Monday, June 24, 2013

Ecce, homo

The Devirilization of the Liturgy in the Novus Ordo Mass:

One might be tempted to crystallize what Cardinal Heenan experienced as the feminization of the Liturgy. But this term would be inadequate and ultimately misleading. For there is a real Marian aspect of the Liturgy that is therefore feminine. The Liturgy bears the Word of God, the Liturgy brings forth the Body of the Word to be worshipped and given as Food. A better terminology might be that in the Novus Ordo rite of Mass the Liturgy has been effeminized.
Father makes an important distinction here. Exalting masculinity does not imply a put down of the feminine. Male and female are complementary. Feminism, in contrast, is in the business of putting down the feminine. They want to be more like men, which ends up making both men and women lonely and miserable. A feminized Church drives the men away, which further reinforces the feminine stranglehold on the contemporary Church bureaucracy.
The description of the Roman liturgy using adjectives like “austere”, “concise”, “noble” and “simple,” is commonplace among many who have written about the liturgy in the modern liturgical movement of the twentieth century. Many of these writers, however, have romanticized this austerity of the Roman rite or have used it to further their own agenda of stripping the rite of the organic growth of the ages, labeling such organic growth with censorious terms like “Gallican accretions “or “useless repetitions”. Rather than denoting the Roman rite as austere, an adjective that arguably has puritan overtones, it is better to speak of the masculinity or virility of the traditional Roman rite.
Turning the priest around to face the people while celebrating Mass did more to wreck Roman Catholicism than the Protestant Reformation. Even people who are old enough to know better speak disparagingly of the bad old days when the priest turned his back on the people. Implicit in that assertion is the idea that the Mass is nothing but a communal meal, an exercise in community building. The priest turned his back on the people so they could all face God together. The priest is the father and shepherd of his parish. He is the intercessor, the intermediary between God and man.
First, masculinity is opposed to sentimentality—not to sentiment, but to sentimentality. There is an absence of any trace of sentimentality in the Traditional rite, also called the Extraordinary Form. This is seen in its collects and prayers that are succinct and to the point without sacrificing beauty of language, and in its rubrics that prevent the personality of the priest from inserting his own feelings and choices into the rite itself. If we take note of Cardinal Newman’s insight that sentimentality is the acid of religion, meaning that it destroys true religion, then the rubrics of the Traditional rite are the little purple pill that prevents the reflux of sentimentality into the liturgy.
One of my seminarian friends, who is now a priest, strongly recommended against ever studying the Novus Ordo Mass in any great detail. When I asked him why he replied, "Because it's depressing when you realize just how few priests do it according to the book." This isn't even a question of liturgical abuse, although there has been enough of that. The Novus Ordo Missal gives the priest enormous freedom in almost every aspect of the Mass. It takes a strong man indeed to resist the temptations to become Father Jimmy Fallon.
...very closely linked to the fourth aspect above, the Liturgy is something given, never made. It is there to be entered into. This aspect is seen more clearly in the Eastern rites where rationalism and sentimentality have never eroded this sense of the God-given-ness of the liturgy—hence it is known in the East as “the Divine Liturgy”. This given-ness does not imply a fossil nor does it deny organic development. Nay rather, this given-ness is like a great house that has been built by the inspiration of the Spirit through the ages and that is there to be entered. The genius and the truth of Roman Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, which inspired the present Pope, Benedict XVI, so deeply in his own understanding of the Liturgy, assumes this absolute given-ness of the Liturgy, for one cannot “play in the house of the Lord” unless the house is already there to be played in. 
 That sense of given-ness has been totally lost. Everywhere the liturgy appears to be something cobbled together by the community. The average Catholic volunteer thinks of the Missal as a skeleton provided by the Church, with the community free to impose its own preferences in music, prayers, and overall praxis. This was the impetus behind Pope Benedict XVI's hermeneutic of continuity: go beyond the letter of the law and join yourself with the spirit of the Church's traditional orientation.
This role of the vir of faith is radically different from the priest who believes his job is not to lead the people to the altar of Sacrifice but rather to dialogue with them and to make them “understand what is going on”. Then the Eucharistic Prayer with its altogether brief dialogue between priest and people becomes another extension of the priest’s dialogue-banter. Here there is no walking up the mountain together; there is no turning to the Lord together; instead there is the terrible and stultifying stasis of the condescending and overbearing mother trying to connect with her child and in the process destroying the child’s freedom to walk up to the mountain of God.
It's ironic that, given the modern obsession with making sure the people "understand what is going on," there is probably much much less understanding of what goes on at Mass today then there was at the average suburban parish of sixty years ago.
I want to offer comments on two practical results of the devirilization of the liturgy and of the priest. The first is this: the music that the Novus Ordo has produced, both for Mass settings and songs to be sung at the liturgy, is at best functional, at worst sentimental junk that makes the old Protestant evangelical hymns sound like Bach chorales. When Mass is reduced to a self-referential assembly, then music becomes merely functional at best, at worst something to rouse the feelings of the people. This functionalism is a mark of the chilling, outdated and anti-liturgical stance of the liturgical establishment that still controls much of the liturgical life of the Church in the Roman dicasteries, in seminaries, in dioceses and therefore in parishes.
It's astonishing that the anti-liturgical barbarians managed such a clean sweep of the Church's institutions in so short a time. Nearly two thousand years of accumulated liturgical development was tossed out overnight as the Church reckons time. Even when I manage to find a Novus Ordo Mass that is celebrated half-way reverently, I can't unlearn everything that I've learned. When I entered the Church, I was looking forward to worshipping the way my ancestors had worshipped for over a thousand years. But most Catholics don't. We worship according to a Missal designed by a committee of Protestants led by a man who died in exile under suspicion of Freemasonry.
The dress of the priest when not performing a liturgical function has become in a sense, to borrow a secular adjective recently in vogue, metrosexual. That means that his masculinity has been blurred in his outward appearance. The abandonment of the cassock as the normal dress of the priest outside of the liturgy is part of the devirilization of the priest. The dropping of the distinctive dress that is the cassock and its replacement with a black business suit worn with a clerical collar, or, increasingly more common, with a shirt having a white tab collar that can be removed and stuck in a pocket, is part of the shedding of the liminality of the priest. He is no longer he who stands at the threshold, the limen, of earth and heaven when offering Mass. Religious dress modeled after secular dress tames him down to become a mere clergyman, with “-man” now meaning “person” and not “man”. 
Father, I could tell you stories. I was in the seminary from 2008 to 2010. Ten years before that a man who was seen wearing a cassock would have been expelled on the spot. Today it just gets you a stern talking to from the faculty who doesn't want any of their charges to have too "cultic" a view of the priesthood.
We finally come to what is the most serious effect of the devirilization of the Liturgy: the apparent and real discontinuity between the Novus Ordo and the traditional Roman rite.
My father was the captain of his high school basketball team in the 1950s. Every weekend when the team was in transit, the Catholics had to find a place to go to Mass. Dad accompanied them. He didn't understand what was going on at the TLM at first, but he grew to appreciate it. After he graduated, dad did not set foot in another Catholic parish again until I was baptized in 2005. After it was all over dad whispered to me, "This is the Catholic Church isn't it?"

It's discouraging to think that for hundreds of millions of living Catholics the Mass of the Ages is as alien and unwelcome an experience as a Lakota rain dance. Sacramentally and juridically, the OF and EF are indeed two forms of the one rite. But with all respect to Pope Benedict XVI, the OF and EF have Grand Canyon sized chasms marking their differences in theology, spirituality, philosophy, and culture. To be more precise, I'm speaking of the OF as it is typically celebrated in the average parish. People always tell me that the Novus Ordo can be celebrated with a sense of reverence and holy awe, which is an implicit admission that in most cases it is not so celebrated. Ultimately it's God's Church and all we can do is trust that he knows what he's doing in allowing all of the chaos of the last fifty years.

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