Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Liturgical musings

What would the result be if we melded "Father Feel-good" With "Father Rubric?" Actually, the result would be me. Why must it be that the liturgy has to be either a warm-fuzzy love fest, or a cold, by-the-book, vapid ritual?

Actually, they do not have to be that way.

The problem is that in the last forty years, due to ineffective introduction of the Missal of Pope Paul VI, the liturgy has become a free-for-all in the hands of priests, experts, and musicians. Bishops are not really concerned about it. (The recent donnybrook over the new missal translations are an exception, and due to other causes.) This attitude has either filtered down to the faithful, or actually been inculcated. Now, there exists a divide between the idea of a structured, liturgical cultus that is universal, and an attitude of Oprah-ism that results in the phenomenon of judging the liturgy on its ability to move us emotionally. If we are not moved, there is something wrong with the liturgy.

Well, there is something wrong with the liturgy when that condition prevails. The liturgy is not feeling, nor is feeling, per se, worship.

As I speak with protestant ministers, I see that their assemblies are rife with this as well. Simply turn on any local Sunday service, and see the role that the musicians have taken over. What used to be one or two standard evangelical hymns sung by the congregation has now been replaced with soloists, instrumental groups or recordings of the same, choral bodily movements and other elements that are taken from popular entertainment. (Remember that in the '60's it was said by many Catholics that congregational singing was "Protestant?" They've mostly dropped it, at least as it was done then.) Sadly, Hollywood is able to do such a better job. Some of this is to appeal to the young. Make 'em feel good about coming to church. When the camera pans the audience/congregation, see how few are really singing. Many in the choir are only lip-syncing. Even Catholics don't bother to do that!

Positive affect is a good thing. We want everyone to have positive affect about worship. But at the same time, positive affect has to be ex opera operato, "by the working of the work" as we say in Latin. For example: to have positive affect toward cabinetry really comes for the joiner when he/she does a good job on making a desk or some other object. The artist can examine the work critically and judge its worthiness. If it is a job well done, then the artist takes joy in it, and loves the art even more. Others who admire it, do so because it represents both good art and honest workmanship. While the artist has a positive affect for the tools of the trade, the actual raw-materials are usually not gushed over, but simply appreciated for their intrinsic truth and goodness.

There is no need to gush over the elements of the liturgy, either. Its noble structure, language, and ritual are already there in its individual elements. Their truth and goodness are evident to anyone who examines them. When the Word and the ritual come together on a Sunday morning, then they are resurrected to the glory of God. The real beauty of the liturgy lies not in the rubrics or the musical notation. It exists only when the liturgy is being done. In this way, liturgy is like music, which only exists when it is being done, not when it is simply ink on paper.

Liturgical affect, IMO, is the restrained joy of the rubrical workmanship and the spiritual preparation of the worshippers, all brought together in the liturgy (Gk.: "work of the people") by the actual doing thereof.

1 comment:

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I agree, in effect if emotion flows naturally from the Liturgy it can be effective means...Transcendence is effective when we're not the center of attention at Mass.