Friday, June 27, 2014
Moving the Ancient landmarks...
Boundaries are established for good reason. Landmarks direct these boundaries. They represent the inviolability of the sacred order established by God. In ancient times the removal of these landmarks was a double transgression, a sin against the present and the future – those who depended upon them today and those who would mark their way tomorrow.
This is no less true when it comes to the liturgical year and the liturgy itself. These are the ancient markers set by our fathers. We did not invent the way. It was passed to us. The markers, the boundaries, and the path itself. They are not ours to possess but to preserve, to use and then to pass on to those who come after us.
We face an itch to reform, to change, to make new what was passed down to us. The reform bug bite large during the 1960s and 1970s. The heritage of the past was judged passe and its forms became like weights upon the neck of church leaders longing to have something new. Whether or not it was worthy was secondary to an infatuation for newness and relevancy. The eloquence of another age gave way to common forms and language was almost vulgar in the way it spoke of God, of men, and of worship.
Freedom was the battle cry of an age determined to rid itself of the ancient landmarks and treat worship, like life, as a great adventure. But no one realized that the freedom so esteemed was bondage, the cruelest and worst bondage of all. It stole the past from the Church and it rendered uncertain the future God had prepared. The people were left only with the moment and with nothing to guide them through.
Those who would seek to steal away the landmarks and replace them with temporary signs should be warned. The generous individualism that has replaced the fixed forms has left us subject to the rule of the personal, the spontaneous, and the entertaining. In place of the landmarks of the past, we have a constantly changing reality, ever adjusting to what people want, to what people desire, and to what culture expects. Where the liturgy once served God by preserving and promoting the truth, it now became captive to the eyes of the moment and to the deity of personal preference. The worship leader has become the controller of what is said and, at least in desire, of what is heard.
One of the chief architects of this removal of the ancient landmarks, Annibale Bugnini wrote with regret of the need to “alter venerable texts that for centuries have effectively nourished Christian devotion and have about them the spiritual fragrance of the heroic age of the Church’s beginnings” but insisted that it was “necessary lest anyone find reason for spiritual discomfort” in the liturgical prayer of the Church. [The Reform of the Liturgy]
Of course not everything believed will be presented at each liturgy in text or song or lection. However, the fullness of the liturgical year, the various specific rites reflective of that year, and the richness of the lectionary will shape the liturgy and provide exposure to the fullest expression of what we believe, confess, and teach, indeed, what we have always believed, confessed, and taught. The doctrine in the liturgy is a delicate web – a balance of the personal and the communal, of doctrine and piety, of the historic and the present, of sorrow and joy, of law and Gospel, of earth and heaven.
It is impossible to proclaim rescue from evil, forgiveness from sin, joy in suffering, etc., without in some way referring to these things. The modern discomfort with the subject of man’s weakness or sin, his suffering and death, makes the hope expressed within the liturgy a weak hope and a shallow imitation of the brave and profound hope born of the cross and the empty tomb. It is like an Easter minus the Good Friday. The ancient landmarks spoke honestly of the reality of sin and its consequences for us. These texts were dismissed out of the fear that they might offend those not convinced of their reality.
The goal of the modern liturgy is less the means of grace delivering the promise of God but the pursuit of the full and balanced self, the full and balanced life. Rejected as a negative spirituality, they sought to shape the liturgy in exclusively positive terms. Man’s ultimate sin is his failure to be true to self, to fail to realize the full measure of his opportunity, and the failure to know constant happiness.
Tertullian’s sarcasm against the Marcionites is worthy of the fruits of modern liturgical reform: A better god has been discovered, one who is never offended, angered, or takes vengeance, with whom no fire boils in Gehenna, with whom there is no gnashing of teeth or shuddering in the outer darkness: he is simply good... Of course he prohibits wrongdoing but only in letter. It is up to you if you wish to register your obedience to him, that you may be seen to have given honor to God; for fear he does not want.... [Against Marcion]