Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Traditional Mass and the Christian East, Part 2: Syro-Malabar

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Reading the Epistle from the Altar in Low Mass.
In my last post I discussed the general problem of the Eastern Catholic Churches and liturgical reform. On the one hand, ever since Leo XIII it has been recognised that the failure of Eastern Catholics to preserve their own traditions was an ecumenical disaster, and official efforts have been directed at their preservation and even restoration. On the other hand, the mid 20th century saw an unprecedented attack on the concept of tradition in the liturgy, and on many of the liturgical principles which the Western and Eastern traditions have in common, and this could hardly fail to have its effect on Eastern Catholics. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Although the 1970 Missal, and the seemingly endless permissions for liturgical novelties which preceded and followed this (Communion under Both Kinds, Communion in the Hand, the priest facing the people, Altar Girls, etc.), were officially promulgated, theological arguments against the traditional practices are surprisingly difficult to find in Magisterial texts. It would be strange, after all, for the Magisterium to say that the continuous practice of many centuries was wrong, especially as this practice had been obligatory and defended continually by the Magisterium itself. The Council of Trent even saw fit to issue infallible statements defending a whole lot of them:

Session XXII:
Canon VII. If any one saith, that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs, which the Catholic Church makes use of in the celebration of masses, are incentives to impiety, rather than offices of piety; let him be anathema. ...
Canon IX. If any one saith, that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or, that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only; ... let him be anathema.

Indeed, in many official documents we actually find encouragement of the traditional practice, even while something else is being permitted. This is notably the case with Communion in the Hand, but it is also true of the use of Latin, Chant, and the non-use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and Altar Girls. What the Church has explicitly taught, even non-infallibly, is frequently a very long way short of what liturgists have had to argue in order to justify their novelties and abuses.

This becomes particularly clear when we come to the principles of liturgical reform set out by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. They naturally take their start from the Second Vatican Council, which (with hindsight) seems amazingly conservative:

there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 23)

Added to which is the political imperative of Eastern Catholics being seen by the Orthodox as holding faithfully to their traditions by Vatican II in Orientalium Ecclesiarum:

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A tiny Offertory procession, from credence table to Altar,
by the server. In the Syro-Malabar rite it should be done by deacons,
and never with a big fuss by lay people.
6. All members of the Eastern Rite should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life, and that these may not be altered except to obtain for themselves an organic improvement. All these, then, must be observed by the members of the Eastern rites themselves. Besides, they should attain to an ever greater knowledge and a more exact use of them, and, if in their regard they have fallen short owing to contingencies of times and persons, they should take steps to return to their ancestral traditions.

Now I am going to talk about a really obscure document, it is not even in the Acta Apostolis Sedis, but it has been published, and I can provide a copy online for the first time. It is the official response of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches to a proposal for liturgical reform by the Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, an Oriental Church with its own very ancient Rite which is in communion with Rome. This church is not autocephalous (self-governing, with its own Patriarch), so it comes more directly under the authority of the Congregation than the larger Catholic Oriental Churches, like the Ukranian or Maronite Churches. So, as you will see, the Congregation was involved in a very detailed way in criticising this proposal.

The proposal could be described loosely as a Novus Ordo-isation of the ancient liturgy of Syro-Malabar, whose authentic restoration had been sponsored by Rome, culminating in a new edition of their liturgical books in the 1950s. The proposal was finalised in 1981 and sent for approval to the Congregation, who replied in 1984, their document (which I think was composed in English) having the snappy title:

Instruction “Observations on: ‘The Order of the Holy Mass of the Syro-Malabar Church 1981’ ” (1984)
On the process by which the proposal was put together: the need for consensus.

The results of the voting in the commission show a rigid pattern of two opposed blocks, at least on most essential issues. Hence, the text represents not a consensus, but the victory of one party. This can hardly be a firm basis for changing age-old traditions that are the heritage of all. Furthermore, it is clear that the minority in the commission consisted of those desirous of preserving the integrity of the Eastern tradition, which is in accord with the constantly repeated instructions of the Holy See.


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The normal, most solemn form of Mass: Pontifical Mass
On principles of reform.

In general, there is a “reductionist” tendency to limit and reduce and Westernize as much as possible, with little awareness of the nature of ritual activity as understood from the view-point of cultural anthropology – that is, one sees hardly any awareness of what an extremely delicate thing it is to touch in any way the established ritual patterns of a tradition.

Low Mass as the normative form of Mass?

The text is based on a “low mass” celebrated by one priest, whereas universal, age-old Eastern practice has always been that the approved official text of the liturgy be the solemn form. Other liturgies are lesser services based on the solemn form; the solemn form is not a sung version of the low mass. 

'The theme of today's Mass...' (see the Position Paper on the Lectionary)

The “intention” or “theme” is not announced at the beginning (“General Instructions” no. 4). This contemporary Western fad has no basis either in Indian culture nor in a proper understanding of the liturgy in any tradition. All liturgy has but one theme, Jesus Christ dead and risen for our salvation; and the intentions of every Eucharist, including the particular intentions of the local community, are expressed in the liturgical texts themselves at the proper time. The proper time is not the beginning of the service, when our thoughts should first turn to the glorification of God (hence the opening “Glory to God …”) and not to our own needs. Indeed, this proposal is an example of the inadequate liturgical understanding manifested by the proposed text: it proposes to suppress the diptychs, one of the most ancient and traditional Eastern expressions of such intentions, and to add a recent Western innovation at a place in the liturgy where it certainly does not belong.

Ex tempore prayers.

Spontaneous prayers are not to be admitted. This Western experiment has opened the door to mediocrity and banality. Very few people have the talent for spontaneous public prayer, and one person’s “spontaneous” prayers always sound the same. Furthermore, in public, ritual worship (as distinct from private prayer) there is little room for spontaneity of composition and from. Indeed, such “spontaneity” is actually not that of the people of God, but of individual celebrants, who often impose their particular ideas and piety on a captive audience. Spontaneity in liturgy is found in the movements of hearts as they respond to grace, not in the liberty of individual priests to impose their personal piety on the common prayer of all.

Silent prayers by the priest (see the Position Paper on Silence in the Liturgy)

Let the rubric specify that the prayer be said quietly. It is sometimes said that all liturgical prayers should be said aloud so that everyone can hear them. This is a false principle both historically and liturgically. Some prayers are specifically designed to be said during singing or processions or other activities of the people, or are apologies pro clero. Just as the clergy do not have to sing everything the people chant, so too the people do not have to hear all the prayers. Indeed, to recite all prayers aloud interrupts the proper flow of the liturgical structure.

Use of a lectern?

The place of honor for this book [the lectionary] is the altar, and nowhere else, in the Christian East. Let this be specified in the rubrics.

'Let us pause for silent prayer'?

Silent periods of reflection cannot be allowed to interrupt the liturgy: they have no place in Eastern usage.

Spontaneous bidding prayers?

If other, particular intentions are added to suit special necessities, these are to be submitted to the priest before the liturgy and are to be formulated in conformity with the pattern of the karozutha petitions. Spontaneous petitions from the congregation are to be avoided. (Privately composed litanies, generally unsatisfactory in both theology and expression, are one of the least successful aspects of the Western reform. There is no need to imitate the failures of others.)


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Elaborate Offertory procession to show the people's involvement?

Apropos of “General instructions” n˚ 15 (“It is good if the bread and wine are brought to the altar in procession”:) no Eastern tradition has ever known an “offertory procession” of the faithful. If that is what is meant here, this is a latinization as well as an anachronism. (Even Western liturgists have come to see that the excessive solemnization of the preparation and transfer of gifts was based, in part, on a pseudo-theology according to which the “offertory” is the laity’s liturgy, and the “eucharistic offering” is the priest’s. As everyone knows today, the whole Church offers the total service, each according to his or her place and order.)

These principles, expressed in an usually robust way by a somewhat exasperated Congregation, are applicable to the West as well as to the East, as the Congregation often makes clear. This is as clear a statement as one could wish that on a whole series of issues the theories of trendy liturgists are completely outside the teaching of the Church, even if the results are permitted in our churches.

In the next post I will examine another document of the same Congregation, Il Padre, incomprensibile, issued in 1996.

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