Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hermeneutic of Liturgical Continuity at Work

One of the key elements of Pope Benedict's pontificate is the hermeneutic of continuity, which he introduced in his famous allocution to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005. With this approach, the Holy Father intends to counter the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" which has been widespread in the years after the Council with such desastrous consequences. Summorum Pontificum, beside its other pruposes, is an important application of this hermeneutic of continuity in the crucial area of the liturgy. Not only does it affirm that "in the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too." (Accompanying Letter) and give practical meaning to it. It also envisages that "the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching".

One possible immediate application of this aim of Summorum Pontificum, which has been proposed here on the NLM before - not without contestation -, is that the rubrics and general principles of the Older Form of the Roman Rite could instruct the Newer Form where the latter's rubric are either silent or ambiguous. In this context, it is encouraging to see what Fr Edward McNamara LC, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university, answers in the latest column of his widely read liturgical Q&A series for Zenit to a question whether it is licit to raise the Host with only one hand at the elevation. Here is the interesting part:

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal does not give a detailed description of this rite. Nor do the liturgical norms and rubrics surrounding the consecration in the missal explicitly determine that the priest takes the host in both hands.


If we were to limit ourselves to a minimalist interpretation of the rubrics, we would have to say that there is no strict legal requirement to hold the host in both hands.

However, the liturgical norms of the ordinary rite, even though they no longer describe each gesture in detail, tend to presume continuity in long-standing practice. Thus there is every reason to assume that when saying simply that the priest “takes the bread,” the legislator presumes that he will do so with both hands as is obligatory in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.

This is very heartening indeed. It also would suggest that the interpretative principle of the hermeneutic of continuity, one of the fundamental concepts of Pope Benedict's Magisterium, has made obsolete the (rather erratic) (in)famous responsum of the Congregation of Divine Worship of 1978, which said that "when the rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI say nothing or say little on particulars in some places, it is not to be inferred that the former rite should be observed", as representing the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture".

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