Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Philosophy and the Reform of the Reformed Liturgy

One approach to the Catholic liturgical mess that has been ignored is the approach from philosophy--until now.

Reviewing a new book, Worship as a Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy, by Laurence Paul Hemming, Fr. Brian Van den Hove, S.J. (!!) tells us a bit about that perspective.

Our author asserts that the enemy of Catholic liturgy is rationalism – "the fact that a propensity towards philosophical rationalism was one of the motor forces of the post-conciliar liturgical reform". Rationalism is defined as "the understanding that everything, all truth, arises on the basis of what can be foreseen by man, what is calculable and predictable for him in advance of its occurring." Again, "the rational is the essentially calculable...."

The effect of rationalism and its inherent problematic as applied to the "adaptation of the liturgy" has an extensive history. Only gradually did it become as strong as it is now. Hemming agrees with Martin Heidegger that "God is not an object of philosophy" and he finds an ally in Aidan Nichols on the point – "... the impulses for liturgical reform have their origins in a commitment to rationalism that stems, certainly from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and even before."

Yes. That 'rationalism' has a great deal to do with the misinterpretation of the term "noble simplicity."

...He mentions that the Eastern Church has preserved some liturgical understanding or "ancient practice" now lost in the West. Besides the loss of the "distributed body of Christ" is the loss of all sense of intertwinement between the cycles, sanctoral and temporal. The Christian East kept both insights.

One of the motivators behind B-16's promotion of the Extraordinary Form was to 'move towards the East', so to speak. Many of the Orthodox were appalled at the post-Conciliar "new liturgy" of the West.

With regard to "active participation" (actuosa participatio):

The author traces its root to the "modern self" of Cartesian philosophy. "In his Meditations on First Philosophy, after having established the self as first in the order of things of which I can be certain, the second indubitable thing Descartes discovers is God." However, the second indubitable thing Descartes discovered was not God, but the idea of God. After explaining the philosophy that reduces the external world to subjectivity, Hemming concludes: "Liturgical prayer works in exactly the opposite way." We do not approach the liturgy as complete selves – we let our incomplete selves be filled and perfected by the liturgy.

A very significant difference, indeed.

Therefore, in reality,

...Over a lifetime we slowly discover God in and through the liturgy. At least that is what should happen; or that was traditionally the perceived goal. Hemming asserts that the purpose of this book is to emphasize that we do not make or force God to become present in the liturgy. Rather, we listen and wait for God to act and to move us. "Prayer does not bring God or the divine presence to us."

It is even more interesting to note those who are in agreement with Hemming and those with whom he disagrees.

Allies in addition to Nichols include Alcuin Reid and Lauren Pristas. Cited favorably are Klaus Gamber, Martin Mosebach, Uwe Michael Lang and László Dobszay. Hemming is no supporter of Catherine Pickstock who, for a time, was quite fashionable in some circles. Other contemporary figures whose thought he engages in various ways include Odo Casel, Romano Guardini, Cipriano Vagaggini, Berhard Blankenhorn, Margaret Barker and John McDade.

Interesting lists, indeed. Guardini was a haute Romantische kinda guy, as (I suspect) was Pickstock.

If I infer from the thesis correctly, the late "liturgical movement" figures were increasingly rationalist in their views and praxis, and that trajectory more or less ran its course into the age of Weakland, Bugnini, Marini, (et al.) following Vatican II. Thus the eminently rationalist use of the "vernacular" to the exclusion of lingua sacra, Latin, and the horrific and often narcissistic 'music' now inflicted upon congregations in place of Chant, or even of genuinely artistic work.

The difficulty in determining best praxis is contained in the well-worn phrase of Pius X as he described the ideal of sacred music as 'elevating the minds and hearts of the Faithful to God.' It can be precisely located in the conjunction "and." And this injunction applies with equal force to all of liturgy and what surrounds it: the plastic and graphic art and architecture must conform to the 'mind and heart-elevation' as well. (At the risk of an inaccurate reduction, one could think of the "horizontal/vertical"-worship terminology to frame the discussion.)

Perfecting the balance demanded by "and" may never happen. But good reform should always be guided by it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Liturgy, I recently finished the new Weakland book and found this comment to be troubling:

"Being a Benedictine, I [Weakland] also became involved in the liturgical renewal of Vatican II and the implementation of its document, Sacrosanctum Concilium. A genuine renewal of the liturgy was possible with a return to its earliest forms and pristine simplicity, thereby eliminating the accretions that had come through the ages and were no longer meaningful."

Weakland, a member of the Consilium, did not understand that many things added to the Liturgy after the earliest days of Christianity did so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for good reasons.

Pius XII wrote in "Mediator Dei" in 1947: "Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation." (#63)