8 January 2011

culture changes (1)

In my experience, pretty well every clergyman in the C of E knows exactly how services should be done. Indeed, in some cases he knows so well that he is constantly growing into even better knowledge, with the result that his people often have to adjust periodically to the particular stage which their pastor's liturgical researches have reached. Whether such is true in other communions, I have little first-hand knowledge. But I suspect that it is not only among Anglicans that there can sometimes be a gap between clergy and laity, which can result not only from the changes they are made to experience in their own churches but the surprises which they encounter when they move house and parish. This is partly because the laity are naturally conservative; by which I mean that they often find it less than easy to change instincts which they acquired 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

For 40 years now, many worshipers in the Western Churches have become accustomed to a particular form of 'participation', in which there is an expectation that liturgy is for them in the sense that it has some of the characteristics of entertainment or didaxis. They expect that their hierophant will relate to them; look at them; anticipate their spoken or assumed responses; be concerned that he is 'getting through' to them. He gathers them into what he is doing by looking at them across the altar; he interjects little relational asides to keep them with him; instead of standing in a pulpit six feet above contradiction, he walks up and down the church as he informally sermonises. It is possible that these expectations have been reinforced by the interactive and participatory modes fashionable in television.

I think we priests sometimes fail to realise how very different (and difficult) it is for laity, who for a generation have known nothing but this, when they are offered 'traditional' worship. Worship, I mean, where the fundamental sense is that something objective is being done which, for its essential effectiveness, depends not one tiny bit upon the understanding or 'participation' or even presence of laity. We find it easy to yawn at phrases like " ...with his back to the people." Oh dear, we cry, not that old nonsense again. But for people whose liturgical experience has hitherto been a priest preoccupied with their responsiveness, suddenly to experience a liturgist who is focussed primarily on what he is doing coram Deo, must be just shattering.



Sir Watkin said...

All too true, alas, and a real problem, tho' some of us with moderately long memories react with, "Phew! At last - normal worship again." This is especially so when we have had to suppress our "preferences" (they are of course far more than that), having for so long been stigmatised as disobedient and "unCatholic" for rejecting the "Spirit of Vatican II".

There is also a large group of laity who dislike modern liturgy, but have probably lost the goût for the traditional sort. They are in the unhappy position of being dissatisfied with what they currently get, but if given the real thing would be alienated by it.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

Unfortunately, in the wider Latin Church, "traditional" worship was an atrophied version of the full worship that was always the Christian ideal: the High Mass, with a full roster of clergy, choir and laity who all performed their own distinct liturgies as part of the worship offered (the true "Spirit of Vatican II", as anyone with eyes can discern by reading Sacrosanctum Concilium. Instead, the Low Mass was more typical, which was then festooned with hymns, often in the vernacular and of uneven quality. The liturgical movement did not begin simply out of some sort of monastic and clerical ennui.

Nevertheless, the point that Fr. H. makes is obviously one shared by the Holy Father, which is why he makes no rash and sudden moves to overturn the established patterns of worship used by two generations of Catholics, but is, in Fr. Zed's oft-used phrase, proceeding brick by brick. His virtue keeps him from lobbing said bricks at some of his episcopal colleagues, however much they might deserve it.

GOR said...

Very true Father and a challenge going forward. But it has taken 40+ years to get to this point, so the reorientation – in more ways than one - will take some time also!

Anonymous said...

In the church with which i am for the past near five years involved, the traditional Latin Mass re-introduced in 2006. The Mass had before then been celebrated in a manner which went far below and beyond the worst of the Novus Ordo. Not suprisingly, most of the parishioners accepted the Old Mass thankfully, and many more now come from far and wide to Sunday High Mass.

Pastor in Valle said...

You are absolutely on the money, mon Père. That is exactly the problem. Slow re-culturation is my solution, but it's a very long game.
Steve—in England and Wales, at least, and, I suspect in most of the world outside Germany, hymns (other than liturgical sequences) were forbidden at Mass until 1966. The normal diet of a parish was a Missa Cantata where the congregation sang Mass 8 (occasionally 11 or 9) with a choir attempting the propers, often to a harmonised fauxbourdon for the main Mass, and simple said Low Masses, without music, for the others.

Anonymous said...

The changes (not specifiically authorized by the council) in the arrangement of furniture in the sanctuary were sudden and irrevocable. I wasn't around then, but were congregations warned that "next week, folks, everything that's up will be down"? And are people so dim that it takes only forty years for them to lose touch with centuries worth of tradition? I'm of the opinion that people, in general, remember how things were, but that they like the changes because they made being a Christian "easy". The new arrangement of furniture has been intimately connected with all of the other relaxed manners (fasting, "reconciliation rooms", sentimental music, street clothes, &c.). I think people are concerned that more austere worship signals a call to personal holiness.

Steve Cavanaugh said...


In the U.S. what I described was very common (by indult). Even in parishes that did have a High Mass or a Missa Cantata, that would be one of the several on a Sunday; many Catholics would fulfill their obligation at one of these other (Low) Masses. [I believe Poland, and perhaps Lithuania, also had an indult for the Low Mass with vernacular hymns, but I could be mistaken.]

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you're right. However, let's not underestimate the power of the kind of preaching that is more interactive than the "lecture style". In fact the juxtaposition of it with the dignity and grandeur of old High Mass was a feature of the "ritualists" both here and in overseas missionary dioceses. When the liturgy itself is obviously loving homage to the Lord (and not constant attempts at witty commentary across the altar), the Stantons, Dollings et al preached with evangelical fervour and dramatically personalised their text. Then the Mass resumed, and in an odd sort of way, the power of preaching that connected, inspired, and wasn't lacking in gentleness and humour, helped gather the people into the Eucharistic offering. The problem with the last 40 years is that (with some exceptions) not only has the "night show host" persona of the celebrant destroyed the liturgy as loving homage to the Lord, but also that its banality has failed to compensate for the absence of sound preaching that really connects with the people.

Sir Watkin said...

The art of preaching does seem to be dying (I'm not talking here about game-show host nonsense).

The style has changed. Younger Anglo-Catholic clergy often preach very sound, well-argued sermons, that hold the attention, etc., yet somehow they are more like lectures than the sermons of the elder generation.

I find it hard, however, to identify precisely where the difference lies. Is it that the aim is instruction more than devotion?

Joshua said...

Excellent, excellent points all.

Regarding preaching, I think of the tale of Fr Faber, preaching a sermon on sin and repentance, crying out in the pulpit, "My dear Irish children, have mercy on your own souls!" and all the congregation falling to their knees, sobbing over their sins. If anyone in a "liturgical" church atempted that sort of thing nowadays, I think it would be thought not quite nice, not acceptable for middle class persons at all...

Jesse said...

On the subject of preaching (is this too much of a deviation from the blog subject?), I recently completed a seminary course on "Homiletics" in which we were taught the principles of the "liturgical homily", which are boiled down to the following four criteria:

1. It must draw on one or more of the pericopes read during the Liturgy of the Word (and not just a phrase that gives an excuse to talk about something actually unrelated), and must address the biblical text(s) to the real lives of the hearers. ("A word of the Lord" from "the Word of the Lord".)

2. It must relate to the liturgy being celebrated, i.e. the calendar, a theme of the liturgical season, saint's day, or perhaps words from the liturgy itself (Collect, Eucharistic Prayer, etc.).

3. It must proclaim, either implicitly or explicitly, the Paschal Mystery that will be celebrated in the Eucharistic liturgy that follows (the work of salvation accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord).

4. It must relate to the life of the assembled community, by acknowledging its particular situation, needs or current activities.

The idea is that the homily should be seen as an intrinsic part of the liturgy and that it should lead the assembled worshippers into a deeper participation in the Eucharistic action that immediately follows (i.e. helping us to "lift up our hearts" and illuminating one aspect of what it is for which we are about to "give thanks unto the Lord our God"). The professor gave a masterful example at our last practicum session, an extended meditation on Joseph's dream-vision in which the angel reveals the true nature of Mary's pregnancy.

One would think that this framework would provide plenty of space for some gradual liturgical correctio.

IanW said...

Frankly, if a priest can't get his point over in 5 minutes then he's either self-indulgent or poorly trained. Anything longer than that is simply a distraction from the liturgy.

And yes, I know everyone can point to wonderful exceptions - Newman, for example. But they're just that: exceptions, and they make bad rules.

Anonymous said...

In Lithuania a vernacular hymn, always the same ''Pulkim ant keliu'' (Let us fall upon our knees) was sung BEFORE the parish High Mass began. And after Mass had ended, a vernacular hymn in honour of our Lady was sung. But the Mass itself was sung in Latin. It is and should remain forbidden to sing vernacular songs during the Solemn Mass or Missa cantata. For the Mass has its own in-built chants, called Propria.

David said...


Those are very good guidelines but the fact is that often the people require something different or at least something additional. I refer specifically to a lack of catechesis that is to be found among lay Catholics and Anglicans.

Much of this is because the modern homiletic style with all it's potential advantages discourages themes which are not directly related to the pericopes of the day.

Let us not presume that the new Post Vat. II way of preaching is the only possible way.