16 July 2016


A liturgical form can have full canonical status; and when it does, it is clear that a cleric is (for example) fulfilling his obligation to the Office by using it. But the Latin term auctoritas has a more subtle sense than mere canonical liceity. It might suggest the personal influence which a player in Roman politics had, quite distinct from any imperium which he might enjoy as a result of a magistracy which he held. Or a sense of authoritativeness or impressiveness, of personal prestige or repute; we all know the sort of person who, perhaps in a committee or gathering, is listened to the moment he opens his mouth and whose interventions invite a respect out of all proportion to his merely legal status. It is a characteristic of the Good Woman in Proverbs that her husband is great among the elders at the gate; when such people are moved to utterance, other people put their hands to their mouths. In our secular politics, the policies which were embodied in the manifesto of a government which has won power by a sweeping majority have auctoritas greater than the ideas dreamed up last night by a premier who is holding onto power by his fingertips ... although the constitutional power may be formally the same in each case.


Auctoritas as opposed to mere canonical liceity has always had a place in Liturgy. When manualists such as the admirable O'Connell talked about a custom which is even contra legem enjoying by virtue of its longevity not merely liceity but even prescription above the letter of the rubric, it is in a way auctoritas that they are talking about. But I contend that the radical changes that followed Vatican II raise the question of auctoritas in new, difficult, and acute forms. The basic reason for this is the most striking novelty involved in post-Conciliar liturgical texts: multiple choices facing a celebrant or a worshipping community as they prepare to celebrate a rite. What every celebrant said daily at every altar of the Roman Rite throughout the world for centuries obviously had enormous auctoritas. A novel formula which has just been put on some menu from which choices are to be made, manifestly has very much less. Whereas, before the Council, something that auctoritas urged one to do was broadly in line with what was canonically licit, after the Conciliar 'reforms' auctoritas and liceity might find themselves standing further and further apart from each other.


I strongly agree with Joseph Ratzinger's view that there is something highly questionable about the idea that a Roman Pontiff can do anything especially if backed by a mandate of an ecumenical council. Still less would I agree that legislative bodies inferior to the Pontiff himself have such power. I would contend that what is wrong with that idea is, among other things, its forgetfulness of liturgical auctoritas. And my inclination is to believe that, in many and important respects, the 'reforms' went beyond the conciliar mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium (praeter concilium) and, even more problematically, in some cases directly contradicted it (contra concilium). In my view, changes praeter Concilium have less auctoritas than those which do rest on a conciliar mandate; and changes contra Concilium raise, as Benedict XVI implied, extremely acute difficulties with regard to their auctoritas.

I expect some Catholic readers may feel uneasy about the path I am treading. This is because the Catholic Church, more than most ecclesial bodies, has a deeply ingrained sense of Law. This makes it easy for Roman Catholics to underestimate the force of auctoritas. But Benedict XVI was appealing directly to this when he wrote "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful". In so teaching, in so using the word "cannot", he was not speaking in terms of canonical or legislative details; he was arguing theologically.

Cardinal Nichols, or his advisers, were quite mistaken in their arguments, drawn from misunderstood details in the Latin of legislative texts, in claiming the illegality of celebrating the Novus Ordo versus apsidem (incidentally, if this were so, why have successive Archbishops of Westminster since Vatican II never brought the Brompton Oratory to heel?).  

But, even had they been right, this would not have dimished the overwhelming force, based on well-nigh universal custom and Patristic testimony, of the auctoritas of versus Orientem and versus apsidem.


Tony V said...

Did Cdl Nichols actual say it was 'illegal' to celebrate versus populum? Or did he merely point out that GIRM indicates that it's preferable to celebrate it that way (which I believe is the plain and logical reading of the text, well-meaning syntactic acrobatic notwithstanding), and that in his diocese his troops had better toe his line?

I'm not saying this to defend Cdl Nichols in the least. As has been pointed out many times by now, if he wants to curb liturgies deformed by 'personal taste' there's plenty of illicit behaviours to attend to within the shadow of his own cathedral.

mark wauck said...

While I have a wide range of disagreements with various of Ratzinger's theological views, one of the very real strong points of his thinking is his keen awareness of the Church as a true society and body existing in history--not merely an institution to be manipulated by those who happen to have their hands on the levers of power, without regard for the members of that body. In that light, Ratzinger's view is remarkably strongly stated: not only is it the case that what earlier generations held as sacred SHOULD not be "all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful" but it "CANNOT be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful". And further, it "remains sacred and great for us too". This is really remarkably put and deserves to be meditated upon. Of course this is a recognition of a fundamental principle of Church law, but that in this day and age he should have restated it so forcefully ...

El Codo said...

Well put Father and thank you again.

Thomas said...

@Tony V: Far be it from me to take on the mantle of a Latinst, especially on this august blog (how my poor Latin master would have laughed, or maybe he would he would be relieved), but that is not "the plain and logical reading of the text". It only looks like it if you think in English not Latin, the language of the original text. Modern English being a non-inflected language relies on the order of subordinate clauses to convey relative meanings, whereas Latin does not rely on word order to convey complex correlations of thought but on grammatical agreement between words, which it does very precisely.

It is not "well-meaning syntactic acrobatic(s)" to take note of this, it is simply a matter of proper and accurate understanding of what a key Church document really says, esepcailly when it is being publicly invoked as authoritative in a debate of great moment. What "Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit." means in straightforward English is "The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is desirable wherever possible so that it is easy to walk round it and celebration can take place at it facing the people."

The Latin puts the reason for (ut) the desirability of the action before the relative clause (quod) that refers back to the main proposition (altar set apart from the wall). The relative clause simply can't refer to anything else because of the grammatical case used. This sort of an inversion or concatenation of clauses quite common in Latin style (how am I doing Father H?).

However, if that Latin word order is replicated directly when translating into English it misses the point and shifts the real meaning. It is clear that the Latin does envisage Mass facing the people as a possibility, and it says that it is desirable that the arrangement of the high altar should not exclude that option where that is possible. But the text does not promote this as the default or even preferred option, let alone make it compulsory.
By the way I am far from being a died i the wool "traditionalist" in the now common perception of the term, but words and meanings matter. We can debate the desirability of liturgical forms and practices but not on the basis of faulty interpretation and therefore misuse of authoritative texts.

ansgarus said...

"What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful"

Unfortunately, exact this happened already when - all of a sudden - , S. Pius X forbid with his Bull "Divino Afflatu" - and even considered harmful - the further use of the traditional Roman arrangement of the Psalter, which had been in use in the Roman Breviary for centuries, stating "harum auctoritate litterarum ante omnia Psalterii ordinem, qualis in Breviario Romano hodie est, abolemus ejusque usum...omnino interdicimus. Ex illo autem die..Novum Psalterii ordinem... religiose observari iubemus. Simul vero poenas in jure statuas iis denuntiamus qui suo officio persolvendi quotidie Horas canonicas defuerint; qui quidem sciant se tam gravi non satisfacturos officio, nisi Nostram hunc Psalterii ordinem adhibeant. ... Si quis autem hoc attentare praesumpserit, indignationem omnipotentis Dei, ac beatorum Petri et Pauli, Apostolorum eius, se noverit incursurum. "

S. Pius X not only considered it harmful to continue the use of the traditional Roman Psalter, but even announced anyone how would dare to infringe this his new law the indignation of God Himself.

This is the kind of Auctoritas, which finally counts in the daily life of the church, not theological considerations, and I really had hoped that Benedict XVI when he still was in possession of the authority of the Chair of St. Peter, would have issued a decree firmly stating that every Catholic Priest shall be allowed to use any rite which was officially in use in the universal or the local church to which a priest belongs, at least as far as rites are concerned which were in use for centuries, like the traditional Roman Psalter abolished by S. Pius X. And this right should have been extended also to musicians so that f.i. the Mozart Requiem again could be lawfully applied in a traditional funeral service. Currently, at least since 1958, on days of black or violet liturgical Color, the use of instruments is forbidden, and thus also this most beautiful piece of music can not be performed anymore in its correct liturgical context. The same problem church musicians are facing frequently when they try to perform historical music adequately.

Unknown said...

I don't know that local ordinaries have the right of visitation to churches of the Congregation of the Oratory. I understood the Oratorians to enjoy a somewhat unusual canonical status, which might be said to be something like being secular canons of the Diocese of Rome outside of the Diocese of Rome. So they are free to own private property, and to live a common life while not bound by vows of stability, and are independent of local authorities. I had always thought that this was the reason they have been able to enjoy a liturgical life free from the ditties of the St. Louis Jesuits, and part of their growing popularity as a choice through which to live one's vocation to the Presbyterate.

Peter said...

I wonder if another aspect of this is that the instruction for the GIRM 299 seems to come from Inter oecumenici http://www.adoremus.org/Interoecumenici.html#anchor36495058
not in Chapter 2 Mystery of the Eucharist I. ORDO MISSAE (SC art. 50) but in Chapter 5 Designing Churches and Altars to Facilitate Active Participation of the Faithful in the section II. MAIN ALTAR (no reference to SC for this bit I note).
It seems odd to put an instruction (or guidance) as to how to say Mass not in the section on that but in the architectural section. Does this support or undermine its authority?

Matthew Roth said...

Certainly, there is far greater auctoritas in a practice dating to the Fathers than one dating to 1965. But the longer the Novus Ordo is used unreformed in rubrics and in actual practice, facing the people acquires more legitimacy and authority based on it being the predominant practice of the people. Is it really so simple as there being no conciliar mandate and in fact it being beyond the mandate? What about Sacrosanctum concilium itself? It has quite remarkable doctrinal teachings, but I think the second half rather completes the damage done to the Roman Rite (and then imposed on the Ambrosian, Mozarabic, and Carthusian rites), but it gives the template for reform. Based on this, should the 1965 Ordo Missae and the expanded use of the vernacular promulgated via Inter oecumenici be allowed? I think its quick revision shows it has limited auctoritas, but it has more than the Pauline missal. Perhaps this is circular, but it does make the pre–Pius XII Mass rubrics and, by and large, texts the more definitive liturgy; the office is a mess, to say the least, thanks to Papa Barberini and Papa Sarto.

mark wauck said...

@ ansgarus and Matthew Roth: Thanks.

Matthew Roth said...

The provisions of De Musica Sacra, except for the singing of the Communion antiphon at the distribution and not at the ablutions, are routinely ignored. This was the case in the 1950s and 1960s. The Mozart was sung in Jan. 1964 at a Pontifical Mass sung for John F. Kennedy. Also, Mozart’s Requiem is not the best choice; in fact, the Kennedy Mass was the first major usage of the setting in these USA. The FaurĂ© and DuruflĂ© settings are much more appropriate choices which use instrumental accompaniment.

Tony V said...

@Thomas: Trust me, you've been misled.

It's obvious that semantically quod cannot have any noun (such as altare) in the sentence as its antecendent; semantically the subject of expedit must be either an entire clause or a verb. Either of these would be treated as a neuter singuar. (Historically, Proto-Italic infinitives were verbal nouns. Compare English: "To err is human...", where the infinitive functions as the subject of is.)

So, if we take quod as a neuter singular nominative relative pronoun (rather than as a conjunction), then semantically it must refer to an entire clause (or its constituent verb, if non-finite): (a) Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, (b) facile circumiri , or (c) in eo celebratio versus populum peragi. The natural reading is for the antecedent to be the nearest clause (c), not the most remote (a).

Fr Z has declined to print my correction of his well-meant but unconvincing translation, so I'll re-post it here and see if it sticks:

"... Simply put, unless there is a grammatical reason that compels a pronoun to refer to a more remote antecedent (for instance, agreement in number and gender), then the natural reading, semantically and pragmatically (I use that term in its linguistic sense), even in highly inflected languages like Latin, classical Greek, Sanskrit and Russian, is to take that antecedent which is closest.
Just as in English (which isn’t that far removed from Latin), if I’ve just mentioned Bob the linguist and then make the comment, ‘He’s an awkward old cuss,’ most listeners would understand I’m talking about Bob and not Harry, whom I described several breaths before. But wait, you say, couldn’t you actually have meant Harry when you said ‘he’? Well, yes, I might have done, but most people would assume the opposite and would only raise the question if they knew Bob to be the most pleasant person in the land and Harry to be just the opposite. Pronouns can be the cause of ambiguity; in fact, my wife seems to switch antecedents at random. But unless my wife wrote GIRM, and she assures me she didn’t, then Fr Z’s interpretation remains forced.

Bottom line: GIRM is not your friend. Yes, there may be vestiges of ad orientem sprinked here and there that its authors missed and failed to suppress, but on the whole it is very much a ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ type document. The most you can argue for on 299 is ambiguity; anything more than that is wishful thinking. And while it’s a nice wish, it’s never going to convince the Cdl Nicholses of this world." [end]

By the way, there is a huge literature on Wh-Movement (to use the Chomskyan term) in general and a considerable sub-literature focusing on the IE classical languages: for starters, you can try Danckaert's Latin Embedded Clauses: The Left Periphery. His examples, not surprisingly, are drawn from classical authors, not ecclesiastical, but I think that Fr H would agree that if anything the stylistic device that you (Thomas) refer to above and which linguists sometimes call "scrambling" was much more evident in Cicero et al. than in late 20th century Vatican-issued documents.

Tony V said...

PS. It would be interesting to perform a textual analyis of the Latin GIRM to examine the syntax of relative pronouns therein. I say "it would be interesting" because I'm not committing myself to undertake it; I've got enough on at the mo. But a quick run of the Latin text shows that in nearly 4000 sentences, we have 820 instances of potential relative pronouns, including 103 instances of "quod".

Strangely, this reminds me of my undergraduate thesis on Finnish case marking. In those days Basic was the most sophisticated language we had at our disposal. (The corpus I used was a popular Finnish novel chosen more or less at random.) PCs were of course unheard of--one used the university computer lab. O tempora, o mores!