Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thoughts on liturgical catechesis and reform

The following excerpts come from an email conversation with a "QV", a Catholic from Texas.  Text in blue is from QV.  This post is kind of long, but I think it's well worth reading (and not only because I wrote it).

What really were the 'needs of modern man' that were used as a foundational principle in Sacrosanctum Concilium for advocating the Liturgical Reforms after Vatican II? What made 20th Century Man so different from our ancestors?

Wow, that's a good question (and one which my books do not even begin to address, since they are not about the liturgical reform, per se, but about the reformed liturgy). I will think about it and try to provide some possible answers.

20th century man, at least in first- and second-world countries, has a lot of advantages (and disadvantages) that our ancestors did not have. The technological revolution has changed our way of looking at things. We have the ability to be entertained 24/7: TV, TiVo, OnDemand, pay-per-view, etc. We can be "busy" without being mentally engaged. Mystery has given way to explicitness, silence has given way to noise. All this makes the older liturgy seem immediately unattractive.

I agree with you that the problem was not necessarily the liturgy but our ability to participate in it, our understanding of what sort of participation the liturgy requires. The liturgy requires silence, prayer, attention, recollection, but it does also require verbal responses, gestures and postures. We cannot worship God only in motionless silence, as that denies our bodies their role in true worship.

It seems to me that our culture fosters short attention spans, a desire to be entertained, a desire to be "doing something". Perhaps modern man needs more assistance than his predecessors to be receptive to the traditional form of liturgy.

To me, this means modern man needs to be educated (catechized) better. The "modern" liturgical reform, in its earlier stages (in the 19th century), was more about reforming the liturgical attitude of the people than it was about reforming the liturgy; it was about liturgical catechesis before it was about liturgical changes.

I agree with you completely when you said "We can be 'busy' without being mentally engaged. Mystery has given way to explicitness, silence has given way to noise." However, the Traditional Mass addresses those very shortcomings in our culture — it clearly provides a spiritual "oasis"...

I agree that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass addresses those shortcomings and is a spiritual oasis... but only if a person knows he is thirsty will he approach to drink. Part of the crisis we face today is that "thirst" has been falsely quenched, and the feeling of "thirst" has been described instead as something else. It's like calling evil good and good evil.

I think you are right on the money when you say "Perhaps modern man needs more assistance than his predecessors to be receptive to the traditional form of liturgy." I do think that the Council Fathers were definitely led by the Holy Spirit in Sancrosanctum Concilium paragraph 19 when they wrote: "With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy...."

I agree:

But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects. (SC 11)

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work. Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it. A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy. (SC 14)

It is no accident that in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the section titled "The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation" comes before "The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy".

It seems to me that the reforms to the Liturgy tried to address the "active participation" aspect (albeit wrongly, in my opinion), but nobody did anything to address the "liturgical instruction of the faithful".

Yes, I agree that the "reform" issue was addressed but the "catechesis" issue was not addressed very well at all.  I've made that same statement many times:
  1. "The Council recognized the need for both liturgical catechesis and liturgical reform. Not one or the other, but both. (And I would argue that the Council documents expected a catechesis on the liturgy  as it was in 1962, which would mean the Council did not expect a complete re-write of the Missal thus rendering the theological liturgical catechesis of the 1962 Missal null and void!)"
  2. "Comprehension is a major factor -- that's why Vatican  II stressed the need for liturgical catechesis of the faithful alongside  liturgical reform -- but it is often overlooked."
  3. "Vatican II called for full, conscious, active participation by the faithful at Mass first and foremost through proper catechesis by their priests!"
  4. "The Second Vatican Council called for catechesis  (education, formation) above all else in liturgical matters. Re-read Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 14 and see how it envisioned that 'full, conscious, active participation' would be brought about."
  5. "The Council called for liturgical catechesis  above all, before it mentioned its few changes to the liturgy. (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 14) And one wonders if the desired understanding of the Mass was even accomplished."
  6. "One of my biggest grievances is the liturgical catechesis  called for, and echoed numerous times since then, is still wanting. Instead of catechesis, things are dumbed down; instead of catechesis, numerous abuses are introduced (because people just don't know any better!); instead of catechesis, the things that need explaining are omitted and replaced with banality."
  7. "I would say that, rather than reform being de facto promotion, promotion is de facto reform, because promotion of the liturgy (meaning better catechesis  for the laity and the clergy) would lead to a more zealous and devout and informed and reverent celebration of the Mass, which would yield greater fruit in greater abundance. This is not to say that a reform-by-promotion would require no changes, but that fewer changes (and less dramatic ones at that) would be necessary."
  8. "What is needed is a liturgical movement which does two things: 1) reads Vatican II in light of the liturgical tradition of the Church, one of organic development rather than redesign-by-committee, and 2) emphasizes liturgical catechesis as a necessary precursor to any liturgical reform."

My position can be summed up with these five words of mine:


Also, I opined that "Bishops expected that the reform (and specifically the introduction of the vernacular) would make catechesis less necessary" in a thread with you. Don't have any proof, just a hunch. Maybe replace "Bishops" with "the Consilium".

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