Monday, September 1, 2014

Loose Interpretation of Rubrics Is Still Legalism

In the anecdotally-reported fervor of certain liturgists after Vatican II, a movement pressed forward to downplay the importance of rubrics in the celebration of the Church's liturgies. Although the justifications for what practically amounted to a rejection of the rubrics for personal initiative vary from theologian to theologian, some of these justifications may be summarized as follows: whereas the rubrics of the Tridentine "era" of the Church dictated and regulated down to the smallest movement of the priest, the newer rubrics leave unmentioned many of these details. Following the hermeneutical assumption that what came before should be rejected, one may therefore conclude that the newer rubrics are open to personal interpretation as well as interpolation. Stated negatively: since the rubrics don't proscribe or prescribe any particular action, one may insert or omit said actions as desired; this negative principle usually has been used to omit many aspects of tradition—chant, incense, fine vestments and sacred vessels, Latin, ad orientem, etc.

Now, notice closely: the application of this hermeneutic still takes its cue on what is literally contained or not in the newer rubrics in contrast to the old, and precisely because of this adherence to minutiae, a hermeneutic of discontinuity as applied in this manner is a form of the very legalism that it claims to reject in the pre-Vatican II liturgies.

This isn't to say, of course, that if the newer rubrics did positively state to the smallest detail what actions were mandated or not that priests and bishops would follow them in the post-conciliar milieu; nevertheless, the unconscious response that has rejected Sacred Tradition and praxis is simply the other side of the very same coin that it has taken so much pains to toss away. It fights a war against legalism while remaining in the "arena" of legalism. Here the notion of "hermeneutic of continuity or discontinuity" do not offer the necessary paradigm to appropriate the entire situation from a higher perspective but may just as easily be used to remain on the same level of "fighting."

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