Similarities Between the eReader and the Novus Ordo


August 25, 2014 by lucieromarin

**So much for my posts about Our Lady! Turns out that being unemployed is not the same thing as having nothing to do. This is not about Our Lady. It’s also completely unauthoritative and respresentative of nothing other than some thoughts that popped into my head while reading an article about ereaders. Go to Mass where you like and read whatever devices you please! Also, I don’t even know if ‘Novus Ordo’ is the best appellation – should it have been ‘Ordinary Form’? Some trads use it as a kind of perjorative term; I don’t mean to.**

 1. Inconvenience must be avoided. “Books are too heavy.” “The Latin Mass is too long.” “We’re not having the Gloria at our wedding, because people might be bored.”

Too heavy for whom? Too long for whom? Who are these people, whose agonised attention spans outrank God on your wedding day?

Well, there was once a gentleman in the Catholic loop expounding the idea that no one should use public transport to get to Mass on Sundays; he walked for two hours to get to Mass, and clearly thought that arthritic elderly women ought to be able to do the same thing. But not everyone is an able-bodied, childless, male adult; therefore, Sunday worship is not entirely arranged with him in mind. Similarly, it is not true to say that Low Masses, vernaculars, and lightweight reading devices meet no need, or do no good. I, for one, will not be walking to Mass when I am old and arthritic; neither will I be carrying a hardback edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry in my wizened hands.

However, to agree that some trouble or inconvenience in life should be removed is not to say that all inconvenience should be removed, because there remains the possibility, not only that something might be worth the inconvenience, but that that supposed inconvenience might be necessary for attaining the good that that thing bestows.

 It’s not just that there are obvious problems with a spirituality that consistently shrinks from giving God more than forty minutes’ worship on a Sunday. It is that the cultural value of a traditional Missa Cantata both exceeds and justifies the ‘inconvenience’ of its duration, and you can’t receive that cultural value without participating in that duration. So, too, it is possible that an individually-bound work of literature, experienced as a discrete entity, possesses a cultural value which exceeds and justifies the perceived inconvenience of carrying it about, precisely because that cultural value can only be received that way.

(Also, rant: The able-bodied man who thinks he is going to be crushed by the weight of a paperback novel in his backpack needs to go and work on a farm and find out what actual labour involves. Of course you can buy an ereader if you want to; just don’t try to justify it by telling me you’re too feeble to carry something that weighs less than a full water-bottle, and much, much less than a baby.)

2. As Long as the Words are Right… Both ereader culture and Novus Ordo culture participate in a kind of stripping of accidents from substance, insofar as it is possible. Where the ereader culture is concerned, I don’t think it proceeds from any sinister motive; I’m just noting that it’s there.

Body and soul are united, and both our intellect and our senses are engaged when we receive ideas through text in a book. The book-substances, ‘The Summa Theologica’, ‘The Story of O’, ‘Pollyanna’, and ‘The Compleat Angler’ differ in not only in ideas, morality and language, but in colour, weight, size, texture, and scent. Book design involves searching for the best possible harmony of substance and accidents. The ereader strips the substances of their distinctive accidents, and presents different ideas, morality and languages in uniform colour, weight, size, texture, and scent. Mostly, it’s just about the words.

It reminds me of a time I heard a Byzantine Catholic priest describe the New Mass as ‘blink-and-you-missed-it.’ It is true that conservative Catholics are increasingly nurturing a culture of beauty and reverence at the New Mass (and that many of them never lost their desire for either!). It is also true this is characteristic of a movement; it is something to be applied to the liturgy, rather than being inspired by the liturgy itself, which was deliberately stripped of ritual gesture, ornament, and hieratic language, in favour of brevity, minimal adornment, and instant intelligibility.

3. The breaking of tradition as a core value. “We’re taking power from the traditional publishers.” “The priest used to say Mass with his back to the people of God!”

Not every change is bad, and we’re not obliged to resist new things simply because they are new. That something alters or adds to a tradition is one thing, but to hold the breaking of tradition as a core value is another. The e-book was never simply marketed as an alternative to traditional publishing; it was celebrated as the end of traditional publishing. In the same way, we weren’t taught to love the New Mass despite its disconnection from the past; we were told to love it because it was disconnected from the past.

4. Egalitarianism as a core value. “Now anyone can publish their books.” “Now everyone can understand the Mass and/or do something in the sanctuary.”

Both cultures characterise traditional publishing and traditional liturgy as elitist, while promoting their own cultures as more democratic and of-the-people.

There’s a germ of truth in this: that the priest faces the tabernacle to pray in one liturgy and faces the people in the other does send a strong (or confused) message about who is really being addressed when he speaks. And traditional publishing houses won’t take just anything. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing isn’t the point; I’m just noting that both cultures accept egalitarianism as a good thing, and would like to create more of it.

5. Fake egalitarianism. As it happens, anthropocentricism and democracy aren’t the same thing. There’s nothing egalitarian about a modernist priest telling you that you’re not allowed to kneel to receive Holy Communion, however much he faces you when he prays. There’s nothing egalitarian about sitting in the pew at the mercy of a priest with a microphone and habit of liturgical diddling. Meanwhile, publishing houses aren’t charities. They publish for profit, which means they mostly publish things they think most people will buy. That your manuscript isn’t one of them doesn’t necessarily mean they’re snobs.

Sometimes, the speed and low cost with which texts can be bought and the ease with which they can be stored on an electronic device is thought to be proof that readers are engaging with more texts, faster, while more authors are having their voices heard. But it isn’t true. There’s more Bible in the New Mass than in the Old – but no evidence that anyone is remembering more of it than they used to. There are more texts available cheaply on ereaders, but there’s no evidence that they are being read.

At the same time, there’s a reduction in other choices, which also matter. The ereader erases expressions of personal taste (“I love pink!”), artistic judgement (“That cover is hideous”), and literary judgement, too. That you’re looking for a leatherbound copy with gilt edges is not only an aesthetic choice; it’s a statement about how you, the reader and buyer, value that which you have chosen. Likewise, the ereader erases the opportunity for the individual to embed her personal narrative in particular objects (“I still remember the little second hand shop where he bought this for me”). It also erases the possibility of the e-novel still being in your possession twenty years from now. This all takes from both readers and authors the expectation of something personal and enduring; here, the only enduring thing is the reading device (if it hasn’t broken.)

6. Wilful blindness. Workers’ rights. (Will anyone who calls me an elitist snob for not having an ipad actually talk about this?) Everything that happened during the The New Springtime. Oh, man. Don’t cry because it happened. Smile, because it’s… well, maybe not over, but think of all the young novices!

7. Not producing their intended effects. So far, in neither ereader culture nor Novus Ordo culture has democratisation produced any of its intended effects. It is easier to publish your work; it is not easier to be paid for it. Neither has either innovation really enriched the world with new great works of art. The 1970s and 1980s produced ‘The Galilee Song.’ The biggest market in ereader culture is for pornography. I’m just saying.

(In fairness, the liturgical landscape can change; I mean, conservatives are rescuing wreckovated churches, preaching good sermons and recovering sacred music; I don’t see why things can’t keep getting better. It’s just that, so far, neither culture has delivered on its promises.)

8. “But the New Mass Can Be Done Well.” This is true. I’m certain that the reverence and the beauty you’ll find in any Oratory is what at least some of the Council Fathers had in mind when the New Missal was promulgated. These days, Novus-Ordo-land has its fair share of awesome. Similarly, you could buy a Kindle just for your missal and cover it with a particularly elegant cover designed just for use in a church; you’d then be clearly distinguishing it from a profane object used for reading vampire novels on the bus. You can read a great classic on a Kindle and hear a great sermon in a Novus Ordo parish; you can publish heresy on paper and hear flat notes in a traditionalist choir. The point is that both ereader culture and Novus Ordo culture need to protest that they can be Done Well. The opposition doesn’t have to.





2 thoughts on “Similarities Between the eReader and the Novus Ordo

  1. Charlie's sister says:

    “As long as the words are right…”

    I bet the first printers of the Bible said the same thing to the monks who protested that the Holy Book should be hand-written and properly illuminated.

    But here we all are, with our plain printed portable copies… just saying. 🙂

    • lucieromarin says:

      Ha! Actually, it’d be interesting to know if they did protest, or even if there was divided opinion. I mean, they certainly would have protested if the first printed Bibles had been bound together with secular books or made to look just like them. But as far as I know, the first printed Bibles were still distinguishable from profane books and weren’t stored in the same covers…

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