Of course, it would hardly surprise anyone to learn that the last few popes have been of the same mind. In 1987, Cardinal Ratzinger complained,
"Not only assistant pastors, but sometimes even bishops have the feeling that they are not loyal to the [Second Vatican] council if they celebrate Holy Mass exactly as it is printed in the Missale: at least one 'creative' formula must be slipped in, no matter how banal it might be. Of course, the bourgeois greeting of the audience and if possible also the friendly greetings at leave taking have already become an obligatory element of the sacred action which scarcely anyone dare omit" ("Liturgy and Church Music," Sacred Liturgy 112, 1986. pp 13-22).
For as long as I can remember, I have believed that the Mass ought to be celebrated "exactly as it is printed in the Missale." Obviously I do not believe that this exhausts the meaning of the liturgy - as Pius XII wrote, "No less erroneous is the notion that [the liturgy] consists solely in a list of laws and prescriptions according to which the ecclesiastical hierarchy orders the sacred rites to be performed" (Mediator Dei). This is what rubricism is; and I do not believe that I am a rubricist.
In this respect, I would consider my position a "middle way" - emphasizing both fidelity to liturgical law and the deeper meaning of our participation in the saving work of God. But this is certainly not the common understanding of the "middle way." Mary Testin attempted to define a "middle way" in her column "The Rite Stuff" published monthly in Ministry and Liturgy. She describes the two extremes as follows:
"In the first camp, they believe worship should entertain and be enjoyable at all times; in the second camp, a narrow self-righteousness is evident in slavish adherence toward the rules that guide worship, as if God will not make an appearance if the wrong formula of gesture is used."
Thus naturally, for Testin, the "middle way" means that the liturgy is sometimes fun, and sometimes faithful to the rubrics. Of course, the rest of her article emphasizes the need for those involved in liturgy to have a thorough training, as well as a familiarity with the liturgical documents of Vatican II--on this I could not agree more. But nevertheless, I fail to see where those documents allow liturgical aberrations, much less encourage them, much less term full obedience as "slavish adherence" or "narrow self-righteousness."
Note the intense derogation lobbied against the more rigorous attitude. Perhaps resident inside the minds of most American bishops and priests is a little miniature Mary Testin, threatening with accusations of "extremist" and "self-righteous" against any temptation to follow liturgical prescriptions to the letter. Thus, "at least one 'creative' formula must be slipped in" as testament, as proof, that "I" am a sweet, moderate, tolerant person; not at all like those liturgical bigots who follow all the rules.
There is a kind of paradox in all of this; that a sense of moderate-ness (in the shape of liturgical idiosyncrasies) is enforced with a language and pressure of such extreme pathos. Now every long-experienced priest is expected to have his own "signature" rubrical violations. To not have such a signature is itself the only grievous violation. Conformity is the most heinous non-conformity. Worse still is the expectation that others follow suit.
I point this out to illustrate a central "post-modernizing" doctrine of my own: that to oppose the alleged narrowness of "orthodoxy" is not necessarily to support the broadness of an "anydoxy"--the anydoxy itself is bordered by a strict patrol, and is rooted in doctrines with all the same historically conditioned baggage. What we have are not orthodoxy and its opposite; but two competing orthodoxies. The question is not: are you a sheep following a shepherd, or are you not? The question is: sheep, which shepherd are you following?
Of course, "relativizing the relativizers" (a phrase coined by Peter Berger, who's philosophy I detest) is a favorite past time of conservative post-modernizers. It also misses the point. Presumably I should have a reason why full obedience is important, beyond circular reference to authority in Rome. And I do.
To repeat myself, I do not believe that liturgical rubrics constitute the whole liturgical meaning or even its greater part. In fact I would rank it last. As proof that I am not merely playing the crowd, I recently wrote a twenty-page paper concerned exclusively with the liturgy. Mention of rubrics was consigned to a single sentence: "To be sure, the directives of the Magisterium should be obeyed within good pastoral time, for they themselves serve the liturgical aesthetic in their own way (and our obedience manifests the humility of the handmaiden)."
In a previous post, I likened my liturgical priorities to the Hierarchy of Needs crafted by Abraham Maslow in the 1940's. No doubt that comparison needs some revision.
In fact, a healthier--because traditional--comparison might be with the Gifts of the Spirit, fresh in my mind now that I recently taught a Confirmation class on the subject.
- Fear of the Lord
"Fear is chiefly required as being the foundation, so to speak, of the perfection of the other gifts, for "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 110:10; Sirach 1:16), and not as though it were more excellent than the others. Because, in the order of generation, man departs from evil on account of fear (Proverbs 16:16), before doing good works, and which result from the other gifts" (IIa.q68.a7).
Fear of the Lord is the least of the Gifts, but also the most necessary, because a foundation of the others. In an analogous way (or even moreso), obedience of the rubrics is the least of the goods of the liturgy, but for that very reason the most necessary, because on it the others rest.
All of this rests on a sacramental understanding of Church. The whole Church--the baptized--is the sacrament of Christ's body. Yet what is much rarely said is that, for this very reason, the institutional Church--the Pope and bishops--are the sacrament of Christ's head; that is, of Jesus himself. Certainly, the sacramental association of God with the ordained hierarchy leaves a bad taste in people's mouths. But if we take the notion of sacrament seriously, then piety toward the pastors of the Church (in the right exercise of their office) is, by extension, piety toward Christ, and in Christ, the whole Trinity.
Now, obviously, the fact that few local clergy shed a tear when rubrics are flouted is not an indication of a deficient piety toward God. Yet it does imply a harsh denial of the sacramental connection between the magisterium and Christ himself. It is one of the ironies of liberal Catholicism. Though it is apparently a-gush with the intimacy of God-with-us-here-now-lovey-wuvey-huggy-kumbaya; where precisely the nearness of God would issue forth in the need for humble obedience to concrete ritual, suddenly God is Almighty-Transcendent-Unknowable-Mysterious-Everlasting-Not-Man's [read: "Magisterium's"]-Way.
I speculate that the root of this irony is the desacramentalization of the concept of God's intimacy. In other words, God is not close in the sense that he in present in particular individuals (the scandal of Eucharistic, incarnational faith); but rather he is close to us in a rational, general, egalitarian way. We are all equally aufgehoben into Godself; thus hierarchy has no place.