Riches we are all missing
RECENTLY I used the phrase : "The liturgy can be a true apologetic,' and 'apostolic '." The phrase ought to mean that what we see done in our churches should, as such, lead a nonCatholic who enters a church leave it more inclined than he was to become a Catholic. But does it ?
I say nothing, of course, about slovenly priests, irreverent altarservers. or ill-behaved congregations. These act naturally as deterrents and most certainly will not help the liturgy to act " apostolically."
I venture here upon the mention of my earliest memories of the sight
of Catholic worship (excluding those which were accidental and occurred when, as a child, I was e.g. in Italy— save just to mention that according to my elders I "couldn't be kept out of churches ": what their mysterious attraction was. I don't know, though I remember that it existed).
My first impression was that everybody gabbled, priests (probably because all foreign languages sound as if they were being talked fast), and congregations (presumably because they are most " vocal " when reciting the rosary which they usually do gabble).
It remains that our priests sound mechanical and over-rapid to Protestants; while (in England, at any rate) the parsonic voice, and an emotional " rendering " of -prayers have become a joke, and also offensive, because one feels " the man is putting on" intonations which are meant to imply that he is pious.
Waving away flies Next, it took long before I understood when people were making the sign of the cross : I remember, in a French church, when the priest was making the crosses over the chalice, that I honestly thought he was waving away flies. High Mass was quite unattractive to me because I could not understand why the priest and his attendants kept " going for little walks" — to the middle, back again; sitting down; gettinup. It seemed a meaningless restlessness. Finally, the missal seemed to me very patchy, inconsecutive — as indeed, given the great curtailment of its original form, in a sense it is.
I never heard of any lectures in which the liturgy, as such. was explained; and I expect that in those days there were none, and few enough books. Even books about doctrine seemed to me engaged in proving that someone else was wrong, rather than exposing the Catholic faith as a massive spiritual and also humane totality. Still. I could not rid myself of the fascination of what Browning called " the blessed mutter of the Mass."
Marriages and funerals Referring, however, first, to liturgical ceremonies to which nonCatholics often come, I think at once of marriages and funerals.
I cannot say that I am in love with our marriage-ritual. The actual marriage-formulas insist very rightly on the contract : but no one now feels much enthusiasm about Old Testament heroines. On the other hand, what an opportunity, during his little address, for the priest to make it clear that it is not he who " marries " the bride and bridegroom, but that they marry one another—that they. not he are the ministers of the sacrament !
I have known this to be quite an illumination for non-Catholic guests. who had thought that the priest wanted to be the Big Man in all Catholic transactions.
Here is a transaction both human, and humane, and also, Catholic. But this implies that it is on the occasion of the ceremony. rather than by means of the liturgy itself, that " visitors " may be enabled to see how high a thing is the sacrament of marriage—hiehtr, maybe. than is realized by many a Catholic even. Speaking with all humility. I feel as if the liturgy had here—perhaps only here—missed its chances. Much of the material used for the dedication of churches might have seemed in place here.
The liturgy as connected with bodily death, on the other hand. is magnificent in its austerity. It leaves the people in no doubt but that what is being done is not for their consolation, but for the help of the soul which has passed out of this life.
Here 1 may interpolate my wish that all" personal" liturgical services might be in the vernacular.
The prayers for the commendation of the soul are at once beautiful and consoling : those kneeling around surely cannot but feel hope and indeed assurance that the soul, so enveloped in the loving care of the whole Church on earth and in heaven, must enter into the joy of its Lord. And the Mass for the Dead, too, is gentle for the most part and comforting, not least the second half of the Dies !rm.: true, the offertoryverse is unusually dramatic, and speaks as if the soul were still in danger; but at least it prays for the soul. and does not address itself to the mourner as though, for the dead person, we must use the dreadful expression : " It's all over ",,ii sect &drat." Undoubtedly the imagination even of the faithful may need to be
corrected : we may still be frightened by the sight of a dead body—and even of churchyards ! But that imagination seems to me sufficiently attended to in the little prayer that (in England at any rate) follows the absolutions or the funeral—it reminds us that " we shall all most certainly follow him." And the many allusions to the " tremendous judgment " are balanced by the allusion to the sins which " through frailty he has committed."
We could hardly use our November sermons better than by taking the faithful, phrase by phrase, through the liturgy pro Defunctis, and any non-Catholic who was present could not possibly fail to be impressed by the seriousness with which the Church regards this life, and the. lonely un-rehearsable act of dying, and the hereafter.
Confession is a private affair; and absolution itself is whispered and probably the penitent is making his act of contrition. All the same, how
not least, the prayer that follows them: "Passio Domini. , ." When the sacrament of repentance is being explained to a convert, are those formulas made use of ? They are an instruction in themselves! And even if those words: " Quidquid boni leceris et mall sustintteris" refer primarily to the future so as to sacramentalize " it, cannot the penitent trustfully look backwards. and hope that God will make merciful use of such good as he may have done and what he has put up with, even though he had in no way given thought to God at the time ?
" Extreme unction " — the " last " of the " anointings " (others had been given in baptism and confirmation and perhaps in orders)—is also as a rule a fairly private ceremony : but it may need explaining to the faithful themselves, since I am sure that practically all of them think it is given only "in extremis" and ask you not to " frighten " the patient. Hospital nurses often beg one not to mention it.
I remember being called to a sick girl and was met at the door by her husband and his father who said that a very eminent doctor had just left, saying that she had not more than half an hour to live. I said I would give her the holy oils. They both cried out in horror : " It would scare her to death !" I said, perhaps brutally: " If she has no more than half an hour, ten minutes won't make any difference." She was delighted to have all that the Church could give her, and at once began to recover. (And also, I may say. had another very successful baby— her illness was due to a miscarriage. I asked her old Catholic nurse if she had at least tried to baptize the child which had been accessible. She said : " No; but I put a medal of St. Benedict under her pillow." Well, one doesn't know what may not be taken as baptism by desire.) °Baptism
Baptism, however, is not seldom attended by non-Catholics, who are, not surprisingly, bewildered by many of its ceremonies. (I merely allude to a matter that used to be hotly discussed—if the ceremonies are to be " supplied " after an actual baptism, ought all the pre-bsptismal exorcisms to be used ? The child already is the temple of the Holy Spirit and needs no such expulsions of the Evil One, in whatever sense he was there before.) Now I frankly regret the disappearance of the " cult " of baptism which prevailed in many places long after medieval times. The white baptismal dress was a dress, and was preserved : so was the candle. The baptismal anniversary was a great day—how many of us remember ours, though we expect others too, to remember our birthday ? The child. as it grew older, was taken to see the font where it was baptized, and year by year the ceremonies would be more fully explained to it. Would that something of the sort were now prevalent I And what a pity it is that on Holy Saturday practically no one can see the blessing of the font. or would understand it if they did see it
Confirmation is a Cinderella among sacraments, and a mysterious one at best : but at any rate it gives us the chance of dwelling on the Holy Spirit of whom we speak so seldom. Perhaps part of the " instruction " of a convert might well include the sight of a sacrament being administered, and not just what can be learnt from a printed page.
Ordinations, are rare events and carried out chiefly, perhaps, in seminaries. Relatives will he present, but few others. If they are done in cathedrals, well and good. The faithful in general can be
present. But without definite explanation beforehand, the value of most of the, ceremonies will be lost. And, as things are, much is "lost " even for us priests. Who remembers his minor orders ? It would of course be morally impossible for a bishop to administer each separately. after a considerable interval. Yet it might be quite valuable to soak oneself, e.g., for a month in the idea that one is an " acolyte." The admonitions given in each piece of ritual are of lasting value. Of course. in practice. the use of these orders has faded out. Just anyone can ring a bell. . . , there is no special Reader. All the same, it would be useful if we who do " read " should learn to do so intelligibly I Audibly; and so as to make sense. We don't always. More is " lost " than need be !
It would take far too long to discuss how the liturgy of Mass itself can be used " apostolically." But what we said above seems to hold good here especially, since Mass is our normal way of worship. Apart
from " liturgical weeks " and so forth, we have found it very useful
to explain, each Saturday evening (maybe for no more than a quarter of an hour), the Mass for next day. True, there may well be something forced and artificial about this, because the liturgy of Sunday Masses is undeniably rather " scrappy."
Perhaps the best method would be to find some "leading idea" (probably in the collect, since the gospel will anyhow be explained during the Sunday sermon), and then try to detect this in the various other prayers or versicles that compose the Mass, even though one may be able to make use of no more than an ,, applied" sense. But thus the faithful are helped to entertain their minds with one great idea, and not feel as if the Mass were made up merely of a number of disconnected fragments. True, it is unlikely that inquirers would be present at such a talk : but the " apostolic " value of the missal need not be confined to them only !
But surely the great exceptional ceremonies of the Church should be fully explained regularly—Candlemas; Ash Wednesday; and of course those of Holy Week ? I think that our failure to do this ought really to be on our conscience. If the faithful come to them and make nothing of them — if the clergy themselves may well be too tired to put much heart into them or even genuinely do not appreciate them — have not those ceremonies become like so much dead wood which could be cut away and no harm done ?
As it is, how many even try to understand, e.g., the first reading on
Holy Saturday ? The deacon, singing the Exstiltet, must sureiy feel rather uncomfortable, and almost hypocritical, when he asks that this church may echo with the " great voices of the people," knowing all the wh.le that there is not the slightest chance of its doing so !
What opportunities alike of instruction and of devotion are lost by our maltreatment of those great liturgical offices! what treasures we have in our hands, which we do not ever try to use! what " talents." wrapped in cloths and slored away in sacristies!
I will only allude to one or two
smaller points. We are hound to. have relics in our altar-stones. Therefore the Church prizes such things. But I fear that thc cult of relics has almost died out amongst us. Yet domestic relics, so to say, are appreciated — what once belonged to a child or parent who has died. That is because the person was loved. And on the whole, most saints are not " persons " in our memory or imagination. Doubtless we cannot populate our heaven with an indefinite number of saints : but our sense of the Church becomes much enfeebled if we know only one or two saints very well—St. Joseph, St. Thdrese of Lisieux, St. Anthony (and him we know. I fear, chiefly as a finder of things we have been careless enough to lose). At least we might make more of our name-saint. and become quite excited as the patronal festival of our parish church draws near !
Decoration of churches It would he out of place to dwell here on the sheer decoration of
churches : but at least we would like to see stencilling made an end of — the mechanical repetition of crowns, conventionalised lilies, monograms and so forth, which are there merely to fill up space and don't mean anything. In medieval times the whole church became a lesson, and even as it is, in—let us hope, most—churches, we could take a child on a little pilgrimage around the windows, the shrines, and of course the sanctuary.
I need not say that we ought to exclude all shant—sham marbles, sham jewels, sham lace—and that it is far better if possible to have some simple statue made by the hands of a man who is worshipping while working, rather than the horrible results of massproduction, cheaper though they be.
One would like to think that we are returning to an appreciation of simplicity; but thc pompous ostentatious building beneath which the poor little St Thdrese is smothered makes us doubt it. I know there has been a reaction against the " devotional " art (so to call it) of not long ago : but to invent new art forms because they arc new makes them no better. If they are acts of worship well and good : they are meant for God: but the " prettification " of our churches is meant, not for God. but for the flattering of those who enter them; and " modernist " art is meant to astonish them, or make them ask who the "artist " is, whereas his prayer should be to remain as anonymous as possible.
In the wider sense, then, the liturgy and what is allied to it can become really apostolic, that is. can convey the Christian messaee to all to whom it is made intelligible.