Friday, March 16, 2007

Changes are on the way : Dr. Alcuin Reid reviews "Ever Directed Towards the Lord"

Original Source: The Catholic Herald - Britain's leading Catholic newspaper

Alcuin Reid surveys cutting-edge studies on the Liturgy that anticipate papal reforms

Ever Directed Towards the Lord: The Love of God in the Liturgy of the Eucharist Past, Present and Hoped For, edited by U M Lang, T&T Clark. £55

Liturgy is high on the agenda in this pontificate, as Professor Eamon Duffy’s opening contribution to this volume – “The New Pope and the Liturgy” – suggests. As Duffy says: “We have a Pope who has made clear his strong and controversial views on many contested aspects of Catholic worship.” Hence these proceedings of the October 2005 Oxford conference of the Society of St Catherine of Siena have an importance for more than the professional liturgist and librarian (for whom the edition seems to have been priced).

With the Holy Father’s new Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis following the 2005 Synod of Bishops, as well as the widely anticipated motu proprio liberalising the use of traditional Mass, there is much more to be said about the Liturgy in the coming months and years. Ever Directed Towards the Lord is an important contribution to this discussion, containing as it does incisive papers from some of the leading Anglophone liturgical scholars of our day.

The research of the American Dr Lauren Pristas has not been noted by many. But liturgists worldwide will soon have to take account of her incisive and painstaking work. For she is preparing a book, Collects of the Roman Missal: A Study in Liturgical Reform, in which she examines the ideologically inspired theological evacuation that took place in the reform of the prayers proper to each day in the liturgical year. At Oxford, Dr Pristas presented a paper on the reform of the prayers for Lent. In the work of the 1960s reformers she identifies, among other things, a distinct aversion to that staple of Lent, fasting, and concludes: “The revised Lenten collects that neither expect, nor insistently invite, us to fast have done us a distinct disservice.” Such conclusions look behind the (commendable) work of ICEL to give us an accurate translation of the Latin prayers of the new missal and insist that we look again at the quality of the Latin original of the reformed prayers themselves.

Another insufficiently known scholar is the Canadian Oratorian Fr Jonathan Robinson. His new book, The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward, formed a basis for private scholarly discussion on the first day of the Oxford conference. His paper in this volume, presented at the public part of the conference, is a succinct and useful summary of his philosophically demanding and very important book. He, too, identifies serious defects in modern liturgical practice which cry out for redress. “The present state of the Liturgy [not only] reflects the alienation of modern Catholic thought and practice from the tradition of the Church,” he claims, “but now it also contributes to it.”

Or, to put it more clearly: “Modern liturgical practices are defective, and they are in place, and they reinforce people’s understanding both of their faith and of how the faith should relate to the modern world. This means that the ‘reform of the reform’ will be a long, hard business. How the reform will happen is at best opaque.”

Dr Pristas and Fr Robinson air important, hard questions. So, too, do other contributors. Heythrop College’s Dr Laurence Paul Hemming argues cogently for a “liturgical theology and practice adequate to the Name”, pointing out the subservience of theology to the Sacred Liturgy as well as philosophy’s subservience to theology, seeking to correct a rationalism far too prevalent in recent decades. The volume’s editor, Fr Michael Lang of the London Oratory, authoritatively dispels the myth that “Vatican II ordered Mass facing the people” and insists that “for the welfare of the Church” it is necessary to reclaim “the common direction of prayer [facing east] which expresses the sacrificial and latreutic character of the Eucharist”. Fr Lang’s longer book on this topic enjoys a preface by Cardinal Ratzinger.

Dr Susan Parsons, of the University of Nottingham, and the renowned Anglican liturgist Dr Paul Bradshaw also contribute, the former concluding the volume, as she did the conference, with the observation: “If you want the simple answers … on the back of an envelope, you have come to the wrong conference.” For neither the Society of St Catherine of Siena conference, nor this volume of its proceedings, claim to have all the answers to the complex liturgical malaise of our day. Rather, in the words of Cardinal Arinze’s letter which commends the event, they seek to contribute “to a better understanding and a more suitable celebration and sanctifying celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery” and to “liturgical renewal and a deeper understanding of the public worship of the Church” in our day. However, we may well find that much of the thought articulated here is in tune with what could eventually become known as the liturgical reform of Benedict XVI.

Dr Alcuin Reid is the author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy (Ignatius, 2005) which has a preface by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

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