Monday, 26 January 2015

Liturgical Theology from St. Thomas Aquinas

What follows is a lovely passage from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's impressive work, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, which contains a chapter on liturgical prayer. Therein he recounts a story of Saint Thomas Aquinas, that greatest of theologians, who was also a great mystic and lover of the sacred liturgy. Drawing on the teaching and example of the saint, Fr. Lagrange goes on to compare the study of sacred theology to the contemplative use of the intellect that occurs within the liturgy. In light of my previous post, this demonstrates well the importance of the liturgy as the principal, non-doctrinal expression of the faith. By non-doctrinal I do not, of course, mean to imply that the liturgy is opposed to doctrine or that doctrine may be neglected for the sake of the liturgy, but simply that the liturgy expresses the faith in a way that differs from doctrine and immeasurably exceeds it in dignity. Fr. Lagrange puts it eloquently, with a specific attention to how the liturgy feeds the theologian, but with much insight into how the liturgy should serve as a basis of the spiritual life as a whole.
It is told of him [Saint Thomas] that he could not keep back his tears when, during Compline of Lent, he chanted the antiphon: "In the midst of life we are in death: whom do we seek as our helper, but Thou, O Lord, who because of our sins art rightly incensed? Holy God, strong God, holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not up to a bitter death; abandon us not in the time of our old age, when our strength will abandon us." This beautiful antiphon begs for the grace of final perseverance, the grace of graces, that of the predestined. How it should speak to the heart of the contemplative theologian, who has made a deep study of the tracts on Providence, predestination, and grace! 
The chant, which prepares so admirably for Mass and which follows it, is one of the greatest means by which the theologian, as well as others, may rise far above reasoning to contemplation, to the simple gaze on God and to divine union. The theologian who has spent a long time over his books in a positive and speculative study of revelation, in the refutation of numerous errors and the examination of many opinions relating to the great mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the life of heaven, needs, after such study, to rise above all this bookish knowledge; he needs profound recollection, truly divine light, which is superior to reasoning and gives him the spirit of the letter which he has studied. Otherwise he grows spiritually anaemic and, because of insufficient contact with the light of life, he cannot give it adequately to others. His work remains too mechanical, not sufficiently organized and living, or it may be that the governing idea of his synthesis has not been drawn from a high enough source; it lacks amplitude, life, radiation, and little by little it loses its interest. The theologian needs often to find the living and splendid expression of the mysteries that he studies in the very words of God, such as the liturgy makes us taste and love: "Taste, and see that the Lord is sweet."
The word of God, which is thus daily recalled to us in prayer, is to its theological commentary what a simple circumference is to the polygon inscribed in it. We must forget the polygon momentarily in order to enjoy a little and in a holy manner the beauty of the circle, which the movement of contemplation follows, as Dionysius used to say. This is found during the chant, if mechanical haste is not substituted for the profound life which ought to spring from the fountain. The body of the chant must be truly vivified by the spirit of prayer.
In other words, it seems that in some mystical way, the liturgy - celebrated well - leads the soul to a more profound and real encounter of the mysteries which one would study in the science of theology, or sacred doctrine. The liturgy facilitates the act of knowing that is involved, not in sacred doctrine, but in contemplation. I think St. Thomas Aquinas would explain it this way: in the study of sacred doctrine, one necessarily has an understanding of God that is limited by human concepts. This is not to say we understand God according to human categories of thought, but that we cannot know about God except by analogy to such categories. Thus, this sort of knowledge is vastly imperfect inasmuch as it brings God down to the level of human understanding, so to speak. But in contemplation, which is the highest form of prayer, rather than bringing God down to one’s own level, one is raised up to God to encounter him spiritually – not, indeed, as one will see Him in the beatific vision, but nonetheless in a way that is more perfect than the understanding of doctrine. It is the difference between knowing about God through limited concepts, and knowing God Himself as one knows a beloved friend. To know a friend is to encounter him at a personal level, share in his life, witness his words and actions, be with him. 

The liturgy is ordered to precisely this mode of knowing that is involved in contemplation. This is especially evident in the symbolic mode in which the liturgy operates. The liturgy is a complex organization of signs which point to the life and work of Christ the God-Man, as if to say to us “Here is Christ, your beloved; come and be with him! Share in his life; witness his words and actions; participate in them with him!” Sometimes this is accomplished by means which also carry a doctrinal character about them, but the liturgical action as such is ordered not to doctrine but to contemplation.

This suffices, I think, to address the common assumption - among traditionalist and conservative Catholics alike - that doctrine is more "important" than liturgy. The realization that holiness is achieved not primarily through doctrine but through contemplation yields the conclusion that in fact the opposite is true. Again, this is not, by any means, to devalue sacred doctrine or concede to modernist principles of doctrinal evolution and subjectivity; it is only to put things in proper perspective.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Liturgical Spirituality and Theology [Edited 1-29-15]

There is common approach to the liturgy that treats it as a didactic text that simply teaches about things, such as God and how to live a holy life. The liturgy is thus like a source of theological knowledge and moral teaching: participants are expected to walk out of Church having learned something new about God and about how to live, which later they are expected to apply in their daily lives in the world. This assumption about the nature of the liturgy underlies most of the preaching and liturgical catechesis that Catholics receive today, even in traditionalist circles. This approach is not entirely without merit, of course, but I think it risks overlooking a more important aspect of the liturgy and its spirituality. As Fr. Aidan Kavanagh writes in On Liturgical Theology, the liturgy is not simply about God and the good Christian life, but more accurately must be seen to be of God. The liturgy itself is the center of the Christian spiritual life, wherein occurs the primary encounter with the Creator in the act of worship.

In the sacred liturgy, something real happens. The sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, of course, are at the center of it all. Everything in the liturgy culminates with the Eucharistic presence of Christ on the altar, in which the sacrifice of our redemption is made present again. But it would be minimalistic to suppose that the sacraments and the Eucharist are the only real things that occurs in the liturgy, in isolation from the other mysteries of Christ's life and work, and that everything else is merely external. The whole purpose of the entire liturgical year, for example, is to relive those mysteries ourselves. Traditionally, the liturgical year is not merely a commemoration of the events of Christ's life, but it in some way makes us present to those mysteries so that we might participate in them spiritually ourselves, profiting all the more from the sacraments. It would be nonsensical to consider Christ's death on the cross in isolation from the rest of his life and mission on earth. Similarly it would be strange to think that in the liturgy the only real thing that is made present is the Eucharistic mystery of Christ's sacrifice, in isolation from everything else. Something real and supernatural actually takes place in the celebration of the liturgy itself, continually renewed on many levels. In this way, the liturgy is even like a sacrament (though it is not actually a sacrament, as I will explain below). God is actually present on many levels in the liturgy, primarily and ultimately through the Eucharist, but also in other ways through the liturgical symbols, actions, and prayers themselves.

I have seen some traditionalists object to any notion of the "presence of God" in the liturgy other than that of the Eucharistic presence. Specifically, they have objected to the teaching of Pope Paul VI, in the document Mysterium Fidei, on the various ways in which Christ is really present in his Church and the liturgy. Pope Paul taught - rightly, in my opinion - that although we speak of the "real presence" most specifically with regard to the Eucharist, this does not exclude other senses of Christ's presence also being real. Christ is really present in many different ways, but in the fullest and most perfect sense in his substantial presence in the Eucharist. I think there is nothing objectionable in this understanding (despite much that is objectionable in Paul VI's actual liturgies). In fact, this is a fundamental understanding of the liturgy in Catholic tradition. St. Benedict, who referred to the Divine Office as the "Work of God," had this to say: "We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that 'the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and the evil in every place' (Prov. 15:3). But we should believe this especially without any doubt when we are assisting at the Work of God" (Rule, chapter 19). Following in the footsteps of his master, Dom Gueranger writes of the liturgy that "It is therefore Jesus Christ Himself who is the source as well as the object of the liturgy; and hence the ecclesiastical year, which we have undertaken to explain in this work, is neither more nor less than the manifestation of Jesus Christ and His mysteries, in the Church and in the faithful soul. It is the divine cycle, in which appear all the works of God, each in its turn" (The Liturgical Year, Preface). Laszlo Dobszay writes that "the Roman liturgy does not rest satisfied with words but expresses itself in visible symbols and dramatic actions in an exceptionally powerful way . . . By going beyond the sphere of words, a theological perspective manifests itself at the same time which holds that the liturgy is more than a didactic, exhortative or meditative remembrance: it is an action of mystery where, under the veil of an outward act, the facts of our redemption come true in the present" (The Bugnini Liturgy, pg 25).

If this is true, then the liturgy is not merely about God but of God, in the sense that it is itself divine. It is not a human treatise about the divine. The spirituality of the liturgy itself, then, is one which takes place and is lived precisely in the context of the liturgical celebration itself. More than teaching us how to live after exiting the Church and going about our business, the liturgy itself is a way of life for Christians. What is this way of life? It is nothing other than the worship of God, and the contemplative participation in the mysteries of his work, which he repeatedly manifests to us in the liturgy, and by which he accomplishes our redemption. This is the essence of the Christian life. All those details about how we must live our life outside the liturgy are certainly important, but they are related to the liturgy more as their end and purpose, more than the other way around. The worship of God and contemplation of his mysteries is the end for which we must predispose ourselves by living well in our daily life. Certainly, the liturgy does contain much teaching for the faithful in regards to how to live in the world. The epistle and gospel readings are full of such treasures. But more than that, the readings, especially the gospels, often reflect an aspect of Christ's work that is connected to the liturgical scheme throughout the year. As such, more than being a source of moral teaching, it is like part of great piece of artwork whose beauty we are simply meant to contemplate in prayer. This contemplation is on one level purely speculative, a contemplation of God simply for his own sake, which gives rise to charity, the highest of the virtues; and this is the highest end of religion. But it is also appreciative of the benefits for humanity that God has produced by his work of redemption. Finally, it approaches the practical, insofar as it involves the supplication that we might continue to benefit from the merits of his work.

There are some theologically minded traditionalist Catholics who do not appreciate the use of the word "encounter" by neo-modernist theologians in seeking to define faith. But I think there is some merit to understanding faith as an encounter, at some level - certainly at the level of the liturgy. There are other levels, mainly that wherein one simply assents intellectually - by the aid of infused grace - to revealed truth. What happens in the liturgy (hopefully) is precisely this, but a more determined and specific form of it: one encounters not simply an intellectual proposition or concept, but the reality signified by that proposition or concept. The call to liturgical participation is not merely to think about certain concepts; it is more like a call to be there at the foot of the cross on Calvary with Jesus, to be there at each of the events commemorated in the liturgy. One who has faith but does not live a very liturgical life might believe, in his mind, that Christ became man and died for the sins of man. But one who believes this and participates actively in the liturgy also witnesses the reality of redemption taking place before him, on many different levels, Eucharistic or otherwise. Both would have faith; but the latter would be living his faith more fully and more perfectly by participating in the Church's own commemorative re-visitation of the mysteries of that faith. The liturgy is thus not just one part of the Christian life, among many others. It is the culmination of the Christian life, the primary component of a living faith, the heart of the Church, the foremost context wherein the Catholic soul encounters the living God, as Moses encountered him in the burning bush. The mystical realities which we contemplate in the liturgy are part of a seamless garment in which the central pieces are the realities of the sacraments themselves.

This being said, I have wrestled with the problem of showing exactly how this differs from a sacrament, particularly the Eucharist. The liturgy as a whole is not a sacrament, but the proper context wherein the sacraments and especially the Eucharist take their place to be adored and venerated by the faithful. The sacraments, in an even more literal way than the liturgy, make present the realities which they signify. Christ is literally present on the altar when the Eucharist is confected, whether or not one believes it, or is attentive to the fact, when kneeling there in the Church. The liturgy also effects the presence of God, as I said, but perhaps not with the same degree of potency that the sacraments do so. Perhaps it is a more internal presence of the divine realities, but not one which consists merely in our thinking about or remembering certain truths. Something real actually occurs in the act; the mysteries are somehow present again for us to benefit from them. But perhaps the key difference between the liturgy and the sacraments is that the sacraments confer sanctifying grace upon the soul ex opere operato - that is, of their own power, infallibly, and necessarily - whereas the liturgy does not necessarily produce grace. One who receives the Eucharist with a good disposition will benefit immensely; without a good disposition, i.e. in a state of mortal sin, one commits the grave sin of sacrilege - the grace given has the opposite effect. This is not so with the liturgy. The liturgy does not infallibly or necessarily affect the soul; one might attend the Divine Office and not be changed in the least by it. One must participate actively and attentively, in the very act of the celebration, in order to benefit from the liturgy. This being done well, Gueranger writes that each liturgical celebration "[brings] with it a special grace, which produce[s] in our souls the reality signified by the Rites of the Liturgy" (The Liturgical Year, The Mystery of Pentecost). We are enabled to witness in a mystical way the actions of Christ's redemptive work - not merely by calling them to mind, but by an actual spiritual participation in them by contemplation. Thus, we see how the liturgy, though not on par with the sacraments, nonetheless approaches the dignity of a sacrament.

What a grievance would it be, then, to tamper with the liturgy, to adapt it to one's own personal whims or the whims of modern men, rather than let it take its course as God directs it. The liturgy, because it is not only about God but of God, must transcend the conceptions of men. Men must be formed by the liturgy rather than the liturgy by them. I think it is manifest historically - though some will seek to rewrite history - that, despite imperfections and the occasional interferences of men, the liturgy as a whole grew out of the seeds of tradition, in continuity with tradition, as a plant grows organically and in continuity with itself. Certainly this involved the advantageous contributions of man, but they were contributions to a greater whole that already existed. They fit into the whole like leaves and branches on a tree, nourished and supported by the older and more established elements. But when men have interfered with this growth of the liturgy, they have hindered the faithful from participating adequately in the mysteries of faith, because the manifestation of these mysteries was obscured by their destructive reforms. Faith was consequently weakened, and sometimes it even died.

The liturgy is a complex organization of texts and actions which together enact - hopefully - the mysteries of revelation in the souls of the participants. Any interference with the intricacies of the liturgy risks doing damage to the participant's ability to revisit the sacred mysteries, even if the text itself contains nothing actually false. Good liturgy is not simply a matter of textual truth or even textual clarity, since, as I have said, the liturgy is not simply a doctrinal text. An individual text in the liturgy might say nothing false, in fact it may be perfectly and manifestly true; but that text may not fit into the overall liturgical scheme, which itself has much to reveal in a non-textual way - at least not in a way that is directly textual. It may be a matter of external symbolism in connection with the text; or it may be a matter of ordering or arranging texts. An example of this is the case of the Sunday collects of the liturgy of Paul VI. Many of these collects are individually quite sound and orthodox (not that there are none which are doctrinally ambiguous, but that is not my point). But, as Dr. Lauren Pristas has aptly demonstrated, they do not fit into the greater picture which the liturgy seeks to portray, and in the context of that greater picture, they are indeed dangerously capable of sending a false message. The traditional collects of Advent portray a picture of man as powerless and in need of God's coming and his grace, because of sin. Lent portrays him as likewise awaiting the redemptive action of Christ, without which he cannot experience spiritual renewal. The majority of the collects in all the seasons before Easter thus portray man as a receiver of God's gifts which sanctify him; man is not portrayed as an actor with any power of his own. But after Easter, man is portrayed as now vivified, enabled and empowered by grace to approach God. There is a marvelous order in the placement of the collects that enables the soul to recognize his relationship to God, and to progress through the year with a living awareness of his need for God and his utter reliance on Christ's death and resurrection. As he witnesses liturgically the events of Christ's life, he experiences in himself a corresponding spiritual development. This is repeated yearly, and the same experience is renewed again and again with greater potency each time, gradually bringing man closer to a state of sanctity. In the liturgy of Paul VI, this order of the collects is uprooted. The Advent collects portray man as already empowered to approach God. Lent likewise gives more expression to the activity of man. As a result, the new body of collects do not fit into the order of the liturgical year and its retelling of the story of man's salvation. This cannot but hinder the active participant from moving through the year with a living recognition of his progression towards God, as intertwined with the story of redemption. Thus, while each individual collect in the new liturgy may be doctrinally true and even unambiguously so, the greater picture is distorted. Participants in the new liturgy can no longer live this central aspect of the faith liturgically, as they could in the traditional Roman rite.

A second example: In the traditional order of the Mass, there are a great many texts and gestures that directly refer to the mysteries of the Trinity and divinity of Christ. All of the ancient rites of the Church, East and West, are simply full of these references, by which the worshiping soul is enabled, not only to think of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, but also to be made present to God Himself so that he can fall on his knees in adoration of the Trinity, in worship of the Divine Second Person who accomplished his redemption. The spirit of all the traditional liturgies is profoundly Trinitarian and Christocentric, encouraging the submission of the humble worshiper to the majesty of the Lord. He is brought to encounter the Godhead through whom alone his salvation is effected. How effectively can this same encounter be enabled by a liturgy which dramatically reduces the references, both textual and gestural, to the Trinitarian and Christological aspects of the faith, setting in their place a liturgy that is man-centered? The Novus Ordo is precisely such a liturgy. A mere comparison of the number of texts and gestures that evoke the contemplation of these aspects of the faith reveals the sheer reduction in the centrality of these mysteries. For example, the old liturgies of the East and West repeated the gesture of the Sign of the Cross to no end; in the Novus Ordo it is possible to count on two hands the number of times the Sign of the Cross is made. Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, in his recent book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, explains how this is an instance of modern-day Arianism and Pelagianism, according to which the divinity of Christ is downplayed while man seeks to deify himself. The order and emphasis in the relation between God and man has been reversed. While nothing in the new liturgy can strictly be said to be false in the sense that a proposition or a doctrine is false, it is unquestionable that the new liturgy no longer enables the participation in the divine mysteries nearly as potently as the traditional liturgy did.

Similar examples are found in the rites of Holy Week, which were reformed by Pope Pius XII from 1951-1955. On Good Friday, the traditional liturgy was exemplified in the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified, in which the events of Christ's passion and death are mystically re-presented. Although there is no consecration of the Eucharist that day, the sacrifice of Christ is nonetheless signified through prayers and ceremonies which closely mirror those of an actual Mass. In some of the local medieval rites there was a ceremony explicitly evoking the burial of Christ in the sepulchre. At the end of the rite, the church is left empty of the Eucharistic presence, with only the crucifix visible, for Christ is dead on this day. This profound symbolism was lost in the reformed Holy Week of Pope Pius XII. The liturgy was transformed into a simple communion service, with the prayers and ceremonies imitating that of the Mass being abolished. The effect of this is to rob the faithful of the ability to behold in the rites of the Church the redemptive action of Christ on Mount Calvary, and so participate in them contemplatively. And this is while the texts of the new service remains substantially orthodox.

Changes like those wrought by Pius XII and Paul VI, while certainly not producing any falsehood in the liturgical texts themselves, nonetheless had the effect of hindering right liturgical participation in the sacred mysteries. The liturgy was reduced to something less than a re-presentation of the mystical realities. It approached the lower dignity of a mere text or didactic exercise, and even then, sometimes poorly. The immediate effect of this is the inability to live the faith actively and liturgically. Faith itself, the intellectual assent to revealed truths, could still exist in the minds of Catholics; but they could no longer mystically witness the realities of faith occurring in the liturgical action. Their faith could no longer be lived by the active participation in the truths of faith themselves, as presented in the liturgy. Such a faith might be real, but it is inactive. A faith that is real but inactive is, on account of being inactive, more susceptible to faltering, and even dying.

How then does legitimate change occur without being destructive? Development and reform in the liturgy can take place so long as the liturgical laws and structures already in place are respected. The liturgy expresses the faith in definite ways, and its various traditions have established set patterns of expression. Change can occur within these patterns and structures, enhancing them, clarifying them, sometimes pruning and simplifying them, but not altering them.

I do not wish to altogether discount textual truth or clarity as a basis of judgment in liturgical matters. Some of the problems with the Pauline mass are indeed textual and doctrinal, inasmuch as some of the texts are doctrinally ambiguous (e.g. the new offertory prayers), and this is a real danger. But I do not think it is the greatest problem with the recent reforms. More attention should be paid to the symbolic elements of the liturgy, whether textual, ritual, or in the interweaving of these elements. These elements present the same truths that the text alone presents, but in a non-doctrinal way; in a way that is not directly ordered to teaching, and hence does not require the logical, doctrinal clarity of expression that one would expect to find in a theological treatise. Rather, the more complex elements of the liturgy - which, I might add, are its most essential components - present the truths of faith in a way ordered towards contemplation by participation in the mystical realities themselves. Granted, this may sometimes make use of texts that are capable of criticism on doctrinal grounds, but ultimately the rite itself is not doctrinal; it is, rather, experiential. Modern man has to a tragic extent lost the ability to comprehend the liturgy as a harmonious collection of signs pointing directly to the realities of revelation, thereby enabling the contemplative participation in them. Participation has become misunderstood as either the effort to learn, or as merely external action such as hand-clapping and playing Eucharistic minister. But true participation in the liturgy is neither of these. It is rather the contemplation, encounter, and reliving of the work of God.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Vatican II and the Origins of the Liturgical Reform

The Second Vatican Council
There has been some discussion recently on the connection between Vatican II and the reform of the liturgy that produced the Novus Ordo. Monsignor Charles Pope wrote this article in which he argues that the Novus Ordo ought not to be linked so closely with the Council as it tends to be by most "traditionalist" Catholics. Msgr. Pope has several reasons for making this argument, some which he calls "pastoral," others which are historical. 

Mr. Louie Verrecchio responds to Msgr. Pope's argument at Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II. Mr. Verrecchio, though he is not affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X, has lately become a proponent of views about today's crisis which closely resemble those of the Society. Consequently, he frequently criticizes the Second Vatican Council for being the source and origin of so much of the current debacle in the Church, including the liturgical crisis.

My own opinion on this subject has undergone some development, as might be evident just from the archives of this blog. I have floated between conventional traditionalist ideas like those held by the SSPX, and the more moderate views like those of the late Msgr. Gamber, who thought that Sacrosantum Concilium could have been applied, as it was originally meant to be, in harmony with tradition. My position now, however, is not like either of these. Although, like Mr. Verrechhio, I do have issues with some of the documents of Vatican II - whence I disagree somewhat with Msgr. Pope's "pastoral" arguments - I am in agreement with Msgr. Pope's historical arguments: that the liturgical crisis we are witnessing today does not stem primarily from the Second Vatican Council, but from earlier causes. The Council was merely one stage - a late stage - of the process. The process of reform which produced the Novus Ordo was already underway long before the Council was called. It began during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, with a definite precedent even earlier, under Pius X. Pius X had radically reformed the breviary in a way that did away with centuries of meaningful tradition, though its spiritual effects were less radical than later reforms. The spiritually and theologically problematic reforms began under Pius XII, with the new Holy Week of 1955. Pius XII had appointed a commission to reform the Roman liturgy which consisted of many of the same men who would later create the Novus Ordo itself. While these men may have operated largely unknown to the Catholic world at large, it is quite likely that Pius XII himself was not unaware of the process and its principles, and he would at least implicitly sanction them in his promulgation of the new Holy Week, in 1955. The resulting rites were radically different from the traditional rites, destroying much of their traditional symbolic and theological meaning, and introducing several innovations which were problematic on many levels. This was only one in a series of steps towards the general reform of the Roman liturgy. Many other changes occurred in this period, affecting both the Mass and the Breviary in different ways. A significant overhaul was almost certainly being planned by the now corrupt liturgical movement, with the protection of papal approval. (Whether Pius XII knew what he was doing or not is a different question - some say he did indeed.) When the Second Vatican Council came along, it was merely used as an excuse to "officially" justify the steps of the reform which followed; but in fact it had little to do with the reform itself. The reform had already begun long before the Council; the Novus Ordo was simply the final product. Had the Council not occurred, it is very likely that something like the Novus Ordo would still have been produced. The overthrow of the liturgical tradition was in the works.

Fr. John Hunwicke once wrote likewise at his blog. Here are some enlightening excerpts:
I suppose a common analysis of what happened in the 1960s might be: The Council mandated a fairly light revision of the Liturgy; however, particular interests subsequently gained control of the levers of liturgical power and pressed things to extremes. [Or there is the view of SSPX Catholics, which Fr. Hunwicke does not mention, that the extremes themselves resulted from the Council.] I suggest that something really quite different happened, realisation of which might have its embarrassments both for Trendies and Traddies.
The fontal point is this: The process of change was already firmly in place. I do not think that the Council, in fact, made any real difference whatsoever...
...Remember, also, the extremely radical nature of the 'restored' Holy Week. I venture to say that it is, if anything, more radical than the post-Conciliar changes to the Ordo Missae itself. 1951 and 1955 were simply two stages of which 1969 was the logically coherent third stage. The changes to Holy Week were only less radical than the later changes in that they affected merely one week of the year ... and services which were not of obligation ... and services which, in fact, for the most part, comparatively few people attended....
Pius XII had initiated the process of radical alteration, using the same people who were to be prominent after the Council, such as Annibale Bugnini, before and without the mandate of an ecumenical Council.
I suggest the Twentieth Century liturgical changes would most appropriately be called the Pian-Pauline Reforms. They are changes based on exactly that notion of papal power which Benedict XVI so acutely criticises: that the Pope can do anything. The process of liturgical 'reform' has, from the beginning, been the product of the maximalising Papacy of Pius XII. The 'Council' has only been an episode in that process.
It is my belief that many traditionalists adopt a too simplistic understanding of today's crisis, as if prior to the Council the liturgical condition of the Church was fine and dandy. In reality, the liturgical crisis has its roots far before the Council. Reliable historical evidence shows that the liturgical state of the Church was far from perfect before the Council. While the reform itself began in the 20th century, its origins might be traced back even further to a situation that began to grow during the Counter-Reformation, in the aftermath of the Council of Trent. (Was there a "Spirit of Trent" like the "Spirit of Vatican II"?) This was period of growing liturgical minimalism, and otherwise distorted approaches to liturgy. The Divine Office had come to be seen as a private priestly prayer, rather than public liturgical worship, and its importance alongside the Mass became vastly under-appreciated - this is still the case today. Private devotions began to take the place of liturgy, and the riches of the liturgy ceased to feed the regular spiritual lives of the faithful. The liturgy was now just one among many devotions, and one among many sources of doctrinal teaching. The spirit of the liturgy was dying away; Masses and the Office were no longer sung regularly, contrary to the custom of ancient Christian worship. Low Mass became the norm, Sung Mass the exception. Eventually the sense of the sensible beauty and grandeur of the liturgy was lost. Tradition in general lost the importance it once had in the minds of the faithful. This resulted in poor liturgies in practice, even while the official forms in the books remained theoretically intact. A hyper-devotion to the cult of the saints sprang up in the Counter-Reformation, resulting in the cluttering of the Roman calendar, and the disappearance of the entire weekly Psalter. Pope Pius X rightly sought to resolve this problem, but his solution involved sacrificing other aspects of the liturgical tradition. His reform gave rise to the notion in the mind of priests and faithful that the liturgical forms were subject to the authoritative decisions of the pope, who was thus the supreme arbiter and even creator of Catholic liturgies - an idea completely alien to the traditions of liturgical development. This was made possible by the growing prominence of the papacy ever since the Council of Trent, paving the way for the complete authoritative overhaul of the liturgy later in the 20th century, by Popes Pius XII and Paul VI. Already in the 20th century, still before the Council, priests were turning the altars around towards the faithful, moving tabernacles to the side, introducing innovative forms of concelebration, celebrating in hideous modern Churches, introducing the vernacular, etc. The crisis was already in the early stages of its viral growth.

The blogger Rad Trad wrote a six part account of the causes and origins of the liturgical reform, in which he explains much of what I have written above in much more detail. Recommended reading. The account differs significantly from the standard accounts given by traditionalists, and has very little to do with the Second Vatican Council. There is a whole history stretching back to the Council of Trent which prepared the way for this crisis, and the process of reform itself began with Pius XII, having a strong precedent in Pius X in 1911.
Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part I: Feasts
Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part II: Low Mass Culture
Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part III: Devotionalism
Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part IV: Separation of Liturgy and Doctrine
Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part V: Centralization
Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Finale: Ideas Going Forward

Of course, in this whole discussion it would be useful to examine in some depth the actual reforms of Pius X and Pius XII in order to properly evaluate them, and thus their connection to the Novus Ordo. The Rad Trad has much discussion of those subjects on his blog (the above article on "Feasts" discusses Pius X's breviary), and a certain minority of traditionalists and liturgical scholars have been becoming aware of these subjects. Fr. Steven Carusi wrote a detailed article criticizing the Holy Week of 1955, and the blog of St. Lawrence Press presents the results of close study of the differences between the 1962 missal and its predecessors. A certain Paul Cavendish published a two-part study of the 1911 breviary reform of Pius X in the journal Usus Antiquor in the year 2011, showing how radical and extensive a reform it really was. And one cannot forget to mention the late Laszlo Dobszay, whose book on The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform contains a substantial treatment of the Divine Office, including its incarnation under Pius X, and many other subjects pertaining to the liturgical reform, all with deep insight into the historical and spiritual aspects of the liturgy. The aforementioned Msgr. Charles Pope wrote another article recently on the side effects of Pius X's reform, and its implications for the relation of papal authority to the liturgy (to which, likewise, Mr. Verrecchio also responded here; I am, of course, in agreement with Msgr. Pope on this one as well).

An SSPX priest celebrates Low Mass in a private chapel
at St. Peter's Basilica, in un-liturgical red and with
un-vested servers in sneakers.
Much of this discussion would assume an even more fundamental common ground of understanding about the nature and importance of the liturgy and its traditions in the first place, which I fear even many traditionalists today do not have. Those who pin the latest reforms primarily on the Second Vatican Council fail to understand the true causes of the debacle because they do not understand that the traditions of the liturgy had in many ways been seriously violated already. Indeed, many traditionalists have themselves been influenced in large part by the same tendencies that led to the current crisis (quite ironically), such as the replacement of liturgy with private devotion, a hyper-ultramontanist attachment to the figures of the popes (at least the pre-conciliar popes such as Pius X and Pius XII), an under-appreciation of the Divine Office and sung liturgy, etc. Moreover there is a certain carelessness (largely unintentional and quite innocent, no doubt) with which the traditional liturgy itself is celebrated in some traditionalists communities. I have attended Mass at a local, small chapel served by the SSPX, and many of the liturgies remind me only too well of the Novus Ordo itself, ironically, so improvised they were in many respects. I am sure this is not universally the case in traditionalist communities, but my impression is that it is not uncommon. As long as the text of the Mass is the traditional one, with its emphases on the doctrines of the Real Presence and the propitiatory sacrifice, traditionalists are happy; but the external rituals, symbolic elements, and deeper meanings of the liturgy are overlooked. Modern Catholics have lost the sense of the liturgy as an action which allows us to relive the mysteries of faith by encountering them contemplatively. Instead, the liturgy is more like a didactic text. The complex interaction of text and ritual and the symbolism of the liturgy are no longer understood. The Novus Ordo came about through precisely such a loss of understanding of - and/or reverence for - the spirit of the liturgy. This misunderstanding is a serious one, which it will take quite some work to dispel from modern Catholic minds. (I myself am somewhat a novice to the proper understanding of the liturgy; on this blog I am demonstrating my efforts to improve that understanding. Bloggers like The Rad Trad have already contributed much to these endeavors.)

In short, the Council had little to do with the liturgical reform, either as the source of its defects or the original call for it to occur. The reform had already gotten off to a bad start, before and independently of the Council. The stage was being set for the reform ever since the time of the Council of Trent, when, slowly but surely, the value and nature of the liturgy became less and less appreciated and understood. The traditional liturgy was slowly dying. The reforms that occurred after Vatican II were only the proof of its having finally died; only its cadaver remained. Modern traditionalists too are largely influenced by the distorted understanding of the liturgy that had gradually emerged prior to the Council, which is why they have such difficulty seeing past the Council itself as the origin of the current crisis.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Epiphany of Our Lord - Readings from Matins

The following is taken from the office of Matins for today's feast, in the Traditional Tridentine breviary.
Reading 1
Lesson from the book of Isaias
Isa 55:1-4
1 All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money make haste, buy, and eat: come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price.
2 Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which doth not satisfy you? Hearken diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and your soul shall be delighted in fatness.
3 Incline your ear and come to me: hear and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the faithful mercies of David.
4 Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles.
Reading 2
Isa 60:1-6
1 Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
2 For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
3 And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.
4 Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side.
5 Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.
6 The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord.

Reading 3
Isa 61:10-11; 62:1
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation: and with the robe of justice he hath covered me, as a bridegroom decked with a crown, and as a bride adorned with her jewels.
11 For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth her seed to shoot forth: so shall the Lord God make justice to spring forth, and praise before all the nations.
12 For Sion's sake I will not hold my peace, and for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not rest till her just one come forth as brightness, and her saviour be lighted as a lamp.
Reading 4
From the Sermons of Pope St Leo (the Great)
2nd for Twelfth-Day.
Dearly beloved brethren, rejoice in the Lord; again I say, rejoice. But a few days are past since the solemnity of Christ's Birth, and now the glorious light of His Manifestation is breaking upon us. On that day the Virgin brought Him forth, and on this the world knew Him. The Word made Flesh was pleased to reveal Himself by degrees to those for whom He had come. When Jesus was born He was manifested indeed to the believing, but hidden from His enemies. Already indeed the heavens declared the glory of God, and their sound went out into all lands, when the Herald Angels appeared to tell to the shepherds the glad tidings of a Saviour's Birth; and now the guiding star leadeth the wise men to worship Him, that from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the Birth of the true King may be known abroad; that through those wise men the kingdoms of the east might learn the great truth, and the Roman empire remain no more in darkness.
Reading 5
The very cruelty of Herod, when he strove to crush at His birth this King Whom he alone feared, was made a blind means to carry out this dispensation of mercy. While the tyrant with horrid guilt sought to slay the little Child he did not know, amid an indiscriminate slaughter of innocents, his infamous act served to spread wider abroad the heaven-told news of the Birth of the Lord. Thus were these glad tidings loudly proclaimed, both by the novelty of their story, and the iniquity of their enemies. Then was the Saviour borne into Egypt, that nation, of a long time hardened in idolatry, might by the mysterious virtue which went out of Him, even when His presence was unknown, be prepared for the saving light so soon to dawn on them, and might receive the Truth as a wanderer even before they had banished falsehood.
Reading 6
Dearly beloved brethren, we recognise in the wise men who came to worship Christ, the first-fruits of that dispensation to the Gentiles wherein we also are called and enlightened. Let us then keep this Feast with grateful hearts, in thanksgiving for our blessed hope, whereof it doth commemorate the dawn. From that worship paid to the new-born Christ is to be dated the entry of us Gentiles upon our heirship of God and co-heirship with Christ. Since that joyful day the Scriptures which testify of Christ have lain open for us as well as for the Jews. Yea, their blindness rejected that Truth, Which, since that day, hath shed Its bright beams upon all nations. Let all observance, then, be paid to this most sacred day, whereon the Author of our salvation was made manifest, and as the wise men fell down and worshipped Him in the manger, so let us fall down and worship Him enthroned Almighty in heaven. As they also opened their treasures and presented unto Him mystic and symbolic gifts, so let us strive to open our hearts to Him, and offer Him from thence some worthy offering.
Reading 7
From the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
Matt 2:1-12
When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? And so on.

Homily by Pope St Gregory the Great.
10th on the Gospels.
Dearly beloved brethren, hear ye from the Gospel lesson how, when the King of heaven was born, the king of earth was troubled? The heights of heaven are opened and the depths of earth are stirred. Let us now consider the question, why, when the Redeemer was born, an angel brought the news to the shepherds of Judea, but a star led the wise men of the East to worship Him. It seemeth as if the Jews as reasonable creatures received a revelation from a reasonable being, that is, an angel, but the Gentiles without, being as brutes, are roused not by a voice, but by a sign, that is, a star. Hence Paul hath it: a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. 1 Cor. xiv. 22. So the prophesying, that is, of the angel was given to them that believed, and the sign to them that believed not.
Reading 8
Thus also we remark that afterwards the Redeemer was preached among the Gentiles not by Himself, but by His Apostles, even as, when a little Child, He is shown to them, not by the voice of angels, but merely by the vision of a star. When He Himself had begun to speak He was made known to us by speakers, but when He lay silent in the manger, by that silent testimony in heaven. But whether we consider the signs which accompanied His birth or His death, this thing is wonderful, namely, the hardness of heart of the Jews, who would not believe in Him either for prophesying or for miracles.

Reading 9
All things which He had made, bore witness that their Maker was come. Let me reckon them after the manner of men. The heavens knew that He was God, and sent a star to shine over where He lay. The sea knew it, and bore Him up when He walked upon it. The earth knew it, and quaked when He died. The sun knew it, and was darkened. The rocks and walls knew it, and rent at the hour of His death. Hell knew it, and gave up the dead that were in it. And yet up to this very hour the hearts of the unbelieving Jews will not acknowledge that He to Whom all nature testified is their God, and, being more hardened than the rocks, refuse to be rent by repentance.

Friday, 2 January 2015

An Ode to Rain

The following is a poem I wrote, about rain, obviously, but also a sort of reflection on certain human emotions that many souls experience. The structure and even some of the ideas, I must admit, were partly inspired by John Keats' masterpiece, Ode to a Nightingale. I find myself looking to Keats as a model for my own poetry... Anyhow, this one is about rain.

The drops that beat upon the window-pane
Arouse a thousand thoughts and memories,
Dreams of what these memories should have been,
Regrets, unquenched desires – how my heart bleeds!
And yet, as I do sit and hear the rain,
And dream of blisses never yet possessed,
The running drops do seem to soothe the pain
Which doth my heart arrest.

Ah, Rain! My soul would arid be, didst thou
Not pour thy tears forth from the darkened skies.
Ah, Rain! I’ll let thee do the weeping now,
For I have wept enough these days; mine eyes
Are all run dry. Now heaven doth endow
The earth with beauteous moisture, bathe the soil,
Wet every grassy blade and leafy bough –
And calm me, ‘midst my toil.

O sweet and mournful music! Do not cease!
Thou kindred of my soul, play on! play on!
The sweetness of thy droplet-tunes brings peace,
A sad contentment (strange!)  to think upon
My past – the joy which took to quick decrease,
Like to a most unfaithful, lying friend –
And future – when I shall be quick released,
To meet my final end.

How sweet to breathe my last while thou dost fall,
And lie beneath the soil which thou dost wet!
And after such catharsis – so enthralled
By thee! – in death, at last, sad life forget.
Truly, it were the sweetest thing of all
To have thy harp-like tunes my requiem,
Did Mother Fortune grant it to befall
That I expire to them.

But soft! The music slows and doth decline;
The clouds disperse; the sun shines forth its rays –
In which but empty comfort do I find.
Now hath the year returned to drier days.
And now must all the tears once more be mine,
For rain now lacking, I must weep again.
Some souls will bask in the golden light that shines,
But I will yearn for rain.