Friday, September 14, 2007

Mosebach and Lang in New York

I did not have time to write up my experiences at the Lang Mass and Mosebach lecture at Our Saviour's, but the kind folks at the Society of St. Hugh of Cluny posted this extensive description of the event. Here are some excerpts, with some further comments from me in bold, and again below:

Correspondents from the two most prestigious newspapers of the German speaking world - the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (“NZZ”) – reported on the solemn high mass at the Church of Our Saviour in New York last Sunday and on the presentation by Martin Mosebach and Fr. Uwe Lang which followed.

[The FAZ article, titled “Steinzeitmann in New York”--literally, “Stone Age Man in New York” in reference to Mosebach’s characterization of himself as a simple man with a “stone age” sense or religiosity--can be found here, if you sprechen the Deutsch.]

These Reports show clearly the favorable impression that the Traditional Roman Rite leaves even on those outside the ranks of committed traditionalists. Father Rutler’s beautiful church on Park Avenue was completely full for the occasion. Jordan Mejias of the FAZ described the setting: “The Church of Our Saviour in New York … is a house of God that has translated into life stylistic influences from many centuries, right up to the splendor of the icons in their golden background, reminiscent of Byzantium.” He wondered whether the large congregation had come to absorb the Roman Rite or to listen to Martin Mosebach.

[I'd say a bit of both. There were clearly a good number more people at the Mass than the lecture, however, though the church was packed and the parish hall nearly full].

Mr. Mejias was equally impressed by the singing of both the choir and the congregation: “One could clearly perceive that the congregation of the Church of Our Saviour was already very conversant with this liturgy. The congregation mastered its role in the responses – sung of course in Latin – with complete assurance. They were surpassed only by the choir which not only accompanied but also shaped and filled with life the high mass with Gregorian chant and excerpts from Ockeghem's Missa Prolationum [...].”

“The reception for the guest, described as a “profound thinker and Catholic Traditionalist” was more than just warm.” Mejias noted that Mosebach was visiting New York as a guest of the Society of St. Hugh of Cluny which is dedicated to realizing the intentions of the pope as set forth in Summorum Pontificum. The Society, “founded only last July, intends to initiate priests into the half forgotten rite, to organize conferences and to reconcile the liturgy once again with great art and music. In the context, Mosebach could be introduced without any exaggeration as a star and as an author whose incisive and cogent case for the Roman rite is unmatched in the entire world. The Society was not disappointed.

Mosebach read from the English version of his Heresy of Formlessness and earned great adulation – judging from the lengthy applause and the long line for autographs.” (I should add that Fr. Lang had presented a detailed introduction to Mosebach’s work and the current status of the Traditional liturgy under Summorum Pontificum.)

The reporter only regretted that Mosebach seemed to be speaking mostly to the initiated, enjoying the advantage of playing a “home game away.”

[Fair enough.]

Andrea Koehler of the NZZ focused more on the mass and on aesthetics rather than Mosebach’s talk. [Which is not such a bad thing. Mosebach has made the point that interest in liturgical aesthetics need not signify interest only in aesthetics.] According to her, Martin Mosebach is on a “mission” to spread the old rite in the USA. “Mosebach has enlisted in the foremost ranks of the pious apologists for the old Latin mass.” [It seemed to me to be more of a simple explanation of where the Pope is going with all this.]


“The Kyrie Eleison, as if sung by the voices of angels, hovered in church’s nave, redolent of incense, while the late afternoon sun illuminated the deep blue of the windows. To cite Botho Strauss (a prominent German author - ed.), it is he who feels himself to be a “tortured and unhappy Protestant” who is naturally disposed to find the Catholic rite, with its theatrical incensing, whispering of the psalms, baroque garments and ceremonial genuflections, more attractive than the pragmatic pastoral care of protestant derivation.”

There were some sour notes regarding ceremony. The reporter judged that “the choreography around the altar lacked the effortless dignity conferred only long practice…..the Latin came out like Italian” ( I gather she may be unfamiliar with pronunciation of ecclesiastical Latin). [I thought the ceremonial quite fine, actually.] On the other hand, she was very impressed by the distribution of communion: “All the same, how much more effective is receiving the host on the tongue while kneeling. Indeed, bending the knee (flectamus genua!) does exercise a palpable, concentrating power.” For (Mosebach) it is clear that ‘our divine service does not come from men but from angels.’ Nevertheless, whether (the Catholic rite) is sent by angels or made imperfectly by men, one can with full confidence view the supernaturally beautiful chant of the choir as a gift from heaven. Levate!”
Fr. Lang's presentation regarding Summorum Pontificium, as well as his later remarks on the Reform of the Reform are particularly interesting. Martin Mosebach advocates a return to the Tridentine form of the Mass fairly strongly in his book, while in the introduction to the English edition, Fr. Fessio of Ignatius Press, while praising Mosebach's insights, strongly encourages in the name of the the Reform of the Reform the celebration of the Pauline Missal with all the appropriate rubrical solemnity. Mosebach, in his remarks afterwards, admitted he was not adverse to some organic change in the liturgy--it would happen of its own accord over time--though he cautioned liturgists to avoid simply going in and arbitrarily changing things without first experiencing the fullness of the lived liturgy. (I was somewhat confused by his remarks on this point, but I think he would prefer if any change was to occur it would simply be gradual and unconscious.)

Fr. Lang suggested that with the Motu Proprio, the Tridentine use would be the basis and liturgical leaven for the Reform of the Reform within the Ordinary Form, which really brought home in my mind the fact that the wall between the "ultramontane" and "traditionalist" camps on the modern liturgical scene could slowly be crumbling, an idea Fr. Zuhlsdorf has suggested as well. I think it is becoming increasingly evident there is room for both well-done Novus Ordo masses and well-done Tridentine masses in the current liturgical revival, whatever comes out of it.

One of the most brilliant moves of Summorum Pontificium is it does encourage precisely the unconscious, lived development that will come from the co-existence of both forms; it is too easy otherwise to get bogged down in lists of rubrical desiderata as the Old Liturgical Movement did at times (and which I am myself often guilty of). I believe there will be be a time for such emendations in the decades to come, when some foundation has been established, but at the moment Benedict's move is to simply to ask us to truly live the Mass.

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