So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Has idiot-proofing the Mass made its celebration idiotic?

Has "idiot-proofing" the Mass made Catholics idiots?

The stripping down of the Mass was anticipated by the denuding of church architecture. Enlightened architects of yesteryear sought to make buildings safe to "protect" people from harm. Bauhaus architecture, the stillborn movement conceived by the coupling of the fear and depression of an architect (Walter Gropius) traumatized by loss and motivated, at least initially, by a genuine sense of duty to design safer buildings, has resulted in living and working and worshipping spaces which are, indeed, quite safe—safe from imagination and the poetry of life, safe from humanizing relationships and creative interaction, and safe from encountering mystery or the transcendent.

The Bauhaus movement, born of hyper-utilitarianism, produced idols to the socialist realist (or is that secular materialist?) dogma of mechanized modernism, an ideology completely sanitized of human warmth. Imaginations traumatized by the degradation and brutality of the Second World War produced prisons, boxes, cells, attempts at indestructible buildings.

Compare the sterility of Bauhaus architecture to the riotous celebration of the human and the divine one typically finds in Baroque and Rococo architecture. Architecture, that is, which celebrates the human and divine in ways far too risky for the disciple of a vapid secularism to appreciate. One need not travel back as far as the Baroque to appreciate church-appropriate architecture. Consider the work of contemporary architect Duncan Stroik.

St. Thomas Aquinas College Chapel

St. Thomas Aquinas College Chapel - interior

Consider, too, the theological feast of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia.

The preceding paragraphs hint at a progression. Where theology goes, so goes art and architecture. Worse case scenario? Bad theology produces iconoclasm. Sanitizing of the Liturgy to make it more "accessible" has produced a generation of iconoclasts. A liturgy stripped of its ornament, it's flesh so-to-speak, seems tragically welcome in a house similarly stripped of art.

No room at the Bauhaus Inn.

Bauhaus philosophy, which is to say modernistic philosophy, cannot be redeemed for Christian use because it can only produce sarcophagi of disembodied man. The Bauhausian ethos produces temples to modernist dissonance. Is it any wonder, then, that celebrations of the Ordinary Form of the Mass are so often dissonant and devoid of depth when hosted in buildings built to accommodate the spirit of an age which is entirely uncomfortable with a psychology and/or metaphysic of (Divine) mystery and silence?

Architecture too timid to embody man in all his fragility and dignity is hardly worthy of use for creating mediating forms in which to render the theology of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Word was made flesh; Bauhaus architecture is far too gnostic to accommodate the Son of God.

Bauhausian architecture produces shells with no room for soul(s). Sadly, too many architects are still infected by the empty utilitarianism of Bauhaus (cf. Living Machines: Bauhaus Architecture as Sexual Ideology by E. Michael Jones).

No harm done.

Over protective entrepreneurs are using technology, once again, to promise consumers that life can be made safer. Driverless vehicles controlled by computers, for example, that protect people from "human-error". Computers never fail, do they?

In many ways, what has happened to the Sacred Liturgy mirrors the trend in society among people who seek to protect other people from the unknown. That is, unknown dangers. In a sense, certain people afraid of their own shadows want to protect people from themselves. In an age of permissiveness and 'you're not the boss of me now' thinking, isn't it ironic that people exhibiting an almost if not actual neurotic tendency to project onto others their own inhibitions insist at the same time that people not be subject to any kind of moral, sexual or political restraint? The topsy turvy world of the progressive is certain to topple the rest of society if common sense does not return to the public square.

For many rabid secularists, religion presents far too many unknown dangers for mankind. People must be protected from the interference which religion and faith provoke people to engage in. Ironically, secularism of the contemporary variety is nothing short of a fundamentalistic religion bent on terrorizing non-conformists, i.e., Christians, who refuse to burn incense at the shrine of some secular deity.

With no small amount of irony, we now see how liberal-progressives, once upon a time the self declared prophets of the Spirit of Vatican II, have become resistant to a call of the Holy Spirit to put aright the celebration of the Mass. Progressive cardinals and bishops, given a voice by an accommodating pope, imagine they must protect people from the nasty, rigid, [insert derogatory term here] Tradition-minded Catholics who, unafraid to celebrate the transcendentals—truth, goodness and beauty—and motivated by joyful orthodoxy, desire to see beauty returned to the Mass. The false prophets would, if they could, further denude the Mass and render it as plastic as the throw away culture in which they are tragically trapped.

Contrary to the hyper-materialism and morbid functionalism of our times, Tradition-minded Catholics herald a liturgical theology which restores to the Mass the transcendentals.

Liturgical Castrati

The justifications for dumbing down the Sacred Liturgy revolve around such baseless considerations as a reduction in needless repetition. Those promoting such nearsighted changes obvious lacked a sense of poetry not unlike the architects who designed humanity out of their buildings. In a manner of speaking, the liturgical reformers designed mystery out of the ritual or architecture of the Liturgy, and by so doing stripped the Mass of opportunities for worshippers to encounter God in and through the subtle strokes upon the imagination provided by gestures which the Holy Spirit designed into the Mass through human vessels attuned to the movements of the Holy Spirit. Blind to art, and blind to subtlety, the reformers became deformers who imposed their own limitations upon the Sacred Liturgy. By removing the caulking in and around the Sacred Liturgy, that is, the symbolic movement, preparatory texts such as the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Offertory prayers and so forth, and most importantly the liturgical norms and rubrics which constituted the choreography of the Mass and which constituted the connective tissue between the various rituals of the Mass, the reformers may have rendered the Liturgy safe from "unnecessary repetitions" but also made the Liturgy entirely prone to distortion. The last forty years have provided plenty of evidence that calls into the question the wisdom of tinkering with the Mass.

So-called "needless repetition" provided a much needed psychological structure by which worshippers moved through supportive structures to embrace penitence (humility), for example, in and through the Confiteor, a necessary orientation of mind and body if one hopes to approach the all-holy God of revelation. 'Fear of the Lord', a much maligned and oft avoided verbal construct in contemporary Catholicism, is a necessary disposition for the creature hoping to encounter his or her Maker in spirit and in truth.

The ninefold Kyrie (three times three) was a theological lattice by which the mind and heart, hungry for mercy and redemption, could approach the Three-in-One Godhead. The threefold Domine Non Sum Dignus operated on the penitent adorer of the Most Precious Eucharistic Body of the Saviour by exercising the human intellect, memory and will and joining the heart and mind to the rhythm of penitence. Similarly, other "threes" occurred in the Mass to appeal to the whole person through a theological approach which embodied the very focus of adoration, the Trinity. Thankfully, not all threefold petitions or acclamations were removed. The Sanctus comes to mind: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts... .

It is not by accident that most of the "useless repetition" was removed from the Mass. Repetition intended to assist the soul to achieve the necessary receptivity to the mercy of God is, to the prideful person, an undignified abasement of oneself. The liberal-progressive, eager to be free of shame and unable to appreciate a healthy examination of conscience, tossed out very useful supportive texts to assist the soul's progress from the illusion of pride to the reality of dependence upon God.

Where there is no sense of culpability for sin, the mind fabricates a comfortable god who is more a permissive parent than an authoritative (NOT authoritarian!) God Who rules the universe and loves creatures into existence and sustains them by His very being.
When thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed; when thou takest away their breath, they die and return to their dust.—Psalm 104 (103):29
The Church threw open the windows and in flew vultures.

The anti-authority movements of the 1960s and 1970s found a comfortable home in the Church and her Liturgy. Catholics, weary of obnoxious trespassers, should evict those who have bullied their way in the Sacred Liturgy.

The "tried and true" has been removed from the Mass. What has filtered into the vacuum created by the Bugnini reformers is nothing more than the biases of individuals who have little interest in submitting their minds and hearts to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the weak music, crass art, tepid theology and brutalist or minimalist architecture which accompanied the degradation of the Mass are hardly substitutes for the spirit nourishing sublime chant and art, orthodox theology and timeless architecture inspired by what has come to be known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

The rupture between art and liturgy has been most obviously felt in what should be the music of the Mass. Compare the trite One Bread, One Body by John Foley to even the simplest motet by Palestrina—e.g., Jesu Rex Admirablis—and the disparity between devotional pablum and authentic sacred music becomes immediately apparent. Even though the aforementioned motet is in Latin, the geometry of the phrasing and the architecture of the harmony invites the worshipper into an encounter with the Beauty and Truth and Goodness responsible for inspiring said motet.

Other innovations which have accreted upon the hull of the denuded Liturgy have produced highly undesirable results:
When the personality of the priest attempts to substitute for the mystery of faith into which ritual invites the worshipper, people put their faith in the person of the (narcissistic) priest. When that faith is challenged, people leave in despair or anger or frustration or... .
Where ritual is dumbed down to the point where people do not have to use and surrender their imaginations and engage their hearts, people have nothing through which the Holy Spirit may guide them into a deeper communion.
Where nothing is left to the imagination and everything is reduced to mere utility, people leave. When the Liturgy is bereft of art, people look for mystery, as they do also regarding their search for love, in all the wrong places. The rise of paganism in its many forms among Catholics is a testament to the failure of the stewards of the Liturgy, bishops and priests, to promote the modest liturgical reforms sanctioned by the Second Vatican Council.

By making the Liturgy "safe", the reformers enabled people with little or no sense of the sacred, i.e., people who are indifferent to or incapable of appreciating deference to the spiritual heritage of the Church, to exploit the Mass for their own disordered ends. Freed from the rubrics and liturgical norms, at least to their way of thinking, priests and people have reinvented the Mass in their own image. With the exception of attending Masses—even abusive Masses—to offer reparation for the many abuses committed against the Eucharistic Lord, people who seek God in His sacred Liturgy should have no association with communities saturated by the narcissism of priests and the egos of musicians stuck upon the repertoire of a generation of "folk music" loving anarchists. "Praise and worship" music, modelled as it is after the stylings of pop "music", does not belong in the temple. Folk melodies have been quoted and developed by adept composers for centuries (e.g., L'Homme Armé Mass by Dufay: "This mass is based on a popular song called "L'Homme Arme" (The armed Man), which sounds like a military text about a powerful soldier, but it actually refers to an archangel fighting for the Christian cause." Source.). Such adaptations are laudable when realized by competent musicians.

A return to the transcendentals—truth, goodness and beauty—is absolutely necessary for the Mass to be honoured as the source and summit of the Christian life. Man's taste for cheap and tawdry liturgy must be purified by an unceasing effort to reclaim the Mass from the iconoclasts. To that end, our eastern Catholic brethren can assist the Roman Church in her restoration of the Mass. The Ordinariate, too, is an indispensable leaven for authentic change. The Ordinariate liturgy (Divine Worship) is an example of how the Mass can be worthily prayed, said and sung, in the vernacular. While the Ordinariate liturgy could be criticized for being a cobbled together rite, such criticism would be entirely misplaced. By preserving Catholic Tradition within the Anglican patrimony, the former Anglicans have preserved the heart of Catholic liturgical worship. And, that heart is very healthy. It is not syncretistic in any way. Rather, it—Divine Worship: The Missal—is an authentic synthesis between the Roman and the English and represents a way forward for the reform of the reform begun under Pope Benedict. Divine Worship: the Missal may very well be appreciated as a stealth intrusion by the Holy Spirit to reorient Catholics to their true liturgical selves. If the SSPX can be brought back into the fold, yet another group will assist the work being accomplished by groups such as the FSSP, ICKSP, the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius and others that are growing and thriving among the liturgical weeds that have grown up in the garden of the Church.

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