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Glen Argan: Christ’s love will fulfil our needs

  • September 2, 2021

Pope Francis’ decision to tighten restrictions on the use of the Tridentine liturgy has been the most significant global Catholic news story of the summer.

Michael Swan’s article in the Aug. 1-8 Catholic Register shows that the Pope’s apostolic letter Guardians of the Tradition (Traditionis Custodes) is unlikely to have much effect on Canadian dioceses where the old liturgy has not gained much popularity.

But that has not halted proponents of the old liturgy from painting the post-Vatican II liturgy as a lesser form of worship, as the cause rather than the solution to the crisis of the Church in the Western world. In doing so, they give more evidence to the Pope’s contention, based on input from diocesan bishops, that use of the Tridentine liturgy has become a threat to Church unity.

In Britain’s The Tablet, a high Anglican, Sebastian Milbank, lauded the Tridentine Rite as reverent while dismissing the new liturgy as “seemingly trying to ape Protestant tendencies” with felt banners and “touchy, feely worship songs.”

In the American Crisis Magazine, Robert Greving dismisses the Second Vatican Council as “‘a period piece,’ like an annual meeting of the board of directors.” Its documents are “the sort of long, turgid affairs you would expect from committees.” Greving contends that the Church which employs the new liturgy is composed of “moribund religious orders, dioceses and parishes with their ‘social consciousness,’ felt banners and guitar Masses.” In contrast, parishes using the old liturgy are “places where you can live, grow in and promote the faith.” There, you will become a true Catholic, one who is “almost violently ‘counter-cultural.’ ”

Others see the new liturgy as a means by which “the rot of secular liberalism” has seeped into the Church and increased popular support for evils ranging from abortion to women’s ordination.

With such views being propounded by supporters of the Tridentine liturgy, it is not difficult to see how the Pope and bishops have become concerned about a threat to Church unity.

I am one who believes these supposedly dreaded felt banners are important to the liturgy, drawing our attention to the liturgical seasons and to the Scripture of the current week’s liturgy. Post-Vatican II worship songs, frequently accompanied by guitars and other instruments, are not touchy-feely but have helped give Scripture greater pre-eminence in the liturgy.

But this is largely beside the point. More important is what it means to be countercultural. That Western society is today a horrific mess is not an issue. Widespread abortion and euthanasia are two signs of this. The effects of global climate change, including melting polar ice caps and massive forest fires in the American and Canadian West, provide more evidence. So too does the refusal of citizens to receive vaccines aimed to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Ours is a society in which the individual appears to rule, an individual without concern for the needs of others and whose life goal is fulfilment of the pleasure principle. More deeply, our society is ruled by large corporations mandated to pursue the greatest profit, a goal achievable mainly through manipulating the material desires of the population.

In that light, the most countercultural Church teachings are the social encyclicals of the post-Vatican II pontiffs from John XXIII to Francis. Those documents urge us not to turn our backs on society as though only we have insight into truth, but to engage with the survivors of an increasingly dystopic world.

Social teaching finds its foundation in Vatican II’s two most central teachings — the universal call to holiness and the first sentence of the council’s Constitution on The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes): “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”

Those teachings together say that holiness comes by meeting the needs of the poor and afflicted with the love of Christ. The Church is a field hospital. Such a Church will have a liturgy which looks both vertically to God in Heaven and horizontally to the people and their needs in our time.

Vatican II called us to this double vision. We have been slow in making the transition, but we must remain faithful to the challenge until one day we become a holy community which points society to the fullness of life.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

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