"Binary Barrier: Sacra Liturgia Conference" (The Rad Trad, June 7, 2015):
John R has published his account of the speakers at the Sacra Liturgia conference in New York City. Conferences and other forms of controlled mob interaction allow leaders to influence their potential cliques, for the cliques to share their ideas, for prejudices to be confirmed, or for new ideas about piety and theology to be inculcated. This year's conference is interesting both for what it discussed and what it failed to discuss.[Hat tip to R.F.]
A constantly reiterated goal of this blog is to broaden conversation about the Catholic Church's liturgy beyond the duality of the "OF" and "EF" Roman books—the liturgy of Paul VI and the rite of
EconeJohn XXIII. The 1962 liturgy is not an accurate reflection of the Roman tradition nor is the Roman tradition the only legitimate liturgy in the Latin Church, much less in the Church universal. The speakers at the Sacra Liturgia conference seem blissfully aware of this pair of simple facts. John recounts that all the speakers on the docket engaged in the same predictable and tired lecture formulae that we have heard since mid-2007: commence with turgid quotations from Sacrosanctum Concilium, explain how the glorious document was ignored, commend the reverence of the "EF", speak at length about how the "OF" can learn from the "EF," and gratuitously add that the "OF" does have a number of significant improvements that could benefit the "EF."
Every supposedly traditional liturgist has some item on the list wherein they believe that the "OF" praxis could improve the "EF", yet they never have a consensus as to what. Dom Anderson OSB favors the variety of prefaces in the Pauline rite. Other writers applaud the Pauline lectionary for "opening" Scripture to the people. The local tongue allows for greater participation. It is almost as though to baptize one's views on the "EF" one must agree that the "OF" has something to offer the Church not contained in the other rites practiced now or in history by the faithful.
Only Alcuin Reid broke beyond this binary set of numbers, and he did so because he wanted to prevent a third figure from entering his set of 1s and 0s. At the local level, priests and some laity are increasingly interested in the genuine old rite, particularly in the un-Pianized Holy Week. This past year saw a proliferation in Holy Week celebrations according to older usages, celebrations wisely un-publicized by the faithful. The diocesan bishop is unlikely to care, but the district superior of the FSSP is.
Reid spoke of the improvements wrought by Pius XII which ought not be undone. The veritas horarum meant that the "Easter Vigil" was "restored" to the right time, and hence it properly should conclude with Lauds as the liturgy welcomes the morning of the Resurrection rather than the nightfall of Vespers (one wonders if he has read any medieval accounts of Holy Week or attended the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil the Great). Communion ought to be given on Good Friday, even if it was not done anywhere else East or West. The celebrant need not read texts already read by other ministers—as though it detracts from the celebration in some way. Reid emphasized that the "Liturgy is not frozen in amber and one cannot glorify a certain year or cut-off point for pristine Liturgy." Reid is right, but does not mean this in the same way that I would mean this. Reid is warning people not to nurture too strong an interest in the liturgy as it existed before Pacelli. He wants to preserve the binary barrier.
This is at the heart of the conference's short-comings and the defect in modern scholarship on the Roman rite. With rare exception, clerical and mainstream commentators are inextricably linked to the rite of Paul VI and of
EconeJohn XXIII. They love one and hate the other. They love one and like the other. They are "pro-Benedict" and "anti-Francis." No one asks what the Roman liturgy actually is or why it matters. They will adumbrate their points with favorable quotations from Byzantine liturgists to reiterate the necessity of tradition without actually understanding what their liturgical heritage is.
The Roman liturgy is the liturgy used at St. Peter's basilica and by the Popes of the mid-first millennium. It consisted of the major hours of the Office to praise God throughout the day, not to "get graces," but because He is God and He deserves it. It also consisted of the Mass, served by the Pope and his ministers and centered on the ancient and venerable anaphora, the Roman Canon. Devotion and maximalism on the part of the Roman laity and monastics throughout Europe augmented the hours, added to the ritual of the Mass, and made of the tone of the Roman rite more reflective and subtle than those of its oriental counterparts. Reverence for the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles and expediency popularized its celebration throughout Europe. Ss. Gregory VII and Pius V tinkered with the ritual and with psalter a bit. It permeated the lives of the monastic and ordained faithful, many of them saints, for fourteen centuries. They did not write about it, nor did they hold conferences to debate how much of it was worth keeping. They prayed it and they lived it. Throughout those centuries, the local furnished the office with hymns, added prayers to the Mass, and created extravagant variations on the ritual. None of them dared to remove the essentials, though.
I often muse that had I entered Canterbury Cathedral during the age of Innocent III and bad king John, I could approach a monk about to celebrate his daily Mass. He would probably concede that many of the ecclesiastical issues of the day were open to debate: whether the pope was right to excommunicate John, whether the local embellishment of readings was legitimate, whether the resident cardinal or the Archbishop of Canterbury had primacy in England. He would scoff, though, at the idea he or anyone could alter the hours or the Canon of the Mass. Similarly, he would scoff at the idea every gesture at the hours or Mass was subject to regulation, either by Rome or by freestanding conferences.
Perhaps a future conference will delve into the depths of the Roman liturgy and explore what fruits it could offer to us today in our daily lives, how it can permeate the parish like it did the lives of the saints. Has anyone mentioned the simplicity of pre-1911 Compline? The same psalms and antiphons more or less every day with minimal variation? This would be an easy accommodation to the local church. Coped cantors in the sanctuary? An easy way to assimilate men into the choir who do not want to join the female clique in the loft. Octaves? A protracted celebration of the great feasts which aids us in understanding the magnificent things Christ has done for us. The old Holy Week times? Very helpful for families.
Above all, the Roman rite is not to be found in a set of particular books, but in a set of features (the kalendar system, the psalter, the Canon, and the rites for the great feasts). A deeper understanding of its origins and the near-constant veneration of it might give future speakers reason to pause before consigning portions of it to the dustbin because it does not belong to their binary number set.