Friday, June 20, 2008

Fr. Manus tells it like it is...


Canadian novelist Brian Moore wrote a prescient novel in 1973, called Catholics. [I know I have blogged on this before, but I want to share a specific passage with you].

It was quickly made into a film entitled Catholics: A Fable, which was subsequently released on DVD under the title The Conflict.

The story is set around the turn of the century (circa 2000), which was some thirty years in the future. Moore is writing literally in the shadow of the great changes in the Roman Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and the subsequent novus ordo ("new order") Mass that replaced the Latin Tridentine Mass instituted at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Obviously, Moore envisioned even further radical changes and a more drastic shift away from tradition as the twentieth century moved on.

Needless to say, the sweeping changes of the 1960s affected more than just the Roman Catholic Church. And, the recent promotion of the Old Mass under Pope Benedict, as well as the current fault lines in Lutheranism, especially in liturgical matters (including the restored "common service" styled as Divine Service 3 in the newly released Lutheran Service Book), make Moore's book a very interesting read indeed. And, as a bonus, the film closely follows the book.

The current resurgent traditionalism in the Roman Church is epitomized by the propagation and promotion of the Latin Mass. And while it has been a long time indeed since Lutherans have celebrated Latin Masses, there is a traditionalist movement within American Lutheranism that is opting for the historic one year lectionary (as opposed to the Vatican II-inspired three year series) and the older traditional liturgy, the "Common Service" (Divine Service 3) as opposed to the Vatican II-inspired Divine Services 1 and 2. And while there is more support for the three-year series and Divine Service 1 (such as regarding Sunday School materials and helps for giving private pastoral care published by Concordia Publishing House), there is a substantial and stubborn minority of churches clinging to the older historical forms - many even opting to leave Vatican II behind to take on the common service and the one-year lectionary anew.

Perhaps the extreme experimentation of the 1960s is beginning to fall apart. Hopefully, younger generations are seeing that there is value in historical continuity, that many of the reforms, liturgical and otherwise, made in the era of The Beatles, Woodstock, and LSD have not necessarily been felicitous.

In Catholics, a group of monks on a remote Irish island have continued to say the Old Mass in Latin. It has become known around the world, and is a scandal to the modern Roman Church, which is trying to leave the past behind. A radical American priest, Father Kinsella (played by Martin Sheen in the film) is dispatched from Rome to the island to enforce compliance of the new ways upon the old community (hence "The Conflict"). The main celebrant of these Latin Masses is a gentle monastic priest named Father Manus.

In his initial meeting with Fr. Kinsella, Fr. Manus delivers the following soliloquy explaining why traditionalism (embodied by the Old Mass) is better than innovation (as expressed in the New Mass). Poignantly, immediately after this sermonette, Manus joins another monk in joyfully feeding a baby lamb that had been missing, but was found (an obvious reference to the role of the pastor in his charge to feed the Lord's lambs in John 21:15 as well as the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:1-7. In contrast to the bully bureaucrat and up-and-coming politician Kinsella, Manus is a true pastor, a shepherd who actually provides for the Lord's flock year in and year out.

Anyway, Father Manus's remarks are so powerful, I want to share them with you here. Obviously, these are spoken in the person of a Roman Catholic. And yet, theological differences aside, there is much in Father Manus's words that reflect the spirit of the traditionalist movement among the Lutherans, the Anglo-Catholics, the Reformed, and the Neo-Evangelicals.

I find the clash between reverence and entertainment, between tradition and innovation, and between faith in the power of the Word of God over and against man-made marketing tactics makes this speech as relevant today as when Moore published it 35 years ago. It is a brilliantly written passage, reflecting a stream of consciousness from a man with much to say, speaking spontaneously from the heart. Picture an elderly monk pleading with a much-younger priest who looks at him with almost indulgent pity during the tirade:

"What was it I wanted to tell him? What was it I wanted, ah, Lord, I do not know, I tell you, Father Kinsella, since I heard you were coming, I have lain awake at night arguing the toss with myself, saying this and saying that, and - look, it is as plain as the nose on your face, we did nothing to start all this, we went on saying the Mass over there in Cahirciveen the way it was always said, the way we had always said it, the way we had been brought up to say it. The Mass! The Mass in Latin, the priest with his back turned to the congregation because both he and the congregation faced the altar where God was. Offering up the daily sacrifice of the Mass to God. Changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ the way Jesus told his discipls to do it at the Last Supper. 'This is my body and this is my blood. Do ye this in commemoration of me.' God sent His Son to redeem us. His Son came down into the world and was crucified for our sins and the Mass is the commemoration of that crucifixion, of that sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ for our sins. It is the priest and people praying to God, assisting in a miracle whereby Jesus Christ again comes down among us, body and blood in the form of the bread and wine there on the altar. And the Mass was said in Latin because Latin was the language of the Church and the Church was one and universal and a Catholic could go into any church in the world, here, or in Timbuktu, or in China, and hear the same Mass, the only Mass there was, the Latin Mass. And if the Mass was in Latin, that was part of the mystery of it, for the Mass was not talking to your neighbor, it was talking to God. Almighty God! And we did it that way for nearly two thousand years and, in all that time, the church was a place to be quiet in, and respectful, it was a hushed place because God was there, God on the altar, in the tabernacle in the form of a wafer of bread and a chalice of wine. It was God's house, where, every day, the daily miracle took place. God coming down among us. A mystery. Just as this new Mass isn't a mystery, it's a mockery, a singsong, it's not talking to God, it's talking to your neighbor, and that's why it's in English, or German or Chinese or whatever language the people in the church happen to speak. It's a symbol, they say, but a symbol of what? It's some entertainment show, that's what it is. And the people see through it. They do! That's why they come to Coom Mountain, that's why they come on planes and boats and the cars thick on the roads and the people camping out in the fields, God help them, and that's why they are there with the rain pouring down on them, and when the Sanctus bell is rung at the moment of Elevation, when the priest kneels and raises up the Host - aye, that little round piece of bread that is now the the body of Our Blessed Saviour - holds it up - Almighty God - and the congregation is kneeling at the priest's back, bowed down to adore their God, aye, Father, if you saw those people their heads bare, the rain pelting off their faces, when they see the Host raised up, that piece of unleavened bread that, through the mystery and the miracle of the Mass, is now the body and blood of Jesus Christ, Our Saviour, then you would be ashamed, Father, you would be ashamed to sweep all that away and put in its place what you have put there - singing and guitars and turning to touch your neighbor, playacting and nonsense, all to make the people come into church the way they used to go to the parish hall for a bingo game!" [Brian Moore, Catholics, Pocket Books, New York, 1973, pp. 56-58]

13 comments:

revalkorn said...

You're going to force me to try to learn Latin, aren't you?

*sigh* Off to pray my Pater Nosters.

Paul McCain said...

Working to increase appreciation for the historic worship of the Lutheran Church is one thing. Pining for Medieval Roman Masses, is quite another thing.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Al:

If you speak English, you're a good way there already (some 55% of our words are derivatives). My 6th, 7th, and 8th graders blew me away this past year. They ate it up!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Paul:

Well, of course they aren't medieval when they're being done today any more than our Book of Concord can be dismissed as medieval (as it sadly is by some) when we make use of it today.

I do think Fr. Manus's speech has great parallels to where we American Christians - even outside of Rome - are today, which is why I prefaced his remarks:

"Obviously, these are spoken in the person of a Roman Catholic. And yet, theological differences aside, there is much in Father Manus's words that reflect the spirit of the traditionalist movement among the Lutherans, the Anglo-Catholics, the Reformed, and the Neo-Evangelicals."

The story "Catholics" is indeed (as the movie adds to the title) a fable, a sort of cautionary tale about the clash between innovation and tradition. But I can sure sympathize with my Roman Catholic friends who are disgusted by the irreverent "nervous ordeal" and are happy to see reverent traditionalism no longer the red-headed stepchild in the Roman Catholic world.

I believe we Lutherans have allowed post-Vatican II Rome to sway us from our own historic practices. But I am encouraged by much of what I'm seeing, e.g. the Common Service and the one-year series having a place in LSB and in LCMS congregations. I find younger Lutherans, in particular, are quite traditional - and the trend seems to cut across denominational lines.

Dare we hope the pendulum is swinging back the other way?

Past Elder said...

Bloody right, Father H.

Nearly 500 years of Reformation only to fall in line with the new Rome, and look just like the RC parish I am "supposed" to belong to?

I don't think so. Vatican II For Lutherans is as much "contemporary worship" as contemporary worship. There's nothing historic about it, Roman, Lutheran, or otherwise.

Hey, if you need a good altar boy, I'm in. I'm 58, six feet, 250 lbs, so have a good size cassock on hand though.

PS -- in your previous post re "Catholics" you did not want to reveal the outcome. I would love to discuss what happens with the abbot, but to do so would reveal the outcome, or at least part of it. I'll just say that that part of it emptied the whole of the point to which it had seemed to be leading.

Paul McCain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul McCain said...

The pendulum is swinging back the other way, and that is ok, to a point. The problem is that it is swinging even further, right back to 13th century Mass rubrics and rituals. A common problem in the church: for every reaction there is an opposite, unequal and over-reaction.

In our desire to restore and inculcate a better understanding and appreciation for the legacy of the Lutheran Reformation, I'm concerned when I notice an attraction toward not merely the practices of our Lutheran fathers, but the erroneous assumption that the rites, rubrics and practices of Medieval Roman masses are the real model for us.

Let's be very, very careful here.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Paul McCain rightly warns all to be "very, very careful here." It is indeed important to excercise care in the manner and substance of our discourse. For the sake of clarity, then, I would challenge his assertions that traditional rubrics, which he has scorned as being 13th century rubrics, were condemned and eliminated by the Reformer. I can't recall it myself, but hopefully he can help supply the evidence.

Father Hollywood said...

This is a very interesting discussion, gents!

I don't think the problem the reformers had with the Roman Mass was the rubrics. The problem, the abomination, was the Mass being seen as meritorious, and applicable to the dead - as expressed liturgically in the canon. This has nothing to do with reverence, with courtesy, with how to properly hold one's hands - but rather with a theology, more specifically, soteriology, gone sour.

I believe that our problem in 21st century American Lutheranism isn't *too much* reverence, but rather a *lack of* reverence. We're seeing continued pressure to change our liturgical forms to conform to secular culture and ecclesiastical fads, like the emerging movement. And, the Gospel is being clouded by this nonsense as surely as it was by the canon in Luther's day.

Even liturgical pastors come out of seminary not knowing what to do at the altar (I saw the video of my ordination the other day, and I had to chuckle at myself trying to look calm while constantly turning to Pr. Punke saying, "Uh, what do I do now?").

Rubrically speaking, was there all that much difference between a medieval Lutheran and a medieval Roman Mass? Of course, Luther gutted the canon, but aside from that, what changes were made?

I wish I could remember who said it, but I remember reading a historian who said that until you got to the sermon, you might not even know whether you were at a Lutheran or a Roman Mass (especially since Latin continued to be used in some places for quite some time).

We also have the example of how the liturgy is conducted in Scandinavia, the Baltics, Russia (and thanks to the missionary work of the Scandinavians, Africa) - where the Reformation went along a slightly different track than among German-Americans.

I think emphasizing rubrics and decorum can only be a good thing. I don't think defections of a relatively small number of Lutherans to the East or to Rome can be quelled by de-emphasizing traditionalism, rubrics, and beauty and propriety in worship. In fact, I think it's the opposite. Some guys look at the what is being promoted liturgically by the brass in our synod (big screens, praise bands, dancing girls, etc.) and come to the conclusion this is not a church, but a strip mall with a Jesus store.

I think Leornard Sweet is by far a greater danger to our synod than Pope Benedict or Alexander Schmemann.

Paul McCain said...

Pastor Beane, I share your concerns, but we do not overcome problems on the one side, by pursuing rituals and rubrics that were, in fact, set aside by the majority of our Lutheran fathers, as the antidote. Two wrongs do not a right make.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Paul (please feel free to use my first name),

I just don't see where our Lutheran fathers explicitly rejected things like holding the palms together and keeping thumb and forefinger together until after the distribution.

Some things fell largely into disuse (such as private confession) and other things were changed in imitation of either Protestants (for example, the use shot glasses) or Vatican II Roman Catholics (for example, standing to commune).

Of course, shot glasses and standing don't invalidate the sacrament, not does the chalice and kneeling merit any satisfaction, but I do believe we have allowed convenience and conformity to deteriorate the decorum of the liturgy (which is in itself a confession of the Real Presence) and has severed us from our own venerable traditions.

And I know we all agree on this, but I want to explicitly say it lest anyone see nefarious motives to my advocacy of traditional rubrics: good manners are not incompatible with Lutheran practice (A certain professor's assertions about rural parishes in Iowa notwithstanding). ;-)

Past Elder said...

The liturgy, both in the sense of what we do and what we think we are doing when we do it, as discussed in the BOC happens in a very vivid fashion for me.

When I first read the BOC as a catechumen in 1996, I thought, Luther and I both started out as Roman Catholics, now what would the result have been if, starting from a typical Roman parish -- and no, not down to the last detail, as the Tridentine Rite did not exist in his day -- the changes described here had been enacted instead of the "reforms" of Vatican II.

A very clear picture emerged, and it was not what one found in the more conservative WELS (where I began) or LCMS parishes any more than it was what one found in the more "contemporary" ones (of which we have a very successful example here in Omaha).

In the former one found essentially Roman parishes of typical Vatican II Roman observance just without Roman priests, and in the latter, in your excellent phrase, a strip mall with a Jesus store.

Some years later as I began poking around in the Lutheran blogosphere, I ran across something that was very much what I saw while reading the BOC -- a certain parish in Detroit, of which all here I am sure are aware.

Which is not at all to say all parishes must be exactly like that. Even starting from the hatchet job done on it in Christian Worship, as I studied about the Common Service I came to have a deep love for it (including its instance as DSII in LSB now) and The Lutheran Hymnal.

It fleshed out, this time as a Lutheran, a reaction I had had in the 1980s when for a time I wrote programme notes for a Lutheran (now ELCA) chorale as was given a copy of LBW (which unfortunately is also instanced in the LSB) to acquaint myself with Lutheran liturgy. I thought, if this is Lutheran liturgy, might as well stick to the novus ordo originals.

I don't think waiting half a millennium then hopping on the latest train out of Rome is exactly what zealously guarding and defending the mass is all about.

I understand pastors do not warm up to theology by anecdote, so I beg your, so to speak, indulgence. And I would still be interested in thoughts about how what happens with the abbot in the end of "Catholics" affects the point to which it had seemed to be tending.

Past Elder said...

DSIII, sorry. I thought Vista had that newfangled "I know what you mean so I'm changing it" function.