Traditional Liturgy: The Path to True Ecumenism – Part II

The Greek and Latin rite Catholic churches of Patton, PA, built right across the street from each other – a visual example of brothers dwelling in unity.

The Second Vatican Council occurred at the heyday of the Liturgical Movement, which ideally sought to inspire a renewed appreciation for the Roman Mass and correct modern abuses that distanced Latin practices from those of the East.[1] But instead of re-harmonizing Latin practices with Greek and Syriac customs, for example by restoring the Sung Mass and its musical repertory to widespread use, the post-conciliar “reformers” rather chose the revolutionary course of conforming the Mass to a Protestant model. And ironically, in seeking a futile rapprochement with the mainline Protestants (who have only drifted further from the truth over the last 70 years with their surrender to the anti-culture), these “reformers” who profess enthusiasm for ecumenism have only further alienated the proper subjects of such outreach: the ancient Eastern Churches. Your average Orthodox layman is probably not thinking too much about recent progress in academic discussions on the Filioque, but he sure is going to notice the glaring discrepancy between the awe-inspiring Divine Liturgy at his temple and the tacky stand-up routine that the Catholic Mass across town resembles. Conversely, the obvious kinship between the Divine Liturgy on one hand, and a Sung Mass in the extraordinary form, or even a fittingly accoutered and served celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass, would be immediately apparent to him.

These observations lead us to an important point about “ecumenical” relations between East and West. Theologians can dialogue about doctrine and dogma all day, but if the lived experience of our churches on the ground, above all the sacred liturgy, does not share a clear kinship, reunion will remain elusive. An excellent Catholic-Orthodox dialogue recently hosted by the apologist Michael Lofton astutely highlighted the fact that the Great Schism was already a reality at the grassroots level of the ordinary believers even before the official break severed ties between leaders of the Eastern and Western churches. This reality is a major reason why the reunion councils of Lyons II and Florence failed to accomplish their goals, for even though the Eastern fathers recognized the political value of restoring a united Christendom, the common people in the East wanted no part in a union with Westerners who they saw as innovators. In this respect, Easterners can be termed the original “traditionalists” critiquing changes in Western Christendom, long before “traditionalism” in response to much later 19th and 20th century developments also became a phenomenon in the Latin Church. And it is also significant that both Orthodox and “trad” Catholics (except for sedevacantists) agree that an intervention of the papacy beyond its properly limited/demarcated role is at the heart of this problem.

What can we learn from all this? The restoration of communion will need to happen in the same way as its dissolution; organically, from the bottom up, through reconciliation among individual faithful and parishes before it can be officially declared by the hierarchy. Sadly, despite efforts made by post-conciliar popes and bishops to find common ground with the Orthodox churches on theoretical aspects of our faith, we might as well still be living back in 1054, considering the way regular Orthodox Christians out on the ground practically perceive the Latin Church in her rites and customs, with all-too frequent liturgical irreverence and apparent distain for tradition. Most everything the Orthodox see and hear going on in your average Catholic parish today is only going to reinforce their belief that Rome has departed from ancient apostolic Christianity. We often hear from the Holy Father about the need to be “pastoral” with our separated brethren. Perhaps a good place to begin would be bringing back beautiful, reverent, and traditional liturgy.

[1] The most important of these abuses was the general turn away from the Solemn/High Sung Mass and the venerable musical repertory of Gregorian chant and polyphony which grew out of it, to on one hand either the inappropriate use of the Low Mass (a private monastic innovation) in parish settings, or on the other the notorious “theatrical” (operatic) Masses which became popular especially in Italy during the 19th Century, necessitating the condemnation of Pope St. Pius X.

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