Monday, April 30, 2018

“My Inheritance Is Goodly to Me”: Giving Thanks for Liturgical Providence

Progressive liturgists — that is to say, the entire establishment during and after Vatican II, with a few notable exceptions — seem to make a very odd and elementary mistake in their thinking, akin to the kind of mistakes one finds in liberal biblical critics.

When liturgists dig into the history of rites, they discover lots of change, development, variety, and seemingly chance events (“after all, don’t you know, it was because of Charlemagne that the Roman liturgy both replaced the Gallican and assimilated many of its elements”). So far, so good. But then they make an unwarranted inference:  beyond the postulate of a “golden age” of apostolic worship, we owe no reverence to liturgical rites at any later stage of their development. For example, since medieval and Baroque features of the Roman liturgy resulted from historical accidents, they are seen as ripe for purging at the hands of the cognoscenti, those who know better what our current historical milieu requires.

Such reasoning betrays the lack of a metaphysical and theological framework for seeing how Divine Providence works by governing all things in general and in detail. To us here below, with our faint and finite grasp of causality, there appears to be chance; in the eyes of God there is no such thing as chance. He sees all, He causes all. Without an adequate conception of and trust in Providence, we will (or will be tempted to) commit sins of judging and rejecting the fruits of organic liturgical development, as if we moderns are superior to our forefathers. The default assumption of Christian history is rather that our forefathers have more wisdom than we do, and our job is to receive and assimilate it, striving to live up to it if we possibly can.

Thus, the liturgists’ inference fails to appreciate the spiritual attitude that we are supposed to have towards our inheritance — towards that which “falls to our lot.” The Psalmist captures this attitude perfectly: Funes ceciderunt mihi in praeclaris; etenim haereditas mea praeclara est mihi (Ps 15:6), which the Douay Rheims renders: “The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me.” The sense of the verse is that the boundaries God has measured out for His people in the course of His fatherly guidance of them are the right ones: they shine with His wisdom. The lot we have received is goodly and not to be scorned or second-guessed.

Note the word used twice in the Vulgate: praeclarus. This word has many meanings: splendid, bright, excellent, famous, illustrious, noble, distinguished. This dictionary definition reads like a listing of all the qualities that traditional liturgical rites of Eastern and Western Christianity possess — and exactly the qualities that are wanting in the fabricated rites of the 1960s and 1970s. For however much we might dress them up, they are still like the social parvenu, the nouveau riche. The psalmist, however, exclaims that his received inheritance is praeclarus. He says it twice in comely Hebrew fashion to drive home the point.

Where else do we see this Latin word praeclarus? We see it twice in the Roman Canon — the Canon that defines the Roman Rite, the optionizing and marginalization of which effectively prove the discontinuity and rupture between the old and the new rites of Mass. First, we hear it in the consecration of the chalice: “taking also into His holy and venerable hands this excellent chalice, hunc praeclarum calicem.”Then we hear it immediately after: “Wherefore, O Lord, we Thy servants as also Thy holy people…offer to Thy supreme majesty [praeclarae maiestati tuae] a pure Victim, a holy Victim, an unblemished Victim, the holy bread of eternal life, and the chalice of everlasting salvation.”

It is not by chance that the same psalm we cited above, Psalm 15, uses the cup or chalice as a symbol of God’s generous provision to His people: Dominus pars haereditatis meae, et calicis mei: tu es qui restitues haereditatem meam mihi, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me” (Ps 15:5).

By surrounding the word calix with a double use of praeclarus, the Roman Canon not only echoes but enacts Psalm 15, a favorite prayer of early Christians as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, and so reminds us of the nature of our liturgical inheritance. It is not a dead or static set of books, the fallout of meandering chance and merely human intentions, but a living tradition that begins in the Logos of God and culminates in the Logos made flesh, our eternal High Priest who guides His Church into the fullness of truth by the gift of His Spirit. Our goodly inheritance is the rich content of a cup poured out in ever greater measure on Adam, Abel, Abraham, Melchisedek, David, the temple worship, the early Christian dies Domini, and the Catholic centuries of faith, when the liturgy grew from a mustard seed into a great tree in whose branches the birds of the air, that is, the holy angels, lodge (cf. Lk 13:19).

As Joseph Ratzinger often said, we are not the accidental products of chance but the deliberate offspring of a divine intention; the universe is shot through with the Logos reigning above matter and chaos. The same is true of the liturgy. It, too, is not the accidental product of chance but the deliberate offspring of a divine intention; its path, which emerges from Israel and crisscrosses the Greco-Roman and later barbarian world, is from the Logos, reigning above the tumult of human affairs. This, ultimately, is the reason traditionalists reject the liturgical reform: for it itself constitutes a rejection of the unanimous understanding of how liturgy exists and is transmitted and received.

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