Saturday, June 23, 2012

Una Voce's Report on the New Prefaces and the Old Missal and

Fr. Tim Finigan over at the Hermeneutic of Continuity blog has posted some remarks from Una Voce regarding the prospect of adding the prefaces from the 1970 Missale Romanum to the Missale of '62 (and added his own commentary as well). You can read that entry here. You may also read Una Voce's prepared report for yourself by going here.

As with many items that come out of the Traditionalist or Neo-Traditionalist circle, the report is a mixed bag. It contains a fair bit of historical information that's fine as far as it goes, but often fails to qualify the position taken as well as thoroughly note the context and contextual complexities that make certain statements less than sure.

The report's argument that the Roman Rite has, traditionally, averred from florid language in favor of restraint is accurate regarding the majority of the recorded Roman tradition. That is, the model of prayer exemplified in the Hadrianum and the other Gregorian sacramentaries became the dominant model without any real competition in Rome. Additionally, the report is correct when noting that the historically dominant tradition in the Roman liturgy also features a limited number of prefaces. To this extent, the report has a sound historical argument. However, the report is conspicuously weak in its use and evaluation of pre-Gregorian liturgical matter.

The Veronese Sacramentary is mentioned as a potential Roman witness that runs contrary to the stream of limited prefaces. Indeed, at times there seems to be a proper preface for every Mass, many Masses having multiple mass-sets. The report, almost dismissively, designates the Veronese Sacramentary as a collection of mass sets from all over Italy. The Veronensis is, correctly, identifies the volume as a collection of Masses and not a proper sacramentary, however, they fail to note the general scholarly consensus that these masses are of the Roman type - as Cyrille Vogel remarks, the mass sets are "authentically Roman (papal) libelli" adapted for the use of the Roman presbyters. To color the Veronensis, then, as a collection of masses from all over Italy is incorrect, if not dishonest. The Veronensis is a collection of genuine pre-Gregorian Roman liturgical materials, papal in origin and reflecting another genus in the Roman liturgical family, one that could represent an older liturgical tradition in Rome.

To say the Roman liturgy has always been one way or another is a tremendous distortion of the evidence we have. It ignores the differences between the liturgy of bishop of Rome, the titular parishes, and even the liturgy of Lateran Basilica itself in addition to textual witnesses like the Veronensis. Granted, the liturgical tradition represented in Gregorian sacramentaries will become the dominant liturgical tradition of Rome, however, the Veronensis and the Gelasianum vetus attest to the possibility of at least three parallel liturgical traditions (transmitted in Latin) in Rome. The Veronensis, as Vogel and others have noted, has a special place for consideration. Although some of its prayers were transmitted down to the Gregorian sacramentaries, much of its contents failed to be retained in the Roman tradition until the revisions of the Missale Romanum. Finally, stating the Veronensis contains mass sets from all over Italy ignores the liturgical diversity of Italy - the Gallican related liturgies of the North, and the Greek liturgies of the South. In other words, there is no contextualization.

The document is correct in stating that the liturgical style of the new prefaces more closely resembles the manner of prayer in the Eastern liturgies as opposed to the Western norm. In this sense, the prefaces of the Missale Romanum (1970) demonstrate a liturgical sensibility entirely foreign to the so-called Tridentine missal and would represent the insertion of an alien element into the old missal. It must be noted that the introduction of the new prefaces would not constitute the first time a practice or tendency of the Eastern liturgies was introduced into the Roman rite. Pope Sergius introduced the Sanctus and the Marian feasts and the so-called Tridentine Missale Romanum hardly represents "Roman usage" but is, rather, Roman with increasing layers of Frankish, Gallican, and German accretions - most of the old missal's treasured Mass sets, Mass formularies, expansive sanctoral and the custom of private Masses are all of Franco-Gallic-German origin.

With the above in mind, it is worth noting that the document demonstrates a degree of inconsistency. The Roman tradition conceived by the authors of the report is not composed of a static Roman tradition, but rather a tradition that regularly accepted direct influence by non-Roman liturgies. Think of it as a Roman substrata with layer upon layer of non-Roman superstrata. Adding the new prefaces to the old missal would continue with the tradition of the pre-conciliar liturgy.


Stepping into the river...

Scenario: Yesterday morning featured the last waning hours of a mini-heatwave that washed across the region recently. Rather than a morning run, a morning walked was deemed more appropriate on my part. I walked up through my neighborhood while the sun was still rising, first setting my eyes upon St. Joseph's Church and the rather large property associated with that parish. I canvased the area, looking for some indication of an open entrance to the church. I found none. Heading west, I reached St. Stephen's in the span of perhaps thirty seconds, maybe less. As I walked up to the church I noted one of the doors leading into the building near the sanctuary was open and, walking further, that all of the doors were open - still not yet five thirty this morning. The janitor went outside to work the grounds as I entered the building. I had never been in St. Stephen's before, nor, for that matter, many of the churches in the Worcester area. Inside, waves of nostalgia washed over, however tentatively, the heat and humidity and set me adrift into a certain spiritual sea I had long since come ashore from. Inside, I felt almost in a womb, in an enclosure of warmth and nourishment. The interior architecture of St. Stephen is a rare sight. Build during, and reflective of, the height of that Catholic moment in the twentieth century that produce both a sure confidence in faith and the liturgical movement in its purest sense (the unveiling and exploration of the Roman liturgy in its previous form). The interior architecture itself is based upon the scholastic Gothic revival that accompanied the Oxford movement, a style of church architecture that, perhaps because of the particular cultural memory in the United States. The interior artwork, meanwhile, demonstrated the influence the liturgical movement had begun to have in a very real parish setting. Though there were two notable paintings along the side walls where the altar rail, in all probability, once stood, of vintage western style depicting scenes from the gospel, the images in the sanctuary began to show openness to western iconography, utilizing the western form for the figures, but filling the image in more along the eastern style, creating, incidentally, some very Mediterranean looking saints and angels in what was traditionally an Irish parish. I realized then that I had entered a physical space that embodied very formative spirituality from about fifteen years ago.

General conclusion: It's true, one can't step into the same river twice - there's no returning whence you came.  Evey person has, to my mind, two spiritualities - corporate and private. One's corporate spirituality will acquire a degree of stability and regular praxis. One's private spirituality, unless one succumbs to religious inspired neurosis, will evolve in the course of one's life, reflecting one's development as a person. One may feel nostalgia for one's former spirituality, but one can never return unless one undergoes some variety of psychic break. Returning to or remaining with a form of one's spirituality from another part of one's life requires disassociating oneself from the life changes and experiences one has undergone. A great portion of the time, remaining in a state of spiritual stasis requires renouncing one's maturation. One's spiritual life should coincide with one's maturation as a human being. Forms or practices from childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, etc., that remain with us should always be critically examined to determine in which way they represent an attachment to immaturity. The desert monastics have written more eloquently on this point than I am able and provide fine counsel on this topic. Feeling a nostalgia for one's prior spiritual life, for however brief a moment, has its allure but is in actuality impossible (and undesirable) to attain.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prometheus and Post Modern Theology

Fans of Ridely Scott's Alien got more than they could have possibly hoped for the prequel Prometheus. More than a sci-fi horror romp, Prometheus uses the sci-fi platform to entertain the questions of human origins, purpose, and extraterrestrial intelligent life...and God.

In an indication of the tenor of our age, the response from Christian circles has not been one of intelligent interaction with the movie and the questions it raises. Rather, it has been a defensive knee-jerk reaction. The Christian reaction to Prometheus has largely seen the movie as lauding doctrinal heresy and, among more extreme voices, as a fully functional attempt by Hollywood elites to undermine traditional religion. Here is an excerpt from one such review:

"Unsurprisingly, given his knack for crafting popular entertainment, it has enough substance and spectacle to be intriguing and immensely profitable. Yet it's the opposite of enlightening. What jumps out is the movie's rejection of a fundamental tenet of theism, namely, the belief that God created the human race. This element -- combined with significant violence and offensive language -- renders "Prometheus" extremely problematic for viewers of faith."

And,

"Shaw's faith, signaled by the cross she treasures, is the primary means by which the movie tries to hedge its bets vis-a-vis religion. Her desire to know why the "engineers" chose to fashion mankind isn't quenched. Moreover, how they themselves came into being isn't explained. According to the film, this allows for the possibility that a Creator exists whom Christians and other deists can accept.

Dramatically and theologically, it's a weak argument: too little and too late. We knew going in Ridley Scott was a shrewd commercial filmmaker rather than an auteur with great artistic ambition. Judging by "Prometheus," he's not a coherent cosmologist, either."

I am not going to deny that Prometheus proposes a concept of God that is foreign to traditional Christian theology. In this cosmology, God would not be the direct creator of humanity; God would not, as it were, have engaged in the very immediate creation of the human species as appears in the creation accounts of Genesis.  However, this scenario is nothing new. Among UFO enthusiasts, the notion of extraterrestrial progenitors has had currency for at least the last forty or so years. The late Zechariah Sitchin, and to a lesser degree, Erich Von Danniken, spent his writing career constructing an entire mythology in which an alien humanoid beings (identified by Sitchin as the Annunaki of Sumerian myth) visited the earth in its distant past and used their DNA to essentially create modern homo sapien sapiens. Modern man is created as a "slave race" and eventually rebels against their extraterrestrial gods/creators, repelling them back to their home planet and establishing an independent homo sapien sapiens society, the memory of the ancient astronauts preserved in mythology and religion. Sitchin remained steady in his output since the 1970s, riding a dip in popularity in the 1980s, and riding a subsequent wave of increased interest in the 1990s. The 1990s boom for Sitchin's work was dependent upon two important co-factors. 1) The general interest in all things related to religion and spirituality in the 1990s - Sitchin's work does propose an alternative construction of human religion and interpretation of sacred texts (including the Bible). 2) The X-Files began utilizing more of Sitchin's ideas for the series' main story arch - the aliens being the implied source of human religion. The two factors took Sitchin's fringe idea (and some would say debatable scholarship) and turned it into an increasingly mainstream idea. 

In this light, Prometheus does not so much propose a new concept of God's relationship to humanity and corresponding cosmology as it reflects a now popular idea in the West, an idea that has grown in potency due to the speculations of what awaits humanity when we successfully embark outside of the solar system or finally discovers another planet with a fully functioning society. Prometheus does not so much try to convince its audience to deny the existence of a transcendent God, as it does reflect the human desire to preserve God in an age of ever expanding cosmic discoveries. Granted, we haven't found an alien civilization. However, the scenario of an advanced species engineering life on another planet just seems to make sense - it sounds like something we would do if in that position and it seems entirely plausible. Does Prometheus exclude a faith perspective? No, not really, not in my estimation. It does, however, challenge absolutist faith claims. 

Prometheus' utilization of the theme of extraterrestrial engineers of the human species reflects the broader acceptance of the idea (though not necessarily assimilation) in the culture. In turn, it points to a change in the broader theological paradigm - the concept of God in the West is gradually changing. Changing theological paradigms typically challenge the surety of faith claims. Specifically, it challenges the precise understanding of the religion at the time of the conceptual change. Thus, the basic concept of the Deity behind Christianity may not be affected by the change in the popular concept of God, however, the narrative details are thrown into question. We see this on a regular basis when the faith claims of Christianity encounter those of another religion, Islam for instance. I've heard it argued that Christianity was assuredly true in all its details (as this person understood it) because of the phenomenon of the Stigmata, the bleeding of the wounds of Christ. When I replied that Islam has a similar phenomenon (bleeding the war wounds of Muhammad), the reply was that Christianity preaches a God of love, whereas Islam's God is violent. When I replied with excerpts from the Koran which also teaches a God of love, this person retorted that Islam practices violence. When I replied with the long list of Christian inspired violence (Catholic and Protestant), the discussion ended with my conversation partner being visibly upset and challenging my Christian credentials. 

There is nothing about affirming the legitimacy of Islam that necessarily deprecates Christianity. It simply says we have options. Islam isn't my option but that doesn't mean I can't learn a thing or two from it.Similarly, the cosmology of Prometheus doesn't deprecate God. God is the lord of history, whatever the incidents and accidents used to create life. It does, however, challenge one from resting on cosmological presuppositions.

Of course, all of this is not being said of an actual scientific discovery. We're talking about an idea presented in a movie. Nevertheless, if the reaction among certain Christian viewers is indicative of things, Christianity is in for a tough go of it. Not because Christianity couldn't reconcile with such a concept should it prove defensible, but because Christians lack the intellectual ability or will to engage in the tough theological work required.



Book Review: Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes

Southern Italian Christianity is almost a world unto itself. Neither Greek nor Roman, it straddles the divide between eastern and western forms of Christianity. In particular, the areas of Calabria and Sicily have retained the cultural imprint of Magna Grecia. However, it is often forgotten that the Greek influence was exerted up to Montecassino and Rome itself. For a period of time during the Byzantine papacy, Southern Italian or Italo-Greek Christianity began to define the liturgy of Rome (the implications of which we're still trying to unpack). Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern Influences on Rome and the Papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590-752 provides readers with possibly the most comprehensive one volume study on the resurgence of Greek in the Roman church over a nearly two hundred year period. For students of Southern Italy, author Andrew Ekonomou plumes the historical record to highlight the begins of central and northern Italy's suspicion of the south in late antiquity. For students of the Roman liturgy, the historical record of Greek popes (originally of the Greek liturgical rites) and the resurgence of Greek being utilized in the Roman liturgy adds yet another obscure dimension to consider in the often times murky past of the Roman rite, that of later Greek influence after the period of Latinization.

The Greek presence in Italy has been both the source of Roman high culture and Latin suspicion. Gregory the Great, himself bearing a Greek name, reflects the tensions that came with a Greek resurgence on the Italian peninsula. Ekonomou provides enough citations from Gregory's works to demonstrate that one of history's renowned pontiffs was paranoid when it came to the Greek language. Gregory found surety of faith in the Latin language; his own ignorance of the Greek language, coupled with the speculative theology popular among "Greek" Christian figures, made Greek Christianity (and Greek Christians) a mysterious other. However, many of Gregory's remarks about Greeks, including those on Italian soil, being untrustworthy and devious seem to be the earliest negative stereotypes of Southern Italy from the pen of an Italian author. Ekonomou presents Gregory in stark contrast to the reputation he has garnered via papal devotion. The pontiff who now possesses a towering reputation (largely due to his influence among medieval monastics) was largely forgotten after his death. Despite his suspicions of Greek, the twilight of Gregory's pontificate appears to have coincided with the emergence of Greek customs in the Roman liturgy. The Greek influence upon the Roman liturgy made the Roman rite bilingual for roughly two centuries and if Ordo Romanus XI is to be believed, Greek recaptured primacy of place in the Roman rite over Latin. The evidence appears to be found in the baptismal liturgy. In Ordo Romanus XI, the priest asks a parent of Greek lineage what language he desires the child to be named in, and then follows the Creed recited in Greek (see pages 291-292; 344-345). After, and only after, the all of the Greek infants have been baptized and the Creed recited in Greek are the "Latin" children baptized and the Latin creed recited. This instruction indicates the greater numbers of Greeks in Rome than Latins, a demographic shift that would also encompass the Roman clergy and introduce Greek hymnology into the Roman liturgy. The Greeks who ascended to the papacy, although fostering adoption of Greek influence in the liturgy, were respectful of the uniquely Roman customs that became traditional for the Roman church and staunchly defended them from Byzantine displacement.

Ekonomou provides a thorough historical lesson for his readers. Context is everything and the reader quickly learns how changing political fortunes (including the collapse of Rome and rise of Constantinople) and ambitions contributed to an influx of Greeks beginning with Gregory the Great and leading to a nearly two hundred year reversion to Greek in the Roman church. We are presented with detailed portraits of many of the Greek pontiffs and their own often complicated roles in the political changes that ran parallel to their lives.

Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes offers interested persons insight into complicated era of the Roman church, one that, ultimately, has crucial importance for our own day. At a time when Latin exclusivity has become a retro fad among more "traditionally inclined" clergy and laity, this book demonstrates the very positive effects of Greek Christian influence upon the Roman church, even if only in the use of Greek chant over the more reserved Gregorian variety that has become the standard in the West.

Psalm 120 (Septuagint)

Because sometimes there's no better way to say it than in Greek. For Calabria.

ἦρα τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς μου εἰς τὰ ὄρη πόθεν ἥξει βοήθειά μου ;
βοήθειά μου παρὰ κυρίου τοῦ ποιήσαντος τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν.
μὴ δῷς εἰς σάλον τὸν πόδα σου, μηδὲ νυστάξῃ φυλάςων σε.
ἰδοὺ οὐ νυστάξει οὐδὲ ὑπνώσει φυλάςων τὸν Iσραηλ.
κύριος φυλάξει σε, κύριος σκέπη σου ἐπὶ χεῖρα δεξιάν σου
ἡμέρας ἥλιος οὐ συγκαύσει σε οὐδὲ σελήνη τὴν νύκτα.
κύριος φυλάξει σε ἀπὸ παντὸς κακοῦ, φυλάξει τὴν ψυχήν σου.
κύριος φυλάξει τὴν εἴσοδόν σου καὶ τὴν ἔξοδόν σου ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν καὶ ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος.





Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Review - The New Testament Without Illusion by John McKenzie

When history has fully provided us with enough vantage for perspective, I believe the conclusion will be made that Catholic biblical scholarship rested upon two pillars: John McKenzie and Raymond Brown. Both men, now deceased, mastered the primary data and volumes of secondary sources requisite in Biblical Studies - though McKenzie may have had a stronger background in ancient Semitic languages than Brown. Brown, in part due to the lateness of his death (1998 versus McKenzie's 1991) and in part due to his willingness to refrain from following his scholarship to non-confessional conclusions as well as his refusal to genuinely apply his scholarship to theological or ecclesiological has been both more ingratiated to rising tide of neo-conservative Catholic biblical scholarship. Whereas Brown, with justification, can be credibly said to be buried in his books, McKenzie always rose from his scholar's chair to apply his work to the living reality of Christianity. During the pontificate since their death's, Brown is fast becoming the model for Catholic biblical scholars in the United States: produce a large amount of research that has nothing other than academic relevance. McKenzie, meanwhile, has become something of an underground sensation, alluded to by the occasional academic and read by disparate strains of thought in the same Catholic church. Now, however, there is some attempt to reprint McKenzie's work in the hope of exposing his writings to a new audience, or maybe to remind an old audience that these books are still out there.

McKenzie's writing, not all of which is being reprinted in this current run, spans the breadth from properly intellectual to popular compositions. In all cases, however, McKenzie never shies away from doing theology, which, in general, consists of synthesizing the theological and ecclesiological consequences of his research regardless of how much it confronts standard Christian fair. The New Testament Without Illusion aptly demonstrates McKenzie's penchant for synthesizing his data into something more than an obscure monograph related to biblical studies. A long running theme in McKenzie's writings, apparent in everything I've read by the man, is that the information gleaned from critical biblical scholarship should have real consequences. The New Testament Without Illusion is no exception.

As the title implies, McKenzie's desire is to strip the romance or fantasy from the reading of the New Testament. His first desire is to recognize who Jesus really was, a task that involves situating Jesus into his actual historical context, a task Christian confessions are hesitant to do. Part of this task involves wiping away the almost Manichean presentation of Christians in the Roman Empire, a political entity that is often portrayed as systematically persecuting Christians - a portrayal that may have served recruitment efforts well in the middle ages but is hardly supported by the available evidence. All of this, however, is in preparation for McKenzie's ecclesiological critiques which appear through the rest of the book and eventually become the book's primary point of focus. Chapter 6, while dealing with texts that encourage the preaching of the gospel to the whole world, takes on the twin topics of biblical inerrancy and ecclesiastical/papal infallibility found in more  conservative circles. The surety of the gospel does not equate into the literal inerrancy of biblical texts nor does it permit any member of the church or the church itself to claim infallibility - the gospel, McKenzie argues, presumes a lifetime of learning and the fact of needing additional learning, a fact the gospel nowhere says is brought to cessation, seriously argues against propositions of infallibility.

McKenzie's ecclesiological concerns ultimately form the underlying theme of the book. Thus, the book tries to address what McKenzie sees as the linchpin upon which Christian formation in the postmodern world will rest, that is, the willingness to reconsider the decades if not centuries of fantasy Christians have interpolated onto the documents that comprise the New Testament. Indeed, there are portions of the book that are, ecclesiologically speaking, of immediate importance to the contemporary reader. In a discussion on what is now termed "Catholic identity", McKenzie rejects an entrenchment of "typical" Catholic devotions, practices or even doctrines, rather, a rediscovery of identity will only return to the Catholic Church in so far as the Catholic Church returns to the New Testament. Interestingly, McKenzie believe Vatican II attempt to do just this, however, in his words, the Church of the New Testament was so strange to persons accustomed the highly institutionalized model, where the urgency of Jesus' message is tempered in favor of social stability.

The genius of the author was his decision to caste truly ecclesiological concerns, concerns that have not gone away since the book's composition, through the lens of New Testament studies. In so doing, he puts Christianity in the difficult spot of acknowledging where it has read its institutional aspirations over the genuine New Testament narrative. McKenzie, however, is no "liberal"; now as it was then, this book, much like most of the author's back list, makes any institutionalist, left or right leaning, cringe with discomfort. He poses no easy ideological answers (liberal or conservative), but rather lays out a hard course marked by more than a facade of reform. Here's hoping people begin reading him again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: The Mass - A Study of the Roman Liturgy

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in liturgical courses at a graduate level has probably read the name Adrian Fortescue in passing. If these courses have been of a Roman Catholic slant, then one has probably read a brief summary of one point or another in Fortescue's arguments or his role in the twentieth century liturgical movement. Fortescue's writings are historically important when engaged in liturgics, though today it is hard to find anyone that has actually read Fortescue as part of a course syllabus - liturgical studies has a knack for under-promoting anything past the last two decades. Preserving Christian Publications has reprinted Fortescue's The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy and this could perhaps relieve the increasing gap in knowledge of his writings. Although, one must exercise some caution when appropriating Fortescue into contemporary research.

The importance of The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy is due both to its place in the liturgical movement and the breadth of its content. While Fortescue knew to couch his words carefully, he does not shy away from presenting data which demonstrated the stark contrast between the way the Roman liturgy was celebrated in earlier centuries and what had become the normative celebration by his own time. In particular, Fortescue notes where the evidence points to a greater role for the laity in the liturgy, with some focus upon parts of the liturgy that had gradually become proper to the priest or the choir. Although, it is the depth of Fortescue's survey of the available liturgical sources of his time that makes this book required reading for liturgists. Major ancient ordos and rites are discussed with considerable detail as are the theories surrounding the creation of the Roman Rite itself. For those interested in the "Tridentine" liturgy, Fortescue's commentary on the Mass is thorough, providing both theological and historical details, noting the transitions from the ancient to the contemporary period. Some of the theories that circulated in the early twentieth century regarding the origins of the Roman Rite are fascinating and will likely leave one wondering what ever happened to these discussions along the way to the liturgical reforms after Vatican II.

The book is not without its weaknesses. While Fortescue's presentation of the Roman liturgy was devoid of any rigid defense of the manner of celebration current in his time, he does betray the influence of the Church's intellectual climate at the time. The discrepancies between the Gospel accounts of the Eucharist are dismissed as trifling differences and Fortescue tries to argue that Jesus himself intimated that the Eucharist was to be celebrated at the altar and his perspectives on the "canon of Hippolytus" are now just about firmly rejected. It also doesn't help the PCP's blurb on the dust jacket states that Fortescue proves the Roman Mass is the most ancient liturgy of all. Rather, Fortescue proves, due to the influence of the Roman Rite over all of the surviving western rites, that the Roman Rite is now the oldest extant liturgy in the west, the rites of Toledo and Milan having been fairly Romanized in their respective canons.

Despite these objections, one of which belongs to the publisher alone, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy remains essential to any liturgist's bibliography.

The Problem of the book of Job in the Liturgy of the Hours

Last week closed a two week cycle of readings from the book of Job in the Liturgia Horarum. Job, as mentioned elsewhere, is one of the more difficult books for liturgical use. There is a fundamental paradox to the text and legitimate challenge to God himself that is (purposefully) never resolved. A wager between God and satan sets the stage for Job's trial - Job doesn't need to suffer, the Deity, however, wants to prove a point. The legitimacy of Job's complaint against God, though rebuffed, is not rebuked nor ever seriously challenged. One may add, it is the moral force of Job's complaint against God that forces the concluding theophany in the book - God must respond, in some manner, to the situation he has, ultimately, created.

Christianity has had a more difficult time reconciling with the text of Job as it stands. The traditional approach to Job has been to read the text as primarily a pre-figurement of the sufferings of Christ or, equally, as a moral exemplar of the human person/soul. In either interpretive framework, there is a certain amount of invention related to the actual content of the book; there are times when the interpretation abandons the actual content of the book in favor of an independent philosophy or theology.

While the above mentioned interpretive frameworks have sufficed in previous eras, historical-critical study of the Biblical text has, perhaps forever, altered the boundaries of acceptable Biblical interpretation and use. The intention of the author must be fully understood and, ideally, worked with as opposed to any presuppositions of a religious confession. As such, it is impossible to avoid holding the liturgical use of Scripture up to the standards of historical-critical scholarship. A difficult question must be considered: to what degree are we engaging the thought of the human and divine author and to what degree is our liturgical interpretation of our own invention?

The two weeks worth of readings from the book of Job are as follows: 1:1-22; 2:1-13; 3:1-26; 7:1-21; 11:1-20; 12:1-25; 13:13-14:6; 28:1-28; 29:1-10, 30:1,9-23; 31:1-8, 13-23, 35-37; 32:1-6,33:1-22; 38:1-30; 40:1-14, 42:1-6; 42:7-17. We must note that these are the readings as they appear in the Latin typical edition. Originally, a two year cycle of readings was planned for the revision of the Roman breviary, however, an additional volume with the full two year cycle has not come to light. The typical readings are literally a mish-mash from the proposed two year cycle.

The readings from Job appear to be utilized in order to propose a theology of human suffering in the pages of the breviary. One readily notes above that there is some editing to the biblical text for certain readings. The readings from Job have been carefully selected; there is an intended understanding of human suffering and the content of the book of Job that is desired for this particular liturgical use. Zophar's explanation of Job's suffering (11:1-20) is followed appropriately by Job's reaction in 12:1-25, under the descriptive heading "Job explains that divine omnipotence is beyond human understanding." The problem: Job's response to Zophar is not so much to prove that God's omnipotence is beyond human understanding as it is to prove that Job's suffering was brought on by the strength of an omnipotent will that cannot be so readily coaxed into reversing its decisions as the ritual bartering suggested in the previous discourse. As the breviary continues, Job's appeal to God in 31:1-8, 13-23, 35-37 is followed by a portion of Elihu's rebuke of Job in 32:1-6;33:1-22, the theophany in Job 38:1-30, and  Yahweh's rebuke of Job coupled with Job's obeisance to God (40:1-14;42:1-6). Texts from the book of Job were utilized in such a fashion so as to convey a particular theology of human suffering, one in accordance with long standing Catholic piety: patient endurance and a reticence to question the will of God. Yet, it is important to follow the narrative of Job: the credibility of Job's case against the will of God demands God make some appearance in order to defend himself. The book leaves the reader with numerous instances of paradox. Some of these examples have been mentioned above when detailing the literary setting of the book. One may also add, although God's answer to Job is to effectively tell him he cannot possibly critique the will of God unless he himself were similar to God, God nevertheless must answer Job in the narrative. We thus have a conflict between Yahweh's discourse to Job and Yahweh's very action. That Yahweh eventually has to respond to Job (according to the book's narrative) implies that there is some degree of truth in every complaint Job makes against his situation and whatever corresponding role God has in it. The breviary denudes the text of this power and, I would argue, extracts a theology of human suffering from these particular selections that cannot be justified by the book of Job itself.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: Daily Liturgical Prayer - Origins and Theology

It must be said that, sadly, we are living in the equivalent of the dark ages for liturgical studies/theology. The strength of the liturgical movement of the early-mid twentieth century seems to have run declined with the debatable reforms of the Roman Rite following the second Vatican Council. In the broader ecclesiastical current, liturgical works are either the decayed remains of the extreme "de-sacralization" crowd of the immediate aftermath of the Roman reform, or the restorationist impulses which gained influence, whether intended or not, through the work of Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. In such a climate, one must seize upon any work that provides a wealth of critical scholarship coupled with a sense of purpose. Gregory Woolfenden's Daily Liturgical Prayer: Origins and Theology, accomplishes as much. This volume supplies an up-to-date historical view of the major ancient and medieval schemas for praying the hours of the divine office, providing the reader with the full perspective on the development of the divine office in Christianity.

Any volume covering daily liturgical prayer/the divine office will be compared, and unfairly so, to Taft's now classic The Liturgy of the Hours in the East and West. Woolfenden, however, does not limit himself to a historical study - much needed though it may be. Woolfenden surveys the storehouse of liturgical evidence for the sake of determining, ala Dom. Gregory Dix, the form and theology inherit in the offices of vespers and matins. Woolfenden does not present the ancient rites with a running theological interpretation of the evidence. Rather, the rites are laid out simply and accurately and, where appropriate, he notes any commonalities, be they thematic, textual, ceremonial, narrative, etc. By the book's conclusion, the author seems to imply, on the weight of the evidence presented in the book, that there are some rough "families" or "types" of daily office. Yet, there some basic commonalities to the office that extend across western and eastern liturgical families, especially in the office of vespers. For Woolfenden, any continuing discussion of reforming the divine office requires a thorough understanding of the basic form and theological intention of the office that seems to run the expanse of western and eastern churches. It is not enough to pray the psalms and read select scripture; the form of the hours has a function, the function being worship of the Deity. Whatever reform is to be done in the future, choosing a cathedral versus monastic model or, implicitly, a pre-Vatican II versus post-Vatican II model, is not enough. The daily office as worship, more than mere praise, must be rediscovered. Every act of worship has its particular ritual structure and intention. The first step, as Woolfenden implies, in reforming the divine office is to rediscover the intention of the given hours, what each hour of prayer was originally designed to accomplish.

For so long the divine office has been reduced to either perfunctory function or, at best, a service of praise. Through a meticulous investigation of the families of daily canonical prayer, Woolfenden presents the first argument for the case of seeing the divine office as something more, as a most profound expression of divine worship of its own integrity and intention. It remains to rediscover said aspects in the hope of truly rediscovering the work and purpose of the divine office. Daily Liturgical Prayer: Origins and Theology is a recommended volume orienting oneself towards such a task even if only in one's personal prayer life.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Blessed Be God

Preserving Christian Publications has steadily reprinted the "classic" pre-Vatican II devotional prayer book, Blessed Be God. The book is well bound in bonded leather, USA made, on "bible" paper. This being said, unlike the pre-Vatican II reprints offered by Baronious Press, PCP has not taken the time to re-typeset the volume.

Pre-Vatican II reprints are a mixed bag, much like that era (any era, really) of the Roman Church itself. Whereas Baronius Press has typically tried to reprint pre-Vatican II books that were, from a certain perspective, essential to the general forward thrust of the Council (though not falling into the new theology of the time), PCP seems to favor pre-Vatican II titles that hedge in a direction away from the council. Blessed Be God, while being a well produced volume, offers a rather dismal vision of liturgical life in the Roman rite. The prayer book is designed for use in the liturgical context, supplying prayers for before, during, and after the liturgy, including Sunday Vespers, a Latin-English ordo of the mass, and the epistles and gospels of the year. From a liturgical perspective, such a collection seriously mares the fruitful material of the pre-Vatican II Roman rite, which is typically found while following the prayer of the propers themselves - in other words, by praying the liturgy of the day much as one would the breviary.

The possibility that Blessed Be God's successive reprints could indicate a change in liturgical mentality in the Roman church reminds one of why the liturgical movement had the impulse it did (very anti-devotional back in the day) and why the reform of the Roman liturgy, rightly or wrongly, took the form it did. The propagation of primarily devotional texts put one in contact with an interpretation of the primary source, and not the primary source itself. The impetus behind the propagation of vernacular missals and popularized works of liturgical theology was to remove the devotional barrier and facilitate access to the primary source. This is a lesson well worth heeding.

For those looking for more liturgical prayer in the form utilized prior to 1970, you may want to consider the edition of the Roman Breviary offered by Baronious Press:

http://www.baroniuspress.com/book.php?wid=56&bid=59

Though currently out of print, the second batch is expected sometime in the Fall, I believe.