Disquiet abounds at present in the milieu which celebrates the usus antiquior – the more ancient use – of the Roman rite of the Sacred Liturgy. Seemingly the Holy See is considering issuing new norms limiting its celebration, at least in parishes. Some bishops appear to be acting in this vein already, taking measures against good clergy and healthy apostolates which do not present any reason for concern – except that (1) they exist; (2) they are growing; and (3) they are fruitful in leading to good Catholic marriages and new families as well as significant numbers of vocations to the priesthood, monastic and religious life – all indications that this phenomenon is not going away any time soon.
We are in a peculiar age when these are seen as concerns. But for some, who are ideologically committed to “the changes,” the rites and ecclesiastical reforms put in place following the most recent ecumenical Council of the Church as means to bring about a new Springtime in the life of the Church have become ends in themselves. For such persons, these means must be adhered to even if it has long since become clear that their ends – the profound renewal they were meant to usher in some decades ago – have simply not been achieved. They can become idols, occluding anything but their own worship.
Charity, prayer and patience are the weapons with which to confront such myopia. Please, God, people thus afflicted can become open to the signs of the times in which we actually live, which include the richness, beauty and fruitfulness of the usus antiquior in the life of the Church. And indeed to the fact that their celebration today often evinces far more of that full, conscious, actual (active) and fruitful participation in the liturgical rites for which the Second Vatican Council called than one can readily find elsewhere (to be sure, there are notable exceptions in both directions). Many bishops who have celebrated the older rites for communities in their dioceses have come to appreciate this reality. Acrimony in the face of its incomprehension will simply reinforce prejudices.
So, too, we usus antiquior communities need to examine our consciences. To sustain a sectarian attitude or create a ghetto, whilst perhaps understandable in the heady years following the Council, is untenable today. The liturgical and pastoral riches our communities treasure are for the good of all the Church, not the privilege of few gnostic ‘elect’. The Christian lives of those who draw from them must be all the more credible, particularly in respect of the social teaching of the Church. The light of our communities must – each according to its proper charism – “so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16)
Clericalism has no place anywhere, and the seminaries of institutes which celebrate the usus antiquior must ensure that they form men whose apostolic zeal is concomitant with the love they have for the Sacred Liturgy. They must be men who live and work for the conversion of the world to Christ in the twenty-first century, not ones content to live in a gilt cage decorated according to the tastes of their preferred century in history. Ecclesiastical authorities are right to be concerned when they detect a self-serving narcissism in clergy – a reality that is by no means exclusively found in devotees of the older liturgical rites, or solely in junior clergy.
One of the first tests of a young man seeking to enter the monastic life is to see whether he is capable of hard manual work without complaint. Most aspirants have little difficulty in attending the liturgical Hours (with the possible exception of matins) but almost all of us need to learn that whilst faithfully observing the norms of the liturgical books is integral to giving due glory to Almighty God, so too bathrooms and chicken sheds need cleaning. The candidate who is able to do both, or who at least becomes conscious that he must grow in his ability so to do, each at their appropriate time, will become a good monk.
Our usus antiquior communities and houses of formation need this same balance and moderation. Young people need space and time and patience, and they need love and understanding, in which to grow and mature. Older people, above all those in authority or with responsibility for formation, need to give them all of this and more, even if they themselves bear the scars of having been denied the same. So too, usus antiquior communities need to form candidates to be men of the Church rather than indulgent self-defined ‘rad-trads’ or à la carte laptop-liturgists who, in their fear, isolation or pride, inhabit a virtual world – or Church – of their own construction.
It is to be hoped that the anxieties and fears that have been aroused about a restriction of the older rites can be calmed and that no authority issues peremptory precepts which will, in all likelihood, simply undermine their own authority – blind obedience is no longer the daily bread of Catholic clergy or laity and cannot be relied upon as it was a half-century ago. The positive proscription of something true, good and beautiful is likely to intensify, not heal, enmity, clericalism and alienation within the Church.
In addition, to ban the usus antiquior because of its increasing popularity some fifty years after it was supposedly replaced by a liturgical reform that, according to St Paul VI, involved the necessary sacrifice of the venerable liturgy for the pastoral good of the Church would, ironically, risk being nothing less than an ‘own goal’; an historic, eloquent and ultimately embarrassing admission of the colossal failure of that reform by those committed to its ideological perpetuation no matter what the cost.
“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet,” Our Lord warns us in St. Matthew’s Gospel. “All this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs,” He continues. (Mt. 24:6,7) The Apocalyptic realities of which Our Lord was speaking end in the definitive triumph of good over evil, of God over the Devil. Our times may be difficult and may become more so. Misunderstanding and suffering, even persecution, may become our lot once again. But the same ultimate triumph awaits us if we are patient, charitable and faithful throughout whatever may arrive. Oremus!
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