Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Rough Day at the Office

...the Divine Office, that is.

Today is the feast of the glorious Cappadocians, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen. It is also the Tuesday between Mary, Mother of God and the Epiphany. For that reason, the Psalmody is taken from the weekly Psalter, the Capitulum from the Christmas Proper and the Benedictus antiphon from the Office of the Day. If you are keeping score (and if you haven't memorized the Benedictus, which is in the Ordinary), this means four ribbons in your Breviary for today's celebration.

I jest, of course, when I call this 'rough'. I mean to make reference to the fact that Catholics in general and monks in particular are sometimes criticized for having made common prayer too complicated. "I can't figure out where you guys are!" is a common refrain from guests who have a certain understanding of 'full and active participation'. Rightly, there are calls for simplification of the liturgy in each generation, and after Vatican II we have seen many salutary works in this direction; for example, dropping un-historical saints from the martyrology and giving preference to the seasons of the Church year and their focus on the mysteries of the life of Christ over the proliferation of saints' feasts, often of a local or purely Roman character. The rubrics of the Mass have been simplified in some ways.

One has to be very careful in this work, however. The style of prayer we have is what it is because of countless movements of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. It is not unimportant to remember not only the Christmas mysteries, but the historical realization of the graces of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Cappadocians as well. There are excellent reasons to pray the Benedictus and Magnificat each day, even if it means having to keep your thumb in the Ordinary all through the office. Honoring the Church's history honors the God who continues to work in history, in the Church today.

Another danger in a rush to simplify the Church's prayer in the interests of more participation is that removing old customs invites new, and the new might not have anything in particular to do with the Church's Apostolic Tradition. We have tended to remove Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony from the Mass (despite the recommendation of Vatican II) and what has happened? We've substituted hymns by Marty Haugen and David Haas. I don't actually know much of their music, but can it really be considered on a level with even standard hymnody, much less the near-inspired status of chant? Similarly, the wedding and funeral ceremonies have been streamlined, and lo, the Unity Candle and eulogies have crept in. I'm not saying that these are terrible things (though the eulogy really belongs outside of the liturgy), simply that we do need customs, and, that being the case, we might agree to incorporate ourselves more firmly into the Church by trusting the established customs. Even when this means needing four ribbons.

1 comment:

The Archer of the Forest said...

Just say, 'no!' to watered down liturgy...


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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