Beyond Ad Orientem: Further Gleanings from Sacra Liturgia 2016

Having, in the first gleanings, looked at Dr Bullivant’s small time bomb for the exegesis of the conciliar declaration on liturgy, it is time finally to extract the gems from the other talks at Sacra Liturgia 2016 in London a few weeks back.

This will be a light buffet not a banquet, a tasting menu not the full dishes. You can tell I am fasting today! Fuller details will be found in my series of posts from Sacra Liturgia in this blog.

Dom Alcuin Reid‘s paper, which focused on the liturgical  debate on the Council floor, reminded us that the majority of bishops came to the Council expecting, indeed desiring, no more in the way of change than minimal things like readings the vernacular. Some were alarmed at the whispers of radical reform that were becoming louder. The mind of the Council regarding the liturgy will not be found in the proceedings of the Conslium which constructed the new liturgy but in the mouths of the Fathers who intervened on the Council floor. Dom Alcuin also noted that such concessions as had been conceded were later expanded into mandates for much wider and deeper reform. The permission to prune “useless repetitions”, for example, resulted in the removal of almost all repetitions, such as signs of the cross over the chalice and paten and kissings of the altar. This removed most of the small gestures that betoken love. Far from being a burden on the laity, these discreet priestly activities were perhaps being seen as a burden by a clergy become more and more imbued with the rationale spirit of the times. So gestures that could serve as tokens of love were ruthlessly culled. “The spirit of reductive minimalism was not a spirit of love but of sloth.”

Dom Charbel Pazat de Lys spoke on the public nature of the liturgy. The Eucharist was not given to the Twelve for their own nourishment and consolation, but for the whole Church to follow. This public aspect is invoked when the liturgy is done in the name of the Church, by designated ministers of the Church and following a ritual had on by the Church. But the modern mania for self-determination can often lead to self-designed liturgies that, being the expression of his personality, represent far more a “private Mass” than that of the priest offering the Mass solo but according to the mind of the Church. One upshot of a properly public Mass is that everyone should know his or her place and role within the ritual, a knowledge mediated by the regularity of the celebration of the Mass. When we know our place we feel a part of the action, not a lost and forlorn bystander to a Mass in which so much might have been changed as to leave the faithful unsure of what is happening and and so also their proper place in relation to it.

Professor Peter Stephan gave us a pictorial and conceptual tour through the many renovations of St Hedwig’s cathedral in Berlin. Such a paper is not suited to this sort of summarising. However, he made some interesting general observations. The modern mania for modernist minimalism, he said, sends completely the wrong message to the world, one of conformity to the spirit of the time rather than a proclamation of the Church’s place and meaning in society. A church needs to be visible as the house of God in the midst of the people and so invite the believer and non-believer alike to come and see. A church barren of ornament, colour or image is hardly able to show forth the face of the Church and its faith to the visitor.

Dr Jennifer Donelson who spoke around the low-Mass culture that did and does prevail in many places. In such a context the Catholic experiences the spoken word as privileged above the sung word, an experience alien to the origins of the Catholic liturgy. The Solemn Mass is marked by a balance between the sung word and silence. The Low Mass mentality also facilitated a culture of liturgical minimalism and of clerical manipulation of the liturgy, to the detriment of other ministers playing their proper role, of doing the minimum required and little more. An aversion to liturgical music and higher ceremonial is, she maintained, a sign of liturgical sloth. The priest’s singing the liturgy was the vocal equivalent of vesting, a diminution of the self and the putting on of Christ. In the spoken voice there is far more scope for the priest’s personality to intrude where it has no proper place.

Dr Clare Hornsby gave a paper on the 15-century Council of Florence. Again a highly multimedia presentation, it is hard to summarise here. She focused on the role of the liturgy and its arts and ceremonies in the attempt to restore union between the eastern and western Churches. The liturgical arts could serve as powerful symbols and propaganda tools in Church politics.

Fr Uwe Michael Lang spoke on the Tridentine liturgical reform. He noted recent challenges to the received historical judgment that medieval liturgy was corrupt and decadent, highly clericalised and with almost no lay involvement. Liturgical experience is not adequately conveyed by text alone, and the medieval liturgy would have conveyed various levels of meaning to the varying levels of society. He also noted challenges to the view that the Reformation was the inevitable result of the supposed decadence of the medieval Church. Despite high-level problems in the Church, at the grassroots its pastoral care of the faithful was effective and fruitful. Dr Lang dwelt for a while on the desire at Trent to return to the practice of the “Fathers”, echoed as it was with Vatican II, noting that the equation of the Fathers with the patristic period is a modern phenomenon, and that at the time of Trent it was a broader period, including St Bernard.. Thus the Tridentine reform was not seeking a return to an idealised liturgy of the early Church. The Tridentine reform of the Mass was not a reconstruction of the Mass, but its consolidation and standardisation as the common liturgy for the vast majority of the Western Church.

Bishop Alan Hopes spoken on the project to revise the anglophone Liturgy of the Hours.  In the proposed new Divine Office it is intended to produce the one text for all the 11 anglophone bishops’ conferences, rather than the various texts in use in different countries. Each conference could add a supplement or appendix which could encompass any necessary regional variations. It will use the revised Grail psalter and the RSV Catholic edition of the Bible. The intercessions at Lauds and Vespers are still being revise, though their litany quality will be restored. The hymns of the new Office will be retranslated in a way that is suitable to both recitation and singing, either metrically or in chant. This will involve the loss of rhyme in order to preserve the clarity of meaning. For the Office of Readings there is active consideration being given to a second cycle of readings throughout the year.

Dr Joris Geldof gave a highly philosophical paper on the liturgy beyond the secular. No one individual, he said, lives 24/7 in a totally secular or totally sacred way. There is bound to be rupture, and thus the intrusion of the one into the other. The crisis of Catholicism in secular cultures requires a rethinking of the concept of the secular. Originally a time reference, denoting that which was temporal as opposed to eternal, it has come to take on a spatial dimension, and a rejection of any claim to transcendence of this world, and thus of sacredness. Liturgy can be seen as offering access to mystery in a secular world.  Christ is renewing time and space through the liturgy and the Church. He is not making new things, but rather making all things new. Thus the Church and its liturgy are not to be seen over and against the world, but in its midst to transform it.


The last part coming shortly!


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