Friday, November 03, 2017

“What Were They Smoking?”: Liturgical Reform Edition

Earlier this week, Dr Peter Kwasniewski shared some examples of liturgical art from the 1970s, rightly saying that: 

You need to know what people were thinking when they destroyed the liturgy. We can make all the guesses we want, but if we don’t actually read the authors of the fifties, sixties, and seventies, we won’t be able to get into their mindset and see what makes them tick.
Of course, occasionally one comes across ideas from this period so cringe-worthy and horrifying that it becomes a genuine struggle to get into the mindset of the author. Earlier this month, on a research trip to the British Library in London, I happened to come across such an idea from the immediate post-Vatican II period. The following extract dealing with the Liturgy of the Word is one of the more extreme examples of what Dom Alcuin Reid has previously called the it-seemed-like-a-good-idea principle of liturgical reform (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium and the Reform of the Ordo Missae, Antiphon 10.3 [2006] 277-295, p. 291) – from which may the Lord preserve us!

It is worth noting that the book from which this extract comes contains the proceedings of the 1966 Conference on Practical Liturgy held at Spode House (Staffordshire, UK), at the time owned by the Dominicans. (The Order left Spode in 1988, and the house is now known as Hawkesyard Hall.) The conference included papers given by the influential British liturgist J.D. Crichton and the Protestant biblical scholar C.H. Dodd.

I will leave NLM readers to discuss the extract if they wish to, but I have emphasized in bold the parts I found most interesting – so, caveat lector!

Extract from Oliver Pratt, “The Word—Preparation and Response” in Paulinus Milner (ed.), The Ministry of the Word (London: Burns & Oates, 1967), pp. 98-122

[p. 117] The future

Now I want, finally, to let my imagination run ahead a few years and describe what I feel may be one possible form in which the Ministry of the Word will develop in the future. Mass has just begun in the church of an urban industrial parish on one of the first few Sundays after Pentecost.

The Celebrant says: The Jews knew that they were God’s chosen people but in this passage we see that the prophets were concerned to make clear to them that Jahveh’s plan of salvation was intended ultimately for the whole of mankind.

A laywoman comes forward and reads the Lesson: [Isaiah 49:1-6] [...]

[p. 118] The Celebrant says: The first Christians were made up of Gentiles of many different races together with Jewish converts. This mixing together led to trouble and some groups tried to set themselves up as better than others. St Paul makes clear here that all have put on Christ by their baptism and therefore all are equal before God. There can be no second-class citizens in the Christian fellowship.

Then a Pakistani layman comes forward to read the epistle: [Galatians 3:23-29] [...]

[p. 119] All of this will have only taken a minute or so apart from the actual Scripture readings themselves. In case anyone is finding it difficult to place which Sunday it is, it should be explained that the calendar has already been revised and enriched. There is a regular reading from the Old Testament added, a much wider range of Scripture is covered over a longer cycle and the texts are often grouped together in such a way that they can be made more meaningful.

The Celebrant says: This passage explains the meaning of Christian fellowship in terms of how our actions will be judged by Christ at his second coming.

A deacon comes forward and reads the gospel: [Matthew 25:31-40] [...]

[p. 120] Now another layman comes forward and draws the attention of the congregation to a display of pictures and diagrams that have been put up on the wall of a side chapel. (It is an old-fashioned church built in the 1960’s.) He takes a couple of minutes to explain what is there, that is the findings of a study made by a small group of lay people of the conditions of Afro-Asians living in the locality. A panel of professional people was asked to look at the qualifications and training of a mixed sample of Afro-Asian and European workers and to place them blindly, i.e. without knowing their race, into the jobs that they ought to have. The speaker points out that over 80% of the Afro-Asians were found to have actual jobs that were well below their proper grade according to the assessment. He goes on to give a couple of examples of personal humiliation that the work has unearthed and concludes by asking us if through doing this we are not continuing to humiliate Christ himself?

The Celebrant says: Not only must we accept these people fully into our own fellowship as equals in Christ but we must each of us decide what the Gospel means in the witness of our own personal lives. It may be anything from welcoming the promotion of an Indian fellow worker to seeing the marriage of your daughter to an African as pioneering a new multiracial society. Above all we must come to know and love the strangers of another race as persons for, as Christ himself has told us in the Gospel, anything that we can do to lessen their sufferings lessens his own.

The Mass continues with the creed and special bidding prayers that have been composed for the occasion. After Mass the people crowd around the display at the side of the [p. 121] church and the people who did the study are answering questions about it. Soon people are dotted around the church in little groups asking one another what they can do to help the Afro-Asians. This is a little different from the acts of solemn silent private devotion to which we are accustomed today but it is difficult to think that God finds it the least bit out of place in his house.

There has hardly been a homily in the form that we would know it today at all. The time taken up by the liturgy of the word has been no longer than that needed for the actual readings from Scripture plus another five or ten minutes, the time usually given over to the homily today. Not only has the job that we usually expect the homily to do been done but because of all the preparatory work put in by some of the laity, it has actually been done in a really meaningful way and indeed in such a manner as to more or less guarantee some sort of constructive response. The priest is still the custodian of the word and responsible for its preaching but to be responsible for something does not always mean doing all the job oneself. [...]

[p. 122] There is almost unlimited scope for variations upon this sort of treatment of the liturgy of the word and it seems clear that it need not be restricted only to a very occasional special event. Of course, a start would have to be made by an occasional venture. A lot would depend upon developing a real sense of engagement in the work of the Church throughout a large proportion of the people. If so, this sort of treatment of the Ministry of the Word could take place fairly frequently even if not always in quite such a spectacular manner as that described above. It is to be hoped that the forthcoming revision of the Scripture readings will be done in such a way as to provide full scope for the development of more effective approaches to the Ministry of the Word along such lines as these. Also perhaps use will be made of visual aids, like projecting a single scriptural phrase onto a screen, a phrase pregnant with meaning that the preacher returns to again and again. Perhaps religious art and drama can be brought into play.

What seems to be most important is that these new experiments should be tried out in a number of parishes as soon as possible, for the results will have a bearing upon the function of liturgy as a whole. If such results can be obtained before the Commission working on the liturgy completes the major recasting of the eucharistic worship, they may be of considerable assistance to the Commission in its work.
The cover of a contemporaneous book (1967) by Oliver and Ianthe Pratt,
demonstrating their vision of liturgical “reform” for “modern man”.
(A quick word about the author of this extract: Dr Oliver Pratt was involved in the Newman Association in the UK (from 1963-65 he was its President), and at the time was Chairman of its Theological Studies Committee and Vice-Chairman of its Liturgy Committee. Shortly after the publication of this paper, he and his wife, Ianthe, would become prominent in the UK for their vocal dissent from Humanae Vitae. They were also heavily involved in the Catholic Renewal Movement (known as Catholics for a Changing Church since 1993 to avoid confusion with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal), and Ianthe Pratt would later be a founding member of the dissident group Catholic Women’s Ordination.)

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