Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Latreutic vs. Didactic: Really?

"No one goes to the traditional Mass in order to “hear Scripture,” since that is hardly the main purpose of the Holy Sacrifice; we go to worship God and be nourished by His Word and His Flesh, and to this profound and specific purpose the modest but well-chosen Scripture passages make a decisive contribution. It is my conviction, and that of many of my fellow Catholics in the new liturgical movement, that the use of the traditional Latin language makes a similarly decisive contribution, one that deserves to be understood, cherished, and preserved for all future generations."

The blog New Liturgical Movement refers to an article soon to be published elsewhere, entitled: "In Defense of Preserving Readings in Latin" by Peter Kwasniewski. The above quote comes from there. All well and good, I guess, but I am wondering about the insinuated (?) equivalency between sacred tongues, like Latin and Greek, and latreutic action and vernacular tongues as being didactic principally (?) in their force. I hope that is not the case, and if it is, I cannot buy it.

To my way of thinking, the argument in favor of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic or Church Slavonic would be that it cuts the arbitrary out of the liturgical equation; the liturgy in all aspects must go by the book, if you will, it belongs to God and His Bride the Church and not to personal whim. I don't know of a case where use of the vernacular for the NO has not been the key element to introducing or promoting an arbitrary approach to worship. Much of the casualness as abuse is related to the facility to improvisation to which the vernacular lends itself. While the vernacular can most certainly be latreutic, it lends itself to banality in a way that an ancient tongue never could. That is the danger. The question is whether it is a risk worth taking and for what reason.

My own thesis is that the didactic predominates in the NO simply because we have capitulated and withdrawn to the sanctuary. Being Catholic is much more than one hour of a Sunday and it requires an interior life enriched by study and prayer. Catechesis belongs outside of Mass; it should be extensive enough and rich enough to produce a little child like me in the 1950's who was indeed caught up in the Sacred Mysteries, Latin/Greek, plain chant, Gregorian and all. Literacy or no, it seems that mighty fortress became impenetrable because someone lost the key or refused to turn the latch to open. How do you recover from neglect and in a sense resignation which runs so long and so deep (two full generations)? The NO solution, if you will, as it was imposed in the 1970's was the wrong equation: a one shot attempt at evangelization/catechesis no longer in the least sublime (God oriented).

The recovery is not and cannot be as "easy" as new marching orders for Sunday morning i.e. the Mass of the Ages. While the argument of attraction speaks in favor of this possibility: we see all kinds of people rejoicing in the discovery of the TLM as something beautiful, devout and truly God-centered. Literacy, which is probably at an all-time low point in the West, cannot carry this enthusiasm alone. Catechesis and a certain popular mystagogy must be brought into play if we do not want people to fall away.

People who talk about the crisis of faith in our day and time neglect the fact that post World War II the Church was a revolving door as well, but perhaps more were rolling in (baby boomers and converts) than were rolling out. I have family who distanced themselves from Church in the 1950's; the TLM alone could not hold them; you have to know Who it is that you adore in these Sacred Signs. Would a truly decorous NO work better? That is not the point. Abuse drives people away, but even the best prepared hour of a Sunday NO or TLM alone is not enough. Didactic for the folk is not the object of what St. Benedict referred to as Opus Dei/God's Work, but it is part of the Christian life.

The author of the article speaks about the gradual turn toward the Lord during the Solemn Mass, from Epistle (west), to Gospel (north), to Preface (east). Someone needs to explain such things to the folk, otherwise the subtlety/profundity is entirely lost. What happened to us in terms of rupture cannot be explained solely with conspiracy theories, nor can we put the "train back on the track" by fiat from on high. The solution demands an approach on many fronts and a fundamental recovery of something which is called faithfulness to commitment.

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