Saturday, February 17, 2007

One reason why liturgical forms do matter

I recently shared a reflection with a friend about our sense of loss in regard our liturgical tradition and the historical Western liturgical rites.

It is an objective historical fact that a great deal has been lost, liturgically speaking, these past 40 years. When one considers how many unique liturgical rites in the West disappeared almost overnight, it is hard to come to any other conclusion.

The Dominican rite, the Premonstratensian, the ancient Ambrosian and so many others virtually disappeared from use. There is also the issue of the classical Roman liturgy, which was so closely related to these other Western rites.

One might ask us however, why lament over this? These liturgical rites, after all, are not absolutes. The sacraments still exist, regardless of particular liturgical form. Moreover, the Holy Trinity is our end, not the sacred liturgy which is but a means to that end pointing us to the hoped for celebration of the Heavenly Liturgy in eternal beatitude.

These things are all true. We do still have the sacraments, the necessary instruments instituted by God for our salvation. The sacrifice is affected, even if not always understood by all within our parishes. God can be worshipped.

So is it wrong for one to be so concerned with the question of the liturgy? The answer is no. First proof of this is the fact that the Church deems it important. If the liturgy is one of our greatest teaching tools, then it cannot fail to have importance.

One might compare it to a book. The content of the book itself is ultimately the purpose of the book. However the sturdiness of the book's construction, the legibility of the text, the quality of the materials employed, these all matter and have an important part to play in the delivery of the contents of the text itself and to ensure that those contents are best delivered.

We might also compare the loss of our historic liturgical forms to the loss of a family home. The loss of these liturgical rites in the day-to-day life of the Church is like the loss of a home that has been in one's family for generations and generations. The sorrow at that loss is not only real, it is legitimate. While one might still have food and shelter over one's head (the sacrifice is accomplished, the sacraments delivered) which is most necessary, nonetheless that which ties us to our family and heritage is diminished. So too with the loss of our historical liturgical rites, which tie us to our Catholic heritage and to our spiritual family. It is something passed down to us through the centuries and a tradition which we continue in. This has profound spiritual value and power.

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