I wasn't much interested in the developments concerning the petition made by members (and leaders) of the Neocatechumenal Way for their definitive approval, and the approval of some of their rites, particularly those of Christian initiation. But the news of Pope Benedict XVI's approval of the Way and the its rites of Christian initiation have caused a lot of joy naturally among the same members of the Way, and consternation and strong reactions among traditionalists. News of this approval on the part of the Pope had kept this latter group on their toes, for very obvious reasons. Much has been said about their liturgies, especially about their particular celebration of the Mass, more commonly termed by followers of the Way as the Eucharist, since it presents a rather striking departure from the liturgical laws and norms stipulated both in the common practice and legislation of the Latin Rite. I could sympathize with those who are lobbying for more decorum and solemnity in the Mass, who I guess would wince in seeing how the gifts would be prepared beforehand by lay people; I could imagine these same people (I refer to the traditionalists) rending their garments at the sight of people receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in their seats, drinking from the huge chalice passed around by the "lay ministers", which they have previously received from the presbyter. I myself couldn't stop thinking (and dreading) about the real and proximate danger of the Eucharistic particles falling into the floor.
Let this post of mine be a frank confession about how I feel about the Neocatechumenal Way. I've had close encounters with them. People would contact me, inviting me to preside or assist in their liturgical celebrations, mainly the Penitential celebrations. I've also been invited to preside in the Eucharist various times, even celebrating the Easter Vigil with them last year. I'm a stickler for the rubrics and things liturgical (I've said a lot of times that were I not studying history, another one of my passions, I would've been studying liturgy), and with a lot of people I avidly looked forward to the reform that the Holy Father had been effecting all throughout these years (somebody commenting on this article would find it opportune to place the proverbial parenthesis and bold comments in red after this lines, I surmise). I don't agree with a lot of the liturgical elements in the Neocatechumenal celebrations, especially with respect to the Mass, and there had been times that I really felt uncomfortable celebrating the Mass in a way that hasn't been laid down in the liturgical books. This was precisely the reason why I was at times hesitant to accept these invitations. I would confess that there were a lot of things that I didn't understand about them.
And yet one would wonder at why the Pope, and this Pope in particular, one with the keen eye for liturgy and had done quite a job in bringing back the Tridentine Mass, and who had been stereotype as the stern inquisitor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. This was the same Pontiff who had at one point, in addressing the crisis of faith in this secularist society, which in turn is undergoing its own crisis in many fronts, had mentioned that the testimony of Faith was to be given by small faith communities. Perhaps this was what the Holy Father had seen in this movement. From what I've seen from my own experience among the Neocatechumenals, I've seen a lot of conversions, of people trying hard to live the universal call to holiness, each in their own way of life, according to their particular situation and condition. Ordinary people, trying to avail of the same life from the same means available to anybody who forms part of the Church of Christ, with their own struggles and stories to tell. Perhaps they are lacking in formation, and that is precisely why they are in the Way. A lot of people have come to know, practice and live their Catholic Faith through the Neocatechumenal Way; for them this was the instrument through which the Lord had called.
The scene that I saw unfolding before my eyes, that of the Holy Father meeting the leaders and the followers of the Way and giving them the news of the pertinent approbations--specifically of the rite of Christian Initiation, and not automatically of the Eucharist (though I myself hope that the Holy Father would ask them to be more faithful to the common tradition shown in the liturgical books)--showed me the confidence that Pope Benedict XVI had placed in them as new missionaries who would work for the new evangelization. I would daresay that the Holy Father was very bold in saying that the Way was a special gift of the Holy Spirit in our times. From what I've seen, I guess he's right.
A further thought on the liturgical topic. There has been talk of an organic development, of a certain dynamism found in the liturgical tradition of the Church. If this is the work of the Spirit, then perhaps we have to have to have more confidence in the Holy Spirit to guide this new charism within the Church. The things that I have seen and read in traditionalist blogs (I keep asking myself why I persist in wasting my time looking at things that would merely serve to irritate me) have shown me how ossified people could turn out to be when deadly set in their opinions (place another parenthetical comment in red here please), even to the point of attacking the Holy Father and saying other things besides that place in doubt their true orthodoxy. Their attitude reminds me well of the lessons I've had about fourth-century Donatists and the seventeenth-century nuns of the convent of Port-Royal, who were "pure as angels but proud as demons". One's fidelity to the Successor of Peter is one clear sign of orthodoxy, and I guess for me this particular case functions as a litmus test to see where one's loyalty lies.
The history of the liturgy has shown us that the liturgy has developed throughout the ages: the only Mass of the Ages that we ever had was Jesus Christ himself in the Eucharist, I believe that anybody who makes a specific rite the center of his faith is grievously mistaken. The Mass had undergone an organic development throughout the centuries, from the simple fractio panis of the earliest Christians to the various rites in the different ecclesial traditions, to the splendor of the gregorian liturgy, of which the Tridentine Rite, merely one of the various rites within the Church, is heir. I could say that the liturgy that we have would still change and admit development. As what I've argued with a companion last night at table, the liturgy that we have on earth, no matter how we have it, is imperfect; that perfect liturgy we would have seeing God face to face. With respect to the Neocahatechumenal way, I believe this is also the case. I could only personally wish that as time moves on, the Way could come up with the means of being faithful both to the liturgical tradition of the Church and and to their own charism.