Friday, August 05, 2005

Plurality and Unity

I would like to take up some of the points made by Bryan Jerabek in this post (Liturgical Topic for Discussion) on his blog and engage him in dialogue.

Fr Mark Drew's comment about greater pluralism is certainly contentious. The problems we face in Liturgy today is indeed a tension between maintaining a unity (and even uniformity) of the Roman rite and the pressure to inculturate the Liturgy. I believe there are sound theological principles for inculturation but this has to be carefully executed. Inculturation is not adaptation at the whim of a priest or his congregation. It is not making the Liturgy 'relevant' to a certain sub-culture or group within a parish. Inculturation is far richer than that and I fear many attempts to 'inculturate' the Liturgy fail because they are not well considered.

At the same time, I also stress the unity of the Roman rite and the need to maintain this unity. Often the Mass can be so warped by individualism and 'relevance' that it differs far too much from one country to another, such that there is no visible unity. The strength of the pre-Vatican II liturgy was found in such identifying characteristics of unity as the use of a common tongue (Latin), orientation, plainsong and a silent (and uniform) Canon.

Nevertheless, Fr Ansgar Chupungco, OSB is arguably the foremost authority on inculturation and I believe much he says is of value. As someone who has lived in the Philippines (where Fr Chupungco is from), I think the Filipino culture is rich enough to afford some inculturation of the Liturgy. A good example is the Misa de Gallo, a Novena of Masses at daybreak (4am) held before Christmas, with a special emphasis on Our Lady. These Masses were first introduced by the Spanish friars to allow farmers to gather for Mass before setting off into the fields. To this day, even in urban centres, the Misa de Gallo is unique and well loved. It emphasises the Filipino love for 'Mama Mary' (herself held out for special devotion in Advent by the teaching of the Church, the traditional rural community life of the country and the Filipino penchant for self-sacrifice, hence awakening for Mass at such an early (and cold, by local standards) hour.

But I believe Fr Drew's words could be alluding to the legitimate plurality of uses within the Roman rite which Matt has already mentioned in his masterful post below. Certainly, the loss of ancient uses such as the Dominican rite (shown above) etc is a shame. An Irish priest friend of mine recounted to me how he grew up in Dublin and attended Mass in the Dominican parish and how proud he was to serve Mass in the Dominican rite unlike his friends in other parishes... I think there is something of value in such legitimate diversity.

One sees some semblance of this in large cities like London wherein one may attend the Missa Normativa celebrated in a variety of styles, even in the same parish! Brompton Oratory is an example which has Solemn High Mass (with polyphony etc) on a Sunday but it is preceded by the Family Mass with hymns and on weekdays one may hear 'Low' Mass said entirely in Latin.

The quotation from The Feast of Faith does highlight an important consideration though. The Mass must not be utilised in such a manner as to satisfy our wanderlust for novelty. Liturgical scholars recognize today that an important element of Liturgy is that it is ritualistic. By this, one means that it is repetitive by nature and habit-forming, just as the little rituals in our life are. For example: we sing 'Happy Birthday' to a tried and tested tune on birthdays. This familiarity is comforting and re-enforces what we celebrate. If one were to change the words and tune at a whim or every occasion, the ritual gesture is diminished, thus weakening the celebration itself. In the same way, Liturgy has to be ritualistic. If one considers Gregorian chant (since we are looking at the secular equivalent of birthday music), it is ritualistic, so that when one hears the familiar chants and tunes, one gets a sense of what we're celebrating. For example, the 'Rorate coeli' tune immediately evokes Advent while the 'Ad caenam Agni providi' evokes Easter joy. Dr Mary Berry, the papal-awarded semiologist has often spoken on this theme.

Perhaps to play Devil's Advocate, one may consider if the examples cited by Bryan of 'monotony' in many US parish liturgies (eg the use of only one Eucharistic Prayer or a predominant musical Mass setting) is not perhaps, subconsciously, a desire to find familiarity and ritual. Of course, this may well reflect Liturgical inertia and laziness too, but I am prepared to be charitable in this matter!

A final word for now. Bryan mentions education as a key to Liturgical 'maturity' among our parishes. I agree entirely. If I may be permitted the indulgence of quoting some material from my other blog:

I often get the impression when I am in church or talking to people or reading some of the articles or letters in the Catholic press that most of the baptised simply do not grasp the inherent value of the Liturgy; they are there but often seem clueless about what is unfolding around them. This is a travesty when one considers the fact that Vatican II's call for participatio actuosa was a call for "full, conscious and active participation" (cf SC 14). And this participation is achieved by priests instructing the faithful and helping them to understand what the Liturgy is about. Articles 14 - 19 of Sacrosanctum Concilium insist on this, stating that study and instruction of liturgy is the means to facilitating participation. This would suggest that participation is not about external activity but first and foremost, an interiorization and mental engagement with the action; we need to understand what is happening. So the fact that so many people seem clueless with regards to Liturgy highlights that this level of participation envisaged by the Council is simply not achieved.

As such, I suggest that a proper understanding of the call for participatio actuosa is founded first and foremost in Liturgical education. Typically, we have jumped ahead and implemented and introduced novelties and changes without proper preparation grounded in study and prayer.
This is what I hope this blog will help facilitate and enable, in a non-polemical spirit of Christian unity.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: