Monday, July 30, 2012

THE MASS: ART OR SCIENCE?




While I remember the Tridentine Mass as a young child and a young teenager, I don't think I ever thought of the Mass as a sort of science project but rather understood it as an art, the art of worshiping God.

Somewhere, though, in the post-Vatican II euphoria about the new springtime of the Church and what was called "renewal" which referred to everything that was being deconstructed and supposedly reconstructed in and new and improved way, that imminent eschatology was finally being made manifest in the Church through Vatican II renewal and its so-called spirit.

Thus, priests and nuns shedding defining clerical clothes and habits would make them seem so close to the laity that a new springtime of vocations and the ministry of priests and religious life would blossom. Has it? No!!!

The renewal of Mass became scientific too. If the Mass was simple, easy to understand, in a first graders ability to comprehend the vernacular and if the signs and symbols were big and flamboyant, the prayers proclaimed with gusto, the priest warm and friendly, the congregation likewise and if creativity on the local level was prevalent, there would be the escaton before you knew it. Has that happened? NO! We now have about 20% of Catholics attending the simplified vernacular Mass with lots of lay activity and warm, caring ministers compared to the horrible days prior to the Council when about 90% of Catholics attended Mass each Sunday.

The clearest sign of a mental illness is doing something over and over again thinking one will finally get a good result when the good result never comes, try as one may, over and over again to make a better result.

The Tridentine Mass now known at the Extraordinary Form had one basic premise. Through it the Church gave us the form of worship that parishes and religious houses throughout the world would use to make present the one sacrificed of Christ and bring about the consecration of the Bread and Wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Risen and Glorified Christ.

It was an art form from the choreography, to the chanting and the various movements of the priest and ministers and the choir's overlay of chanting. Even the Low Mass was an art, not a science that capture the religious imagination of all involved and brought them to a level of contemplation of the mysteries of salvation.

Liturgy is an art, not a science. We need to go back to the EF Mass and follow as conservatively as possible what Sacrosanctum Concilium asked for in terms of the "renewal of the Mass and the Sacraments."

SC was not asking for a revolution, just a little bit of simplicity, a litter bit of vernacular, a little bit of inculturation, and a lot of faith, hope and love all artfully crafted.

14 comments:

Gene said...

The very association of the words "Chicago" and "values" causes cognitive dissonance. From Capone to Daly to Obama and nothing has changed...a thugocracy. I think you can still go from the University of Chicago to the Lutheran School of Theology without getting shot at if you run...

Joseph Johnson said...

"We need to go back to the EF Mass and follow as conservatively as possible what SC asked for . ."

Father, I couldn't agree more. After becoming familiar with the EF Mass and actually reading SC, it became very apparent (at least in the abstract sense)that SC did not mandate the establishment of a "Concilium" to give us a "New Order of Mass." Yes, the Pope did what he did and he allowed things to happen which (apparently) he later regretted and some of which he wasn't aware until it was already too late.

Sure, we must be obedient to the letter of what was done (accept the Novus Ordo Mass) but it doesn't mean that we can't (at least for the sake of discussion) question whether what was required by SC couldn't have been more faithfully implemented within the confines or framework of the then existing form of the Rite (what we now call the EF Mass).

This is what I truly believe and this is why I will pray for and work for the greater availability of the EF Mass in our Diocese, in any way that I can. This is also why I am also an advocate for the "Reform of the Reform" of the OF Mass. Anything that makes the OF conform more closely to the EF is a step back onto the right road that we should have been on for more that forty years--that is, a reform of the EF rite in a measured and conservative conformity with the literal requirements of SC. In other words, the OF should have been a conservatively reformed EF rite--not a newer form or rite which only appears to share the barest essentials with the older form.

And, yes, I openly admit that I not only like, but find meaningful, the historical and cultural "encrustations" of the older form which were often used, in an allegorical way, to point to, or emphasize, the Truths contained in our Faith and the Mass. It is the loss of these things that is one of my biggest dislikes of the OF Mass. I admire the Eastern Rites (and the Orthodox) because they did not cast off these cultural and historical aspects as we have done in the OF.

Joseph Johnson said...

Actually, I meant to use the word "accretions" rather than "encrustations" in the last paragraph of my comment.

-Brian said...

I know you express in your writing how important a "return to the sacred" is. For me, having that theme opened up with an assertion that Mass is "the art of worshiping God", is beautiful. Thank you.

rcg said...

JJ, an understandable mistake in your crabby state.

Science is the endeavour for precision and accuracy. It naturally falls short in actual practice as the world is too large to be precise and and too comprehensive to be precise. Yet in small areas, science is important and vital. The benefit of the accuracy of well constructed language is the objective of using Latin in the Liturgy. The symbols and actions used in the Mass are communication devices to the psyche of the congregation that assist us in the prayer of the Mass. This is science. The combination of all of these things, properly accomplished as science, result in art that like the formulae for Titian's paint, transcends its parts.

The details of the science matter and attention to those details convey how much we care. Similarly, the sloppy execution of Liturgy, habit and cassock, or music indicates the opposite as clearly as if it was shouted from the pulpit.

Gene said...

I apologize for posting in the wrong thread. Can you move my post, Fr?

Henry Edwards said...

"eventhe low Mass . . ."

I realize that this kind of diclaimer is reflexive these days, but let me suggest that the daily low Mass is one of the great glories of the Roman rite, one of the ways it is superior to and more complete the Eastern rites--which themselves achieve great glory in the sun Sunday divine liturgy with all the bells and smells and ceremony--but which probably lack the daily spirituality of the Roman rite.

Many (like me) find a deeper--at least, in some ways--individual spirituality in low Mass participation than in the communal sung high Mass that raises so much vital glory to God in the parish Sunday liturgy.

Kitchener Waterloo Traditional Catholic said...

Hello Father,

A friend of mine grew up on a horse farm. He said one wild horse could affect the whole herd and to confirm the saying, once they got out of the barn it would be very difficult to get them back in.

We were speaking about the Novus Ordo. SC at V2 opened the door and the wild horses of the liturgical movement ran away with nearly all the tame ones.

I've never been to one of your Ordinary Form Masses, but I'm sure it's like many others I've attended: very reverent, no improvising, people worshipping, not socializing.

However, we all know that type of Ordinary Form isn't the norm. Most OFs are somewhere between casual communal meal and outright disgrace. Fr. Bill Rowe's last school Mass was recently taken down probably due to many complaints. Sadly, clown suits are still deployed in the Sanctuary.

The reverent OF Masses would benefit from going back to what the Council Fathers envisioned: ad orientum, altar rails, at least some Latin (Canon). There are two issues that come to mind if that were to happen: first, if the OF and EF were so close in their structure then isn't one redundant? Second, how would the wild horses react?

Whenever I think of ordinary pewsitters attending an EF (funeral, special occasion, etc) I suspect the liturgy goes right over their heads. The EF isn't rocket science but it's more liturgically advanced than the OF. Nuns used to teach the Mass to the children, but now anyone interested has to self-educate. In other words, take an interest in their faith instead of merely putting that one hour per week to make their Sunday obligation.

As you stated Father, 80% of baptized Catholics don't make their Sunday obligation. Of those that do most in their child bearing years are using contraception, some don't believe in the Real Presence, and judging by the dust on the Confessionals, most think they're going straight to Heaven.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Before invoking liturgical change the Church must start teaching again. I'm not thinking of you Father or the other holy priests you truly care about the salvation of souls in their parishes. How much catechesis does the typical Catholic get in homilies? That's where the first change has to be made. Priests have to start preaching the catechism and the Mass - they go together. The EF best represents Church teaching but if properly explained, the average pewsitter would benefit from actually understanding the OF.

Once the average pewsitter understands the basics of the catechism and the Mass (both forms) then gradual liturgical change can start. I suggest getting the altar rails back as the first correction. When you realize it is the Body of Christ coming to you from the hand of His minister a lot of other things fall into place in your mind. Naturally, the EMHC role needs to be eliminated or reserved for emergencies, just like they were intended.

It's been fifty years now so as some people theorize we've endured the chaotic post-council phase. We won't get all the horses back in the barn tomorrow; it's probably going to take a generation or two. It can't be done forcefully either or they'll jump the fence and never be seen again.

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church so He had his reason for Vatican II. However, I doubt there will be another pastoral council again. We've benefited from some fruits already: Catholics own and sometimes read the Bible, priests don't walk on water. I believe most Catholics have yet to discover the high hanging fruit. I see glimpses in the eyes of the young people who attend our EF - they are engaged in their faith, liturgically literate, new evangelists.

Here's to the next fifty,

Lewis said...

A most excellent post, and I couldn't agree more. Does this mean there shall be more EF Masses at St. Joe's? More ad orientem (sp) OF, or even OF with greater inclusion of Latin? I'll get to work composing settings, just say the word! :)

Henry Edwards said...

"Jesus Christ is the head of the Church so He had his reason for Vatican II."

I wonder whether Christ Himself should be blamed for the holocaust of faith that occurred in the 1960s, any more that for the holocaust of Jews and others that occurred in the 20th century, or for the holocaust of abortion that continues today.

Evil exists in the world, and surely does not reflect the will of God in any humanly discernible way.

Gene said...

God's will is both perfect and permissive...the price of our free will is sin and evil.

Father Shelton said...

I love this post! Yes, when science sticks to studying the art of executing sacred liturgy for the purpose of increasing participation in it, all is well. But when liturgical science in reduced to liturgical re-engineering, we get what we now have.
Commentators here rightly encourage your efforts at "reforming the reform", but the painfully obvious reality is that the New Roman Mass does not contain within itself the artful capacity to lead other priests to follow your example. The motivation for reform must come from outside the New Mass. The Traditional Mass does not have this problem. It is perfectly capable of artful reform, but does not lend itself to cold re-engineering.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I've said this a hundred times before, but all we need to do is to have the current 2012 Roman Missal in English with an EF Order as an option. In this EF Order, everything remains the same, in terms of collects, prayers over the gifts, prefaces etc. It simply has the EF Order and rubrics and I will give into the concession with this option that only the Roman Canon is prayed and in low voice (not silent). I would still recommend having the OF Liturgy of the Word with a Gradual Option decided by local priests. You'd still have the revised Calendar but according to the Anglican Ordinariate which has cleverly re-established things that are lost currently with the standard revised calendar. It seems so easy to me.
Then the Extraordinary Form Mass remains as is in the 1962 and as a indult.

Kitchener Waterloo Traditional Catholic said...

Fr, respectfully I'd like to disagree with your vision of the E.F returning to indult status. The E.F/Usus Antiquior is our liturgical heritage. Every priest should have the right to offer it as every member of the laity should have access to it.

There are other concerns with the O.F. other than rubrics and language. Many prayers were removed; prayers for salvation, petitions to saints, Mary. People more knowledgeable than I say the OF has a deficiency in the Offertory.

One of the main problems I see in the liturgy today is not many priests are fluent in Latin. I know priests who say they need four hours preparation to chant the Epistle and Gospel - they know the rest of the Mass. My suggestion is to make the readings in Latin optional in a Missa Cantata as they are in the Lecta.