Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Pope Pius XI on the Importance of the Liturgy

Pope Pius XI
People are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year -- in fact, forever. The church's teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man's nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God's teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.  
-- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas, on the Kingship of Christ, paragraph 21
Pope Pius XI certainly recognized the superior experiential and mystical approach of the liturgy over a merely doctrinal approach. This squares nicely with the patristic, Thomistic, and all-around traditional Catholic understanding of the relationship between liturgy and doctrine: liturgy is indeed at the center of the Christian life, more so than doctrine, inasmuch as it allows the faithful to participate actually in the realities themselves which are the subject of doctrinal teaching. Liturgy enables a real encounter with the God that doctrine merely talks about.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Current Liturgical Questions and Attempted Solutions

St. Thomas Aquinas before a Crucifix

I have been researching a bit lately for a treatise I hope to write for my senior thesis at Thomas Aquinas College. Unsurprisingly, this treatise will deal with the subject of the liturgy. My first aim is to provide some foundations and principles from which to formulate a theology of the liturgy, relying principally on Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Fathers of the Church - not to mention the sacred liturgy itself, most of all. A secondary aim is to provide some firm principles by which to evaluate the liturgical reforms of the last century. 

In my research, I have encountered several ideas all pertaining to the question of the liturgy with which I hope to better acquaint myself, and many questions and problems which I hope to resolve. In this post I would like to discuss some of those problems, many of which I have already discussed in some form or another on this blog. Many of my questions surround the question of liturgical realism. What I mean by liturgical realism is the understanding that the liturgy does not merely recall to mind, in an abstract or imaginative way, the mysteries of Christ, but it actually re-presents them here and now. In the liturgy, according to this understanding, the worshiper does not merely think about the mysteries, but he actually encounters or experiences them mystically. This is how the Fathers often treat of the liturgy. When the Fathers speak of liturgical symbolism, they speak with such conviction and passion that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they believed they were actually re-visiting the mysteries represented in the liturgical signs. Oftentimes they expressly state this belief. For example, Dionysius the Areopagite states that through the sacred symbols we are led to the divine realities themselves, in order to attain our deification. If this understanding is correct, it seems to me all the greater a crime to basically reinvent the rites of the liturgy, as was done in the course of the 20th century.

I would like to understand precisely how the doctrine of liturgical realism is true. How is it possible that the mysteries of Christ are actually present, in a real way, here and now, not merely in our mental recollection of them? How is this different than the manner in which the seven sacraments re-present the sacred mysteries? What is the role of the liturgy with regard to grace?

Dom Odo Casel (1886-1948)
Modern explorations of liturgical realism inevitably involve a discussion of what is called the “theology of the mysteries.” In the early 20th century, a form of this doctrine appeared in the work of the highly controversial Benedictine monk, Dom Odo Casel, a theologian of the liturgy. He proposed basically a form of liturgical realism, according to which the mysteries of Christ’s life – His actions and passions, the events He wrought and experienced, etc. – somehow became really present in the liturgy. Casel compared the Catholic idea of liturgy to ancient Pagan ideas of creation, in which nature was viewed as a complex of symbols through which further realities could actually be encountered. Casel proposed that the Catholic liturgy was essentially the same thing: symbols through which the reality symbolized could actually be touched somehow. In the case of the liturgy, the realities symbolized are the mysteries – the acts and passions of Christ during His life. Thus, the mysteries are somehow present here and now in the liturgy, not just as past events commemorated or meditated upon, but as presently existing realities.

It is generally recognized that Casel did not adequately explain how this liturgical realism is possible; Casel did not write with an aim to give any philosophical explanation, after all. But his theory was the subject of much controversy. From the little research I have done, it appears that many Thomists of the neo-scholastic tradition (many of them hardcore Aristotelians) were included among those who could not accept Casel’s doctrine. Today, certain members of the Society of St. Pius X in fact accuse Casel of originating many of the ideas which influenced the liturgical reform (a claim which I rather doubt).

But certain voices among Thomists, calling for a deeper, renewed study of St. Thomas’ works, have discovered that Thomas himself embraced a certain “theology of the mysteries” which provides deeper and more adequate explanations than Dom Casel could formulate. St. Thomas’ doctrine, moreover, reveals itself to be deeply rooted in a tradition inherited from the Fathers of the Church themselves. Among the few writers who have called attention to this aspect of Thomas’ teaching is Jean-Pierre Torrell, OP, a scholar on the deeply spiritual theology of the Angelic Doctor. Torrell points out in Saint Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, that St. Thomas in fact developed a more detailed account of the mysteries than is generally recognized. In the Tertia Pars of the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas devotes a very large section to the life of Christ, and His actions and sufferings. This section of the Summa has until recently been much overlooked even by self-proclaimed Thomists. In this section, St. Thomas provides some simple but profound principles by which to explain the possibility of the ever-presence of the mysteries of Christ.

St. Thomas explains that the mysteries of Christ have the capacity to transcend all space and time on account of their spiritual power. Christ was not only man, but God; as such, all His actions and sufferings are efficacious for the salvation of man even now, 2000 years after Christ walked the earth. Moreover, due to the eternal nature of Christ's priesthood, which forms an essential part of His headship of the Church, the mysteries of Christ are accessible principally through the priestly ministry of the Church. Thus, it is possible for the faithful now to somehow be transported back in time, insofar as they come into contact with the specific graces associated with each of Christ's actions and passions which occurred in the past. (Not only this, but the faithful are also brought into mystical contact with heaven itself, which they hope to achieve. There is thus a marvelous convergence of past, present, and future in the Christology and Eschatology of the sacraments.) This provides a necessary basic principle for explaining how the mysteries of Christ may be present through the sacred liturgy. But the more specific details of this explanation are yet lacking. How is it that the liturgy has the power to bring us into contact with the graces of Christ's mysteries?

The Crucifixion, by Fra Angelico

On a Thomistic basis, it is easy to answer this question with regard to the sacraments. The sacraments have been instituted by God as instrumental causes of grace, such that they actually contain the powers of Christ's mysteries and sanctifying grace itself. But it is not so easy with the extra-sacramental parts of the liturgy, which, though they in many ways resemble the sacraments themselves, are distinct from them. The liturgy, like the sacraments, consists in signs and symbols of higher realities. But St. Thomas says that "Holy Water and other consecrated things are not called sacraments, because they do not produce the sacramental effect, which is the receiving of grace" (IIIa, q.65, a.2, ad.6). This is essentially the modern distinction between sacraments and "sacramentals" - the latter including the sacred liturgy itself: sacraments confer grace, but sacramentals do not. St. Thomas goes on to say: "They are, however, a kind of disposition to the sacraments: either by removing obstacles: thus holy water is ordained against the snares of the demons, and against venial sins: or by making things suitable for the conferring of a sacrament; thus the altar and vessels are consecrated through reverence for the Eucharist."

However, although the sacramentals do not confer grace, they nonetheless maintain an intimate connection with grace. St. Thomas says elsewhere that "Human institutions observed in the sacraments are not essential to the sacrament; but belong to the solemnity which is added to the sacraments in order to arouse devotion and reverence in the recipients" (IIIa,  q.64, a.2, ad.1). This devotion, St. Thomas writes, comes not without contemplation, for "devotion is an act of the will to the effect that man surrenders himself readily to the service of God. Now every act of the will proceeds from some consideration, since the object of the will is a good understood... Consequently meditation [or contemplation] must needs be the cause of devotion" (IIa IIae, q.82, a.3). In particular, devotion is aroused by the contemplation of the mysteries of Christ (Ibid, a.3, ad.2). Since the sacramentals and liturgical objects surrounding the sacraments have the purpose of arousing devotion, it seems that a contemplative disposition is imperative in the well-reception of the sacraments themselves. However, contemplation itself, which St. Thomas understands as an experiential knowledge of God, is impossible without grace. This contemplation is infused by God from the outside, unattainable by human effort. It is founded on the gift of wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit, which pertains only to the life of grace.

Thus, on the one hand, the liturgy, a sacramental, does not have the power of giving grace in the manner that the sacraments do. But on the other hand, the liturgy does have the purpose of arousing devotion, which is caused by contemplation, which itself is caused by none other than grace. Sanctifying grace comes with an increase of the three theological virtues, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the highest of which is wisdom - the foundation of contemplation. So even sacramentals must have a connection to grace, though not as instrumental causes, as in the case of the sacraments. Interestingly, in the case of the sacraments, St. Thomas adamantly opposes the theory that the sacraments merely constitute an occasion in which God grants grace. In more modern terminology, this is the idea of moral causality. Rather, St. Thomas insists, the sacraments themselves inherently have the God-given power to confer grace - the theory of instrumental and physical causality. I wonder, however, would St. Thomas endorse a theory of moral causality with regard to the sacramentals, and thus the parts of the liturgy not divinely instituted?

St. Thomas teaches in several places, following in the footsteps of Dionysius the Areopagite, that the signs and symbols in the sacred liturgy are meant to lead the mind of the worshiper to divine things, so as to be united spiritually to God. In other words, the sacred signs are meant to lead the mind to contemplation. However, infused contemplation, precisely because it is infused, cannot be acquired by human effort. Hence, the liturgy, as a human institution, cannot simply by itself lead the mind to infused contemplation; rather, it can only be the fitting occasion, as it were, for the infusion of contemplation. As such, it is the fitting occasion for the infusion of sanctifying grace, modified, as it were, by each of Christ's mysteries presented in the liturgical rites. Liturgy is the preparation of the soul for the well-reception of the grace which flows from each of the individual works of Christ. The sacred liturgy itself proclaims this doctrine in many instances, when it petitions God to make efficacious the graces of a specific mystery, as in the collect for the Transfiguration: "Sanctify, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the gifts offered by the glorious transfiguration of Thine only begotten Son, and by the splendors of that very illumination cleanse us from the stains of our sins." This implies, further, that the reception of the sacraments themselves will be all the more beneficial and complete in the very context of the liturgy.

Thus, although the liturgy is a human institution, it cannot be purely so, simply because it is so powerful an aid to the reception of grace and contemplation. The liturgy is an occasion of grace precisely because it is rooted firmly in faith in the mysteries of Christ, which are divine. The mysteries of Christ are revealed to us in a more or less determinate scheme (which is manifest even amidst the variety of liturgical rites - indeed, complemented by it), and our receptivity to them must be conditioned according to that scheme, in conformity and openness to it. This means that, in order to be a "patient of divine things" (in the words of Thomas and Dionysius), it is imperative to maintain a disposition of humility, self-denial, and self-alienation, and a complete devotion to the work of God. In the liturgy, everything must revolve, not around man or the self-hood of the worshiper, but around God and the God-man Jesus Christ. We must direct our attention away from the merely human, the common, and the mundane, and focus in on the divine mysteries themselves, so that they may draw us up in contemplation to divine union.

This has several further consequences, two of which are especially important in considering the present liturgical crisis. Firstly, it is a grave crime to reduce the theocentricity of the liturgy and create an heightened awareness of man's humanity and self-hood in its place. The only legitimate place for man's self-consideration in the liturgy is in humble submission to God, so that God may draw the soul up to Himself towards the divine intimacy that is the goal of worship. There is no place for self-assertion or self-"fulfillment," in the common sense of those terms. Worship is precisely the wrong place for man to assert his own value as man. Rather, it is where man must recognize his nothingness before God, in order to be united to Him by grace and contemplation. Man's divinization is only accomplished by the grace of God encountered in His mysteries. I have discussed in other posts certain ways in which the liturgical reform violated these very principles, producing a liturgy that promotes human self-hood at the cost of the theocentricity and christocentricity of the traditional liturgy.

Secondly, since the liturgy is rooted in a divine faith in the sacred mysteries, it must be received as something from tradition, not constructed at the whims of men. The best liturgical historians have asserted that all the great classical rites were not written by men; rather, they grew organically from the seeds which Christ planted in His life, teaching, and institution of the sacraments. Christ Himself taught that "No one comes to the Father except through Me." From the beginning, it was thus ingrained in the Christian instinct that in order to reach the Father, it is necessary to participate in the life of the Son, the Incarnate Word. "God became man so that man might become God," said St. Athanasius. Many other Fathers too, such as St. Augustine, attest to the ancient belief in the necessity of participation in the mysteries. The liturgy, revolving around the sacraments of Christ, developed as the realization of this very principle. The contemplation of the mysteries and the reception of the sacraments naturally gave birth to the liturgical rites, and men simply followed the lead of divine inspiration in executing the acts of worship. Every new development of the liturgy was thus always in harmony with, or indeed extrapolated from, what came before, so that everything in the liturgy was founded on the basic institutions of Christ. Tradition was the norm, and development always occurred on the basis of tradition. But at various points in history, men sought to usurp the role of tradition and re-construct the liturgy according to their own conceptions. The 20th century has yielded the most recent examples of this. The result was almost always an imperfect and deficient means of leading the soul to contemplation and participation in the sacred mysteries.

These points could be argued with more substantial support from the writings of St. Thomas and the Fathers of the Church, such as Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Augustine, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, Pope Leo the Great, and others. I think it can be well established that the tradition which we have inherited as Catholics, East and West, contains the seeds of a liturgical theology according to which the recent reforms cannot be condoned.