- RSS Channel Showcase 2347919
- RSS Channel Showcase 8684316
- RSS Channel Showcase 2185857
- RSS Channel Showcase 2363005
Articles on this Page
- 10/12/17--05:05: _Benedictine Monasti...
- 10/12/17--11:04: _EF Pontifical Mass ...
- 10/12/17--14:31: _Historical Images o...
- 10/13/17--07:22: _1967: Reaching the ...
- 10/13/17--22:48: _Liturgical Splendor...
- 10/15/17--12:52: _The Feast of the Ho...
- 10/16/17--05:00: _Homogeneity vs. Hie...
- 10/16/17--12:54: _Fatima Centenary Ce...
- 10/17/17--07:36: _The Psalms - Unlock...
- 10/18/17--01:57: _Liturgical Splendor...
- 10/12/17--11:04: EF Pontifical Mass with Bishop Serratelli on Saturday
- 10/12/17--14:31: Historical Images of the English Benedictine Abbeys
- 10/13/17--07:22: 1967: Reaching the Bottom of the Slippery Slope
- 10/15/17--12:52: The Feast of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council
- 10/16/17--05:00: Homogeneity vs. Hierarchy: On the Treatment of Verbal Moments
- 10/16/17--12:54: Fatima Centenary Celebrations at St John Cantius
It has one of the best opening lines I have seen in a while: “This is a low quality video about a high quality idea.” And it is indeed a high quality idea! I suggest that this is worth watching even if you are sure you’re not going to the November event and will never get to Petersham. It is a wonderfully clear explanation of what a religious vocation is and why it is worth pursuing.
|The abbot of Prinknash celebrating the Solemnity of St Joseph.|
Less reverence is the order of the day; “the altar is kissed only once”, and signs of the cross and genuflections are rapidly disappearing, most shockingly, the genuflection immediately after the Words of Consecration. As William Riccio wrote earlier this year, the faithful who were made nervous by the seemingly endless barrage of changes to that which was always held to be unchangeable “... were told that the Canon, that most untranslatable prayer, would never be in the vernacular because it is too steeped in meaning. In 1967, it was put in the vernacular.” The pretense that even the barest letter of Sacrosanctum Concilium will be respected, (“let the use of the Latin language be preserved... Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy ... should be given pride of place in liturgical services”) is now almost entirely thrown off.
We may also note that commemorations, a feature against which the reformers had a particular and wholly inexplicable animus, are now basically gone, with almost no exceptions. At the very end, there is a footnote concerning the Divine Office; in the fairly few offices of three nocturnes left at that point, one may choose to say only one. The parts of Matins specific to choir ritual (the blessings before the readings and “Tu autem, Domine...”) may now be omitted, along with the prayer called the Absolution, which is a specifically Roman feature. This presages their complete disappearance from the Liturgy of the Hours. The Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours was not published until 1981, by which time many people were beginning to realize what a mistake some of these changes really were; it retained the blessings before the readings.
Thanks to Mr Richard Hawker for sharing these scans with us.
Once again, we are very grateful to Mr Zachary Thomas for another fine essay on liturgical theology.
God’s image in man is not, however, something immediately apparent, nor, when he finds it, is it always clean. St Athanasius compares human nature before Christ to an icon disfigured and covered in dirt, which needs to be wiped off and restored before it can be read. What’s more, the vast arc of history, in which man fits, looms obscure and threatening until Christ the cornerstone is revealed. As David Fagerberg wrote:
“We cannot understand history’s plot because its end and its beginning are beyond the range of our natural eye, which has put some people in a quandary. They do not know if existence is beautiful or not, or if it is true or not, and, sadly, some even wonder whether life is good or not, because they are only seeing a piece of it—their piece, this particular moment. But there is a height from which to see the whole, the plot line of history from start to finish.” (“Doing the World Liturgically: Stewardship of Creation and Care for the Poor,” in Authentic Liturgical Renewal in Contemporary Perspective, Bloomsbury 2017, p. 73)
But since Christ’s bodily presence has left us, where is this image? In this life, Christ’s glory, and the glory of his adopted sons, lies hidden under the veil of suffering, “subject to futility” as St Paul says. Too often we live not Tabor but Golgotha, under the brooding silence of God. Where, then, do we find the substance of things hoped for? How can we live without this image before our eyes, or arrive at our destination without a clear vision? The answer par excellence is in the holy liturgy.
Christ is on High, in the Holy of Holies, and as travelers we must follow him. We must be drawn out after Him, reformed, given the form of charity in Christ. What we are to look like, the aspect, shape, smell, taste of that land we are going to, is what the liturgy has always made it its business to show us.
In our in-between state, the image of God is not a possession, it is a projection. It is the ideal form of Christ toward which we progress in grace, into whose body we are daily insensibly knitted. Heaven is there and we are here, covered in our sins and weighed down in our condition as creatures. We suffer as beasts, but are meant to be above the angels. This beings an inherent tension, almost a contradiction in the Christian life, which must be spanned and consistently renewed in the liturgy. As Fr. Pavel Florensky put it:
“Man is the living unity of the infinite and the finite, of the eternal and the transient, of the perishing and the imperishable, the ineluctable and the casual, the fulcrum of the ideal world and the real world [....] And he can only create what is similar to himself, which is to say precisely these contradictions of earthly and heavenly of which he is composed.” (My translation from the Italian edition, La Filosofia del Culto, Edizioni San Paolo 2016, pp. 129–130.)
Sacred worship recapitulates this fundamental tension of man’s journey in dramatic fashion, enacting this metaphysical truth in signs and symbols. Liturgy is the ideal image of our journey. Indeed, what we see on the altar is not human nature nor this cosmos as we know them, but rather these unveiled, as in the apocalypse (unveiling) of what we are to be. Even for the redeemed, we know not what we will be like, “for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Liturgy is precisely the “glory about to be revealed to us.”
Our forefathers saw liturgy this way. The ancient apse mosaics of the Christian basilicas quite forcibly confront the worshipper with a glorified environment. They usually show images of paradise. The bishop and the priests ring around him in the apse are reconfigured by the sacred space to be identified with Christ and his saints in heaven. The altar was the tree of paradise from which we eat and live forever, the fount of living water.
|The apsidal mosaic of Sant’Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna|
|The Palatine Chapel at Aachen (image from Wikimedia Commons by Velvet)|
We often say liturgy is man worshipping God—and for one separated from a cultic worldview, unable to conceive of human participation in divine action, it is all he can say. But nothing could be further from the truth. Liturgy is when what is divine in us (Christ—the priest acting in persona Christi, in persona ecclesiae) communicates with the Divine Persons, and repeats the whole swirling cosmic drama of exitus-reditus before our eyes. It is an awesome, divine, life-giving spectacle that lifts us out of this earth to contemplate the entire universe sub specie aeternitatis, sub specie Christi, with the obscuring veils of this age lifted to reveal the true nature of the sons of God: a true revelation.
In liturgy we see ourselves acting as cosmic priests, the hands of the priest do truly divine acts, we are fed celestial food so that this power of doing divine acts extends to our whole body and our whole lives. But such an extension is impossible to conceive without the prior experience of liturgy! And because this role is so far beyond anything we were born for, so far beyond what we could ever dream of, it is super-eminently beautiful. Liturgy is like a refracting prism for human nature. As when white light enters a prism and breaks it into the full visible spectrum, a person entering the liturgy is astounded to encounter the depths of his soul displayed in the sacred actions—all his dearest wishes, sorrows, tears, guilt, joy, hopes, dreams, are realized here. The person blinks to discover concretely realized in the sacred actors and actions, the spiritual power and radiance of transfigured, spiritualized human nature. All his subjective straining toward his divine selfhood is raised up and established in the concrete ideal by the action of the Church, who is Absolute Humanity. “The liturgy is the activity that expresses the deepest essence of man, man in the depths of his being. It is the activity supremely proper to man, who is a homo liturgicus.” (130)
Liturgy is therefore the only place where man can come to full consciousness of himself, where all his scattered thoughts and emotions find their deepest unitary source, a concrete manifestation of his “I.” He can point to the liturgical year—or rather, his lived experience of the liturgical year—and say “this is my nature, to the depths. That is where I am going. That Thing is what I am meant to do forever and ever.” Nowhere else is this possible.
Liturgical action is a fully theandric act where the human and divine natures are mixed wondrously, like the water and the wine at the Offertory: “God, who did wondrous establish the dignity of man’s substance, and more wonderfully reform it, grant us through the mystery of this water and wine to become sharers in His, who deign to take part in our humanity, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord...”
This wonderful joint action of God and man that writes large the countenance of Christ upon the sacred stage, requires the burning away of all impurities. Here every word is eminently pure and spoken only in loving song: “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried by the fire, purged from the earth refined seven times.” (Ps. 11) Every action is perfectly proportioned and circumspect, every syllable is a pure distilled ideal emotion from the beloved heart of Christ, speaking through the mouth of his Church. In the divine liturgy, man sheds his worm-like mortal coil for a few moments to fly with the angels.
Man brings here the choicest materials, whole mines of gold and silver, the collected creativity of whole generations of artists. This overwhelming weight of glory lavished upon the rituals and ritual buildings of the Church is an argument in its own right, apart from any theological considerations, that Christians have always viewed the liturgy as the doorway to heaven, a privileged place of encounter, a small garden of Earthly Paradise on the cusp of heaven.
It can be no other way, if we really know what we are doing. Brought into contact with Christ’s self-immolation in the liturgy, the imago Dei in us glows like heated iron and its divine-human light illuminates the sacred stage upon which the Church enacts the divine sacrifice. That is why the greatest art works the world has ever seen have been the sacred arts of the liturgy.
The rejection of the sacred images, particularly those of Christ, is ultimately a denial of the Incarnation. The very choice of location for the council expressed this idea; at the time it was called, the two previous ecumenical councils and the important synod ‘in Trullo’ had all been held in Constantinople. The Empress Irene, who as regent of her young son Constantine VI, arranged for a council to condemn iconoclasm, had tried to hold it in the imperial capital, but it was broken up by soldiers friendly to the iconoclast heresy. It was therefore moved to Nicaea, where the first ecumenical council had gathered 462 years earlier to condemn the Arian heresy that denied the true divinity of Christ. (To put this in chronological perspective, this is a greater distance in time than that between Trent and Vatican II.)
The refusal to depict Christ is a rejection of the fullness of His humanity, which is real, solid, and “circumscribed”, i.e., subject to limitations, and therefore capable of being expressed in an image. His humanity is the means of our redemption and salvation, as we confess in the Creed every Sunday, “For us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven etc.” In the eighth and final session, the Council therefore also anathematized all who do not confess that “Christ our God is circumscribed according to His humanity.” The Greek word used here, “perigrapton – circumscribed”, is related to the verb “graphein – to write”, the term which is often used in Greek to refer to the painting of icons. None of this is accidental.
It would be easy, but unjust, to see in this omission nothing more than an unwillingness to offend the offices of the Emperor and Patriarch. The greater truth taught by the Council, and by the Byzantine liturgy, is that the refusal of sacred images is a refusal of the Incarnation. To this point, therefore, the earlier Christological heretics are named repeatedly in the liturgy of the day, as in these texts from Vespers (bold texts are my emphases).
As true shepherds you bravely drove away those who are like Macedonius, Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Apollinaris, Sabellius and Severus (of Antioch), exposed as dangerous wolves in sheepskins, far from the Savior’s flock, stripped of their fleeces, making them thrice-wretched; therefore we call you blessed.The following text, sung between the first and second parts of the Doxology at the Aposticha, is particularly noteworthy. One might easily assume it was a part of the commemoration of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council on the Sunday after the Ascension, rather than that of today, again underlining the intrinsic connection between iconoclasm and Arianism, and between veneration of the images and the Incarnation. (A friend of mine who is a great scholar of the Byzantine liturgy tells me that this hymn may very well have been for the commemoration of the Fathers of First Nicaea, and later added to this feast.)
Let us praise today the mystical trumpets of the Spirit, the God-bearing Fathers, who sang a harmonious melody of theology in the midst of the Church, to the one Trinity, unchanging Essence and Godhead; the overthrowers of Arius, the champions of the Orthodox, who intercede with the Lord that He may have mercy on our souls.
Holy Fathers, you have become sure guardians of the Apostolic traditions; for by teaching the orthodox doctrine of the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity, you overthrew in council the blasphemy of Arius. With him you refuted Macedonius, the opponent of the Spirit, and condemned Nestorius, Eutyches and Dioscorus, Sabellius and Severus the Leaderless. We implore you: beg that we who have been delivered from their error may preserve our life spotless in the faith.
Let us with faith celebrate today the yearly commemoration of the God-bearing Fathers, who were assembled from the whole world in the radiant city of Nicaea, as we reverence the gatherings of the orthodox; for they, their minds attuned to true religion, overthrew the godless teaching of Arius, and in council banished him from the Catholic Church; and in the symbol of faith, which they precisely and devoutly laid down, they taught all to confess clearly the Son of God as consubstantial and co-eternal, and existing before the ages. And so we too, following their divine teachings and firm in our belief, worship the Son and the all-holy Spirit with the Father, in one Godhead, a consubstantial Trinity.
A 19th-century Russian icon of the Fathers of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils. The Byzantine liturgy contains several such commemorations: of the fathers at First Nicaea, at Ephesus, at Second Nicaea, at the Seven Councils collectively.
|St. Theodora, Empress of Byzantium, in a 19th-century Greek icon.|
The final eight anathemas are dedicated to the iconoclasts, (and the iconoclast patriarchs are named explicitly.) The first one says,
On those who accept with their reason the incarnate economy of God the Word, but will not allow that this can be beheld through images, and therefore affect to receive our salvation in words, but deny it in reality: Anathema!And the second:
On those who wickedly make play with the word ‘uncircumscribed’ and therefore refuse to depict in images Christ, our true God, who likewise shared our flesh and blood, and therefore show themselves to be fantasiasts: Anathema!
|Chanting the Epistle|
Think about a Sunday Mass in the Ordinary Form: the first reading, the psalm, the second reading, the Gospel, the homily, and the prayer of the faithful are usually all recited, all at the same place (the ambo), always versus populum in just the same way. The Eucharistic Prayer, high point of the liturgy, is also recited from the nearby altar, versus populum, in the same voice as the Gospel is read. A huge swath of the liturgy is being performed in exactly the same manner: read aloud, in the vernacular; read towards the people; read from more or less the same place; read in the same auditorium voice. It has the effect of evening everything to the same level. There is no ascent; there is only succession. It is reminiscent of Newton’s notion of time as equably flowing at the same pace. One moment of time is the same as any other. The liturgy becomes a homogenous block of undifferentiated verbiage. It is almost a demonstration of how much greater time can be than space — as in waiting in a doctor’s or a dentist’s office.
How different, I reflected, is the traditional Roman liturgy, in the way it has developed over the centuries! Acknowledging the ceremonial differences between Low Mass, High Mass, Solemn High Mass, and Pontifical Mass, there is a commonality of approach whereby one can see the “genetic derivation” of the later simpler forms from the earlier and more elaborate forms.
|Chanting the Gospel at a Missa cantata|
|Chanting the Gospel at a Missa solemnis|
What we see here in the original Roman rite is the tracing out of a sacred geography, whereby the “verbal moments” in the Mass are hierarchically and symbolically ordered. The Epistle at the south, the Gospel towards the north, the homily towards the people, and the Canon towards the Lord demonstrate in a bodily way, with the vividness of the immediately sensible, the differentiation and articulation of liturgical acts. The multiple qualities of each “verbal moment,” whether proclaimed aloud or whispered sotto voce, gives to each its own profile, a dignity that corresponds to its function:
incense, candles, bells
The Epistle can be fully and simply the Epistle, and retains its dignity as the sacrament of the Word by not being announced to the people as if it were merely instructional. The homily, as instructional, is rightly directed to the people. Last and best of all, “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), comes the Canon of the Mass, “the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God” (Eph 3:9), which is uttered in silence, as the Word was made flesh in silence (Dum medium silentium), with nothing of the priest’s individual face or voice edging into the perfect embodiment of the suffering and glorified Christ. There is an arc of spiritual progression from one moment of the liturgy to the next. We are caught up in pilgrimage. We sense ourselves to be nearing a destination, one stage of a journey after another, towards the Promised Land. Rather than one thing after another, as in a modern agenda, each step is qualitatively different — a fact impressed on us unmistakably by the use of space, posture, orientation, chant tone, and voice level.
|Preaching the homily|
As mentioned above, hierarchical differentiation, sacred geography, and progressive motion are carried to their fullest extent in the distinctive roles and places allotted to priest, deacon, and subdeacon in the Missa solemnis or Solemn High Mass. The subdeacon’s chanting of the Epistle; the deacon’s chanting of the Gospel, using a book held by the subdeacon, flanked by acolytes bearing torches and incense; the priest’s preaching aloud and then praying in silence at the Canon, not to mention the priest’s blessing of the deacon and the latter’s return to the priest after chanting the Gospel — all of these articulations of liturgical action show a profound awareness of the language of the body and the bodiliness of language, so that we never have the feeling of being trapped in tedious talk, but are borne from one station to the next, as if we were following the Lord through the desert to the Jordan, from the Jordan to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to the heavenly sanctuary. He moves in us and among us; His ministers move; we move with Him and with them.
As is so often the case, I feel inadequate to express what I have experienced, but I take consolation in knowing that those who assist at the traditional Mass will grasp that of which I speak — and in hoping that those who have not yet had the happiness of assisting at it may be moved to seek it out, so that they, too, may join the same pilgrimage. “And it came to pass, when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).
|Silently offering the Divine Victim|
 I say “as it has developed,” because the locations from which certain parts of the liturgy are conducted have changed over the centuries, as the architectural layout of the church and especially its sanctuary and ambo underwent various modifications. Nevertheless, every age of the Church shows us a keen awareness of the spatiality of liturgical actions, and the fittingness of assigning different moments to different places in the building, different ministers, and distinctive stances and tones.
 I say this deliberately because, as in the history of human languages, so in the history of liturgy, the idea of evolution from simpler to more complex is only partially true. We can find many examples where ancient forms are more complex or elaborate than later forms. Just as classical Greek is more complex than classical Latin, Latin than Italian, and 19th-century Italian than 21st-century Italian, so too is the pontifical liturgy of the Middle Ages more complex than the Missa solemnis, the Missa cantata, and the Missa recitata.
I was not always so firm in the conviction that literature isn’t for me. When I left university, I did wonder if I had missed out and decided that I would start to read some literary greats. So, for several years afterward, going to and from work on the Tube, I often pulled out a Penguin Classic and buried my nose in it (and hoped people would notice, of course). I found that if I persevered I might enjoy it to a degree, but in the end, I decided, it wasn’t worth my effort.
The purpose of reading novels and poetry, it seemed to me, was primarily entertainment. Certainly, there were lessons about life, the universe and everything that could be drawn from great literature, but given that there were other ways to learn those lessons, why bother puzzling over a poem that seemed to me to be written to mystify rather than reveal the truth? I found it far more stimulating to read about the important things in life directly in Scripture, or theology or philosophy books, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, than to wink them out from some impenetrable text.
But please, don’t invite me to a poetry recital.
I should say, at this point that I am aware that not everyone is like me, nor should they be. Many people love literature and derive great pleasure from reading it, and provided that the reading contributes in some way to the highest end, the worship of God in the liturgy - as all human activity should - then I say, follow your passion!
There is one exception to my literary philistinism, and appropriately, that is the poetic form that is associated with the man who defeated the Philistines in battle, David. I love the Book of Psalms and the canticles from Scripture that are sung in the Divine Office. For me, they are a well of wisdom and inspiration that can never run dry and which flows from the pages like honey.
A couple of things have struck me particularly so far. First is that the fact there is no existing pure and unadulterated original text from which all translations derive. The oldest texts we have are themselves three, four or who knows how many more steps removed from the original composition, given to us by the work of scribes or translators. And do we know that the “original” was even written? Perhaps it was first preserved through an oral tradition. This lack of a first text should not be a cause of worry; God can inspire scribes and translators too. He does not reveal anything new by this, but rather, guides them so that their work of inscription and translation can be done well.
Second is that the poetic structure of the Psalms is much more related to a thematic pattern than it is to a pattern of the language itself. The Psalms don’t rhyme, for example; they use devices such as synonymous parallelism in which the thought of the first line is repeated in different words in the next line or lines.
Lord, how they are increased that trouble me; many are they that rise up against me. (Ps. 3, 1)
There are a number of other such thematic devices, by which themes are contrasted, reinforced and developed. The great value of this approach is that unlike rhyme, it is relatively easy to bring across into a translation, in a way that allows the translator to express the truth elegantly and beautifully without having to compromise the sense of it.
In the light of this, it occurred to me that there may be lessons for the modern poet who wants to do what a poet ought to do, create noble and accessible work might connect with the millions of literary philistines in the modern world, such as me. (Of course, what he wants to say must also be of interest; it doesn’t matter how noble and accessible the style, of the content is dreary!) So, other things being equal, here is what our modern poet might do:
First, he should use thematic patterns as Scripture does. Not only will this prime people to receive the Word through the Psalms, but also, it will probably be more popular. Just as scripture is inspired by God, so man is made by God to respond to it and to be sensitive to its structure. If the Psalms can appeal even to a philistine like me, then perhaps, so could your poetry could too if you use a similar device!
Second, it will be easily translated, and so potentially reach a much wider market and transcend its own time. Such your writing will speak of God in the four corners of the world; it will declare the works of the Lord amongst all peoples! People of all nations will understand it; and if you declare the truth, generations through all time will delight in its form.
And you might save people like me from cultural destitution by showing them that there is something higher...
We continue with the second part of this essay by Mr Zachary Thomas; to read the first part, click here.
In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis lamented that modern Christians often lose the hope of salvation because, mired in the ugliness of modern life, and fed a dry moralizing or dogmatizing sort of religious piety, they can conceive no vision of the grandeur and glory of the Christian vocation. It is precisely the liturgy that the Church has always offered as the sturdy support of these virtues, a gargantuan “substance of things hoped for.” After attending evening services at a Catholic chapel in Philadelphia (rosary, Vespers and Benediction) the strict Puritan John Adams wrote, “I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell?” The liturgy is indeed the Church’s spell, which charms the soul irresistibly toward that end to which she calls it. Faced by the claims of the Church’s cultic life, the only two honest responses are a wholesale cynical rejection or wholesale embrace of its full implications.
“With an artist’s eye, Michelangelo already saw within the block of stone he had before him the masterpiece secretly waiting to come to light and be freed. According to him, the task of the artist was only to remove that which still covered the image. Michelangelo understood that the true artistic act was to bring something to light and freedom, not to produce something. The same idea, applied to the human realm, is already found in St Bonaventure, who, basing himself upon the metaphor of the sculptor, explains the way by which man becomes authentically himself. The sculptor does not do anything, says the great Franciscan theologian. His work is rather an ablatio: it consists in eliminating and removing what is inauthentic. Thus, through an ablatio emerges the nobilis forma, the precious form. Likewise man, in order that the image of God may shine in him, must above all and first of all receive that purification by which the sculptor—i.e. God—frees him from all the dross that obscures the true appearance of his being and makes him seem like a crude block of stone, while in reality the divine form dwells within him.” Cited in “Pourquoi la liturgie de l’eglise ennuie-t-elle tant de fidèles?” by Denis Crouan, trans. Gerhard Egar.)
The third question of the Baltimore catechism (Why did God make us?) can rightly be answered in a declarative sentence. But the immeasurably stronger affirmation is found in the splendor of the liturgy. “God made us to show forth his goodness and to share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.” Each of these terms only achieves its full meaning in liturgical action: in orthodoxy (right worship) the lovable face of God shines forth. Here most particularly we see his goodness, his loving kindness, and get a taste of the everlasting happiness he holds out to us. Liturgy is truly heaven on earth.
What does orthodoxy require, then? What can make the splendor of the divine image shine forth in man for all the world to see? Only the advent of God taking up—“overshadowing”—our actions, as Christ took up his carpenter’s hammer. As a strict matter of validity, this is possible through any of his ordained ministers using the minimum of matter and form.
But this is only half the theological truth. A sacrament looks like what it does. Grace descends fully only with nature’s assent. The covenant requires faithfulness also from God’s people. Therefore, in her public worship, the Church must offer herself as a fitting and unblemished sacrifice, as the womb of Mary, as a fitting vessel in which the Holy Sacrament can come forth.
It is necessary that, in the public rite of the Catholic Church, the juridically instituted public expression of the Church’s whole life, history, and being, there be exemplary standards of liturgical splendor that properly show forth the imago Dei and display the cosmic history of redemption with glory and clarity. For the full public worship performed by the Mystical Body of Christ, head and members, is nothing else than the celebration of the marriage between God and the whole sanctified cosmos, including the Church triumphant and suffering. It must look like what it does.
If we take this dogmatic and historical fact seriously, it has several implications. First of all, it means the acceptance of all reality, which has all been redeemed. The full reality of the Eucharist demands that we consent fully to the mediation of body and matter, not try to escape from it.
Thus, liturgical splendor requires excellence of craft, in every sense. God the sculptor uses the hands of human artists: singers, painters, brick-layers, and their donors. It requires excellent and well-paid musicians. Most of all, it requires abundant monastic houses and cathedral canons to set the gold standard in a diocese.
This is all as much to say that God asks for the full benefits of human culture to help elaborate the fullness of the Mystery he continues to reveal in His Church. This implies complete dependence upon one’s artistic inheritance. It is hubris to think that one age alone can surpass the careful accumulation of centuries.
|Image from Wikimedia Commons by Beckstet, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)|
We cannot adopt art forms that deny the nobility of man’s nature, or the glory of his gratuitous redemption. This is not to say that modern forms are per se forbidden, as an abundance of contemporary artists working in modern idioms can testify. But it does forbid art that does not exalt the liturgical mystery in its full splendor. Art that obscures or distorts the beauty of natural form is a form of Gnosticism that denies the salvation of the flesh. Intentionally minimalist church art has the effect of denying the beauty and joy of salvation.
All of this aesthetic endeavor and ceremony must be deeply tied to silence and prayer as its source. Contemplation is the workshop in which God molds each soul, and from which he brings out these gifts to adorn his Church.
Too often, Catholic liturgies have gotten rid of everything that could remind man he is a cosmic priest, made in the image of God. Not a glimmer of the glory of God’s adopted sons shines through the morass of our dreary “worship spaces.” This is largely because the last century’s reformers simply got theological anthropology dead wrong, misunderstanding entirely the nature of cult as man’s cooperation in the doing of divine things. Men do not want a didactic session scribbled by expert seers of the spirit of the world, or the spontaneous eruptions of emotion that surprise, but do not last. They do not want a Scripture lesson or political agitation. They do not want an industrial liturgy. They certainly doesn’t want their pastors’ ingenuity. They want to see, and participate in, the spectacle of God made man in the world, the mystical feast of the Groom with the Church of all ages. They want to be borne down by the weight of glory that is the Trinitarian economy represented in the sanctuary.
Instead, we are often given a depressing image of ourselves, which may indeed have the benefit of being always simple and easily accessible, but has the downside of being rather boring. We are “present to ourselves as a worshipping community,” but we do not confront the host of Saints before the Throne. Transfixed in this narcissistic gaze, we waste away before a pool of self-loving and self-loathing, unable to escape from a lethal self-intuition. It is no wonder so many have left in despair.
Until we unwrap our liturgical theology from the quasi-Hegelian and quasi-Marxist bands in which it is slowly suffocating, the true glory and attractiveness and loveliness of the Gospel, the light of Christ’s countenance shining nobly through her saints, will remain obscured, and we cannot hope for a resurrection of Christian life and vocations.
This means rejecting wholesale, if not every practical reform of the last five decades, certainly the flawed anthropology that largely motivated them. It means learning again from our liturgical tradition—and that of the East. We have to learn again what it means to celebrate liturgy, as sons redeemed, dancing like David in the light of God’s face, as a divine economy of salvation in which every man and every community surpasses itself, exceeds the bounds of its own temporality and enters into the great Mystery which is Christ in his Church, for all ages, unto the ages of ages.
|Gustave Doré, Illustration for Canto XXXI of the Divine Comedy, Dante and Beatrice See the Highest Heaven.|
Liturgical splendor must be at the root of the New Evangelization, because Evangelization is divinization, and only from the liturgy can the believer learn what it is to act divinely.