Monday, March 30, 2015

Is Lack of Solemnity a Cause or a Symptom of Our Problems?

The Ordinary Form at the Sacred Music Colloquium
The first chapter in my recently-published book is entitled “Solemnity: The Crux of the Matter.” Part of my argument therein is that when the liturgy is not celebrated “with due solemnity,” as St. Thomas would say, it falls short of its very essence as our participation in the heavenly liturgy, it grows slack in its power to sanctify us by forming our minds and hearts, and it fails to give to Almighty God the full measure of glory He ought to receive from His creatures. Thus, a failure to cultivate appropriately solemn liturgy causes the Mass, as well as the Divine Office (really, in either form of the Roman Rite), to become problematic, to be a cause of problems in the life of the Church and of the Christian.

When this essay first appeared in The Latin Mass back in 2008, a reader at the time submitted the following critique:
Lack of solemnity isn’t the cause of the problem with the Mass. It is a symptom of the problem with the Mass. Kwasniewski lays out the alternatives well enough: either a “fault endemic to the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite of the Mass, that which follows the Missal of Paul VI”, or a “problem with the people and their shepherds.” He wastes little time deciding on the latter.
          But not so fast. I cannot bring myself to believe that the problem is that for the past forty years we have been failing miserably the lofty standards set for us by Annibale Bugnini and his Mighty Fifteen. Kwasniewski is not saying that either, of course, but he is hewing to a course that leads us in that direction.
          Briefly, human behavior does not change in a vacuum. Devotion to liturgy does not evaporate unless the liturgy has itself evaporated, or at least become so eviscerated that people no longer know what constitutes proper response.
          The joy joy joy of participation theme comes right from Vatican II and its aftermath. It is most definitely NOT merely a failing of random weakly-trained priests, bishops, and laity. Joy and solemnity are note antipodes, as some seem to think, but neither are they compatible in any obvious way. We were exhorted to joyous participation, and we responded with pleasantry, diffidence, and informality—they call that being “welcoming.”
          Unsolemnity grew naturally and inevitably from the lack of rubric, lack of a sense of the need for discipline, and the proliferation of one “option” after another. Don’t like chant? Howzabout a little strummin’ for Jesus? This gospel passage a little strong for you? Bracket it and omit it. Don’t like this canon? Too long? Too many saints’ names? No prob — try this one, or this one — or do what 99.9% of American priests do: stick with the real short one. Reception on the tongue a bit yucky? Take it in the hand. Want a little wine with that?
          What you end up with is not a liturgy, but an anti-liturgy. That is, a “liturgy” which destroys itself by allowing so many options and so much innovation that there is little left to be solemn about.
          In other words, to a large extent Professor Kwasniewski has put the cart before the horse. It is the Novus Ordo liturgy and its lack of rubric that invites bad behavior, much more than it is bad behavior which spoils good liturgy. A solemn, “proper” Novus Ordo is, at best, a cosmetic solution to a much more serious problem.
I sympathize with what this writer is saying; so much of it is obviously true. Indeed, I had once thought that it was going to be easier to apply the hermeneutic of continuity to the Ordinary Form than it has proved to be, for the simple reason that there are as many versions of the modern Roman liturgy as there are dioceses, religious orders, and priests who use it, and almost no one agrees about anything definite. Inculturation has led to babelization. Catholic clergy, religious, and laity who have gratefully embraced Benedict XVI’s vision of a Reform of the Reform have not yet been able to prevail over institutionalized mediocrity and the inertia of bad habit. While there is no question that the Benedictine renewal is here to stay, especially among younger clergy, we cannot kid ourselves: the revival of an authentic liturgical spirit and the defeat of the malleable modernist model of the Mass is going to be a long drawn-out war, like the trench warfare of World War I.

One point on which I wholeheartedly agree with my critic is when he says: “Unsolemnity grew naturally and inevitably from the lack of rubric, lack of a sense of the need for discipline, and the proliferation of one ‘option’ after another.” Only a priest classically trained, with deep religious sensibilities, would be able to approach a liturgy so formless, so laden with options, and manage to celebrate it with solemnity — or let us say, invest that ritual with the solemnity that the Mass ought to have, patterning his ars celebrandi after the pre-rupture paradigm.

The Novus Ordo does not require solemnity, it merely permits it. For example, the Propers of the Mass are not required but permitted; traditional sacred music is not required but permitted; worship facing eastwards, the stance of nearly 2,000 years of Christian worship, is not required but permitted (although seldom seen); communion on the tongue, kneeling, is not required but permitted; and so forth. In general, continuity with the great tradition of Catholic worship is theoretically permissible, but almost never mandated — and rarely witnessed on the ground. To paraphrase Martin Mosebach, the problem with the new liturgy is that it may be celebrated reverently. (There’s more to that statement than meets the eye...)

The revolutionary change in the liturgy in 1969/1970, no matter what one thinks of its particulars, gave a lot of people the carte-blanche excuse they were apparently waiting for (or, in some cases, not waiting for as they rushed ahead with unauthoriazed experiments): now everything is up for grabs and we can do whatever we want with the liturgy. This, surely, is contrary to the very idea of a Missal or of rubrics at all. In a healthier period not so hell-bent on self-destruction, among clergy still animated with the fear of the Lord, the Novus Ordo Missae, for all its admitted faults, could have been the point of departure for dependably reverent celebrations, as can actually be seen in such rare groups as the Community of St. Martin, the Oratorians, or the Church Music Association of America. One might perhaps say that if you do not bring to the Novus Ordo Missae the spirit of reverence (presumably developed elsewhere, e.g., from the usus antiquior or from private devotions faithfully practiced), you will not find that spirit in its slim modern profile and minimalist requirements.

It would certainly be mistaken, however, to claim that the “joy joy joy of participation theme” comes from Vatican II. Rather, Vatican II was content to transmit the emphasis on active participation (participatio actuosa) that one finds in the exhortations of St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII, themselves echoing the original Liturgical Movement’s earnest desire to have the people take rightful possession of the liturgy inasmuch as it pertains to them — following the prayers of the liturgy with understanding, chanting the responses and the Ordinary of the Mass, joining in public Vespers, and so forth. Having seen that the liturgy had become the specialized province of the clergy, Holy Mother Church rightly wished to remind the laity that the liturgy is theirs as well, the most sublime, pleasing, and sanctifying prayer for all Christians.

But this preconciliar program was premised on a fundamental truth: the liturgy is a gift to us from God through the generations that have preceded us, one that we must gratefully receive and enter into more and more fully. Participation thus meant entering into something already present in our midst, prior to our cogitation and volition; a transmitted body of symbols, cross-textured with words, melodies, gestures, actions, endowed with supernatural vitality and inexhaustible richness. It most definitely could not mean that we fashion something ourselves which, being in some way the image of our own mentality and our own age, we then “participate in,” as we create athletic games or board games that we then throw ourselves into.

The radical distortion of the concept of active participation is only slightly visible in Sacrosanctum Concilium, in the overemphasis on having people DO-SAY-SING stuff, as if this were always necessary at every step or as if, in and of itself, it guarantees true immersion in the liturgical act. Nevertheless, in most respects — including its insistence that participation is first interior before it is exterior and that the entire success of liturgical renewal depends on sound formation — this document is in continuity with the better tendencies of the Church-approved Liturgical Movement.

To return, then, to my critic, here is my agreement and my disagreement. The Novus Ordo is partly, but not exclusively, responsible for the loss of solemnity, and there is plenty of work that we can and should do, in regard to both forms of the Roman Rite, to intensify and elevate the solemnity of our liturgical celebrations. The ultimate solution, if we’re talking about a “Reform of the Reform,” can only be a Missal that is in deep and manifest continuity with the classical Roman rite. Indeed, as is generally acknowledged, even the Missal of 1962, as excellent as it is, already embodies the massive rupture of the post-1948 Holy Week ceremonies. Perhaps the distant path to liturgical peace and coherence will go by way of the 1962 Missal as the base text, with a restored pre-1948 Holy Week, and a few additional Prefaces, votive Masses, and saints’ feasts, so that the Missal is both up to date and manifestly Roman.

Ah, but now we are daydreaming. Our immediate work is somehow both simpler and more demanding: to offer the Sacrifice of Praise in both forms of the Roman Rite, as they now exist, with as much solemnity as possible, according to our circumstances, in continuity with the best of our tradition. Surely, in whatever capacity we serve our Lord, we may consciously strive, in all the ways at our disposal, for the “due solemnity” that befits the celebration of the Church’s sacraments and liturgies. Nothing less is worthy of our King to receive, nothing less is fitting for man to give.

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