Thursday, August 14, 2008

Liturgy: "Looking at the Liturgy"

I just finished reading Looking at the Liturgy by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., for the second time (this time with highlighter in hand). It is an excellent book, and a must-read for anyone interested in the context of the liturgical reform after Vatican II. It looks at the liturgy from three perspectives: historical ("A Historical Inquest"), anthropologically ("The Importance of Ritual"), and culturally-sociologically ("The Idiom of Worship").

Here are a few key passages:
As soon as the latreutic [worship-oriented] character of the Liturgy, now seen as a vehicle of instruction, is downplayed, the instruction it conveys, or perhaps one should its celebrant conveys in interpolating the rite, ceases to be mystagogic and becomes banal. By the same token, a community sense that does not arise from the ritual celebration of worship but is aimed at in and for itself soon appears evanescent or superficial or both and becomes consequently a source of frustration. (ch. 1, pp. 32-33)
Mary Douglas ... warns that contempt for ritual forms eventually leads people to take a purely private view of religious experience, from where it is only a short step to the frank avowal of humanism. ... [T]he mediocrity of the spiritual and theological life typically produced by an antiritualist Church is the best possible proof of the inadequacy of the form of life in civil society that such a Church presupposes and represents. (ch. 2, pp. 71, 76)
[A] church ... should be a symbolization via the properly architectural means of mass and space, shape and fabric, of the heavenly realities that surround the Liturgy of the throne of God to which the earthly Liturgy gives entrance. ... [T]he Modernist understanding of architectural language simply cannot be combined with the Catholic tradition's own approach to church construction. Functional modernism is per se aniconic, indeed anti-iconic. In the modernist vocabulary, a door, for instance, is simply a door. It cannot address the pregnant processes of entering, crossing thresholds, transition, and passage and therefore cannot speak, as in the mediaeval period it did to Durandus and Abbot Suger of St. Denis (authors of important treatises on building) of the person of Christ. Similarly, to the architectural modernist, space is essentially an empty universal, determined only by the function occurring in it at some time. There is no "sacred space", no space that is unconditionally set apart. Hence the possibility of modernist churches with multifunctional spaces usable indifferently for worship, wedding receptions, and playing table tennis. (ch. 3, pp. 89-90)
It's only 127 pages (and they're small pages). You can get through it in a few hours for sure. The final chapter, "A Practical Conclusion", offers a series of suggestions for the "Pian Missal" and the "Pauline Missal", which the author (writing in 1996) expects will co-exist. He offers a few ideas for how the Missal of 1962 can be reformed in accordance with Sacrosanctum Concilium, and for what might become of the Missal of 1969.

1 comment:

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