Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Has Pope Francis Saved Western Culture?

A recent change to the stated mission of the Anglican Ordinariate was instituted by Pope Francis over the summer. As the Ordinariate Use liturgy takes shape, I wonder if it could have a profound effect on how it participates in the Church's mission of evangelisation and on English speaking culture?

When I was at the Sacra Liturgia Conference this past summer, speaker after speaker emphasised the importance of Latin as the norm in the Roman rite. Nevertheless, a warm welcome was given also to several priests from the Anglican Ordinariate, which will rarely offer Mass in Latin, and it was offered the platform when Mgr Keith Newton gave a talk in which he described progress in establishing the precise form of the Ordinariate liturgy. I heard no one say that they saw any contradiction in this. Similarly, the developments in the Ordinariate Use liturgy are, apparently enthusiastically, reported on this site as they occur and have been ever since it was created. The fact that the Ordinariate Use is taken seriously by all these traditionally minded Latin-orientated Catholics seems to me to indicate a recognition of the general point, that the vernacular does have an important place in the liturgy; and more particularly that English has a privileged position amongst vernaculars. Where might this be going in the future, I wondered?

Then shortly after returning from Rome I read in Damian Thompson's blog in the Telegraph an article that was headed Pope Francis Embraces the Ordinariate and Increases Its Power to Evangelise. In it he said: 'Francis has widened the remit of the Ordinariates in Britain, America and Australia. Until now, only ex-Anglicans and their family members could join the new body. But, thanks to a new paragraph inserted into the Ordinariate's constitution by Francis, nominal Catholics who were baptised but not confirmed can join the structure. Indeed, the Holy Father wants the Ordinariates to go out and evangelise such people.'
The paragraph he referred to was Complementary Norms, Article 5 §2: 'A person who has been baptised in the Catholic Church but who has not completed the Sacraments of Initiation, and subsequently returns to the faith and practice of the Church as a result of the evangelising mission of the Ordinariate, may be admitted to membership in the Ordinariate and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation or the Sacrament of the Eucharist or both. This confirms the place of the Personal Ordinariates within the mission of the wider Catholic Church, not simply as a jurisdiction for those from the Anglican tradition, but as a contributor to the urgent work of the New Evangelisation. As noted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, enrolment into a Personal Ordinariate remains linked to an objective criterion of incomplete initiation (i.e. baptism, eucharist, or confirmation are lacking), meaning that Catholics may not become members of a Personal Ordinariate for purely subjective motives or personal preference.’

I have no special inside knowledge on the Ordinariate or the intentions for it. But I am struck by the potential for a profound affect on the wider culture globally for the good of what has happened recently. This is because of the relationship between liturgy and culture. Again, at Sacra Liturgia 2013, many speakers echoing Pope Benedict in the Spirit of the Liturgy, emphasised the connection between liturgy and culture. We were told for example, that an education in art, architecture, music and literature was necessary for the development of one's 'liturgical instincts'. The forms of the culture that we should study, therefore, are those that point us to liturgical forms (Catholic educators take note!); and those liturgical forms ought to be a 'liturgical high culture' - elevated cultural forms that draw us upwards but are nevertheless accessible and easily grasped.

The connection between the liturgy and culture is profound. Man is made to worship God; his worship is what establishes and shapes that relationship with God; and this, in turn influences all our human interactions and is the most significant factor in contributing to the grace and beauty of our actions and interactions. The culture might be viewed as the aggregate, the vector sum of these and is a reflection of - or incarnation of - our core values, priorities and beliefs.

While this connection can be conceived as a symbiotic dynamic, with each - liturgy and culture -simultaneously reflecting and nourishing the other, the relationship between the two is not a partnership of equals. The liturgy is a more powerful influence on the culture than the culture is on the liturgy. So in consideration of a reform of the culture, we should always look to ourselves first and strive for liturgical orthodoxy and purity. Accordingly we should strive to have liturgical culture high culture that is noble and naturally accessible. This is a culture that it makes high demands of those who create these forms - the writers, artists, composers and architects - but never of those who see it and hear it. It should touch people and then draw them upwards through the beauty of its forms, in harmony with worship. This accessible divine beauty can touch the soul in a way 'beyond words' (I'm thinking of St Augustine here).

In his book on the liturgy published first in 1918, the Spirit of the Liturgy, Romano Guardini tells us that liturgical forms are necessarily reflective of a high culture: 'Culture enables religion to express itself and helps distinguish the essential from the non-essential...as a rule, the spiritual life should be impregnated with a genuine and lofty culture... If the cultural element of prayer declines, the ideas become impoverished, the language coarse, the imagery clumsy and monotonous and the emotional paltry and artificial.' (p34)
He also describes the influence in the other direction, that the appropriate forms in the liturgy inspire and sustain a vibrant and beautiful contemporary culture: "The liturgy possesses a tremendously compelling form of expression, which is a school of religious training and development to the Catholic who rightly understands it and which is bound to appear to the impartial observer as a cultural formation of the most lofty and elevated kind." (p47; pub Herder and Herder).

Historically, if we look at the art, music and architecture we can see how the liturgical forms have influenced the culture. The baroque of the 17th century, for example, started off as part of the renewal of the Catholic counter-reformation and then the liturgical forms became the models in style for the profane (as in not explicitly sacred) forms as well.. So powerfully striking and beautiful was the wider culture created by this, that it became the standard throughout Europe, even in the protestant lands, for example, the Netherlands and England. The public buildings, the portraits and landscapes of their artists and even the music took inspiration from the Catholic liturgical culture.

The effect can be negative as well. If the liturgy is not beautiful and the cultural forms that are associated with it are deliberately made to take their inspiration from the wider secular culture that is not derived from liturgical forms, then a downward spiral is created in which the culture of faith and contemporary culture in turn cause the decline of the other. This is what we have seen most strikingly in modern times, accelerating in the 20th century (although the signs were there before that).

Catholics cannot ignore this question of contemporary culture. Even if we imagine a situation in which you have healthy and beautiful liturgical culture and that is also somehow disconnected from the wider culture and stable (a situation I can't imagine would ever be the case) we would still have a duty to try to transform the contemporary culture into one that reflected this liturgical culture. This is because those who do not go to church will not see the liturgy, which is our most powerful tool in evangelisation. But they do see the wider contemporary culture every day of their lives. If the wider culture reflects the beauty of the cosmos nourished by the liturgy, then its power will draw people to God and to His Church and provoke a curiosity and receptivity to the Word. This is the message of recent Popes in emphasising the power of beauty (for example Pope Benedict in his discussion of the via pulchritundinis). This is why incidentally, on a blog about liturgy, I consider it relevant to consider how this connects with secular culture - in my opinion we must not separate the two.

And what of the Ordinariate Use liturgy? Latin liturgy can stimulate a beautiful Catholic culture in any language of course but, I believe, the opening up of the traditional Anglican forms adapted for use in the Ordinariate supports this in a new and powerful way. The Anglican Ordinariate has elevated liturgical forms that do not look to modern secular culture for inspiration (unlike many of those in other vernacular liturgies), but rather, to the authentic Roman Church tradition and English high culture of the past. Therefore it can act powerfully to evangelise the culture of English speakers.

Why the special focus on English? I suggest that the influence of English in the world is great and is steadily increasing and hand in hand with this is English speaking culture, for good or ill. One might say that English is the lingua vulgata - the common language - of our age, and who knows for how long afterwards, perhaps centuries. It is the second most spoken (after Mandarin) as a first language and if you take second languages into account the gap is narrowed and getting narrower, for English is the international language of business and technology. This was emphasised to me recently when listening to Venezuelan radio and a discussion in Spanish (translated by my wife) about the fact that English is beginning to influence the way that Spanish is spoken by the general population as it incorporates its vocabulary and idioms.

It therefore becomes vital that we evangelise Western culture which is spreading globally, and a liturgy rooted in English language is a powerful means of doing this. Now that the Ordinariate Use is free to reach out beyond former Anglicans this can be at the centre of this. It might not be only through direct effect - one could envisage the situation where it's forms might also have an impact on the Roman Rite in English which is the not Ordinariate Use. At Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, where I teach, we regularly have the Extraordinary Form, and the Ordinary Form in English and Latin. We also sing the Liturgy of the Hours daily, with the psalms most commonly sung in English. For our vernacular liturgies we look to these Anglican forms of music and prayer in our vernacular liturgy for inspiration, even though it is not Ordinariate Use.
Incidentally I have heard some argue openly that they do not like to see a well done vernacular, or even Latin Novus Ordo, because they feel that the worse the alternatives are, the more likely it is that the Extraordinary Form will dominate. I do not accept this approach at all. In my mind, we should strive to make our participation in all liturgy (vernacular or not, Ordinariate Use of not) dignified and beautiful; in my mind this supports rather than diminishes the re-establishment of Latin in the liturgy in such a way that participation is active (in the proper sense of the word).

If we are to evangelise the English speaking world, which increasingly means the whole world, in a powerful way it could be a through a contemporary culture of the English. This contemporary culture could develop powerfully out of a beautiful English language liturgy that points to that of Shakespeare and Donne; and musical forms that are derived from the pre-reformation Sarum Liturgy. I would hope to see a flourishing of creativity inspired by this in which noble and accessible forms of both liturgical and contemporary culture are produced (in the way the Shakespeare was the popular culture of his day). It seems possible to me that the Anglican Ordinariate could be a force the good in this area.

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