Monday, July 20, 2009

"Noble Simplicity" in Liturgy, Considered in History

Think that "noble simplicity" is a command? Demand?


Dr Alcuin Reid (London, England) read a though-provoking paper entitled “Noble Simplicity Revisited” on Sacrosanctum Concilium’s article 34. He traced the origins of the term “noble simplicity” back to its Enlightenment origins as a reaction to Baroque splendour. Looking at scholars such as Edmund Bishop (1899), Dr Adrian Fortescue (1912) and Dom Gregory Dix (1945), Reid concluded that, historically, it is not possible to find in either the early Liturgy or in the mind of Bishop, Fortescue or Dix, an endorsement “noble simplicity” as it was widely interpreted following the Council.

Dr Reid then gave a detailed exegesis of the text of article 34 of Sacrosanctum Concilium read in the context of the Constitution as a whole. The call for “noble simplicity”, which is a practical policy of the Council and not a dogmatic definition (and thus open to critical evaluation), cannot be used as an ideological ‘super-principle’ of reform, Reid asserted, to bring about a rupture with tradition.

He then asked whether this principle is in need of a critical reappraisal? He noted Kieran Flanagan’s assertion that it had given rise to a new Puritanism and that the reforms satisfied none of the constituents to whom the reforms were supposed to appeal (youth, etc.), who find the liturgy mostly boring. The contributions of Catherine Pickstock and David Torevell to this debate were noted. Interestingly, he observed, Sacramentum Caritatis does not use the term “noble simplicity,” speaking rather of the “ars celebrandi.

There is such as thing as 'too much' ceremony, of course--just as there can be 'too much' music, or 'too many' lit candles. Having said that, when 'noble simplicity' is invoked as the mantra justifying the utter lack of art found in much of today's Psalmody (and hymnody) and Ordinaries, we have, Houston, a problem.

Ceremony, rightly understood, serves as a picket fence guarding that which is Holy and ineffable; without that 'picket fence' we risk trampling the Holy--something never envisioned (much less allowed) in Temple worship, or in Eastern Rites.

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