Thursday, April 26, 2007

Essay on Liturgical Development

The New Liturgical Movement has an interesting essay regarding liturgical development and the current climate of the liturgy today, written by a monk in France.

The Place of Custom and Tradition

(Please read his article, as I don't do his thesis justice and I probably go off topic in my comments below anyway)

It is a topic that I always find interesting given how much time I spend pondering the current liturgical mess in which the Church finds Herself.

Part of what I like about this essay is that it is not just a "how did we get ourselves into this" essay, but it also tries to take a look at how we might get ourselves out of it.

Part of the focus is on the relation between what we would now call "organic development" and "development" by some type of imposition of law (which may or may not have a negative connotation to it).

I have always believed that the Pauline Mass is valid and licit because the Church has the right and authority to say so. However, the more I study the Pauline and Pian rites (ie the "Novus Ordo" and "Tridentine Rite" respectively), the more I see the Pauline rite as merely a very artificial (yet valid and licit) rite created by a committee with a very myopic view of the 1960's which ignored the liturgical Tradition of the West (if not of the entire history of the Church) in spite of so many claims that the Novus Ordo sought to go back to the early Church.

I find that "early Church" claim to be an error given that the liturgy in the West had obviously developed for the last 1500 years since then. Abbot Boniface Luykx (who was part of the Vatican II liturgical committees) once stated that to reform the Western liturgy it was an error to go back to the "Early Church." Rather, to go back to the real "sources" of the Western rite, it would be more accurate to go back to the Charolingian reforms. However, even then, it would be foolish to ignore all liturgies since then.

Dom Christopher also talks about the development of custom vs. legal imposition of ritual. This is an area where I think some understanding needs to be reached in the modern mind of those in the Church. Overall, we have fallen into a very legalistic mentality. This is an issue because it often brings us right to the problem that was happening before Vatican II. Did we do things only because they were the law, or did we do them because there was actually some theological reason behind it?

This, in my opinion, is a great problem today. So many "fixes" of the liturgy boil down to making a law and enforcing it. However, the ideal would be that things are done due to a respect for the liturgy. Many priests and liturgists will try to get away with as much as they can, but this indeed shows a more legalistic view. It often results in the excuse "well it doesn't say I can't do that" which is really against the whole point of the ritual.

Rather, there should be a respect for the ritual and rite. A priest (and even laity) should have an attitude of respect for the rituals and rites that they would think "who am I to change things on my own? This is what the Church asks me to do. She has Her theological reasons (which I may or may not understand), and thus I will carry out the liturgy as She expects me to do."

Thus the more "positive" role of the liturgical instructions. They tell you what to do, nothing more, nothing less. If we follow those instructions we will have uniformity of worship, not just in external gestures and words, but also in obedient hearts.

This brings up another point that I often notice while working in a parish. Priests and liturgists are not the only ones who add or subtract from the Mass. I often see this happen with the laity as well. So many extra gestures and devotions are being introduced by the laity into the Mass that really don't belong. I good example is the response to the priests "the Lord be with you" followed by many people lifting their arms up to the priest as they say "and also with you." Or other private devotions which, while they are not intrinsically evil, are not appropriate to be introduced into the public worship of the liturgy. Why confuse the issue? Of course I will also admit that it is just ignorant zeal that often leads to these things. Which is why, not only priests and liturgists need to understand the rubrics, but the laity really need to understand the rite as well. If they are expected to "participate" then they also need to know what they are to do (and thus also what not to do).

Which brings me to what I feel was the biggest failure of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. The problem was that before Vatican II, the liturgical reformers saw that there was a problem of ignorance of the liturgy in the faithful. I truly believe that one of the goals of the Second Vatican Council Fathers was to bring the faithful into a more focused and knowledgeable worship. However, rather than focusing on catechisis and elevating the laity, the result was a dumbing down of the liturgy so that the laity wouldn't have to make an effort to learn. How often do you hear those who are against changes being made to the current Pauline (Novus Ordo) rite that the faithful won't understand what is happening? My only answer is, "well, then teach them!"


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