Friday, March 23, 2012

Escapism, a new liturgical movement and critical understanding...

The transition in focus of recent years has been one of the more shocking, frustrating and at times disheartening shifts in liturgical discussion. Granted, a shift was needed, although being caught by the pull of two extremes rarely facilitates good, reflective development.

Today's liturgical movement increasingly demonstrates it possesses little credibility in drawing any parallels whatsoever with the original liturgical movement. Articles highlighting the decor of vestments or the wonderment of bell ringing at the time of consecration are hardly scintillating pieces of liturgical theology. Furthermore, parroting back either papal statements on the liturgy with no engagement of one's critical faculties or appealing to pre-modern authors who essentially reproduced their seminary text books hardly constitutes liturgical theology - liturgical catechesis yes; theology, not really. Most egregious is the attempt to market liturgical Latin as an aloof linguistic other to spoken Latin - proposed by men who should know better and accepted by those who don't know any better.

Yet this notion of liturgical "study" poses several dangers to the Roman liturgy, the dominant liturgical rite in Christianity. Irrelevance is one of these dangers. I do not appeal to the notion of irrelevance that translates into "how am I going to use this in my life." Rather, the irrelevance threatening the Roman liturgy is total irrelevance. Focusing on the designs embroidered on vestments and other sacredotal fashions, how much incense is used and when, the ringing of bells at the consecration threatens to reduce the Roman liturgy to "the Roman fashion show." Pursuing the argument of Latin as a sacred language and thus its supremacy over the numerous vernaculars creeps perilously close to re-conceptualizing the Roman liturgy as primarily a sacredotal affair.

The paltry standards of liturgical theology among the "new" liturgical movement is, in some respects, the greatest threat to the Roman liturgy. Primary sources are scarcely engaged and there is little attention paid to the liturgical history in Latin West prior to the thirteenth century, let alone any serious discussion of what, if anything, needs to be considered from the Christian East. The "new" liturgical movement, either through ignorance or exhaustion, seems to either no little of the Latin liturgy's pre-Tridentine past and the rich treasure of prayer contained therein.

Once, in an exchange, it was commented by a lay supported of the liturgical trends mentioned above that, had he had been exposed to the Tridentine mass when growing up, he would already had become a Dominican priest instead of the life he had chosen. Another person, a priest himself, remarked how much he much he felt a wave of liturgical restorationism would bring back all the strengths of 1950s America. I've even known a homosexual male who thought if he could just avail himself to this particular vision of liturgy, it would conquer his sexuality and he could live "normally." There is a subtle wave of escapism that propels today's liturgical movement, usually among those who advocate its most extreme proposals. There is a noticeable regret for one's life choices or events beyond one's control and the desire to find some other world, even a liturgical world, where one can find the potential for the past if not an actual sense of escape. Liturgy then becomes a safe zone, a controlled structure where the sense of having lost control is eliminated.

Should liturgy be a flight from reality? I would argue the negative.

I write the above as someone who had, earlier in his life, sympathy for the call for a "new" liturgical movement. In fact, I still share some sympathy with it. However, I found, for a host of reasons, the assumptions behind a "new" liturgical movement, a concept first formulated by Josef Ratzinger were unsustainable based upon closer inspection. A major contributor was the acquisition of the ancient languages. The "new" liturgical movement does, sadly, find momentum from a certain amount of ignorance. Hebrew and Greek, not to mention Coptic, open one up to new possibilities, linguistic and liturgical. Acquisition of Greek, for instance, makes it impossible to affirm 1) the unique place of Latin in the liturgy, 2) the Roman tradition, in general, is a Latin based tradition, 3) the traditions and liturgy of Christian East should remain in the Christian East in favor of a medieval Western tradition. Knowledge of the earliest Latin liturgical sources makes it difficult to maintain a Tridentine supremacy, especially in the area of quality. Finally, there's the original liturgical movement itself. From its origins in Gueranger's largely false philosophical assumptions to the luminaries of liturgical integration and social mission under the guidance of Virgil Michel and others. While one could argue in the need to re-examine Western liturgical practice, one would find it harder to argue for continuity between the proposed "new" liturgical movement as it was taking shape and the original, save for Gueranger's fallacies.