No silent spectators

Traditionalists have much to celebrate in Sacrosanctum Concilium, or, put negatively, they have many just grounds of complaint against the actual liturgy of the contemporary Church. Latin should, for example, be given pride of place and Gregorian chant should be the normal and familiar music of the Mass. But Traditionalists have to eat their peas too, and one of the central texts in this vein is Paragraph 48:

The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators (muti spectatores); on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration

Had the Church been content to speak of “participation” or even “full collaboration” the EF Mass could have gotten away with more or less superficial revisions (demanded by paragraph 50). Silent spectators can still consciously participate in an action. But to rule out muti spectatores requires, at minimum, that the laity say a good portion of what the altar boys once said and that we carve out more opportunities for speaking during the eucharistic prayer. I’ve been a part of many traditionalist communities, and not one of them was bothered by not being faithful to the council on this point. If anything, it is an unspoken point of pride among traditionalists to stay silent and be inactive during the liturgy – the allergy that most traditionalists have to the kiss of peace in the Novus Ordo is a case in point.

Vatican II clearly wanted the liturgy to be a public act performed by all the faithful, though in a way that preserved the difference between the sacramental priesthood and that of all believers. If there is any doubt on this point it dies soon after reading the Catechism of Vatican II (cf. CCC 114041) The revisions of the Mass (and of church architecture) are most sympathetically understood as attempts to promote the liturgy as communal prayer. The attempts don’t have to be viewed as successful, but we can’t drop the goal at which they aim. That said, the roadblocks to celebrating mass as a collective ritual are substantial and do not suggest any easy solution. We have insisted for centuries that religion is a matter of personal belief as opposed to collective practice, and our age of mobilization makes any stable community difficult. But it’s the duty of those of us who don’t have the answer to keep the question alive until it can find a reformer of genius and/or a road to an organic response.

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6 Comments

  1. RP said,

    March 9, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Full participation: crummy music, crummy congregational singing, popping up and down as yo-yos, spreading germs (as bad as with hospitals and grade school), never a moment without noise, millions of sacriligious communions?

    As opposed to traditionalist silence so one can see and hear and understand with the heart, be properly disposed for Eucharistic reception, Catholic worship rather than a Protestant service?

    Ah well. By the end of the year there will be almost no Catholic church left. It is to be replaced by the Lutheric church.

    • March 9, 2017 at 8:51 am

      Catholics can disagree with the means, but not with the goal of no silent spectators, which is a black-letter demand by an Ecumenical Council and therefore has to be taken as the voice of the Holy Spirit. You don’t seem to address either goals or means, though. Complaints like yours get made all the time but they turn on things that are either not part of the Mass revisions as such or are, at best, less than perfect attempts to realize them. There are no rubrics for clown masses or the Gather hymnal. So what are traditionalists doing to better implement the goals of the Council?

      Complaint is enjoyable and perhaps even necessary, but after the last complaint we either have to start thinking about solutions or admit we have none, and going back to the status quo ante is a solution ruled out by the Council. Silent spectators are not an option. Now what?

  2. RP said,

    March 9, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Who can argue against the voice of the Holy Spirit? One may ask however why this voice led to such a collapse in the Church, why so many nuns, priests and bishops, guided by this same voice (just ask them) have become heretics and dissenters.

    But anyway, it’s ‘pastoral’, not doctrinal or dogmatic, this suggestion of everyone making noise throughout the Mass. We can further ask what good it has done.

    An obvious sign of “tak[ing] part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration” is nearly everyone receiving Communion. That’s full collaboration, is it not?

    And if I’m not mistaken it was Pius XII that started the dialog Mass, not VC II.

    • March 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      But anyway, it’s ‘pastoral’, not doctrinal or dogmatic, this suggestion of everyone making noise throughout the Mass.

      It’s a principle to be applied in revising the Mass. Use whatever adjective to describe it you want – but how is it to be applied?

      An obvious sign of “tak[ing] part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration” is nearly everyone receiving Communion. That’s full collaboration, is it not?

      Maybe it is, but what does it do about the problem of silent spectators?

      One may ask however why this voice led to such a collapse in the Church, why so many nuns, priests and bishops, guided by this same voice (just ask them) have become heretics and dissenters.

      You’re making a historical claim about a significant collapse and suggesting it’s caused by the Council, but even if we had some metric to measure degrees of “collapse in the Church” there is no reason to think that the post-60’s age would tip the historical scales all that much (bear in mind that there are a lot more persons alive now than in the past, and so absolute numbers of any social phenomenon will be larger, and it’s not even clear that the numbers could scale if we had them). For all I know, this metric-of-collapse-we-don’t-have would lead us to predict even more corruption than we found after the Council.

  3. RP said,

    March 9, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    The metric you are looking for is the number of, “nuns, priests and bishops, guided by this same voice (just ask them) have become heretics and dissenters.” This explains much of the loss of faith among the laity. Would this have happened without VCII? Maybe, but there is little or no evidence the rot would have spread so quickly had there been no council.

    And while no one can argue against the Holy Spirit it can be argued that those claiming to hear this voice really do so or not. Are we to take their word for it or judge by its results and its conformity to 2000 years of previous Church teachings?

  4. RP said,

    March 10, 2017 at 5:17 am

    “silent spectators”

    Louis of Granada writes, “Be convinced then, that the ultimate goal of your life is familiar and intimate converse with God. Close your eyes to everything else and employ your efforts in this one activity. This is the purpose for which you were created and it is the most excellent work to which you could dedicate yourself.”

    And Aquinas, “Now, the conversation of man with God is by contemplation of Him.”

    Maritain, “But what is contemplation in itself? Contemplation is a silent prayer which takes place in recollection in the secret of the heart, and is directly ordered to union with God.” But read the first three chapters of his Liturgy and Contemplation.

    One may think (I think) that the Mass is the perfect place for contemplation. But try it at a NO Mass: continual noise and distractions (often from the priest himself).


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