Thursday 12 November 2009

On Liturgy and Communion

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.


Antonio said...

I was not surprised to see a certain Anglo-Catholic priest blogger make comments on how the cotta was all wrong on the MC.

The Cardinal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Richard Duncan said...

The Cardinal’s comment about play-acting reminded me of Guardini’s idea of The Playfulness of the Liturgy.

Yes Fr Ray IS “play-acting”, but not in a pejorative sense. The seriousness is part of the play, at least in the sense in which Guardini means.

Peter Porter said...

The Cardinal

You really are yesterday's man if you have to resort to puffing aged Jesuits like Fr Baldovin and the late Fr Donovan. Kevin Donovan, I am told, was a kind and good man but by the time he died his liturgical views were anachronistic and a thing of the past. These Jesuits are in the same league, and of the same generation, as Fr John O'Malley whose views on Vatican II had a hall at Boston College, largely composed of young and youngish people, biting the carpet because of his complacency. They did not want to cosy-up to disappointed septuagenarians desperate to defend their corner. Neither Baldovin or O'Malley are willing to realize that a sea-change has come over the Church in the last twenty years or so and the zeitgeist has changed.

But let me tell you a story about Fr Donovan. A well-known Jesuit I met recently told me that after he had read for the first time Ratzinger's 'Introduction to Christianity' he said he wished he had done so when it was first published as it would have entirely changed his theological outlook. During the last years of his life he quoted Ratzinger constantly in his homilies because reading the book, and other works, had transformed his perception.

It is deplorable of you to vilify good men like Alcuin Reid and others who don't happen to sing out of your Kevin Mayhew hymn book. The Church has entered a new period of history, leaving people like you high, dry, angry and resentful. You clearly have time on your hands and are dedicating you declining years to causing strife instead of coming to terms with an approaching horizon. It was anger that fueled your generation, and the disgruntlement of a spoilt child that remains. Dialogue has achieved nothing because for people like you nothing is enough and leads only to atrophy.

Anonymous said...

"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."

What were the Holy Father's words ?- something along the lines of “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” found in the forward to Alcuin Reid's revision of Fortescue.


Anonymous said...

I think his Lordship's (aka The Cardinal) main comment on the video is that it shows not a living liturgy but play-acting (These were his words) and I would like to invite him to clarify what he means:

A few points:

1. I agree the video is poor - over edited and choppy.
2. The singing, I suspect, is from a CD.

3. One sees in the video details that no-one kneeling in a pew, head in their Missal, would ever have seen or noticed (and thus would not have been distrurbed by them). Few will have even seen or noticed the way the thurible is being held. It does not affect the liturgy does it?

4. Why does this show, in your view, play-acting and not a real living liturgy.

Perhaps the Cardinal, who has written that he prepared generations of priests to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass (pre-Vatican II) might explain something that has always puzzled me.

Are the stories of priests gabbling the Mass (pre-68) and rushing to finish it with due regard to rubrics but little reverence true? Was that a living liturgy? Are the efforts to offer the '62 Mass doomed to fail because the ars celebrandi has not been passed on?

(Rather like the way Jesuits in various Provinces pass on their techniques for conducting the Spiritual Exercises.)

What do you mean by "living liturgy"? Does one see it at Old Rite Masses at the Brompton Oratory? Maiden Lane on Monday evenings? Spanish Place on Sundays?

Is the problem perhaps that there are so few Missae Cantatae (or TLM at all) that the sacred ministers really need to concentrate to follow the rubrics properly and this leads to a stilted and disjointed "performance"?

I am not sure. I have sung at the Missa Cantata at Maiden Lane for years now and am content that I have that opportunity.

I look forward to your reply.

In caritate Xp.,


Clare said...

I was the Musical director for this the Requiem mass and l also cut the film of the mass so l feel that l am vaguely qualified to join in this discussion and also feel some sense of responsibiilty for this debate to even ensue.

Firstly, l am absolutely appalled about the Cardinal's words on Dr Alcuin Reid in his last post. Can l remind him that this is a Catholic blog not OK! or Hello magazine and therefore not the place for 'celebrity' gossip (I use the word "celebrity because his eminence clearly believes that Dr Reid's life should be in the public domain.) If Alcuin needs to taken 'down a peg or two' and l suspect we all do in some form then surely this is not the place to be discussing it.

Secondly, I would like to point that as the choir director l am not just "doing the rite' (l can only obviously speak from a musical perspective and not from the altar.) I have just started a long journey to learn the rite and its music. I have studied under Dom Daniel Saunier who is also rehearsing once a week with the choir at St Peter's this year (now you can't anymore illustrious than that!) I hope to go back to Solesmes next year to study once again with him. In turn l am trying to teach my choir what is taught to me. So for instance what is not captured on the video are the late nights we spent just studying the two introits of All Saints and All Souls. We didn't just learn the notes we sat in our cold organ loft and tried to work out why... Tried to work out the relevance of the text and why the neums were written the way they were.

l am rambling now but it really was a wonderful night and made me so proud to be a Catholic.

Mary George BN2 7FL said...

I think it a disgrace you all this anonymous individual to denigrate Dr Reid here. Will you invite the Reverend Doctor to reply, the troubvle is to whom does he reply, a psedonym?

Anonymous said...

I am pleased that Clare has commented, because otherwise I was going to on her behalf.

We went to Solesmes together and she carried a dozen Gregorian Missals back on the train. We spent about four hours a day listening to Dom Saulnier and most of the rest of the time in the Church attending Mass and the various Offices.

As a musician, I have taken an enormous amount of flack for liturgical music and hardly any for secular music.

It's a shame that non-musicians have so little idea how many hours, how much work and how much energy people have to put into such ventures, using whoever is willing to volunteer.

Clare is a trail blazer for what is possible in a Catholic Parish and I applaud her.

Julia Jones.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Dear Father,
I tend not to comment on other peoples blogs, I have my own and normally comment there but several of my parishioners have commented here, and I would be ashamed not support them. I would not wish to give further publicity to this post on my blog.

One of the many great things of this pontificate is as you so rightly say is that Pope Benedict has opened discussion of basic principles that the interpreters of the “Spirit” of Vatican II forbade when we were seminarians.
That being said, I would question whether that is the intent of the anonymous contributor who styles himself “The Cardinal” and informs us that he is a Catholic bishop. You don’t have dialogue here; you have someone who cloaks himself in anonymity to make ad hominem remarks. I don’t mind being referred to as play acting marionette by someone who admits he does not understand a particular form of the Roman Rite. But what I think is really quite unacceptable is that you allow this anonymous individual to make ad hominem remarks, that actually damage an individual’s reputation.
I am suspect this anonymous contributor is not actually being libellous, others better qualified can decide that, but he is certainly committing the sin of detraction, which I would have hope was equally unacceptable. However as he is anonymous, except for his self description, he is free from any comeback, legal or moral.


One last minor point, the video was meant to illustrate, not the Mass itself, but our choir. It was not a CD; it was what was sung that night.

Rubricarius said...

A very thought provoking post Fr. Séan.

I do find myself in agreement with much of the post and the comments posted by 'The Cardinal'.

As a friend, and former student, of Kevin Donovan I thought he was a charming and delightful man. He was infuriating as a lecturer but always highly interesting and a decent man. I am also a friend of both John Baldovin and Alcuin Reid and whilst I don't agree entirely with either of them would choose to side with former if forced to make an absolute choice.

I wonder whether one of the questions we should be asking is one about inculturation? By inculturation I mean that liturgies have adapted to the places where they have been celebrated throughout history. Taking the Roman rite itself the pure, spartan (perhaps even dull?) Roman core became inculturated into Frankish-Germanic culture and became the form with which we are familiar. The old Roman liturgy became inculturated into northern European culture and developed into such glories as the Sarum Use.

I watched the Armistice Service from the Abbey and thought the liturgical elements there 'worked' very well indeed although such ceremonial was largely, but not totally, reconstructed a century or so ago by Jocelyn Perkins (pace Fr. Séan!) and Percy Dearmer. However it had a flowing quality to it that characterises good liturgical celebration and admirably served its purpose. It certainly 'worked' better than the 'Requiem' under discussion (although I have to say the music in both services was not to my personal taste but I recognise the effort and skill of the choirs involved).

Some years ago when I first witnessed the worship of Eastern Churches I was shocked in my naivety to see worshippers in a Greek church go up to the bishop at his throne and have a quick chat with him during Mattins. Now such a thing would strike me as perfectly natural.

Conversely at a Byzantine rite sung in English I was very irritated to hear at Pentecost at the 'Kneeling Vespers' the diaconal command "Again and again on bended knee let us pray to the Lord." The absolute foreign quality of the phrase grated on me - Byzantine Court ceremonial is not very English.

I welcome the idea of open discussion on the subject. Too often in the past 'authority' arguments have been used to stop proper debate which, IMHO, never ultimately resolves the matter and prevents moving on.

I am intrigued by the identity of 'The Cardinal' and wonder if the other day he was sitting in a row behind a Lady wearing a violet two-piece and hat?

Francis said...

I entirely concur with Fr. Ray Blake's comments about remarks made by the "Cardinal".

Those who wish to be shown "the respect owed to the successors of the Apostles" should conduct themselves with appropriate apostolic dignity.

A Catholic bishop, by virtue of the dignity of his office, enjoys no right of anonymity. All the more so when, by creating suspicions about who he may or may not be, he causes speculation which may bring brother bishops into disrepute.

Anonymous said...

"But what I think is really quite unacceptable is that you allow this anonymous individual to make ad hominem remarks, that actually damage an individual’s reputation." Fr Blake

But it's ok for you to deliberately seek to tarnish the reputation of others without right of reply on your blog?!

Fair enough that you should seek to defend a friend - a pity you don't proffer similar redress to those you scorn.

Pastor in Monte said...

No more comments on this post please.

I seek to tarnish nobody's reputation, and I'm sorry if I have given this impression.