He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Love it to Death: The Love of Rules

In the cold war over liturgical praxis and theology in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, there tend to be battles between those who wish to assiduously follow all the documented liturgical norms and those who think that those norms can be changed as it suits their personal pathologies and preferences.  I have already explained the problems with taking the latter view, and now I would like to address the former view.

There is a parish in a nearby city that is known for their excellent liturgical practice, and they offer a variety of liturgies within the Roman Rite, including the Mass of Paul VI, the Tridentine Mass, and the Anglican Use of the rite.  These are all very well done in form and reverent in spirit.  I remember being there a few years ago attending the Tridentine Mass, and the priest giving a homily on Pharisaism after reading the Gospel, which features Jesus pointing out the willingness of the Pharisees to hold themselves up as the righteous ones because they follow the rules while disregarding the righteousness of those who sacrifice truly and understand their own weakness before God.

The priest pointed out that pharisaical behavior was always something to be guarded against in traditional communities such as theirs, that it was the behavior contrary to the Gospel that was mostly likely to be fallen into by those who like to make very sure that they follow the liturgical norms and the many other rules of the faith.  In traditional communities, people are more likely to be vocal about Church teaching and discipline and keen to hold others accountable to that teaching and discipline.  This can be a very good and healthy thing for those communities so long as they understand the risk of slipping into the pharisaical mindset.

After all, the rules of our religion exist to help foster a healthy relationship with our Lord, so there is much good to be found in following the rules.  We just have to make sure that when we love, we look beyond the rules to the Lord, loving Him rather than fixating on the rules themselves.  And this fixation on the rules is indeed a serious pathology and a problem among Traditionalists, particularly among sedevacantists and schismatics.  They let the modernist tendency to chafe at the rules and dispense with the rules when convenient push them into taking a position of defending the standard application of the rules even where there are legitimate pastoral reasons to apply them in a non-standard way.

Where the progressives with regard to the liturgy are often reactionaries against what is ancient and venerable, traditionalists are often reactionaries against the progressive tendency to relax the rules for their convenience, thereby defeating the very purpose of the rules.  Traditionalists correctly identify the grave problem with the progressive praxis and pathology, and in opposing it allow their fear for the Church to push them into the waiting arms of Pharisaism, that ancient enemy of Christ.  They stand behind the rules, holding them up as firmly as they can, afraid that any relaxation of those rules will lead to a furthering of the destructive tendencies that rampaged through the Church in the Vatican II era.

I understand their desire to hold fast to tradition and I sympathize with their fears, but I recognize that their strategy of reiterating the rules firmly at those who feel free to dispense with them for their own convenience is a strategy doomed to failure.  Informing those who are skeptical of rules about those rules will have precisely the opposite effect from what is needed; they will not be persuaded of the value of rules by an appeal to the rules or an appeal to the rules of reason.  They have rejected those things out of hand under the contemporary intuition that rules are oppressive.

They will only be persuaded by our love of Christ, shown in our devotion to the Lord and our love of the poor.  The only strategy that will work to bring them to understand the value of the rules is to show them what following those rules has done for us, that the rules help keep us centered on the love of God who loved us unto death.  They will begin to value the rules when we show them by our lives that those rules help separate us from the unhealthy desires that stand between us and living the Gospel.

Ending the modern abuse of the liturgy becomes possible only when we love it to death.

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