Thursday, May 27, 2010

Liturgy From a Global and Historical Perspective

There are two-footed relics of the last millennium (holding responsible positions in various US Dioceses) whose worldview is very limited--especially since they claim to be part of a 'universal' Church.

In liturgical practice, they are behind the curve of history--probably because they don't understand history in the first place.

1) Walking into your average Greek, Russian, or Coptic church, visitors are often struck by the relatively passive behavior of most worshippers with regard to what is going on at the altar. This was very similar to the behavior of the average "bump on a log," pre-Vatican II worshipper of modern-day liturgical lore. The extent of the congregation's participation is limited to lighting a candle, making frequents signs of the cross, and singing at selected times.

These churches are "Catholic," too, albeit the Greeks do not recognize the Successor of Peter as the supreme ruler of the Church.

2) For those who have studied the question, Vatican II was not the "revolution" in the liturgy that many traditionalists make it out to be, but the culmination of a process of liturgical and devotional change starting at the end of the French Revolution. ...

(Unless history began in 1969, of course, which is what's taught at Notre Dame U. "Liturgy" courses.)

3) Even the Gregorian chant in which many hear the voice of the apostolic church is in some ways a scholarly recreation of the monks of Solesmes,...

VERY controversial--and still so. For a real My-Eyes-Glaze-Over experience, read some of the Solesmes stuff on semiology.

The fact that Chant is, after all, MUSIC? Well, that's buried in the competing piles of field-muffins left by people who are obviously educated far beyond their intelligence, and who haven't talked with an average member of the congregation ever since they went to Notre Dame.

4) In 1794, Pope Pius VI condemned the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia's suggestions for liturgical innovation in the bull Auctorem Fidei. These innovations -- such as the reading of the Scriptures in the vernacular during services, the return of an offertory procession, and the general simplification of rubrics -- became the law of the Church only a century and a half later.

The author asks good questions:

Can reforming or restoring the order and flavor of what Catholics do for 50 minutes on a Sunday morning really determine the fate of the Church? Will it be enough to fend off the onslaught of secularism so that we can pass on the Catholic Faith to our children as a significant part of their lives?

But those can be turned around: will irremediable harm occur if Chant and Latin are restored, selectively, to the Order of the Mass? I doubt that. It was not "harmful" to read the Epistle and Gospel in the vernacular. It was not "harmful" for the Offertory petitions to be restored. It will not be "harmful" for the congregation to sing Chant, or use Latin now and then.

In reality, it is speculative at best to claim either that vernacular or Latin (or Chant or Broadway-tunes) will effect the salvation of souls.

A far better measure is the one to which Cdl. Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, often alludes. He simply calls for beauty and holiness in the language, the music, and the movements. Beauty attracts; banality--not so much. It's worth emphasizing that Western civilization's proto-thinkers, Aristotle and Plato, posited that truth, beauty, and goodness were the attributes of the Unknown (greatest) God. Therefore, one ignores beauty at great risk to civilization, not just the Church.

In this millennium, some should be thinking about those attributes. The well-educated individual knows that history and historical practices actually have value in se. Not for nothing is the Mona Lisa, or the Pieta, admired. Not for nothing do the Orthodox liturgies emphasize the sacred-time/sacred-space/sacred-language.

Apposite, and indirectly acknowledged by the author, is materialism (or, if you prefer, Social Progressivism accompanied by a remarkable growth in material prosperity, at least in the West.)

What had primarily changed was the influence of the Church over society. In most places, Christian kingdoms were replaced by secular (and often anti-religious) governments; there was a mass movement of population from countryside to city; and general literacy and education increased among all social classes. Because of all of these social phenomena, the influence of the Church in the daily lives of her faithful diminished greatly. No longer was the rhythm of life determined by the Church calendar, no longer were feasts publicly celebrated, and ecclesiastical authority was not the only voice competing for the ears and hearts of the masses.

What we have really seen in the liturgy since 1969 is a continuation of that trajectory of secularization, or maybe better-worded, flaccidity.

Recently, however, following the election of JPII and continuing with Benedict XVI, there has been a movement back towards the mustard-seed/counter-cultural model proposed by Christ and lived by the Apostles and Martyrs. It was signaled by Benedict in his "contra the Muslims" speech, and in this country, Bp. Bruskewitz, Abp. Chaput, Abp. Burke, and Abp. Dolan have, in various ways and addressing various issues, done the same.

It would be appropriate if Liturgy Directors had eyes to see and ears to hear!

No comments: