Thursday, January 7, 2010

Reinfusing the Latin Rite with the Spirit of the East

When it comes to liturgical aesthetics and praxis...the more sensorily impressive a ritual, the better, in my opinion, so long as it is tasteful and rooted in organic tradition.

However, I'm torn between my love of impressive externals and my concern with the substance of the Text itself. As, for example, I'm inclined to prefer even the lowest of Old Rite Low Masses to even the highest of "Dressed Up" Novus Ordos, even as I condemn the "Low Mass mentality" among trads.

I suppose it's the same as preferring some simple little rural chapel to even the most impressive of skyscrapers or Las Vegas neon palaces. At the same time, neither is ideal. The ideal would be some Gothic Cathedral, both substantial and impressive...but the sensory impressiveness should be based on, vesting as it were, a foundation of substance, and in my mind is secondary to it, though having both is nice.

To bring it back to antependiums, for example, putting a frontal on our altar is certainly better than the "picnic table with a piece of plywood on top" look we had before. But, at the same time, I'd honestly prefer a truly fixed and consecrated stone altar if we could get one, even if it were just bare with the four stone legs exposed without any beautiful a semi-fixed even dressed up nicely. Because the ideal is a truly consecrated altar. And yet even better, of course, would be to have a truly fixed consecrated altar with a frontal. To have the ideal substance underneath robed with sumptuous externals.

In this way, the Eastern Rites are great. I honestly lean in that direction, though my liturgical and cultural "home" is in the Western liturgical tradition. But I think the Latin Rite could do with healthy dose of "orientalization," not in terms of objective changes to the ceremony, but in our attitude towards the liturgy. Certainly that would have been better than the Americanization and Protestantization the liturgy suffered after Vatican II.

For example, in my mind, High Mass should be much preferred to Low, even if it is only one person chanting very poorly. Catholics let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good too often, and so if the music can't be done "excellently," all professional and polished, it often just isn't done at all. But I'd be fine with just one tone-deaf old man or the server or the priest himself attempting it, as you sometimes see at sparsely attended Byzantine liturgies. The concept of Low Mass is rather foreign to them. Liturgy is a song, reciting it is a strange concept.

Priests should know how to chant, and should chant the Propers when there is no one else to do so, or even if there IS a choir or cantor too; the idea of priests "reading through" a text while the choir sings is not good to me. The priest should sing along with them.

If the Byzantines can do it, so can we. Low Masses should really be reserved for truly private masses of priests and monks, masses public in any sense should really be high (and, Solemn High as much as possible). Of course, finding subdeacon and deacon is hard if one requires that they be celibate or even just go through some long semi-professional training like our permanent deacons today. But that gets into other issues about my opinions on expanding the clergy to more men, and married men, on a part-time volunteer unprofessional unpaid basis.

As I said in one post, I think liturgical and ministerial needs should dictate the institutional structure of the clergy, not the other way around. If the conception of the priesthood as one of full-time paid celibate leading to a shortage and requiring the Masses that are said to not be Solemn High...then it is absurd to me that we prioritize the accidental institutional structure over the ideal liturgy and ministerial needs.

Likewise, some trads' disdain for the "dialogue" Mass really gets me angry too. The people should make any response the server makes, and things should not be "sung over". While I think the Silent Canon is an important part of the Catholic heritage (but it should be truly silent, then; ie, not have a Sanctus sung "over" it), I'd even be inclined to make most of the Offertory and Communion prayers in the Old Rite audible that are currently silent.

Built-in silence is good, but in the Old Rite it's almost the whole second half. Even at the Novus Ordo, people often "zone out" during hymns or familiar parts, even when they are audible, so it wouldnt necessarily interrupt any prayer. I know at the Old Mass when I'm serving I can have read the translations beforehand in my missal and then just let the Latin "wash over" me while I meditate during the actual liturgy.

I think a nice hieratic thees-and-thous vernacular translation of the Old Rite would be fine, though I'd hope the Ordinary would be kept in Latin, ie, the Gloria, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, the Canon itself, etc. But a vernacular Old Rite ala the Anglican Missal would help to overcome a lot of the resistance to the Old Rite (let's be honest, the language barrier is the reason people dont like it, not the richer texts or gestures)...

At the same time, I definitely know that, personally, conscious "comprehension" of the exact meaning of the text isnt really the point of the Liturgy, especially after the Liturgy of the Catechumens (which does have more catechetical purposes). The point is to be a Mystery, not a mundane PTA meeting. To induce an altered state of consciousness. To immerse one in the prayer of the beauty and mystery of the choreography of it all. Like some beautiful dream-state.

Not to say that the liturgy is simply some sort of Performance Art, but it is a drama, a dance even. In a similar vein, though having a translation or program might be nice, one can enjoy the Opera or a Ballet without having a translation or knowing the story.

So, long story short, Renegade Trads are generally all for a more "Byzantine" presentation of the Old Rite in terms of really emphasizing the High Mass (even if it is only one person chanting poorly), emphasizing Maximal gestures and expressions as opposed to Minimal, restoring elements that have become vestigial, having the people actively engaged and educated about what is going on up there, etc.

I'm not one for the "praying your rosary during Mass" presentation of the Old Rite, though, ironically...I've actually taken to praying my rosary not during the Traditional Mass, but rather during the Novus Ordo when I must attend it, just to tune-out the bland patronizing banality and artificiality of that particular liturgy.


Mark of the Vineyard said...

My views tend to be somewhat in synch with what you said here (I say somewhat because since I'm still relatively "new" to the Gregorian Mass, I'm still getting a feel for its subtilities and trying to understand it better).
As an aside, there actually are a few other subjects I'd like to exchange views with you about. I'm a former FE-er, though I didn't contribute much to the boards and gave up on them after finding the general atmosphere noxious. As for my "credentials", you can ask our common Goy-gone-Jewish friend ;-)

Jonathan said...

In rereading my previous response, I do believe that it would have been more appropriate for my response to have gone here. I am not sure if you are capable of moving responses on a blog, nonetheless good entry.

A Sinner said...

Feel free to email me with any questions. Contact info is, I think, available somewhere on the blog itself, but the email is: renegadetrad [at] gmail [dot] com

Feel free to recommend the blog to other young people you think might be sympathetic too.

Michael said...

Mark of the Vineyard said...


The song may be the Body of Christ but it's set to the music of "Agni Parthene" :-D