For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Monday, 24 June 2013

Loose Ends

The four main posts in series on Holy Scripture, Liturgy, the Blessed Virgin and the Petrine office may have loose threads and may be a tad opaque here and there, but there was one glaring ambiguity that I wished to clear up in this the concluding post. At the beginning of the post Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi I gave a definition of liturgy which more or less applied to any formal or ritual elements when a group meet together to worship God. I then, farther into the post, began to use the term liturgy or divine liturgy to talk exclusively about either the Eastern or Latin rite Eucharistic liturgy as the bearers of Tradition in the specific sense of Apostolic and authoritative tradition. I ought to clear up this confusion.

The post on the Apostolic and Petrine office Apostolica Ecclesia gives some idea of how I intend to distinguish the more general from the more specific use of the word liturgy. Apostolic liturgy refers to liturgy developed in union with the Apostles and their successors. This kind of Eucharistic liturgy has had a remarkably similar form for over sixteen centuries, and there is a great deal of parallel between the different liturgies within these traditions, with the congruity at its height as one approaches the central drama of the consecration. Significantly, the theology underlying these liturgies is inescapable. So the argument for giving these liturgies a special place and a capital 'L' is their Apostolicity, their theology, and the empirical grounds that they contain a large amount of common material. Changes within these liturgies have been, by and large, very slow and incremental.

There is an obvious objection to this description of the Latin rite as a rite with a slow organic growth. Firstly, there was the disappearance (with the exception of the Ambrosian liturgy of Milan) of a large number of liturgies and the standardising of the Roman rite in the Counter-Reformation. This included the Gallican and Sarum rite among others. While this reform represented a sea change in normal incremental liturgical development, it was put in the shade by the much more root and branch changes of 1970 and Vatican II. I think both interventions were a bit drastic, especially Vatican II which resulted in different practices (e.g. the versus populum arrangement) which were based on sometimes mistaken claims about antiquity. I think that there is little disagreement now that there was a limited basis for some of the actual changes put into place in the Vatican II texts themselves.

My two objections to the Vatican II changes, besides the change of orientation and the obvious abuses, are firstly the drastic chopping up of the lectionary and rewriting of the collects, and secondly the sudden shifting and changing of a large number of liturgical feasts and traditional practices, among this second category being the changes to Holy Week. Besides the point that change needs to be gradual to be digested, and tends to be more sympathetic to the spirit of the liturgy when introduced gradually, there is a problem with the theological rationale of the lectionary changes. There is an interesting link on Rorate Caeli to a series of articles, the most recent essay (Number Fifteen) dealing with this, at Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce. There was a move from a more symbolic and sacramental to a more narrative and historical series of readings; and the switch from a one to a three yearly cycle means that no-one, in their lifetime, is ever going to acquire familiarity with the cycle. Three years is too long a span. The argument is that more of the Scripture is read, but one must counter that less is remembered; and in any case, the place for systematic Scripture reading is in the daily prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, or in the devotional practice of lectio divina.

I hope and pray that the Ordinariate's final rite will keep the traditional language of the Book of Divine Worship used by the Anglican Use parishes in the United States, and that the collects will be more or less left alone, and the readings preserve the traditional Latin lectionary used in the Book of Common Prayer. This would restore continuity with the Sarum rite, and step back into a Latin tradition that predates the sudden alterations to the liturgy at Vatican II and even before then, in the Counter-Reformation. The Ordinariate's Anglican patrimony in this instance would be the language of the rite, which given its dignity and reverence would be no small or peripheral contribution. And I think that this would also provide a pattern for the integration of other Reformed developments in liturgy (in the more general use of the word liturgy) back into the Apostolic prayer of the Eucharist.

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