Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The American Liturgical Problem and "Reform"

Here's an analysis of the "liturgical problem" in the USA which is interesting. Earlier in the essay, the author identifies 'narcissism' as a characteristic of American society, following the work of Christopher Lasch and Paul Vitz. This narcissism pops up all over (Madison Avenue was its principal progenitor/advocate,) but has affected the outlook of all--not just the laity.

Setting aside the important underlying theological issues, we can see deeply rooted psychological motives behind the American priests who “individualize” the masses they celebrate, placing their “personal stamp” on the liturgy. These priests play fast and loose with the rubrics of the mass, transform the “very brief” introduction after the greeting of the people authorized by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal into another homily, even individualize the prayer of consecration, and in numerous other ways seek to make the Divine Liturgy conform to themselves.

Much of this change was long attributed to the “Spirit of Vatican II”, but in fact, our point is that the secular and narcissistic spirit of the times lies beneath these liturgical irregularities. This secular spirit, as described by Lasch, was explicitly self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing. The rationale of those who personalize the liturgy is clearly one that rejects the Church’s history and tradition — just as society in general has rejected its past. This is easily seen in the frequent neglect and sometimes even explicit disparagement of the Church’s liturgical tradition by those who should be most closely wedded to the Church — priests.

These abuses also reflect a real disconnect with the Christian future. The future is a central focus of the liturgy properly understood. The liturgy reflects the longing for God we hope to realize at our deaths, but perhaps even more importantly the mass presages the Last Judgment to be visited upon all mankind. At its heart, the Divine Liturgy is an expression of hopefulness for the future, and is an earthly manifestation of our ultimate goal — Heaven. As such, the Mass should take us out of the present — should have a transcendent timelessness — and should also give us an awareness of the long tradition of the Church, which precedes us. Unfortunately, the congregation in many of today’s liturgies leaves the Mass with little awareness of the liturgy’s meaning for both the Church’s past and their eternal future. It was just a transitory emotional experience, and easily forgotten.

To be relevant is to be involved in the present, commonly at the expense of the past as well as the future. In fact, most of the innovators would argue that a “relevant” liturgy is one that speaks to the people “now”, rather than serving as a fixed reference point in a confused and changing world. The “now” is also an expression of narcissistic preoccupations. Indeed, it is difficult to disentangle the connection between narcissism and “relevant” liturgy — focusing on the “now” breeds narcissism, and narcissism creates a preoccupation with “relevance” and the “now.”

Some have reported that the "relevant" non-denominationals are losing their congregations to "reformed" non-denoms. That might be a continuation of historical trends--after all, the Cistercians sprang from Benedictine abbeys as the Puritans sprang from Episcopalians; so the "reform" thing is not exactly new.

This makes B-16's Tridentine efforts far more than just an attempt at reconciling ultra-Trads. In a way, he could be the St Bernard of the 21st Century.

HT: Rich Leonardi.

1 comment:

Phelony Jones said...

I attended the Latin Tridentine mass today for the first time. I always wanted to go. It was heartfelt and moving.