Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Misconceptions on the Sacred Liturgy

Last night I had a very good discussion with a friend of mine and former fellow server which started out as a discussion on the relationship between the liturgy of the Synagogue with the liturgy of the Christian church. Of course with that discussion we came up on the issue of orientation pretty quickly. Although my friend was aware of the orientation of the Synagogue facing Jerusalem he wasnt aware of the use or meaning of the orientation of the Christian church facing east as a symbol of the resurrection. All he was aware of was what his mum told him about the priest celebrated "with his back to the people". This was also mentioned in the context of other "bad" practices in Malaysia such as "boys and girls worshipping separately in different parts of the church" (another ancient practice that we have lost in the Latin Church).

We had a good discussion on what might take priority and whether congregations would accept the concept of the the priest facing away from them. Again it is an issue of education and awareness. Some have cited pastoral reasons for having the celebrant face the people and these are valid. However, as Pope Benedict says there is the danger of the liturgy losing its cosmic dimension and becoming a closed circle of mutual admiration. In many parishes this has become complete, and modern liturgical thought now says that the focus is on the people of God, although this is an extreme "horizontalism" that has crept into the liturgy (more about that another time).

The reality is that although in many parishes at this stage would not accept a return to "ad orientem" celebration we can put it into our vocabulary so that people understand why the priest celebrates facing the same direction as the congregation. This would then provide fertile ground for the concept if parishes wanted to adopt it in the future, particularly as the Vatican II fundamentalists die off.

The other issue discussed, was the use of Latin in the liturgy. The key thing is that the latin liturgy takes more preparation than the English liturgy. You cannot just rock up to church in the Latin liturgy and be totally conversant unless your Latin is really good. Personally, when I go to an Extraordinary Form Mass, I take time out to read and reflect upon the readings and propers, before the Mass, so I can get most out of it and give it my "full conscious and active participation". If you are introducing someone to the Extraordinary Form for the first time, this is the best approach to do and you can help pilot them through something that is at first unfamiliar.

One thing is that younger people, having not come across the Extradordinary Form at all, are reasonably open to it. The older generation are more of the attitude "this is going backwards to the days when we had nasty nuns and we had to do this and that and I hated it - so therefore I hate it now". The evangleisation of the older form of Mass practically cannot be done in the 50-70 year old age group because of that particular baggage and cultural conditioning.

On a final note it is appropriate to quote again the brilliant words of Pope Benedict in his press confernce given on the plane on 12 September en route to France:

There is no opposition between the liturgy renewed by Vatican II and this liturgy. Every day, the council Fathers celebrated the Mass following the old rite and at the same time they conceived a natural development for the liturgy throughout this century, since the liturgy is a living reality, which develops and keeps its identity within its development. So there is certainly a difference of emphasis, but a single fundamental identity that excludes any contradiction or antagonism between a renewed liturgy and the preceding liturgy.

I believe there is a possibility for both types to be enriched. On the one hand, the friends of the old liturgy can and should know the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy, etc. But on the other hand, the new liturgy emphasizes the common participation, but it is not just the assembly of a particular community, but rather it is always an act of the universal Church, in communion with all the believers of all time, an act of adoration. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a mutual enrichment, and it is clear that the renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time.

If there is any big problem in the Church today, it is that people close off the option to be mutually enriched, and that goes for followers of either form.

As for Benedict himself, he is enriching the Ordinary Form in three ways:

  1. returning the crucifix to the centre of the Altar (even while generally keeping a versus populum arrangement similar to some of Pius XII's liturgies)
  2. Holy Communion received kneeling and on the tongue
  3. appropriate use of the chants from the Roman Graduale

How many communities do we see locally are following this example?

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