Tuesday, September 8, 2015

WHAT IS GOOD LITURGY?


I read this recently in an article on the liturgy:

"The combination of noble simplicity and clarity of structures with active participation as hallmarks of a “good liturgy” in the Roman Rite." 

It isn't that this description of what comprises a good liturgy is wrong, it is simply woefully incomplete.

Noble simplicity and clarity of structures as well as active participation without a comprehensive definition of what active participation is turn the liturgy into a horizontal, social structure  in order to please those who evaluate liturgy from a purely horizontal, human perspective. Thus the greatest flaw is enunciated in the current debates and evaluations of liturgy, it is described merely as a human endeavor. What is missing in the evaluation I print above?

Let me enunciate it:

1. Liturgy is Mystery, God entering the fabric of who we are in a sacramental way, to engender awe, wonder and reverence as we bow before (or kneel, better yet) before the Majesty of God. It is not simply people coming together to carry out a ritual of noble simplicty with clarity of structures where the human voice is heard either in song or spoken word. It is much, much more and the Mystery of it all is that Liturgy originates with God.

2. This is what actual good liturgy accomplishes, even if one has to rely completely on "ex opere operato" as the basis of evaluation because the human elements of following the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the rubrics of the liturgy are so woefully lacking as is any real human engagement in what is occurring especially internally and from the heart:

a. God gives us from His altar, the only event in salvation history that saves mankind from the fires of hell, eternal damnation, He gives us His one Sacrifice on the Cross in a palatable, beautiful, unbloody way. In the same way that a beautiful, bejeweled crucifix makes holy and attractive something that otherwise would be disgusting and off-putting, the Lord God through the Liturgy has made the entire Sacrifice of Christ beautiful and something we wish to be near and see and touch and receive for our salvation. Salvation is beautiful!

b. God gives us from His altar His Crucified and Risen Son born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, first in the Word of God spoken and then from the altar, the Word of God made Flesh, through the Blessed Virgin Mary, when ordinary bread and wine are transubstantiated by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the human ordained priest who acts in the person of Christ, Head of the Church, to bring about this transubstantiation. The Most Holy Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, the Sacrificial Victim, is given to us to be comsumed as the Holocaust.

3. So great a mystery becomes good liturgy when it engenders in those whom God has called to the Sacrificial Banquet, a powerful experience of being in the Majesty of God who alone can turn something as ugly and the scourge of crucifix,with its immense suffering, into something quite beautiful and palatable. God through His liturgy engenders awe, wonder, fear and trembling! This is what good liturgy accomplishes and the good come not from us but from God!

When the basis of good liturgy is evaluated by the human endeavors of "fabricating" a liturgy that has noble simplicity, clarity of structure and active participation, meaning the people sing and speak, then one has completely misunderstood what good liturgy actually is!

21 comments:

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

The cross is not made beautiful by affixing jewls or gold that cloud the reality of the violent death accepted by Jesus for our salvation.

It is made beautiful as the sign of our salvation precisely by Christ's death on that hard, heavy wood. Hiding the reality under mere human decoration obscures the mystery, the deeper meaning. Christ's execution isn't supposed to be made palatable. We are meant to be changed by its power.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Following your logic then, you would have preferred that Holy Communion actually be like raw meat, cheapest cut and actual blood and we be sprinkled with actual blood not water! This explains what you prefer banal ugly liturgies and architecture.

Ted said...

As Ratzinger once noted, the idea of beauty for the ancient Greeks (as a harmony) is upset by Jesus on the Cross which redefines beauty as based on Love.
It is bad enough to figure out what actual/active participation means, but would anyone care to try and define "noble simplicity"?

Calvin of Hippo said...

Bejeweling the Cross or having ornate Crucifixes is done to the glory of God, acknowledging His triumph over death and suffering and highlighting the power of Christ to overcome the ugliness of death and sin. Focusing so intently on the ugliness of the Cross (which is certainly a part of our worship and understanding) obscures the Glory of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the majesty of God which overcomes the Cross and promises Christ's return in glory. This is a favorite theme of progressives and those who have fallen into unbelief...focus on just the humanity and suffering of Christ as an example for us to renew ourselves existentially through an encounter with the man Jesus and his suffering. Humanistic "theology" at its best.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

CH, you hit the nail on the head. A low Christology that simply focuses on suffering and death in the Liturgy leads to the types of Masses we have in the Ordinary Form with it ugly architecture. Catholic devotional life certainly does focus on the ugliness of the crucifixion especially Latino devotional life, compared to the more sterile American approach. But that's in devotions, not the Liturgy even when the EF Mass was the Ordinary Form of the Mass. High Christology should inform the Mass, low Christology can inform popular devotions. It is here that we can both, not either or.

Jdj said...

Cal, that has certainly been my experience over the past 53 years as an adult Catholic. Good points.
If I "get it" at all, my understanding is that we are changed by the Cross and all that occurred in the violent bloody sacrifice, re-presented in the unbloody sacrifice of Holy Mass, culminating in salvation THROUGH the power of Christ conquering and triumphing over death.
If I'm wrong, then I really don't get it and may need supernatural help at this advanced age of brain function.

Calvin of Hippo said...

Jdj, you "get it." Sadly, many of our Priests do not.

John Nolan said...

The 'realistic' crucifix alluded to by Fr Kavanaugh is associated with late medieval, esp. Franciscan, piety and devotion. I've seen Spanish examples which are particularly gruesome. The earlier (first millennium) tradition was towards the more stylized and ornate. The cross only became the defining symbol of Christianity when the emperor Constantine ended crucifixion as a punishment. However, pagans still disparaged the Christians for their attachment to the cross, and Christians retaliated by ornamenting their crosses. The custom therefore dates from late antiquity.

In Charlemagne's cathedral in Aachen there is an exquisite jewelled processional cross, the cross of Lothair, which was made around the year 1000. I was at Mass there ten years ago and it was actually being used for its original purpose.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John - I am not a fan at all of the more gruesome crucifixes of Spanish, Italian, or Franciscan origin. They overemphasize the physical suffering of Christ evoking an excessively emotional response to the saving sacrifice.

The unadorned wood of the cross, while simple, is in no way "ugly." By His death thereupon, Christ has transformed the rugged wood of the cross into the sign of resurrection and life. This was the message ofope St John Paul II on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross in 1984.

This understanding of the transformed meaning of the cross is in no way a part of a "low" Christology. On the contrary, this appreciation of the true meaning of the cross is of the highest Christology. As the wood of the cross, an instrument of torture, has been transformed by Christ, so can we be changed by His grace.

The cross, hidden behind the bright, shiny, appealing gems and precious metals, is still the cross. We "pretty it up" in order to, I fear, obscure the real pain and suffering that is part and parcel of a life devoted to Christian witness. Sometimes the decoration flows from a much mpre banal source- the simple desire to show off.

"Behold the wood, not the gold and precious stones, on which hung the Savior of the world.'

Calvin of Hippo said...

It is not either or. Both types of Crosses have a place in our worship and understanding.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

No, Cal, the wood of the cross remains the wood of the cross no matter how much it is gussied up. And the wood of the cross, not the gems and precious metals with which we adorn the cross, is the sign of resurrection and life.

Calvin of Hippo said...

So, then, take down all your brass, gold, silver, and whatever crucifixes and replace them all with wood. That should make you feel really righteous and humble and all that good stuff. Idolizing the wood of the Cross does seem a bit over the top, however. Be reminded, it is not the Cross we worship...

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Cal/Gene - The wood of the cross is not an idol, as I have clearly stated. By the death of Christ on the cross it is made a sign - a SIGN - if the resurrection.

Calvin of Hippo said...

Fr. Kavanaugh, you make a lot of ambiguous statements, which are probably a reflection of your own ambivalent theology.
You have rarely, if ever, clearly stated anything on this blog. And, I am not Gene...I am Calvin of Hippo.

John Nolan said...

Fr Kavanaugh,

I, too am confused. Are you advocating a plain wooden cross with no corpus? This would appear to violate GIRM 308. Also, in recent times there has been a return to a more stylized version showing a glorified Christ. Traddies hate it - they call it a 'resurrexifix' - so I thought you of all people would have approved.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John - I think the crucifix wehave in my church is as beautiful as any in our Diocese. The cross is plain dark wood and the corpus is a realistic lindenwood, I suspect, image. There is no blood painted on, and no jewels to make the image more palatable.

I think some of the "Risen Christ" depictions are well done, but most I have seen are the mass produced catalogue variety that leave much to be desired, artistically speaking. I would not choose one unless it was exceptionally well made and of the highest artistic quality.

Gene/Cal - You are giving yourself away with every post!

John Nolan said...

Fr Kavanaugh

I have a certain fondness for the two-dimensional tempera on wood crucifixes painted in Italy c.1250-1350 and derived from Byzantine models - Cimabue's is probably the best known. The crucifix in your church is no doubt ideal for its surroundings and as you say, quality of materials and artistic standards are what matter.

It was actually Fr McDonald who suggested that ornamentation is to make the image more palatable, whereas I don't believe that's the principal reason for it.



Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Perhaps My use of bejeweled is the wrong term as it is too narrow. Stylized crucifixes make the crucifix more palatable to our senses in terms of attractiveness rather than off-putting. I have seen some grotesque crucifixes of Spanish or Latin American origin and these I would not display on my person as jewelry.

Jdj said...

I think I finally see the problem here; maybe the word "palatable" Is the culprit. Nothing about the cross is palatable, and nothing can embellish that horrendous impalatibilty, as Fr. K accurately points out, except joining our human will with His suffering. I get that. And thus nothing can glorify the cross more than Christ's sacrifice for us accomplished on His cross of wood. I do think however think that "embellished" crosses represent Christ's victory over death and call us to forward to heavenly glory. Just speaking for myself, over a long life I have come to be grateful for the generous donors who have provided these gorgeous embellished crosses to aid my worship of heavenly glory. But I do know "you can't get to heaven save with empty hands". I am totally open to correction.

Am I getting your point now, Fr. K? I really do need to get this, as I am rather close to having to justify myself with our Lord, and I suspect He will ask "Who do you say that I am"? I want to honor the true God, not any other.

Calvin of Hippo said...

There are far too many in the Church whose theology stops at the cross...

George said...

Isn't it also more likely that a person on encountering an ornate bejeweled crucifix will stop to admire it, and perhaps be drawn into it, and will then ponder the deeper significance and meaning of the cross and the sufferings of our Savior whose representation is affixed to it?