Monday, December 10, 2007

Light of the East on the Extraordinary Rite

Broadcast 167 - An Eastern Monk Experiences the Tridentine Mass. Guest: Abbot Nicholas, Holy Resurrection Monastery, Newberry Springs, CA Also Monks Cell 15: "Christ Without the Church" (Father Maximos). And a phone call from Katie the ByzanTEEN: "Monastic Life on Campus"

You hear quite often about Novus Order vs. Tridentine and on occasion the Divine Liturgy vs. the mass in adumbration. How often do you hear about the older Roman rite, the current rite, and the divine liturgy discussed together with discourse on ad orientem, the organic nature of liturgy, and the isolation of priests as a result of post Vatican II changes.

I remembered reading about the organic nature of liturgy in a book by Pope Benedict XVI, but as I'm not at home I couldn't pull it off the shelf. As luck would have it, his thoughts are encapsulated in a review of his found here when he was prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A great deal of this was right, and yet liturgical reform is something different from archaeological excavation, and not all the developments of a living thing have to be logical in accordance with a rationalistic or historical standard. This is also the reason why -- as the author quite rightly remarks -- the experts ought not to be allowed to have the last word in liturgical reform. Experts and pastors each have their own part to play (just as, in politics, specialists and decision-makers represent two different planes). The knowledge of the scholars is important, yet it cannot be directly transmuted into the decisions of the pastors, for pastors still have their own responsibilities in listening to the faithful, in accompanying with understanding those who perform the things that help us to celebrate the sacrament with faith today, and the things that do not. It was one of the weaknesses of the first phase of reform after the Council that to a great extent the specialists were listened to almost exclusively. A greater independence on the part of the pastors would have been desirable.

And this is where you see the importance of continuity. If you pick at the historical texts for the most authentic and perfect expression and attempt to insert it into a breathing being you get a chimera, a cyborg, an amorphous blob. The inclusion can seem quaint and archaic, odd and out-of-place, or make a mockery of the intended result.
Take for example in the churches of the East the removal by many of the Holy Illumination of our children from the Divine Liturgy - moving the practice from the center of the liturgy to something done separately from it. Schmemann makes it quite clear that the central point of our worship is pulled from us when this is done as surely as if our heart was taken from our bodies. Baptism and Chrismation seem like magical incantations devoid of their true, intermeshed nature.
Now look to the protestant churches in the United States. In order to create a religious setting they look back at the early church as some sort of mythical being that they can pull what they believe to be the most authentic bits from and insert them into their Sunday practices. At the same time they flee the result of those authentic practices such as the epiousios Eucharist, the royal priesthood, the recitation of creeds, et al..
Then consider, as the abbot does here, the isolation of the parish priests as a result of the changes and emphasis on bringing the people into the liturgy. The organic, historical position of the priest is now muddled. Is he now my friend with Christ who I can stand next to and worship with? Is he something different? Are the formalities of our relationship now relegated to the bin of archaic superfluity?
One could listen to this radio program and ponder it for quite a while. I know I shall.

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