Monday, December 31, 2012

When the subject of liturgical music comes up, one can't help but think the Greeks are perpetually in the right.

Over at Chant Cafe`, there's some whimsical discussion on the restrictions over the vernacular for music in the old rite. You can read it here.

I have no desire to see English choral or some other variant of liturgical music utilized to a greater degree in the "Tridentine" liturgy. With all due respect to the author's taste, English, or any Anglo or Germanic tongue for that matter, invariably sounds like an assault to the ears when compared to Latin or a well composed piece in a Romance language.

The use of polyphony and choral pieces is another area that will, one day, require serious discussion. It exposes, even among so-called "Tridentine" celebrations of the Roman liturgy the lamentable discrepancy between the monastic liturgical ethos and that of even the most talented cathedral schola. The use of essentially "high church" musical pieces does little more, in my estimation, than reduce the liturgy to entertainment. Even the traditional liturgy can be subject to the same nominalist conception of liturgy that has positively defined the missal codified by Paul VI. The monasteries show us the way. Liturgy demands to be chanted, whether Old Latin, Gregorian, Byzantine or the polyphonic chant of Hildegard von Bingen. Chant, in my estimation, is what makes liturgical music intentional as opposed to aesthetic.

Today's crop of liturgical musicians, whether they utilize Bach or peddle drivel like "On Eagles Wings" will undoubtedly disagree with me. That's fine. I'll let the monasteries, both Latin and Byzantine be my response. Any one can easily search for a recording of Phos Hilaron and see where I'm coming from. Now more than ever, there is a palpable need to find some of that, as John Paul II termed it, light from the east to illumine the Roman liturgy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A new "Tridentine" Roman Missal?

Rumors abound.

Benedict XVI had previously touched upon the subjects of adding new saints into the old Missal, the new body of prefaces in his explanatory letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum. This was repeated in Universae Ecclesiae and, according to Sandro Magister's Chiesa, a commission was established in 2010 to look into the matter. The rumor mill is running in over drive (among certain circles) that a text of an "updated" Tridentine missal is waiting in the wings for publication. Of course, Benedict XVI revised the old Missal shortly after the publication of Summorum Pontificum; Benedict's freshly composed intercession for the Jews is found in the newly printed editions of the 1962 Missale Romanum.

Further "updates" or changes of the old Missal should be expected. Whether or not they are warranted so soon after Summorum Pontiificum is debatable. Many proponents of the old liturgy are still feeling somewhat raw over a thirty seven year struggle and are unsure of old liturgy's security. One can argue it would be best to leave the old liturgy be for sometime yet. However, it must be noted that the old liturgy was on the precipice of development prior to the Council. The sound scholarship of many luminaries in the original liturgical movement (most clearly demonstrated in their editing of hand missals) had shown the points of entry for a superior celebration of the old missal and areas of the old liturgy that were themselves avenues for development. All of this was subsequently jettisoned when the Missale Romanum of Paul VI was promulgated.Yet, development was near. Some would even say, in light of Pius XII's reform of the Easter vigil, development had been set in motion and it was progressing - with due reverence for the old liturgy. Indeed, if you examine the writings of the original luminaries of the liturgical movement, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who would call for a new form or order of the Roman liturgy. All of them had a most pronounced reverence for the "Tridetine" liturgy saw so much potential in it.

The subject of developing or updating the "Tridetine" missal is being discussed by members of a curial commission. It is in the authority of the curia to discuss such matters. However, it is wise to remember that the giants of liturgical scholarship and theology from the last century were not an academic or curial think tank. They produced their work based upon concrete observations on the ground, without rampant experimentation. The Tridentine liturgy needs to develop. The climate of our current context still produces a reaction to freeze the traditional Missale Romanum in place at the edition published in 1962. Such an attitude would render the traditional Roman liturgy as little more than an antique curiosity. However,  the old liturgy must develop on its own terms. I have long since excepted that we will likely not recapture the lightning in the bottle that electrified the original liturgical movement. That moment in history has passed and ecclesiastical authority squander the opportunities it presented. Rather than be cultivated, the fruits of the early 20th century liturgical movement were allowed to rot in the field and, barring the successful invention of time travel, that moment will not be experienced again. If the "Tridentine" Missale Romanum, that is, the essentially Gregorian Missale Romanum, undergoes any sort of updating, I hope it is with substantial input from persons or groups who celebrate this liturgy frequently.

By my reading of things, it has been a given that the new prefaces and saints would be introduced to the Gregorian liturgy, if not in fact some alignment with the Calendar and Lectionary. As I wrote in a previous entry, "two forms, one rite" is not a sustainable solution. Any updating of the "Tridentine" Missal will likely prove to be a move to bring the normal celebration of the Catholic liturgy back into the continuum of liturgical tradition. It would be the first step in a gradual process by which the Missal and liturgy of Paul VI is rendered obsolete without having to make a public about-face and formally abolish the work commissioned by another pontiff. While I do contend that the Pauline liturgy can be executed in such a way so as to keep it in the ancient liturgical tradition, the Pauline Missal is so impoverished of liturgical and ritual expression that a pedestrian liturgy is almost inevitable if a church or chapel does not possess a well trained group focused on reconnecting the modern Roman liturgy with the ancient manner and ethos of celebration. Typically, one has to look in monasteries for this. Nevertheless, it can and should be done.

For the moment, all discussion remains speculation. There is a commission established to study the issue and it has been in existence since 2010, verified by way of entry in the Acta Apostola Sedes. We do not know anything more than that.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In the Center of the Fire : a Memoir of the Occult (Book Review)

The 1960s esoteric/occult revival, particularly as it took place in New York city, is gradually becoming an area of scholarly interest. The movement is an intense confluence of many different currents and questions of interest to both the sociologist and religion scholar. In the 1960s, religious or esoteric ideas that had declined in popularity during the previous 20 or 30 years (if not longer) suddenly reemerge, an occurrence all the more interesting due to the absence of any credibly organized religious body perpetuating the texts and mythologies. The occult revival occurs during an era of open rebellion towards government, established culture, sexual mores, the birth and boom of the American drug culture and, as people would find out twenty years or so later, the earliest years of HIV/AIDS. All of these make an appearance in James Wasserman's autobiographical account. Wasserman was born into a Jewish family, became involved with various social justice and marxist movements when in college, developed a taste for the 60s drug culture and the circulation of alternative religious ideas during the period and then, eventually, settled into Aleister Crowley's (or the Crowley inspired, depending on one's point of view) Ordo Templi Orientis, O.T.O.

Wasserman is candid about his battle with both alcoholism and drug addiction. He prefeces these accounts by stating that he does not wish to glorify them, an aim which he achieves with mixed results. He demonstrates a certain euphoria with earlier drug episodes, although pains of regret, remorse and desperation become fully demonstrable by the later episodes. The author doesn't hide from the truth that drugs, and HIV transmitted through shared needles, eventually hit horribly close to home and had a hand in waking him up. As much as Wasserman attests to his belief in the O.T.O. and often provides detailed accounts of his participation in its practices, his witness to the transformative power of Alcoholics Anonymous is perhaps more passionate and therefore more convincing. Despite openly disagreeing with Crowley's advocacy for open marriage (Wasserman states practicing such never did anything but cause trouble), Wasserman tells a tale replete with accounts of casually and gradually cultivating romantic relationships with "other women", usually becoming "magically infatuated" with a woman's spiritual energy while involved with the previous partner. Wasserman's life was at the time, truly, a product of his age of American culture. In this case, a casual attitude towards relationship taboos influenced by spirituality - all in search for someone with whom he could reach what we could call some sense of the transcendent. It seems, if I've read the book correctly, Wasserman eventually settled down in the 90s, though it seems he tries to make some narrative sense of his past relationships, including his own casual attitude towards engaging in romantic relationships while with someone else, in the larger account of his life and how he came to be where he is presently.

The chronological development is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book, from the scholar's perspective. As mentioned above, the author engaged ins social justice and quasi-marxist movements before delving into large spiritual stew of the 1960s. The author plainly states his involvement in the 60s estoeric and occult circles developed from a conviction that the social justice solution was too materialist in the manner in which addressed the human condition - it only addressed, it seems, half of the problem. The author then presents us with a larger inquiry to make of 60s occult revival: was there a direct correlation between disengagement of established religion and culture, engagement with social justice movements and eventual engagement with occultism/alternative spiritualities? Wasserman does note, often times passively, the various expressions of gender and racial equality that ran through many of the religious/spiritual groups he became involved with during this time. It is, then, tempting to interpret the 1960s occult revival as a rejection of both post-enlightenment materialism and perceived social inequalities as much as it was part of the general rejection of the political and moral values of another generation.

The book provides an first hand account of the transition from the euphoria of the 60s, to the increasing doldrums of the 70s, to the sober awakening in the 80s in the life cycle of one esoteric group. Day jobs and stable careers come into the narrative as does the poignant account of recognizing that the permissive attitude towards sex and drugs of the 60s and 70s had begun causing problems in 80s. Aside from providing an account of his own battle with addiction, Wasserman also provides a record of his group's gradual pressure upon members to get clean. Also of interest is Wasserman's account of the trials surrounding the O.T.O.'s legal status. There were many esoteric and occult groups in the 60s. A few made it out of the decade. Fewer still are operating today. The ruling given in a court of law that the O.T.O. was the rightful possessor of Crowley's organization provided the group with a form of institutional coherence required for transition, the organization became more solid and acquired operational procedures that could perpetuate the group's ideas after this generation passes.

In the Center of Fire provides the scholar and theologian (the two types I assume will read this blog and be interested in this book) with additional perspective on what was, undoubtedly, an important era in the history of religion in the United States. Indeed, it is impossible for the scholar or the theologian to make any adequate diagnosis of the religious, theological, and spiritual mood of western culture without understanding the many currents that flowed in the flower power decade. We are still living in the wake of the baby boomers' spiritual  and cultural experimentation. For the scholar, it is important to know why these ideas exploded and how groups inspired by these ideas either perpetuated themselves or declined. For the Theologian, it is important to know how these ideas have transformed since their original inception and what influence they have exerted on official or popular theology.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Where does the old Latin liturgy go from here?

A reader recently inquired as to my thoughts on the current state of the old liturgy. I meant to comment on the fifth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum this past July. However, taking a much needed summer break was more of a priority. Since then, I've intended to touch upon the topic. Now is as good a time as any.

Summorum Pontificum was, for some, the answer to long prayed petitions. Since the summer of Benedict's first year on the papal throne, rumors had circulated that restrictions on the old Mass were about to be lifted. While I had gradually lost interest in the Tridentine cause by the time SP was promulgated, I did pay attention to developments regarding the liturgy's subsequent use.

Certain parties are adept at promoting any fresh celebration of the Tridentine liturgy, any well attended or particularly ornate celebration, anything that establishes vitality for the old liturgy. You cannot necessarily blame them. Lord knows I promoted the hell out of the old liturgy any chance I had back in the day. Frankly, it just makes sense from a marketing perspective. If you genuinely believe the old liturgy has a purpose and this purpose is more than an antique curiosity, you will make every effort to present it as a vibrant reality, some thing living and imbued with divine dynamism. Although, the more fantastic hopes for the old liturgy have come to naught. More tempered voices have taken a "brick by brick" view of the Catholic landscape post-SP. This approach is honest to the degree it admits that the impact of the Tridentine liturgy is limited.

The two approaches outlined above often ignore the very sad flipside to the efforts at establishing a Summorum Pontificum inspired resurgence of the old liturgy. A reader has made me aware of the subsequent collapse of nascent Tridentine movements and/or parishes in his area. In one such example, after some two or three years of offering the liturgy according to the Missale Romanum of 1962, the priest announced that the parish would soon cease celebrating the old liturgy. Why? Because the numbers weren't adding up. Despite some recent local press and a devoted community, the small turnout could not justify the expenditures for celebrating the old liturgy. Typically, there is a touch of paranoia among Tridentine enthusiasts when bishops intimate a lack of interest for the old rite in their diocese. I don't doubt that more priests are interested in the old liturgy. Nor do I doubt that younger Catholics are interested as well. Tridentine supporters need to reckon with the cold math that just doesn't add up; the interest in the old liturgy as a regular liturgical celebration is limited in mainline Catholic circles.

Summorum Pontificum ought to have occasioned many profound questions on within the so-called Traditionalist camp, a party with which I once identified. Traditionalist had once challenged the extend of papal authority. It seemed the liturgy was the one area that the papacy could not utilize a sweeping authoritative act and make any such modification to it. Unfortunately, the Tridentine crowd is in an uncomfortable spot. Beginning with the promulgation of the Missal of Pius V, the papacy made claims to centralized authority over the liturgy of the whole Latin Church, making exemptions for rites that could demonstrate two hundred continual use and, after the promulgation of the Missal, expending great effort through the network of cardinals to have most local usages abdicate their rite in favor of the Missale Romanum. It was an exercise of this same authority claimed for the papacy with the promulgation of Pius V's Missale Romanum that was used four hundred years later to suppress the Roman liturgy as it existed, in essence, since the medieval period - noting the suppressions of Pius V and subsequent slow development of the liturgy thereafter. Traditionalists, most notable Michael Davies, challenged whether papal authority had such power to alter the liturgy to the extent presented in the Missale Romanum of Paul VI. In 2007, it was the same exercise of this same sense of papal authority that lifted previous papal restrictions on the old liturgy. Summorum Pontificum has, for the time being, solidified a conception of papal authority that grants the pontiff power to alter the liturgy in the most comprehensive manner imaginable, barring, of course, the insertion of liturgical expression that would run contrary to established dogma. The liturgy has been reduced to the product of papal whim, intuition or ideology; it is no longer something sacrosanct but the tool of any given theological, philosophical or ideological school that assumes enough power in the Vatican bureaucracy.

Pope Benedict's decree of "two forms, one rite" hardly seems like a long term solution. Defining the Roman Rite as comprised of an ordinary (novus ordo) and extraordinary (Tridentine) form defies liturgical history. One is hard pressed to find a historical precedent establishing the legitimacy of such an approach. Liturgical rites have one form, though differing degrees of elaboration based upon the context, for instance, the difference in degrees between a pontifical Mass and a chanted Mass in the old Missal. The concept of ordinary and extraordinary forms is not only an innovation, it is still ill defined. What makes the Tridentine liturgy the extraordinary form of the rite? Certainly, we have seen no indication of the Tridentine liturgy being utilized for the most solemn liturgical feasts, which would be a definition of extraordinary based upon liturgical praxis. Rather, the Tridentine form appears to be extraordinary in much the same manner as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist: the definition of "two forms, one rite" has the effect of legitimizing the pastoral exigency of the old liturgy and removing it from the control of the local bishop. It does not restore, it seems to me, the Tridentine rite to equal footing with the novus ordo. Additionally, even if "two forms, one rite" were to place the old liturgy on equal footing, it would then create another set of problems. We have a divergence in Calendar, Ordo, and Lectionarium. It does not seem plausible to continue with discrepancy between the two missals indefinately. At some point, at least with regard to the Calendar and Lectionary, there must be a confluence between to two liturgies.

Above all, however, the taudgry state of the Roman liturgy persists. Those persons who invest their hopes in a "brick-by-brick" approach are hard pressed to find any proof indicating a gradual "gravitational pull" one the celebration of the ordinary form of the Roman rite. Those who make every effort to celebrate the Roman liturgy in a manner cognisant with the liturgical patrimony of both the east and west are the same who would do so anyway, regardless of which missal is in use. Liturgical celebration that stirs the soul is not dependent upon the missal in use. The dominant mode of celebration pre-Vatican II was a sloppy low Mass. In our own day, one needs only to observe a monastic liturgy with the Missal of Paul VI to realize the liturgical reform is not inherently deficient. Rather, there is a typical "Roman" or "Western" approach to the liturgy that persists and operates regardless of which set of liturgical books is present at the altar. The old liturgy, contrary to all of my hopes, expectations and aspirations of yore, is not the solution to the problem of the liturgy in the West. This is not to say that we need not revisit the Tridentine liturgy. It is worth our while to revisit the old liturgy at the zenith of the liturgical movement. It is worth trying to rediscover their trail and find all of the openings and avenues for powerful spiritual experience they marked out in the old liturgy. It is not so much a matter of simply restoring the Missale Romanum of 1962 into force, rather, it is a matter returning to the point of discovery and exploration of the old missal and reorient ourselves to direction in which the Roman liturgy was heading before a total recast of the Roman rite was imposed. Part of this would involve, in my estimation, a genuine study of the hand missals produced by the luminaries of the liturgical movement. I believe their intentions show through in the pages of their product.

Of course, this would pose its own hard questions. Top among them being the place of the Missale Romanum of 1964/65 - that oddest of volumes confined to university libraries, whether due to a small print run or little interest. Was that odd volume the fulfillment of the liturgical movement's intentions for the old liturgy or was it the first misstep along a rocky road?

There are many variables, all of which make this a complicated task and serve to demonstrate the facile liturgiology prevalent today. The old Latin liturgy is genuinely no better off than it was prior to the publication of Summorum Pontificum. As long as their is no honest attempt to return to the original liturgical movement's ambitions for the old liturgy, as long as it is prevented from developing on its own terms, a process it was engaged in during the first half of the last century, and treated as a liturgical museum piece, then it will lumber towards obsolescence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Revisiting the new English translation of the Roman Missal and lessons learned from Romney's failed Presidential bid.

Fr. Anthony Ruff has  an interesting article commemorating a year since the implementation of the third edition of the Roman Missal in the English speaking world.

Coming from the NCR, there is, as to be expected, some ideological slant to Ruff's estimation, although he is correct in principle. It is well worth being a little suspicious of persons, bishops included, who tout the success of the new translation. It is equally worth being a little suspicious of those who purport, like Ruff, mass confusion or disappointment with the new translations. Rather, when Ruff rhetorically asks if we have seen any increase in theological knowledge as a result of the translations (via the more directly cited biblical or patristic allusions), I think he closer to hitting upon the heart of the matter.

The grave indictment of the new translation is in its failure to do, well, anything. There has been no tangible result from or reaction to the new translation of the Roman Missal. In fact, the whole project has been greeted with a cold indifference that should surprise both those who support and oppose the new English translation. It is the indifference to the new translation that should cause the hierarchy  or other interested parties some concern. If there had been widespread rejection of the new English translation, then the hierarchy could take some solace in the fact that many persons identifying with the Roman Catholic Church are actively engaged in ecclesiastical and liturgical matters. This was not the case, nor was there much rabid acceptance of the new translations.

The reception of the new English translation with apathy projects a possibility of future demographic shifts in English speaking Roman Catholicism. If I were a member of the hierarchy, I would be concerned that the reception of the Roman Missal is an indicator of a future numbers collapse, if not in actual membership than in future revenue. The reception implies a growing disinterest in the religion which may translate into decreased membership, either through persons leaving or through lower initiation rates, or a decline in donations for Church services.

Now, in response to Ruff's article, a young blogger posted story of apparent survey results indicating that the new translation is overwhelmingly accepted by Catholics. You can find this survey here. The Obama campaign's solid number crunching proved to be a wicked reality check for Mitt Romney and his supporters has taught us to be diligent when interpreting survey data. Were there any geographic, demographic or any other concentration behind the survey participants? This is a major point to consider. Were the survey respondents asked if they were intending to respond truthfully to the questions? It may seem outrageous to ask, but survey participants are known to provide false results. When questioning the survey participants as to whether or not the new texts enhanced their spiritual life/religious practice, where the participants asked to provide some example or given a choice of examples to illustrate this point? The survey, from the data published, used far too narrow of a sample and lacked rigor.

Once again, as the Romney campaign should have taught us, surveys are useless if the data collection is slanted in even the slightest manner to give us the results we want or fails to look for every possible datum that would flesh out the picture and provide us with the most detailed of analysis. This survey is too facile to take any comfort in. In this respect, Fr. Ruff is correct: the bar measuring success has been set fairly low.

In my estimation, it is too early to deem the new translations a success or failure - much like the Missale Romanum of Paul VI in general. The Catholic Church in the United States is at a place where the translation of the Missal is, at the moment, irrelevant in the face other issues that have yet to fully settle and whose consequences are still unknown.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thoughts on Josef Jungmann

It's been some time since I've given any time to the work of Josef Jungmann. Jungmann, as any person interested in the liturgy should know, was a titan of the later era of the liturgical movement. Jungmann's reputation preceeded him in his lifetime. His legacy, by contrast, is a bit more complicated. Among liturgical historians, Jungmann's The Mass of the Roman Rite is well revered, although it seems the number of historians who utilize the work, be it for research of course instruction, are becoming increasingly small. Among contemporary liturgical scholars concerned with the scientific understanding of the liturgy, Jungmann's work is utilized less frequently. Still less so among those who are concerned with practical liturgics. Lastly, the wave of reactionary liturgiology largely considers Jungmann irrelevant.

Yesterday I read Jungmann's The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer for the first time in many years. The experience brought Jungmann's legacy into focus. Jungmann typifies the scientific investigation of the liturgy, the direction in which the liturgical movement largely moved in the mid twentieth century. Jungmann avoids any speculation on the metaphysics of the liturgy, the communion of the human being and God in liturgical prayer and action, the journey of the soul to God in the liturgy or any number of "arcane" topics that have surrounded the liturgy, at one point or another, in both the East and West. Jungmann, in this book, is largely textual, focusing upon various manuscripts of a selection of liturgical traditions. For its time, it was a revolutionary approach. When Jungmann discusses Christ role as the subject in the petition contained in the Preface of the Apostles in the "Tridentine" Roman Missal (circa 1926), he highlights how this preface breaks from the normal Roman custom of addressing the Father. This may seem hardly the item of significant note, however, if we consider that at the time of publication this preface had been said numerous times and, so far as we know, was hardly noticed as a peculiarity, then we can begin to appreciate Jungmann's work. In The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer Jungmann does not so much develop liturgical thought or theory, but rather he focuses one's intellectual attention upon elements in the text that are plainly visible but hardly noticed.

Contemporary liturgics in the Roman Catholic church has moved in an interesting direction since Jungmann's passing. The scientific study of the liturgy continues, though, one must note, it is approaching ever increasing irrelevance. Scholarly monographs are published on various academic presses and betwixt the pages of academic journals. The scientific study of the liturgy is of crucial importance to editing liturgical manuscripts. This endeavor has lost some of its past luster as the great liturgical manuscripts have been edited. Scholarly efforts are having to focus upon more "local" traditions, manuscripts produced by local monastic communities and are substantially based upon the main manuscript families. Meanwhile, practical liturgics, devoted to fostering a deeper understanding of contemporary liturgies, and reactionary liturgics, that seeks retrieve liturgical forms or prayers lost during the twentieth century and occasionally the medieval period, have arisen in the last decade to become the two dominant pillars in contemporary liturgics. Both disciplines seek to address areas of inquiry that were neglected by the liturgical movement during the shift to scientific study of the liturgy. The scientific study of the liturgy overlooked the experiential component of liturgical prayer; it treated the liturgy as something mechanical and often proposed reforms based predominately on intellectual inquiry and less upon process of religious experience in a liturgical context, let alone appeal to the great monastic traditions surrounding liturgical observance. In some respects, one can argue that the scientific approach to the liturgy, while retrieving much valuable data and elucidating the conscious or unconscious principles that were behind the development of the Roman liturgy, failed to account for what exactly makes human beings religious. This delicate quality was taken as a given, without much realization that religious belief and the quality that leads to religious experience are fragile things. The scientific study of the liturgy could tell us much about the liturgical text as such, but it could not get hold of the experience produced by the liturgy in the combination of text, consciousness and ritual execution.

The place of Jungmann in history, much like the later portion of the liturgical movement, is, in my estimation, in doubt. The thrust of liturgical interest is moving away from the scientific and more towards the experiential, even among restorationist minded groups. What reference will be made to Jungmann, or any writer in the liturgical movement, in another generation is uncertain.