Friday, August 04, 2006

Formal Complaint

Father Jan Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle. He wrote an article which appeared in the July 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register, the official news magazine of the Diocese of Spokane, WA.

Jeff Miller has already fisked this. Hey, I know good material when I steal, uh, see it. (And a Fedora Doff to the Curt Jester for the original post.) My comments are in red.

Liturgy Reflections: Mysterious Liturgy
A good headline, in my very humble opinion, usually has a double meaning, sometimes ironic. The opening paragraph leads you into the twist.

I was recently watching a part of the daily televised liturgy on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). The liturgy there is an odd mix of English and Latin, while following the texts of the current Roman Missal. And would it be an odd mix to hear English and Hebrew in a Jewish synagogue? Or English and Arabic in an Islamic mosque? What's wrong with using the official language of the Church? The priest and ministers of the liturgy look way too somber and serious. You are encountering the living God. I refer you to Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, and St. Peter as examples of what demeanor is appropriate. Those gentlemen certainly weren't in a "happy to see You" mood. Could it be...awe? The ritual is performed with all the exaggerated exactness of the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy. The Mass is overly formal and mechanical. You mean actions are done thoughtfully, reverently, and respectfully? The lack of those elements are the biggest complaints I encounter about liturgical practices. Needless to say, there are no women allowed in the sanctuary area, there is no procession with the gifts, no Sign of Peace, and, of course, no Communion from the cup for the lay people who are present. Comparing apples to oranges, maybe? Observation or criticism? The liturgy, in effect, is unlike anything that Catholics experience in the vast majority of Catholic parish churches. Yes, it is. And is it because how the rite is performed maybe matches what the actual intent of all those documents on the liturgy produced since Vatican II?

I am certain that the planners of these liturgies would explain their differences from parish liturgies with the familiar refrain that the post Vatican II liturgical reforms have taken too much of the mystery away from the Holy Mass. They have. Certainly, they say, allowing the congregation full, active and conscious participation (once that phrase is properly translated, we may have the true intent of what the laity's proper conduct and role is) in the ritual is what empties the rites of their mystery, so the further we keep the secular congregation away from the clerical activity and space, the better to preserve the liturgy's mystery. Thus the need to eliminate any personal touch with the lay folks, and, by all means, do not allow them to communicate with each other, even to wish one's neighbor the peace of the risen Christ. I'm sorry. The Mass is not about "any personal touch with the lay folks". I am not there to communicate with the rest of the congregation when I assist at Mass. I am there to offer my public worship to God as an individual and as part of the Mystical Body of Christ. Anything there which doesn't help me to focus on God as an act of adoration, in my opinion, doesn't belong. (One wonders what these people think of the pope as he hugs and kisses the children who present him with the gifts to be offered, giving each of them a small gift as a remembrance of the liturgy. Perhaps it is all right for the pope to be warm and personable during the liturgy, but inappropriate for lesser souls.) Straw man. Sounds like a Pharasee trying to trap Jesus.

I think the folks responsible for these stuffy liturgies are confusing mystery with mystification. I think the folks responsible for liturigies seemingly void of meaningful worship are confusing man with God. It's not about us; it's about Him. Rites that express mystery will invite people into the unknown, into what lies beyond the action of the ritual. Agreed. Liturgy done well this way will cause people to ask, "How does this ritual which I can see, and in which I am participating, lead me more deeply into the beyond, into life of the God of mystery whom I cannot see?" And where is the proper catechism regarding that? Faith seeking understanding. Mystification, on the other hand, leads one to ask, "What on earth does that mean, and why in God'?s name is he doing that?" No, it performing that leads to being mystified, which is what seems to be done at times. Let's label it for what it is--confusion. The confusion of 40+ years of experimentation and watering down of the liturgy which has contributed to a shrinking of the Faith. If tradition means "handing down/on", why would I give anyone these thread-bare garments?

Luke Timothy Johnson, author of The Creed and other works, wrote recently in Commonweal magazine about the concerns of many conservative Catholics that paying attention to one another during the liturgy (what he calls "horizontal" values) have distracted us too much from the "vertical" values -- our relationship with God and Christ. Again, it goes back to what should be the focus. (Hint: Is it He?) He writes: (Note--Slight changes with the quotation marks compared to the original, due to my making this section a block quote.)
Critics who complain that these "horizontal" values have been realized at the cost of "vertical" ones, that mystery and a sense of the transcendent have disappeared among all the folksiness, need gently to be reminded of the difference between mystery and mystification. And those who state this need to be reminded of Who we worship. And isn't that what all liturgy is about? God is God, not a supernatural "buddy". We who grew up in a Tridentine liturgy and who witnessed the travails of reform can bear an important witness to those of a younger generation who hanker after the "good old days." You have been a poor witness. Some fear they have missed the solemn richness of Catholic piety (No, that's not correct; anyone seeing the Masses celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI knows that when done according to norms is just as rich), believing that the reformed liturgy comes dangerously close to Protestant worship (This is where I have to give a nod to the so-called "RadTrad" types who, I think, do have serious and legitimate concerns about the Novo Ordo; having directed adult choirs in both Lutheran and Methodist churches, they make a very good point about it being neo-Protestant), and that the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is the essential expression of authentic Eucharistic theology (Perhaps because the focus is away from the Real Presense during Mass, a fallout of lack of proper focus). But we are in a position to state that for every example of splendid monastic liturgy in the old days there were countless examples of parish worship that appeared meaninglessly mechanical. No one is saying there weren't liturgical abuses in "the good old days". But perhaps the laity is sensing something's not right about this day and age.

We know that birettas and fiddle-back chasubles, mumbled (and often mangled) Latin, and truly execrable renditions of Gregorian chant were no more aesthetically than theologically impressive. Having lived through "speed-typing" Masses guaranteed to last no more than twenty minutes, we can point to the greater seriousness, even greater solemnity, of parish worship today. Those who call contemporary worship insufficiently sacred literally do not know what they are talking about. Then, Mr. Expert, explain to me why people do not enter or exit a church with seemingly any sense of reverence, that "in this place" where they are about to encounter God they will chat with their neighbors before (in hushed tones) and after (in a normal voice) Mass as if they have not been affected by it, that they act like a church is just another building and not a place set aside as sacred, if the way we worship today is better than before Vatican II. Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi.

As for the growing similarity (because we have diminished the Real Presence due to our reform?) among the Eucharistic celebrations of Catholics and Protestants, we should rejoice that Catholics now feel at home at Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopalian worship (because there seems to be no difference?), and that our Protestant neighbors have gained much through our process of renewal and reform. The Catholic form of worship remains a strong motivation for conversion among adults (because they have found Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, present in our Mass, despite the obstrufication). As we (meaning people like Fr. Larson, your ilk, and yourself) have known all along, God works powerfully through the words and gestures of the liturgy (straightening out our crooked lines?); the hard work of renewal has served to make God's work plain and public each Sunday when we gather as "church." Again, where is the focus when you use that word? Your comments seem obvious to me as to where.
It is people such at Fr. Larson and Mr. Johnson who seem to be satisfied with the events of a post-Vatican II. But it seems they have replaced substance with style. Do they bristle at Liturgiam Authenticam?

The hard work of renewal hasn't even started.