When it comes to liturgy, the newly ordained associate pastor is a by-the-book kind of guy. “Be a real Catholic,” he keeps saying. “Follow the Pope, not your misguided local customs.” The pastor, an older priest, likes those local customs. “We need more flexibility,” he says, “not more uniformity.” The young guys coming out of seminary are a different breed than their elders. People talk of a generation gap between priests. The year is 1585.
Is it always this confusing after an ecumenical council?
After the Council of Trent, innovations like the printing press made it possible for the first time to have uniform liturgical books all across Europe. Other innovations followed, such as – can you imagine? – a new Vatican office to supervise the liturgy in every diocese. One of the biggest innovations of all was the seminary. Wild-eyed reformers pushed through the new-fangled idea that young men training to be priests would live in community and receive a theological education. And learn the rubrics of the newly-standardized liturgical books.
One can imagine young priests in 1585 over beer:
“You wouldn’t believe my old pastor. Every Sunday of the year he intones a sequence before the Gospel as if it’s still 1540 and then he gets everyone to join in a vernacular hymn. Has he ever studied the new 1570 missal? Doesn’t he know there are only four sequences now?”
“You wonder whether those old guys ever look at the rubrics.”
“Or whether they even know how to read Latin.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to find time for Latin rubrics when you’re busy with your wife and kids.”
“You know, that still bothers me. So many of the old guys married their mistresses when Lutheranism was spreading, so the archbishop grandfathered them in, so to speak, and said that celibacy would start with us.”
“Well, don’t worry, we’re the future. Our generation will restore holiness and good order to the priesthood and to the liturgy. Just like they taught us in seminary.”
* * *
It’s 1540, back in the days before seminaries. Two priests are talking about corruption and reform in the Church. The younger priest, 17, is in the reformist party. (His uncle is an abbot.) The older priest, 21, defends the status quo. (His father is a bishop.)
The first priest says the time will come when the entire Roman curia is reformed and new departments are established, but the other insists this will never happen. The first predicts they will do away with the office of indulgence seller, but the other doubts it will ever come to that. The first is animated about talk of a vernacular liturgy, but the other is sure the Roman church will never countenance that. The first priest is excited. The second is defensive.
* * *
I suppose we forget how relatively calm things are in the Roman Catholic Church in 2010 compared to the 16th century. Still, some of the cries for reform are getting louder. Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna recently said that the Church needs to reconsider its position on re-married divorcees, lasting gay relationships deserve respect, Cardinal Sodano wrongly covered up sex abuse, and the Roman curia is urgently in need of reform. Joseph Bottum, Fr. Neuhaus’s successor at First Things, bluntly called for Cardinal Sodano’s removal. Today Bishop Iby in Burgenland, Austria expressed support for the elimination of mandatory celibacy and said that the ordination of women will need to be considered further in the future. On May 2nd the Austrian Pastors’ Initiative, which has 327 priests and deacons as members and supporters, called on Pope Benedict either to let an independent entity investigate his handling of sex abuse or to resign from office. Their strongly worded resolution calls for an ecumenical council and a reform of the “present absolutist structure of the Church.”
Pray Tell declines to take a position on most of these reform proposals and doesn’t necessarily support any of them. But we think it’s important to keep you informed. It seems to us that we’re in an interesting time of turmoil and ferment, and the more voices which are heard, the better. Go talk it over with your fellow Christians. But keep it friendly – maybe do it over a beer.