Sunday, May 08, 2011

Liturgy and personality

I remember reading somewhere how Dietrich von Hildebrand, after converting to the Catholic Faith, used to run enthusiastically down the street, coattails flying, to be on time for daily Mass. He loved everything about his newfound religion. As much as anything else, he loved its liturgy.

In fact, he even wrote a book entitled Liturgy and Personality,about the “healing power of formal prayer” -- the power of liturgy to profoundly form and positively shape personality. Far from furnishing us with mere training wheels until we "mature" into more personal and spontaneous prayers "from the heart," formal liturgical prayer is actually the superior form of prayer, according to von Hildebrand. The key is to enter into the prayer of the Church, to make it one's own, to "pray the Mass," as St. Pope Pius X used to say, and to live it.

Formal liturgy -- so staid and “impersonal,” and even “oppressive” in the eyes of so many today -- is actually set forth in its proper meaning as the “source and summit” of our prayer life as Catholics, the place where we encounter our Lord and our God, see where we belong in His Kingdom and, in the process, learn who we are meant to be. In coming to know our God through the Church's liturgy, we come to know ourselves.

An Editor’s note in the latest edition of the book states that "Liturgy and Personality concerns the essence of the liturgy rather than the details of any particular liturgy,” and so urges the reader “to use von Hildebrand’s numerous liturgical examples to discover the gist of his arguments demonstrating the personality-forming power of the Liturgy,” so that these points can then “be related, where appropriate, to comparable elements in today’s Liturgy.”

It is no small point, however, that Liturgy and Personality was first published in 1932 in German: the Mass von Hildebrand loved, and through which he encountered the Lord, was the traditional Latin Mass of the Roman Rite -- the one most Catholics and others today would experience as something prima facie alien, if not alienating, including its "impersonal" Latin and the priest's "back turned to the people." This is the Mass -- this one -- to which he would fly down the street with his open coat billowing behind him!

It's enough to make any sane person wonder, is it not? But then, what is sanity, liturgically speaking? Is it the product of liturgical committees? Remember the joke about the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with the terrorist.

First and foremost, von Hildebrand was a Catholic philosopher, and his books on ethics and value-theory are substantial and profound. In the latter half of his life, however, after moving to the United States and after the Second World War, he increasingly turned the attention of his formidable mind to matters of the Church. For him, these were matters of the heart; and he was especially concerned with developments in the Church in the modern post-war world. Many of these developments he found troubling -- modernism, secularism, relativism, dissent, immorality -- and, above all, some of the experiments and innovations he lived to see in the Church's sacred liturgy.

Related:


18 comments:








JM

said...

DVH is so excellent. In the article you linked defending the Latin Mass, he effortlessly explains with laser-like clarity what this writer on Facebook only now realizes, in almost the exact same words, some some thirty years later:

"The push for recapturing traditional liturgical forms is not merely to reassert ritual for its own sake, but rather to make us aware of the reality of what is happening in the physical space — helping our minds and hearts transcend that space and leave temporality altogether, doing that impossible thing of touching eternity. This is what happens at every Mass, and the ritual is there to achieve this in the most dignified and precise way possible, in a manner that glorifies God and heightens our own consciousness of God’s message to us."

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2011/will-facebook-kill-the-church





Anonymous

said...

That the Latin Mass is the summit of prayer seems at odds even with Catholic mystics and the religious orders who follow their advice on the various stages of contemplation from mental prayer on up the ladder twoard infused contemplation.
I remember the real latin Mass from before the Council and I remember elderly ladies sying the rosary all the way through Mass as a solution to Latin being not their language. I studied Latin 6 years. I think it elitist to force it upon millions of people who never studied it.
But to return to Von Hildebrand. He is at odds with the prayer goals of our contemplative Orders. Merton noted that Carthusians are sometimes excused from Mass itself
for reasons having to do with infused prayer.





Carl

said...

"Source and summit" is actually a Vatican II phrase, I believe, repeated in an encyclical or two of JP2's, etc. It's subject, however, is the Eucharist, which is a relevant point here, in that no matter how "high" mystics may soar in contemplative prayer and mystical intimacy with Christ (even to the point of levitating, like St. Teresa of Avila), it is only in the Eucharistic liturgy that one is not only brought physically before the very Presence of Christ but invited to receive Him objectively and really in Communion. Even in private visits to the Blessed Sacrament, one cannot boast that.

The main point of Blosser's post, however, seemed to me to be contrast between the objective substance and depth of liturgical prayer, vs. the unpredictable reliability of this or that person's private extemporaneous prayer. I'm not saying the latter isn't important. It is. But not as important as being grounded in the Sacred Liturgy.

As to Latin, it strikes me as ironic that those who assist at Tridentine liturgies these days seem more mentally and spiritually involved in what's going on than those at Pope Paul's Mass, despite the fact that the latter is in English and everyone makes the vernacular responses by rote familiarity. Who are the more "active participants," I wonder? Why should one think that the liturgy must be in the vernacular to understand it? How do you know that the lady saying the rosary is less actively participating or less comprehending of the Mystery of Faith in the liturgy than the person reciting the Our Father in English with hands linked all the way down the pew? Please.





Carl

said...

I like what I'm reading here, but I have just one other thought.

It strikes me as a point of interest that partisans of the Old Mass, even when they have to drive some distance to find one, are happy when they've found it. They know what they're looking for is simply the Old Mass, and when they've found it, they know they've got it, and there is no question about the orthodoxy of those parishes.

On the other hand, partisans of the New Mass of a more conservative bent seem incessantly critical of this or that aspect of their liturgies, whether it's liturgical abuses, bad preaching, music of dubious theological quality, and are very often peering over the fence to see if there are greener pastures elsewhere, even though, if they live in a city, there may be half-a-dozen New Mass parishes within easy driving (if not walking) distance. Not odd?





Anonymous

said...

Well the value of the Eucharist itself is distinct from the words of the Mass. A Pope Alexander VI could say the Mass in Latin while committing both adultery and fornication with A young married mistress in his non Mass hours. He could not have had very intimate personal prayer while committing those sins. Our recent offending priests also said the Mass but must have had no intimate prayer life. Christ said temple prayers but sweated blood during intimate prayer.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Carl, I appreciate your comments and basically agree with them vis-a-vis Anonymous.

Anonymous, if, on the one hand, we allow that formal prayer is compatible with spiritual indifference and even sin (which it is), but, on the other hand, define extemporaneous prayer as possessed of de facto divine intimacy and orthodoxy, then of course there's no debate.

Isn't the point, however, that extemporaneous prayer, however sincere, is also compatible with untutored ignorance, doctrinal indifference and even ebullient heresy? Numerous Protestant sectarians (Anabaptists like Caspar Schwenkfeld, Jansenists, Quietists, Moravians, and Great Awakening enthusiasts like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and the Wesley brothers in England, the Foursquare Gospel movement's Aimee Semple McPherson, various and sundry charismatics) have attested to their personal experiences of divine intimacy.

It's striking that to become a Baptist, all you need do is declare your intent to be received forthwith into full communion, whereas to become a Catholic you must assist at the liturgy of the catechumens for a whole year.

I think you will allow that formal prayer may be the indispensable "source" if not the "summit" of Catholic prayer life (though I'm frankly not sure this is the best way to put the matter).

Still, I would hasten to add the caveat that I'm not sure this view does justice to the spiritual depth of divine intimacy that formal prayer has to offer, if only we would avail ourselves of it. Even so, it has never been a central feature of Catholic spirituality to focus on our own subjective experience of God. In fact, Catholicism denies the very possibility of such experience outside of rare occurrences among certain mystics that remain shrouded in mystery. The entire sacramental outlook of Catholicism stresses, if I am not mistaken, that the graces of our interior spiritual life are ordinarily and properly mediated through external signs, symbols, and forms. See: http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2011/04/some-thoughts-on-charismatic-renewal.html





Anonymous

said...

Pert.Papist
Disagree with that last paragraph but the last word is yours on that and I agree that intimate prayer is compatible with heresy....ie John Paul and Benedict calling the death penalty "cruel" when God in the first person imperative gave it to gentiles and Jews in Gn9:5-6.....or John Paul calling "deportation" an intrinsic evil while Benedict rightly availed himself of it last May when 2 muslim students planned to kill him and Italy deported them.....or John Paul calling slavery intrinsic evil while God gave chattel slavery to the Jews in Leviticus 25:44 onward. So yes I agree that intimate prayer can occur where error occurs.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

The last paragraph has several parts. With which part do you find yourself in disagreement?





Anonymous

said...

PP
Well you're basically taking what happened in the Church when most laity had onerous manual labor lives supporting 15 to 20 children that began at 5 in the morning and stopped at 9 at night as to work.....you're taking that and those numerous centuries as Church tradition on personal prayer rather than as uneducated and onerous but temporary history.

Now you have millions of laity with various degrees and graduate degrees and leisure...".the basis of culture"....and you are expecting
them to be no more introverted and available to intimate
prayer than a sailor on a conquistador ship who just
received permission from Pope Alexander VI to literally
take that half of the world that Portugal did not claim.

We are the religion that pretends that history does not exist so we speak as theology people only....the space where there is no time.
And my catechism and Vat.II are locked away but I'm sure they both exhort the presnt not the ancient laity toward intimate prayer which is not to say "infused prayer" which Merton saw as having little place in some monks lives whereas the intimate nature of the psalms apply to
every monk. Indeed excepting people with paranoia, it is the psalms rather than the Mass which is most intimate to the individual. But others ought to be talking even more direct to God during the weekdays depending on the weakness of each. The person prone toward despair for example will despair if they fail to cultivate the prescence of God through mental and vocal prayer....and the Mass with its less intimate readings and gospel may not be key in their case while maybe the Mass may be key for another personality type.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Several combox posts were apparently lost in the recent service blackout of Google. Don't know what happened. My apologies. I am as disappointed as anyone.





Pertinacious Papist

said...
This comment has been removed by the author.




Pertinacious Papist

said...

Anonymous,

You will remember some of the responses to you, and your counter-responses, which have been lost.

You write:

"I remember the real latin Mass from before the Council and I remember elderly ladies saying the rosary all the way through Mass as a solution to Latin being not their language. I studied Latin 6 years. I think it elitist to force it upon millions of people who never studied it."

Your vantage point is clearly influenced by the ethos of the younger generation in the 1960s and 1970s who saw the new Mass as a kind of liberation from the old, a perspective that magnifies the defects of those who appeared to be bored, uninvolved, and just going through the motions because they had to. Doubtless there was some of that, just as there is among the children and grandchildren of your generation who now drag their children to the new Mass, which may appear to leave many of them bored and uninvolved, particularly during some of the abysmal songs. (Is there any place for real men at such Masses?)

Anyway, I think you may be missing something others see in the old Mass (particularly those that have not shared your experience or ethos), just as you may believe you see something of value in the new that some of them may miss.

I, for one, do not think that those "elderly ladies saying rosary all the way through Mass" did so necessarily "as a solution to Latin being not their language." I doubt that even occurred to most of them, as it doubtless did not to most of those who assisted at Mass throughout the past thousand years or more. The Mass was the Mass, and they understood that it was THE SACRIFICE, just as those hispanic men smoking their cigarettes outside the entrance of the church do when they put out their smokes just before the consecration and come in to watch to elevated Victim at the moment of Transubstantiation.

As another of our commentators says in another combox:

"The Gregorian Mass (EF, if you must) is a liturgy based on Catholic worship over centuries. It does not trivialize the sacred time and space of the Mass by violating it with tittering jokes, obligatory handshakes, 'teaching moments' and other detritus of the pedestrian moment. It brings us to the sacred space and the sacred simultaneity, like Peter, James and John encountered when Jesus brought them to the mountain -- isn't that enough? If some people respond by saying the rosary on their knees instead of following the badly translated Latin and the committee-written prayers of a throwaway missal, who is qualified to criticize them for it?"





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Another question that could be fairly asked, it seems to me, is about your charge of "elitism." It may seem elitist to be forced into a world of Latin language if you are neither accustomed to it (as most contemporaries, either clerics or lay, are not) or if you believe that the primary value of worship lies in hearing and speaking (outside the homily) propositions whose meaning is linguistically transparent. I would argue that this is a debatable point.

Further, I would raise the question whether the shoe of elitism is not on the other foot -- namely those who suddenly broke with centuries of slow and organic liturgical development to produce what His Holiness has called a "banal on-the-spot product" of liturgical committees who then insisted on foisting it upon a vast majority of clerics and laity who DID NOT WANT IT. You talk about the new Mass being popular -- as it certainly is with song writers like Marty Haugen (isn't he a Protestant?); but popular sentiment was clearly AGAINST the changes and experiments leading up to the Missal of 1970.

Just a thought.





Anonymous

said...

One correction....I didn't say the new was popular. Based on Sherry Wendell's figures, in the none to distant future Mass attendance will be down to under 20% of Catholics in the US if figures for millenials are predictive. The problem is wider than the Mass in any form. Imagine the priest saying "let us call to mind our sins"....and then giving us a full 5 minutes of silence to actually call to mind our sins instead of the current 2 seconds...which latter time frame sends the message to everyone that they have no sins. What if the Mass was mandatory once a month on one Sunday but lasted two hours due to such silent pauses and another Sunday was mandatory not for Mass but for theology and another Sunday was mandatory for eating together while inviting the poor and aged like Christ talked about when you give a feast ...invite those who cannot repay you...which the original tithe brought about wherein food not money was given not just for the Levites but for widows, the fatherless and
sojourners and the tithe givers ate with the widows, fatherless and sojourners. The early Corinthians spoiled the original liturgy that included this eating together...and the Mass then morphed into a reading experience only.
You and a small number love the reading only. But in the
words and actions of Christ, one sees eating together as
prominent. Then another Sunday could be mandatory about helping those in radical trouble....an 86 year old in the parish with no offspring whose house is dirty because she can no longer clean it physically.

The Mass in any language as only prescripted praying words ...Latin or English....even if receiving Eucharist is
being deserted as too impersonal or bookish an experience by many. Catholics who left are now one in ten....and many of those are not seeking the sofa but are seeking less pre scripted churches. But Catholics who stay are
attending less and less. Small groups of a certain personality type...like yourself...have no problem with the prescripted read Mass as one's main experience of Church.
But a huge number of people whose early lives perhaps had strong impersonal experiences of family....might be leaving because they have had it with controlled experiences and pre scripted Mass ...Latin or English...interspersed with largely short shallow homilies....unless one has the Dominicans or a well read
priest in one's parish, are leaving them missing something.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Anonymous,

Do you have a name? Forgive me for finding it a trifle annoying to be addressing a half-dozen "Anonymouses" and trying to keep them sorted out. At least a moniker?

The less familiar people are with Christian tradition, the more hostile to it they generally are. This was the observation Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg. How much truer this is when it comes to Catholics and their own Sacred Tradition.

The typical knee-jerk response is to try to take the traditional sacred-transcendent and try to make it accessible and familiar by translating it into the popular profane-immanent.

The presumable ace in the hand of these partisans of the popular is a mono-logical one-dimensional empiricism that says "if I can't understand it, it's not real or important." Hence, few Catholics bitten by this bug populate the sparse Confession or Communion lines, or believe in anything like the infallibility of the pope or authoritative character of the Church's Catholic and Apostolic Sacred Tradition. All that is reduced to superstitious mumbo-jumbo.

You raise legitimate concerns about the importance of changed lives and appropriation of the Gospel imperatives as well as catechesis. Catholics should not be a country-club of sacramentalized pagans. All true.

Two comments here. One, the answer to this isn't conforming Christ to Culture, to borrow H. Richard Niebuhr's typology. Allowing the secular, natural, empirical and rational to devour and displace the sacred, supernatural, transcendent and mysterious is no answer. Lowering the bar to make it reachable only turns the school boy into a TV couch potato, whereas Jesus says "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." This road of accommodation has been tried now for fifty years and the results have been disastrous.

Two, the biblical-theological warrant you muster in support of the Corinthian derailing of the early Christian love feasts, which purportedly led to an inauthentic and ossified tradition of patriarchal and hierarchical Roman Catholic formalism in Church and liturgy has all the earmarks of the classical liberal Protestant tradition that now infects and has thoroughly contaminated the Catholic Biblical Association and its international counterparts.

I'm with you on the importance of what is widely called the New Evangelization. I agree that the Church has her work cut out for her. I disagree that the answer lies in cutting the oxygen line of Sacred Tradition and cobbling together something more immediately palatable to our contemporaries like the disastrous Evangelical "Emerging Church" experiments. Left to their own devices, contemporary kids will pick Twinkies, Moon Pies, Hostess Cupcakes, Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs over a Mediterranean diet of Hummus, Tabouli, Fattoush or a Greek salad. Indulging immediate impressions and inclinations is not the answer. We are not promised that the narrow gate that leads to life is "broad and easy." Virtue comes with a learning curve.

God bless, PP





Anonymous

said...

Peace....it will not change soon. We need another but modern Aquinas who is "between the two extremes and above them".... and he will admire aspects of Amish community. If their house burns down, they help each other and they keep their grandparents on the land in a grand parents little house. In my parish, if a celibate elderly dies, virtually no one will be at the funeral and relatives will be billed for each pall bearer if there are no strong relatives. Your comments on Protestants are too lopsided. My father in law's Protestant church was wonderful during his wake and funeral....the entire choir sang at both....my mother's Catholic wake and funeral was unknown to 99% of the parish because she lived way past her volunteer years. Amish women dress modestly....and our girl school uniforms are used in a Brittany Spears video precisely for their suggestive aspects once hiked up.
Peace and goodbye......Dylan Thomas...." and goodbye and good luck... struck the sun and the moon/ to the fisherman lost on the land/ he stands alone in the door of
his home....with his long legged heart in his hand."





Anonymous

said...

PP

Well you're basically taking what happened in the Church when most laity had onerous manual labor lives supporting 15 to 20 children that began at 5 in the morning and stopped at 9 at night as to work.....you're taking that and those numerous centuries as Church tradition on personal prayer rather than as uneducated and onerous but temporary history.

Now you have millions of laity with various degrees and graduate degrees and leisure...".the basis of culture"....and you are expecting
them to be no more introverted and available to intimate
prayer than a sailor on a conquistador ship who just
received permission from Pope Alexander VI to literally
take that half of the world that Portugal did not claim.

We are the religion that pretends that history does not exist so we speak as theology people only....the space where there is no time.
And my catechism and Vat.II are locked away but I'm sure they both exhort the presnt not the ancient laity toward intimate prayer which is not to say "infused prayer" which Merton saw as having little place in some monks lives whereas the intimate nature of the psalms apply to
every monk. Indeed excepting people with paranoia, it is the psalms rather than the Mass which is most intimate to the individual. But others ought to be talking even more direct to God during the weekdays depending on the weakness of each. The person prone toward despair for example will despair if they fail to cultivate the prescence of God through mental and vocal prayer....and the Mass with its less intimate readings and gospel may not be key in their case while maybe the Mass may be key for another personality type.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Anonymous (immediately above),

While it's not easy to track what you intend to say in your comments, there are perhaps some replies I can make.

First, as I see it, it is altogether irrelevant to von Hildebrand's point whether people have 20 children or none, are day laborers or intellectuals, are introverted or extroverted, are from medieval or contemporary times. He's arguing as to the ultimate importance of the prayer of the Mass regardless.

Second, while it may be true that many contemporary Catholics pretend that history does not exist or matter, this is not the essence of Catholicism, which by definition is a TRADITIONAL (and therefore HISTORICAL) religion. That's what it means to confess in the Creed that the Church is "Apostolic." It's apostolic deposit of faith and morals is passed down by apostolic tradition and safeguarded by the Church. History obviously matters, regardless of what contemporary dullards may think.

You mention the importance of the Psalms for monastics, and how some may find the Psalms more personally profitable than the Mass. I have three points to make here:

In the first place, the Psalms play a significant role in Mass -- in the Psalmody of the new Mass, and in the Propers of the Traditional Mass.

In the second place, the effectiveness of the Psalms in prayer is perfectly parallel to the way in which the Mass is effective: one has to appropriate their meaning by entering into them and making them his own prayer.

In the third place, the important thing in Catholic understanding of prayer is not how it makes you feel (grace is supernatural and therefore imperceptible), but its objective efficacy provided it is intended with faith.

This leads to my final and larger point: that a lot of the focus in contemporary discussions about prayer and liturgy seems to be on personal impressions and subjective feelings. These play some role in how we like or dislike the activity of such prayer, but are largely irrelevant as to their effectiveness, theological accuracy, or profundity. Those last considerations must be measured on other grounds -- Church teaching and tradition and the objective contents and formal qualities of the prayers themselves.