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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Role of the Extraordinary Form

I get into all kinds of arguments. Some people think I'm antagonistic because I'm a jerk, and they are correct about that. But argument, sometimes quite vociferous argument, is the way I integrate information. By arguing about something, often with extremely annoying tenacity, I figure out what the limits of the idea are, what its strengths are, what its weaknesses are. By bluntly questioning the people who advocate it, I find out what kind of people support it.

Over the last several years, I've had many arguments about the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass, over proper dress at Mass, over private devotions, private revelations, the whole life that adheres to one form versus the other form.

Recently, all of this came to a head with Pope Francis' decision that the Franciscans of the Immaculata would no longer be permitted to celebrate the EF form of the Mass unless the priests requested special permission. This ruling seemed to contravene both the letter and the spirit of Summorum Pontificum, which explicitly permits any priest to celebrate the EF without asking permission from his bishop.

A lot of people in the EF community were upset by that. But that argument, along with another argument I had been in about whether men should be wearing suits to Mass, crystallized something for me.

When Pope Francis made this ruling, he ruled in favor of the ORDINARY FORM. Given that it's the ORDINARY form, this is not really a surprise, right? Ordinarily, you do the ordinary thing.

If you are doing extraordinary and ordinary things, and some odd problem pops up, you revert to the ordinary thing to see if the odd problem goes away. This is probably why Francis ruled as he did on that particular religious order.

Benedict created this situation by naming the forms "Ordinary" and "Extraordinary" instead of "Form 1" and "Form 2".

If Benedict wanted equivalence between the forms, he could have named the two forms so that they would have been equivalent. But he deliberately named them in such a way that it recalls the difference between the Ordinary infallible Magisterium and the Extraordinary infallible Magisterium.

We've only had 21 Ecumenical Councils in the history of the Church - they don't happen very often. Same goes for ex cathedra statements - they are really unusual.

So, when he named these two forms the way he did, he seems to have been envisioning precisely that the EF would NOT be commonly celebrated. Even though SP talks about letting any priest do it on his own authority, the naming conventions undercut the words. Benedict really didn't expect it to be commonly asked for or all that popular.

In that sense, the Church seems to be envisioning traditionalists as just one more religious group in the Church, like Franciscans or Dominicans or Jesuits.

Traditionalism via SP (like Anglicanism) is apparently meant to be a kindness for people who tend to like that sort of thing, but even Benedict never meant this to be the first step towards a universal return of the EF. The EF is not coming back as the normal form because it DIDN'T come back as the normal form.

Dominicans aren't required to do the Spiritual Exercises, Franciscans aren't required to visit a Carmel, and ordinary Catholics aren't expected to have more than a passing interest in the EF.

If he HAD meant it to be otherwise, he wouldn't have named it the EF.

If I'm right, then a lot of people haven't figured this out yet. All those bishops calling EF trads dangerous and stupid, etc., they don't realize that they are calling a religious order those names. All the EF trads who think the EF is where the Church is headed, and who get really, really defensive and angry when anything happens that indicates the Church isn't headed that way... they haven't realized it yet either.

So, if everyone would just recognize the EF for what Popes JP II and Benedict and Francis seem to think it is, a lot of the antagonism and theater would go away. EF trads are a legitimate spiritual strand in the vine of the Catholic Church, but a strand that is not going to become kudzu, it isn't going to take over the entire life of the Church again. It's not meant to. And that's ok for everyone involved.

The different spiritualities preserve different kinds of memories. The Franciscans preserve the memory of how to treat the poor, the Jesuits preserve the memory of how to handle human knowledge, the Dominicans preserve the memory of preaching, the EF trads preserve the memory of a specific kind of prayer/liturgy. Every one of the memories is important to the Church. But none of them are the future of the Church. God is doing something new - we don't know what it is yet, so we have to hold onto what we remember, in order to be prepared to handle the new thing that God is preparing and incorporate it into the life of the Church.


Jim Dorchak said...

I sure do agree with you here on this, but in my unique circumsatnce, i no longer care what this or that bishop thinks or orders. As i have now moved my family from the former USA, and since i am well on the way to having my own private family chapel (CATHOLIC), with our own CATHOLIC PRIEST (retired) to say the EF every day, i no longer much care about these problems which will soon be a bad memory.

Good luck to the rest of y'all.

Jim Dorchak

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, remember that the liturgy is the source and summit of the Faith, but it ends in "Ita Misse Est" - go forth.

The liturgy ends in endowing us with the power to serve others. If we are given that power through the Mass, but then DON'T go out and serve others, God is going to be very interested in seeing how we justify that lack.