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.


  1. I feel roughly the same. Although I can't claim I know anything about liturgy, I know just enough...

    I'm at a point in my life where I could just pretend I didn't know the things I know, didn't have the opinions I have, etc. I could say that Christianity is about relationship, and the New Mass can bring us into relationship just as well as the old. I could content myself with the New Mass in a thousand ways and just not ask the questions...

    but when I ask the questions, it all falls apart.

    The council wanted the Easter Rites to restore themselves to their pure practice because of their antiquity. What about our antiquity? At what point did we decide it was alright to just manufacture our religion out of its raw building blocks?

    I can never quite put on the mindset that states that I should accept the good and beautiful things of the Novus Ordo in an uncritical way as the food Mother offers me. That line of thought is just too much of a break...


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