|Dr Parrella begins his article by describing a visit to a Methodist
church in the San Francisco area.
During the service, I was struck by the profound differences between the liturgies of Methodists and Catholics .... I sensed that there is something deeply amiss in our own eucharistic celebrations, a liturgical identity crisis that has escaped our attention. My first clue was the music .... During the first hymn, I realized that this is one facet of Catholic liturgy that has gone wrong: we lack enthusiastic singing, music that resounds of transcendence .... The singing was unpretentious, personal, spirit-filled and majestic:For myself, I can only corroborate this testimony. Myself an ex-Methodist, who still values much of what makes Methodism special, I have given up on Catholic hymn singing. Most of the modern texts are banal doggerel, most of the modern tunes worthy of second-rate nursery rhymes. What passes as "folk music" is nothing of the kind. It has no soul. All is designed to be "easy", but still it is not well sung. Most congregations show their disdain by their lack of participation."Father all-glorious, O'er all victorious, Come, and reign over us, Ancient of Days."How splendid an image: "Ancient of Days". I have heard very little like it in a Catholic church for two decades. What I have heard instead are choruses .... more attuned to .... "Sesame Street" than to an act of divine worship. Where have we Catholics gone astray liturgically? Is it only in our choice of music, or is there a deeper malaise afflicting our liturgy?
Moreover, the liturgical texts (especially in translation) have been eviscerated of strong words like "all-glorious", "victorious", "reign" and "ancient". An ICEL version of the hymn line quoted by Dr Parrella might read:
While Methodism has no idea of a sacramental presence of God, the level of reverence displayed by the typical Methodist nowadays indicates an acute sense of the transcendent and respect for the sacred. Many years ago, a Methodist friend, Adrian Shingler, told me that he had found Catholic worship "embarrassingly informal". While the Catholic Church has been desacrelising its liturgy, british Methodists have been adopting a much more sacramental and sarcardotal style of worship: at least in their officially published orders of service. At the present rate of change, Methodists will have adopted the Tridentine Liturgy and Catholics some combination of Quaker prayer meeting, Pentecostal revival meeting and New Labour press conference as their forms of Sunday Observance by the end of the 21st Century!"Dear old Dad, it's great you've won. Come and be our leader."
Parrella continues by describing the process and result of Liturgical "reform":
Liturgy is .... a lens through which one can see the .... spirit within the community. Much has happened to Catholic liturgical form .... The traditional Tridentine mass .... survives now only as a remnant of the Catholic traditionalists' program .... Liturgical experimentation abounded in university communities and among progressive Catholics: altars were turned around ....There was a certain light-headed enthusiasm about it all. Liberal Catholics of the 50s had triumphed .... hope that the liturgical changes would add new life and spirit to the church were never realized .... Liturgy changed its form with some confusion, and not a little anguish .... Today .... we encounter less ferment ... Ever present .... however, is disaffection, apathy, a sense that we paid a terrible price for rescuing the Eucharist from mumbled "per omnia secula seculorums" .... At a Catholic liturgy today, one is aware not of those present but of those absent .... Catholics under 35 are conspicuously fewer at liturgies today, as are those who are confused and uncertain of the meaning of their faith .....young Catholics are rootless .... hungry and thirsty for what they do not know and cannot name: the transcendent in liturgical form, an objective sense of the Holy in the eucharistic drama.Again, all I can do is agree, except for saying that I rather like the occasional muttered "per omnia secula seculorums".
Parrella then offers the following analysis of the malaise:
The liturgical changes .... were intended primarily to restore the sacramental rite to its true and full meaning for the whole church: participation as a community not in the performance of rituals or in the fulfilment of requirements but in the mystery of God's love. Such reforms, long overdue for the renewal of Catholic life, should have succeeded splendidly .... What the reformers could not see, however, was that the philosophical and theological world view upon which the liturgical changes depended was passing away.
Liturgy ... is a profound metaphysical reality. At the heart of baptism and all the sacraments .... is personal participation in mystery .... Liturgy speaks to the depths within us, to the world we share beyond that of ordinary life, what Peter Berger has so well described as "an infinitely vaster and 'more real' world, in which and through which human life receives its ultimate significance." This transcendent world .... is losing its power to take hold of human consciousness. The liturgical reforms have taught us to participate, but the reality we are to celebrate together no longer vibrates within us.
This loss of transcendence ....[can be explained as] .... resulting from the final breakdown of classical metaphysics .... a field of study on its deathbed since Kant .... its few intellectual life-support systems having finally been unplugged by .... philosophers of the positivist and linguistic schools .... few people today can comprehend reality from a metaphysical or ontological perspective. While they must live and cope with ..... suffering, love, death, the meaning or meaninglessness of their existence, they do so from an almost exclusively pragmatic and utilitarian perspective. Others have described this loss of transcendence .... as the process of secularization, which frees the world to be itself on its own terms. Secularization, however .... can .... mean the process that either makes ordinary life ultimately significant or denies such significance altogether. This attitude reduces the meaning of the world to what appears and what functions, and nothing else....
Because people .... no longer see the world in metaphysical terms and are more secular in their orientation, the idea of mystery .... has less of a hold on their consciousness. Since we by nature must seek out mystery and live with what philosophers call a sense of wonder .... Mystery can be repressed and distorted but never destroyed .... In the history of Christian liturgy, we can observe three distinct interpretations of the relationship of the self and the sacramental rite.I largely agree with the above. The Divine Liturgy is meant to be sacramental, just as it holds in its heart the Sacramental and so rationalHolocaust, Sin and Communion Oblation and the Sacramental presence of Our Blessed Lord Himself. It is meant to present to us the Heavenly Worship and the interior life of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It is meant to inspire us with devotion and fervour so that we are encouraged to return to the world on fire for God and with love for our fellow (wo)men. It is meant to attract those seekers for truth with the promise that there is something here beyond all price and worth whatever sacrifice it takes to obtain.
Poor human beings - enbodied as we are - are not meant to be so cerebral as to understand and recognise all this stuff without it being presented to our senses. Hence the crucial importance of icons, sacred music, incense, statues, vestments etc. Without a concerted presentation of the sacred and numenous to the faithful, they will likely loose touch with it and revert to a more common-place and mundane view of life and reality. They will not think to penetrate the veil of mere physicallity to the spiritual real of the Forms, which is God - who is good. This is what has happend. The New Rite is generally mundane and cool and drab in its spirit (apart from being doctrinally a great derrogation from Catholic Truth). It has been emptied of beauty and poetry and drama and in fact anything of passion and the heart. When people realise this they attempt to replenish it with taudry flamboyance and in doing so make the situation worse. The ICEL translation itself is seriously flawed. It is not just the way that it is used in context that is wrong. Similarly, the generation of multiple Eucharistic prayers of various degrees of banality does not aid the community to participate in the mystery of God's love. The very brevity of Eucharistic Prayer II mitigates against this.
I am sure that a good deal that is wrong with contemporary society, whether ecclesial or secular can be traced back to various philosophical errors. At root is the rejection of Platonist objectivism in favour of Aristotelian empiricism. On the other hand, I suspect that much of the "reform" was conducted in bad faith, in a juvenile, misguided and doomed attempt to make Catholic worship acceptable to protestants. It is not true that if only the philosophical climate were now different, the Pope Paul's New Mass would be serving the Church well. Equally, the bad philosophical climate does not render the Traditional Liturgy impotent to communicate transcendence and inculcate devotion.
Dr Parrella continues:
No one is suggesting a return to the pre-1960s world ... as .... the only proper norm. What .... passed for transcendence in liturgy was cast in a hardened ritualistic shell .... Transcendence must always have the quality of the personal rooted within .... The mutation of this personal quality into external ritual made the Tridentine mass a symbolic object of rebellion for literally millions of Catholics growing up in recent decades. At the same time, what today passes for transcendence in liturgy is illusory.This criticism of the practicalities of the Old Liturgy is fair. However, all it needed as corrective was a change in style. Not a single word or even rubric required change, just the manner in which they were performed. Even today, it is possible to experience the the New Mass performed in the cold, mechanical, graceless, stilted, militaristic style characteristic of the worst days of Old. Equally, it is possible to experience the Old Liturgy lovingly and gracefully enacted in a relaxed manner, with delicacy, intimacy, sensibility and style. It is the spirit that gives life.
Dr Parrella then tells the following parable:
..... Sometime in the late 1960s .... you were in a .... school religion class ..... On Friday, the nun .... dressed in habit, .... was demanding verbatim catechism answers that were fully self-contained and highly rational. By Monday, the nun had put on makeup, retired her habit in favour of a chic blouse and skirt, put Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles (preferably "Let It Be") on the stereo and pronounced the new kerygma, "You've just got to feel it." ....
Catholicism, mercilessly immobile for years, became hopelessly trendy on the spot. This trendiness ... permeates the music, the homilies, the entire mood of the community ..... Our present liturgical malaise results from he fact that while the content moved toward the trendy, the .... thought patterns underlying the older .... mind prevailed. Hence, everything new, regardless of its .... shallowness .... was set in concrete ... frustrating .... the .... reforms ....
People today are bored at mass because they are celebrating a transcendence that is vague .... They are celebrating the most serious element of their human lives in forms that trivialize the mystery....This is terribly sad, poignant: and accurate.
Parrella then returns to draw lessons from further comparison with his
experience of Methodist worship:
.... I learned a great deal in preaching to our United Methodist sisters and brothers .... I was touched by something in the Methodist service that is quite "Catholic" in spirit: a substance in which the Holy could be truly, fully experienced as objectively present .... God's word in the lessons, my own words in the sermon, and the voices of the people in song possessed a quasi-sacramental character ..... visible signs of God's invisible presence in a way that .... could .... touch a Catholic's heart ..... I had worshiped God in spirit and truth ....
Liturgy is God's gift to us .... something we do and share together..... Such a celebration must therefore be filled with prayers and songs which speak .... of our relationship to God, not only of our accomplishments but also of our sinfulness .... Transcendence can fulfil and transform only if it first judges. Those in the New Testament who were deeply attracted to Jesus also felt great awe before him, a sense of distance between their sinfulness and his utter goodness .....
Madison Avenue jingles are no substitute for the worship of God in spirit and truth by the whole person. I am not proposing a new otherworldly piety in our liturgy but simply a re-creation of holiness and transcendence in liturgical form. Without a sense of the Holy, we cannot pray, ask forgiveness, worship, be filled with gratitude before God's grace or, most significantly, know each other as brother and sister ....He has, of course, put his finger on the problem. The Methodist expects and wants to encounter the Holy God in Sunday worship. The modern Catholic wants at all cost to avoid this. The Methodist is not afraid of the Holy, but welcomes it because God is for him loving, kind and gentle. The Catholic fears the Holy, because for him it is vindictive, stern and severe. He is afraid of the judgement of the transcendent, because fear of damnation has been inculcated into his very soul. He has no confidence that an encounter with Ultimate Goodness will be ultimately a healing experience.
|A quote from "The Wind in the
Willows" may be apposite here:
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror - indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy - but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeking, he knew it could only mean that some August Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look at his friend, and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew....
"Rat!" he found breath to whisper, shaking. "Are you afraid?"
"Afraid?" murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. "Afraid of HIM? O, never, never! And yet - and yet - O, Mole, I am afraid!"<
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
Parrella then continues by suggesting some principles that must govern
the solution of the problem he has identified.
I don't believe solutions are simple when they involve a corporate spiritual consciousness. Most of all, I'm afraid of the gimmicky; I think we've been bombarded with too much of that.
Let me quote a Catholic college senior....
"I know that I cannot reach God on a person-to-person level without struggle. Having recently returned to church, I have found I'm not being told this at all. It is as if the church is trying to bribe us into staying with God: "look see how personable God is, He'll fit right into your lives as a warm fuzzy". And yet I come away feeling I want more: I know I believe in God in a much deeper, possibly traditional manner, and they are feeding me milk toast as if I'm not able to handle any solid food."
Before Vatican II, liturgy was out of touch with modern experience; now, however, the pendulum has perhaps swung too far in the opposite direction, reducing the liturgy to a product of such experience .... Those who are apathetic and no longer participate in the sacraments, as well as those who attend half-heartedly, need a form of Eucharist neither cerebral nor emotional, neither isolated from daily life nor reduced to one component within it.....According to an email correspondent of mine:
"I'm from Ireland, and thus naturally I grew up surrounded by Catholicism. Technically, I was raised Catholic, but it's hard to keep a firm faith when your parents aren't religious and are steadily undermining most of what you learn in school (not that I blame them; the calibre of our religious teaching was not high, and mostly what my parents taught me was to think for myself and question everything, which I did).
In that environment, moderately conservative Catholicism is the norm, and any Catholic practice too far outside that norm is considered odd, freakish, most likely only subscribed to by lunatics. This includes the Tridentine mass, of course, so until I found your site I thought of that rite as being something only weirdos stuck in the Nineteenth Century could possibly be interested in.
|Dr Parrella continues:
In re-evaluating the present state of our liturgy .... we .... could learn a great deal from our .... Protestant friends..... We can learn perhaps from a more rigid piety that our efforts to make doctrine and liturgy relevant to modern experience ought not to dilute the forms of God's liturgical presence to what is easiest for human experience to accept and integrate .... The Holy must transcend any form that embodies it, call into question any self-satisfaction with our own experiential awareness of it; most important, we must not see too much of our own face in the mirror of the sacramental forms that mediate its presence. The liturgical reforms in Catholicism have .... been .... necessary; but wherever they have gone astray, the distortion is subtle yet dangerous. We need a mid-reform correction to deal with the current liturgical malaise. I thank the "Ancient of Days" for reminding me that I must be more than a "little Mary Sunshine" as I seek to enhance what is good and struggle with what is evil in this God-created but also God-redeemed world.I think that Methodists would find it amusing to hear themselves described as "rigidly pious", but still, I know what Dr Parrella means. They have not ditched their traditional understanding and expression of the Holiness and Transcendence of God. Their style of worship, though in an unimportant sense informal, is profoundly devout and respectful of the Divine. Unlike my experience of much contemporary Catholic "liturgy", it is not comparable with "going down the pub for a round or two of beers and a gossip".
I have detailed my own ideas of what should be done to rectify the situation elsewhere.
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