Monday, April 11, 2011

Aidan Nichols: The Ordinariates, the Pope, and the Liturgy

The Ordinariate Portal has been publishing excerpts of Fr. Aidan Nichols addresses at a recent meeting on Anglicanorum Coetibus near Toronto, Canada.

Here is an excerpt from Fr. Nichols' talk which considers the matter of Pope Benedict, the sacred liturgy and Anglo-Catholicism. (Note, I do not mean the specific form of an ordinariate liturgy, but rather the sacred liturgy generally.)

The affinities between the Pope’s own theological vision and the tradition Anglo-Catholics represent is at its most obvious in his high view of the sacred Liturgy. In counter-distinction to a much publicized thesis of Liberationist exegesis, Pope Benedict holds that in the Exodus from Egypt the Israelites were freed from slavery not so as to construct an ideal society but in order freely to worship in accordance with the divine command.[37] While, to be sure, that divine command extended to all aspects of living, worship was central and paramount, for worship implies right alignment with God leading to union with God and ultimately to the vision of God, itself the goal of all divine involvement in human history. What impedes such union, and therefore such vision, is not only human creatureliness but also, and more especially, human sin. Hence the goal of worship cannot be attained without the coming of the Mediator who in his death and resurrection opens a new and living way into the divine presence. Pope Benedict describes the Liturgy as the continuation of the Paschal Mystery; it is the High Priestly work of the Redeemer, an essentially sacred reality which joins heaven to earth. In his richly rewarding study, The Spirit of the Liturgy, he points out how it is a mistake to say that the Redemption has already taken place in so complete a sense that Christians no longer need sacred time and sacred space: in other words, that the Liturgy can perfectly well make do with commonplace ordinary forms. His argument goes like this: in the age of the New Testament while we are, as compared with the Old Testament, not in the time of mere shadows, nor are we as yet in the period of vision, when the full reality will be disclosed.[38] We are, rather, in the time of the image, and this has considerable implications for ritual. Most notably, it provides the charter for the role of beauty in the Liturgy, for the aim of liturgical beauty is to arouse in us a longing for full vision. It must be, he insists, a beauty tutored by the Paschal mystery. It should not be a beauty that is sensuous in a Dionysian way, for that would be incompatible with the Cross, yet it is ordered to glory, since this is required by the Resurrection.[39] Owing to his adherence to these weighty principles in theological aesthetics, the Pope is aghast, in a manner Anglo-Catholics generally would appreciate, at the present state of much liturgical practice in the West. The Liturgy has been invaded by politicization, as in milieux affected by Liberation Theology; it has suffered banalisation in populist environments where the mantra has it that modern popular culture just has to be followed; and in less ideologically freighted parish practice its manner of expression has been simplified in a well-meaning but misguided attempt to ensure instant intelligibility such that much of its richness has been lost.

Pope Benedict is viscerally opposed to Philistinism in the Liturgy – the misplaced feeling that the arts have nothing to do with liturgical worship but divert it from its purpose, allowing elites to impose their own preferences or producing grandstanding by choirs or creative artists. The Pope’s defence of choirs, mandated not just to support congregational singing but to sing in their own right, is especially notable. For him, choirs have a cosmic function; they pick up the role of the angels in the Liturgy.[40] He is also convinced of the need to revive a really theological iconography to provide a fitting setting for the Liturgy, over against so much poorly conceived or simply non-existent imagery in modern churches.[41] Unlike Roman Catholicism, Anglo-Catholicism in the twentieth century has been largely impervious to the seductions of architectural Modernism, and its iconographical and musicological equivalents, owing to the apologetic concern to demonstrate continuity with the Christian past by using neo-mediaeval forms or perhaps neo-Baroque ones. One could think here of the patronage given by twentieth century Catholic Anglicans to such influential church designers as John Ninian Comper (whose work synthesises mediaeval, palaeo-Christian and Renaissance features) and (for the Neo-Baroque) Martin Travers.[42]

Within the Liturgy the Holy Eucharist is of course the most important moment – so important that it forms the basis of Joseph Ratzinger’s ecclesiology as well: as he puts it, ‘the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his body and makes us one body, forever remains the place where the Church is generated’.[43] Because it is the sacrament of the Paschal Mystery, in which humankind was reunited with God, the Eucharist is the source, not least, of the unity of the Church – humankind recognizing its reconciled condition through the faith initially expressed in Baptism. In the Pope’s Eucharistic theology, communion with the Lord’s body and blood transforms the faithful interiorly into the mystical Body of Christ, the Church in her true depths.[44] One might draw a comparison here between Pope Benedict and Dr Pusey, whose high Eucharistic doctrine, drawing on Cyril of Alexandria, led to his temporary suspension as a canon professor by the University of Oxford. I am not sure the Pope has quite reached the mystical heights Pusey’s doctrine attains in its portrayal of the Eucharistic life as our deification in Christ: not for nothing has Pusey been called the doctor eucharisticus of Anglicanism.

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