Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Traditional Mass and the Christian East: A Series by Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society

The chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, Mr. Joseph Shaw, has published on his personal blog an interesting series of articles on the Traditional Latin Mass and the Christian East. Mr Shaw does a nice job in the first article of pointing out that the post-Conciliar liturgical reform contains within its working principles an implied critique of the liturgical traditional shared by both Catholic and Orthodox of the Byzantine Rite.
In the meantime, of course, we had the liturgical reform of the West. Out goes (nearly all) silent prayer by the priest. Out goes worship ad orientem. Out goes the use of the West's ancient liturgical language. Out goes (a lot of) proskenesis, which in the West usually takes the form of kneeling and genuflections. Out goes the mystery, the awe, the timelessness and otherworldliness of the liturgy, and liturgical texts which anticipate the consecration (referring to the unconsecrated Host as 'this spotless Victim' in the Offertory). Out goes (a lot of) the sense of the sinfulness of the priest. Out goes the sharp distinction between Sanctuary and Nave, marked in modern times in the West by steps and rails. In comes a lot of new things like lay people distributing the Blessed Sacrament, secular musical styles, and so on.

None of these things were, in fact, called for by the Second Vatican Council, with the partial exception of the use of the vernacular, but they happened, they were officially promulgated or, at least, permitted, and the theological rationales for them gained currency even if they were never explicitly endorsed by the Magisterium.

Thus, Bugnini and his friends said that the pre-Conciliar Latin liturgy was illogical, that the stuff about sinfulness was 'negative' and unpastoral, that Latin, silence, and worship ad orientem excluded the Faithful and made them 'dumb spectators' at Mass, and that its historical development was a matter of 'accretions' which obscured the true, pastoral, and logical shape of the primitive liturgy.

If this is true, then it is true in the East as well as the West: you don't cross some invisible line in the Balkans and suddenly find that human nature, logic, and the principles of historical development flip upside-down.
The second article points out a specific document of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, “Observations on: ‘The Order of the Holy Mass of the Syro-Malabar Church 1981’ ” which was published in 1984. The purpose of this document was to correct some liturgical reforms introduced into that rite in the 1950s, inspired by Western liturgical scholarship, and the post-Conciliar reform. Among several highly noteworthy quotes:
On Ex tempore prayers. Spontaneous prayers are not to be admitted. This Western experiment has opened the door to mediocrity and banality. Very few people have the talent for spontaneous public prayer, and one person’s “spontaneous” prayers always sound the same.  ...  Spontaneity in liturgy is found in the movements of hearts as they respond to grace, not in the liberty of individual priests to impose their personal piety on the common prayer of all.

On spontaneous bidding prayers: If other, particular intentions are added to suit special necessities, these are to be submitted to the priest before the liturgy and are to be formulated in conformity with the pattern of the karozutha petitions. Spontaneous petitions from the congregation are to be avoided. (Privately composed litanies, generally unsatisfactory in both theology and expression, are one of the least successful aspects of the Western reform. There is no need to imitate the failures of others.)
The third article quotes a more recent document of the same congregation from 1996, referring again to the safeguarding of the proper liturgical traditions of the East. One cannot avoid the implication that the same traditions out to be safeguarded in the West as well, as many have discovered, for example, in regard to the question of orientation in the liturgy.
This rich and fascinating interpretation also explains the reason for which the celebrant who presides in the liturgical celebration prays facing the east, just as the people who participate. It is not a question, as is often claimed, of presiding the celebration with the back turned to the people, but rather of guiding the people in pilgrimage toward the Kingdom, invoked in prayer until the return of the Lord.
Such practice, threatened in numerous Eastern Catholic Churches by a new and recent Latin influence, is thus of profound value and should be safeguarded as truly coherent with the Eastern liturgical spirituality.
The full articles are well worth your time; follow the links given above.

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