Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Heresy of Formlessness?

I always admire the vitality of the contributions which Fr. Christopher Smith makes to CHANT CAFE. But I am perplexed by his recent application of Martin Mosebach's famous notion "heresy of formlessness" to what Father analyzes convincingly as chaos when it comes to the liturgical prescriptions governing the celebration of the Communion Rite at Mass (A Problem of Interpretation?). I am sure it was not Father's intention, but throwing out the word "heresy" like that gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Granted, too many in the Church are unwilling to identify anything as heresy, even egregious errors, but I wonder whether there is any way to apply the term in this particular case. My suspicion is that even if the precepts involved in ordering certain aspects of the Communion Rite were "eindeutig" / crystal clear some folks would still go on singing the praises of the "king's new clothes" while the children continue to laugh at what is clearly folly.

Aware as I am of the tendency seminarians have had in the not so distant past to use the expression "waging liturgy", nonetheless I really do believe that when it comes to liturgical law, we have to take the legislator at his word and trust he will interpret authentically and in a binding fashion if our best efforts fail at sorting things out (Can. 16 CIC). We need but appeal and trust that the requested clarification will be forthcoming.

Rescripts, prescripts, instructions, motu proprii, et alia have their part to play. Even so, thanks to television Papal Liturgy can and does play a role which goes far beyond what the historical authors could have ever hoped for or imagined when it comes to modelling for the rest of the Church.

Personally, because it is much more immediate, I think that Cathedral Liturgy could best when at its best contribute to "forming" parish liturgy. I know a lot of lay people who are pleased by a bouncy, Sunday celebration, but would be better nourished by a consequent application to a local context of a liturgical expression thoroughly imbued with "Roman restraint". I don't think you have to appeal to the legislator to be able to fill in the blanks as to what I mean by that expression.

The inexorable logic which leads to the multiplication of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion for every Sunday use is the same one which makes anyone unsteady on his or her feet nervous at having to run (too often really) the "Communion gauntlet". Communion time is marked by haste in more parishes than we would like to admit. With that haste is also the push to get up and move which hits people in the pews ready or not to receive their Lord in Holy Communion. I'm thinking also of a couple experiences from last summer when the push to get everybody out of the pews, up and around the front, brought me face to face with children and pre-adolescents who were not Catholic and really didn't know why their Catholic friends who had brought them along to Mass had insisted they make the tour with them at Communion time. In every case the embarrassed children were happy to be sent on their way with a simple blessing. Too often, sadly, the process is not reflective and follows the logic of a movement which has been heading toward its denouement since the shuffle to shake hands or hug at the greeting of peace broke with the Our Father. The "hurry" is on! Try, as a priest celebrant, sitting just a moment too long for thanksgiving after Communion and you'll realize that you're breaking the rhythm or momentum of a runaway locomotive which won't stop until sometime after the parking lot! It's not the people's fault.

Maybe my stomach ache doesn't count, but liturgical law does not need to be the issue. Along side clear precepts also at a diocesan level we need to counter both abuse and simple haste, especially at Communion time, with constructive display, the best antidote I know for a the lack of imagination which has sold too much of contemporary liturgy to the lowest bidder.


  1. Kneeling in rows! I was hugely fortunate to spend a month at an observant monastery with beautiful sung Latin liturgy - and was struck by what a relief it was to not queue, and to kneel, for Holy Communion in my own parish again, painfully bad organ playing and all. The good sisters line up and receive standing. I thought to myself that if one is going to go all Byzantine, one should start by saying Mass versus Deum again!

  2. (In one at least of the Latin churches in Lwow we knelt along the aisle. But then, in one of the Greek churches in Drohobycz everyone knelt as well. My Greek friends were a bit sniffy about "Latinization" :D )


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.