Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Law of Faith and the Law of Prayer: A Preview Chapter from Laszlo Dobszay's New Book

[In response to the "call for papers" I made yesterday, a number NLM leaders will be pleased that as part of the fruits of that call, Professor Laszlo Dobszay has submitted one chapter from his new book, On Renovation of the Roman Rite and its Organic Development. The aforementioned book is not yet in print, and is presently being translated into English, so this is a nice "sneak preview" of chapter 6 of that book, titled, "Lex Credendi", for NLM readers.]

VI. “Lex credendi”
by Prof. Laszlo Dobszay

The theological aspect of criticism induces us to an important excursus. This kind of argumentation clearly leans on a frequently cited formula – going back to St. Augustine and worded in the Middle Ages: lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi, that is, the law of the faith raises the law of prayer. The sentence have a double meaning.

The prayer, in our case the liturgical prayer (and liturgical custom) must be concordant with the dogmas. Not only until the point that they cannot be contrary to the Christian doctrine, but also inasmuch as they have to reflect the wholeness of the Christian doctrine, the inner coherence, order, proportions, equilibrium of this teaching. What is prominent in the hierarchy of the Christian doctrine, should be prevalent also in the prayer. This is true, first of all, for the liturgy. What is of secondary importance, let us say, peripheral in the doctrine, cannot disproportionately push ahead in the liturgy. As Robert Taft showed: the liturgy cannot, as a whole, be simply Trinitarian, Christological, Mariological, Eucharistical, penitential, or latreic, – since all these (and the other elements of the Christian doctrine) appears in the liturgy in a proportionate unity. Guardini says just at the beginning of his famous book (The Spirit of the Liturgy), that this is a basic difference between liturgy and folk or private devotion; the latter may focus on themes, favoured by a given age, spiritual school or religious group – the liturgy is more universal.

Consequently (and this is the second aspect of the axiom), the liturgy is a source of faith, a witness of the faith of Church. It occurred when a new dogma was announced (i.e. it was announced, that a given truth was always kept and believed as a sure and basic teaching of the Church) the liturgy appeared as an eminent argument, a point of reference. This is true not only for professional theology, but also in the life of the simplest Christian people. The Hungarian spiritual writer Balázs Barsi formulated it so: “the Christian people believes what they pray”. That is, the average believer does not draw and learn the content of his faith primarily from dogmatic declarations, theological books, courses, not even from the religion classes, but he learns it from the prayers, the words he hears and says in the church. This fact taken in itself would be enough to justify legislation of the Church over the liturgy.

In spite of the validity of the principle “Lex credendi...” there are some problems with the sense it is used often in our days. Though doctrine directs and controls the liturgy and liturgical life (the “lex supplicandi”), the liturgy itself is more than the “lex credendi”. Or, one may say, the “lex credendi” works in a quite individual and refined style in the liturgy. The norm of the doctrine is not enough to understand the liturgy. It has its own laws. One, and doubtfully eminent component of this is the “lex credendi”; but it is much more complex than it could be described by the use of one single norm.

I will give an extreme example to help illustrate. If somebody were crazy enough to propose the shifting of the Gospel to after the Consecration, a theological argument could be hardly raised against it. Furthermore, the suggestion could be backed by a forced theological argument: “In the Consecration Christ starts his real presence, then he feeds his faithful with his word (in the Gospel) and Body (Communion).” Readers have every right to be horrified; but one can understand from this case, that the sequence of Gospel and Consecration is defined not by a theological norm, not by the lex credendi, but by some kind of lex celebrandi, which is nearly so strong as the former is. In this sentence I used the word “lex” not in a legal, disciplinary connotation, but as a reference to an inner norm, a demand that cannot be violated, a norm or order which is given in the nature of the matter.

As the “lex credendi” regulates the “lex supplicandi”, and therefore the “lex supplicandi” reveals the “lex credendi”, just so the tradition construes, embrace and reveal the “lex celebrandi”.

Masters writings on the liturgy tried to approach this “lex celebrandi” in dozens of books and meditations (e.g. Romano Guardini revealed some of these norms). I not even attempt to describe it, and all the less since we should have to unravel an ineffably refined texture. But: the fact that liturgy has its own inner norms is true not only for the liturgy as a whole, but also for the individual parts and elements. There are elements, that allow some variants; the extent of this variation is determined by the inner regulatory system of the liturgy. Other elements belong to the identity of the individual rites. A deviation is not against the logic of the liturgy in general, but would harm the given rite. (This new aspect, the defense of the style of the Roman Rite is stressed in the recent papal documents; in this fact I see a shift if compared with the past three decades.)

Instead of a detailed analysis it is enough to say that the liturgy is not a tool of religious instruction. The liturgical text is not a catechism put into prayer and neither is it its illustration. When a homily states: “the teaching of the today liturgy is...” it goes, in fact, against the spirit of the liturgy since it treats the liturgy as it were a school class with a principal “theme”, and with texts tasked to explain this theme. In some sense, the liturgy has always the same “teaching”. On the other hand, liturgy is much more than a carrier of teaching. Here I am thinking not only the sacramental reality of the liturgy, which is beyond teaching. Liturgy places people in the special situation of existence. This medium is supra-personal, supra-communal, supra-natural and eschatological. One blessing of the liturgy is that we can temporarily lay aside the “methodological” thinking (without becoming inattentive). We can forget ourselves and our direct duties (by finding just there our innermost self). We get under the influence of something higher; it takes us out of the earthly environment and lets exist world (the foretaste of the heavens) bringing the possibility of existence in the presence of God. Liturgy requires reasonable obeisance (rationabile obsequium); but does not require a great intellectual, voluntary or emotional activity. It fixes the rules of the active external participation, but – with a bit of discretion – leaves the overmanipulated human person in himself – in reality, not in himself, but in the intimate air of the divine mystery. It is true, that the soul when it enters into the liturgy, or more precisely: when it frequents its celebration, becomes more learned in the divine matters (sacris erudiri), in the sense of tasting the divine. A sensus ecclesiasticus is formed in him, he learns spiritual discipline and his emotional sphere is imbued with piety. But all these are not the result of a direct and purposeful didactic work, moral lesson or manipulated emotional influence. This effect can be guessed after the model of a music concert, a friendly talk, an excursion, or a lovely nuptial action.

The liturgy cannot be reduced to the service of the “lex credendi”, because the “ideas” taken from the liturgy, when translated in the catechetical language, leaves behind the language of the liturgy, and thinks and speaks in style alien to it. The liturgy is articulated, but does not proceed the same as the articles of a treatise. The liturgy uses the polished words of the intellect, but it is imbibed with a poetical inspiration. The liturgy as a whole carries a well-balanced doctrine, but in the single moments it may express even in an exaggerated way, the joy, despair, hate of sin, and love of God and man. The equilibrium is not counted by a painful pedantry. The liturgy has its proper vocabulary - grammatic, rythmic, rhetoric - associated with the words of the theology, never opposite to it, but different from it, and the liturgy has also its own drama, formed over centuries: to subvert it is a dangerous experimentation.

In respect of “lex credendi” the individual genres of the liturgy require different interpretation. The Gospel carries the Christian teaching, but differently from the case when we study the Bible in itself. For example, in the Mass the Gospel is in correlation with the Eucharist and the liturgical year; it gets its actual (and mystical) meaning in this context. When we pray the psalms, the elements of teaching appear in a lyric disposition, in the co-efficiency of mind, intellect, will and emotion. The collect (Secret, Preface etc.) is the most direct expression of the liturgical teaching of the church. In them, however, the individual themes are coordinated by some kind of synoptic view: everything appears in its association with the matter of human salvation.

Tolstoy in War and Peace speaks on the war of Russia against Napoleon. One of the most memorable scenes is the battle at Borodino and yet, thinking of this, there emerges some kind of totality in our memory: it is the texture of single human fates, as well as overall human fate, joyful and painful the wandering of peoples, nations, communities through the time; of desires, delusions, attractions, unreasonable alienations... All appears not “in general terms”, not in an abstract way, but in the concreteness of living life. And so, though all what is written about campaigns and battles are true historically, what we read is not a history book.

Another simile comes to my mind in speaking about the role of tradition in “lex celebrandi”. Tradition determines that the liturgy is a living organism and not artificial fabricatum. One can cut his hair and nails; may take medicine for his illness; if he is seriously ill, an operation might be needed; in modern medicine it may even occur that one of his organs is replaced. But it is impossible to take out all his inner organs and replace them with new ones, then point to his flesh and say: see, it is the same man.

Let us suppose that in spite of all efforts of the progressives, no single case will be found in the Bugnini-liturgy when the “lex credendi” had been harmed. Even if so, we can say, knowing the proper world of the liturgy, that this rite in its fullness and spirit breathes an air different from that of the Roman Rite. As we have told, it reminds one principally of the rites that originated under the influence of Jansenism, Gallicanism, and the Enlightment.

By all these I don’t want to deny, of course, the principal importance of rationality in the liturgy. The Catholic liturgy is not an exstasis, not hypnosis – it is irradiated in its every moment by the serene light of ratio. Well does it bear the Catholic doctrine, the lex credendi; yes, we have to strive to understand its teaching¸ the faithful should learn the words, signs, message of the liturgy. Yes, the content of the liturgy should be explained in a liturgical catechesis with due tact, possibly without breaking away the concrete, visible elements of the liturgy. The content of the liturgy should be “translated” to the language of the human mind, “modo recipientis”, i.e. with accomodations to the given community. But the liturgy is not equal with this explanation, with this teaching. Many were scandalized when I wrote in a comment: the symbolism and meaning of the Paschal Candle can and should explain; but the Paschal Candle is not identical with this explanation; the Paschal Candle is identical only with the Paschal Candle.

What is the most important of all is what was said: in the debate of “old” and “new” liturgy the direct and indirect theological message of them could be analyzed. But the last argument is something else. We cannot avoid seeing the liturgy as a liturgy, according to the inner norms of the lex (or rather: ars?) celebrandi.

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