Friday, May 21, 2010

The Difference Between Men and Women: A Memory

I am in the throes of finals right now, so naturally my mind thinks back to completely unrelated incidents in college.

In all the dorms at Steubenville, the RAs would wander around before they went off duty and bless all the doors in the building with holy water, as well as any students still up studying or socializing.

If we were in a girls' dorm when it was this time, the RA would poke her head in the door and ask, "Would you like a blessing?"  If we said yes, she'd come in, dip her thumb in holy water, and trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.  (She'd then, of course, remind us that our male guest had to leave shortly.)

If you were in a guys' dorm when the RA was doing his rounds, he'd poke his head in and ask if we wanted a blessing.  If we said yes, he'd take the holy water bottle and shake it at us, sprinkling us liberally with holy water, before reminding us that the ladies had to leave the building very soon thereafter.

The differences between men and women.  Love it!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Sacrificing the Latin Language

Clearly the most noticeable new departure is that of language. From now on the vernacular, not Latin, will be the principal language of the Mass. For those who appreciate the beauty of Latin, its power and aptness to express the sacred, substitution of the vernacular certainly represents a great sacrifice. We are losing the idiom of the Christian ages; we become like profane intruders into the literary sanctuary of sacred language; we shall lose a large portion of that wonderful and incomparable, artistic and spiritual reality, Gregorian chant. We indeed have reason for sadness and perhaps even for bewilderment. What shall we put in the place of this angelic language? We are sacrificing a priceless treasure. For what reason? What is worth more than these sublime values of the Church? The answer may seem trite and prosaic, but it is sound because it is both human and apostolic. Our understanding of prayer is worth more than the previous, ancient garments in which it has been regally clad. Of more value, too, is the participation of the people, of  modern people who are surrounded by clear, intelligible language, translatable into their ordinary conversation. If our sacred Latin should, like a thick curtain, close us off from the world of children and young people, of work and the business of everyday, then would we, fishers of men, be wise to allow it exclusive dominion over the speech of religion and prayer?

-Pope Paul VI, Address to a general audience, on the new Ordo Missae, 26 November 1969.
ICEL, Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, par 1762.

It's no secret that I like Latin.  The language is beautiful to hear spoken or sung, and the process of hearing beautiful sounds and simultaneously reading a profound text (with full knowledge of their unity) has deeply impacted my own spiritual life, powerfully lifting me up into the prayer of the Church.

But the academic position I inhabit as a student and hopeful scholar of the Roman liturgy requires that I take a step back from my personal preferences and experiences (thought without discounting them entirely) and look more objectively at the nature of the liturgy, which is derived from the twofold purpose of the liturgy: the glorification of God and the sanctification of man (SC 112).

There is no question that through the Latin language, a principal element in the patrimony of the Church, God is glorified; the question is only to what degree modern man is sanctified or deterred from sanctity through the Latin language.  That phrases the question a bit harshly, yet it does point to where the liturgical reformers were looking: which is more important, the preservation of this beautiful element of our tradition or the salvation of souls?

Naturally, the response is a both-and, just like everything else in our lives.  But in the absence of an opportunity to formally study this question (classwork really puts a damper on my thesis research), Our Lord has placed in my life experiences that have helped me to understand what I once experienced as "the other side."

When Latin acts as a roadblock to participation, it seems to usually boil down to one of two reasons: The first is psychological blocks.  Often times, people have difficulty processing a foreign language, are unable to concentrate when they don't understand the words being spoken, are scarred by childhood experiences connected to the Latin language or liturgy, or simply feel excluded by the language barrier.  These things are difficult to change.  In other cases, however, the primary element that is lacking is simply proper handouts.

Intelligent participation in the liturgical action requires that one know what is going on.  This really hits home to me whenever I leave my missal at home, or there is a special procession with extra prayers.  I find myself sitting or standing with everyone else, intending for Our Lord to heed the prayer of the priest, for I trust in its beauty and efficacy, and yet filled with strong feelings of resentment and exclusion.  I ought to be able to pray these prayers!  But without knowing any of their content, I am truly up the creek without a paddle.  I know that I will be guided to shore eventually, but I am entirely unable to propel myself down the river - and when that contemplative propulsion is what God asks of us (unless we are reasonably impeded), does it not make sense to provide those oars to our people wherever possible?

When I happened upon this quote from Pope Paul VI, I was struck by how closely it mirrored my own sentiments.  Our Latin legacy is truly a treasure, one that cannot be lost.  Still, it does seem that the majority of people are brought to a place where they are able to insert their hearts into the worship of God more easily and more fully when the liturgical rites are in their native tongue.  Who am I to deny them that privilege when Holy Mother Church has so graciously (and so humbly) allowed it?

Spiritus sapientiae et intellectus, miserere nobis.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Liturgical Jansenism

This quarter has been different for me.  Rather than delving deeply into subjects I knew only a bit about (as most of my previous classes here have been), each class has been either an articulation of principles I already knew but couldn't express well or an introduction to a whole new branch of theology.  Consequently, I've had far fewer "Aha!" moments that've brought me here (as you may have noticed).

Often people ask me whether I regret learning so much about the liturgy, because it's so beautiful when it's done well, which it so rarely is.  My answer is always no.

Some of you have been around while I was falling in love with the traditional Latin liturgy.  Some of you can remember me simply delighting in its complex simplicity, in its detailed fidelity.  I did not seek out the TLM as an escape from abuse-filled novus ordos; rather, the attractive power of that tradition proved so compelling that I couldn't stay away.

Fast forward a bit.  Here I am, as I've detailed a hundred times, surrounded by people with a deep knowledge of (and great love for) the traditions of the Church, who yet prefer the novus ordo.  And while I can and do spend many Sundays at the local EF parish, I also have the rare opportunity of having in the area numerous OF Masses that range from pretty good to excellent.  In short: I haven't had this much quality time with the OF since before I discovered the EF nearly three years ago.

And I find that I can pray the OF pretty well.  At these, too, my heart is united with that of my Lord and Savior; His Eucharistic Heart that I receive is the same in both forms of Holy Mass.  The abuses are different from place to place; I learn to block them out and step forward in faith.  I am an adaptable person; Our Lord will conform me to Him no matter where I end up.

But I've learned just enough for there to be a disconnect.  I could be quite content (if I had to) living in the OF as it is for the rest of my life, leaving behind all those beauties that I found in the EF.  But in order to do so, I would have to just write off my doubts, my criticisms, my confusions.  The Scripture readings at Mass are very beautiful - but now that I know the extent to which the centuries-old cycle of readings was ignored in its compilation, I find myself unable to respect the Lectionary quite as fully as I once did.

Part of me is perfectly willing to just flip the switch and disconnect that part of my brain that causes this trouble, that has doubts where the logical progression of things is not straightforward.  But our faith is a rational one, and as our liturgy is a manifestation of our faith (to say the least), oughtn't it, too, be rational?

No, we oughtn't have liturgy without reason, and doubly so for me, a student of the liturgy!  No one ought to have to turn off their brain so as to be able to manage with what is given them, though they know something doesn't seem to add up (I've seen this on both sides of the OF/EF debate, by the way).  There is a rift in my perception of the whole, and since I have the luxury of examining that rift, I must refrain from the temptation to walk away from it to the solid ground on one side or the other (for if I stay where it's safe, who will benefit from my education?).

Sanguis Christi, levamen laborantium, salva nos.
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