The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Okay, So Here's Something About the Motu Proprio:

...But since in this dialogue Socrates is about to derogate pleasure and Philebus has called pleasure, "Venus," he hastens to make atonement, fearing a goddess' name especially as a pious man should. Atonement is the restoration of holiness that has been destroyed. Holiness is devotion to holy things...

-Marsilio Ficino, The Philebus Commentary

Eneadum genetrix hominum divumque voluptas,
Alma Venus coeli subter labentia signa
Quae mare navigerum quae terras frugiferentes
Concelebras; per te quoniam genus omne animatum
Concipitur, visitque exortum lumina solis.

-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura

The sanctuary at the seminary church in La Reja has an area between two pillars that leads to the apse with the side altars. There, on the epistle side, the professor of liturgy was waiting in the wings and watching attentively. On the altar, a recently ordained priest was saying the 11:30 a.m. Mass. I watched my professor watch the new priest. He was making sure that the man on the altar was saying his Mass right: that he was making all of the Signs of the Cross correctly, that the genuflections were graceful and not twitchy, that he was saying not his Mass too quickly, etc., etc. This was a Mass you had to learn how to say, and new priests were game to be critiqued if they are not performing the cult properly.

This was in the Society of St. Pius X, but I am sure every traditionalist religious order has some of these concerns. The flip side of the Motu Proprio cheerleading has been expressed by some, but I will say it explicitly. Oftentimes the old Mass, for better or for worse, was a chore that had to be endured and far from a spiritual experience. Many priests hated saying the old Mass, and many who remember it now probably said, "good riddance" to it back then. The fact is that the liturgical reform of the 1960's was the destruction of the old liturgical ethos of the Roman Church and the creation of a new one. I would summarize it very briefly by saying that before, liturgy was something you had to DO, and now it is something that you have to UNDERSTAND.

Indeed, when the divine causes and the human preparations resembling them are united in one and the same act, the acomplishment of the sacrifice achieves all things and bestows great blessings.

-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis

Catechisms from the 1950's often talked about the necessity of sacrifice in human culture, and those sacrifices needing to be accomplished through a certain set of rules. Sacrifice, for better of for worse, always has a cause and effect mechanism behind it: the sacrifice is done correctly, and the blessings are bestowed. The SSPX put out a document earlier this decade stating that the reform of the liturgy had much to do with the putting aside of the idea of Anselm's idea of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross being primarily vicarious satisfaction for the sins of the world and its replacement with the idea of the "Paschal Mystery", something supposedly more ill-defined and Patristic. This is, according to the Lefebvrist theologians, the reason why the idea of the Mass as a sacrifice that takes away sins is no longer emphasized.

In this sacrificial culture, then, the actions of my seminary professor-priest make much more sense. Even if it is not explicitly stated, the very human (read: pagan) idea of accomplishing the cult correctly was at the heart of the rubricism before the Second Vatican Council. The Mass was something that had to appease the wrath of God against sinful humanity. Therefore, it had to be accomplished according to a complicated set of rules, in a language no one could understand, and having parts that were uttered secretly by the priest. (One commenter said that he likes the Mass for the text, which I find highly ironic since most of the "text" was not meant to be heard by the laity anyway.) These were principals that were never defined, but they were nevertheless in the "back of the mind" of Western civilization.

I will not say one way or the other whether or not this idea is correct. And it is still present to some extent even in many Masses said according to the Pauline Missal. (People still have Masses said for particular intentions.) But the Liturgical Movement and the Novus Ordo Missae were very much concessions to the idea of liturgy that was first put forward by the Reformers and some Catholic voices. Having moved away from the theology of vicarious satisfaction, liturgy is conceived of as something more for the people as the Body of Christ and less for a wrathful and distant God receiving again the Blood of His Son. It is the remembrance of what Christ has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection. Hence, the greater freedom in how it is carried out, the vernacular tongue, and the general emphasis on interaction between the people. It is admitted by virtually all that this has led to abuses and many undignified things take place during these ceremonies. The degree of gravity, however, of the wrongness of what goes on during these ceremonies depends on what you conceive the liturgy as primarily being. If it is an act of the cult of sacrifice, it is a grave transgression against the order of things. If it is a manifestation of the synaxis of the People of God, it is just people behaving rowdily. Has anyone gone to Hell because of a liturgical abuse?

The bottom line is that these divergent cultures are so distinct now that to think that one can influence the other amounts to wishful thinking. The ethos behind one is completely different from the ethos behind the other. While aesthetic radicals like myself love Gregorian chant, Latin, and all of the highly stylized gestures of the old rite, many Catholics who remember them are just glad they do not have to "do that crap" anymore. The ecclesial cultures behind both rites are just too divergent now, and let us face facts: traditionalists constitute a tiny fraction of total Catholics in the world. Even with a greater allowance of the old rite, the only thing that will emerge in my opinion is a niche market style of liturgies similar to Anglican praxis of "churchmanships". Perhaps it will not fracture the Church, but it will not serve to unite it either. Then again, maybe nothing will.

So I am glad that the Holy Father finally put out his Motu Proprio. I even read it in the original Latin. But part of me fears that this is just "his thing". He may have very good reasons for it, but it may all just be a case of trying to put something back into Pandora's liturgical box.


At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may have a point; however, the idea of sacrifice, which remains central to the new rite, both precedes and is far richer than the Anselmian notions of propitiation which came to define it in the West. As you know, the Eastern Churches, drawing on a common apostolic Tradition, also celebrate the Eucharist as sacrifice, but, at the same time, have never bought into Anselm's understanding of what the cross (and resurrection), and by extension the Eucharist, accomplishes. Further, the Eastern Churches have never seen the celebration of the Eucharist as exclusively the province of the priest, but rather, as an act of the whole People of God, and likewise have never been obsessed with rubrics in the same way as the Latin Church between Trent and Vatican II. In light of the moto proprio, and given the renewed appreciation for Eastern Christianity in the Latin Church, I am optimistic that the "reform of the reform" will proceed apace.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger AG said...

A nit-pick for clarification: there are two different forms of the Latin/Roman rite - Old (1962) and New (Pauline) but only one Latin/Roman rite. At least according to Pope Benedict XVI.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Young fogey emeritus said...

As I read this I thought some of the same things Fr Greg wrote regarding the Christian East.

Of course the sacrifice/propitiation and the paschal mystery are not mutually exclusive, or at least that's how I see the authentic Catholic position.

I know 1950s practice could be sub-par. I've been to SSPX Masses too.

The legitimate liturgical movement pre-V2 and many Anglo-Catholics had the answer to that.

With the motu and more knowledge about the Eastern churches I hope that movement will revive and pick up where it left off.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I prefer and even love the Tridentine Mass.

However, I find some of the people annoying and mean spirited--including some of the priests.

I love Tradition but hate some of the Traditionalists (hate is a strong word but it fits well to complete the sentence but really mean can't stand)

There is a sense of making Latin a more sacred language than Catholic theology or history teach.
(Latin is not a sacred language per se as Hebrew is to Jews, or Sanskrit is to Hindus, or Sanskrit is to most syncretic pagan Buddhists, or Arabic is to Muslim--all have supposedly inherently sacred liturgical and languages used exclusively in their prayers and liturgies or analagous equivalents) Although Latin is important, beautiful, not vulgar, set apart, historically important etc--it is not inherently or per se sacred or absolutely necessary.
Latin does not make the grandiose and specific claims of Arabic, Sanskrite or Hebrew.

The argument for a universal liturgical langauge is important and good but there is a long venacular tradition in the Church like the motives of
where the venacular helped conversions and buidling an alphabet and culture
or the JESUITS in China and India
or the allowances made by the relatively tolerant Austo-Hungarian empire to the RUTHENIAN/"RUSYN" Eastern Rite Catholics (more lenient than the Church in America under americanized Irishman Archbishop Ireland who caused schism and the growth of modern American Orthodoxy) as well as traditions that were stamped out by uniformity vis a vis language like the Croatian bearded priests who did the Roman Rite in Glagolithic language and script (different than modern Roman script) or the local liturgical rites of Toledo, Milan, and even England that have become very small anachronisms although you can even find some Mozabaric masses on YouTube and some affinity for the Sarum Rite with so called Western Orthodox Christians and some Anglicans.
The point being that venacular language in Liturgy is not out of step with the history of the Church. Theoretically you could have a Tridentine in English as you have the Divine Liturgy(ies) of St. John Chrystostom and Basil (separately) in English.

If there is a desire focused on language or to return to the original Mass--than perhaps Aramaic or liturgical Hebrew--as Aramaic was probably the venacular of Jesus (and the liturgical of Chaldean and some other Middle Eastern Christians) Hebrew is/would be the liturgical and sacred language of Jesus. The suggestion we have Mass exclusively in Hebrew would lack historical context and some Traditionalists would be accusing me of the heresy of being a Judaizer. Even St. Peter had Judaizer tendencies.
Making a point here about going back to the Last Supper and the use of language.

The Kiss of Peace (a kiss in the culture of Jesus or at least the Greek, Arab, Phoenician initial converts) as a sign of forgiveness is not a bad thing. YES, it can be abused. But some traditionalists seem to HATE it. and hate others that do it. Forgiveness and a physical sign is historical, predates the Mass as compiled at the Council of Trent and makes historical sense.

I realize that raising the hands (Orans?) during the Our Father is not accurate--but the many Mexican old ladies that did it in Mexico (in the thousands that I saw personally) do not mean disrespect and seem to have incredible faith and devotion. It is an error but could be dealt with charitably.
The Eastern Rite Catholics (and Orthodox) (maybe including Bernie Kosar) can make fun of the Roman Catholics for our sign of the Cross as going the wrong way because we imitated like a mirror instead of accurately and don't do the three fingers (theologically and spiritually significant of the Trinity) or the sign below the stomach.--the point being some of the customs were because of our Barbarian ancestors incorrectly imitating the Greeks.

Even for my proud Sicilian and Calabrian friends (who have much Greek Blood)---it was Greek and not Latin as the language of the liturgy (which was Eastern) until the 13th Century and uniformity put in rather than "organic" development of a Mass. Latin and Italian were not the first tongues of Southern Italy and the Island nor were they organically grown.

There is a great deal of rudeness, exclusiveness, arrogance, in some of the so called Traditionalists.

The great Traditional Latin Mass is not an exact imitation of the Last Supper (wine used for example), an actual meal, Jewish-Hebrew rubrics of liturgy of Passover.
The Eastern Liturgy may have earlier roots than the Roman Rite (but my TLM friends swear without any aprobation that the Tridentine Rite is the oldest and most accurate rite)

The Mass should not be an esoteric rite only for the educated and erudite who can enjoy Mozart and Latin language smart enough to read it. The faithful should not have to know all the rubrics and ins and outs of liturgy and internal Church policy.

Grandiose and incorrect claims do not help people become closer to God.
Proponents of the Traditional Mass should be cheerful, humble, and charitable--and this will attract more people to this beautiful and reverent Rite.

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beware of arrogance, superiority, and exclusivism of some who claim to love the beautiful Tridentine rite.


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