The Long View 2005-05-10: The Great Pruning

There is an element of truth in this:

Since I go to these services, I obviously approve of them, but I wonder whether the election of Benedict XVI might have the paradoxical effect of ending the traditionalist liturgical movement. Traditionalists have spent the last 35 years fighting official hostility to the old liturgy. Benedict is not going to call for a general return to the old Mass, but he is likely to take steps to ensure that it can be said (sung, really) wherever a priest and a congregation want it. Suppose there is perfect liberty in the matter, but still only a small percentage of Catholics is interested?

The number of Latin masses using the 1963 Missal probably went up a bit after Summorum Pontificum, but not much. There just isn't much of a market right now. 


The Great Pruning

 

An otherwise unalarming item in today's New York Times, about blood-doping among athletes, has this remarkable aside:

Dr. Ann Reed, chairwoman of rheumatology research at the Mayo Clinic, who uses sensitive DNA tests to look for chimerism, finds that about 50 to 70 percent of healthy people are chimeras. The more scientists look for chimerism, the more they find it. It seemed not to exist in the past, she said, because no one was explicitly looking for small amounts of foreign cells in people's bodies.

Most of us are chimeras? That explains so, so much.

* * *

Readers will recall that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the favored candidate for pope of the Spengler at Asia Times. Not content merely to enjoy this papacy, however, Spengler is now favoring us with reflections on the true difficulties that Benedict XVI faces. Consider Spengler's latest column, The pope, the musicians and the Jews:

In order to raise the Catholic Church up out of the ruins of European secularism, Benedict looks backward to the biblical background of Christianity as well as to the high culture of the Christian West. In this respect, he may be one of the most innovative popes in history, for he must break with ancient church tradition to do this. Benedict is one of the most cultivated men alive, with a mind that no surviving school could have trained. The trouble is that little is left in Europe, either of high culture or of the Jews. Perhaps he sees his mission under the sign of St Benedict, as a preserver in a dark age.

I suppose that is one way to look at it. Another is that history is starting to catch up with the conservative future of Hesse's Glass Bead Game. These passages, about the world after modernity, express the spirit of Benedict's program:

The world had changed. The life of the mind in the Age of the Feuilleton might be compared to a degenerate plant which was squandering its strength in excessive vegetative growth, and the subsequent corrections to the pruning back of the plant to its roots...

[I]t is also supported by what has long since become common knowledge, or at least a universal sense, that the continuance of civilization depends on this strict schooling. People know, or dimly feel, that if thinking is not kept pure and keen, and if respect for the world of the mind is no longer operative, ships and automobiles will soon cease to run right, the engineer's slide rule and the computations of banks and stock exchanges will forfeit validity and authority, and chaos will ensue. It took long enough in all conscience for realization to come that the externals of civilization -- technology, industry, commerce, and so on -- also require a common basis of intellectual honesty and morality.

Remember now: we already know the future, but we must try to look surprised when it happens.

* * *

On a related somewhat matter: there was a big party for time-travelers over the weekend at MIT. The party was fine, by this account, but it is not certain that any time-travelers actually attended. Various theories were proposed to explain their apparent nonattendance, of which my favorite is this:

4. Time travel is possible, even easy, and there's only one universe. According to "Niven's Law," the only stable configuration in such a universe is a history in which time travel is never invented. So time travelers keep changing things at will until by chance they do something that prevents time travel from being invented every time it might have been. The practical result from our viewpoint would be that every time a researcher was on the verge of building a time machine, that researcher would slip on a banana peel and suffer a fatal injury, or a mega-asteroid would destroy all life on that planet, or the like. Professor Mallett, be careful!

Yes, but if Doctor Who attended, are you sure you would recognize his current incarnation?

* * *

Speaking of English stuff, I recently read Ian McEwan's new novel, Saturday, which deals with the adventures of a London neurosurgeon on the day of the big anti-war march in 2003. The novel seems to be a bit like the elephant described by the blind men, since every review focuses on different things. My review is the only one I know of to mention Monty Python. However, perhaps I should have paid more attention to the chronic dread of ordinary criminality that is one of the themes of the book. That is not an omission that Mark Steyn makes in his assessment of why the Tories did so poorly in last week's election. He offers these observations about a naturally Tory constituency that voted for the Liberal Democrats:

In Henley-in-Arden, north of Stratford, I parked near the surgery and made my way to the high street via a footpath lined with houses and offices. All had bars on the windows and signs warning that CCTV was in operation. Henley's a pretty town with a charming medieval high street - if you take your tourist snaps in long shot. The close-ups tell a different story...That's post-socialist Britain: materially prosperous, but civically impoverished; wealthy villages and upscale suburbs full of frustrated and impotent citizens.

Except with regard to the immigration issue, this sense of the wheels falling off has become rare in the US: the Giuliani Era ended it. However, Steyn also has remarks of relevance to the US:

[E]conomic conservatism isn't enough for a conservative party. It may have been in the late Seventies when nothing worked and everyone was on strike. But, though it pains a low-tax nut like me, my sense of modern Britain is that it doesn't think of itself as over-taxed.

For the most part, Americans don't view themselves as overtaxed, either; the big exception is local property taxes. The Republicans have been doing well because they have had a near monopoly on values issues for years. This situation isn't going to last, however. The Democratic Party is visibly moving to concede the culture wars (abortion will go first; the gay thing will follow). When that happens, the new Republican indifference to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles will leave them with nothing to say to the public.

* * *

There is mayoral election here in Jersey City today, by the way. I voted after the polls had been open for two hours. I was number 18. That's better than the School Board election two weeks ago: I voted after four hours, and I was number 9.

* * *

By the way, if anyone was planning to attend the local Tridentine Mass at Holy Rosary in Jersey City this Pentecost Sunday, note that it is at 9:30 AM, not 12:30 PM.

Since I go to these services, I obviously approve of them, but I wonder whether the election of Benedict XVI might have the paradoxical effect of ending the traditionalist liturgical movement. Traditionalists have spent the last 35 years fighting official hostility to the old liturgy. Benedict is not going to call for a general return to the old Mass, but he is likely to take steps to ensure that it can be said (sung, really) wherever a priest and a congregation want it. Suppose there is perfect liberty in the matter, but still only a small percentage of Catholics is interested?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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