Monday, September 12, 2011
Who is best equipped to change or adapt the liturgy?
It is von Hildebrand's contention that the discretio of the liturgy belongs to those who have been formed and shaped by it, who live within it deeply enough and long enough so that their spiritual life has grown organically into the liturgy. It follows then that for whom the liturgy feels like an ill fitting garment, whose memory needs ever to be prompted by the appropriate response, for whom the church year is alien to their sense of time, and who seek to remove the liturgy as if it were a shackle or chain should not or cannot engage their discretion in adapting or changing the liturgy.
Although it expresses something I resonate toward, it is a statement which I feel is both well reasoned and implicitly spiritual. Before you can change something, you must know it well, know it instinctively, so that it frames your thoughts and postures. What would we think of people who knew nothing of an industry coming in and attempting to redefine a business? Undoubtedly it has been done and mostly to ill effect. Is it not the same when those who cast off the liturgy as bondage then sit in a position of authority over it, shaping it, changing it, discarding parts of it, adding to it, etc.?
Now I will be the first to admit that there have been those who are so content within the routine to cease thinking of the liturgy as a living form. They repristinate something from the past which ends up being foreign to the present -- a rude intrusion into the today in which we live. Certainly the best of liturgy is not this. It is not the playing of a role or the reading of a script from an ancient text for its artistry or beauty. No, authentic liturgy always understands that liturgy is alive with the grace and power of God at work within the twin poles of the Word and the Table. We are not playing a part but receiving God's gift and responding in faith to that gift of grace. I have been places where the liturgy was a part being played -- both in the most liturgical of settings and in the plainest form the book allows and both felt artificial and made God distant and inconsequential to what the people and the priest were doing. I have also been places where the dynamic of the liturgy was present despite the poverty of its setting -- the words, actions, and grace of the liturgy were rich with God's presence and the people in rapt attention to what He was saying and giving to them. I am not speaking here of a feeling or personal taste. I think you know what I mean.
There are many people of the book who remain wooden and oblivious to the life of that book -- be it Scripture or the Scripture of the liturgy! Yet this fact should not in and of itself lead us to abandon the book (Scripture or the liturgy). Every day we get into a car and drive amidst danger to our destination -- all because people around us do not seem to know how to drive. Yet we do not abandon our cars. We learn to know them better so that we are better equipped to deal with those who do not know them and who drive as if they were oblivious to the obvious dangers. Just because people are using the liturgy badly or using its as if it were a straightjacket does not advance the cause of those who want to abandon it entirely!
The best people to act with discretion in adapting, changing, or leading the Divine Service are those who live within that liturgy, whose faith is shaped by the means of grace the liturgy unfolds, and who know and live within its framework as people wearing their most comfortable old clothes. This also precludes allowing the academics free reign since the liturgy is inherently a pastoral domain.
I close with more of von Hildebrand: In the piety which is not determined by the Liturgy, the weight is easily shifted to that which is far less directly linked to God; it is shifted from the center to the periphery....The Liturgy teaches us to put everything in its right place in the realm of God...
Just a few thoughts....