Monday, August 15, 2011

Of Sacrifice and the Sacrament: A Historical and Contemporary Challenge for the (New) Liturgical Movement

"The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat, and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. Then the servants of the master of the house came and said to him: Master, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps while ye gather up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Let both grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but gather the wheat into my barn."

-- St. Matthew 13:24-30

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One of the unfortunate side effects of certain ideas which came about within the context of the original Liturgical Movement -- ideas which went to some extreme, adopting some point of rupture or discontinuity, some novelty which was neither an expression of reform in continuity nor of any demonstrable necessity or sound liturgical principle -- is that so much that was particularly good and important in the Liturgical Movement has been ignored, lost sight of, or even rejected en masse. Make no mistake, there was a great deal that was very good indeed and which was never fully realized, and yet if it were, it would doubtless make for an immensely powerful spiritual force in the Church, the world and in the life of the individual Christian. Indeed, turning back to the scripture quoted above, one of the tasks of the new liturgical movement must be to reclaim the proper heirdom and legacy of the Liturgical Movement, gathering and disposing of the proverbial cockle (i.e. the extremes) while also gathering in the wheat – and not instead, as is the temptation for some, to simply cast aside cockle and wheat together thereby losing the genuine harvest the Liturgical Movement (and by extension, the new liturgical movement) has to offer.

Now in some instances that response is merely a reaction to the presence of the proverbial weeds, but in other instances it is because some of the very things which the Liturgical Movement sought to redress yet find an attachment in some or even many of the faithful today; accordingly, those initiatives are resisted, misunderstood, or at least happily ignored. I was reminded of this after recently reading an article which fell into one of the very reductionisms which the Liturgical Movement sought to counter-balance -- and yet is was produced and published by otherwise very orthodox sources. In this particular instance the issue was the all too common tendency to give primacy to piety surrounding the Blessed Sacrament at the neglect or expense of the sacred liturgy where it not only should not have been neglected, but where it instead should have been central (that spot instead being given to Exposition). This put me to mind of the fact that, today, those of us who are working toward some sort of genuine revival and restoration of the liturgical life in the Latin rite are accustomed to think critically of the liturgical over-emphases of the progressivist school of liturgical thought – the over-emphasis of the meal aspect over the sacrificial, the horizontal over the vertical and so on – but many may not be as conscious as they should be of the presence other over-emphases, seemingly "traditional", coming from what we might call the more pietistic and devotionalist mindset; over-emphases which are indeed still manifest today and which, in their own way, also come at the expense of the sacrificial aspect of the Mass.

So of what do I speak? One has only to look at some of the journals and books of the earlier 20th century Liturgical Movement to see this particular over-emphasis described in the context of their own time:

The Mass came to be less and less appreciated as the sacrifice of Christ. Instead, the adoration of the Eucharist was greatly developed, and thereby the spiritual energies of the faithful were in the course of centuries turned away from the sacrifice itself.

We must try to keep in mind that, during the Mass and in particular at the consecration, the primary and essential thing is the offering of the sacrifice; the adoration of the Species is entirely secondary. We should strive to impress ourselves and those committed to our care with a deep understanding and appreciation of the sacrificial action. The Mass is not a “devotion,” it is not the adoration of the Eucharist: it is the sacrifice offered by Christ, and in this offering we are actually participating since it is also our sacrifice. We come to Mass, not so much to adore Christ in His divinity as to offer the body and blood of the divine Lamb to our heavenly Father.

This quotation is from Fr. Pius Parsch (as quoted in the July 1938 issue of Orate Fratres), who admittedly was not without his own excesses, but he is certainly on point here both in his identification of a problem and in his understanding of the sacred liturgy. What he describes then can yet be found today, crossing the spectrums of the progressivists, conservatives and traditionalists alike – and it is a point of critique that some in the Christian East have also raised with regard to the Catholic West.

This sentiment, however, is not merely Parsch's. A look back more than a decade earlier in the same journal, October 1927, sees Dom Alcuin Deutsch, OSB, comment (while also giving an important qualification):

The Liturgical Movement has no desire to do away with external honor and adornments for the Sacramental Presence. But it does want us to take all precautions to make the people understand that no liturgical function involving merely the sacramental presence can possibly have the spiritual dignity and efficacy of the Mass, wherein Christ is the principle agent...

Deutsch goes on to intimate how some of the faithful even came to attach more importance to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament following Mass than to the very Mass itself. Indeed, even today one has the sense that for some the Mass is understood essentially as a time of catechesis (the homily) followed by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (the consecration) and then the receipt of Holy Communion – and if one stops to think of this, while each of these are very important taken of their own accord, as an understanding and approach to the sacred liturgy this is clearly incomplete and impoverished (not to mention a rather more egocentric than theocentric approach).

But to return to Parsch and Deutsch, what is essentially being spoken of here is a misperception of the Mass as merely or primarily an act of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, as a cardinal made a very similar point when he commented:

For a certain kind of text-book theology, what mattered in the sacraments and likewise in the Eucharist, was essentially their validity, and therefore the moment of consecration... everything else was being considered as beautiful ceremonies, interesting... but not as the reality in which the Eucharist has its concrete existence. It was thus necessary to discover anew that the Liturgy is not just a collection of ceremonies which aim to give length and solemnity to the consecration.

-- Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger, “Assessment and Future Prospects”, p. 146

Now there is a pertinent point of qualification to capture here since experience testifies to the fact that there is naturally going to be a tendency to read into all of these ideas some of the later extremes which attempted to diminish devotion to the Blessed Sacrament generally and which often saw the removal of the tabernacles from the heart and centre of our churches (reactionary responses to an otherwise genuine issue). Indeed, some might consider these ideas suspicious, “progressivist” or indicative of a questionable orthodoxy about the Real Presence.

So then, let me be clear about what is not being suggested. None of this is to suggest that one shouldn't foster devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, promote Benediction, exposition and the like. Nor is it to say that we shouldn't adore Our Lord at the moment of the consecration and it certainly doesn't mean removing tabernacles from central places within our churches. In short, the point here is not that we should diminish the value or importance of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament and the piety and devotion associated with that great mystery, it is rather that we need to set out to eliminate any reductionist understanding of the sacred liturgy and increase our appreciation, reverence and understanding of the Mass itself in all its fullness.

So then, how might we go about accomplishing this? In brief I believe we need to see comprehensive catecheses about the full reality and nature of sacred liturgy; catecheses which highlight the sacred liturgy in its Trinitarian aspect (to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit) and with a view to the worship of the Old Covenant, how that relates to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and how that in turn relates to the sacrifice of the Mass in the New Covenant. Put simply we need to re-emphasize the sacrificial dimension of the Mass, drawing on salvation history, sacred scripture and our liturgical theology. In so doing we do no harm to Eucharistic piety and we foster a fuller and deeper appreciation of the profound reality of the sacrifice of the Mass where we "offer the body and blood of the divine Lamb to our heavenly Father."

Make no mistake however, the failure to recognize or address this issue is of significant negative consequence to the new liturgical movement of Pope Benedict XVI.

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