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

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Take Off Thy Shoes

Here is a link to a series of seven posts on liturgy by the author of the now-closed RadTrad blog, which has bearings on a lot more than the usual arguments in the Latin vs. Novus Ordo debate. It is a praiseworthy piece of historical analysis showing that some common assumptions made in that debate are dubious e.g. that the problems with liturgical reform stem only from the Second Vatican Council, or that there would be no need for quite significant reform if one returned to the 1962 Missal, or that the liturgy is a tabula rasa upon which one can write one's theology. I quote:
Perhaps the saddest consequence of this legalism and liturgical centralization is that decline of people's view of Rome as the spiritual center of the Church and of the Pope as the spiritual father. The Pope is just the man who makes the rules and the Vatican processes them. If in the early 13th century, I asked a priest in Canterbury Cathedral if Pope Innocent III had the power to depose King John, the priest would probably at least entertain the question: political power comes from God and the Pope is His vicar on earth. If I asked him if the same Pope could dictate every word and action of the Mass he just celebrated, the same priest would think me mad. Yet, I wager the same priest would not dare to change a punctuation mark in the Roman Canon, much less write a series of new anaphoras.
I wish as many people as possible would read this, and get the point, and agree with it: i.e. the Divine Liturgy is not ours to rewrite. It is worth repeating ad nauseam, until it filters into every Christian's thinking and actions and (very importantly) way of celebrating their liturgy, including their most informal of prayers in their own homes: the Divine Liturgy is not ours to rewrite. If people started to understand that the Divine Liturgy had a status like that of Holy Scripture, and that it both stood above and judged academic theology and bound the exercise of authority, then Christendom would be a step closer to unity, knowing that the Divine Liturgy possessed Her, and not She, It.

The Ordinariate and its liturgy, and its development, will (I believe) founder on precisely the same rock unless it plants its feet there. We in the Ordinariate are in a predicament, at first glance appearing to hold to a liturgical tradition that we have made up for ourselves. But we have a loadstone viz. Sarum, and its reception and translation in the Book of Common Prayer, and this can help to ground the liturgy within tradition. But even if one has a liturgy that is "traditional" in the sense of preserving continuity (and I believe the Ordinariate Rite is a bridge between Vetus and Novus via Anglican texts and Anglo-Catholic theology) this is insufficient. For the actual preservation of an exact form of words and ritual - paradoxical as this may sound - is not so important as the reverence with which one treats those texts, and the understanding that in them the Holy Spirit is pulling us up into the very life of Christ, and bundling us oafs into heaven before the Slain Lamb. Those words, those images, are the Angelic forms that carry us up the Jacob's Ladder that is the Blessed Lord Jesus. William Blake wrote that Albion was slain
through envy of Living Form, even of the Divine Vision, And of the sports of Wisdom in the Human Imagination, Which is the Divine Body of The Lord Jesus, blessed for ever.
It might not be immediately clear what this has to do with the Liturgy, but the clue is that the words, the images and their meanings are not bits added on to a sacrament, but are a living and necessary part of it: that the Wisdom of God that sports in the Human Imagination is the Logos who creates all things, and His Divine Body is the Word made flesh. And what ought our attitude to be if the Living Form of creation is uttering Itself in the Divine Liturgy of the sacraments and daily prayer? "Mark well my words," says Blake, "for they are of your eternal salvation."

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