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st peter's keysExamining the rest of the points made by quiavideruntoculi in his post on Honesty, one can say about the other issues he raises, much what my last post said about religious liberty, which is that one must not take one period in the last two thousand years and regard it as normative, whilst ignoring other areas.

If we take the Novus Ordo Mass.  Yes, it is certainly not what the Traditional Latin Mass is, but that Mass was a codification of what had gone before, and most certainly was not the Mass celebrated by the early Christians. Perhaps there were those at the time who disliked the changes, and wished that the Church had behaved more like the Orthodox, who still use a Liturgy from much earlier?  But the fact is that liturgies change, but they all have in common the elements we see in Justin Martyr’s description. This is true of the Paul VI Mass. Cardinal Burke, like many others, thinks it ‘man-centred’ and ‘banal’. That, I fear, is a subjective view. At the heart of any Mass is the Eucharist, and that is as true of the new Mass as all the old ones. Just because the priest faces the congregation does not make in ‘man-centred’, any more than the fact that the priest used to turn his back on the congregation made it hostile to the people. Christ is at the centre of the Mass, and it is He whom we encounter at the Eucharistic feast. That was, is, and always will be true.  We should not blame on the Mass what is rightly to be laid at the door of our society. We are a people who have lost a sense of the sacred and the Divine; our ‘culture’ produces banal products; it lacks a sense of occasion and adores informality and the self. If we see these things in the performance of the Mass, we see them outside.  It is our culture, not the reforms which is at fault.  Do I prefer one to the other? Yes, but that is not the point.

Ecumenical initiatives are as old as schisms, and whilst it is true that during the Reformation/Counter reformation period, and up to the twentieth century, the Catholic Church embarked on no formal general initiatives, it is untrue that such things are not part of the Catholic tradition.  In the 150 years which followed the split at Chalcedon, many initiatives were taken to try to bring the Church back to unity; the same was so after 1054; and since then many other initiatives have borne fruit in the form of some of the Eastern Rite churches reentering the Church. This did not happen because Popes and Bishops told the schismatics to come to heel or else, they happened because lines of communication remained opened.  Knowing what it is the Church really teaches has made it easier for generations of Anglicans and Protestants to end up in the Church.  There are those who think it would be better for the Church to turn its back on all other forms of Christianity and on all other faiths, and that is a point of view one can respect; these have not included any of the last five Popes, who have responded to disunity as their predecessors before the reformation – by entering dialogue. The other way, tried for so long, has not produced any notable results, so a return to an older tradition may well be timely.

The final part of quiavideruntoculi’s indictment, the move from a monarchical to a more collegial type of papacy is, I fear, the least defensible of all the attempts to shoehorn one way of doing things into a box labelled ‘the sole Catholic tradition’. Before Leo the Great, and afterwards, the Papacy was a more collegial affair than it was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the Apostles most certainly did not operate with Peter as absolute monarch.  Benedict XVI saw this as a move towards the sort of ‘primus inter pares’ which would allow the Orthodox (and others) to see how unwise and untrue was their fear that the Pope wanted to be an absolute monarch; in the Middle Ages that was a pattern which the Church followed. To attempt to do so now would be to make a claim which no early Pope or post-war Pope has made, and which simply would not work.

In short, the Church, on its long journey through time, carries the Eternal Truth that it is Christ’s Church and in it abides the fullness of the Faith, but it does not do that in an haughty or arrogant spirit; it is the representative of the Father, not the elder brother, and its job is Christ’s job – to bring the lost sheep to the Father and salvation. It does that as best it can, and that best is not to become an anachronism attempting to claim that the High Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation, with their special circumstances and their mores, is the whole of a tradition which is global and embraces nearly two millennia.

For a long period in the nineteenth and twentieth century, the Catholic Church’s rejection of the modern world attracted to its ranks those who shared that view, and some, like the late Evelyn Waugh, were loud in their execration of the reforms. The Church does not exist to make us comfortable in our ghetto, it exists to bring the word of Christ to the world. Of course, like all attempts to make changes too long delayed, Vatican II has produced its share of over-reaction, not because of what it contained, but because of the wilfulness of those who saw all change as an ally to their own agenda.

There, as in so many other places, lies the real culprit. It is not the reforms, it is the lack of spinal fortitude and confidence of those at the top which has led to the disarray. Our faith in our own culture and values seems in terminal decline.  Only by recovering our sense of the rock that is Christ can we reverse that.