Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Save the Liturgy, Save the World

~from Homiletics and Pastoral Review by Fr. James Schall, a review of Tracey Rowland's Culture and Modern Thomism (2003). The article is entitled "The Culture of Modernity and Catholicism". It asks the question if it is possible for Catholicism to accommodate itself to modernity. Worthy read for the insights on the fallout from Vatican II. But I especially loved this section:
It is this attention to beauty and glory that distinguishes these efforts to present the complete understanding of human purpose and destiny. In this sense, the liturgical approach to philosophy “parallels,” as it were, the Solzhenitsyn experience of also discovering transcendence through the pits of human degradation and evil. Through both we can reach a sense of the abiding transcendence of God in all created being. Indeed, one suspects, that for Rowland more danger to the Catholic understanding of the world can be found in the “mass culturalization” of the liturgy than in the Gulags. The former so obscures the normal human’s soul’s avenue to the transcendence that is provided in revelation that is cannot find an escape out of the culture.

Rowland also demonstrates, as in Chesterton’s “common man,” that there is an abiding interest in the “ordinary person,” an interest in particular found MacIntyre’s philosophy. The effort is consciously made to combine the aristocratic and classical notion of virtue and honor with the Christian idea of the uniqueness of each created person and his specific divine creation. No longer do philosopher and common man have different ultimate destinies, however much their approach to it may vary. Moreover, this transcendent purpose is precisely what, through liturgy, enables each person to recognize in his own life this transcendent final meaning.

“What Chesterton understood was that it was precisely one of the great graces of the Catholic Church,” Rowland observed,
that she makes it possible for people, poor as well as rich, to transcend their cultural limitations, to rise above their cultural poverty and be citizens, or rather subjects, of an eternal city. The effect of the Church on the culture of the world, and in particular on the life of ‘common man,’ ought to be ennobling, ought to be affirming of an aristocratic status as a child of God, as a member of a royal priesthood, a people set apart This does not happen when mass culture is ‘baptised’ by its use in the liturgy or when its idioms are taken to wrap the Church’s doctrines. Contrary to the rationale behind such pastoral projects, their ultimate effect is not to make the Church relevant to the modern world, but to make it indistinguishable from the modern world, and this in turn makes it completely irrelevant.
The liturgy has always been a way to elevate even the lowliest of believers, sometimes the only way available to them, so that a de-emphasis of beauty in music, buildings, and language, in the name of ease to understand or comprehend faith, has the unfortunate result of eliminating the main channel by which people can escape from a deadening common culture whose principles are the opposite of this elevation to beauty.
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This is why I react with disgust to people who want to make liturgical language banal and commonplace so that it can be understood (see the NCAN's letter to the Bishops about the Mass translations). It is a lack of understanding (worse if it's a willful disregard) of the human need for transcendence...and why liturgy lifts us out of our endless cycles searching for meaning and gives us the vision of our eternal destiny. No, our language should not be so accessible. We are speaking of glory here. And as such, liturgy creates space for mystery. Our culture has demystified everything and our young people so desperately need mystery to fuel their imaginations stunted by the "self-actualization" imperative. So, yes, Save the Liturgy, Save the World.

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