Sunday, February 26, 2012

Traditional Lenten devotions

Fr Z discusses a question he has received: did Vatican II do away with Stations of the Cross? The idea that it did is justified, allegedly, by this passage (para 13) from Sacrosanctam Concilium:

13. Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See.

Devotions proper to individual Churches also have a special dignity if they are undertaken by mandate of the bishops according to customs or books lawfully approved.

But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them. 

It reminds me of a Brother Choleric cartoon, from 'Last Cracks in Legendary Cloisters', 1960. The caption is: There is a tendency among monks: to hold aloof from non-liturgical devotions.’

There was a great debate about non-liturgical devotions in the decades before the Council. The Liturgical Movement sought among other things to make the liturgy the centre of the faithful's spiritual life, and saw that through a lack of liturgical catechesis, and to an extent a problem of availability, the great treasures of the liturgy, where we can take part in the Church's own prayer, had been pushed aside by private and non-liturgical devotions. They weren't talking just about the old chestnut of private devotions at Mass, but private devotions in private, as opposed to popping in to church for Vespers, or saying the Office. Particularly painful for them was the spectacle of people going in great numbers to church, and when they got there getting something cobbled together from hymns, sermons, eucharistic adoration or whatever, but not actually the liturgy of the Church. What, they might ask, is the Church's liturgy actually for?

So Sacrosanctum Concilium is making a guarded concession to this view. Non-liturgical devotions should not push the liturgy aside, but be in harmony with it, lead the people to it, and so on.

I have a lot of sympathy for Liturgical Movement view, since I love the liturgy, and this love of the liturgy, and study of it, is very characteristic of the Traditional Movement. The desire to emphasise the liturgy at the expense of non-liturgical devotions underwent a strange transformation, however, after the Council, and the use of this passage from SC to suggest that Stations of the Cross have been officially banned is an example of this. If any non-liturgical devotions ticks the boxes set out by SC, surely it is Stations in Lent. I get the impression that this idea of the Liturgical Movement, adopted by SC, was used as an excuse by a lot of people with very little love of the liturgy, to get rid of things they didn't like for quite different reasons: Benediction, because they are uncomfortable with the Real Presence; services with sermons, because they don't like old-fashioned preaching; the Rosary, because they are uncomfortable with devotion to Our Lady; and Stations, because they don't like the emphasis on the suffering of Our Lord.

Far from leading to a greater emphasis on the liturgy, the same attitudes, the same rejection of things deemed uncomfortable, were applied to the liturgy itself. And so the collapse of non-liturgical devotions, a mainstay, rightly or not, of many people's spiritual lives, which followed the Council, was paralleled not by an increase in devotion to the Mass and the Office, but a collapse in attendance at those as well. Time, perhaps, to have another look at passages like this, without the distorting spectacles of theological liberalism on one's nose.

And having done that, why not take yourself off to the Stations of the Cross? I've just been told it is happening here in Oxford, in Lent, on Sunday afternoons at 5pm in SS Gregory and Augustine's; you can also catch it at the Oratory at 5.30 on Fridays. A truly wonderful devotion, recommended by the saints and the Popes, totally in accordance witht the spirit of the Lenten liturgy, which will increase your devotion at the great liturgical occasions Lent and Easter provides.

Talking of which, you can observe the Ember Days of Lent this week: a thought to make every liturgical purist's heart beat faster.

Wednesday: 6pm, Low Mass SS Gregory & Augustine
Firday: 6pm Low Mass SS Greogry & Augustine
Saturday: 11.30am, Solemn Mass, St Anthony of Padua, followed by time for lunch and a spiritual conference by Fr Nicholas Edmonds-Smith of the Oratory. A real liturgical feast.


  1. Anonymous4:54 pm

    Your description of "<span>something cobbled together from hymns, sermons, eucharistic adoration or whatever" is actually a good description of what happens at many Novus Ordo masses, especially sung ones and on Sundays.</span>

    <span>Leaving aside all question of the merits of the official texts, almost the most unliturgical thing about it is the hymns. The parish priest and/or the choirmaster flick through some collection of songs, and pick a few that suit them - a couple for the season, maybe one for communion, and one for Our Lady would be nice - and singing these is the main form of participation by the congregation in the mass. Far easier than singing the texts laid down ... this is actually what happens in a number of otherwise conservative churches, even where Latin is used.</span>

  2. Joseph Shaw5:51 pm

    It is true that hymns are a problem. They are a non-liturgical intrusion into the Mass.