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

Monday, July 09, 2007

On Liturgy and Getting Over It

At a very devoutly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass yesterday (done by the Dominicans here in Berkeley), I reached the conclusion that the only reason I have been so obsessed with liturgy for so long is because I have expected for much of my life to do liturgy for a living. When you are a young man, at least in my case, the traditional Mass seemed cooler, more complicated, and much more involved. Who wants to stand behind a table and act as an MC for a friendly get-together? Perhaps I wanted to be a priest for all the wrong reasons. I (emphasis on "I") wanted to offer a sacrifice to God; I wanted it to be MY job. The Novus Ordo was just not any fun; it was banal and at its worst not very devout.

Now I stand in the congregation well aware that I will never be up at that altar to say Mass. It will never be MY turn. And I have pretty much gotten over it. And with this, my enthusiasm for liturgy is waning more and more.

Liturgy has been property of a select few. Pace Jungmann and Dix, this has probably always been the case. The fact that so many can fret about it now is the result of the same phenomenon that causes all of the ills in society and the Church. It is our modern society that allows us to pass three Catholic churches in the morning (and countless other non-Catholic churches) in order to find the Mass that most fits MY taste. I do this, so I am just as guilty as anyone else. That does not make it right, nor does it make it horribly wrong. But I would argue that it is abnormal. It is a symptom that Faith is no longer part of life, but just another item on the shelf of universal consumerism.

So liturgy, like the air we breath or the water we drink, is hardly a cause for celebration or malaise. It is not the primary manifestation of the Incarnation in the world. I am beginning to think more and more that it is the result of a vibrant Faith and not its source.


At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very refreshing points about the Liturgy. I remember reading something by Thomas Merton about how in a Church with cracked walls and horrible music, the Mass is still the Mass.

At 11:57 PM, Blogger Anagnostis said...

We've been here before, I think ;o)

What you're "getting over" is not the liturgy, but a certain attitude to the liturgy analagous to romantic love, and the promiscuous affection of the hummingbird; a selfcentred fascination with glamorous externals. I got over it myself twenty years ago. Marriage is something quite different. You walk past three streetwalkers to get home to your wife and kids.

At 12:43 AM, Blogger Anagnostis said...

I haven't heard a sung Mass in 10 years, and have spent at least half of that time at Mass wrestling semi-successfully with my small children. The externals are not interesting, and I've no opportunity to notice them much anyway. My "private" love of the liturgy is today focussed on the TEXTS; if I still nurture any liturgical dreams, they would involve the opportunity to sing Compline or Lauds from time to time.

At 3:33 PM, Blogger AG said...

I think people have always chosen the particular parish that suited their taste as long as they were able (i.e. Italian-American immigrants wanting to attend their 'Italian' Catholic Church a mile away even though the 'Irish' Catholic Church was just around the block), but anyway....

What I find interesting about the MP is that it would seem to encourage the laity to petition the priest and then bishop for the Mass of their choice. Very odd. Have no idea how that would work practically, or why/whether that should be seen as desirable.

At 9:26 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.


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