Friday, November 20, 2009

Worth noting

Lest the occasion go unremarked, today is the 62nd anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Pius XII's encyclical Mediator Dei (20 November 1947), widely regarded as the magna carta of the 20th-century Liturgical Movement. Probably most NLM readers are familiar with this encyclical principally for its admonition against romantic antiquarianism, which took for granted (among other things) the versum populum posture of the priest-celebrant in the Early Church. In article 62, the Pope states:

Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the Sacred Liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is never wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the right path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.
Like Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, much of Mediator Dei has proven to be, if not prophetic, then prescient -- and worth reading, or re-reading, now that the Church has moved into another stage of liturgical renewal, consolidating gains and learning from mistakes.

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