19 July 2008


If you haven't read Laurence Hemming's new book Worship as a revelation, I advise you to do so. It is another milestone in the reintegration of the worship of the Latin Church; full of things that will make you say 'Now why didn't I think of that myself?' But I am not going to cherry-pick it; instead, I will nibble at some edges where I think Hemming might not have got the whole truth. Take Baroque Liturgy and the architectural framework which it generated. Hemming deplores 'liturgical theatre-houses' where every obstacle between pew and altar has been removed, and gives reasons, which I invite you to consider, and which share something with the views of Catherine Pickstock. But the strong point of Baroque Liturgy is surely that it emphasises synergy - the working together of different elements in the Work of God's whole people. High Mass in the Baroque style is not a one-man show; presbyter, deacon, subdeacon, clerici with their drilled movements (drilling is necessary because the congregation would see every blunder) demonstrate the essentially ordered nature of Catholic worship, where every ordo has its own munus or leitourgia, and that munus is prescribed and not spontaneous. Hovering around on walls and ceilings are the Saints in two or three dimensions, and the heavenly host (et ideo cum angelis et archangelis cumque omni militia caelestis exercitus) all in their proper places. The worshippers who cannot hear the Communicantes and Nobis quoque can see them on the walls.

Yes, I know what you're going to say: that the medieval and Byzantine styles, with their concomitant architectural settings, can teach the same truths. But isn't it rather well done by the baroque?

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