Tuesday, July 17, 2007

FIRST THINGS: The Jewishness of the Roman Rite

There is an interesting article up on First Things (thanks for a reader for sending it along), The Jewishness of the Roman Rite. The article looks at the extraordinary use of the Roman rite, and gives an entirely different angle upon the question raised about what that liturgy has to say about Judaism and our relation to it. It is an interesting piece overall.

Because people sometimes assume that when you link to an article, you agree with all that it says in every nuance (one should never assume such incidentally), I should probably give a few caveats I personally have with regard to the piece.

Caveat 1: The Place of Latin

I wouldn't take the approach of the author, Nicholas Frankovich, with regard to Latin, which I both understand to have, and experience as having, comprehensibility (even if in a different way from what we understand with regard to 'common vernacular'). I believe there is a necessity to be aware of and open to these different modes of comprehensibility. Such allows us to appreciate both the introduction of the vernacular as well as the retention of Latin in the liturgy.

As well, I wouldn't make the same quick association re: the common vernacular, particularly given the light of Fr. Lang's scholarship on liturgical Latin vs. vernacular Roman street Latin. That being said, I would certainly agree that Latin is not the whole issue and that the vernacular is of itself not a problem.

In many regards, the retention of some decent measure of liturgical Latin in typical parish worship relates to three main points for myself:

1) the aspect of tradition -- this is indeed important in its own right, though it is important to acknowledge that this aspect doesn't necessitate in some absolute way that we maintain the entire liturgy in Latin either obviously;

2) the treasury of sacred music -- the loss of Latin would also, as we have seen happen, cast aside a great treasury of sacred music, especially Gregorian chant and polyphony, which is too great a thing to be lost ecclesiastically, liturgically and culturally;

3) Conciliar mandate - the Council asked for its retention, which, if we take seriously the idea that we cannot simply ignore a Council, we cannot ignore this aspect of it either.

Caveat 2: Organic Development

A second caveat I would make to the piece is as regards the question of fabrication and building anew in the liturgy. The article does accurately portray the feeling that is out there about this, but it leaves it more or less in that domain of subjective, emotional response. But it isn't, I would propose, simply that. Rather, if we can assume that our tradition of organic development does have an objective value (and the Church would seem to say as much), and that the Holy Spirit has worked through this process down the ages, then it is not simply an emotional, antiquarian, or romantic ideal at root -- whether some make it that for themselves is another question. It gets down to the fundamental level of liturgical principles and theology.

Caveat 3: The Heart of the Church

With regard to the analogy about "orthodox" vs. "reform" Catholics (in parallel to orthodox, conservative and reform Judaism) there is need greater qualification and distinction. Indeed, who and what would be classified as "conservative" vs. "orthodox"?

I should like to make the proposal that what many of us have often termed "moderate traditionalists", or in other words, people attached to the classical Roman liturgy, who accept the Council itself but critique its typical post-conciliar interpretation and implementation, and who are also open to co-existence, co-operation and organic development, are themselves part of the 'conservative' middle if you will -- to maintain the analogy of Frankovich. They are centrists within the Church, operating in the light of the principles of the Church in all regards.

It's hard to pin with certainty what the author's own point of view might be since he really doesn't state it, or know whether he would himself make those distinctions, but certainly some might make the quick assumption that adherence to the ancient use automatically would put you, by analogy, in the "orthodox Judaism" type of camp, slightly outside of the centre camp at the heart of the Church. However, I think the issue is more nuanced than that.

To use the more traditional designations that have developed internally these past decades, within both the "traditionalist" and "conservative" camp can be found centrists and then also those who adopt a more hardline posturing which might claim the Church for themselves -- a certain sense of exclusive possession of the fullness of orthodoxy. How such manifests itself in traditionalist circles is fairly well known, but such posturing can also manifest itself in the conservative (or what some call "neo-conservative"/"neo-con") circles as well. The issue of being at the centre of the Church isn't ultimately about what liturgical books are used; its about one's ecclesiological and theological principles. I believe this is important to remember, and I believe it is likewise important to remember because through that recognition and focus upon those principles, that is where fruitful co-existence and co-operation can occur to the greater benefit of all.

Caveats Aside...

Some excellent insights upon the Jewish dimension of the question and also upon certain other aspects of this question.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: