Posts Tagged 'Spirit of Vatican II'

(hack) Thanksgiving leftovers (koff)

It’s the first day of December. How the heck did that happen?

On the way out to New Mexico last week, I sat between a married couple who were both sick and kept coughing across me. It was Southwest Airlines, so seating was first come first serve, and they made it clear they would rather have me in the crossfire than give up either an aisle or a window seat. It must have been clear how this came across, because as we were getting off the plane, the wife said to me, “Don’t worry, you won’t catch anything from us — we’ve had this for the last four weeks.”

My stepfather was sick when I got to New Mexico. Flesh of My Flesh was sick on Thanksgiving day. My mom was getting sick over the weekend as we were preparing to leave.

So, perhaps it was inevitable, but Sunday evening I started developing a sore throat on the flight home, yesterday it was getting worse, and today I’m staying home trying to keep from getting worse or giving it to lots of people. I hate to be “that guy” who suspiciously gets sick immediately following a break, but here we are.

As I drink my gallon of Throat Coat tea, there are a few things upon which to muse:

  • My review copy of Cappella Romana’s recording of the Michaelides Divine Liturgy arrived in my absence, as did the Ensemble Organum disc I mentioned earlier. A full review will come shortly; for the moment, I will say only that both are worth your time and represent, in an odd way, flip sides of the same coin.
  • If you do iTunes, Lycourgos Angelopoulos’ 1993 album of Byzantine hymnody for Christmas has been rereleased in that format. It has been out of print for years as an actual disc, although there seem to be some used copies on Amazon. (Note that the iTunes release has a slightly different title: The Glory of Byzantium: Christmas Hymns.)
  • Rod Dreher is leaving the Dallas Morning News to become director of publications for the John Templeton Foundation. Close to four years ago, I started hearing various grumpy old men murmuring about “crunchy cons”. My godson Lucas at some point started reading the book and recommended I read it. It resonated quite a bit with me as somebody who looks more to Russell Kirk than Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin as a model of what conservatism should look like, and the point of the book seemed to me to be to ask how conservatives might, y’know, actually conserve something other than money or power or status. I gave copies of it to a lot of people, and I’m reasonably sure I know everybody in Bloomington who has read it (I’ll let you decide if I’m joking). I’ll fess up that, while a lot of Dreher’s critics had no patience for how he discussed food, I really appreciated what he had to say about a sacramental approach to it, and even if Michael Pollan isn’t using the word “sacramental”, his work and Dreher’s demonstrate that it can be a topic where liberals and conservatives can make common cause (and of course, Dreher interviewed Pollan for The American Conservative last year). Since the book came out, it has seemed as though he was searching unsuccessfully for a way to follow up what should have served as a strong statement of purpose; what he touted as a “sensibility” never quite materialized as a movement, exactly, eventually Crunchy Cons went out of print, and the hinted-at sequel about “the Benedict Option” never materialized, presumably because (as he kept saying in his blog) his newspaper job had become an exercise in self-preservation. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the last four years; Dreher converted to Orthodox Christianity, and right now conservatism seems to be floundering on the very cultural essentials the importance of which he was trying to stress, consequently lurching even more towards negativity and hostility. My hope is that a break from political commentary will allow Dreher to follow up on the issues discussed in Crunchy Cons from a more purely cultural perspective, because I think that’s where his heart has wanted to go with it anyway.
  • There was an interesting article in the New York Times this last Sunday about the traditional Latin Mass. Even more interesting has been the discussion of it in places like The New Liturgical Movement and Commonweal. I’m really not sure what a “liturgist” is — a liturgical scholar? a liturgical composer? a person who interprets rubrics? — but what I find striking is how for many modern Catholics, it seems like the rupture from tradition is in fact a selling point. I was in a large, old stone Catholic church once where they were doing a lot of work to restore the interior. The high altar was still in place, and I asked somebody if it ever got used; the person I asked looked highly offended that I would even dare to mention the high altar’s existence, and said, “No, Vatican II turned the altars around and returned the focus of the Mass to the people,” and made it clear that was the end of the conversation. Sometimes it seems like the majority of Westerners truly and actively yearn for their worship to be sentimental, banal, and tacky. At any rate, I don’t have a dog in this fight (except insofar as I strongly disagree with certain parties who think Orthodoxy needs its own Vatican II), but it seems to me that the traditionalist and modernist narratives are irreconcilable, as the comments on Wolfe’s article indicate. What I will say is that the invocation by a commenter at Commonweal of C. S. Lewis (“The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual”) seems quite apt, and the apparent need, not just for the 1970 Missal to be embraced but for anything that ever came before it to be wiped from the face of the earth, is very telling — at least to me. At the risk of elevating aesthetics over all other concerns, I’ll point out that the Mass of St. Gregory inspired people like Josquin and Palestrina; the kinds of composers the Novus Ordo appears to have inspired are, shall we say, not even close.

Okay. I need more tea.

“…how dare we think we can do better?”

I think I’ve dealt with some of my funk. I think. I’ll still feel a lot better once Friday rolls around, but I don’t feel quite so much like the world ended anymore.

Jeffrey Tucker over at The New Liturgical Movement posted a link to Google Books’ digitization of the 7th century Gelasian Sacramentary. He has some choice words for those who might find it, shall we say, not quite in the spirit of Vatican II:

Just looking through it, one is touched by how close a connection we have to history in the Roman Rite. Humbling, isn’t it? How dare we litter this pious masterpiece with our own pop music and pop theology, and how dare we think that we can do better by making up our own words and importing our own sensibility to the liturgy?

Standard disclaimers—I’m not Roman Catholic, and I am really less than qualified to deal with issues of theory and theology. (Let’s be honest; I’m really not qualified to deal with much of anything at this point, which is why I’m trying to get into grad school.) Still, even as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, the Gelasian Sacramentary is part of the spiritual patrimony of the undivided Church, and therefore as much a part of my liturgical heritage as it would be for a Roman Catholic.

With that in mind, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. What do you mean, “how dare we”? They’re just words men wrote, after all, somebody had to make them up at some point, somebody had to import their own sensibility into the liturgy somewhere along the line, and surely we can make a case, even for a late antique liturgical book, that it is not much more than a product of what would have been the pop culture of its day. All worship styles were “contemporary” when they were first put into practice, right? How dare we not put these things in the language, context, and culture of our own day?

In The Mystery of Christ, Dr. Fr. John Behr speaks about the difference in how truth is thought of between the pre-modern, modern, and post-modern minds. For the pre-modern, truth is found in what something means. If we want to understand this in terms of grammar, this is the Greek present tense—present time, progressive/repeated aspect. In other words, what does it mean right now and on an ongoing basis?

For the modern, truth is found in what something meant—aorist tense, so past time, simple aspect. What did it mean at the point in the past when it was relevant, and then how do we transplant that to today?

For the post-modern, per Fr. Behr, truth is located in what something will have meant—future perfect tense; future time, completed aspect. Real meaning is somehow always something that hasn’t happened yet, but even once it does it will be something looked back upon, not something occurring on an ongoing basis.

I suggest, therefore, that part of the problem Mr. Tucker describes comes from a modern way of looking at the problem and an attempt at a post-modern solution. The “return to the sources” approach is certainly nothing new, but it seems to me that it what one finds there will depend on one’s assumptions. If you begin with the assumption that an old liturgical practice as received today is somehow beyond the comprehension of the average person in the pews (which already cuts off the possibility of talking about what it might mean here and now), then in looking at the historical context for the development of that practice, you’ll find the reasons to justify your point of view—“See? They had that, that, and that happening, and we don’t, which is why this, this, and this practiced in today’s world makes no sense.” A break from the received tradition now having been justified, something can be inserted which will hopefully take hold and become the received tradition down the road.

“Returning to the sources” doesn’t necessitate a lack of continuity, however; sometimes what it can generate is a reminder of of what something means when many people have forgotten. Many Christians in this country have no idea what an Easter basket actually means, for example, since there’s no fasting or abstention during Great Lent to put it into context.

To reclaim what something like the Gelasian Sacramentary means, however, takes effort—no doubt about that. I suspect that for many who would rather insert contemporary-sounding praise songs, it’s an effort that isn’t worth it; “It won’t reach today’s people the way our music does,” I suspect many would say. In other words, it won’t have meant what contemporary music will have, from their point of view, and I also suggest that the problem is exacerbated by the perception that people will go where they hear what they like, and if one church won’t do it, another will. (Which suggests to me that the biggest threat to cohesion among church communities is the automobile, but that’s a different topic altogether.)

What effort would it it take to reclaim what it means, present tense, here and now? Well, I’ll humbly suggest that if people would dare to think they can do better, then it’s up to those who would hold fast to the received tradition to dare to teach them why they won’t do better.


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