Thursday, August 27, 2015
What impact on the liturgy?
The churches tend to make concessions to Rationalism by excluding silence and reducing the complexity of the ceremonial or completely eliminating parts of it from the liturgy. On the other hand, the churches tended to make concessions to Pietism and Romanticism by promoting informality and spontaneity and minimizing formal liturgical formularies and prayers. In this way the two great slave-drivers behind the liturgical reform have had their diverse impact upon the shape of the liturgy illustrated so that we understand more fully why we have the liturgy and the worship wars of today.
Rationalism cracks the whip and shouts: “No silence! Everything must be SAID and UNDERSTOOD! No complexity! Stop all that intricate symbolic stuff! Stop all that lugubrious chanting! Modern man has no patience, no time, no ability, no need for it! It promotes an aristocracy of clerics! Let the light of objective reason shine!” But then Romanticism [Pietism] sneaks in, elbows an unsuspecting Rationalism aside, and, with a voice all the more poisonous for seeming friendly: “Relax! Go with the flow! You are too formal, uptight, rigid, and cerebral! Let go of the rubrics, find your inner child, feel it in your bones, be yourself! Everything’s about YOU, your feelings, your neediness — this is your moment!” Each struggles for supremacy; in a weird sort of way, they are codependent and collaborative. They stop at nothing to eviscerate the tradition that precedes them, until all that is left is a disembodied reason of empty structures and a derationalized self-indulgent sentimentalism.
There is no way to avoid the present tension between head and heart; we still are caught between rationalism and romanticism/pietism but the surprising reality of the future is that the newer generations are less naïvely optimistic about the power of human reason and and less convinced by the power of sincere feelings to lead us into an idyllic New Eden wherein our full human potential is realized and exploited. The generations reaching adulthood and younger adults are more likely to search for that which is neither the expression of head or heart but what transcends both. They are looking for mystery (not the unexplained but that which is beyond explanation -- the transcendent God who attaches Himself to earthly form and element and is present there with the fullness of His gifts and graces.
I certainly know the tensions of those who plead for simple liturgy, plain ceremonial, and an appealing rationality in which things have explanation and are understandable and those who plead for the freedom of love, the spontaneity of the moment divorced from page or form. But I continue to be impressed by those who come Sunday after Sunday seeking neither a rational lens for God and the universe nor a love affair with the moment but a true path to the transcendent through the means of grace. This is what gives me hope that perhaps we can progress past those who want logical answers and those who want to explore their happy feelings. God can work as He will in whatever circumstance the world finds itself. This I do not doubt. Yet, it is hopeful to think that there are still people looking beyond themselves for the eternal and the divine known only in Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent and in the Spirit who reveals Him.