Saturday, June 20, 2015

Continuity over Rupture any Day

The Feast Of Faith
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal
(2010-01-15).  Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Faced with the political and social crises of the present time and the moral challenge they offer to Christians, the problems of liturgy and prayer could easily seem to be of second importance. But the question of the moral standards and spiritual resources that we need if we are to acquit ourselves in this situation cannot be separated from the question of worship. Only if man, every man, stands before the face of God and is answerable to him, can man be secure in his dignity as a human being. Concern for the proper form of worship, therefore, is not peripheral but central to our concern for man himself. 

So it seemed worthwhile to present for publication a collection of pieces on the question of Christian liturgy. They arose in part from the needs of my official ministry and in part from the reflection which is inseparable from it. All the chapters were revised and reedited for this publication. They can be no more than fragments, characterized and no doubt limited by the particular contemporary situation; yet perhaps for that very reason they may help others to come to grips with today’s issues. 

All that is written here is governed by the one fundamental question, namely, how, under modern conditions, we can pray and join in the Church’s praise of God, and how we can see and experience the salvation of man and the glory of God as a single whole. 

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 
Munich, Ash Wednesday, 1981
 (Kindle Edition, p. 8).

No doubt  one of the reasons I missed this precious volume years back is that it only became available for Kindle in 2010. It seems most folks I talk to know and treasure this book already. Well, I am glad I finally made its acquaintance. If you haven't read it, by all means do.

In these days of my vacation, I have had conversations with acquaintances, with friends young and old. One very good priest, younger than I am by several years, told me that with Summorum Pontificum in 2007 he became optimistic to the point of conviction that in less than ten years from that date we would have a handle on liturgical abuse, that the Ordinary Form would become something truly noble in the art of its celebration. Alas, says he and more than alas, alas, say I! Abuse and banality still abound.

Nonetheless, I am pleased that Cardinal Sarah has a mandate from Pope Francis to set forth efforts at liturgical reform and renewal after the mind of Pope Benedict XVI. For myself as a bishop, I will not abandon the fundamental notion of letting the wheat and tares grow together, ever mindful that the desired effect of the mutual enrichment longed for by Pope Benedict will never resolve itself in a sufficient reform of the reformed liturgy. This is an essential point of The Feast of Faith. I am thoroughly convinced that the point behind the juxtaposition of the two legitimate forms of the Roman Rite has to be preparing hearts and minds for a restoration which will enable real progress toward the kind of organic growth for the liturgy which failed to come out of the Second Vatican Council.

I am sharing my conviction these days in this fashion:
The reform of the reform is not possible for two reasons: 1) the vernacular cannot be defended from improvisation; 2) the Ordinary Form is shot through with options: both reasons which render the Ordinary Form to be arbitrary in form and expression, even when celebrated in faithful  adherence to the rubrics.

The vernacular cannot be defended from improvisation:  I see this all the time in Ukraine, where native Ukrainian speakers, both priests and laity, are perpetually "bettering" the text with other word choices and formulations. I have noticed it this summer with elderly priests even here in the Midwest. The Holy Sacrifice seems per force condemned to be treated as if it were a didactic text, a lesson to be filled as judged necessary by the speaker of the text with adjuncts and paraphrases.

This cannot be. Divine worship is not a free wheeling magisterial exercise left to the discretion of the prof. Such fiddling with the text renders the liturgy tedious to the listener familiar with the text, who may agree or disagree with the adjustments to the wording made by the priest or lector/commentator. No amount of threatening can rein in something inherent in the use of the mother tongue. I remember back in my first posting in Rwanda in 1985, when the bishops decided to change the words of the Our Father: no doubt they knew their language better than the missionaries who had given them the text, but I gave up in exasperation on trying to learn the most fundamental Christian prayer in that difficult Bantu language.

What is wrong with an improvised liturgy, you ask? Well everything if you understand the nature of Divine Worship as it is always and everywhere. If the truly sublime is not untouchable, well, at least it is approached with profound reverence and as something handed down to us.

The Ordinary Form is shot through with options: What genuine masterpiece, in and of itself, what work of art is constructed of interchangeable parts? The ingenious, for all its merit, seems bent on claiming its own praise. The reason for resistance to the so-called concert masses, compositions of Beethoven or Mozart or Verdi, is their ability to bring prayer to the music hall, while failing to serve in the cathedral as accompaniment for the unbloody renew of Christ's Sacrifice on Calvary. Back to options and choices, how can you have more than one right answer to a multiple choice question?

The Ordinary Form, as celebrated generally in parishes today, seems to be at cross purposes to Cardinal Ratzinger's definition of prayer, which I see no reason to contest:

"Prayer is an act of being; it is affirmation, albeit not affirmation of myself as I am and of the world as it is, but affirmation of the ground of being and hence a purifying of myself and of the world from this ground upward. All purification (every via negationis) is only possible on the rocklike basis of affirmation, of consent: Jesus Christ is Yes (cf. 2 Cor 1:19f.). Conversely, in the purification which issues from this fundamental Yes we discover the active power of prayer, which (a) yields a deep security in the affirmation of being, as a foil to the hectic world of self-made man, yet which (b) is by no means a flight from the world but rather entrusts people with the task of purifying the world and empowers them to carry it out." (pp. 27-28). 

Regardless of where my friends and acquaintances stand on the topic of the restoration of the Mass of the Ages, all agree that the abuse and the trivializing of Divine Worship must stop. Pray with me that the Church will find its way to that splendor which God really wills for us as we go about the business of uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ in the praise of His Holy Name.


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