|The politics of liturgy - Feb 19|
|2012 - Viewpoint|
|Friday, 17 February 2012 11:06|
By Fr Martin Sirju
In the 1990s the Liturgical Commission passed around a circular saying that during the Eucharistic part of the Mass one vessel containing the wine to be consecrated must be used. We were advised against using several vessels since it did not convey the biblical message as contained in Romans 12:5. The Pauline emphasis is on the unity of Christ and our own unity by sharing in the one bread and one cup that is Christ.
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). The symbols of sharing and pouring were therefore important. It was quite common in those days to use actual bread in special liturgies with small numbers of people; there was one loaf and one cup. The bread (Jesus) was broken and shared and the wine (Jesus) was poured out and shared. You couldn’t get more biblical than that.
Fast forward to the present. Archbishop Gilbert often explained at Confirmation Masses that he was pouring the wine into several vessels first so we would not risk spilling the Precious Blood which is present to us after consecration on the altar. Why are the two views clashing? The answer depends on which theology wins out in Rome. Whenever we hear “theology” we need to ask “whose theology”? At Vatican II there were several theologies clashing with one another – the German, Dutch, French, American and Roman schools. In the above example it is not so much who is right and who is wrong but which theology best represents the spirit of Vatican II or the spirit of the age in which we live. In my opinion, it is the one that highlights the community dimension – the community being bonded in Christ through participation in the one bread and one cup. The other theology, the “real presence” theology, highlights the concerns of the Middle Ages and is more focussed on the Eucharistic species themselves.
The New Roman Missal, which was in the making for many years, represents a particular theology. Most liturgists agreed that the language in the 1969 missal was too flat and pedestrian. It needed to be uplifted gracefully. It was certainly uplifted, whether gracefully is another matter. The English-speaking bishops’ conferences of the world voted almost unanimously for a 1998 version of the Roman Missal which was sent to Rome for recognitio (approval). For whatever reason the Congregation for Worship did not give approval, extensively edited the draft and came up with what we have now. There was uproar in ICEL (International Commission for English in the Liturgy) but the Congregation stood firm.
What are its strengths and weaknesses? The major strength is the clear attempt to enrich the collects – the opening and closing prayers, and prayer over the gifts; the words are more carefully chosen and biblically enriched. Secondly, there is an attempt to emphasise the otherness and omnipotence of God in order to engender awe, reverence and holiness. Thirdly, our present disorienting experience using the new missal gives us an insight into the far more disorienting experience of the faithful of the 1960s and 70s as they struggled to accept the liturgical changes occasioned by Vatican II. These changes were imposed on people without prior preparation. Most survived to get accustomed to and enjoy the vernacular liturgy, but many left. Eminent voices like anthropologist Victor Turner and sociologist Peter Berger thought the Church had more than shot itself in the leg.
On weaknesses I have much more to say. One can see the attempt to enrich the collects and make them more biblical but the richness and bible-rootedness are lost in the way they are expressed; the collects are too long and alienating. A much better work could have been done in ensuring fluidity and aesthetics. All the collects reflect an attempt to retrieve awe and reverence. The words “Almighty Father” are not used, only “O God”. While the attempt to retrieve awe and reverence is laudable it is overdone with too many “blessed”, “graciously”, “mercifully”, “we humbly ask” etc that the collects become bulky and awkward. By the constant use of the word “O God” our nearness to God implied in the word “Father” (“Abba”), the word that Jesus uses to address God when he prays and found far more frequently in the Gospels than in the Old Testament, is lost. We see this distancing in the terrible expression: “Formed by divine teaching we dare to say …” We are about to say a prayer that reflects our intimacy with God and the expression lacks warmth and encouragement.
Many people blame Vatican II for the present state of things; our current state of living in a “disenchanted universe” as philosopher Charles Taylor puts it. This is not true. We were heading toward a disenchanted universe since the Enlightenment. Vatican II may have catalysed this process but it did not start it; furthermore, it would have come anyway: secularism was our destiny. It would take more than the politics of liturgical theology to recreate an enchanted universe. Another weakness is the infrequent use of the word “saints” in the prefaces and much more use of “angels and archangels”. Vatican II deliberately moved away from a theology of angels and encouraged instead a theology of the saints. The reason being that saints are role models we can read about; we can identify with them in our weaknesses; in them we have the hope of what we can become. Above all, Jesus Christ became a human being not an angel. The new missal attempts to retrieve angelology at the expense of hagiography.
The Eucharistic prayers too have become very heavy. Not only have they increased in weight but in length. I still can’t understand why the experts at the Congregation would choose “chalice” over “cup”. “Cup” is mentioned five times in the psalms and 26 times in the New Testament. “Chalice” is never mentioned once in the bible. I also think the change in the expression “as we wait in joyful hope” to “as we wait in blessed hope” a big let-down. “Joyful” is a much better word than “blessed” to anticipate the new heaven and the new earth God has planned for us. I am also curious as to what young people would think. Would they enter into such long Eucharistic prayers? The Catholic Church is the only mainline Church left standing with a sizeable portion of young people. Their language and identity are by and large taken from the digital world in which they live. While I concede there is such a thing as “liturgical language” such language should not become so archaic and monarchic that it sounds totally different from their cultural world.
This new version of the Roman Missal is not the last word on the missal. We can never tell what the future holds. The missal may find a better balance in the future, a more harmonious integration of the contending theologies, the fruit of less politico-theological struggles. Above all we should remember the words of Pope Paul VI: “Liturgy is for people, not people for the liturgy.”________________________________________________________________________________________ **DISCLAIMER**: User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Camsel/Catholic News or its staff. Camsel/Catholic News accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments. Please help us keep our site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option. Camsel/Catholic News reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed. Before posting, please refer to the Comments Policy under Resources