måndag 9 april 2012

After-Easter culture shock

Having been used to a traditional liturgy and being plunged over Easter, into what is a 1970s-style of liturgy, I am suffering from culture-shock. It has led me to ponder where the Catholic church is going. What are the implications for the New Evangelisation?

Whether it was intentional or based on a misunderstanding, the Catholic liturgy took a battering after Vatican 2, to the point that it can best be described as stripped-down. Several things happened simultaneously.

Latin was got rid of. This meant, first of all, that the liturgy was no longer the same wherever one went. The church, and even some parishes, split up into language groups. This has become a more acute problem with the passage of the years, as people have become more mobile.

In some instances, the translations into the vernacular were so inaccurate that new translations have had to be introduced, for example into English where a new ICEL version came into use last year.

The traditional music was got rid of. With the abolition of Latin, the traditional music - Gregorian Chant and the polyphony of composers like Palestrina and Victoria - could no longer be used and the Catholic liturgy acquired new sounds with a very different spirit. This was a particular problem for English where the rhythms of the language do not usually permit the re-use of music written for Latin.

Much of the music for the vernacular liturgy in English has been of poor quality. With the new translation, it is now obsolete and should be quietly forgotten. Here in Sweden the Gregorian melodies survive translation better than into English, and the translations themselves are more true to the definitive Latin. Paradoxically, this makes matters worse because it is harder to justify the use of Latin. However, it is difficult to justify the use of the Lenten setting of the Ordinary all the year round, which is what seems to have happened. And there appears also to be no setting of the Creed in Swedish. An adapatation of Credo I would probably be successful but has not to my knowledge been published.

A further issue is the use of round note/five line notation for Gregorian music in the translated versions. This is, seemingly a consequence of the dominance of chuch music by musicians. Yet the old four-line notation with square notes gives a clearer and more accurate depiction of the shape of the musical phrases and has the additional advantage that it can be sung at whatever pitch the singers a comfortable with.

Post Vatican 2 also saw an infusion of Protestant music. There is a large body of beautiful music written for the Anglican church, for example. Some of it, by composers such as Orlando Gibbons, was produced in the first part of the seventeenth century under the liturgical revival driven by Archbishop Laud. But however beautiful it is, this music is permeated by the spirituality and theology of its place and time. It cannot be otherwise. The same applies the more so to music written for the Lutheran church. One has to ask whether there is a legitimate place for it within Catholic church worship?

Silence was got rid of The traditional Latin Mass is characterised by a period of intense silence whilst the priest recites the Canon. Priests may choose to have a period of silence after communion but it does not fall naturally into the pattern of the Novus Ordo Mass.

Reverence was got rid of The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and the Last Gospel were dropped. Communion was no longer received kneeling and on the tongue but standing and in the hand. These differences in gesture in turn give rise to differences in disposition and attitude to the Blessed Sacrament. It cannot be otherwise.

Bidding prayers secularised the liturgy All too often bidding prayers were used as an opportunity to wheel out a political hobby horse.

The priest celebrated facing the people No longer would the priest face the cross and tabernacle together with the rest of the people. Instead, the priest faces the people. What does this signify? More importantly, what does it deny and what does it imply? That the Mass is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, perhaps? That is now a widespread perception.

Undoing the damage
Piece-by-piece the damage must be undone. Where to begin? Congregations must be moved on slowly, sensitively and tactfully. Some English parishes have shown the way. The new English translation provides a good entry point. The Ordinary of the Mass is being sung in Gregorian chant as part of a mixed-language liturgy. So is the Pater Noster. Communion is being received on the tongue and whilst kneeling. The English Mass is being celebrated Ad Orientem. The Canon of the Mass could be recited silently by both priest and people, as suggested by Cardinal Ratzinger in his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy". The Ordinariate is one of the forces for progress in this direction.

The question is - where is the best point to start, and how should it be done without causing offence?

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