Friday, 27 April 2012

The liturgy hits that iceberg....

For once traditionalists will actually tend to agree with something Sr Carmen Pilcher has to say, for in a post over at Cath Blog yesterday, she describes the signing of Sacrosanctum Concilium as the Church's Titanic moment.

What an apt image!  The seemingly unsinkable ship of the Church's great liturgical tradition did indeed hit the geat iceberg of 'Spirit of Vatican IIism' and all but sunk.

Fortunately, unlike the Titanic, the Church really is unsinkable, and so there were a few survivors from which to rebuild...

And in reality, perhaps the more accurate image would be one of a hijacking!

Celebrating Sacrosanctum Concilium?

Sr Carmel seems to feel that the bishops' plans for celebrating fifty years since Vatican II are rather underdone given its significance:

"So how is the church planning to commemorate the golden anniversary of this great event? We know that the Australian Catholic Bishops are about to declare a ‘Year of Grace’ beginning on Pentecost Sunday. We also know that in a few months the Pope will announce a ‘Year of Faith’.

Is a subtext for each of these themes the marking of 50 years since the beginning of the church’s most recent reform? Are plays to be written, a movie commissioned, forums set up so that stories can be told, celebrations to be held? How are our bishops suggesting ways to capture the excitement and keep the memory alive of this decisive moment in our church’s history?

Of course the Church is more than the bishops, as indeed the Council taught us...Parishes, schools and other organisations will no doubt celebrate with local initiatives."

How to celebrate SC?

So here is my suggestion for local initiatives: how about actually reading the document itself and putting on some Masses that reflect its actual provisions?  You know, things like:
  • respect for the hierarchical constitution of the Church in the roles ministers and laity respectively play in the Mass (SC 28);
  • observance of the proper bodily gestures and attitudes - such as the striking of the breast at the mea culpa and bow in the Creed, more ignored than observed at most OF Masses I've attended of late (SC 30);
  • joining in the (specified) words as appropriate, not some old and no longer approved version of the Mass translation or other ad libbing on the part of the priest (SC 30);
  • observance of reverent silence when appropriate (SC 30);
  • the preservation of the Latin language (SC34) and congregational singing of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin (SC 54);
  • the cultivation of the great treasury of sacred music of the Church (SC 114); and
  • giving pride of place to Gregorian chant in liturgical services (SC 116).
So maybe parishes could celebrate by holding chant workshops, and Masses that truly draw on the great treasury of sacred music. 

By teaching parishioners a little Latin, the official and normative language of our liturgy.

To implement or reassess?

A pretty good case can be made at this point, I think, that Sacrosanctum Concilium has never actually been properly implemented.

In fact rather than hitting an iceberg and sinking, the ship was hijacked. 

Indeed the whole 'Reform of the Reform' movement arguably has the objective of freeing the liturgy from the hijackers.

All the same, at fifty years remove much of the anthropology and historical/liturgical scholarship that animated Sacrosanctum Concilium's purely pastoral prescriptions has been effectively demolished.

Some of the things it thought to be ancient traditions of the Church in the early 1960s today look like at best mere archeologism that certainly wouldn't pass Pope Benedict XVI's test of living, as opposed to fossilised, traditions; at worst they look like outright fabrications.

SC's distaste for 'repetition' in the liturgy arguably reflects a lack of understanding of the ritual process; the permission for the (very limited) use of the vernacular a failure to understand the purpose of hieratic and sacred languages; and its privileging of overt catechesis through the liturgy a lack of understanding of the subtle effects on our understanding of the implicit messages embedded in the ancient rubrics for our faith.

Thus, a case can equally be made that sufficient time has passed to allow a more fundamental reassessment of the usefulness of  many of Sacrosanctum Concilium's pastoral provisions...


Innocent III said...

Thanks Kate for an excellent post.

Your point about the naivte of the Council fathers is well taken. Many years ago as a uni stiudent I attended a service at St James Anglican Church in Sydney. At the appropriate moment in the creed the entire congregation genuflected. Anyone remaining standing would have stood out like a sore thumb. Bowing on the other hand (which as a server I always make a point of doing) can be easily neglected as it will not be obvious to yourself that you have missed it.

When the bishops issued the new guidline about bowing before receiving communion I noticed that about half the congregation complied at the beginning and that now it is down to about 10%.

When an action requires an actual physical effort and has an actual visual impact on the worshipper it is more likely to be internalised. I suspect this is why so many still genuflect to the altar even when the Tabernacle is located elsewhere: a bow is unnoticed but a genuflection is clearly out of the ordinary and hence seen.

For those that argue that we are 'faith adults' and mature enough to respond respectfully to Our Lord's Presence without the need for 'exagerated gestures' such as genuflection, reception on the tongue etc I invite them to witness the reality of parish worship on any Sunday in the average parish church. Unexagerated gestures quickly become no gestures, and no gestures just as soon teach 'move along, nothing to see here'.

And they wonder why young people see no special reason to attend the Holy Mass.

Carob_molasses said...

Worth noting that the mea culpa breastbeating is part of the traditional ROMAN latin rite, but was never part of the medieval English versions of the Latin rite, which merely had a simple 'peccavi' phrase. In a sense, the polite ignoring of the Roman (narcissistic, wailing, 'look at me') confessional mode is actually reinstating what Catholics did in England before the counterreformation in the various medieval Latin liturgies. The liturgies then suited the sensibility of the people, and practice has now drifted back to the sensibility of the people.

And sorry, but your hijacking metaphor is bizarre - Captains of ships dont authorise hijackers to take them over; nor are they welcomed by at least a significant minority of the passengers (as seems to have been the case in the 60s). So who were the foreign-hostile hijackers in this weird analogy? Surely they cant be priests or liturgists, because that would make the analogy next to useless, because it would suggest the source of the difficulties was entirely foreign to the Church and not part of it.

Its an analogy that allows right-winger more-Catholic-than-the-pope writers to avoid the horrible truth that the people that changed the liturgy, and rearranged everything were usually priests, and authorised to do so by Bishops...i.e. the system reformed itself into this...

For those of us who sit in the pews pretty much without inspiration week after week, and don't mind the odd Latin mass, thinking that the *hierarchy did this stuff to its own liturgy* is the true moment of uneasy horror...taking refuge in metaphors about hijackers is fantasy and a way of avoiding the reality that this was actually a wilfully self-inflicted wound.

Kate, you also write this -
Thus, a case can equally be made that sufficient time has passed to allow a more fundamental reassessment of the usefulness of many of Sacrosanctum Concilium's pastoral provisions...

Isnt this & your post the voice of expertise bringing in recent scholarship to undermine church documents when assessing the magisterium exactly what the lefties do with e.g. Humanae Vitae, or with the twists and turns in last 30 years in the various documents on the homosexual condition? Im happy you have joined the club of Thinking Catholics here, Kate! Bravo!

Kate said...

Carob - Let me suggest to you a couple of key concepts on the hijacking analogy.

First hijackers don't need to come from outside - wolves from within is as old as the apostles! And today we have the phenomenon of subversion from within - home grown terrorists or those who seem like they have assimilated into Western society, are learning to do perfectly normal things - but in fact are secretly radicalised.

Just who those were in the case of the liturgy is extremely well documented (take for example the late 'Apostolic por-nuncio to Iran, AB Bugnini)!

The second concept that spring to mind here is Stockholm Syndrome!

But one could also consider the problem of such as the very recent case where the captain ignored the charts provided to him and steers too close to the rocks (or allows others at the wheel to do so on his behalf) for whatever reasons...

And I always find particularly instructive the story Fr Z tells, of Pope Paul VI waking up one Pentecost Monday and asking where the correct coloured vestments were - and weeping when he realized he had abolished the octave of Pentecost without even realising it...

On the question of reasessment more generally, it really is important for Catholics to understand the distinction between moral absolutes and definitive teachings of the faith (as represented by Humane Vitae) that can't be changed, and purely pastoral prescriptions, such as those contained in SC, that can.

Carob_molasses said...

Dear Kate,
you dont address my point about the Roman vs the English medieval rite, but otherwise a fair enough and entirely intelligent answer. Thanks.

Kate said...

I don't know enough abut the Sarum rite to comment on your claim in relation to it Carob without doing a bit of research on what it contained, and what other parts of the ritual went to the same effect which I don't have time to do.

But I'm sure you can guuess that I don't personally think there is any narcissistic about striking one's breast, and there is certainly no wailing involved.

I would simply point out that far from being 'polite', deliberately ignoring or refusing to follow rubrics put there for our benefit by the Church subverts the mindsets the liturgy is meant to induce or remind us is needed (viz a genuine state of contrition), and indeed I'd go so far as to suggest is a sin in itself (though how serious a one would depend on circumstances).

A Canberra Observer said...


I don't buy the 'return to [English] sensibilities'. Was that an articulated objective of the loss of beating the breast? I never heard of it. And we haven't had exposure to such a rite for half a millenium.
I think more likely that it has to do with the slow ditching of the bodily postures and actions that reinforce what we are doing, and tied to modern theological fancies.
Let's take two
- no beating of the breast runs with their is no personal sin and everyone goes to heaven (and the often chosen option of no Confiteor but simply an annotated Kyrie).
- no inclinations at the Incarnation - runs with Jesus as (social revolutionary) man as opposed to God Incarnate.

HolyCatholicApostoli said...

Some quotes from the document:
Sacrosanctum Concilium:
Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.