Sunday, November 13, 2016

Against the Liturgists (alternatively: Why is Everyone So Dumb?)

Before the many changes visited upon the Church of Rome during the Second Vatican Council, the pontifical universities in the Eternal City conducted lectures and oral examinations in the mother tongue of the Latin rite as well as required papers to be written in Latin. For most national colleges, this presented little difficulty for students; most Eastern and Western Europeans were exposed to a variety of languages growing up and possessed the requisite skills to add another, even if difficultly, to their repertoire. Not so for American students, typically of Irish and Italian ethnic origin. After several generations of shaming and intentional integration, third generation Americans never spoke the languages of their grandparents; solidarity during the Second World War finally eviscerated any lingering divides between "WASP" Americans and their barely-white counterparts. Unable to speak either Italian or Latin competently, professors would read questions in Latin off a sheet of paper in front of them with the answers printed below, which the seminarian would politely read upside down back to the instructor.

This would be another quaint example of "Americanism" if the context were not so bleak. American bishops sent their most promising students to the Pontifical North American College—and supposedly still do—for instruction in all things Roman. It may not be the case anymore, but students then were almost explicitly told that they were the next generation of bishops, monsignori, and academics. In Phoenix from the Ashes, HJA Sire perceived that pre-Conciliar education produced numerous orthodox (Garrigou-Lagrange, Fortescue) and dissident (Lubac, Maritain, anyone with a German-ish name) thinkers, while post-Conciliar education has produced none of either. The Church has not managed to lay hands on anyone with a brain, Sire jeers, in six decades (or at least not anyone with a brain and the dare to compromise his security).

The de facto ban on original thought is no where more apparent than in the field of liturgy. The wake of the Liturgical Movement gave rise to many ripples of thought, some good, some bad. Authors across the spectrum visited original texts for the first time since the Tridentine Council and attempted to synthesize their influences to discern the true Roman tradition; if not for an out-of-control papacy the end result may not have been the Mass of Paul VI. Today where are the real liturgists? Even the bad ones? I have never been able to read Scott "Alcuin" Reid with interest. A few FSSP priests have put out generic books on the old Mass. The "liberals" have Anthony Ruff OSB, but he is more a cheerleader for the reform than a creative thinker. Where are the liturgists?

Thus far the only books concerning liturgy written after Vatican II that I wholeheartedly recommend are The Banished Heart and Worship as Revelation. Like the pre-Vatican II liturgical studies, both of these works are primarily surveys of history that draw conclusions rather than conclusions in search of scattered evidence. Perhaps the most interesting feature these books share is that neither was written by a priest or someone purporting to be a professional theologian. Geoffrey Hull is a layman and a linguist specializing in Portuguese, Celtic, and Indonesian dialects. Laurence Hemming is a deacon for a London parish and a philosophy professor specializing in crazy Germans. The perspectives of both men figure greatly in their insight in a way that a full-time cleric might find intimidating. Aidan Kavanagh wrote after "the Council," but belongs to an earlier generation.

Eastern Christendom finds itself similarly bereft of writers after Taft. Alexander Schmemann is interesting and worth reading as a speculative theologian, but he was not a liturgical historian and his ideas do not reflect the Eastern tradition as a whole, especially in calling the Church itself a Sacrament. In English-speaking Eastern Catholicism and Orthodoxy, liturgical research has stagnated into writing commentaries on Schmemann. One correspondent, an Orthodox seminarian knowledgeable in Greek, reduces this unoriginality to sloth; people are too lazy to learn other languages ("Learning Greek is a b****"). A general current of Lutheranism ran through the University of Paris' theology courses in the mid-20th century and modern protestants, looking for a friend in Orthodoxy against Romish ways, will postulate that the Orthodox believe in something akin to Luther's cosubstantiation. They believe no such thing, but the relevant manuals and dogmatic theological works exist only in Greek and no one thus far has bothered to translate it. Similarly, there is a genuine revival in liturgical writings in the Slavic Orthodox churches that no one has bothered and no one will bother translating. As Robert Taft himself said to students of St. Vladimir Seminary in 2009, if you are not learning Russian, you are not reading current liturgical study. His Traddiness enjoys Schmemann, but must all liturgy be footnotes on Schmemann?

Until Western Christianity once again employs the efforts of more than a handful of intelligent men, standards will continue to founder. For a proliferation of polyglots, let us pray to the Lord!


  1. "Today where are the real liturgists? Even the bad ones?". Here i am :P
    I'm such a liturgist that i concocted my own antiquarianist Ordo and a "restored" Roman Canon :)

    1. I've been tempted at times to cobble together my own short 'Evening Prayer' drawing upon the best of the Syriac, Roman, and Byzantine Vespers. ;)

      First Draft goes something like this...
      Psalm 104
      Psalm 51
      B'outo of Mar Ephrem
      Psalms 141 and 142
      Hymn of the Evening (O Tranquil Light)
      Psalm 23
      Canticum: Magnificat

      I think our liturgical efforts are mad-scientist level...

    2. I'm following St. Benedict's old arrangement of the Psalter, with such additions from the Tridentine era and post-Pius X period as would be compatible with it, and ignoring the Common and Special Psalms (a Romanism that to me doesn't make sense, in light of the Benedictine arrangement, especially at Vespers of 4 Psalms, as opposed to 5 in the Roman Office).

    3. "I think our liturgical efforts are mad-scientist level..." - You got that right :D
      My Ordo goes like this.

      *Gloria (if there is one)
      *Expulsion of catechumens

      *Oremus - Kyrie - "Te rogamus audi nos" section from the litany of the saints - Collect of the day
      *Preparation of the oblation
      *Super Oblata
      *Canon Actionis:
      -Hanc oblationem mixed with Quam oblationem without doubling -sections and with "quod est figura"
      -Qui pridie without elevations
      -Unde et memores
      -Te igitur (until Illibata) with first part of Supra que in which an epiclesis is inserted
      -Supplices with second part of Supra que (Abel, Abraham and Melchisedech)
      -Memento vivorum
      -Memento mortuorum with diesque nostros
      -Nobis quoque
      -Per quem
      -Per Ipsum with the great elevation
      *Commixtio with the Sancta from the previous Mass
      *Confractio Panis with one particle left for the next Mass
      *Oratio Dominica cum Embolismo
      *"Sancta sanctis" to which a response is made: "Unus sanctus Pater, unus sanctus Filius, unus sanctus Spiritus!"
      *Communion under both kinds
      *Postcommunion (with the occasional Super populum)
      *Dissmisio without blessing

  2. Langue morte? Oh, non!
    Maybe it's the mercantilism of this world - as continous unfortunately as Christ's sacrifice and Satan's temptation and His personal fall are, probably not 100% about us - that encourages people into believing that form (language) is worth nothing except the price it's placed upon it - learn Chinese e.g. because trade with China is huge etc.
    English language is also diminished to its minimum low because it's learned solely in terms... that have price. Hence (:-) all meaning is diminished because we are minimalist about form. Ok, this reduction was new in the 1920's, but now it is turned into a virus.
    We don't spell check our own writings we let the software do it. Ok, so now that form has been demolished and..deconstructed, do we REALLY have anything NEW to say than our grandparents who used to learn even.. oh, the horror!... caligraphy? What are we saying? If we're not saying that much new then let us be humble into dwelling in form.
    Oh, and if Heaven was all meaning and not some form, then why did God have to formally die for our Redemption? Unless one thinks He was in a comma and then ok, minimalism is nurture too.

  3. There was one exception for Eastern Christendom, and even then the first edition was made during Vatican II: the work by Hans-Joachim Schulz, The Byzantine Liturgy. He doesn't cite Schmemann at all; also, Fr. Taft praised this book as excellent.

  4. Have you seen Jean Hani's commentaries on the symbolism of the mass and the church building? That work is some of the best I've seen from a Roman Catholic, in my opinion. Perhaps he wouldn't qualify as a liturgist for you - I don't know what your standards would be - but his approach is enlightened by sound history.

  5. The Church draws from a very small pool now, and not just for liturgists. That said:

    1) Much of the pre-conciliar liturgical scholarship is (it strikes me) shallow when not quietly subversive, especially in the three decades before the Council. The presence of a Fortescue or a Jungmann makes it easy to overlook the dross. Liturgy was not a premier field of study - which of course is why it proved to be among the easiest for modernists to infiltrate.

    2) If we have no Fortescues or Guérangers among us today, there has been a steady growth of what little pool of thoughtful scholarship we do have. I second the singling out of Hull and Hemming; but I might add to that the work of Laszlo Dobszsay. On a more limited (specialized) level, the recent scholarship on the reform by Lauren Pristas has some value; and though neither man is a liturgist per se, Martin Mosebach and Peter Kwasniewski have written some edifying commentary on the liturgy - though it is telling (and perhaps not encouraging) that none of these figures (including Hull) are among the clergy.

    Given that traditional liturgy has had to come back almost literally from the dead in the West, it gives some modest promise of what might be possible during the rest of the 21st century.

  6. As i see, in ordinations, it doesn't seem weird to anyone for everyone to face the same direction for the Litany. But then, it somehow becomes awkward to do so for the anaphora... Such inconsistency.

  7. How about Klaus Gamber? He was a liturgist in Ratisbon and was thought to be the leading expert on early liturgical manuscripts of the West. He defended his doctoral thesis in 1967, after the council.

    1. Msgr. Klaus Gamber, nonetheless, is another pre-Vatican II liturgist. After all, he was ordained in the 1940s and was very well-versed in languages and the such.

    2. Had he not apostasized, David Berger would stand out.

  8. "Where are the liturgists?" Are you sure you want them? Don't you remember what this word rhymes with? :)

    By the way, why Alcuin in quotation marks?