Defenders of liturgical tradition increasingly have the best scholarship and the best arguments, finds Sheridan Gilley
Ministerial and Common Priesthood in the Eucharist Celebration: The Proceedings of the Fourth International Colloquium of Historical, Canonical, and Theological Studies of the Roman Liturgy, The Saint Austin Press, £12.95
EVERYONE knows the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist: that you can negotiate with a terrorist. There are, however, now liturgists and liturgists, not all of whom are dedicated to the ritual mutilation of past liturgies. In the splendid collection of essays edited by Stratford Caldecott, Beyond the Prosaic (T&T Clark, 1998), Dr Eamon Duffy, a strong supporter of modern liturgy, has written a devastating critique of the translations of the old collects, which he says, simply pelagianise them, by making prayer a matter of human effort rather than divine grace. In the same volume, M. Francis Manion attacks "the trivialisation of rites and
symbols, the ascendancy of an entertainment and therapeutic ethos in liturgical celebration, and an exaggerated, neo-clericalist style of priestly presidency and an individualistic and consumerist spirituality."
Caldecott's volume came out of a conference at Oxford in 1996 which concluded with a Declaration arguing that the "many positive results" of liturgical reform had been frustrated by "bureaucratic, philistine and secularist" forces which had deprived "the Catholic people of much of their liturgical heritage" in "sacred music, art and architecture", especially the loss of plainchant, resulting in the "impoverishment of our liturgy".
(.31THER WRITERS, like the
sociologist Kieran Flanagan and the Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols, have exposed the cultural and linguistic poverty of modern liturgical writing, the anthropological and sociological ineptitude of its notions of participation and community, which have become secular substitutes for God, its rationalist reduction of meaning and its incomprehension of the traditional non-verbal symbols of ritual in the sense of sacred time and space, of colour, gesture and movement, which are essential to the dimension of worship as mystery. In a fascinating work, The Banished Heart (Spes Nova, Sydney,1995), Geoffrey Hull has analysed the role of overcentralisation in Rome in destroying the variety of tradition, both Eastern and Westem, to create a monochrome liturgical modernity.
If supporters of modern liturgy can be so critical, the defenders of traditional liturgy have taken heart. On one fundamental point the proponents of modern ritual have been shaken: the assumption that in the early Christian basilicas, the priest at the Eucharist faced the congregation. As Klaus Gamber has shown, priest and people gazed in the same direction, eastwards towards the rising sun and towards Jerusalem as the place of the Lord's birth, death, resurrection and final return. The only exceptions to this rule occurred in those unoriented Roman basilicas like St Peter's in Rome, in which the priest, in facing east as required, had to face his congregation looking west. These exceptions really prove the rule.
Some of these themes appear in the third volume of essay produced by the Centre International d'Etudes Liturgiques (CIEL), founded by French lay people in 1994 for the purpose of achieving a deeper understanding of the traditional Latin liturgy (there is an understandable reluctance to call the old Mass the Tridentine Mass, given that almost all of it long predates the Council of Trent.) The main theme of the volume is that of the ministerial priesthood in relation to our common priesthood, especially as the former is now under attack, according to Fr JeanLouis Gallet SV, by such Catholic theologians as Bunnick, Schoonenberg and Schillebeeckx, who deny that it has an indelible or permanent sacramental character, but see it as temporary and dependent on whether it is used. A similar concern appears in the essay by Don Reto Nay, in his demonstration of the origin of the ministerial priesthood in the high priesthood of Christ. Fr Franck M. Quiex provides a careful history of the rite of priestly ordination which stresses its continuity for the earliest period, against the modern attempt to explain development as a kind of degeneration from some fabled early lost golden age.
The true doctrine of priesthood may be the heart of the matter, but a still more insistent theme here is the implication of the movement to secure a greater lay "participation" in the liturgy, which as Fr Martin Edwards shows, has been a preoccupation of a succession of papal documents from the era of St Pius X. This, however, had as its primary
aim "true, interior and personal sharing" in the Eucharistic sacrifice; it was very different from the twist given to the term "active participation... before all else" in the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium, interpreted in a manner which the Council had never intended, to mean the wholesale abandonment of Latin and a drive for external,
verbal participation in which the traditional emphasis upon shared silence and gestures were also lost. The paradoxical result has been that the more actively modern liturgists have promoted "participation", the more the faithful have avoided it by staying away altogether, with a near halving of Mass attendance in England over 30 years.
The same rather crude modern conception of external verbal "participation" is the target of Dr Joseph Gribbin's demonstration of the range of forms of lay participation in the medieval Mass, by sight and gesture as well as by silent prayer. The modern understanding of "participation" also neglects the special roles of sacred language: as Fr Sean Finnegan suggests, even Our Lord worshipped in classical Hebrew, not his vernacular Aramaic. Yet Fr Ignacio Barrieir's account of the debate over the schema of the Preparatory Liturgical Commission before Vatican II shows that while no one urged the abolition of Latin, a number of cardinals were of the view that "participation" implied the wider use of the vernacular. The conservative prelates clearly stated the sort of objections to liturgical change which have been justified in the event. They were, alas, wise in their generation.
Pastoral need is also alleged in defence of the movement deplored by Monsignor Walter Branmuller to introduce lay preaching at the Eucharist. Again, the pastoral is the source of the stress on the strong strand of subjectivity in modern approaches to worship. Fr Finnegan cites the recent defence of the old Latin rite by the non-Catholic philosopher Dr Catherine Pickstock, for whom it is the special virtue of the old liturgy that it addresses God in what she calls the "apostrophic voice", without the conditions or manipulations of modern speech.
PROFESSOR Wolfgang Waldstein's study of Dietrich von Hidebrand also argues that the purpose of liturgy is the disinterested and unconditional glorification of God, but it is in glorifying God that holiness is formed. Fr Bernard Deneke FSSP suggests the interaction of the subjective horizontal dimension of the pastoral and the personal with the objective vertical dimension of grace from God: the priest acts both in persona Christi as the representative of Christ and in persona Ecclesiae — embodying the motherhood of the Church.
There is a similar emphasis on the wholeness of the objective and the subjective in Fr Alain Contat's analysis of the relationship between the sacramental sign (as in the pouring of water and the uttering of the sacred formula in baptism) and the signified reality of the justification of the soul. The external symbolic richness and of the rite imparts its meaning to the mind which is raised to the supernatural reality to which the rite refers. Thus baptismal water cleanses, cools and transmits light in an action present to the senses as well as the spirit, as the Incarnation was of the flesh and of the Word. The modern "stripping down" of ancient beauty in modern liturgy impoverishes the sense, the very point at which we are most vulnerable to sin, refusing modern man the sensory presence of the sacred and his own need for, union, and so neglecting the union of the God-man in Christ.
One of the paradoxical' efficts of the modern liturgical reforms has been to reduce lay paricipation by destroying the very treasures in which the. Church wanted the laity to parake. This loss is nowhere moo apparent than in music. Don Alban Nunn OSB of Ealing Abbey casts doubt on theexistence of congregational resonsorial psalm-singing in theEarly Church, arguing that theperformance of music was a specialised function for prOessionals, clergy, cantors andchoirs, so that there was an Internal, and externally pasive, as well as an active venal understanding of particiption, rooted in the primary' understanding of participation notmerely in the Eucharistic cornunity but in the Eucharistic cacrifice.
FIE POINT that different ril parts of the Roman
liturgy from the seventh century were reserved for diftrent participants is also mat by Dom Emmanuel de Bur OSB of the Abbey of BaJoux, in his formidably Teamed account of how the Matexts came to be doubled bettien priest and choir. M Matel Peres gives adramatic accent of the abandonment of he traditional forms of chasing and of the role of cam through the "reforms" of thikbbey of Solennes and PopSt Pius X. This suggests the tormous possibilities for har,in a mistaken liturgical archeology like that of Solanes, an archaeology wIntabandons a living tradihonor the sake of a past misderstood. Our present ma]te, the result of i romantic ttiding to recreate a long vaned past, has history older.' thanatic an II.
Nit of the contributors, tertnt thisolume are younger than ttri 1-1
its firing reviewer. 'Truly, the old there made new What is stri]eg about the work is its sandy rnoderationand selfcontence of tone ani lack of deftiveness in expounding a tritional liturgical theology, Tiffs tradition ratter than tradn al ism. The liturgical Monist can no longer escwith a sneer atthe lack of 1ding or intellectual abil ity Ili& traditionallyminded critutio increasingly has the bes eholarship and the best arglats.