Reason, Authority, and the Roman Rite | Dr. Leroy A. Huizenga | CWR
Catholics are often finding themselves in a situation in which the Church’s authorities sometimes seem to set themselves against the Church’s own teaching and rites.
Catholicism esteems reason without rationalism, authority without authoritarianism. Catholicism works when the Church’s authorities act in a rational manner, using their reason to interpret the Church’s teaching rightly and in turn to teach it with fidelity. As the Magisterium is servant to the Word of God, as a pope is bound to the Magisterium, ecclesial authority at every level is constrained by the truth of the Church’s teaching.
Contradiction and a thousand cuts
Sometimes, however, it seems the Church’s authorities use their authority as bishops, or, on a parish or diocesan level, as priests or lay functionaries, to subvert, correct, or contradict what’s said plainly in the Church’s official documents. For instance, it’s not too hard to find ecclesial authorities nowadays who will advert to conscience in suggesting the faithful can be unfaithful to what the Church teaches in its Catechism on (say) sexuality if their consciences tell them contrary, and in doing so also contradict what the Catechism says on conscience (cf. CCC 1776-1802).
It’s hard on laypeople and lower clergy who are trying to be faithful to the Church’s teaching when the Church’s authorities act, speak, and govern in ways that undercut, sell short, or sell out Catholic teaching as it’s spelled out in the Church’s official documents. It’s hard to explain to our children why, sometimes, what we teach them in their religious instruction differs from what they experience or what some ecclesial authority says.
The texts say what they say, from the documents of Vatican II to the Catechism and beyond, to say nothing of what came before. Catholics can read, and some can read Latin. Catholics are rational; our reason can make good sense of the texts’ presentation of authoritative human and divine teaching. Sometimes, however, it seems the glorious truths of our official documents suffer the death of a thousand cuts from the knives of a thousand committees by the time they travel from Rome to parishes in Portlandia or Lake Woebegone. But the texts are there, published officially as books or on the internet by organs of the Vatican or episcopal conferences. Presumably, the Church’s authorities want the official texts read. And so Catholics read.
And yet Catholics often encounter contradictions between what an official document says and what’s happening on the ground in parishes and diocese. There’s one subject Church in history, one mystical Church which is Jesus Christ as head with his members, but sometimes it seems as if there’s two. Were one to raise the issue of discrepancies between Catholic teaching and local practice on matters moral or liturgical, one might imagine certain authorities in the mold of Chico Marx’s character Chicolini in the Marx Brothers’ movie Duck Soup, saying, “Well, who you gonna believe? Me, or your own eyes?” But Catholics can read. They can read the Catechism, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the rubrics of the Roman Rite, the actual text of the GIRM—some of us in Latin.
Obedience to the rubrics
With regard to liturgy, the Church has been in this situation since the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae, now the ‘Ordinary Form’ of the Roman Rite, for its celebration is often at odds with what the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium says, with what its own rubrics say, and with what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the Ordinary Form instructs. And so those who desire faithful liturgy find contemporary practice lacking, for they can read the texts.
Certainly every text needs interpretation (even reading a grocery list is low-level interpretation as our minds make sense of the black marks on the paper), but modern Catholic documents are not so arcane that it takes episcopal oracles to reveal their mysterious secrets to us. Catholics are not gnostics, and modern Catholic documents are written to be understood. Catholics are people of reason. Catholics can read, and believe they should read. Yet the lay faithful often encounter the worst sort of clericalism when they run up against legalistic authoritarians insisting they alone can know what the official texts say, and come up with some pretense for inaction.
But the liturgical texts say what they say. And whatever other practices have arisen, such as versus populum, the liturgical texts at issue assume that ad orientem posture is the normative posture for the Roman Rite. Those who desire a return to the ad orientem posture are not angling and agitating for their own particular personal preferences and predilections, but rather desire fidelity in liturgy, obedience to the rubrics. They trust the Church, and desire her teaching and law on matters liturgical obeyed. It’s shame and scandal that some distrust the Church so much and regard the faithful so little that they feel free to ignore the Church’s liturgical teaching.
A liturgical tempest
And so we come to the latest development in the furore over ad orientem that Cardinal Sarah unleashed—a tempest born of one Cardinal’s clarion call to liturgical fidelity.