Clericalism and Optionism

Clericalism and Optionism

I loathe it when people talk of “Fr Ray’s Church” or “Fr Ray’s Mass”. I loathe it because it suggests a  clericalism which my whole being revolts against. The problem is that although the Mass is the Mass is the Mass, the great difference between the New Mass and the Gregorian Mass (TLM) and indeed the Divine Liturgies of the Eastern and Oriental Rites, is the options.

Though at one time parishes might have had a Liturgy Committee that decided whether or not to sing the Introit or Kum by yah or a hymn of doubtful theology, or which penitential rite, whether to have the Kyrie of the season from the Gradual or the one that goes to the tune of Humpty Dumpty, which Gloria or even which collect, etc., etc., these committees have by and large disappeared or else they continue with the same people they had thirty years ago and continue with their iron grip imposing their choices on everyone else, or else they have disappeared and Father now makes the decisions and imposes his will. Whether it be priest or committee it is a new form of clericalism, moving something that had a certain objectivity to something entirely subject to an individual’s or group’s whim.

The Missal of Paul VI introduced the idea ‘options’ into the Catholic Church and these options were imposed from above, by priest or a committee. I understand in the US some dioceses’ Liturgy Committees make these decisions and so the whole diocese ends up by singing from the same Mass sheet, despite what be in the Gradual or even the Missal, this is only going to increase following Magnum Principium, Pope Francis Moto Proprio of September this year.


The old Mass reflects the old theology, it is without many options and personal choices. The Old Mass, the Gregorian Mass reflects a certain pneumatic egalitarianism where priest and people served something over which they had no control, they continued to do what their fathers had done before them and which their sons would do after them. They were not the imposers of liturgy anymore than they were the imposers of theology or doctrine or morality, the clergy like the faithful were servants of what had been passed on to them, fidelity rather than innovation was the watch word.

The parallel seems to be the enclosure in 19th Century England, where land from time immemorial was held in common for the good of everyone suddenly became the property of a few individuals, thus robbing the masses not only of a source of sustenance but also of that which symbolised their common culture and rootedness.

The Missal of Gregory the Great, like the more recent liturgies of the East and Orient come from the same school of thought as the writings of the great St Vincent of Lerins.

The “old” theology which we see in Vincent of Lerins (see below) and sometimes better preserved in the East than the West, identifies a certain pneumatic egalitarianism in which the whole Church served the same ends. The Gregorian Mass, like the Divine Liturgy was is part of that and therefore differs from the many optioned Missa recentior, in which it is clerics who day to day choose the preferred option. The old theology seemed to understand the faith was given in its entirety at baptism (What do want? Faith) by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, teachers and pastors gave it form or helped its recipient to articulate it, they were there to serve it they were certainly not its masters.

Lex orandi, Lex credendi, Lex vivendi: it is not liturgy alone but morals, doctrine that is effected, by this Optionism, in fact every aspect of the Church’s life, even its banking and relationships with its employees and the poor. Everything becomes an option because nothing is set, everything is in flux, everything becomes a choice, not according to Divine Revelation because even that has become a choice and option.

This is something that suits and maybe gives rise to the new hyper-uber-Ultramontanists because in the world of options everything depends on the spider at the centre of the web, which is of course as East and West would have said is positively anti-Catholic

Thanks to Mark Lambert: Saint Vincent Of Lerins once said:
“If one yields ground on any single point of Catholic doctrine, one will later have to yield later in another, and again in another, and so on until such surrenders come to be something normal and acceptable. And when one gets used to rejecting dogma bit by bit, the final result will be the repudiation of it altogether.”

“All novelty in faith is a sure mark of heresy.”

“True piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us.”

“I cannot sufficiently be astonished that such is the insanity of some men, such the impiety of their blinded understanding, such, finally, their lust after error, that they will not be content with the rule of faith delivered once and for all from antiquity, but must daily seek after something new, and even newer still, and are always longing to add something to religion, or to change it, or to subtract from it!”

“What, then, shall a Catholic Christian do … if some novel contagion attempt to infect no longer a small part of the Church alone but the whole Church alike? He shall then see to it that he cleave unto antiquity, which is now utterly incapable of being seduced by any craft or novelty.”

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