The Next Generation & Liturgical Fashions

This has really had me thinking over the weekend. On Saturday, I read on Rorate Caeli that Pope Francis had commented to Czech Bishops on their ad limina visit that the growing call for the old Mass throughout the world was nothing more than a fad:
Yesterday (Friday, Feb. 14), Pope Francis held an audience with the Bishops of the Czech Republic who came to Rome for their ad limina visit.
In the visit, as it usually happens in such cases, other than the formal address, the Pope heard the questions and comments of the bishops. Archbishop Jan Graubner, of Olomouc, told the Czech section of Vatican Radio what the Pope told him:
[Abp. Jan Graubner speaks:] When we were discussing those who are fond of the ancient liturgy and wish to return to it, it was evident that the Pope speaks with great affection, attention, and sensitivity for all in order not to hurt anyone. However, he made a quite strong statement when he said that he understands when the old generation returns to what it experienced, but that he cannot understand the younger generation wishing to return to it. "When I search more thoroughly - the Pope said - I find that it is rather a kind of fashion [in Czech: 'móda', Italian 'moda']. And if it is a fashion, therefore it is a matter that does not need that much attention. It is just necessary to show some patience and kindness to people who are addicted to a certain fashion. But I consider greatly important to go deep into things, because if we do not go deep, no liturgical form, this or that one, can save us."

[Tip and translation: Czech reader MC, directly into English from Czech original.]
Rorate makes a most apposite observation in regard to the Holy Father's assertion that attachment to the usus antiquior represents mere fashion, indeed, one that seems obvious:
Traditionalists are extremely stable and strongly fashion-averse. But as for the winds in Rome!... Roma è mobile, qual piuma al vento! Under seven years ago, the opinion of the then-reigning and still living Holy Father (one who was much more acquainted with the issue at hand) was quite different:
Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist ... . ... What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. (Benedict XVI, July 7, 2007 Letter to Bishops)
Rorate are drawing attention to the apparent contradiction in Pope Francis' position with regard to the usus antiquior and the position of Pope Benedict XVI.

First of all, I'm no liturgist, not by any means. I have developed, through study over the last decade or so, a growing sense of what the Mass is and its central importance in our self-identity. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivandi: As we worship, so we believe, so we live. My understanding started to develop from a need to explain to my children what was going on in the Mass: why it is important and why we go every Sunday. Liturgy, or liturgical worship, (that is, the public prayer of the community of people we recognise as "Church") is the foundational codex of Catholic identity. In this role, it expresses our highest purpose.

Worship reveals what we truly believe and how we view ourselves in relationship to God, one another and the world into which we are sent to carry forward the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. How the Church worships is a prophetic witness to the truth of what she professes. Good worship becomes a dynamic means of drawing the entire human community into the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. It attracts and it is quintessentially pedagogical by its very nature. You can see this evidenced by looking through an old missal from 1962 if your parent per chance, still have one. Such missals typically contain vivid explanations of what is going on in the sacred rite being performed, as well as details about the meanings of sacred vestments, vessels, and all the other things that form part of the Mass.

A big part of Catholic faith is beauty. Just think of all the beautiful baroque churches that have been built over the centuries. This is to give glory to God, but it also has a pedagogical dimension, fostering our sense of the numinous and assisting as we attempt to sursum corda - lift up our hearts. Good liturgy has a similar function: it attracts through beauty to Beauty.

Note I am not saying it has to be this "form" or that "form" necessarily, just that liturgy has to be good in order to demonstrate our desire to be in communion with God, to demonstrate our love, and to communicate a sense of awe or tabin Adonai.

Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivandi: if we care how we worship, if it means something to us, we will live out that meaning (i.e. the Gospel), everyday in our lives.

My thoughts on this have often run to wondering about the change to novus ordo and how oppressive it must have felt. Sure there were some who welcomed the changes in the name of progress, I'm sure. But for many, it must have been devastating. How peculiar that today, some 40 years on, there is a groundswell of affection for the Mass of Ages.

Whilst I agree with Rorate that Tradition is surely the antithesis of fashion, I want to take a different tack. Rather than concentrate on the disparity noted by Rorate, I would like to draw your attention to something else important that the Holy Father said:
But I consider greatly important to go deep into things, because if we do not go deep, no liturgical form, this or that one, can save us.
How true this is. A message spoken to us from all of history. A message repeated time and time again throughout the Old Testament, and again by Jesus in the New:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me; ~Mt 15:8
Liturgy must be about a conversion of the heart. About a notion, a moment of comprehension, that reveals to our deepest being the reality of the divine. It is a moment of understanding that we cling to our very existence by the fact of our presence in the mind of God. It is the realisation of the confection of Christ Himself on the very altar of the Mass. This understanding makes us humble, and, in our humility we are able to say with Jesus "Thy will be done."

Whatever our own preferences, sincerity is surely the key ingredient that God will read in our hearts? We must open our hearts and minds to the love of God, prepare ourselves diligently to meet him in the liturgy, and kneel in the presence of our Creator with great humility.

LMS Confirmations at Spanish Place, which grow in popularity year on year!


  1. Mark! Great post. Your observations, I think, are spot on in one sense, and that is on the side of us, the subject, as we experience the liturgy. The liturgy is our source of conformity to Christ, our source of knowing the faith and living it, and is also highly pedagogical. You said it all very well.

    However, I wonder whether that which comes prior should also be taken into consideration - and that is, what the liturgy is in itself. The liturgy in itself is, fundamentally, not about what it gives to us, but rather, it is about the virtue of religion, and the right worship of God in the manner which he has revealed to us that we should. This should be the vitalizing principle in liturgical form or reform, and then subsequently, what we receive from it following suit.

    Seen in this light, it should be no surprise that "liturgical preference", for the one attached to tradition, has no bearing on the matter at all, but rather, he knows that the best liturgy (to speak using comparatives or superlatives) is always going to be the one which most fully conforms to that which God himself has given us through the tradition.

    This perspective need not at all be at odds with everything you describe so well. However, it is when "a fabrication, a banal, on the spot product" is forced upon the Church in the name of relevance and building up relationships in the community in order to achieve those things which you articulate, that there is a fundamental problem (Ratzinger's words, not mine.)

    This distinction between an objective and subjective view of the liturgy is what leaves "traditionalists" and "neo-conservatives" utterly unable to communicate their perspective to each other, even though they are for the most part on the same side - and it is a thoroughly modern problem. I think, and I am sure that you will agree, that both are important; however, there must needs be a priority on the side of the object, rather than the subject, otherwise, the subject has no foundation in the truth, but only the modern "I think, therefore…"

    Just my humble two cents… ;)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Pope Francis: we planned it all before the conclave

A Cardinal writes: “Roma loquitur. Confusio augetur.”

Archbishop McMahon: "No more requests for this faculty will be granted"