Thursday, July 26, 2007

On the Liturgy, with Some Thoughts About Reforming the Benighted Past of the Church

[M]istrust is always in order when the greater part of living history must be tossed out into the dustbin of old misunderstandings now happily clarified. That is all the more true of the Christian liturgy, which lives out of the continuity and the inner unity of prayer based on faith. Adoremus article by then-Cardinal Ratzinger published 10/12/1996

The quotes in this blog are from "In the Presence of the Angels I Will Sing Your Praise: The Regensburg Tradition and the Reform of the Liturgy" by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It was pubished in Sacred Music, the CMAA journal in 1996.

To illustrate the idea of liturgy as worship joining heaven with earth, then-Cardinal now-pope recalled a 1992 visit to the monastery at Mt. St. Mary (Marienberg) in the valley of the Etsch:

The real treasure of this monastery is the crypt (dedicated July 13, 1160) with its glorious frescoes . . .. As is true of all medieval art, these images had no merely aesthetic meaning. They conceive of themselves as worship, as a part of the great liturgy of creation and of the redeemed world in which this monastery was intended to join. Therefore, the pictorial program reflects that common basic understanding of the liturgy which was then still alive and well in the Church universal, eastern and western. On the one hand these images show a strong Byzantine influence while remaining at bottom quite biblical; on the other hand they are essentially determined by the monastic tradition, concretely: the Rule of Saint Benedict.

...

The risen Lord is not alone in these Mt. St. Mary's frescoes. We see Him in the images which the Apocalypse uses to depict the heavenly liturgy -- surrounded by the four winged creatures and above all by a great throng of singing angels. Their singing is an expression of that joy which no one can take from them, of the dissolution of existence into the rejoicing of freedom fulfilled. From the very beginning, monastic living was understood as a life lived after the manner of the angels, which is simply adoration. Entering or assuming the lifestyle of the angels means forming one's whole life into an act of adoration, as far as that is possible for human weakness.2 Celebrating the liturgy is the very heart of monachism [monastic life], but in that respect monachism simply makes visible to all the deepest reason for Christian -- indeed, for human existence!

As they gazed upon these frescoes, the monks of Mt. St. Mary surely thought of the 19th chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which treats the discipline of Psalm singing and the manner of saying the Divine Office. There, the father of western monasticism reminds them, among other things, of the verse of Psalm 147 (Vulgate): In conspectu angelorum psallam tibi In the sight of the angels I will sing to Thee. And Benedict goes on: "Let us then consider how we ought to behave ourselves in the presence of God and His angels, and so sing the psalms that mind and voice may be in harmony ut mens nostra concordet voci nostræ."


It is, therefore, not at all the case that man contrives something and then sings it, but rather the song comes to him from the angelic choirs, and he must raise his heart on high so that it can harmonize with the tone which comes to him.


But one fact is of fundamental importance: the sacred liturgy is not something which the monks manufacture or produce. It exists before they were there; it is an entering into heavenly liturgy which was already taking place. Only in and through this fact is earthly liturgy a liturgy at all -- in that it be -- takes itself into that greater and grander liturgy which is already being celebrated.


And thus the meaning of these frescoes become completely clear. Through them, the genuine reality, the heavenly liturgy, shines through into this space. The frescoes are, as it were, a window through which the monks peer out into that great choir of which membership is the very heart and center of their own vocation. "In the sight of the angels I will sing to Thee." This standard is constantly present to the gaze of the monks, in their frescoes.

...

Let us descend from Mt. St. Mary and the wondrous panorama which those heights opened to us, and come down to the level of liturgical reality in today's world. Here, the panorama is much more confused and disordered. ...


A great abyss divides the history of the Church into two irreconcilable worlds: the pre-conciliar and the post-conciliar world. As a matter of fact, many believe that it is impossible to utter a more fearful verdict over an ecclesiastical decision, a text, a liturgical form or even a person, than to say that it is "pre-conciliar." If that be true, then Catholic Christendom must have been in a truly frightful condition -- until 1965.

..

[M]istrust is always in order when the greater part of living history must be tossed out into the dustbin of old misunderstandings now happily clarified. That is all the more true of the Christian liturgy, which lives out of the continuity and the inner unity of prayer based on faith.

[Ed: Amen!]
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