Monthly Archives: March 2007

Vatican II and the Destruction of the Western Liturgy

Vatican II was the last straw that swept away the elegant construction that was the western liturgical tradition. But not how you think.

It has nothing to do with the vernacular or even with the move away from the Tridentine Mass. It’s about the final destruction of the balance and the mutual relationship between the Mass and Office, the links between the missal and the breviary. Because the classical Office is so little known these days, what happened is not fully known or understood. Here’s my take on things.

The western liturgical tradition is about the whole-body experience of the liturgical year. The seasons teach us and train us in the Christian affections. They do this through the rhythms of the Mass and Office. The way that this formerly worked was intimately connected to the use and application of Scripture. To remind, there were three biblical readings that really shaped things. One was the Gospel at the Mass. This was the primary key of the cycl. These readings were both selected to fit the season and, in turn, actively shaped the season. In connection with this was the Reading, also at Mass. (We’re used to calling this the Epistle because it predominately came from the Pauline or Catholic epistles but fasts had readings appointed from the Prophets.) The third was the reading at the Night Offcice. There, the whole of the Bible, excepting the gospels, were read every year. Again, these were keyed to the seasons. These were the main building blocks but interweavings happened from that point. The various texts of the Mass like the prefaces, collects, and benedictions incorporated elements from the Gospel and the Reading. During the week elements from the Gospel and Reading from the Mass of the Sunday would appear in the propers of the Offices. Bits of the Epistle would show up as Little Chapters; verses from the Gospel would appear as antiphons for the Gospel Canticles at Lauds and Vespers. Thus, the theological messages that grounded the seasons as found in the Sunday Masses were interlaced through the rest of the week in the Offices. The Scriptural content created the lived reality of the seasons as interpreted by the surrounding versicles, hymns, etc.

Hence, I repeat my charge: Vatican II was the last straw that wrecked this. It wasn’t the vernacular that did it in but the three year lectionary… Formerly the Mass and Office were on a common one-year calendar. No longer. The current ’79 BCP shows how the aftershocks effected protestant liturgies: We now have a three-year mass lectionary that is completely disconnected from our two-year office lectionary.

If the motu proprio does come out (yeah, here’s how this is connected to the previous post…) and restores a Tridentine Mass, will it also restore the Tridentine lectionary? Because if not, even the Roman traditionalists will face what we face now, a system wherein the appointed Gospel may have resonances with the rest of the Mass texts maybe once every three years but where it has nothing to do with the Offices.

Ah well–it was an elegant structure but was fundamentally a house of cards… The three-year lectionary seems to be here to stay. I wish we could recover again thesekinds of connections. There are ways but they would be complicated. Essentially, the next revision of theBCP would have to incorporate a three-year cycle of liturgies that wouldcohere with the three-year lectionary. Too, something would have to be done with the Office and with the Office lectionary.

Actually, though, it’s the Offices where something of the old system could be recaptured… Ever read the rubrics after the Offices carefully? Antiphons for the Psalms and the GospelCanticles are permitted, especially those that come from Scripture… You know what I’m thinking? A three-year “antiphonary” that would tie the mass readings into the Offices as antiphons. It’d be another book to juggle but I wonder what it would do to recapture our sense of the liturgical year…

Thoughts on the Latin Mass, Relativism, and the Answer

I’ve been doing some reflecting about the reputedly forth-coming motu proprio. For those out of touch with current Roman doings, the traditionalist blogs have been abuzz with rumors that B16 may release a document (possibly) in the next week that reinstates the Latin Mass and celebrating ad orientem. I greet this news with mixed feelings. I’ll probably split my thoughts into two posts–this and the next.

A few weeks ago I was leading a section of New Testament on ideological criticism, particularly feminist and socio-economic readings. I was in a small group that happened to be populated by several very intelligent conservative evangelicals. They spent about 30 minutes trashing ideological critism as a form of eiegesis–importing one’s own politics into the text. Now–I’m not a huge ideological kind of guy so but at that point one of them said something to this effect: “There’s no reason to try and make everything so political. Care and concern for the poor and women are already in the biblical text. Why do some people feel they have to go looking for it everywhere since it’s already there?” At that point, I could contain myself no longer.  I explined to them that there was a reason why they thought it was already there–because every class they had taken at seminary was so thoroughly imbued wiuth the principles and the benefits of ideological criticisms of one kind or another that they had forgotten that they had read the text any other way. I reminded them that for centuries the guild of privileged white men had read the text without ever finding the women or the over-riding concern for the poor that they took for granted. I pointed out the irony of trashing an interpretive system from which they had already reaped the benefits–especially one of the more vocal critics who was a woman… There seems, to me, to be a certain dishonesty there, rejecting with one hand the very structures that enable your own flourishing.

In the advance of the rumored motu proprio I have read quite a number of folks who are more than ready to jettison the insipid banalities of the English Novus Ordo and to return to the purity and power of the Latin Mass. (By the way, the rumors haven’t quite decided if the “Latin Mass” means the Tridentine ot the Latin Novus Ordo…) Personally, I love the idea of the Latin Mass and certainly wouldn’t mind of our Roman brother brought it back. BUT–I say that with full awareness of three things: 1) I know Latin. No, I don’t have the killer Latin linguistic skills of certain lurkers on this blog but my Latin is certainly good enough to follow the Mass prayerfully without parallel English. I also know I’m in the huge minority of Americans–let alone citizens of the world. 2) I’ve never lived under a Latin Only regime. And from what I can glean, neither have most of the people who seem to be pushing for it the hardest. 3) I honestly don’t have a dog in this hunt. I’m not Roman and my life won’t be changed by this decision whether it ever comes out or not.

From  where I sit, it seems that the most vocal critics are the privileged few who not only have had the ability to study Latin but–even more important–have had the advantage of growing up with the Mass in the vernacular. Even those with sketchy Latin will know the general meaning of what the priest is saying because they’ve grown up hearing it in their own tongue.

Now, my understanding is that this document will not signal a return to the Latin Mass; I don’t think that vernacular Masses will be abolished, only that Latin Masses will be more widely allowed. I fervently hope that this is the case. For as much as Ilove the idea of the Latin Mass, people need to hear the liturgy and be formed by the liturgy in their own mother tongue as well.

When I mentioned  the document to a Roman of my acquaintance, his response was interesting. He asked me if I knew what was driving it. I responded, “Yes, small t-traditionalism. That traditionalism that believes that tradition is defined as ‘how they did things when I was a kid’ or that defines it as ‘they way things used to be before my parents’ generation f’ed everything up.'” He said, “No. That may be why lay groups are for it but the Vatican doesn’t care about that. It’s about a ressurgent clericalism, pure and simple. Putting the power and knowledge–by means of a language known primarily if not exclusively by the priests–back into the hands of the priestly class and drawing the deep distinction again.” His response is shaped by the experiental knowledge of the vicious conflict in the years immediately after Vatican II when his order went through power struggles that were ostensibly about languge and liturgy but really ran much deeper.

I’ve been thinking about his response for  several days now.  When studying history, particularly WWII, I often wonder what could possibly make otherwise sane and intelligent Germans vote for Hitler and the Nazis. Why would people want any form of totalitarian system? The answer that I keep coming back to is that people prefer strong and decisive leadership over chaos. And what wasn’t emphasized enough in the hiostory lessons that I received is the chaos and breakdown of the Weimar Republic: the catastrophic inflation, the breakdown of law and order. A vote for the Nazis was a vote for some kind of stability and structure (despite the downsides that most didn’t really grasp) in the face of overwhelming chaos.

Why would people–people who *aren’t* priests, that is–want to embrace a form of clericalism? Perhaps the same dynamic is at work. In an age of relativism, people looking for truth live in the midst of philosophical chaos. Where and how is big-t Truth to be found–and how will you know it when you find it? The denominations and organizations that seem to be growing the most in America are those who are perfectly happy to give clear-cut answers. Your local Vineyard or Southern Baptist or, yes, Roman church will be more than happy to supply you with a big-t Truth. And I can definitely see the attraction. It would be nice to have clear-cut answers, clean lines and boundaries. As Devo once put it, “Freedom of choice/ Is what you’ve got/Freedom from choice/Is what you want…” Because the alternative is uncertainty.  Especially when it comes to the realm of spiritual truth, how do you know when you really have it right? When it’s something as important as divine realities, who can really afford to be wrong?

But that’s the kicker isn’t it–because someone says they have the Truth, how do you know they do? At some point, we are still stumbling in the dark, adjudicating competing claims as best we can. The choice as I see it, is either selecting one of the groups who claim to have the Answers or affiliate with  one of those that affirms that Answers exist but they’re not going to insist complete conformity.

At some point we who are Christians must ask–what of the Spirit? Does it move in and through people or only in communities–or only in one community? And yes, I have now been talking for a while about the Great Unpleasantness. To my mind, one of the chief virtues in both people and in institutions is humility. A willingness to confess that they do not have all of the answers or, perhaps, that they do have the Answer but not the details. And that is where I prefer to stand. I do have the Answer but, to be completely accurate, that’s not really it. Rather–the Answer has me. Through Baptism. I have been united in a death like his and rise in a resurrection like his. I know that the Answer is Jesus and I take comfort that he has me.

Conceptual Reframing

I think I leaped a big hurdle this morning in terms of how my sermon chapters will be structured. I’ve been wrestling with some related problems namely, 1) how do I treat Æ’s sermons as texts in their own right yet 2) honor their indebtedness to their sources without 3) perpetuating one of the views I want to avoid, that he and other early medieval preachers are just plagiarists. What I came to this morning is the realization of how the paradigms are functioning. We look at one of Æ’s sermons and see that he has heavily relied on Gregory the Great as a source. And therein lies the problem to my way of thinking… When we start considering Gregory as a “source” we are putting ourselves in an academic text-production paradigm. But that isn’t the most productive way to think about it at all.

The better way to think about it is one that finds Æ at home in his particular context. The question to begin is with is this one: When Æ sat down to produce an interpretation of biblical text X, how did he do it? What was his thought process? The answer is not that he reached for a source, rather, his mind went to his liturgical context and conditioning. When looking for a place to start, he’d head not to “Gregory” per se, but to “Paul”–Paul the Deacon–who had selected Gregory’s homily as the reading for the third Nocturn of the Night Office. The selection of Gregory is more a function of Æ’s liturgical context than the drive for a source. That is, Æ’s instinct was to go to the reading that had already liturgically interpreted the text and to use that as his main mode of entry into the text.

This isn’t necessarily a huge distinction but I do think it is an important one in terms of orientation and how we think through how the liturgical cycles influenced monastic authors. As a result, it also gives me a cleaner and clearer chapter shape so I can start by looking at Æ’s homily in its own right, then attend to the liturgical context which would include this kind of source material which almost invariably begins with the 3rd Nocturn homily (although he does sometimes supplement it from there–from other homiliaries) and also discuss how the liturgical texts of Mass and Office–hymns, collects, canticle antiphons, etc.–suggest or reinforce the interpretative tack he took.

Dissertation Work

Things have progressed to the point where I’ve been able to designate some brain cycles to dissertation work again. (I’ve had it–it *will* be finished by the end of the summer if it kills me. So far the odds are 50-50.)

Whereas before I started with more methodological stuff, I’ve dived into Æ’s sermons directly. What this has helped me see is that some of the stuff I pruned out before absolutely has to be put back into my re-formed chapters 2 and 3. Fr. Director thought that some of my work on patristic homilies was smoke-chasing; I’ve determined that it’s completely critical to the project.

Traditionally, early medieval homileticians have been accused of simple plagiarism. Indeed, Henri De Lubac’s only comment on Æ

is that he is a plagiarist of Gregory’s work. Rather, my work on the patristic material identifies not simply content but method and the purpose that derives from the method. What this let me do is to look at Æ’s sermons and to show that while, yes, he is recycling some content, he is using it in a very different way and with its own quite distinct method that throws light on what an early medieval preacher thought that he was creating.

My use of the Breviary has also been helpful. I now know I need to revisit some of my earlier liturgical work and look for some new evidence in different places.

On the Theology of the Daily Office

The Anglican Scotist wrote a few days ago and mentioned something about the theology of the Office. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. One of the things I keep returning to is how much structure matters. By “structure” I mean a variety of things. It includes but is not limited to 1) the order in which the elements appear (the most basic sense of the word ordo), 2) which elements are chosen when options are available, 3) how often do the elements/ordo change, 4) what prompts the elements/ordo to change.

I’ve been using the Anglican Breviary a lot recently but also found my Office Book which I had managed to loose on my desk. My experience of switching between the two has opened my eyes to the importance of noticing changes and what triggers them. Furthermore, the structure makes a definite theological impact in terms of what elements are not there–especially what elements are displaced or replaced.

There are a lot of options in the Daily Offices. Even if you are going strictly by vanilla 1979 BCP, the liturgy can have and express several different theologies based on how the required, optional, and possible elements are deployed…

Trial Liturgy: An Anglican Office of the Dead

(One of the reasons I transferred to WordPress is the ability to connect files to posts–this is a test of that functionality…)

Linked here are two files for an Anglican Office of the Dead. First, a Matins of the Dead; second, a Vespers of the Dead.

I have adapted the Roman form as found in the Anglican Breviary using the same kind of manipulations that were used to create our Morning Prayer form the combination of Matins and Lauds (there is no Prime version of the Office of the Dead) and Evening Prayer from Vespers (again–there is no Compline Office of the Dead). (For those unfamiliar with these Offices, see the article from the Catholic Encyclopedia.)

Following the traditional use, these may be read after the regular days Offices 1) on the first Friday of every month where we pray for all the departed, 2) on the day of death–or the day we are notified of someone’s death, 3) again on the day of burial, and 4) on the 3rd, 7th and 30th days after either death or burial. (While a double office is preferable you could, of course, read this instead of the usual offices…)

One of the reasons I post these files is because this disputed theological topic–praying for the dead–is part and parcel of the theological conundrum that the Lutheran Zephyr brought up: the invocation of the saints. I see them as inseperable because they are rooted in a shared Christian theology of death. I’ll write more on this a little later.

I welcome comments on the Offices.

Welcome to the New Digs

This is the new web home of haligweorc.

There will be a few more changes coming in the near future. All good as far as I know…

We did loose a post or two and a few comments but other than that, everything else seems to have made the change fairly well.

I’m hoping to have left some baggage behind at the old site. Much less will be written about the Great Unpleasantness; much more will be written about things spiritual and medieval. Hopefully much more will be written of and therefore on the Damn Dissertation. Time will tell…

Medieval Databases

No, silly, databases about medieval things…

There’s been some discussion about medievalist folks thinking about manuscript databases. I have a great deal of interest in the subject–but absolutely no time to do anything about it. If I may offer a few points of professional advice–since I am a database programmer in my day job:

  • Don’t choose a database because it happens to be the one on your computer. I.e., yes, you may well have MS Access on your computer if you’ve got the full Office Suite. No, don’t use it just because it’s there. Consider how you will use the database. Is it for merely personal use? Maybe Access will work for you. Do you want to put it on the web? Think about using MySQL instead. It integrates really well with a dynamic programming language called PHP. In fact, a whole lot of commercial websites are MySQL/PHP integrations. Limited project budget? You’re in luck–MySQL is free… (And so’s a good front-end for Windows here.)
  • Plan your database in advance. The biggest failing of most amateur databases is a lack of planning in the beginning stages. Think about you want to capture. Then, consider what fields make sense together in terms of tables, and what will tie those tables to one another.
  • A major issue that often comes back to haunt beginners is field normalization. In plain English, it means making sure that your data is in small enough bits. Thus, a shelfmark field shouldn’t contain “London, BL, Cotton Nero D IV” Rather, three different fields should have “London”, “British Library” and then “Cotton Nero D IV”. When in doubt, use multiple fields.
  • In terms of front-ends (that is, what a user will see as opposed to the back-end which is what the programmer interacts with) flashy is cool–but achieve stability first. Then go for cool. All the napkin drawing will be pointless if you can’t get your data out the way you want it…
  • Academics spend years learning dead languages and grappling with French poststructuralists, et al.; not all have invested the time in learning the technologies to disseminate what fruits they’ve gathered. When in doubt, talk with your IT department and their techies. Consider taking the money saved from buying a database and get a research assistant fluent in computer…

No, I haven’t been putting any thought into this recently. Why do you ask? Of course it had completely slipped my mind that Mediawiki works off a MySQL back-end… As does WordPress

I’m going to stop talking now…