Opinion: Convenient incoherence in Charleston – Catholic World Report

Why give a patently absurd reason for restricting the use of the old books, when none at all would be perfectly fine?

Opinion: Convenient incoherence in Charleston – Catholic World Report
Pope Francis greets Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., during a meeting with U.S. bishops from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina at the Vatican Feb. 13, 2020. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

I have a friend who practices labor law in a state that has “at will” employment, meaning that some employers can terminate some employees at will – no reason given, no questions asked – without much or even any warning.

He tells me that employers don’t always ace the difference between “no reason” and “any reason” – very different animals, if you take a beat to think about it – and the result of their confusion is frequently significant trouble of the expensive kind.

Employers who might simply say, “Thanks, but I don’t need you tomorrow, or ever again,” instead say – for example – that they don’t like the look of the fellow they’re letting go, or something of the sort. That’s usually not a valid justification for dismissal. Especially when the employee has a pretty decent service record, things can go badly for the employer.

I mention this as a way into the attempt of the Diocese of Charleston to justify its ban on Christmas Mass at Midnight in the old rite.

“[B]efore Vatican II,” a Charleston diocesan spokeswoman told the Catholic News Agency, “the Mass could not be celebrated after 12:00 p.m. on a Sunday and not before midnight the day before a major feast day.” So far, so good.

“Thus,” the spokeswoman continued, “there is no permission in the rubrics to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass on Christmas Eve.”

Wait, what?

I called the diocesan comms director in Charleston; no answer. I sent her an email, asking whether CNA quoted her correctly. No response as of press time, but it is Thanksgiving this week. Seriously, it’s not that I think the guys at CNA got her wrong, it’s just so entirely improbable that anyone could offer that with a straight face.

Leave aside that Mass at Midnight is on exactly the right side of both those terms – not after noon on the day, nor before midnight – and consider that the practice, the custom, has been in place since the first half of the first millennium of Christianity.

It’s mind-bogglingly implausible as a plain reading, let alone as justification for a severe disciplinary stricture. Offered in good faith, it suggests serious problems with reading comprehension.

“After reviewing the rites thoroughly and consulting with the pastors of our diocese,” the Charleston spokesperson told CNA, “the bishop approved this policy effective the first Sunday of Advent.”

The bishop may well have reviewed the rites thoroughly, but he apparently hasn’t looked at old parish bulletins (or archived issues of his own diocesan newspaper?) very closely, or he would have found scores of midnight liturgies listed at Christmas when the rubrics he so thoroughly reviewed were the only game in town.

The bishop is Robert E. Guglielmone, by the way, and his implementation of Traditionis custodes includes prohibitions on the use of the old books for the Easter Triduum, in a manner consistent with the baffling decree of the Rome vicariate.

Now, parish life is important, and the life of a parish finds its deepest expression in liturgy, so it makes plenty of sense to have one – and only one – Triduum in every parish. It makes a lot less sense to have no Triduum in any parish established for the purpose of worship according to the old books. That, however, is what both the Rome decree and the Charleston decree envisions.

That said, the law is a servant, and – as Pope Francis is wont to remind us – an expression of an ideal. These days, there is plenty of room in the law for a Spanish or French or Vietnamese Triduum alongside an English in one and the same parish. Just so we’re abundantly clear on the point, I’m totally here for that.

Thing is, though, Pope Francis has given bishops more than enough cover to do pretty much whatever they’d like with the old books, so, why give a patently absurd reason for restricting the use of the old books, when none at all would be perfectly fine?

One tries not to think that the bad reasoning is part of the game plan – a feature, not a bug – but it gets daily more difficult for this Church-watcher to avoid thinking that – maybe, just maybe – the terrible reasons Churchmen give for the things they do are designed to set their raw power to do them in relief, rather than to hide or disguise it.

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