The Motu Proprio: Two Challenges

TO THE EXTENT THAT ONE IS ABLE to establish a little emotional distance from Traditionis costodes, and cast an objective eye over both it and the reactions to it, one may be surprised by what emerges into view. Some of the responses from the traditionally-minded have been very heartening; some have been dire. The man-the-barricades mentality has produced some unhappy rhetoric that rather proves the papal point.

Some responses are just plain unhelpful or unfruitful. A frequent one has been: the progressives have for decades just as guilty of causing division, if not more so, through their disobedience of the Church’s rules on the new liturgy. As they opine, indeed it is not fair. But that this can be a justification for disobedience on their own part is not tenable. I cannot help but think of a child who is caught sneaking candy from a jar, whose defence on being caught is that Timmy did it too, so why isn’t he in trouble?

The question comes to me forcefully now: what is the true and necessary fruit of the Church’s liturgy? It must surely be charity. Where charity and love are found, there is God. There can be no true and abiding unity without charity.

So perhaps a question all Catholics should be asking themselves, be they adherents of the old or the new liturgies, is this: to what extent is my liturgical life bearing fruit in real, unmistakable charity? I mean the charity that is essential to the divine identity: self-emptying, self-giving, self-sacrificing. This seems to me to be the litmus test of the fruitfulness and value of a Christian’s liturgical life. If the traditional liturgy can be shown to be bearing fruit in unmistakably Christian charity, the arguments against it will fall away.

Seen from a supernatural perspective, could perhaps TC be something allowed in order to reset Christians of whatever liturgical stamp on the right integration of life and liturgy. To be honest, when I see social media posts glorying in cappae magnae, lace and fiddlebacks, and birettas bouncing off heads, I cringe. Cringe, because this seems to be precisely not the thing to be doing. Dazzle us with your charity not your liturgical accoutrements. A focus on the latter is merely to give flesh to the straw man of TC.

Now for a challenge in another direction, a note that I hope commentators might address to our benefit. If TC cites Church unity as its fundamental motivation, what precisely is the conception of Church unity that it presumes? Liturgical uniformity at any one moment throughout the world? On so many levels that seems a simplistic and deficient conception of unity. It is certainly hard to reconcile with the Council.

Surely we must remember than Church unity is not just synchronic but diachronic: not just as a phenomenon that exists in every place in the “present”, but one that exists also across time, stretching back into the past as well as forward into the future; one that exists not just here in the natural world but also in the supernatural, a unity of Church Militant with Church Penitent and Church Triumphant.

I am struggling to see how TC serves, or even acknowledges, this fuller, richer and truer understanding of unity in the Body of Christ. Maybe a defender of TC could show us how it does.

Because if it does not, if falls at the first hurdle in pursuing its own professed intention. In that case, TC will necessarily be a very temporary document indeed.

TC, no more than everything and everyone else in the Church, will be judged by its fruits. That really should sober us up pretty quickly, whatever our view of liturgy.


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  1. Your point about Church unity being diachronic is one I’ve been waiting for someone to make with such clarity for a very long time.

  2. @Mark,

    Then I have for you St Augustine that in praying the Psalms it is Christ that prays, and that is the “totus Christus”, Head and Body, which is explicitly atemporal:

    “For Christ is the whole Body of Christ; and whatsoever good Christians that now are, and that have been before us, and that after us are to be, are [the] whole Christ.”

      1. Only the emphasis of a quotation from the Fathers along the lines of the point you made which Mark remarked favorably on, that the Church stretches beyond the present to all that came before and all that will come after.

    1. ThomasL, thanks very much for the fine passage from St. Augustine. It reminds me of something I’ve come across before, perhaps in one of the patristic readings found in the Divine Office.

  3. To the main question at the end of why “this fuller, richer and truer understanding of unity in the Body of Christ” is not acknowledged, I have a theory (not all my own) that the strong shift toward imaging the Church as *essentially* the care of souls (eg, Christus dominus says “the parish exists solely for the care of souls”)–the Church seen as a sort of field hospital, if you will–has the perhaps unintended, but nevertheless inevitable consequence of losing the vision of the Church as a Divine Society, “the sheep of his pasture”, the New Israel,

    “Thou hast redeemed us, O Lord, in Thy Blood. And made us, for our God, a kingdom.”

    There is much more to a kingdom than its hospitals, but in the midst of a spiritual pandemic it might be too easy to forget that.

    1. Parish is not synonymous with Church, so your quote from Christus Dominus is not quite relevant.

      The Eucharist is the supreme medicine in the Church, this getting the liturgy right is very important.

      1. I agree absolutely to the latter.

        I think I might have made my comment too brief to really work. Let me try again: I think one reason the “fuller, richer and truer understanding of unity in the Body of Christ” is not acknowledged is that we have come to imagine the Church less as a people, and more as an organization dedicated to ministering to the wounded (whether in body or soul). That is a tremendously important thing the Church does, but it is not what the Church *is*.

        If our vision of what the Church shrinks to that task, it will tend to narrow our time horizon to the work of this moment, prioritize the active life over the contemplative, “practical” things like social programs over liturgy, etc.

        None of the above is anything like a formal ecclesiology, I meant it more in the sense of a popular impression, an image of the Church similar to that used to described the role of the parish.


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