Sunday, 30 July 2017


Cardinal Sarah's comments on the convergence of the two forms of the Roman Rite have drawn much comment around the Interweb, not least on the subject of the Lectionary. It goes without saying that I believe the OF can be much improved by the EF; how about the other way around?

I am not one of those who is an 'immobilist', in Fr Mark Drew's memorable word, meaning those who think that there can be no improvement whatever to the traditional rites. But I have a deep reluctance to start tinkering under the bonnet: that has been tried and found to be not particularly successful, not least in my own lifetime. Our Church is a 'we' Church, and that 'we' embraces not only those alive today, but those in Purgatory and in Heaven. Our liturgy has to embrace that 'we-ness', and a liturgy designed only for those of one particular age risks cutting adrift from its moorings. Our liturgy expresses the unity of the Church across space and across time. It is the cry of the whole people of God to its maker, the nuptial song of the Bride to her Groom. It is fundamentally transcendent, going beyond itself, focussing not on pleasing itself, but on pleasing its Spouse.

So making things more entertaining, if I can put it like that, needn't, perhaps shouldn't, be part of the recipe.

Let's consider the Lectionary. A lot of erudite stuff has been floating around recently: Cardinal Sarah's proposal hasn't been received very favourably. At root is the fact that we see the purpose of the Lectionary differently these days. Now we consider it didactic, an opportunity for people to learn from the Word of God Itself. The homily is intended to reinforce that lesson. Yet the more ancient liturgies don't use the Scriptures like that in the Liturgy; many of them have very restricted Lectionaries indeed. The Ethiopian, for instance, confines itself to a handful of Gospel passages and a few bits of St Paul, among which the priest selects whatever he likes. This is because the purpose of the readings is not didactic, but is instead considered an Epiphany of God the Word, a precursor to the coming of God the Bread of Life later in the celebration. Teaching about what the Scriptures contain takes place outside the Eucharist. It's a different mindset.
Certainly other rites had a much richer Lectionary than the Ethiopic, not least the Roman. But teaching was not considered part of the function of the Lectionary really until the Reformation. The Mediæval lectionary was richer simply because the Mediæval liturgy was richer; they thought that richness was a good thing in itself.
When Cyril and Methodius sought a Slavonic liturgy, Rome granted permission as long as the Scriptures continued to be read only in Hebrew, Latin or Greek—precisely the inverse of what we might have thought today. Then, it was considered that the Scriptures should be read only in the three languages which appeared on the titulus of the Cross. A vernacular liturgy was thought less inappropriate than vernacular scriptures.
It is generally acknowledged that parts of the Roman Lectionary are very ancient indeed. Catacomb ancient, in fact. Even the new Lectionary acknowledges this in part, preserving carefully the early Lenten cycle of readings.
Arguments can be made about content: the new Lectionary appears to skirt around difficult passages, for instance, but to my mind this is less important than the change to a didactic purpose to the readings. It goes hand in hand with an insistence on preaching on every possible occasion. Priests really shouldn't be forced to preach; very few of us can do it at all well! I try to avoid preaching whenever I can, because I think that actually bad preaching does more harm than no preaching. I suspect that we are loading far too much onto the Mass right now, which should be simply the worship of God; our small space where we can allow Him to Be in our lives, without being distracted (or possibly bored) by lesser matters such as Fr X's latest twenty-minute variation on 'God is Love' and How Awful Everything Used To Be Before the Nineteen-Sixties (something utterly foreign to anyone born before 1970).
I would resent a full rewrite of the EF Missal lectionary, still less would I welcome an uncritical adoption of the current OF lectionary. But I would not resent an optional widening of the traditional lectionary: what I mean is a provision of a weekday selection of readings, so that one would not be obliged to read the same readings several times on successive days. In fact, such an arrangement was made in the 1960s for a few years; I even have a copy of the lectionary. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty good.
I might come back to this, but I wanted to jam down some preliminary thoughts.

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