Monday, May 26, 2014

Love Can or Cannot Wait?

Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite 
The Eucharist and The Liturgy of the Hours 
A Manual for Clergy and All Involved in Liturgical Ministries 
(2011-10-20).  Kindle Edition. 

Until I read Dr. Peter Kwasniewski's piece the other day, entitled Three Categories of Liturgical Problems, it had been some time since I felt an urgency to insist on pushing the agenda of a liturgical restoration over hopes of reforming the reformed liturgy. Very much at heart for me was the wise counsel of Benedict XVI, our Pope emeritus, in favor of promoting the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite. Hesitancy might be part of my make-up, but I remain thoroughly convinced that restoration must not repeat the errors of the 1970's which imposed reform with a vengeance, at times almost violently. Calendar reform, Latin and fixing a reset point for the restoration, perhaps prior to the Holy Week reform of Pius XII, were also issues for me. Let's just say, the Kwasniewski piece gave me a little nudge toward expressing a few thoughts.

Actually, this post is supposed to be a book review. I had Bishop Elliott's manual and one other book I wanted to read in the hopes of trying to understand why guaranteeing maximal decorum for the Novus Ordo (which seems to be the point of Elliott's book) does not and cannot answer a more fundamental question about the nature of liturgy and hence the gravity of the problem or the scandal involved in not going all-out to repair the breach, to reestablish continuity with our historical past as the sine qua non for the possibility of a living liturgy which can once again organically develop, as it always has across the centuries. The manual is a fine effort, but it only brings home more clearly to me that decorum in liturgy is not enough.

Bishop Elliott draws upon "best practices" (if you may call them that) from our liturgical past, but he cannot escape the accusation that what he attempts to shore up with sobriety is a novelty in our tradition, one which does not satisfy the demands of reverence nor focus on Christ the Priest. Don't get me wrong! Elliott's manual is the best antidote around to caprice, which has no place in liturgy, and would go a long way to repairing the "fallen hut" of Catholic worship, if his directives were always and everywhere applied. The manual cannot respond to the fundamental challenge which any adolescent can pose concerning NO liturgy: it remains a thing improvised, something, especially when there are lots of choices, which Father has made up and imposes of a Sunday morning. The NO would hardly sustain the apology of St. Justin Martyr that Sunday Eucharist is something without which we Christians cannot live.

Fair assessment or not, much of what was the liturgical movement in the 20th Century boils down to a search for intelligibility (we'll leave the penchant to offer choices aside). The vernacular, which has made its appearance not only in the Roman Rite but also quite generally among the Oriental Catholic Churches, is the most typical fruit of this drive and perhaps the greatest impediment to restoration. The vernacular, as a vehicle of intelligibility, ends up dividing us. I see it all the time here in Ukraine within the Roman Catholic Church, where on occasion I am invited to celebrate in one language, while the people practically respond in another. I have even seen it in a small chapel, where all used a common language, except for one person who was most adept at responding in his own mother tongue. I'm thinking of a heated discussion between a bishop and his priests, seeking permission to celebrate in one of countless patois of the Caribbean.

Here in Ukraine we have the challenge of a Church of the Roman Rite which has a full set of liturgical books in Polish, in Russian and in Hungarian, but not in Ukrainian. Church music is even more disparate. Simply stated, the EF despite the precision it demands of the priest offering the Mass would be much easier for the people and would concentrate efforts in the area of music. I will not sell short the efforts made in the US to render the NO something truly beautiful, but in many places, especially small communities, I think we are asking too much and falling far short of the sublime, in all its noble simplicity.

On the pages of The New Liturgical Movement today, Kwasniewski has also gifted us with words from Dr. Eric de Saventhem (1919-2005), first President of the International Federation Una Voce, spoken in 1970. Beauty and truth are irrepressible. The good will win out and genuine renewal through restoration and a resumption of truly organic growth will have its day and, please God, sooner. I really don't know why we need to wait for a generation change.


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