I have been away for a couple of days, unable to post my own comments but only those of readers (from my iPhone). Consequently, please excuse the bittiness of what follows, written during my absence.
An occasional commentator on this blog, a bishop who calls himself The Cardinal, made some critical observations of the Requiem Mass at St Mary Magdalen’s which I posted about a few days ago. This, as might have been expected, elicited some sharp replies (some sharper, perhaps, than he deserved). He won’t, however, get a sharp reply from me (though I do disagree with him): there have been, after all, plenty of comments on this and other blogs equally (or more) critical of ceremonies that (I imagine) His Eminence might prefer to that Requiem Mass. This is all fair enough; if we mete out criticism, we must also be prepared to take it from The Cardinal and others courteous enough to engage with us—sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander— and, frankly, I’m delighted that now we are able to debate these things in the open. When I was in the seminary, any sympathy for solemn liturgy had to be dissembled; had it been known that I had attended an old rite Mass (even a legal one), there would have been serious trouble. Plus, I think that The Cardinal has been very gracious in some of his later comments, and I am grateful for that.
Unless we are able, as brethren of the Catholic Church, to speak frankly among ourselves about these things, have the proverbial free and frank exchange of views, then things are not going to move forward or even settle down. The near-complete repression of the traditional liturgy was not a good thing: Even were I of the opposite persuasion, I hope that I should have learnt enough from history and psychology that if you try to repress something, you only succeed in making it interesting to a new generation.
Since the Council of Trent, the Western Church has preferred to be pretty monolithic in her liturgy. At times, she has even tried unwisely to impose Roman customs on Eastern liturgies not just from a desire for uniformity and tidiness, but also because the Western customs were believed to be better (and in my opinion at least sometimes are—unleavened bread, for instance). We know that before Trent, even in the West, this uniformity was not the case; rites varied, often considerably, from diocese to diocese, though they mostly belonged to the Roman ritual family. The Tridentine desire for uniformity has persisted right up to our own day (one sad case: I remember reading that Pope Paul VI, when Archbishop of Milan, was responsible for a certain amount of Romanization of the Ambrosian Rite). The cry has been ‘there should be only one form of the Roman rite’. And since the introduction of the Novus Ordo, the cry has been just the same. I want to ask why?
Yes, yes, I know; one can go from Tokyo to Stavanger to Rio de Janeiro and experience the same thing. But can one? Perhaps the basic framework might be the same, but I suspect that a worshipper going from, say, Milwaukee, via the London Oratory, to Linz would wonder whether he were on the same planet, let alone celebrating the same rite. So, diversity exists, like it or not. But up until now, authority has decreed that the one form of diversity not to be permitted (or to be highly disapproved of) was the older form of the Missal, what we now call the Extraordinary Form. It was as if there had been a revolution, and all evidence that anything had ever been different should be destroyed, any sign of regret suppressed.
This was not healthy, and I do not wish to return to this state of affairs. Frankly, I welcome The Cardinal’s comments (though, as I said, I don’t agree with them) because we are having the debate we should have been having in the 1960s and 1970s (and maybe the 1950s), and this time it is not about repression (on either side), but about dialogue. I hope this dialogue will go on for a long time. Then we might get it right.
If it is to be fruitful, though, the dialogue must be conducted with charity and fairness. I can accept that others don’t like to worship in the forms that the Church has used for generations. I can even accept that people may express these views forthrightly. What I don’t like is when such people express unkindly the argument that would seem to amount to ‘I don’t find this style of liturgy helpful, so you hateful people should be forbidden access to it’. Not that The Cardinal was saying this, but others do, and perhaps he pressed buttons inadvertently.
Am I suggesting, then, that liturgy should simply be a free-for-all? Absolutely not, and I am prepared to admit here that where the lines should be drawn is not entirely clear.
The Sacred Liturgy is one of our most important expressions of communion, and this communion is diminished when the liturgy does not reflect it through space (making use of the rites which are being celebrated elsewhere in the world) and through time (making use of the rites that the Church has used through the ages). This tells us, among other things, who we are. A community that seeks to emphasise liturgical rupture, by departing substantially from the rites of the Church, is bringing about ecclesial rupture. The liturgy expresses primarily not how St Disibod’s Melonsquashville sees itself, but how we the Church see God together. Communion, again. The famous monstrance of Linz, the Pitta on a Pole, says ‘we are not like you others; we are not like our forbears; this is how we do it’.
I can see an argument for the Linz thing: there might be a connection of thought to the serpent on the pole in the desert, the Type of Christ crucified, that the wounded people might look on the Saviour and be healed—all very good and theological, but it does not connect. People need archetypes, as Jung taught us, symbols that speak to our deepest levels, and to rupture something so instinctive to the Catholic spirit as devotion to the Blessed Sacrament expressed in a particular way is to, well, rupture, in order to make a point.
The Linz idea is, of course, is a different, intellectual, process to another type of liturgical rupture that has little thought behind it, being being simply a shallow interpretation of the word ‘celebration’.
‘Celebration’ should refer to the liturgy’s ability to reflect and articulate the deepest yearnings and feelings of the individuals who participate. When we talk of ‘celebration’ in the context of a Requiem Mass, this should not be (though often is) a shallow jollity, articulating a joy and happiness that the mourners cannot possibly be feeling. Inane grins on the faces of priests and jokes cracked are no comfort to a widow burying her husband of forty years, making her pretend to be happy about it. Instead, the Church mourns with her, as our Lord wept for Lazarus, but the black is shot through with gold; we can begin to articulate the teaching on the resurrection to somebody whose grief we do not dismiss but honestly share.
The liturgy at its best seeks to engage people appropriately, articulating and transforming their present needs and feelings and turning them into prayer. And the ultimate need that the liturgy lays hold of and divinizes is the human need for union with God. Turning everything into a party is shallow and self-defeating. That is not what ‘celebration’ is about.
The late Christiane Brusselmans’ course for preparing children to receive first Holy Communion is a case in point. In many dioceses in this country (including this one) her course was the only one approved for parish preparation courses. Very few use it now, D.G.. This course made no attempt to even mention the Real Presence, let alone the Sacrifice of the Mass. All that mattered was being nice to one another (important, of course—well, it is) summed up in Holy Communion which is, basically, a party with Jesus. As long ago as 1982, a priest (my university chaplain now become an Episcopalian but at the time a great inspiration to me) said, thinking of a child receiving Communion, and looking at the Wafer in his hand: ‘A party? Some party!’
At a recent Solemn Mass here in the Extraordinary Form, for the sake of those unused to it, I described what they were going to experience as something that was not so much ‘celebration’, but ‘worship’. This was misreported somewhere else as a distinction between ‘liturgy’ and ‘worship’, which is not a distinction I would be happy to make. The former distinction, though, I am happy to stand by. I mean that the Ordinary Rites, which I celebrate daily, engage more with the congregation; the Extraordinary engage more with God.
Let the Church decide, in the decades to come, which will be preferred. Or make the best of both. There’s more here, but I need to think more first.
Let me finally thank The Cardinal for his perseverance in posting on this blog. His contributions have always been interesting, even when I don't agree! These are the ways we grow together.