Skip to comments.The Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the Evangelization of the Culture.
Posted on 06/09/2014 1:21:25 AM PDT by markomalley
We tend to think of evangelization as focused on individuals. But cultures need evangelizing too, perhaps even more so, due to the influence of culture on so many. In her strongest periods the Church has been key in forming the culture and ethos around her. In her weaker periods the Church begins to parrot and reflect culture which, without her leadership, is too easily ephemeral, dis-edifying and at worst, debased.
It is hard to argue that we are in a period where the Church has a key influence on culture. It is rather more the case that popular culture has far too influenced us. Few Catholics get most of their information or influence from God, the Scriptures or Church teaching. Most are far more aware of and prone to listen to secular leaders, pop-musicians, entertainers, sports figures and the general cultural din. And this is where they nurture even their most critical insights about God, family, sexuality, and many critical moral questions.
Liturgically too there are many problems associated with the triumph and primacy of modern and pop-culture. Most of our modern trends in liturgy reflect the preferences of our culture, rather than the ability to challenge and influence them. And thus liturgy must be convenient, fast, entertaining, youthful, relevant, accessible, completely understandable even by the smallest child, warm, comfortable, respecting of diversity, friendly, etc. To be sure, most of these are not bad qualities. But their emphases to the exclusion of balancing principles (such as mystery and tradition) and the often shallow understanding of them, shows that pop culture is really in the driving seat, not the Church.
Ill be honest, I do not know were exactly to draw the line. When exactly is a song too secular or in bad taste? When does something go from being understandable to being dumbed down? When does emphasizing a warm and welcoming environment become too anthropocentric and unprayerful? When does respecting diversity become a balkanization and stove-piping of communities? When does youthful, vibrant and relevant do harm to what is ancient, enduring, and time-tested?
Somewhere in all this concern for evangelizing the culture vs. being dominated by it, is the quiet and stable presence of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, often called the Usus Antiquior (the older use or form) that, was in use from antiquity and largely intact until 1970.
A recent article by Tracey Rowland in Sacred Liturgy (The Proceedings of the International Conference on the Sacred liturgy 2013) develops the way in which the usus antiquior can act as a kind of salve or preservative in the ephemeral (changing) climate of the post-modern West. I want to offer a few excerpts from the lengthy article and add a few comments of my own (in plain, red text). Rowland writes:
Specifically the usus antiquior may be an antidote to the ruthless attacks on memory and tradition and high culture typical of the culture of modernity. [And it can supply] a coherent, non-fragmented tradition that is open to the transcendent. Participation in this form of the rite does require a deeper intellectual engagement, if one is not to get completely lost, but this form is also more contemplative
(Yes, once one overcomes the notion that he or she must be hearing, seeing, and interacting with every aspect of the Mass, one is drawn to a more quiet contemplation of God and that many things are being done by God for me in a quiet and hidden way. So too in the Mass when the priest acts on behalf of me, it is not required that I hear or understand every syllable. It is often enough that the priest ministers for me and God both enables and receives this ministry. To quietly pray is thus an acceptable demeanor rather than to (only) relentlessly participate) Thus the usus antiquior emphasized a more contemplative dimension .
In arguing this, one need not take the view that the usus antiquior should be the only form of the Roman Rite. The older and newer forms Should be mutually enriching. (p. 117, 130)
Yes, at least in our current setting the liturgy wars are a counter-sign of the charity that ought to be preeminent when it comes to Sacred worship. But the main point here is that the usus antiquior acts as a kind of preservative on the overall Roman Rite by holding up old time religion. This helps the newer forms from becoming detached from proper roots and from the more fully Christian culture that preceded our current secularist and ephemeral culture. The usus antiquior evangelizes Catholic current culture (too easily swayed with modern notions) by showing forth the holy ancient traditions that have sustained us.
Yves Congar argued that the liturgy is truly the holy ark containing sacred tradition at its most intense He said (in 1963), We need only step into an old church in order to follow a Mass which has scarcely changed, even in externals, since St. Gregory the Great Everything has been preserved for us, and we can enter into a heritage which we may easily transmit in our turn, to those coming after us. Ritual as a victory over devouring time and a powerful communion in the same reality between men separated by centuries of change (P. 116)
The charcoal drawing at the upper right, if one does not look closely, could be Mass from almost any century going back to at least the 4th Century. But it is a Mass celebrated just two days ago, by me here in my parish. The actual picture is just below it. This is a picture of what Congar says.
Sadly, shortly after 1963 the holy ark was lost to the Philistines (cf 1 Sam 5) and has only recently been recovered through a series of indults and the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. We can only pray the holy ark will now stay among us and grow in the influence and mutual enrichment for which Pope Benedict XVI longed.
If modernity is a culture of forced forgetting, postmodernity is more of a fragmented culture of retrieval, the mood is less self-assured and more melancholy and nostalgic. Postmodernity, unlike modernity, is not hostile tradition but it is hostile to the idea that the human intellect can be used to discern that one tradition is to be preferred over another. Most postmoderns tend to think that ones preference of tradition is likely to stem from ones aesthetic sensibility, rather than from intellectual judgment. (p. 129). Amen, if we are not careful, our tolerance of aesthetical preferences too easily becomes just another form of relativism.
In the midst of the decadence and fragmentation and Philistinism, the usus antiquior can continue to be, in the words of Congar, a holy ark, a victory over devouring time, and a means of communication between Catholic separated by centuries of change. It does however need to be disentangled from ghetto culture, either ignorant or suspicious of the genuine reforms of the Council.
So, we must be careful to find the balance that celebrates and insists on the preservative role of the usus antiquior but which does not devolve into a smug superiority and dismissiveness that is both a countersign and also threatens the very influence we seek to foster.
Just some thoughts about how the usus antiquior can help evangelize culture both within and outside the Church. In this older form of the Mass we step back to what proved right for centuries, to the Mass most saints knew, to what time had tested and retained. This is important in a constantly shifting culture that has lost its moorings.
To have in our midst something that is fixed, stable, proven and deeply connect to the wisdom of the past is a glorious gift. The newer form of the liturgy also brings gifts (a wider selection of readings, greater access to the vernacular, and some cultural flexibility). But without the stability of the usus antiquior we see too many risks for wild and inauthentic shifts. And this is just what we have experienced in recent decades.
Both forms are currently the reality for us, but the new without the old is unmoored and drifts too wildly. The usus antiquior, the Extraordinary Form restores our needed moorings.
Msgr Pope ping.
God Bless Msgr Pope!
Both forms NEED each other and learn from each other.
Even it is good to know about the earlist masses, those of the early Christians as well. Will be looking into getting this book.
“Both forms NEED each other and learn from each other.”
Both forms NEED each other and CAN learn from each other.
Sacred Liturgy? Don’t you mean the celebration where we, the bread of life, gather around the altar to share our meal, and the Body of Christ becomes the Body of Christ?
At least according to the band.