instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, September 03, 2012

Does the Church Militant have a Missal Gap?

I learned yesterday that Carlo Cardinal Martini, Archbishop of Milan from 1980 to 2002, died this past Friday. Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

The news of his death was, alas, the framing story for the news of his final interview; in which (intentionally or not) he bequeaths a small pile of bricks to progressive Catholics (and, in a foreseeable wrinkle I didn't foresee, to non-Catholics who don't like the Church) for their use against conservative Catholics.

Having characterized the interview as a weapons cache, I have no animus toward Cardinal Martini for what he said. Under the circumstances -- 84 years old, a Cardinal for nearly 30 of those years, coming home to die, often feeling a sense of helplessness over the state of the Church today -- he can say what's on his mind, as far as his own prudence allows him.

One of the red hot pull-quotes from the interview is this:
The Church is 200 years out of date.
Marcel LeJeune (in a piece I found via The Curt Jester) reflects on that statement:
But is this true? Is the Catholic Church out of touch, out of date, and does it need to change?
As much as I love the fact that he starts by asking, "But is this true?," I have to note that, in his answer, he adds an implication that is not present in Cardinal Martini's statement:
It is true that when we look at the Church through the lens of modern western culture, that the Church is not trendy. Church leaders are not interested in changing doctrine to keep up with the times. It seems the Church is too old and stuck in her ways.
Where'd that "changing doctrine" bit come from?

Where it came from, of course, is the progressive Catholic camp, in which, "The Church is 200 years behind," implies that the Church should be following right behind Western culture.

But that implication is not present in the Cardinal's last interview. True, he proposes changing sacramental discipline to allow (at least under some circumstances) divorced and remarried couples to receive the Eucharist. But his proposal looks to me to accord with what he sees as orthodox sacramental and ecclesiological theology. He may be wrong about that -- I wouldn't know; I find Church teaching on marriage to be far more confusing and mysterious than Church teaching on the Trinity -- but he is not (as far as I can tell) arguing that Church doctrine needs to change.

Moreover, he is certainly right when he says, "If [remarried] parents feel outside the Church or do not feel the support, the Church will lose the next generation." What is the Church's response to that fact? "No worries, we'll catch them with our new social media network"?

In any case, Catholics are wrong to wave away the statement, "The Church is 200 years behind," as though it meant, "The Church is not trendy." If your country was 200 years behind its aggressive neighbor in military technology, you wouldn't say, "Who needs a trendy army?" For that matter, do conservative Catholics object to complaints that the music at Mass, or their parish DRE, is 30 years out of date?

I think the primary point of Cardinal Martini's diagnosis is that there is much in Church culture that, being incomprehensible to the world, is an unnecessary impediment to the preaching of the Gospel. He may be right or wrong about what, specifically, in Church culture is an unnecessary impediment; he may be right or wrong about what to do about a specific unnecessary impediment.

But surely it's true that Catholics have underthought how "what Catholics do" can interfere with "what Catholics have been commissioned by Jesus to do." I wrote a bunch of words recently about the ineffectivity (not to say disinterest) of Catholic parishes in the United States at forming disciples of Jesus Christ. Does it matter, fundamentally, whether that's because Catholic parishes are still doing what they did in 1975, or 1957, rather than 1810?

More concretely, I don't agree with Cardinal Martini that "our rites and our vestments are pompous." But if -- if -- it came to it, which am I more willing to give up, vestments or souls?