Saturday, June 21, 2014

Two Different Worlds

Collects of the Roman Missals: 
A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons 
before and after the Second Vatican Council 
Lauren Pristas. 
(T&T Clark Studies in Fundamental Liturgy) 
(2013-08-01). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

I cannot say exactly what has led me twice to invest bigger money in the T&T Clark Studies in Fundamental Liturgy, but again I have a book I now genuinely treasure and which has opened new vistas for me. Believe it or not, despite the almost clinical sounding title, I found the book captivating. I may have to look into some of the other T&T Clark offerings.

With all the rigor of a truly academic work, this Pristas volume methodically lays out the difference between the Missals of Vatican II (1970, 2002, 2008) and all which went before, but especially as presented in the 1962 Missal. Nowhere have I come across such a worthwhile description of what was at stake in the calendar reform, nor such a serene treatment of what all was involved in the numerous substitutions of prayers in the Missal, regardless of whether they were new compositions or antique forms drawn from other sources and genres. I will let the author state the book's purpose:

"This study examines the pre- and post-Vatican II missals in order to discover whether they emphasize the same truths of faith and the same aspects of Christian life, whether Catholics who worship by means of the revised rites are shaped by their worship in the same way that earlier generations were shaped by theirs, and if the answer to either of the preceding questions is no, to determine the nature and significance of the differences." [Highlight Loc. 168-71]

We are reminded of worship's true purpose, as well as its effects upon the worshiper:

"Indeed, it is unfitting to ascribe any utilitarian purpose to worship, for in true worship the human person adores and honors God for his own sake alone...

"The formation of which we speak is not the purpose of worship but its effect, and this in two respects especially. First, because human beings become what they most consistently do, we are formed by the way we habitually worship – by the posture, attitudes, and dispositions we customarily assume before God and the things that we habitually say to him, or seek from him, when we speak from our hearts. Second, at worship the Church beseeches God on behalf of the faithful and seeks from him the things that they need. On the one hand, from the Church’s public prayer we can gain great insight into what God wants for us and from us; on the other, by means of these same prayers, the Church begs God on our behalf for the graces and gifts we need to become what he desires." [Highlight Loc. 198-205]

Pristas, in the end, asks more questions than draws conclusions when it comes to the post-Vatican II corpus of collects. This is certainly a prudent and moreover a constructive stance. The author realizes better than anyone the number of similar studies which would be needed to gain a full picture of what has come about through the changes to our living patrimony.

If I had a wish, it would be that young scholars would gain inspiration from this work to carry on other comparative studies.

For myself, I am left with the aching question, not so much of the preservation of the Latin in the Roman Rite, as of the impact of the vernacular on our prayer. I think it is too simple a conclusion to draw that because the vernacular predominates today that these prayers, for example, work with greater effect than when they were expressed in Latin. One of the principle motives for Pope St. John XXIII calling the Council was the recognition that the edifice of Catholic culture was endangered already back then and by some time. In many places the essential life context for celebrating the Sacred Mysteries was indeed crumbling or in ruins. People are badly mistaken who reduce the intelligibility factor in worship to the Latin vs. vernacular debate. I need a life context: a Catholic home and parish setting, with healthy educational opportunities; think of the importance, to name only one example, of monasticism for the life of the Church and of the individual Christian!

As I say, I am most grateful for Pristas' work. The task before us, however, is to rebuild a whole culture. When we do so we might better appreciate what was lost in the calendar reform and concomitant redaction of our treasury of Roman collects, mostly prayed with great devotion for long centuries, as can be documented from the 8th Century.

Mine is a thank you to Pristas and a call for more scholarship in this area. Mine is a prayer for a multiple and diversified effort to restore Catholic culture as the setting or vessel for Divine Worship.


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