Saturday, 1 November 2008

Modelling the communion of saints in the liturgy


Today is the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost in the Extraordinary Form, and All Saints in the Ordinary Form, in Australia at least.

The feasts of All Saints and All Souls serve to remind us that the Church is not made up just of individuals living in the here and now, but of the Church Militant on earth, Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in heaven, all linked by deep bonds of charity.

Mirroring the heavenly liturgy

Related to this, the visions of the heavenly liturgy in the Book of Revelation which are read at Matins for All Saints (from Revelation 4&5) tell of the crowds of angels and saints thronging around God's throne, so that that liturgy is a communal act, not an individual one. Our earthly liturgy is meant to mirror that.

Related to this subject, I want to point you to two nice posts by others around this subject.

Every man his own liturgy

The first is by Joshua over at Psallite Sapienter , and points to a nice very early patristic quote, from Pope St Clement, pointing to the different, hierarchically ordered roles of priest, ministers and laity in the liturgy:

'[For] Unto the high-priest ( = the celebrant-bishop) his special "liturgies" have been appointed, and to the priests ( = presbyters) their special place is assigned, and on the levites ( = deacons) their special "deaconings" are imposed; the layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity.

Let each of you, brethren, make eucharist to God according to his own order, keeping a good conscience and not transgressing the appointed rule ["canon"] of his "liturgy" [, in seriousness].'

Joshua draws attention to a summation of this message by famous liturgist Dix in The Shape of the Liturgy, who draws on the idea of 'every man his own liturgy':

" ...the eucharist [sic] is emphatically a corporate action of the whole christian [sic] body, in which every 'order' from the layman to the bishop has its own special 'liturgy'…"

Interdependence and interaction

One would not, of course want to take this point too far - we are after all, supposed to be participating in the same liturgy, albeit in different ways. And on this Fr Blake over at St Mary Magdalen has a nice post on the way in which vestments traditionally emphasised the priest's dependence on his assistants:

"One of things I like about the older rites is the dependance of clergy on their assistant ministers, the vestments of the Pope for example the long faldo and and papal cope meant he couldn't even move without assistance, the same with a cardinal or bishop wearing a cappa. At High Mass Pope, Bishop or Priest were all dragged about the altar by their vestments, without assistants they could do nothing. I am sure it was all meant to underline the importance of the particular cleric but it underlined too that he did nothing on his own, his very movement was dependant on others....

Our present liturgical practice is much more individualistic. This morning I celebrated Mass without a server, forty years ago, though it happened, it would have been rare and considered an abuse. Nowadays it would possible to celebrate for what passes as "High Mass" with just a priest and a congregation, and most probably a reader...What I am saying is that as important as the celebrant was the older liturgy emphasised his function within the the Church, his dependance on others. Post-councilliar liturgy is in comparison much more individualistic."

Individualism vs ordered roles

One could I suppose argue that the different ways of hearing Mass that we've been discussing for the laity are a reflection of that individualism, but the counter I think is firstly that the idea that the laity should follow along the words of the Mass in missals is a very recent innovation indeed, largely a product of the liturgical movement in the twentieth century (notwithstanding the fact that missals did exist before then). Rather, methods of the laity hearing the mass that are distinct to them have the weight of tradition behind them...

In any case, do go over and read both of these excellent posts in full....

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