if anything, about. A timely follow up to this can be found at NLM, the article on the Pope's New Youth Mass. The times, they are a-changin'.....

RobertF said...

Hi all ...Robert Feduccia here, the author of the article being discussed. I want to assure you that I have no agenda against the Missal of John XXIII. I understand how my lack of precision might be read as a bias against the Missal of John XXIII. Please believe that I have no such bias. To the person who said that articles like mine cause her to fume, I am most apologetic.

Chironomo said...

Robert Feduccia...

Thank you for responding here... I am happy to hear that you bear no "agenda" against the Tridentine Mass. By now, perhaps, you realize that your article seems to read like a 'warning" against the celebration of the TLM with youth, an unintended reading I hope! I, and I am certain many of the respondents here as well, have a difficult time understanding how ANYBODY, let alone our young Catholics, could attend the Traditional Mass and mistake sacredness and solemnity with a sort of "neat" quality, or merely an intriguing atmosphere. I have more faith in our youth than that, apparently Pope Benedict had that same faith in our youth at the Masses at WYD, and I would hope that more Catholic Youth Directors would begin exhibiting that same confidence in our youth to not have to make the Mass "accessible" or "relevant" or "in their language"... all such approaches are nonsense and have no place in the worship of God, whether for youth or for adults.

Charles said...

Chironomo, thank you for noticing this article and, as MJB says, parcing it thoroughly in an effort to determine agenda and "subtext." I had meant to do the same when I read it a couple of months ago; could not have come close to your insights. I really wish I could have confidence in the author's assurance of intent, but the article's equivocation and ambivilence (sp?) combined with the big fat title of "Golden Calf" is a mere metaphorical stone's throw away from obvious derogatory terms such as "Liturgy Queen" for adherents of the classical Roman Rites.