Notes on a blog

8 07 2010

This one

“Liturgy” without authority does not exist: This is true not because authority creates truth, but rather because liturgy itself is a legalistic category. Liturgy can only really emerge with the printing press. For example, all of the prefaces that were thrown out with the Council of Trent: were they not liturgy? How about, then, the Ludus Danielis in the cathedral of Beauvais, the poems of Hildegard von Bingen, or the various accoutrements such as ostrich eggs used in some medieval ceremonies? Once you start to use the term “liturgy”, you have already fallen into a scholarly trap: either it is the “official prayer book” (wherein emerges the conversation between the local and the trans-local, power and truth), or it is the tradition of the learned as opposed to the tradition of the plebs (in which you also get bogged down in conversations concerning power), or it is something that falls from the sky from the hands of angels (which is ridiculous).

Most people who criticize scholasticism, “neo-“ or otherwise, have little idea of what “scholasticism” actually is. Long ago have I stopped listening to those people.

If Communion under both kinds were possible in the Western Church without looking or being ridiculous or irreverent, I would be all for it. On the other hand, as has been pointed out here, the real issue was that the people didn’t receive Communion too often anyway, so any arguments concerning reception would be somewhat academic. Indeed, I think that is the real problem: people just shouldn’t be receiving Communion often period. Clearly, the “frequent” or “mandatory” Communion movement in the churches hasn’t helped anyone.

I don’t find the views advocated here as “heretical” per se. More like, “Jansenist”. But to me, that isn’t necessarily a four letter word.

Any tradition that you read in a book is not a tradition. Tradition is passed down through life, not learning. The entire Bugninian project of the liturgy was an attempt to create a tradition by the book. Even if it sought to reintroduce certain ceremonies or accoutrements into the liturgy that had died out several centuries earlier, all it did was create novelty with the thin veneer of antiquity. All of this has nothing to do with tradition. Once a tradition is dead, it’s dead. Otherwise, you are just playacting.

“Low Mass” is actually one of the highest forms of art in Western civilization. I say this not just to be contrarian. I think that, when performed by the book, it resembles kabuki theatre or a Japanese tea ceremony. Aside from the aesthetical aspect, however, I think it is stark in its preserving of the ancient ideas of theurgy. It does look very “hocus pocus”, but that is sort of the point, isn’t it?

Just because something is broken doesn’t necessarily mean that there is someone around smart enough to fix it. This is basically the dilemma of Catholicism of the 21st century, if not the perennial dilemma of humanity.

Historical scholarship is indeed a bitch goddess. She’ll do anything you set her up to do, as long as it syncs with your agenda.

Roman Catholicism at this point has painted itself into a corner from which, in my eyes, it can only escape by jettisoning much of the metaphysical apparatus upholding the modern concept of “Christianity”. In other words, it has to become “pagan”, full stop. On the one hand, textual scholarship, modern science, and a general lack of coercive power have made any historical arguments for Catholic faith and practice insufficient. On the other hand, the only attempts to justify Christianity from the Catholic perspective have either centered on “personalist” dialogue with these sources (under which man’s aspirations are fulfilled by a personal “Other), or through reactionary fundamentalism against anything deemed “threatening to the Faith” (which is why Pio Nono never got invited to any parties).

The way out has often been proposed as keeping the spirit but discarding the letter; neglecting the sign but holding fast to the meaning. I say we stand this on its head: keep the sign, but reinterpret the meaning. Or rather, try to find the transcendental in the immediate, imperfect tradition, rather than try to construct the true liturgy/church/philosophy whole cloth. In other words, let us have a rebellion against ecclesiastical Cartesianism.

Because if we are blind to the truths in the symbols immediately before us, chances are that there is nothing wrong with them, but rather something wrong with us.


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20 responses

14 07 2010
Julien Peter Benney

Have you read Ellis Hanson’s “Decadence and Catholicism”? It makes the same argument against ecclesiastical “Cartesianism” that you seem t be making – well sort of.

Hanson shows that the attraction of Catholicism for the underground culture emerging with the Industrial Revolution in major cities was related precisely to its combination of beautiful sensuality with commandments against the materialism that was (already) felt as stifling culture in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Although many of the Decadents would be regarded by Catholic doctrine as extremely sinful in their sexual behaviour, they countered this via a theology dating back t fourteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich, whereby sin can itself be a source of redemption.

10 07 2010
Adrian

This blog has always been good. But Arturo is better than ever these days. I think his outlook has changed a bit in the last year.

I also think he could make some good contributions to Marxism if he had the courage to wade back into those waters. Do it! Do it!

9 07 2010
Arturo Vasquez

One of my former professors at seminary apparently has the personal thesis that the problem with the modern Church is that the hierarchy has pretty much abdicated any real sense of governance. That is an exaggeration, of course, but it makes sense in some aspects. Do we really think Vatican bureaucrats care enough about what happens on the parish level to appropriately chastise or harangue those who do not tow the line on such and such a liturgical practice, such and such a devotion, etc.? Maybe they do in the sense that they are trying to make a new generation of “orthodox” clergy who will be more to their liking, but who is to say that they won’t lose their nerve once thrown into the pit of vast numbers of families who couldn’t tell a Catholic from a Unitarian (paging Cardinal Schonborn)?

Maybe the whole contrast between a clerical and lay culture is academic now since the clergy have no real culture to speak of, save for perhaps some vestigial sense of over-entitlement. After all, it is not like they worship in a language that the average person doesn’t understand or are radically cloistered from the world through a style of dress or mannerisms. (Do you all forget that I was once a seminarian at a “real Catholic” seminary?) Before, they could have ecumenical councils where everyone spoke in Latin, where the vast majority of participants had known nothing but the clerical life since they were in minor seminary at the age of 10, and where their interaction with the plebs (seldom would even a lowly parish priest be included in these ranks) was minimal to non-existent. Those people who salivate now looking at Pontifical High Masses on the Internet or write on on-line forums about their experiences of mental prayer are a quaint anachronism considering the few even in the clergy who would have ever experienced these things.

So rail against the charismatics, the liturgical dancers, and the glue-huffing Mexican devotees of St. Jude all you want. They are still the wave of the future, because when it comes to “tradition”, no one ever noticed that they left it. It’s the inmates running the asylum now, baby!

9 07 2010
Jared B.

“Any tradition that you read in a book is not a tradition…Once a tradition is dead, it’s dead. Otherwise, you are just playacting.”

That’s going a bit too far, isn’t it? We can’t grant the letter that much power to kill the spirit. The bit about play-acting mirrors something I wrote in a comment a while back, about obsessing about “worldviews”, people claiming I’m a Thomist or I’m have a pre-Scholastic Medieval worldview or I’m a Neoplatonist etc. etc. I think all that is play-acting, as if we can read a few books and erase the influence of the postmodern consumerist age we were born into. We do not have that much conscious decision-making power over our own thoughts, ideas and assumptions as this Weltanschauung theory supposes.

But I give more credence to the idea of reading a few books and deciding on our actions, “I will observe such-and-such customs and rites” and yeah, it would be play-acting, but our habitual actions deeply affect our inner life, maybe more so than our self-declarations about our beliefs. So I reply, “You say ‘play-acting’ as if it’s a bad thing!”

9 07 2010
Jared B.

I’m with Charlie for at least 70% of what he’s said (noting that 10% was babbling 😉

If the “local” expression of the faith are St. Louis Jesuit crap on the margins of schism or past the margins of heresy (http://stjoan.com), then any sane Catholic would be demanding MORE centralization from Rome. Once upon a time when a local prince was tyrannical, there was the far-away Emperor as a last appeal. And that wasn’t such a bad system, even if your Emperor was only marginally better than your Prince.

9 07 2010
Jared B.

If I thought Arturo was referring to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement I’d have to point out that its membership has been declining since it’s heydays in the 1980’s, but I’m he means something less “official” than the CCR. My own prediction is that if the future of the Church is not very liturgical or traditional, her membership is going to get absorbed into post-liberal Protestantism (the “Emerging Church” http://www.emergentvillage.com) and the semi-charismatic, non-denominational churches (the “Independent Churches” http://www.siena.org/May-2007/the-challenge-of-independent-christianity.html)

Both of which should make fairly easy targets for Shari’a takeover, so we just might get that.

9 07 2010
Charlie

All I’m trying to get is that the mass and public prayer, and stuff like the calender, though formal and legal in nature, are in fact important. Getting the clergy to start thinking about and praying them differently.

Fully properly celebrated fasts and feasts and vigils are just plain fun. If we could get them just to do those properly, a lot of the old school piety would be re-vivified, I’d bet..

9 07 2010
Charlie

Look, Arturo, I appreciate what you’re saying. In fact, thanks to you I’ve been thinking about the Church in a significantly different way than before. And I thank you for that. You’ve brought out a tendency in me to the conscious fore.. I’ve always hated the bastards (who was those Jesuit f*krs at the Louvain?) who (for example) have decreed to us all that Ss. Christopher and Veronica are of “apocryphal origin” or some such crap, and told us we can’t venerate them. I loathe those bastards with my whole being.

Still, the fact is that we’re all in the power of those nominalist reductivist cretins, to include our feckless bishops. Apart from my own prayer and devotional life, which I strive to make as pagan, peasant and pietistic as I can, living as I am in 2010 in this Masonic paradise, the mass is still one of the most important expressions of my faith and religious life.

I’m not about to give up the culture. It’s probably a fool’s hope, but I’m going to seek to fight the tsunami tide. One of the reasons I read your blog is that you’re helping me hone my own thought. When I talk to other people about all this, to include my priests, I think this matters a lot.

Because lets be real: the Catholic Faith and cultures that are imbued with it are more vibrant and humane, more interesting, than the obscenity that surrounds us. People subconsciously know this. It shouldn’t be impossible to create and maintain pockets of Catholic culture where people still pray like proper pagans. I’m not talking about mantillas and birrettas and all that baroque crap. That’s just as f’d up as the modern “reform” culture that it was a reaction to.

Or am I just babbling non-sense?

9 07 2010
Tom

If the future of the Church is “charismatic” I’d rather have Islam.

9 07 2010
Rob

– the future of the Church is charismatic-

I used to fight against accepting this idea more than I fought temptation a few years ago. But you’re probably right. Tridentine, low-mass culture might survive, but always as a small sidekick to Catholic reality, which is going to be multi-faceted. And the more I think about it, so what?

9 07 2010
Rob

-Apart from reading the sacrementary Father should preferably keep his mouth shut-

I agree. Unfortunately, VII has convinced everyone that the backbone of the liturgy is father’s weekly digressions on something sweet he thought of at his niece’s wedding or his latest reflection on why we should be nice to each other.

9 07 2010
Arturo Vasquez

My personal preferences lean towards the old Mass in Latin, but who gives a shit about what I want? Certainly not anyone important.

Anyway, here is a little experiment: go back in time a hundred years, to my mom’s village in Mexico, or to rural French-speaking Louisiana in my wife’s case, and ask people what “liturgy” is. I think the answer would have been a blank stare. How would religiosity, then, be manifest in their daily lives? Putting statues in windows to fend off storms. Dressing up as angels and demons and replaying the battle in Heaven. Calling the traiteur or curandero to lift a curse or cure a foot ailment. Processing through fields and blessing them to insure a good harvest. Holy Week processions in the street. Saints’ feast days. Mardi Gras. Special foods at Lent.

Where is liturgy in all of that? Mumbled by a distant clergy: the only ones learned enough to know what it is.

Am I saying that this stuff is better than what we would call “liturgy”? It is certainly more organic. Am I saying that what goes on locally now is better than what would be if Rome had its druthers? No, but it certainly is more normal. Unless we want the Church to be reduced to a bunch of closeted fascists with an insatiable appetite for lace albs.

Let’s face it: the future of the Church is charismatic, not traditional or “liturgical” in any real sense. I don’t like it, but part of growing up is accepting realities that you don’t like.

9 07 2010
Charlie

Saying all this, my personal taste is all for the liturgy low and often. No music, unless you must have chant. Ad orientum, preferably in well less than 45 mins, and in something other than English so the mystery does less violence to my intellect. Apart from reading the sacrementary Father should preferably keep his mouth shut, unless he wants to give us a 5 min discourse on the feast of the day.

If I had my way, that’s what I’d have. But I’m no bishop, and no one is paying attention to me. So much for my own local authority.

9 07 2010
Charlie

Ecco. But Litourgia’s always and still “the work of the people,” right? And the people have submitted, accepting overweening clerical authority. The Ultramontanists have utterly triumphed. The resistance in the recent past coalesced around royalist political opposition- as with the Bourbons and Hapsburgs. With the Revolution that’s all dead. The Orthodox – especially the Prot convert Orthos here, stateside – simply don’t get this. Their liturgy and culture is an artifact of Russian, “Byzantine,” and Ottoman imperial politics.. Which is why their embrace of it seems so pathetic to me. Deracinated from that context they’re soon heading the way of the Novus Ordo. In many Greek and other ethnic parishes, they essentially already have.

Which brings me back to my essential and original question, Arturo. When the hell ever was our communal practice (call it liturgy or whatever the hell else you may like) separate from dictates of those in authority? And, do you really think that losing the oversight of Rome at this late day and age would improve our straits? You basically have liturgy by local custom now these days, anyhow.. It’s all St. Louis Jesuits and holding hands at the altar because that’s what Father and the old ladies he has dinner with twice a week like.

That’s as local as you can get. And without the bishop and Roman oversight in most places it would get much, much worse.

9 07 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Indeed, if all that medieval stuff was liturgy, why did the Church so effortlessly eighty-six all of it, leaving us with very well-defined, liturgical books? Why was variation permitted then, but not now?

9 07 2010
Charlie

What is this! Arturo, you just keep feeding my head with subversive thought. Affirming my own half articulated instincts. I’ve been reading you for over a year, and you’re relentless –

About your first comment, above, you seem to contradict yourself. “Liturgy can only really emerge with the printing press,” you say, then ask what were the prefaces? Indeed, what were they? What were the psalters and other scribal texts used for for monastic, communal and Eucharistic prayer? All of them were created by the communities using them, and approved by the bishops and abbots in authority, weren’t they? Often, they passed muster with “secular” authority as well. often on the “trans-national” level, as in at the court at Rome, Byzantium, Cluny or Aachen.

What have you read on the evolution of liturgy that you reccomend? In fact, why don’t you publish a ten most provocative reads for us, Arturo?

Feed our heads, cabron.

8 07 2010
Tom

So Arturo, you’ve obviously been reading a fair amount of Foucault. But what do you call this then, if you proscribe the word “liturgy”? Or is just calling it something falling into the trap of defining something that cannot be defined?

8 07 2010
random Orthodox chick

I admit I can understand the practice of frequent Communion, but not the insistence of frequent Communion, especially since we receive at birth. The same Jesus is there from when you received Him last Christmas, ideas about “full participation” aside.

8 07 2010
Auricularis

Just a cursory reading from that blog, is enough to tell that whomever writes it is full of bitterness.

This is what happens when you have pathological interest in liturgy.

8 07 2010
M.Z.

On the other hand, as has been pointed out here, the real issue was that the people didn’t receive Communion too often anyway, so any arguments concerning reception would be somewhat academic. Indeed, I think that is the real problem: people just shouldn’t be receiving Communion often period. Clearly, the “frequent” or “mandatory” Communion movement in the churches hasn’t helped anyone.

We are in agreement here. Unfortunately, there is hardly anyone that is interested in encouraging people to have communion once a month, let alone a few times per year.

Once a tradition is dead, it’s dead. Otherwise, you are just playacting.
Indeed.

“Low Mass” is actually one of the highest forms of art in Western civilization.
It is something that can’t seem to persist though. People want to add hymns. When people speak of their love of the old mass, they are most often speaking of the old high mass. A good number of these people are happy with the new mass if it throws in some Latin and incense.

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