Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Report on the Ever Directed to the Lord Conference, Oct. 2005, Oxford

[I've been eagerly awaiting the release of this report on the Society of St. Catherine of Siena's "Ever Directed to the Lord" conference on the sacred liturgy, held at Oxford last autumn. I was pleased to find the report available now on the internet site of the Society, being originally published in Mass of Ages, the magazine of the Latin Mass Society, in February 2006.

Please note: The conference papers will be published sometime in 2006 by Continuum in a volume of the same title and edited by Fr. Michael Lang.

If you wish to see some additional photos of the event, click here.

On to the report.]


A Report on the Conference

by Susan Parsons

Near the conclusion of his Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II exhorts the faithful to ‘take our place . . . at the school of the saints, who are the great interpreters of true Eucharistic piety’ (§62). Because they are living witnesses of the change it brings about in human hearts and minds, the Eucharist itself becomes particularly ‘contagious’ through them and draws people toward its mystery. The understanding of this sacrament is made such a splendid reality in the lives of the saints that they teach us too the nature of this eucharistic living. It seemed entirely appropriate therefore to mark the end of the Year of the Eucharist which the late Holy Father declared in October 2004 with a conference that would take up his challenge, and that this should be organised by an organisation summoned to its work by one of saints and doctors of the Church. The Society of St Catherine of Siena had already held a colloquium on this Encyclical with an international group of theologians and liturgists in February 2004. That discussion brought to light two things which were to be influential in future planning. The first was the urgent need expressed around the table for the most difficult questions of the Liturgy of the Eucharist to be addressed with generosity amongst those of differing points of view and commitments. This was thought to be no time for name-calling or for refusal to enter into conversation on anyone’s part, but rather a time for gathering around the questions that are bigger than all of us, in humility and in forthright pursuit of truth. And the second was the palpable desire of the Church to find her way to her ‘summit and source’, and to learn once more how to live from out of this power. Such manifest love of the Eucharist and faithful intellectual enquiry were the motivating factors for the conference, Ever Directed toward the Lord.

This event was held in Oxford over two days in late October 2005. On the first day, a colloquium of two dozen liturgists gathered to consider the issues arising from the Liturgy of the Eucharist that require further scholarly attention. The day began with the celebration of a Solemn High Mass (1962) in the chapel of Blackfriars celebrated by Fr Andrew Wadsworth, one of the Chaplains to the Society, assisted by Dr. Laurence Hemming and Fr. Michael Lang cong. orat. The chant was sung by the choir of St Etheldreda’s Ely Place, London. The colloquium itself met at Merton College by invitation of the Dean, Mr. John Eidinow. Among the participants were both lay and ordained scholars from the UK, Canada, the United States and Italy, including a priest from the FSSP. It was especially good to be able to welcome as auditors six young and promising doctoral students from Oxford, London and Edinburgh, all of whom are working in areas related to the conference theme. There were two headings under which discussions were held. In the first, the focus was on liturgy and history, considering some of the things that have happened as the liturgical tradition has unfolded and their impact on our present situation. This was introduced by Fr Michael Lang cong. orat., whose study of the development of orientation in the Mass provides a clear example of what is to be learned from historical research. In the second, the topic was liturgy and philosophy, introduced by Dr. Laurence Hemming. Here the participants were able to discuss the impact of what are loosely called modernity and post-modernity on liturgical understanding and practice. These sessions could only begin to explore such large topics, but they served to encourage further theological study in these areas and to forge friendships.

In the evening, the colloquium was invited by the Chaplain of Merton College, Revd Dr. Simon Jones, to attend Anglican Evensong sung by the College Choir in the Chapel. This gesture of ecumenical friendship and of scholarly interest in the subject of the conference was most generous, as was his invitation to the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, to give an address to the congregation. A number of people noted that although the Archbishop had not been present during the colloquium, he nevertheless spoke right to the heart of the issues it had been addressing. His address asked: what is the way to hand on what we have received, which is of course the very essence of tradition? And how can this way be discerned in the midst a world so desperately in need of knowing that its Redeemer lives? These are not easy questions but there is a new and growing awareness of their urgency which was expressed in a number of ways throughout this event. Following a drinks reception with the College choir and some of the College Fellows, the colloquium participants were joined by the heads of most of the Catholic houses in Oxford for a dinner in the College, hosted by the Warden, Professor Dame Jessica Rawson, and addressed informally afterward by Fr Ronald Creighton-Jobe cong. orat. The Papal nuncio, His Excellency Mgr. Saintz Munoz was also present.

It was the Society’s intention that the second day of this event would provide an opportunity to present the results of these deliberations in a public conference held at Blackfriars. The Archbishop celebrated a sung votive Mass of St. Catherine of Siena (novus ordo) in the Chapel to begin the day. The choir of Ely Place sang the propers from the Dominican Rite. Nearly 100 people then gathered in the aula of Blackfriars for a full day of six papers given by the main speakers. A letter of good wishes for the conference had been received from His Eminence Cardinal Arinze (then Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) which was read out at the beginning by Fr Michael Lang. Professor Eamon Duffy opened the conference with a reflection on Benedict XVI. Reading from a number of the Holy Father’s critical and thought-provoking statements concerning the Liturgy of the Eucharist made both before and during his time as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith, Prof Duffy’s remarks provided the magisterial context for the deliberations of the conference. Immediately following his paper, Dr. Laurence Hemming addressed the question of ‘speaking a liturgical theology adequate to the Name’. Under the title, Open, O Lord, my Mouth, his paper explored the theological significance of the prayer with which the Offices used to begin, ‘Aperi, Domine, os meum ad benedicendum nomen sanctum tuum’. Especially Dr Hemming emphasised that in this prayer can be found an entire theology of the Sacred Liturgy, which he went on to illustrate. His presentation was briskly followed by one from Professor Jonathan Robinson cong. orat, the founder of the Toronto Oratory, who spoke of the wound in the heart of the Church. His paper drew on topics from his recently published book, Modernity and the Mass, in which he considers the impact of modern philosophical ideas and methods on Christian understanding of this sacrament and of the mode of its celebration. He spoke of his sense that the worship of the Church has been drastically altered by the cultural and philosophical dynamic of modernity and called us to consider the need for a ‘reform of the reform’.

After lunch, Professor Lauren Pristas of Caldwell College New Jersey, gave a paper on the revision of the Collects for the Sundays of Lent in the 1970 Roman Missal. She showed how our understanding of the nature and meaning of penance, of fasting and other related areas of spiritual discipline has been either adversely affected or simply ignored in the editing and production of these prayers, and showed how they compared to the Collects for the same Sundays in the 1962 Missal (which in fact were unaltered since the first sources we have for the Roman Missal). This gave clear and explicit illustration of the way in which the law of prayer is the law of belief, lex orandi, lex credendi. The last main speaker was Professor Paul Bradshaw, an Anglican liturgist and the Director of the London campus of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Prof. Bradshaw has written a number of books well-known among liturgical specialists on the origins of liturgy, especially in the West. His paper, The Genius of the Roman Rite Revisited, exemplified the kind of thoughtful reflection that is crucial now that the impact of conciliar reforms is open for wider debate. To conclude the day, I gave a short reflection on ‘Godly Grief and the Unity of the Church’. St Catherine has much to teach us about tears, both those that are shed for what has been lost or what might have been, and those that cry for joy at what awaits us. Turning from one to the other is precisely what the Church exists to do and for this it must always be brought before the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass. After such a full day, there was only time for the briefest thanks to be given to all those who so generously sponsored the event and who helped in a number of ways to make it run smoothly, and the conference ended with a solemn blessing from Abbot Patrick Regan OSB.

If I have given here a somewhat abbreviated account of each of the papers, it is really to whet your appetites for their full publication later this year. It has been the Society’s intention to make the papers widely available as soon as possible after the event itself, in a collection that Fr Michael Lang will edit and which will be published in 2006. It was not without significance that the event marked the 10th anniversary of a similar conference held in Oxford and sponsored by the Centre for Faith and Culture, which had called for improvements in the celebration of the Mass. This collection of papers will take their place alongside those of the earlier conference, which were published as Beyond the Prosaic, edited by Mr Stratford Caldecott.

A particularly happy moment on the day was the announcement by Mr Julian Chadwick of the first Society of St Catherine of Siena Research Fellowship in Liturgical Theology. Nearly all of the funds for this fellowship had been raised in record time in order that it might be awarded to Professor Lauren Pristas as she was introduced to the conference. Her detailed and meticulous research into the way the 1970 Missal was edited from the 1962 Missal and other sources is providing much-needed evidence for the ways in which the new rites were pieced together and of the reasons that were given for these changes. She is concerned particularly to show that the theological and spiritual formation of Catholics differs today from that of previous generations, and to consider the significance of this change. The Society is delighted that she has accepted this Fellowship and looks forward eagerly to publishing the results of this very timely study in the book series sponsored by the Society.

In conclusion it should be said that this conference and its work are a reflection of the changed situation for traditional Catholics. It is not unusual today to find that those who support the traditional Mass are young people, often people with young families, bringing up their children to know this rite in the first place. Having grown up after the struggles of the post-conciliar era, most of them do not bear the scars of its strife or carry its baggage, but come afresh and joyfully to this celebration of their faith. What has become more urgent for them, as indeed for many of among the younger generations, is to be enabled to make the connections between this faith and their everyday lives in ways that are spiritually and intellectually fulfilling. And for this, the sheer crushing banality of so much that passes for celebration in the Mass today is simply no longer adequate. In opening the 2005 Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father said that what the Church teaches about the Mass 'needs to be grasped and communicated in new ways that are relevant to modern times'. It may sound strange to those of us who have been told that we live in a backwater of little significance to the real world to discover that today in fact this is the very place that is most coming alive with intellectual challenge and signs of the Holy Spirit's movement among the faithful. If this may be an encouragement to traditionalists of every generation to continue to bring people to the Mass of ages and to welcome openly the most demanding enquiry after truth that is to be found in the mystery of the Eucharist, then the conference will have accomplished its purpose. A special debt of gratitude then is owed to the LMS for its own steadfastness of purpose and for its very generous contribution to sponsorship of this event.

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