Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Re-analyzing the Liturgical Movement

I. The Liturgical Movement: Friend and Foe?

After reading the essays in Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger one of the impressions I was left with was that the previous liturgical movement, while overall quite good (though with some being better than others), did make some mistakes in how they approached the question of the liturgy and liturgical reform -- mistakes we need to learn from and avoid.

It is within this very context of the liturgical movement wherein we begin to see and hear of such novelties as Mass facing the people (to name but one example) -- something which Jungmann and Bouyer sounded cautionary notes about; they noted that some faulty historical assumptions were being made about the liturgical practice of the early Church, and these mistaken assumptions were used to justify this practice. Uwe Michael Lang has highlighted their 'cautionary verses' in his own wonderful work, Turning Towards the Lord.

II. Antiquarianism

We also know that it was during this period that Pope Pius XII felt it necessary to speak up against what he called "archeologism". In short, a false antiquarianism which glorified a particular period of Catholic liturgy as particularly desireable and to be restored. This idea, it shouldn't be too hard to see, works against the idea that the liturgy develops over time organically and that the Holy Spirit is present in this development. This is not to say that reforms cannot be made of course. Such would deny the reality of liturgical history. Nonetheless, there is a certain character to this development. Much of what he spoke against would come to pass in the here and now. I quote paragraph 62 of Mediator Dei:

"But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See."

III. Rationalism in Liturgical Reform

We also live in a time which has been pervaded by rationalistic thinking. Professional liturgists now speak of duplication of symbols, as an example. Suddenly it is unacceptable that there should be two crucifixes in or near the sanctuary even if the one is the processional cross and the other on the altar, or on the wall in much grander scale. Likewise, there is a prevailing sense that all must be doing the same actions at the same time and in the same manner. Too often have I heard liturgists speak of the need for symbols that are clear to the people (to thus allow them to more consciously participate -- not a bad thing) and yet these same liturgists construct and implement many symbols and liturgical ideas which are so disconnected from any proper Catholic sense, let alone common sense, that they would never enter into the minds of Catholics, be they educated or uneducated. They have effectively become their own private clique with their own jargon and their own theories; theories not rooted in genuine Catholic thinking, experience or the culture formed by it -- a culture which still resonates because it has formed the people on a deep level -- but theories which seem contrived and constructed merely on the principle of novelty and which are ultimately rooted in rationalism.

In the context of the liturgical reform, this rationalism became present in the method in which the reform was carried out. Dropping the ball on the age-old practice (and conciliar mandate) to organically develop the liturgy, it would seem instead as though the modern Roman liturgy was constructed -- or to put it in the oft heard phrase of Cardinal Ratzinger, it was a "fabricated liturgy" -- and subjected to the analytic reasonings of various specialists. Fr. Aidan Nichols has spoken in Looking at the Liturgy of how rationalism has pervaded our approach to the liturgy.

This influence of rationalism is perhaps the greatest danger we have to avoid and to face in our analysis of and approach to liturgical reform. If we allow this rationalistic approach to liturgy to continue, we face the prospect of tragically making the same mistakes over and over again. Our Holy Father of venerable memory, Pope John Paul II, reminded us in Orientale Lumen (The Light of the East) that the Church breathes with two lungs: that of the Eastern Church and that of the Western Church. One of the great fruits of the Second Vatican Council was the new awareness of the West toward the Christian East; liturgical churches par excellence. It seems to me that the Christian East may offer a bit of the antidote to our Western rationalism, being rooted in cultures which did not experience the influence of the Enlightenment, and which were even separated from the developments of scholasticism.

IV. Time to Re-Think and Take Stock?

The epiphany that the aforementioned texts and circumstances have brought forth to me is that perhaps the basic principles which informed the liturgical reform even before it happened need to be re-analyzed. There was a great rush towards liturgical reform in the 20th century -- and this desire was not without merit as some reforms, like the introduction of some vernacular (particularly for the Propers), are highly desireable. But perhaps because of that rush, mistakes were made at the fundamental level of first principles? These mistakes allowed the reformers approach to the liturgy as an object to be dissected rather than a temple and vehicle of the Holy Spirit to be received.

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