Monday, July 16, 2007

Crossan on the Pope's Motu Proprio

Ex-priest, Dominic Crossan has weighed in on the Pope's allowance of the pre-Vatican II Mass:

If a religion changes, it may go wrong; if it does not, it must go

The most serious delusion of [religious] leaders is to think that they alone are in sole charge of a community’s past, present, or future. It is ultimately the
community—which is simply the incarnate and living tradition—that will determine
what stays and what goes, what changes and what develops. And, for community,
tradition, or hierarchy, it is ultimately impossible to hold back the inevitable
future by returning to the abandoned past.

In terms of Roman Catholicism, our ancestors in faith began with Aramaic, changed to Greek, then tried Latin, and finally, moved into the various vernaculars. If we wish to revert to our linguistic origins, why just to Latin, why not to Aramaic with Jesus or Greek with the New Testament?

Finally, I suggest this meditation for Pope Benedict—courteously, of course, as one author of a Jesus-book to another. When the People of God were on trek towards their Promised Land, they needed both a Leader and some Scouts. The Scouts went ahead and were the first to enter the Promised Land—although they did end up there on some surprising rooftops. The Scouts returned and reported what was up ahead. They had seen the future and the People followed them into it. But the Leader never made it into the Promised Land. He only glimpsed it from the peak of Pisgah and was buried in the midst of Moab.

Read his post in its entirety. Tip of the hat to Mark Goodacre.
I want to say three things about this.
First, Crossan's response which warns against religious leaders imposing forms of practice on believers is bewildering to me. The Pope has not ordered anyone to celebrate the older form of the Mass. In fact, the Pope is simply saying that those people who wish to celebrate that form of the Mass should be allowed to do so. Sounds like a "brokerless" solution!
This is the exact opposite of the kind of leadership Crossan cautions against! Up until now there has been a top-down suppression of the older Mass in certain areas. The Pope is doing precisely what Crossan would seem to indicate religious leaders should do--allow the people more flexibility in choosing how to express their faith.
Second, Dr. Crossan, I've got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that you'll be pleased to hear that the younger generation of Catholics is following their parents' generation's example of rebellion against worn out ways. The bad news is that it is the very ideas of your generation that they are rebelling against!
Crossan's stress on the importance of change seems to neglect a very important point. Take a poll and you'll find that it is younger Catholics like myself--not fifty-somethings--who feel drawn to more ancient expressions of faith. Indeed, there is a "change in the air." But it is not the kind of movement toward experimentation the hippie generation proposed. The children of the sixties' generation are indeed looking for a change--they think many of the experiments of their parents failed and they want a change away from that approach.
It is this generation of Catholics who are more inclined to agree with the kind of sentiment expressed by G. K. Chesterton: "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of this age."
People like Crossan might not want to admit it but those who use those "new" phrases, either ecclesiological ones like "We-Are-Church," or academic ones such as "the Secret Gospel of Mark" are quickly beginning to look less like advocates of fresh ideas and more like dinosaurs.
Finally, in response to Dominic Crossan's meditation on Moses' failure to see what the scouts who were sent ahead had discovered in the promised land, I would like to propose another. Returning to the time of the Israelites in the desert, I'd like to highlight another story. In Exodus 32 the people decided to worship the Lord in a way that was opposed to the pattern revealed to them through God's chosen representative, Moses. It was a radical attempt by the people to re-define worship in a way more culturally acceptable in their age. Up until that time all the Israelites were to be priests (Exod 19:6). After that, none of them were priests... the Israelites became ex-priests.
That is, with the exception of the Levites, who followed God's representative, Moses, and led Israel in the worship God prescribed through him.


Charles Sommer said...

There is also a problem with Crossan's use of Numbers. When Caleb told the assembly that they should attack now, the Scouts replied, "We cannot attack these people; they are stronger than we are" (Num 13:31).

These are not men who made it into the Promised Land. Because of their advice, the people wandered in the Desert for another 40 years. I wish Crossan would read texts in context!

Danny Garland Jr. said...

"the Israelites became ex-priests"

Much like Crossan who is an ex-priest!

Theocoid said...

Heh, CS. I was going to mention the same thing. Sorta proves the Holy Father's point for him.

Kim said...

I think Crossan is disappointed that the Pope shot down his proposal to have the priests change into different color vestments based on what parts of the liturgy the people voted and either liked or disliked.

rags said...

Notice Crossan's impressive resume - "as one author of a Jesus-book to another." Nice source of authority. I wrote a paper once on the Gospel of John, where does that put me on the ecclesial hierarchy?

MB, thanks for making the connection to Exodus 32. I find that very insightful.


Anonymous said...

Another classic example of how this whole MP business is being coverred as though it was all about Latin: never mind that the Novus Ordo can be celebrated in Latin at any time, and one consequence of the MP in the long run could well be the Old Rite in a hieratic vernacular (e.g. "Prayer Book" English) as well as in Latin. This vernacular thing is a bit of a read herring: Crossan wants to go back to Jesus? Well, guess what, in His day, people were quite happily using liturgically the Hebrew they hadn't spoken for a number of centuries. And when the Church began to use Latin liturgically in the second and third centuries, it was hardly the Latin of the local taverna, where, doubtless, Crossan would have preferred to celebrate Mass had he been around then.

I entirely agree with your point about younger generations and ancient expressions, and would wish to add that, in many cases, one of the reasons for this is a ever deepening awareness of the Jewish background and context of Catholic Christianity, e.g. temple/liturgy matters). "Crossan-type Christianities" have rarely impressed serious minded Jews.

Lonnie B said...

It's nice to know that the current generation are rebelling against hippies, especially since hippies are just about extinct--a rather pointless rebellion. There is nothing open minded about de-supressing the Latin form of the Mass; it is the first step toward its reimposition.

It is crucial to note that ALL forms of Mass are suppressed except a very select few versions sanctioned by Cannon Law and various instructions. The author's problems with his parents cloud his liturgical musings. I was taught that there were two ways to participate in the old Latin rite Mass: (1) struggle with your Latin/English Missal (Book) to keep up somehow with the priest, his back rather rudely facing me, babbling in a dead language. (2) Give it up and say the rosary--like who cares what's actually going on up there? For the record, I ALWAYS struggled with my battered St. Joseph's Missal.

Even though I never became a hippie (about one one millionth of my generation did, for about 10 minutes) I welcomed the Mass in the vernacular, although the early liturgical music was like early Gregorian Chant: simple and nascent.

It wasn't change itself that we relished; just change to something better, understandable, meaningful, interesting, and warm.

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