... Those of us who are now elderly remember vividly that priests were identifiable not only because of their Roman collars and dark suits, but also because of their tonsure. The latter had a clear symbolic meaning: the fact that part of the priest's hair was shaved indicated his total donation to God. After Vatican II, this longstanding tradition was abolished. I do not recall that a convincing reason was given for this change, but somehow the special dignity of the priesthood was no longer honored by a visible sign.Read Von Hildebrand's article in its entirety here. It offers a helpful complement to our ongoing discussion about the hermeneutics of "fittingness" in the liturgical changes introduced since Vatican II.
Before ascending to the altar for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, priests had to don 7 pieces of clothing, each one of which symbolized a step in a particular scene of Christ's ascent to Golgotha, where the ultimate sacrifice of the God-man for our redemption took place. These symbols have been powerfully highlighted in [Martin] von Cochem's book, The Amazing Catholic Mass [i.e., The Incredible Catholic Mass] (TAN). Today many of them have been eliminated. It is most unlikely that young priests know either their names or their symbolic meanings. What is particularly regrettable is that priests are likely to be much less conscious of the fact that Holy Mass is essentially a non bloody re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, a fact of which the priestly vestments they were wearing physically and forcefully reminded them.
Whereas in the so-called Tridentine liturgy the priest stood first at the foot of the altar -- once again symbolizing the way of the Cross toward the hill of Calvary -- in the Novus Ordo he immediately faces the congregation. The steps have been eliminated. And yet, how deeply meaningful and symbolic were these "steps" -- powerful expressions of the virtue of discretio, which teaches us that before reaching a noble goal, we should beware of rushing to it without proper preparation.
Another significant change is the abolition of minor orders: up to Vatican II, there were seven steps leading to the priesthood: porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte, and then subdeacon, deacon, and finally the holy sacrament of the priesthood, in which a human creature is granted the unfathomable privilege of representing Christ, and of changing bread and wind into the holy Body and Blood of the Savior of the world. These seven steps had a deep meaning: inspired by a sentiment of sacred discretio, the Church in her wisdom reminded the candidate to the priesthood of the awesomeness of the step he was about to take. Whether in universities or in the military, we note grades of dignity. It was thus highly appropriate that the ascension to the highest dignity ever given to man should be marked by several degrees, each one of them granting the seminarian a more intimate participation in the mystery of Holy Mass. Once again, this tradition rich in symbolic meaning has been eliminated.
It is also regrettable that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is now celebrated on a table, the piece of furniture used for meals. An altar, on the contrary, was exclusively used for sacrifices, as clearly stated in the Old Testament.
Another important change is that priests now face their congregations, whereas for centuries they were facing east, and Christ is called the sol justitiae. He is the light -- the lumen Christi. Once again, a profound symbol was discarded.
Still another break with tradition is the elimination of the altar rails in catholic churches. For centuries, people knelt while receiving Holy Communion, and kneeling in our culture is the most perfect expression of an adoring posture -- that is, a bodily duplication of the proper posture of the soul. Why this change was introduced (at great financial cost) is difficult to understand, by unfortunately it is not the only case in which symbolism has been eliminated.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Alice von Hildebrand on liturgical symbolism
Commenting on changes introduced into Catholic life since Vatican II, Alice von Hildebrand writes, in an essay entitled "The War on Symbolism":
Posted by Pertinacious Papist at 5:09 PM