By Dr. Alexander Kissler
(We would like to bring to the attention of the English-speaking public some of the works of Dr. Alexander Kissler, a prominent German journalist and cultural critic).
Weilheim is located in the “Pfaffenwinkel” (the “Priests Corner”: a region of Bavaria where innumerable monasteries were located up to 1803 – Trans.). Not far away, Lake Starnberg whispers softly to itself; the Grosse Ostersee and the Ammersee also entice the visitor. A dip in the road follows every rise, and from every meadow the guest sees an onion-shaped tower, a bell-tower, a church tower. It smells of grass and earth – and now and then of battle. For up for discussion this evening in Weilheim, Upper Bavaria, is nothing less than “the Church between Tradition and the Future.”
The author Martin Mosebach was invited under this rubric for the conclusion of the first “ Weilheim Questions of Faith.” Did he eventually regret the long journey from Frankfurt? Two hours in the “Meeting-House” became an illuminating but not amusing blueprint for the future. A future that is in the process of becoming reality and which restores passion, conflict and drastic frankness to the ecclesiastical realm. The era of compromises and “double bind” substitutes for communication is over.
To start off, Martin Mosebach read from the first chapter of his “Heresy of Formlessness.” It is the history of a man who grew from a forced consumer of Gregorian chant to be a participating apologist of the Gregorian mass. It is the history of a liberation that in 2007 broadened in scope to a Church-wide renaissance when Benedict XVI confirmed with legislative authority the equality of the old Gregorian and the new reformed Mass.
For many of those present just the reading from the book itself was difficult to endure. There was muttering every time Mosebach contrasted the organic character of the older from of the mass, whose beginnings “are lost in the obscurity of history” with the constructed character of the 1970 work of reform. But in the discussion opinions completely split. Little groups left the hall, some quietly and some slamming the doors. At the end maybe 100 to 120 people remained. To judge from the applause, the friends of the Latin Mass obtained a narrow victory.
In his argumentation Mosebach was clear as crystal, not conciliatory. Enraged, many men and three women – “children of 1968 like all of us” (Mosebach) – contradicted him. The man who spoke up first was so agitated that he wanted to storm out of the hall after delivering his accusatory staccato. Mosebach urged him to at least listen out his answer. Wrapped up in this questioner’s chopped phrases was a statement that the prayerful gathering of the community is that which is decisively Christian in the liturgy – not its form. Mosebach, however, informed his discussion partner that precisely that view is a caricature of the 19th century. Christ becomes present in worship, not in the community.
More and more forcefully Mosebach affirmed and completed and intensified his positions. The Mass is no mere recollection of the Last Supper but “epiphany” – the passing by of God. The first mass of all took place not in the room of the Last Supper but on Golgotha. Christians know their faith and don’t need to hear it in the mass, so verbose didactics are out of place here. No more refined statements regarding God can be found than in the texts of the Old Mass – and only those of the old Mass. The devastating years after the Second Vatican Council, with the collapse of the faith, have spoken the worst possible judgment on the Council – even though there is not an iota to criticize in the texts themselves. Rather it was the German bishops, in open opposition to the council who imposed communion in the hand and celebration of the mass versus populum. Pope Paul VI, who gave his approval to the postconciliar reform of the liturgy, regretfully has to be called a tyrant in the specific Greek sense of a disruptor of tradition.
Martin Mosebach is the prototype of a committed layman, who with his scholarly rage exposes the normal colorlessness of this cheap label. Usually the “committed layman” is a half-educated critic of the institution. His involvement aims at expanding and therefore perfecting the dominion of the political in the Church. The “committed layman” as a rule desires more of himself, and the World even more so. Martin Mosebach wants the opposite. Concentration instead of diffusion, sacraments instead of politics, hierarchy instead of pluralism.
Bewildered, a lady at last declared that she wondered whether there wasn’t more to say on the occasion of the evening than this or that liturgical observation – whether Mosebach had no other theme. Martin Mosebach answered tersely: “No! – first of all, for me there is no topic other than the Mass.” For it can be said that everything, literally everything in the present world and in future generations will be decided by whether, for one last time, the Christian faith is stabilized in its worship.
May 30, 2011.
Translated by Stuart Chessman: translation by kind permission of Dr. Alexander Kissler. See the original on his website.