Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ruminations on rhythm

A friend of mine, Allen Maynard of Carver, Mass. (Director of Una Voce, Rhode Island), wrote me recently to comment on my essay in the current issue of the St Austin Review. His remarks, I think, are worth posting, not only for their persuasiveness but also for their relevance to recent posts lamenting the loss of the Octave of Pentecost, among other things. He writes:

You are not the first author to defend the value of the "rich fare of biblical readings" [in the current Roman Rite]. Nor do I necessarily dispute that the addition of more and varied scriptural readings is a bad thing at all. ... Having now attended the traditional rite virtually exclusively since Lent of 2000, I offer the following for your consideration:

[1] You referred to the "drastic reordering of the calendar" and I think that the harm caused by those mostly unneccessary disruptions is not fully appreciated. First is the loss of much of the seasonal and cyclical "rhythm" that gives a Catholic part of his identity and helps define his relationship with the world. Shorn of Septuagesima we are thrust abruptly into Lent; major feasts appear suddenly without vigils and depart as quickly without octaves. Once-holy days are now just line-items in the bulletin under the week's Mass intentions, while others are postponed until a less inconvenient time -- one will presumably be at church the following Sunday anyway!

Seven-and-a-half times through the traditional calendar have also given me and my family a tremendous appreciation for the stability of a single cycle of the traditional lectionary. Hearing those scriptural and Gospel readings -- which the Church judged for many hundreds of years as most suitable -- once every three years just doesn't cut it for me.

[2] Without in any way deprecating the value of Scripture, I think it's apparent that some is more useful and some less so -- at least for reading in a liturgical setting. There are many O[ld] T[estament] scriptures that mesh admirably with particular Epistles and Gospels, but the adoption of a third reading and a three-year cycle have left us with a very mixed bag and a lot of mixed-up people. On occasion I've witnessed conscientious priests who were good homilists tie themselves up in knots trying to relate the day's O.T. scripture to the other readings, or give an extended homily which treats all three serially. ....

... There are many worthy additions that could be made onto the 1962 foundation: O.T. readings which either foreshadow the Epistle/Gospel or directly complement them would be welcome when they fit "organically," but the remainder can safely be eschewed, at least at Mass. The extra reading would thereby become the exception rather than the norm, which should serve to emphasize its message. In the cases where there is a true value in the new readings for a particular feast or solemnity, they could be included for use ad libitum.

To my mind the chief value of the new lectionary is the weekday readings, certainly the Fathers of [Vatican II] had in mind the many ferias in which the previous Sunday's Mass was simply repeated when they called for a revision of the calendar. Since Catholics who attend daily Mass tend to be better educated in the Faith, perhaps the three-year cycle and the leftover O.T. readings can be utilized for these ferias.

Septuagesima and the Ember Days must be restored, and the awkwardly named "Ordinary Time" ... should be re-replaced with the ordinal Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost. Finally, the versions of the readings must revert to the 1962 editions, hard teachings and all.

It's all been said before, of course, but not quite like this. Thank you, Allen!