Beyond Ad Orientem: Final Gleanings from Sacra Liturgia 2016

In the home stretch now, with the last set of nuggets from Sacra Liturgia 2016.

Rev Professor Dr Helmut Hoping spoke on the liturgy and the Trinity. He began by recalling the former status of liturgy as primary source of theological reflection, prima theologia, in which the priority is not so much speaking about God as to God. The mystery of God is studied in theology but is made present and worshipped in liturgy, especially in the Mass, which is the privileged place of encounter with the Blessed Trinity. Though it is addressed to the Father in the power of the Spirit, the Paschal Mystery of Christ holds sway, and Christ is addressed directly in the Kyrie, the midsection of the Gloria, the verses either side of the gospel proclamation and the Alleluia, and the Mysterium Fidei, at the Pax and at Communion. There is a need to embody this liturgical orientation to Christ as the subject of the liturgy, to express it in our physical attitude. The East is the symbolic direction of both Christ’s comings – at the Incarnation and at the parousia or Second Coming. In fact we can say that we offer the Eucharist in order to bring about the parousia. The few occasions prayer is addressed directly to Christ as Thou, it is to the eschatological Christ who is with the Father now and who will come again at the Last. Christ is not addressed as the one present on the altar or in the congregation, the Christ among us.

Rev Dr Michael Cullinan gave a moral theologian’s take on the liturgy. There is a grave moral significance to what people see and hear in church, in the liturgy. There is a social need for a recreated community/communion, yet this is only addressed in the brief space of the Sunday liturgy for most of us. But the liturgy builds communion and sanctifies time beyond the Sunday liturgy. Our Christian living in time is intimately related to this. Such things was fasting and abstinence are lived outside the time of the liturgy but are directed towards it. Also, the liturgy is art, and the Church’s art is liturgy. What Catholics see and hear at Mass is important to their moral lives. The modern depreciation of matter in art and architecture (such as in brutalist minimalism) has real moral effects. Art and architecture cannot be reduced to mere icing on the cake: delicious and sweet but hardly essential or nourishing. The laudable aim to use the materials simply at hand (as opposed to importing expensive foreign materials) is not the same as the far-from-admirable practice of using merely the cheapest materials that can possible be found. Noble simplicity is often counterfeited as ignoble simplicity. Doing the best we can can never be equated with doing the least we can. In the liturgy the beauty of created things is offered back to God as worship. He noted the modern lectionary’s tendency to cut and paste scripture in such a way that the full force and effect of revelation is denied the congregation. He cited in particular the complete removal of St Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about the proper disposition for receiving the Eucharist. It effectively ignores the moral/ethical dimension of our Eucharistic life. Moreover, for so many today the Sunday liturgy is their only access to moral teaching, and to an exposition of the Church of struggling Christians on earth and the Church in heaven of those who gloriously persevered. If in our churches we fail to teach the fullness of the faith, if we fail to give people an experience of the beauty of holiness and a foretaste of heaven, if we serve them gruel and not the true bread of heaven, then our liturgies are morally deficient.

Professor David Fagerberg spoke on the liturgy in relation to care for creation and the poor. He reminded us of symbolic temple topography applied to the Christian context: the sanctuary epresents heaven, the nave is the Church, and the narthex is threshold into the world, a permeable membrane through which Christians are sent into the world and through which the world is invited to enter the Church and journey eastwards to the Holy of Holies in heaven. It is a powerful yet simple understanding of any proper church building. Cult, the worship conducted within the church, is the basis of culture, which is the high point of created matter. From the created world comes the stuff of sacrifice and worship, the bread and wine for Eucharist, the wax for light and the resins for incense, the pigments for sacred art and the metals for sacred plate. Liturgy is not some new world; it is the world renewed, and by it man is renewed and put in his proper cosmic location. Liturgy should overflow the sanctuary, said the professor, to comfort the poor and honour creation. The Fall was the human attempt to move higher than our proper place by our own initiative and for our own ends; it is the failure to offer worship to God and the attempt to usurp his Throne. The liturgy puts us again in our proper place, under God, along side our neighbour, and above creation, offering it back to God and ourselves with it. It comes down to order and placement, symmetry and proportion. It is, to put it another way, about hierarchy. Christ has established a hierarchy, an order of power and responsibility. We have a royal power from Christ to care for his creation, and a priestly power to offer creation back to him in all its beauty. Through this power man is to iconograph God not idolise himself. Conversion is the return to this order, putting the Other not the self at the centre. That is love, and love is liturgy. Liturgy is thus our participation in the restored order and hierarchy of creation.

Monsignor Andrew Burnham spoke on the Ordinariate’s liturgical books. A lot of it was historical and technical, but some elements strike me as germane. In the Ordinariate calendar there is a return to traditional nomenclature for particular times of the year: Sundays after Trinity as well as the ancient Rogation and Ember days, and the pre-Lent Gesima Sundays. The liturgical roots of the Ordinariate Use are mainly to be found in the Roman Missal rather than the BCP. There was a movement to revive the pre-Reformation Sarum Use but this failed despite Sarum’s having satisfied the doctrinal conditions; but it has not been a living liturgical tradition since 1549.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone gave the closing address. He taught that in the realm of liturgy there was need for reconciliation. Many in the Church have tended to push the traditionally minded into the corners and peripheries of the life of the Church, into ghettos almost. Conversely, some of the traditionally minded can spurn all that is not according to their concept of tradition, living in a sort of quarantine, a self-manufactured ghetto. Those who seek the restoration of tradition in the liturgy and the “reform of the Reform” must recognise that such reforms cannot be rushed, nor imposed with a heavy hand, but must grow organically over time, and bringing the people with them not racing ahead of them. Those who pay attention to liturgical detail are not necessarily rubricists. The quality of our living will demonstrate that. Such attention to detail is, in fact, the mark of love, for we pay such close attention to detail only to those things we value, esteem and cherish. The little things are revelatory of love.  The little things become burdens only when they are not done with love.


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