Monday, July 20, 2009

"Benedict XVI on Church Art and Architecture": Summary of the Papers Delivered

The NLM was pleased to receive the following detailed report on the papers delivered at the recent Fota Liturgical Conference in the South of Ireland.

To give you a sense of the report, first a few excerpts, focusing upon the papers delivered by Fr. Uwe Michael Lang and Dr. Alcuin Reid:

Fr Uwe Michael Lang, Cong. Orat., in his paper entitled: “Louis Bouyer and Church Architecture: Resourcing Benedict XVI’s Spirit of the Liturgy”, showed both the indebtedness of Joseph Ratzinger to his friend and esteemed colleague Louis Bouyer but also the differentiated use the former made of the latter by avoiding Bouyer’s more controversial theses and polemical points. Lang showed how Ratzinger took up and developed Bouyer’s insight into the cosmic and eschatological significance of the Eucharistic liturgy. Bouyer drew attention to early Syrian church architecture, where the "Liturgy of the Word" was conducted on the bema, a raised platform in the centre of the nave. Moving to the altar in the apse for the "Liturgy of the Eucharist", priest and people faced the East, acknowledging the cosmic dimension of Christian worship. In the first place, the rising sun symbolizes the final Return of the Risen Lord now anticipated in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Lang referred to Bouyer's and Ratzinger's observation that celebrating the Sacrifice facing the people tends to eclipse the transcendental dimension of the liturgy. God tends to be absorbed into the community whereas in facing East what is expressed is the dialogue between the People of God and God Himself. Further, the sacrificial character of the Mass tends to be downplayed while the Mass tends to be seen primarily as a sacred meal.


Dr Alcuin Reid (London, England) read a though-provoking paper entitled “Noble Simplicity Revisited” on Sacrosanctum Concilium’s article 34. He traced the origins of the term “noble simplicity” back to its Enlightenment origins as a reaction to Baroque splendour. Looking at scholars such as Edmund Bishop (1899), Dr Adrian Fortescue (1912) and Dom Gregory Dix (1945), Reid concluded that, historically, it is not possible to find in either the early Liturgy or in the mind of Bishop, Fortescue or Dix, an endorsement “noble simplicity” as it was widely interpreted following the Council.

Dr Reid then gave a detailed exegesis of the text of article 34 of Sacrosanctum Concilium read in the context of the Constitution as a whole. The call for “noble simplicity”, which is a practical policy of the Council and not a dogmatic definition (and thus open to critical evaluation), cannot be used as an ideological ‘super-principle’ of reform, Reid asserted, to bring about a rupture with tradition.

He then asked whether this principle is in need of a critical reappraisal? He noted Kieran Flanagan’s assertion that it had given rise to a new Puritanism and that the reforms satisfied none of the constituents to whom the reforms were supposed to appeal (youth, etc.), who find the liturgy mostly boring. The contributions of Catherine Pickstock and David Torevell to this debate were noted. Interestingly, he observed, Sacramentum Caritatis does not use the term “noble simplicity,” speaking rather of the “ars celebrandi”.

“Has the Church experienced simplicity ignobly visited upon the liturgical life of the Western Church in recent decades,” Reid asked? If so, he concluded, perhaps now we should concentrate more on the fundamental principle of liturgical reform, true “actual participation” in the Liturgy – in its true meaning of contemplative engagement with the liturgical rites – and not be preoccupied with simplifying the Liturgy and liturgical spaces or items if they in fact serve that actual participation well.

The report in full:

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