6 October 2010

Sacrosanctum Concilium, Auctoritas, and the Canon

I cannot see where, in SC [Sacrosanctum concilium, the decree on the Reform of the Liturgy passed by Vatican II], there is a mandate for introducing Eucharistic Prayers alternative to the Canon Romanus. Nor can I see where it mandates alterations in the text of that Canon; least of all in the Words of Institution, traditionally treated with much awe.

The postconciliar rites expanded the 'table of Scripture' available; and SC had manifestly mandated this. You are at liberty to debate whether they did it in the best possible way; but you can't deny that they do have some sort of plausible pretext, in what the Council ordered, for what they did.

They expanded the number of Hymns in the Office; and SC had manifestly mandated this.

They reduced the Confiteors in the Mass from three to one, and Domine non sum dignus from six to one; and chopped out some Dominus vobiscums; unwisely, you are free to argue, but SC had explicitly mandated the elimination of some repetitions.

They provided at least (at my last count) thirteen, new, alternative Eucharistic Prayers: and where, pray, is that mandated or even hinted at? And yet those other matters, where the postconciliar changes rested upon and had apparently required a conciliar mandate, were peripheral in comparison with the importance of the Canon.

I do not see what Auctoritas there can be for the innovation of providing alternative Eucharistic Prayers. I think Bad Marini claims somewhere in the book with his name that the earlier custom of the Roman Church was to have alternative Eucharistic Prayers. But the Council Fathers nowhere mandated the erection of a committee with a free hand to resurrect anything it liked from earlier ages. They explicitly ordered that no changes be made which were not necessary; and that necessary changes should relate organically to what went before. In any case, it is unclear to me what Marini (or his ghost writers) means by his claim, unless it is some sort of speculative assumption about that period in the liturgical history of the Roman Church before written evidence becomes available. If he has in mind Eucharistic Prayers in use in the non-Roman Latin West, well, I have never felt that what I have seen of them gives much encouragement to go down such a path. Dix writes very well about how pre-Carolingian formulae compare very poorly with the Roman Rite. "Regret [for the demise of the Gallican rites] will perhaps be tempered for the student by the Gallican documents themselves, which plainly indicate that the end was not very far off when Charlemagne so abruptly hastened it. The barbarous boisterous Merovingian Latin in which they were composed would never have suited the clerks of the Carolingian renaissance ...". As far as these islands are concerned, we have, since the date of the earliest evidence, always been Roman Rite. The Stowe Missal, evidencing a form of the Roman Rite older than the changes made by S Gregory the Great in the 590s, suggests that even the 'Celtic' areas used forms of the Roman Eucharistic Prayer.

Of course, the new EPs are perfectly valid (ultratraddies who claim otherwise are simply manifesting their own illiteracy in the field of traditional Sacramental Theology). So what?

The Canon, the whole Canon, and no substitute for the Canon.


Joshua said...

I've never understood the bizarre argument that the liturgists of the day and since then made and still make: that somehow, once the Canon was aloud, it would become intolerably boring to hear it said at each and every Mass, and thus lots of variants for itching ears were needed.

Of course, in too many places it is a diet of E.P. II nearly always - which is surely the most boring of the main E.P.'s - purely on account of its brevity. With luck, E.P. III is heard (a decent prayer); given concerns over P.C. language, E.P. IV is rarely used; and the other E.P.'s for Reconciliation and so forth tend only to appear when the celebrant is either rather new-Church or liturgically-inclined (not necessarily in a bad sense). (Fr H., if precocious Latinists are ever present at St Thos., do you use one of the E.P.'s for Children in Latin??)

What of the obvious counter-argument to the supposed desperate boredom engendered by the constant use of the Roman Canon for above 1600 years - that it was accounted, in the very words of Trent, so very holy and deserving of all reverence and praise? I have a book which is but an extended meditation on the words of the Canon, and such treatises were not rare.

Unknown said...

I quite agree. Many of the made-up EPs do not contain a sense of continuity and a sense of majesty present in the Roman Canon. Why would anyone change it and brutalize it? I heard the East highly regulates the EPs that they use. I think a pride of place should be given to the ROman Canon if the other EPs in the Roman Rite could not be replaced or disposed.

Joshua said...

More to the point: as Fr H. has many times so well put it, the Roman Canon, as well as being of the greatest antiquity (older than the Byzantine Anaphorai for starters), it articulates the classical Roman Eucharistic doctrine of the sacrum commercium, the holy exchange of gifts.

Compare its sublimity and profundity and curious details (who is the angel referred to? what the principal verb in Communicantes?) to the mass-produced E.P.'s all on West Syrian models according to the latest pert scholarship of the sixties. Lentini's E.P. III and IV are the best of them, but the rest could be dumped without any loss.

Unknown said...

Even if the III and IV are good, I would still argue for their removal as they have not organically developed over time into the Roman Rite. They were made fairly recently unlike even the Eastern EPs which developed over time. The Roman Canon should just be the EP for the Roman Rite.

William Tighe said...

Not for the first time (I reckon) may I call to interested readers' attention that devastating critique *The New Eucharistic Prayers* by the late Geoffrey Grimshaw Willis, which appeared in the January 1971 issue of *The Heythrop Journal?*

In the course of that article he employed two Latin aphorisms that just about sums up his attitude towards EPs II, III and IV: "In Tiberim defluxit Orontes" and "Omne ignotum pro magnifico" -- the first characterizing the work of those that concocted these EPs, and the latter their general attitude.

Rubricarius said...

Well we all know what Dr. Wickham-Legg predicted about the Canon when the Psalter was changed...

Joshua said...

Sorry for my ignorance, but what did the Dr predict?