Sunday, July 08, 2007

Return of the Latin Mass: Comments?

I read this recently:
Pope ends Latin Mass restriction

Pope Benedict has lifted restrictions on celebrating the Latin Tridentine Mass, pleasing some traditionalists.

The Latin Mass was largely abandoned in the 1960s, as part of reforms to make Catholicism more relevant to its worldwide congregation.

Traditionalists wanted to bring the Mass back, though some Jewish groups opposed it because of a prayer calling for their conversion.

The Pope denied claims the reversal could cause a schism in the Church.


The late Pope John Paul II partially relaxed the prohibition in the 1980s, allowing bishops discretionary powers to let priests celebrate Mass in Latin if members of the congregation asked for it.

The Pope wanted to heal a rift with ultra-traditionalists who rebelled against Second Vatican Council changes.

The Church believes the majority of its congregation will continue to hear Mass in their local languages.

Catholic commentator John L Allen told the BBC in April he did not believe there would be much call for the Mass - and 40 years after the Second Vatican Council, there would be few priests able to read it.
It's Sunday, so someone somewhere is saying "Credo in unum Deum" right now (EDIT: or, if it were Good Friday, "Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis"), which is why, I guess, I thought today would be a good day for this post. I can tell you what I thought of when I was reading the BBC article, but I simply don't know enough to make anything even imitative of a final or just judgment (knowing of course that such things are impossible). First I thought of what I wrote here:
In his chapter on Derrida in The Premodern Condition, Bruce Holsinger describes at length the "interventionist medievalism" (120) of the Radical Orthodoxy group, in particular, Catherine Pickstock's After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. As Holsinger explains, Pickstock "aims at a wholesale dismantling of Derrida's critique of Western logocentrism through a 'recasting of the premodern' against what she sees as its pernicious recruitment by deconstruction" (121). After Writing presents a pretty easy target for a medievalist, at least so far as Holsinger summarizes it. This is despite Pickstock's erudition in Western philosophical traditions, in fact despite her insistence that the deconstructive critique of language inadequately accounts for the bodily presence necessary to produce language (a point I know I find attractive, even as I find the implied prediscursive body-as-presence argument suspicious). For Holsinger, Pickstock's work presents an easy target because she mourns the loss of the "liturgical civilization [that] existed in its purest form in the Western Middle Ages and achieved its most coherent expression as the liturgy of the Roman Rite" (125) and because she longs for something she calls "genuine liturgy" (qtd 127) to restore "real language" (qtd 127). Far from being a medieval artifact, the ideal(ized) liturgy from which Pickstock quotes dates from the Counter-Reformation, a period of intense religious longing, nostalgia, and reaction against Protestantism, and now, I suppose, recuperated for much the same purposes to inveigh against a secular "nihilistic" philosophy that suspects all promises of presence.

What leapt out at me, I suspect wholly uncharitably, was the Jewishness of two of Pickstock's bĂȘtes noires, LĂ©vinas and Derrida. Keeping this in mind renders Pickstock's "commitment to credal deploy this recovered vision systematically to criticise modern society" (qtd 119) a bit pernicious, at least to my eyes, right now.
Also, when I think of the Latin Mass and traditionalists, I think of the most famous enthusiast for the Latin Mass, Mel Gibson:
An avowed family man still on his first marriage, with seven children to show for it, Gibson smokes, raises cattle, publicly shuns plastic surgery and seems wholly unmoved by most of the liberal-left causes favored by industry peers. Recently, however, something beyond the impulse to entertain has been showing up in Gibson's work. Last year he played a former minister who rediscovers religion amid an alien invasion in ''Signs'' and a reverent Catholic lieutenant colonel in the war drama ''We Were Soldiers.'' In these films, but especially in a new movie, a monumentally risky project called ''The Passion,'' which he co-wrote and is currently directing in and around Rome, Gibson appears increasingly driven to express a theology only hinted at in his previous work. That theology is a strain of Catholicism rooted in the dictates of a 16th-century papal council and nurtured by a splinter group of conspiracy-minded Catholics, mystics, monarchists and disaffected conservatives -- including a seminary dropout and rabble-rousing theologist who also happens to be Mel Gibson's father.

Gibson is the star practitioner of this movement, which is known as Catholic traditionalism. Seeking to maintain the faith as it was understood before the landmark Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, traditionalists view modern reforms as the work of either foolish liberals or hellbent heretics. They generally operate outside the authority or oversight of the official church, often maintaining their own chapels, schools, seminaries and clerical orders. Central to the movement is the Tridentine Mass, the Latin rite that was codified by the Council of Trent in the 16th century and remained in place until the Second Vatican Council deemed that Mass should be held in the popular language of each country. Latin, however, is just the beginning -- traditionalists refrain from eating meat on Fridays, and traditionalist women wear headdresses in church. The movement seeks to revive an orthodoxy uncorrupted by the theological and social changes of the last 300 years or so.

Michael W. Cuneo, a sociology professor at Fordham University who reported on right-wing Catholic dissent in his 1997 book, ''The Smoke of Satan,'' wrote that traditionalists ''would like nothing more than to be transported back to Louis XIV's France or Franco's Spain, where Catholicism enjoyed an unrivaled presidency over cultural life and other religions existed entirely at its beneficence.''

Finally, I think of Caroline Carolyn Dinshaw in the current issue of the GLQ (thanks Michael O'Rourke for recommending it), who observes, and cautions:
I’m yet another subject of anachronism, experiencing a kind of expanded now in which past, present, and future coincide. My point in all this is that one way of making the concept of temporal heterogeneity analytically salient, and insisting on the present’s irreducible multiplicity, is to inquire into the felt experience of asynchrony. As I was suggesting earlier, such feelings can be exploited for social and political reasons; the evangelical Christian movement in the United States, for example, works off of people’s feeling out of step with contemporary mores. (190)
And that's all I have for the moment. Surely our readers have something to say, even, I hope, corrections for me and my obviously suspicious mind. Have at it.


Peter Dane said...

The Missal of John XXIII of 1962 is the prescribed form, which does not include the "pray for the perfidious Jews" statement.

Nice attempt at rabblerousing though.

Karl Steel said...

I thank you, Pete, for reading my penultimate sentence in a spirit of charity.

No time just now to pin down the significance of all this, but here is what purports to be Benedict's decree, moto proprio, in English translation. You may also want to consult this Reuters article, this comment from, this from the Jerusalem Post (whose political leanings I don't know), and this blog.

Research indicates that the "Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis" will not be included in the return to a Latin Mass, but that prayers calling for the conversion of Jews will be.

Karl Steel said...

Perhaps we could also have discussion that expands the conversation to something more than the content of the mass itself. In other words, situate the so-called traditional mass in its social milieu, one that, after all, includes the SSPX (also see here). At least with what I know now, my worry is that while the Latin mass that Benedict allows is not antisemitic, many leaders in the movement to use a Latin mass are themselves antisemites (and I should simply mark that I've seen some ugly blog discussions on the Latin, if the SSPX and Mel Gibson are not among the leaders in this movement, I'm happy to be corrected; I couldn't find any connection between William Donahue's Catholic League and the Latin Mass). To be sure, by not allowing the return to the line about "perfidis" Jews, Benedict has no doubt refused to placate some of the traditionalists entirely. Nonetheless, I do worry. I worry about all nostalgia.

Rachel Roberts said...

My wife and I recently went to see Spamelot.

Bear with me here. The relevance if this info to your post is on its way ...

Much of the stage musical simply lifts sketches and dialogue from that genuinely significant piece of modern medievalia, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But there are some new songs, and a new storyline. This latter includes a new ending: Arthur can only complete his quest if he puts on a stage musical on Broadway. There's a strange and not very funny song about how it's not possible to put on a stage show unless you have 'Jews': ("To hit the top on Broadway and not lose,/ I tell you, Arthur king,/ There is one essential thing/ There simply must be, simply must be Jews.") So Arthur quests to find "Jews", without success. At the last minute his sidekick Patsy declares that he's Jewish, thus setting up the final number. 'But why didn't you tell me before?' Arthur asks. 'Well it's not the kind of thing to tend to tell a heavily armed Christian,' Patsy replies.

It got a laugh in the theatre, but it gave me pause. Not just because it all seemed a trifle off colour, but because it seems to depend upon a cultural climate in which murderous anti-semitism is assumed to be a Christian thing. A medieval cultural climate, in other words. Whereas I wondered if the words stand as some kind of coded expression of a different expression, 'Well it's not the kind of thing to tend to tell a heavily armed Muslim...'

Still waiting for the relevance of this to your post? Aha! You'll have to wait a little longer ...

Thomas Hoccleve said...

To Carolus Ferrus be this lettir delyveryd in haste.

Yowr ylernyd glossa on the Popes noua bulla han yeuyn me much plesaunce & ynspiryd me to writyn a glossa of myn owyn to that effecte. Ich maye nought reherce hyt at thys poynte but thou mayest rede hyt on my owyn rolle of blogge yclepyd Westymnstre blues on the folwenynge webbemundi locacyoun:

Wretyn at Westmynstre on the eighte daye of Iuli. By yowre humble servaunt Thomas Hoccleve.

Karl Steel said...

Thanks for that post, Hoccleve. It's another wise reminder that when we hear about 'ultra traditionalists,' we should remember both that we can be trapdoored (in this case, by the Use of Sarum) and that the supposedly single foundation of tradition has multiple, asynchronous sites.

Waxy Buildup Dept: We might also discuss the standard call to cleanse the church of the excesses it has suffered through degeneration (which here seems to function as another word for 'time'). This has been the approach, hasn't it, of schismatics, heretics, and, yes, reformers, whether we're talking about the Protestants, Waldensians and Lollards, or the Mendicants. There must be a good article someplace on the discursive fantasies of the Apostolic Church.

(Adam: I can guess at the point, and in fact I think I'd be able to see it, had you not told me the point had not yet arrived)

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Karl, you may be interested in this. I can't vouch of accuracy, but it does emplace the return to the Latin mass within exactly the kinds ofd esires you were outlining.

Karl Steel said...

I can vouch for its sincerity at least. The author, Scott Korb: I know him. He is every bit the sincere and gentle and longing Catholic that he portrays himself in this piece.

That said, I'm hesitant about this piece for many, many reasons, not least of all statements like this,"Benedict, like the Tridentine priest, has turned his back once again on the modern Church, to say nothing of the modern world." I hardly need say it, but we (whether we are for our against Benedict) should know enough not to declare whatever displeases us, whatever interrupts our preferred narrative, as 'not of today,' as 'out of time,' or as a 'return.'

I'm also dubious about the simultaneous call in the piece to move forward (to learn from Jews and Muslims, to slough off various prejudices) and to reembrace abandoned traditions/possibilities (of womanpriests). Generously, we could say this is a Benjaminian move, of starting again with the ruins of failed revolutions: but that's being generous, I think.

Finally, I do think it should be impossible to talk about the Latin mass in 2007 without looking at French Catholic politics, which means remembering to whom Benedictine is reaching out. The Latin mass is not simply the content of the mass. It's--obviously--also its social milieu and proponents.

Now, as a symptom of a certain stance towards time: Korb's piece is fascinating.

Karl Steel said...

Now, as a symptom of a certain stance towards time

Which is, duh, what Jeffrey said, right?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Not as well as you did, Karl! But yes, that was my intent (typo and all).