Fr. Z (WDTPRS) has followed an interesting ongoing debate started by an article about devotion to the Extraordinary Form of the mass by Mr. Zmirak at Inside Catholic, and a counter point, sort of a rebuttal (or rebuff?) if you will, from Mr Hoopes at National Catholic Register (see Fr. Z’s Zmirak responds to Hoopes, Fr. Z does Liturgy Science Theatre 3000).
The point in question, at least initially, seems to be “does the little stuff matter?” - details of devotion, or externals but not essentials?
After reading both these articles, I appreciate the thinking that has gone into both, but I would suggest to the second author to be more humble in his opinions regarding that which he has little knowledge. And since I have little knowledge, and apparently also a lack of humility, I will jump in and offer thoughts which meditating on this subject has brought to mind.
Generally speaking I do not enter into these discussions about Novus Ordo vs Traditional Latin Mass because the matter they involve is beyond my direct experience. Yes, I have encountered those who grew up with the old mass who seem to think it’s return is just short of the worst thing that could possibly happen, yet they display by their comments that their understanding of the mass, old or new, is deficient; such comments as “priest with his back to the people*” indicating the lack of catechesis, regardless of the form in question. I would call this the “minor spirit” of opposition to the EF, it is a combination of a child’s ignorance and long habit – the new mass is their flag indeed. There is another spirit which is found in many who stridently oppose the EF, and it is my observation that this is found in those who would place in opposition charity to obedience to authority within the Church. That spirit we know as the Spirit of Vatican II, and one bishop has called it a demon in need of exorcism.
But I come upon the question like a foreigner who has entered the land and become a naturalized citizen. So without the knowledge and prejudice of an upbringing within the Church, I have to chip away around the edges and attempt to see what is here.
And so it was interesting to read these two articles in conjunction with the two books I am currently reading. The first is Fulton Sheen’s “God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy” (where “Modern” is a direct reference to modernism) and the second is “Saint Thomas Aquinas, Orthodoxy and Neo-Modernism in the Church” by Renée Casin, (translated by James Likoudis).
God and Intelligence is a treatise on Modernism as it relates to God and faith. At the root of all the modern philosophies is the denial of the solemn dogma that “from the created world, man can know God” (Rm 1:19ff, Canon 2.1, Vatican Council I [DZ 1785, 1806]) Modernism rejects reason and the ability to know, substituting almost anything, but generally based on the supposition that “I won’t believe anything I can’t directly experience” (nominalism). Revelation is of course rejected; “burning in the bosom” is acceptable.
Fulton Sheen makes the observation that revelation perfects reason rather than destroys it; in the same way that a telescope extends the power of the eye rather than destroys it.
It is from the second book that I find what seems to me to be a key to unlock the question which initiated this post. Quoting the Angelic Doctor we find:
Sacraments were not necessary in the state of innocence. This can be proved from the rectitude of that state, in which t he higher parts of man ruled the lower, and nowise depended on them: for just as the mind was subject to God, so were the lower powers of the soul subject to the mind, and the body to the soul. And it would be contrary to this order if the soul were perfected either in knowledge or in grace, by anything corporeal; which happens in the sacraments. Therefore, in the state of innocence man needed no sacraments, whether as remedies against sin or as a means of perfecting the soul.
… man’s nature is the same before and after sin, but the state of his nature is not the same. Because of sin, the soul, even in its higher part, needs to receive something from corporeal things in order that it may be perfected. (Summa, Third Part, q 61 a 2)
The higher is perfected by the lower. Sacraments (matter) confer grace. Sacramentals lead us to God. The sacramentalization of all creation is summed up in Paul’s words and the dogma that “through the created world man can know God” – the creature can lead us to the Creator.
It seems to me that the “details” of the mass, in purpose and design, are to lead us to God. Sacramentals of creation to lead us to the Creator; their constituent elements are truth and beauty, so that from them we may be oriented towards Truth and Beauty who is to come among us corporeally. Such as these details are lacking in truth and beauty, they fail in their purpose. These “details” may be deficient in design or execution. The mass may present “details” in a form such as to be all but unrecognizable, or have an encrustation of foreign “details” which are not legitimately part of the mass, that are uncalled for.
Notice I said “the mass” in the paragraph above? There is a thesis put forth that the new mass has extreme deficiency in the design of details, always resulting in deficient presentation, while in the old mass and deficiency might be in presentation. To this I will withhold judgment, as this is way beyond my understanding. I will offer the opinion that, from the perspective of those who have the second spirit enumerated above, I think that the analogy of “the flag” is quite apropos.
The world approaches this question in the fully modern sense: back in my heathen days, my biker buddy used to say “Don’t sweat the small sh-t.” Since then I have discovered another world, where another thought is offered… “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities” (Mt 25:21).
The modern sensibility is that we can skip little stuff and do big stuff and have God approve. Mother Theresa put it well once by pointing out that from God’s perspective, anything and all we do is “little stuff” – So my advice is do the little stuff with great love and devotion!
Man, made in God’s image, is drawn to truth, but man today lives in a world which denies the existence of truth which is True. Is it any wonder that man is fundamentally not happy, and is at war with himself? Searching anywhere but the True, he proves the maxim of GK Chesterton that “when man abandons belief in God, he doesn’t believe nothing, he’ll believe anything.”
Tonight I will attend the Extraordinary Form in
"I am of the opinion that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It is impossible to see what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community is calling its very being into question when it declares that what was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent"
-Pope Benedict XVI
*now in the new mass, it’s “against the people”.