Sunday, July 22, 2007

Parallels in the New Liturgical Revival and the Catholic Revival in England: Another 'Second Spring'?

It's a rather common claim amongst the more rupturist or rupturist oriented school to speak of "modernity" and "modern man" in a way that would suggest, ontologically, modern man is necessarily different creature from people of other eras -- and I might add, what God created human nature generally to be. This effects the way they propose we approach both the liturgy and the Faith itself.

We are indeed formed by the culture which surrounds us, and I think it would be pointless to deny this, and the Church does indeed seek to address modern society in its context and terms just as missionaries would seek to speak to particular non-European cultures in particular ways. However, none of this changes the fact of a basic, common and shared human nature with corresponding shared desires and needs. In other words, there are nuances and particularlities, but there is not a 'great divorce'; there is that which ties all people or all eras together. Modern man is not divorced from his classical, Victorian or medieval counterparts as regards our human nature, just as a European man is not utterly different from an Oriental or African man. A quick survey of literature, the pursuit of religion and science, would show the common themes, desires and pursuits that cross these timelines and cultures. What societally surrounds us can indeed vary, but on the deeper level of meaning, what is relevant to classical man is also relevant to modern man. Our nature clearly disposes us to the transcendent; young children continue to dream and play out ceremony and pageantry; rituals continue to have relevance in our day to day life and given us a necessary sense of order and meaning. These things speak to us as much now as they did in the middle ages and so it is not the case that they no longer speak to us or have relevance. They are not time-bound in that sense. They teach us and they speak to the search for meaning, for the eternal; for God.

Liturgically this idea manifests itself by the suggestion that such an ancient liturgy cannot speak to modern man. More ancient forms of liturgical language, the mysterious, elaborate ceremonial and vestments; concepts even of sacrifice perhaps, these things, it is sometimes claimed, are incapable of reaching modern man and do not speak to him. At heart, it would seem to be understood that somehow modern man has 'evolved' beyond these things, as though they were outmoded, radically subjective, arbitrary, or even superstitious. Therefore, the thinking would seem to go, we must rather radically modernize and innovate, we must create a rationalized, "de-mystified" and transparent liturgy; we must orient that liturgy toward our community and make it a platform for broader social causes. In the same way, we must de-mythologize the scriptures, even Christ himself and his resurrection. The trend is clear and consistent even though not shared in all aspects by those who might make such a claim about the liturgy itself. At root is the idea that modern man is, by nature, radically different from the men and women of other eras and ages, and this in turn drives the need for rupture from the past.

Perhaps this idea is what drove (and continues to drive) a kind of self-assurance and over-confidence that the ancient Roman liturgical tradition as it organically grew and developed (into the modern era it is worth noting) was somehow permanently relegated to the history books and is without real interest, appeal or relevance any longer -- one thinks of the confidence in which Fr. Joseph Gelineau, SJ, famously proclaimed that this liturgy was "destroyed". Yet, here we sit today in the beginnings of the re-introduction of the usus antiquior into the wider and normative liturgical life of the Roman church, and upon a reform of the reform.

What put me in mind of all this was something that Cardinal Manning wrote about the restoration of Catholicism in nineteenth England and I couldn't help but be struck by some of the parallels that we'd find in the culture of the Church (rather than English society) itself:

"I can well remember how, at the time of Catholic emancipation, it was thought impossible that the Catholic Faith should ever regain its hold in England. Men used then, as I well recollect, to say, the superstition of Romanism cannot revive in the light of the nineteenth century. This was the sincere belief of the majority of Protestants. They were so sure of their own position, the Catholic controversy had been for centuries so powerless, the number of Catholics had been so thinned by penal laws, that the Emancipation was conceded... In those days it was believed that Romanism had nothing more to say for itself... It was believed to be superstitious in its premises, and inconsequent in its logic.... Another remarkable feature of those times... was that the Catholic Church was hardly anywhere to be seen."

Continuing on about the church in England in his time:

"Now in estimating the present position of the Catholic religion among us, I make no parallel between the universality and visibleness of the Church in France and of the Church in England... in England it counts but one million upon twenty... the Hierarchy and Priesthood are withdrawn from the public, and even the private life of England; the churches are few and scattered, and with exception of a small number, are obscure and out of sight. Certainly nothing can be less imposing or less sensible than the Catholic Church in England. Its 'bodily presence is weak,' but its speech is not 'contemptible.' It has engaged the ear, if it does not fill the eye of English society. It has an influence upon public opinion, and upon private life, which cannot be shaken off. It is like a small garrison which will hold a city, or column of occupation which retains its grasp upon a territory, not by a material presence everywhere, but by a moral force which reached far beyond its cantonments." (Source: Miscellanies (First Series). 'Inaugural Address: Session 1866-7')

My purpose in quoting this is not to introduce a needless triumphalism about "victory." My point goes beyond the matter of the usus antiquior and intends to consider the question of orthodoxy and orthopraxis generally, as regards both the classical liturgy and the reform of the reform.

I do see some parallels and a history lesson here. On the one hand, there is the presumption, made also by mainstream, 19th century, protestant English society, of what does or does not speak to people. It is likewise very popular for many to today say in relation to the classical form of the Roman liturgy, or even the reform of the reform, that "there is no demand for this..." or to continue to suggest it has no relevance. Regarding demand, there is an aspect of this which is true, of course, but perhaps not for the reasons thought, and the judgement is far from final and quite premature -- as premature as the judgement of protestant English society. For one, this ignores the rather limiting like circumstances and lack availability (i.e. visibility) of more traditional liturgical expressions (ancient or modern use). But beyond that, it fails to consider the deeper power that the tradition has to precisely speak to modern man in a way in which he longs for and needs. That visibility, albeit it gradually, is set to change.

Like Catholic England in the 19th century, it seems reasonable to think that we sit upon the cusp of a gradual revival of tradition in both uses of the Roman rite. For the moment, like the church in England Cardinal Manning speaks of, it sits in pockets here and there, and yet, while it may not as yet seem significant in the face of the larger Catholic populace (as of yet), it has something very profound to say; something of relevance and most certainly of influence.

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