Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Pray Tell: A New Blog

Yes, I know that new blogs open every minute or so in real time, but this one looks to be worth some attention. The contributors are serious people, friendly critics of the NLM, but deeply sympathetic with the overall aims of re-solemnizing the liturgy. Among them are the chant master Fr. Anthony Ruff and liturgical scholar Fr. John Baldoven.

Fr. Ruff explains:

This blog arose from our sense that the conversation needs to broadened, deepened, redirected. Moderate and progressive voices need to be in dialogue with zealous traditional voices. The “spiritual import” which is the “real nature of the liturgy” needs to be reemphasized. The fundamental pastoral intent of the Second Vatican Council, and of the larger ecumenical liturgical movement of that era, needs to be restated, refined, defended.

Some will ask, Is this to be a liberal blog? Well, what else would you expect from Collegeville?! But more needs to be said than that. If liberal means open-minded, self-questioning, ecumenical, attentive to contemporary culture, and avoidant of romantic nostalgia, then we surely hope to be liberal. But if liberal means yesterday’s progressivism, yesterday’s ideals as if the culture and the churches haven’t changed dramatically since the 1970s or 1980s, then we hope to be not at all liberal. Those in the “old guard,” of whatever age, can expect to be challenged and engaged.

I have no problem with that definition of liberal, and, for that matter, I consider my own outlook to be of the 19th-century liberal sort in every way - and if you understand what liberalism meant in Acton's and Newman's time, you know what that means. And yet by the way the above is phrased, as a perspective in contradistinction to "zealous traditional voices," I suspect that we are not entirely drinking from the same goblet here.

But that's fine, and even welcome. Professor Fr. Baldovin even offers this commentary on the NLM:

In reality the only thing new about The New Liturgical Movement is the sophisticated technology used in presentating traditional Roman Catholic liturgy. Whoever does their photography knows what he or she is doing. The website is extremely attractive – often with excellent photos. If one of the aims of the website is to put the best face on the former Roman Rite (yes, I mean former) then the creators of NLM have been very successful.

The site also contains a number of articles on liturgical architecture and music. These are very well done. The series, the stational Masses of Christmas and the breviary reforms of Pius X – just to give two examples – are very well done.

Advocating the return of the older Roman Rite (or Usus Antiquior as the contributors love to style it) is not the only aim of NLM. One often finds articles on the latest papal interpretations and adaptations of the liturgy under the new Marini. They love to show the “Benedictine” altar arrangement with six candles and a large crucifix reminding us that the focus of the Eucharist is the Lord. Of course our focus should be on Christ, but the real liturgical movement has helped us to realize that we find Christ both vertically and horizontally in our celebrations. Pope Paul VI and the General Instruction on the Roman Missal made that abundantly clear with the outlining of the four-fold presence of Christ in the Eucharist (word, minister, assembly and pre-eminently the gifts). It has been the unfortunate aim of the present pope to weaken the gains made by the post-Vatican II reform of the liturgy. Instead he seems to be hearkening back to a nostalgic liturgy of the past.

Readers and supporters of NLM no doubt are on the same train as Pope Benedict XVI – and the train doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. That’s why they think it’s the “new” liturgical movement. They are convinced that the future is going to look a lot more like 1960 than 1975.

Anyone who’s read my recent work on the critics of the liturgical reform knows that I am sympathetic with many of the criticisms launched against the sometimes careless and ideologically irresponsible application of the post-Vatican II liturgy reforms. The criticisms are often accurate enough, but the problem with NLM and groups like it is not their criticism so much as their prescription. The movement to have the priest and the faithful face in the same direction is a good example. There are many excellent examples of Eucharistic celebrations versus populum in which it is quite clear that Christ (the whole Christ – head and members) is at the center of the celebration. The fact that there are celebrations where this is not the case should not discount the former. As I’ve said elsewhere, each “side” of the liturgical debate has the tendency to caricature the worst of their opponents in favor of the best of their own practice. It doesn’t take much sophistication to realize that those kinds of arguments are less than useful.

Read the entire commentary here. My own impression of this "moderate" point of view is that it is not 1) not entirely realistic about the extent of the liturgical meltdown that has occurred within the Catholic fold, and I mean within the average parish environment, and 2) it is not nearly hopeful enough about the prospects for rigorous and inspired embrace of tradition and solemnity in the future. That said, I know for certain that I have many areas of agreement with Fr. Ruff, such as the desperate need for making liturgical texts part of the commons of the faith, the need to educate a new generation in sacred music, the need to make chant melodies part of our common musical vocabulary, and much more.

As you can see just from the above, this project looks extremely promising. I certainly welcome the opportunity to read anything and everything that Fr. Ruff writes on music. He is a serious man who knows his history and loves the Church's music, even if I've been critical of some of his prescriptions and evaluations of the current moment. I really look forward to this.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: