23 July 2006

Recovery of the sacred

Philip Blosser blogs on the book Recovery of the Sacred: Liturgy and The Loss of History. He writes: "Last month, Adoremus Bulletin (June 2006) reprinted an excerpt, "Liturgy and The Loss of History," from James Hitchcock's analysis of the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council, Recovery of the Sacred (originally published in 1974 by Seabury Press, reprinted in 1995 by Ignatius Press, but currently again out of print). Although Hitchcock's analysis is more than three decades old, it provides sometimes uncanny insights into the history and dynamic of the early post-Conciliar liturgical reform that make it perhaps as timely as it was when it was first published. Certainly his discussion is relevant to conversations we have been having recently on this blog. Here are a few excerpts..." (I have copied in only a few from his extensive selection):
... Among other things the most radical innovators failed to notice that few contemporary men choose to live only amid the artifacts of their own time. Well-made old houses are if anything more popular than newer ones. The antique market provides steady opportunities for decoration and investment. Proposals to destroy historic landmarks raise public outcries. Museums are crowded by people wanting to see old masters, and symphony orchestras have trouble filling their seats if they play mostly modern works. For better or for worse, a determined holding onto a good deal of the past seems to be a feature of modern man, probably because he senses how fragile these survivals really are.

* * *

A circular action was involved. which soon became a vicious circle leading to the rapid breakdown of liturgy. Liturgical innovators were vaguely dissatisfied with the traditional forms but did not realize the extent of their dissatisfaction until they began to experiment. As they peeled away the layers of historical accretions to liturgy, they found, sometimes with shock, sometimes with satisfaction, that the core of belief which underlay traditional worship was not at all the same as their own, that what was involved in liturgical reform was nothing less than a profound revolution in the nature of belief itself. The vicious circle formed, however, because if a crisis of belief provokes a crisis of worship, it is also true that a crisis of worship provokes further crises of belief. The symbols and the reality they were meant to express were so closely welded that it was impossible to alter one without altering the other.

The drive for radical liturgical innovation thus became a principal cause of the widespread crisis of faith which began to appear in the Church. In its origins this crisis affected only a relatively few persons, who were moved to begin the restless search for a truly “relevant” modern liturgy. As radically transformed liturgies began to be celebrated, however -- in colleges, seminaries, high schools, convents, living rooms, sometimes even in churches -- the crisis became more and more a public thing and began to affect more and more people. The stability of the liturgy for so long had been an effective public symbol of the stability and unity of belief and, equally important, it had been a means by which this stability and unity were preserved and reinforced. Now the diversity and sometimes the shocking unfamiliarity of liturgy became an equally effective public symbol of the instability and diversity of belief and a means of intensifying and propagating this....

... The officially mandated liturgical changes were being implemented as early as 1964 and were largely in effect before the flood of departures from the Church and from the priestly and religious life began. So long as the liturgy was stable, so was Church membership. As with other changes in the Church, the disaffection with liturgy seems to have come about not because the liturgy did not change but because it did. The sense of the meaning of tradition was broken; symbolically there had been a repudiation of the past which the fathers of the Second Vatican Council had certainly not intended but which their actions signaled to some people.

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