Thursday, 26 June 2014

Liturgy as the "Opus Dei"

St. Benedict refers to the Divine Office by the name "the Work of God." I find this to be quite fitting. I think that something which most Catholics have lost sight of today is this fact that the liturgy is meant to be something which we receive from God, as coming from Him and not from us. Liturgy today has become a merely human artifact. The whole of today's liturgical crisis can be reduced to this tendency to make the liturgy solely the product of man's own labor - "the work of human hands." But this is foreign to the whole history of the liturgy and its spirit for the first 2000 years of the Church's existence. 

Dom Gueranger writes of the Mystery of Pentecost, in The Liturgical Year, referring to the liturgy of the first few seasons of the liturgical year from Advent to Pentecost, that "the celebration of those mysteries was not an empty pageant, acted for the sake of being looked at. Each one of them brought with it a special grace, which produced in our souls the reality signified by the Rites of the Liturgy." Here I think we can see an instance of the traditionally Catholic way of looking at the liturgy. It is not mere externals, added by man to the instituted elements of Christ. Rather, it is itself a divine entity, different, certainly, from the elements instituted by Christ, but divine all the same. The liturgy accomplishes something that is entirely beyond the extent of human power, something that literally can be effected only by the work of God. It follows that man may not take it upon himself to fashion the liturgy according to his own desires or conceptions, but must receive it first, and only make such additions as conform to the spirit and laws of what he has received. Tradition is the necessary consequence of this. 

It follows also that by taking it upon himself to create the liturgy, man risks the destruction of his own faith. Certainly, God is not limited by liturgical tradition; He will safeguard the liturgy of the Church so that in itself it does not destroy faith, at least not directly. The means for holiness are always available in the Church. But by rejecting tradition, man inevitably sets himself on a path that is vastly inferior to the way which God had determined. This can indeed indirectly lead to his loss of faith. This is the understandable consequence of every attempt of man to interfere with the will of divine providence. Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi - the law of faith is determined by the law of prayer.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

"Ordinary Time" is the Time after Pentecost

Prior to the liturgical changes of Pope Paul VI, the season following the feast of Pentecost was named, well, the Time after Pentecost. Today, it is commonly referred to simply as "ordinary" time; I think this is its name in at least the English missals, anyhow. This may seem insignificant at first; and indeed, it seems that even before the changes, the season after Pentecost was often casually referred to as “ordinary.” I am not so much concerned now with giving a critique of the change, but mostly with taking the opportunity to make what should be a fairly obvious observation about the liturgical year, and the reasoning behind the traditional system.

Throughout the liturgical year, starting with Advent, we celebrate the history of the Church. First we consider the advent of Christ’s birth, then His birth itself at Christmas, His presentation to Simeon, the visit of the kings at Epiphany. The readings for the Sundays after Epiphany pertain to the childhood and public life of Christ – the finding in the temple, the Baptism, the wedding at Cana, the leper and the centurion, the calming of the storm, and some of his parables. Septuagesima serves as a preparation for the season of Lent, wherein we celebrate Christ’s passion and death, culminating in Holy Week, and terminating in the feast of Easter. During the Paschal season we celebrate the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, and then the feast of Pentecost itself, the “birthday of the Church.”

Thus far we have progressed more or less in chronological order through the life of Christ. By the time we reach Pentecost, Christ has completed the work which He performed whilst walking on the earth. Now the fruits of that work are to be harvested by the Church, to whom Christ promised the aid and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has often been called the “soul” of the Church. The soul is the principle of life; a body is alive by virtue of its having a soul. On Pentecost, the Spirit came down, as Christ promised, and thus life was infused into the Church; the Church was definitively born or conceived that day. 

The time after Pentecost – usually lasting 23 to 27 weeks – represents the life of the Church throughout history after Christ, unto the end of time. This, for Christians, is “ordinary time,” the time of the Church, the time of the Holy Spirit, the time after Pentecost. Though it may seem “ordinary” to us, since now the Church is following her normal course of existence, nonetheless the action of Christ and the Holy Spirit which is at work in this time is really just as “ordinary” as every other action that we celebrate in the liturgical year. There is no strictly “ordinary” time. Everything that we celebrate in the liturgical year is extraordinary, it is supernatural, it is divine. What is “ordinary” to us is in fact the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a divine institution with a divine purpose.

Readers can use their own judgment about how these considerations affect the matter of the choice of naming in the New Calendar. In practice that might be a matter of little significance, I do not have a strong opinion yet, I have not thought or researched much about it (I've read in places that "ordinary" doesn't have the connotations that one might think at first). But the theology and spirituality of the liturgical year itself is not insignificant, and it was, I think, well reflected in the traditional name. We ought to learn from and receive what the liturgy gives us, and to immerse ourselves in the mystery which it celebrates.