Saturday, September 13, 2014
WHAT THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CAN TEACH US ABOUT LITURGICAL REFORM
Praytell blog has an article on Liturgical Reform, Human and Divine, from the Eastern Orthodox perspective. You can read the article there by Nicholas Denysenk.
I would like to focus on his three paragraphs below:
One of the theologians I have been reading is Metropolitan Antonii Krapovitskii, who was a proponent of restoring the Patriarchate of Moscow in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the Church leader who established the Russian Church Abroad after the October Revolution. The Russian Church deliberated the question of liturgical reform at some length in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Metropolitan Antonii consistently questioned the need for liturgical reform.
In an article on the possibility of removing or lowering the iconostasis of the Church for the purpose of providing the laity with greater visual access to the sanctuary, presumably enhancing their participation, Metropolitan Antonii responded that such an action would tempt the presider to shift his focus from praying to God to offering an aesthetically pleasing ritual performance for the people. After blaming Protestants and Catholics for creating this phenomenon of pleasing the people in liturgy, he stated that the current liturgy offered everything an Orthodox believer needs for salvation.
I suspect that such an argument might sound familiar to readers of Pray, Tell, but I ask you to consider this: does Metropolitan Antonii offer us material for reflection? Is liturgical reform a divine act, an outpouring of the Spirit that vivifies the body of Christ? Is liturgical reform a creation of elite liturgists and artists deigned to glorify God? Is it some combination of these, or perhaps a distortion, where innovators propose actions to glorify themselves?
While I contend that the post-Vatican II revision of the Liturgical celebrations are basically good although still need of reform through recovery of some of what was tossed, the greatest problem with post-Vatican II's revision of the Mass and other sacramental celebrations lies with how these reforms were implemented and we can lay the blame for the distortion of these otherwise well-intentioned revisions to the liturgy at the feet of "elite liturgists."
There are three major areas in the life of the Church in the immediate aftermath of the Council that have been addressed but still need some addressing as these impact the liturgy and distorts it.
The first is the elevation of a so-called new ecclesiology in Vatican II's documents that become an infallible new doctrine. Of course Vatican II teaches as the Church has always taught that the Church is comprised of the clergy and laity. Together we are the people of God. However theologians encouraged bishops and priest to distort this truth to eliminate distinctions between the clergy and the laity, between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the laity.
Thus rather than strengthening the role of the laity as lay people during the celebration of the sacraments and in the life of the Church, the laity were clericalized and a new elitist clericalism in the laity developed. So laity were competing with the clergy to have roles in the liturgy apart from the laity's traditional and authentic ministry, participating from the pew or choir loft. Thus laity were involved in reading and distributing Holy Communion, taught to be "presiders" at para-liturgies and allowed to preach. All of this has formed not a strengthen laity but a clericalized elite group of laity who compete with priest in their primary priestly role and sometimes hijack that ministry.
The second distortion is the emphasis on showing everything to the laity at Mass. Thus the priest faces the congregation for all parts of the Mass, prays as though these prayers are directed to the congregation and everything is presented in a visual way for the people to see.
While the Orthodox have the iconostasis as well as ad orientem in the Divine Liturgy that hides what is happening at the altar, Catholics have had the altar railing and the priest facing the liturgical east and a silent canon that is the western's version of the "iconostasis."
One might ask what is there to see in the liturgy? Why do the chalice and patens have to be visible to the congregation from the very beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist to Holy Communion? What is there to see in this conglomeration of precious metals on the altar in full view of the congregation? How does this enhance our participation in the Mass and our discipleship in the world compared to the manner of the Mass prior to Vatican II?
The third distortion is casualness of our current culture imposed on the formality of the liturgy. While the laity have been exalted in post-Vatican II theology, their demeanor and dress and Mass has sunk to new lows. What ever happened to wearing "Sunday best" to Mass. Now we see tee-shirts and shorts.
For the most part the clergy have not succumbed to this in terms of vestments, although these are not as ornate as prior to the Council. But the liturgy has a sloppiness and ordinariness that that diminishes reverence and piety has these were understood prior to the revision of the Mass in the late 1960's.
The revised Mass, completely chanted, ad orientem and with formal ministries by priests, deacons and installed acolytes and readers (as in those preparing for ordination) can be every much as reverent and pious as the pre-Vatican II's version of the Mass. Toss in ad orientem and altar railings and kneeling for Holy Communion as well as Gregorian chant or some variation of it for the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons and one has continuity between the two forms of the Mass and the ethos of the original form of the Mass from which the revised form evolved or was invented, depending on your ideology.
In fact the revised Mass celebrated as I highlight in the paragraph above has more in common with the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy than the pre-Vatican II version. The vast majority of the Eastern Liturgy is chanted and very little is said quietly or in a soft voice.