Catholic vs. Episcopal Liturgical Changes: The Difference

Dr. Peter Toon’s article on Virtue Online about the difference between the changes wrought by the Catholic and Episcopal churches in the 1960’s and 1970’s is essentially correct but needs some expansion, particularly on the Catholic side of things.

The years preceding Vatican II were interesting ones in Catholic thought because there were two trends going on, both of which were centred in France.

The first was the very liberal trend which Anglicans are all too familiar with. The best known representative of this was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose writings were extensively supressed during his lifetime.

The second was a trend back towards a stronger Biblical/Patristic emphasis. The Biblical trend was exemplified by the École Biblique de Jerusalem, headed up by Roland de Vaux. It was given a serious boost by the 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, which encouraged Bilbical studies and allowed Catholic Biblical translations to be done from the original Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew rather than strictly the Latin. The Patristic emphasis was the work of scholars such as Jean Danielou and Henri de Lubac.

A driving force behind the latter case was to construct a more “authentic” Catholicism from Roman Empire Christianity, peeling away many of the trappings that the Church had accumulated, especially in the Counter-Reformation. In this respect the idea was the same as Thomas Cramner’s, something that many traditional Catholics didn’t miss.

In the wake of Vatican II, the process that resulted in the Novus Ordo Missae in 1970 was the result of extensive studies of liturgies in use in Roman times from Hippolytus forward, both Eastern and Western. One reason why they ended up with four canons is to reflect the diversity of liturgical practice of the Patristic era (another was to break monotony in liturgical use, the same idea as the A/B/C reading cycle.) An excellent reference on this is Cipriano Vagaggini’s book The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform (Staten Island: Alba House, 1967.)

The implementation of these reforms is something that has never sat well with very traditional Catholics. In addition to the vernacular problem–something Anglicans find mystifying–the “new” Mass, along with the whole Vatican II paradigm, gives more emphasis to the “horizontal” relationship of the faith community, as opposed to the focus on the “vertical” relationship between man and God that was the hallmark of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.

Having said all of that, we get to Toon’s point about the difference between the two liturgical reforms.

In a way, both of these reforms can be seen as a race between the two trends noted above: the liberal trend and the Biblical/Patristic trend. In the Catholic case, the leftward lurch of much of the church after Vatican II hadn’t gone far enough for the first trend to really make an impact on the new liturgy; that trend had to content itself with “after the fact” alterations in translation. (We noted elsewhere that this process could have gone another way under different circumstances.)

In the Episcopal case, the second trend was accomplished in prayer books such as the 1662 and 1928 ones, and the thinking of the upper reaches of the church had embraced the first trend enough to end up with the 1979 “prayer book.”

Traditional Catholics would argue from the above that Episcopal history is proof that, once you revert to a more Biblical/Patristic emphasis and deny the value of subsequent tradition, you will end up with liberalism. In saying this they are thinking of the concept of church in purely Catholic terms. As we set forth a long time ago, the whole Catholic concept of the church is one of the church as a formal mediator between man and God, thus giving it the right to dictate the terms and conditions of that relationship. Once you break the continuity of the institution, either literally or through a major change in theology, those terms and conditions are subject to change.

This is in fact that “affirming Catholics” and other liberal types in the Episcopal church would have us to believe; since they have changed the church, our approach to God (or gods) must be different. But in both Catholic and Protestant contexts there is a better way.

In the Catholic context, the church has had a strong enough intellectual tradition to recognise that the tradition they have now is built on what they had before. For Protestants, the emphasis on the primacy of Scripture forces us to avoid things that contradict the teachings of the Word of God in either form (book or Saviour.) In both cases there is a recognition that there is a point at which what one believes can put one (either an individual or a church) outside of the boundaries of Christianity.

And the Episcopal Church certainly has exceeded that boundary.

The Holy Father Looks for the Best

Back in 2004, we wrote an article entitled Think Before You Convert. In it we went through the pros and cons of Anglicanism vs. Roman Catholicism. We also said the following:

One thing that gets kicked around in Anglican circles is the idea of an “Anglican Rite” within Roman Catholicism. From a Roman Catholic viewpoint, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, and if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t pursue it for the following reasons:

  • The Maronite and Byzantine Rites came from Eastern Churches with independent apostolic succession. Anglicanism, like the Confederacy, seceded from Roman Catholicism. That’s why they don’t really accept the apostolic succession of Anglican orders. (what that has to do with apostolic succession is hard to understand.)
  • The Episcopal Church has shown a real talent in shedding membership. Why go to the trouble of setting up another rite when you can just wait and pick up the pieces on your own terms?
  • The existence of a married clergy in any “Anglican Rite” would create serious problems with the rest of the church.

Now it looks like the Roman Catholic Church is shifting from a purely defensive strategy to a more offensive one by starting a programme to actively recruit Anglicans who are unhappy with the way the Communion is going.

Given the high level of Anglo-Catholicism out there, this is a sensible strategy for the Catholic Church. In addition to liberals and women in ministry at home, many of the conservative protagonists in the Communion outside North America and Europe have a decidedly Protestant bent to them, especially the Africans. Picking up Anglicans in the U.S. has one more advantage: they tend to be at the top of the socio-economic ladder, which would be a boost for the offering.

But our warning remains: think before you convert!

Roman Catholicism and Mark Foley: Maybe It Is Better to Wait to Convert

One of our more viewed pieces is Think Before You Convert, an overview of the pros and cons of Anglicans who are thinking about “swimming the Tiber” and becoming Roman Catholics.

It looks like we have yet another reason to think about it, because now we see that Rep. Mark Foley’s Maltese priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth did some things with the future Member of Congress that he can’t remember because of the drug-induced stupor he was in. He also did some things that he does remember, like teaching Foley some things “wrong about sex” and undoing the fly of another boy in the parish.

From a personal standpoint, such problems are too close to home because the two Catholic parishes I regularly attended in South Florida–St. Edward’s in Palm Beach and St. Thomas More in Boynton Beach–flank Sacred Heart in Lake Worth. (Click here for my reminiscence about my time at St. Thomas More.) I will say that I never had any bad experiences of this kind in either parish. But I was seventeen when I converted, and since my parish priests all looked up to me, that puts things in a different perspective. Perhaps that delay was the best thing of all.
It is the sacred duty of any man or woman who is called priest or minister to behave in a way that is reflective of the call from God that he or she has on her life. I have become hard to shock in my old age, but I find this kind of thing impossible to stomach, especially when it happened so close to home and during the time I lived “where the animals are tame and the people run wild.”

So What are You Going to do About It?

Earlier this year, my wife and I got a call from an old friend who was passing through town. He wanted to meet with us, so we met him at a restaurant. He came with his wife and daughter.

Things were pleasant enough until he decided to do what he liked to do best: spring “the controversial topic” on us. In this case, his topic was that he didn’t like the fact that a minister we supported entered into a “protocol” of common agreement with a group of Roman Catholics. It didn’t matter that he had never read this protocol, nor did he understand that it was not with the Catholic Church directly. It was evil, we were wrong in supporting anyone who did like this, and we should cease and desist at once.

Needless to say, we were not happy with this assault, especially in view of the fact that we were paying for his dinner. He went on in a classically Protestant anti-Catholic vein for some time. I tired of this and finally confronted him with the question: “What are you going to do about it?” i.e., winning Catholics to Christ.

His answer? He was transporting his family to a small island, renting a plot of land (at a below market rate) out on a point where his daughter could pursue her equestrian interests, and minister to the largely Catholic population from there. Needless to say, we were underwhelmed by this idea.

Visitors to this site know that the raw anti-Catholicism exhibited by our friend isn’t what I do. Having actually been there–and I resent being told about Roman Catholicism by those who haven’t–I certainly disagree with many things the Roman Catholic Church teaches and does, especially as it relates to the nature of the church. And I actually have read this “protocol” and have made a response to it. But the whole idea that people cannot be Christians and Catholics at the same time flies in the face of experience, if nothing else. For me, my years as a Roman Catholic were the spiritual experience of a lifetime, and the main reason why I left was because the Church was unwilling to cultivate the seed she had planted in me.

But there is another issue here: the issue of action. My friend had strong beliefs on the subject, and was more than willing to try to make my wife and I feel guilty about what what we were doing. But the key issue is this: since he thinks that Roman Catholics are going to hell, what was he planning to do to prevent it? The obvious answer was to put in motion a plan to win them. And this guy is an effective soul winner when he puts his mind to it. But to make the results of such an effort really count, you need to target a mission field on the one end and to have a place to disciple people you win on the other. And, looking at his proposed plan, he had neither. That’s why we were underwhelmed.

There are a lot of people out there that are full of talk. (Maybe you’re thinking this site is one of them!) This is true in all fields of endeavour. In this case it’s a ministry, but we have seen this in business and certainly in politics. But when the time comes for an effective plan of action, a lot of the big talkers are nowhere to be found. And many of those who do have a plan of action and are getting results are too busy working their plan to make assaults on the rest of us like our friend did.

So when you see someone come along with a lot of great sounding “good bull” (to use an old Aggie expression) just ask them the question: So what are you going to do about it? The answer will separate those who really “have the goods” from those who simply like to hear the sound of their own voice.

The Bourbons, the Democrats, and the ABC 9/11 Series

Without a doubt one of the most hilarious pieces of literature ever written is Blaise Pascal’s Provincial Letters. Written in the 1650’s, it consisted of a purported series of letters written by a Parisian to his friend in the provinces. At that time the Jesuits (with the help of the French monarchy) were attempted to suppress the Jansenists, those purveyors of serious Christianity. Pascal, coming off a dramatic conversion experience and sympathetic to the Jansenists, took an unusual tack. Instead of directly attacking the propositions of the Jesuits about their “probable opinions” (which moved in the direction of situational ethics,) he set up (for several letters at least) a Jesuit who baldly explained the content of their doctrines based on their own authorities. He clearly showed the nature of their ideas, such as how it was permissible to kill in a duel to defend one’s honour, it was okay to arrive at Mass as long as you beat the elevation of the Host, etc.

For anyone who is familiar with traditional Roman Catholicism, the work is an absolute howl. In explaining with clarity their doctrines, the “Jesuit” ends up making fun of them, just as Ned Lamont’s supporters trash their own cause in the way they attack Joe Lieberman.

But let’s look at things from another view: this was seventeenth century France, there was an absolute monarchy, books had to be printed “with the privilege of the King,” etc. Pascal wrote these anonymously; it took the public (who laughed with him) and the Jesuits (who were incensed) some time before they realised who had written it. The work put the Jesuits’ “morality” into public ridicule, but it was only a temporary reprieve: the Jesuits managed to eventually grind the Jansenists into the ground with the help of the state.

In this “modern” world of ours, we’re supposed to be past this kind of thing. But now we have the spectable of Congressional Democrats threatening to “review” ABC’s broadcast “privilege” unless it alters or pulls altogether its upcoming (hopefully) series on 9/11. This is especially amazing when we consider that ABC is certainly part of the “mainstream” media that the Democrats rely on so heavily to get their point across.

The problem with representative democracy in the United States is that it has gone on so long that we take it for granted. But, given our heavy-handed legal system, it wouldn’t take much for meaningful freedom of expression to dissappear. Naked pressure such as this is a more obvious example of this than most.

And there’s one more lesson the left needs to learn from the French. The suppression of Janesnism weakened the state of Christianity in France, opening the way for the French Revolution. The Bourbons made a pact with the devil when they joined with the Jesuits, and the devil got his balloon payment in 1789. (Remember, Rolling Stones fans?)
Weakening the security apparatus and then supressing the truth about your actions will only lead to the same kind of thing. None of the meaningful enemies of the U.S. will suffer the left to continue if they win. If the Democrats succeed in pulling this off, they will continue they suffer the same fate of Louis XVI at the hands of people who don’t mind doing it on the Internet.

Let’s hope this can be headed off, or, as the little rondeau at the start of the Provincial Letters: Retirez-vous, péchés!