|What is this priest doing? Just adding incense to the thurible.|
In my last post I introduced the idea that the Novus Ordo and the Vetus Ordo have, corresponding to them, distinct understandings of liturgical participation. I think a little argument, in this and the next post, can make what I mean both clear and incontrovertible. This has dizzying implications for the future liturgical development in the Church, but we'll come back to that.
During the course of the Liturgical Movement, liturgical enthusiasts became very excited about the wonderful riches of the Catholic liturgy, and about conveying these to the Faithful in all their glory. They were liturgical historians, so they were looking at the texts. So they wrote lots of very good books about the Mass and commentaries the liturgical year. These were very successful, but naturally they were read only by a small minority of Catholics.
As time went on, members of this movement began to wonder about how to get more of the riches of the texts across to the Faithful. You can only do so much by writing books. You need to do things in the liturgy itself. They tried a whole series of things. There was a great revival of chant going on, so they encouraged people to sing the newly-edited ordinary chants (Kyrie, Sanctus, Gloria etc.). They tried to get people to look at the text of the Mass while Mass was going on, with hand-missals: after all, everyone could read by now. They tried to get people to make the responses which the servers make, in Low Mass.
These aren't necessarily bad ideas. But they are all going in the same direction. Because the liturgists of this era - the early and mid 20th Century - were focused on the texts, they wanted the Faithful to focus on the texts too. They began to think that if the Faithful don't follow and understand the Mass at the level of the texts, they aren't really participating. This idea began to find its way into official documents: Pius X talked about 'active participation' in the context of getting people to sing, for example. Later, an instruction spoke of saying the words of the server in Low Mass was the 'more perfect' way of participating. And among the liturgists, you start hearing a polemic being developed against the way that ordinary Catholics attended Mass, if they haven't been drilled enough. They are called 'dumb spectators'. It wasn't long before they realised that this charming description applied, if to anyone, then to almost every lay Catholic from at least the 8th century up to 1930, and to the vast majority from 1930 to 1964. That liturgical period, in which the Mass as we experience it was, in many ways, developed, was just a dead zone. It was spiritually worthless.
Some liturgists made a final effort to get the wonderful texts of the ancient liturgical tradition across to the Faithful. They experimented with having Mass facing the people, so everyone could see what was going on. Then they realised that, if you want people to understand the texts, you really are a lot better off having the texts read aloud, and in the vernacular. It stands to reason! But things were moving on. Even aloud, and in English, the texts were too long, too complicated. In fact, putting them into the vernacular simply served to emphasise that these texts were unsuitable for repetitive use in the congregation's mother tongue. Furthermore, the order in which things happened was confusing and (apparently) illogical. And then there were other theological fashions which disliked the emphasis on sin, penance, and the saints. It all had to go.
What we got instead was a Missal which the Faithful could follow word by word, without the need (after a while) of hand-missals. The prayers were simple, the ceremonies short and cut down to the bone, and (apparently) logical. It was in the vernacular. It faced the people. The translation used words of one syllable wherever possible. It all fitted together.
I have on a previous occasion quoted the Catholic sociologist Anthony Archer as saying something which is is really shattering to this whole development.
But it was an unkind fate that allowed the new mass to come to completion just when – elsewhere – the importance of non-verbal communication was being rediscovered.
This was what was missing from the Liturgical Movement. An appreciation of non-verbal communication is not incompatible with the writings of the earlier exponents, such as Guéranger, despite his emphasis on 'understanding'. But as the movement develops, and turns into the movement to create the Novus Ordo, a blindness to non-verbal communication (and a parallel lack of interest in gestures and visual ceremonies) becomes increasingly evident and increasingly problematic.
But what was going on between the years 700 and 1930? How was it all those saints were formed by the liturgy? Contrary to the patronising assumptions of scholars like Josef Jungmann, they were participating, they were understanding, despite not hearing the words of the Canon, despite not understanding the Latin even when they did hear it. They understood it at a profound, contemplative level. This kind of engagement with the liturgy was, in fact, particularly intense, because it is not just intellectual. Don't believe me: believe the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was composed when non-verbal communication was beginning to creep back into theology.
2711: ‘Entering into contemplative prayer is like entering into the Eucharistic liturgy: we “gather up” the heart, recollect our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, abide in the dwelling place of the Lord which we are, awaken our faith in order to enter into the presence of him who awaits us.’
2716: ‘Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a servant, and the loving commitment of a child. It participates in the “Yes” of the Son become servant and the Fiat of God's lowly handmaid.’
2718: ‘Contemplative prayer is a union with the prayer of Christ insofar as it makes us participate in his mystery, the mystery of Christ is celebrated by the Church in the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit makes it come alive in contemplative prayer so that our charity will manifest it in our acts.’
Isn't this amazing? Non-verbal prayer is actually being proposed as the model for liturgical participation.
However, it is not a very good model for participation in the Novus Ordo. To be brutal, contemplative engagement is not allowed. There is too much jumping up and down, shaking hands, and making responses. The priest is trying to catch your eye. The texts are trying to get your attention. People are being spontaneous. The readings are unfamiliar and often obscure. You don't know what is going to happen next, because of all the options. These are all tricks which were included in the liturgy quite deliberately to aid the word-by-word engagement which is the kind of participation the creators wanted.
There are problems with this, at least according to the Reform of the Reform crowd. Something is missing from the Mass, the sacrality has gone. So they want to put some sacrality back. They see the things which seem most associated with it in the Traditional Mass, and they want to put them back. So they propose, and actually practice, the use of Latin, celebration ad orientem, Gregorian Chant and so on. These are all good things. But when the reformers said that they had to be sacrificed for the sake of comprehensibility, they weren't entirely wrong. Thinking about word-by-word understanding, verbal communication, it is perfectly true that, unless you are a superhuman Latinist, it is harder to follow the Canon in Latin than it is in English. Unless you are lip-reader, it is harder still if it is silent. Unless you have X-Ray eyes, it is harder still if the priest has his back to you.
Pope Paul VI famously said, using a phrase of Jungmann's, that Latin was a 'curtain' which obscured the liturgy, it had to be drawn back. Yes: if you have a very narrow understanding of participation. But that is the understanding of participation upon which the entire reform was based.
So here is my suggestion. If you take the texts and rubrics of the Ordinary Form, and add to them all the bells and whistles you can from the liturgical tradition, you will, obviously, not wholly succeed in creating the atmosphere and liturgical drama which draws us in to the ancient Mass, and allows us a profound form of participation of heart and soul. What you will certainly do, however, is draw a curtain over the texts from the point of view of verbal participation. You will very easily succeed in making the texts incomprehensible - you do that just by putting them into Latin.
So the problem is this: you can end up falling between two stools. The Novus Ordo has a completely different approach to the Traditional Mass in its form of participation. Just as attempts to get people to engage with pre-1970 Missals on a word-by-word basis were unsatisfactory, so attempts to get people to have a contemplative engagement with the 1970 Missal is never going to be wholly successful. You can't jump in and out of a deep contemplation.
|'Dominus vobiscum', after kissing the Altar: an eloquent liturgical gesture.|