3 November 2007

Hollow Men, part ii

Our Dried Voices

Last week I posted on an article by Father Richard McBrien about the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and the liberalisation of the Extraordinary Form. (Thank you, Paul and Dad29 for your kind reviews) Rather than attempt a direct theological rebuttal of his arguments, I rather sought to explain how he made those arguments, and attempted to persuade his reader that his viewpoint was the correct one.

He does this in a few ways. He takes the pose of a casual observer who is merely observing a debate. He is not making an argument, you see, he is merely observing one, and evaluating it. In so doing he is hiding the fact that he has created both sides of the debate himself, and we know this because he offers no quotations and no proof for anything he says for most of the article, until the end. He uses the Straw Man Technique extensively, in which he builds up one side- the side which is against the return of the Latin Mass- as having an "overwhelming majority" armed with certainty and backed by "many liturgists" while he diminishes the other side of the debate as a "tiny minority" which only "seems" to know what they want and only have the back of a pope who writes solely on his own authority. Finally, the entire proof for McBrien's article is an unspoken "Ethical Proof," which, simply put, is "Trust me, for I know."

At the end of his article, McBrien introduced his one piece of corroborating evidence: an article by a Bishop Wcela, whose tale of how a Latin Mass was let go at one of his parishes provided the entire justification for McBrien's article. McBrien ended the article by promising to come back next week with more on Wcela's thoughts.

He has now come out with that article, and I will go over it again as I did with the last. Again, it is not my aim to debate theology, but rather how McBrien constructs his point to be the only true one.

When We Speak

He begins thusly:

The Latin Mass, continued
He continues with the title from last week. Again, he this title conflates two Masses into one. While the Extraordinary Form must be done in Latin, the Ordinary Form may be done in Latin as well. As we saw last week, his argument that the Extraordinary Form should not come back ultimately rested on an anecdote that people didn't miss the Ordinary Form in Latin. He is continuing that non sequitor here.

By Rev. Richard McBrien

Bishop Emil Wcela, the retired auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, has written one of the best articles on the controversy surrounding the pope's recent authorization of the Tridentine Latin Mass. The article is entitled, "A Dinosaur Ponders The Latin Mass," and was published in the October 8 issue of America magazine.

As with last week's article, he is beginning by making observations. He is setting up his subject- an article by a bishop on the controversy. He is beginning by evaluation the article- it is one of the "best".

Wcela, who is now 76, has had broad pastoral experience - as a seminary professor, a bishop, and as pastor of one of the largest parishes on Long Island. That experience has taught him "that the vast majority of people find that [the Mass in English] enriches their understanding and participation."
Here McBrien outlines the bishop's credentials, and is setting him up as someone who should be trusted, so when the bishop says "the vast majority of people etc." he is already established as a knowledgeable source. He is going again with the ethical proof. Trust him, he knows. He must, because not only does he have all this experience, but he also wrote one of the "best articles" on this subject.

He concedes that there have been some minor problems in translating a few of the Latin prayers into English, and that "there are still priests who look upon the Mass as a showplace for their dubious creative talents rather than as a shared worship of the community of which they are a part."
Concessions are always interesting, for in a concession one takes control of one's opponent's argument and represents it in the way you choose. Further, by conceding a point, one is also in a way absorbing the opponent's argument and making it part of one's own, or at least controlling it. For example, the first point he concedes is minimized- at least in McBrien's synopsis- as "some minor problems" dealing with a "few" prayers. The second concession, quoted directly from Wcela is made more strongly and without qualification. But next comes another minor, qualified concession.

He also recognizes that some of the music employed in the liturgy leaves something to be desired. Trying to participate in Masses where the music is peculiar to a particular parish "calls for special dedication, because one encounters music known only to the local parishioners and to God."
Here we have a third concession. On the whole the writer is saying "Yes, there are problems... Yes, some people do have a point..." This is similar to last week's article where McBrien conceded that the people who advocate the return of the Mass had a right to speak- except what they said was irrelevant. Notice how the points are again minimized. "Some music", he allows, "left something to be desired."

I mentioned they made a strong and unqualified concession about priests exercising their dubious talents. That concession is now sandwiched between two minor qualified concessions. Does anyone remember Moonstruck, and Cher going to confession? She would talk at length about some minor sins, quickly slip in something major, and then back at length to another minor sin, in the hopes the priest wouldn't catch the big one in between. Same thing here. But I'll give a little credit: it could have been left out entirely.

Concessions, as I said, seem to admit that the opponent has a point. But it also allows the writer to control the representation of those points, and how they come through in the debate. That is what has happened here. McBrien and Wcela have allowed some points of their opponents do exist, and in so doing have taken control of those points. Further, it makes it seem that those points are the only points the other side has. One of my old Professors used to call this technique "inoculation". By injecting some of one sides points into an argument, the other side renders itself immune to the rest.

One more point: notice these concessions are made to no one in particular. No one in particular is making these points. These men are speaking simultaneously for themselves and for their opponents- except they are creating their own opponents once more. The straw man has returned.

But first, there's another concession coming. Perhaps the other side of the debate has another point. Or does it?

Bishop Wcela notes that when the Mass in English first arrived in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council (which adjourned in December 1965), there were early reports of liturgical abuses. It was said that some of the so-called "new breed" of priests were celebrating with Pepsi and pizza instead of bread and wine.
This is a sort of concession, but a distanced one. Instead of saying these problems actually existed, he is saying they existed as "reports". As with the other concessions, these reports come from no one in particular. If this claim is true, then it is the worst of all the claims against them so far. But watch for what happens next.

Are As Quiet And Meaningless As

"Despite all the talk," Bishop Wcela writes, "I never met anyone who had actually been at such a 'mass.'" Nor did I.
No One in Particular, it turns out, is a very unreliable source. Wcela is suggesting that because neither he nor anyone else attended such a Mass, it never happened. McBrien lends his own voice to this suggestion. And you know what? I'll lend my own voice to it as well. I never even heard of such a thing, nor have I heard of anyone who has heard of such a thing, until this point was raised.

So why is it raised? It does a few things. Mostly, it makes the last objection from No One in Particular a fiction. If he had stopped at, say, the point about music, the last point made would indeed be a valid (if weak) point. This way, the last point of those who would oppose themselves to Wcela (and McBrien)- the strongest of the points they admit against themselves before they deny it- is not a point at all.

Secondly, it tends - implicitly, not explicitly- to cast doubt on the other points of No One In Particular as well. The point is cast as an urban legend. It is not put into this piece in spite of its fictionality, but because of its fictionality. McBrien and Wcela are implicitly saying: 'look, those other guys will even make up stuff and use urban legendsto bolster their arguments, whereas we use only our thinking and experience.' This puts Wcela (and McBrien- let's not forget who is writing this piece) in a strong position as they begin to represent their own point of view. It sets them on the road of rejecting counter arguments, which is what they proceed to do. For that, they need a few more straw men. This time, however, they actually exist. Sort of.

Wind in Dried Grass

Bishop Wcela cites two recent articles in support of the Latin Mass that, for him, only underscore the weakness of the arguments that have been mounted in favor of it. The one that appeared in Time magazine (July 30) was mainly concerned about the poor quality of sermons. The author's solution, however, was hardly designed to correct the problem.
I have not seen this article, and with the poor citation- no author's name is mentioned and we must wait until the next paragraph to learn that this person is a "she"thus the number of possible authors in half- it is not easy to look the author up. Not to wory, they'll tell us everything we need to know about this author and her article. Notice that this person's argument is dismissed as it is presented. McBrien/Wcela is not refuting the argument as presenting it as already refuted.

The "argument" was that, if the Mass were celebrated in a language that nobody understands and the priest presided with his back to the people, then she wouldn't have to listen to sermons on social issues with which she disagrees.
Ah, scare quotes. Putting the word argument in quotation marks is something like saying a word in an ironic tone. It does not change the literal meaning at all. What it does change is the effect of reading it- shifts the force- to the opposite. It suggests the argument is not worthy of the name argument, and is not an argument at all.

Furthermore, instead of quoting the article, he gives a synopsis, so the author's own words are not to be seen in this piece. What she actually says in this article I cannot tell. McBrien/Wcela may be giving an accurate portrayal of the piece. They may not. One way or the other, they have created a flyweight for themselves to push over.

"The Mass itself," Bishop Wcela observes, "would be a kind of mantra, a reassuring background for her personal thoughts about God and other things. Not much of a reason for a Latin Mass," he continues, "especially since not every bishop, priest or deacon will always be an inspiring preacher --- regardless of the language spoken."
A technical point- the sermon is no reason for denying the Latin Mass, which is what this whole article is about. Even in a Latin Mass- whether Ordinary or Extraordinary Form- the sermon is in the vernacular. So the bishop responds to "her" non sequitor with one of his own.

The other article, in The Tablet (July 21), the weekly newspaper of the diocese of Brooklyn, favored the Latin Mass because of what Pope Benedict XVI has referred to as "arbitrary deformations of the liturgy." Bishop Wcela's impression from reading the piece is that the author believes that every Mass in English is by definition a "deformation."
Another article by No One in Particular. This one is reduced in its entirety to Wcela's "impression." But trust him. He knows. Or McBrien knows. Or McBrien knows that he knows, and you should know because they know, y'know?

The author pointed out that she "loves to have the priest with his back to the congregation, facing the east, the direction from which Christ will some day return."
Huzzah! A quotation from this "She-Who-Is-No-One-In-Particular". At least we now have a solid point to be refuted.

Bishop Wcela's rebuttal-question is decisive: "Does it count for nothing that at the Mass Christ is with us then and there? When I imagine celebrating again toward the back wall, even an eastern wall, I remember how deeply moved I was the first time I was able to celebrate facing the congregation, whose faith and life I shared."
Except this decisive counter rebuttal has nothing to do with her statement. A technical point for McBrien: A rhetorical question is never a decisive counter argument. It is no counter argument at all in this case. He is not responding to her point, he is shifting the terms of the argument. In so doing, he has left her point intact. Also note, his statement is nothing more than his own personal impression and feeling. He was "deeply moved". He and McBrien expect us to be as well.

The author of the Brooklyn Tablet article readily admitted that she understands little Latin. But for her, "That's what the missal is for."
Here we have another quotation set up for rebuttal. And here it comes:

Again, Bishop Wcela punctures the "argument": "I certainly cannot dictate for anyone what brings them more deeply into the Eucharist. But I can only shake my head in puzzlement when I hear people talk of how good it is to celebrate Mass in a language they do not understand, while I continue my struggle to learn Spanish so that members of a different congregation can celebrate Mass in a language they do understand."
Again with the scare quotes. Apparently there is some rule for debate I missed: if you can't refute 'em, mock 'em. Once again, the argument is no argument, it is already null and void, all that is left is the burial. Wcela allows that he won't dictate what brings anyone closer to God, but then proceeds to ironically do just that. He shakes his head in puzzlement: He does not understand. This is how Wcela- to use McBrien's term- "punctures" the argument. He shakes his head in confusion.

Bishop Wcela expresses his appreciation for Pope Benedict XVI's "deep pastoral concern" toward those who have separated themselves from the Catholic Church because of the loss of the Latin Mass, and he hopes that the pope's initiative will prove to be fruitful.
This is very nice of the Bishop and McBrien to approve of the Pope. By now you should know McBrien/Wcela are only allowing points in order to refute them. And here it comes.

"Over the years, though, my experience with a few members of these splinter groups has convinced me that the Latin Mass is at most a rallying point, a handy focus. The real issues go much deeper, into faith, the meaning of church and God's salvific will."
The first part of the article- last week's article- started with the Motu Proprio and ended up mixing the Ordinary Form in latin with the Extraordinary Form, reducing the entire debate to language. This last quotation, placed in its context of following the statement about Benedict's "pastoral concern" is saying that the whole project was misguided in the first place. The entire debate is again reduced to language. Wcela and McBrien rise above that. They see more clearly than the Pope.

Again we get a punchline:

Bishop Wcela's article is required reading for anyone with an opinion on this subject.
McBrien is again authoritatively dictating the terms of the debate. They are his terms, and Wcela's article, which he agrees with so thoroughly that he spent an entire column summarizing it, is given more authority than the Pope. Even if all you have is an opinion, you must read this article. This one work alone is singled out as require reading, as opposed to, say, Summorum Pontificum.

I can see why McBrien would say that. In spite of all his claims to knowledge and certainty in these two articles, Wcela's article is the only source cited. From the evidence of these two articles, McBrien read Wcela's article and no other on the M.P. You should too.

A final statement. I have favoured an analysis of form over content in these two posts on McBrien. Why? After reading these articles, and several others on the net, McBrien's content should be written like this: "content".

You may now shake your head in puzzlement. Apparently it's the most effective rebuttal there is.

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