Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Quo Vado?

On the New Liturgical Movement Blog, Fr. Anthony Symondson S.J. stated as follows with regard to the Anglican Use liturgy in the Roman Rite
I understand the aesthetic and historical appeal for many American Anglicans for Cranmerian English and I love the Anglophile feeling in the best Episcopalian churches. When I saw some magnificent examples last year I felt completely at home in a national sense, not least because many of the late-c19 and early-c20 churches were far better than ours of the same period. But, wonderful as these nuns are (and I can say the same for a host of other Anglican nuns who are inspiring religious - in the past some of the holiest I have been privileged to know in a long life have been among them), I do not believe that the riches of the Western liturgical tradition can be surpassed.

But, I would ask the good Father, cleansed of defective theology (would that the same could be said of the current English form of the OF), how is the Anglican use not a part of the Western liturgical tradition? Particularly if we view it in the context of the rites of York and Salisbury by which it is heavily influenced. It certainly seems far more "organic" in terms of its development than does the current OF. "I do not believe that the riches of the Western liturgical tradition can be surpassed" Help me here because I am sorely tempted to swim the Bosphorus. What exactly does the Western Liturgical Tradition excel in? Once upon a time one could make the argument that the Western Liturgy, calendar, and Devotions were theologically more focused on the Incarnation, while Antioch was more focused on the Trinity and Theophanic events. Scholars such as Stanley Jaki have written that this incarnational focus of Western Orthopraxis contributed to the development of natural science in the West. But today Eastern practices are described by all and sundry as more incarnational than the West, the tradition of which has been described to me, by Catholic priests of both West and East as:
(1) In the West liturgy is primarily didactic (this is why we have no chant or sung mass as chant is alien to the Western Tradition. It is also why we do not use incense or art in our spaces, whereas the east is holistic and organoleptic in its approach to liturgy. In Western tradition the liturgy is just an annotated lesson or lecture, involvement of senses other than hearing would be a distraction at best, stumbling block or occasion of sin at worst. So if you are deaf, or very young, or mentally impaired you just have to hope for infused graces. So those actually hadicapped are denied, and those of education, intelligence, and discernment are denied. In the West everything is reduced down to teh same lowest-common denominator steaming pile of Christianity-lite.
(2) The East preserves the Catechumens/Faithful distinction in the liturgy, thereby expressing the supreme mystogogical reality of the sacred presence. In the Western tradition the orthographic and pragmatic focus of the liturgy is on the assembly primarily, the readings secondarily, and the Eucharist as a tertiary afterthought. It is the Western tradition (so I have been told by westerners, and so my eyes have seen in the Mass) that Christ is substantially, equally, and indistinguishably present in the Word, Host, and Assembly, and there is no hierarchy of realities, only manifestation of Christ most perfectly in the niceness of the faithful, most practically in the readings, and only symbolically/incidentally in the Eucharist; A religion of works, and pretty lame works at that.
(3) In the East, the architecture expresses theological realities, the Western tradition is that anything other than the readings, Eucharist, and general bonhomie of the assembly (in ascending order of importance) are externals and devoid of theological significance, and this is the Western Tradition. (I'll never forget what happeed to te parish church were I grew up. I retunred after 10 years to find that the old high alatar and tabernacle had been torn out. The Book of the Gospels was placed on the central axis in front of the Crucifix, while the Blessed Sacrament had been shunted to the far side of the sancutary in a stone pillar (what does this arrangement tell us theologically? And how is this theology normative to teh Western Tradition. Well, after 40 years, its tradition now!)
(4) The liturgies of Antioch and Alexandria, and even India are filed with rich theological content and quotes from the Fathers, the current English liturgy deals with most things briefly, and obliquely, with all the profundity, nuance, and complexity of an American news talk show. The tradition of the West is not simplicite, but rather simplesse, or so I am told, and so I have seen.
Most Easterners I know go doxing on Sunday if there is no Eastern church nearby. The idea of going to a Roman church seems utterly pointess to them beyond a "well its the same Christ in the Eucharist, and I just have to keep telling myself that", and very thought of taking an Orthodox friend to a Roman church fills me with terror and deep shame. Indeed, taking anyone to the ongoing and unremitting horror I have witnessed, and witness every time, every single time I stray beyond my "safety zones" like St. George in Aurora or John Cantius in Chicago. And I am not just nitpicking "the Bishop is not supposed to wear a mozetta blah, blah, blah...", but words, actions, and symbols that declare to the world in ways both great and small "I tell you I do not know the man!" and "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?!!"
Western Christians claimed that their Mass was their Church's most precious posession. They lied. They tossed it overboard with alacrity in an act of vandalism unheard of since the Iconoclast heresy of late antiquity, and far worse in both scope and theological extent.
People offhandedly say "the Western tradition is just as beautiful and rich as the East in its proper form", but when pressed for specifics they fall silent. Shawn once said on a Byzantine site "there is nothing to be gained arguing which is better East or West" to which the reply was, without irony, "spoken like someone who knows he is on the losing side". A Byzantine priest once said to me "the West also has a lot to offer. It has its own gifts" when asked what exactly those "gifts" are he gave examples like Catholics United for the Faith, nice people doing nice things because its nice to be nice, zero theological content, because he honestly could think of no "spiritual gift" of the western church in a true sense, other than being "nice" busybodies. Sometimes people say, "these things you say of the East, they are our tradition too, we just forgot it" but then that begs the question, "how could we have forgotten it if we ever believed it, and why did they preserve it and we did not"? How is Western Christianity not a sort of deposit of low-grade apostolic ore, a kind of "proto-Protestantism"? As one Eastern Catholic theologian in a chat room dismissed us once, "Protestantism is simply the natural outgrowth of the fragmentary and impoverished orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the West. Ultimately they are indistinguishable to Easterners, as the faith of the East OTOH is apostolic and patristic". Problem is, if this is true, I have an epistemological problem impeding me from switching. In short, if I cannot trust Peter today, can I trust Andrew tomorrow? And if I cannot trust the words of Christ "Tu est Petrus..." then I need to find a better reason for getting out of bed in the morning, much less going to church.
Any answers Fr. Symondson SJ? Anyone?
"Sound of crickets chirping"
Yeah, I figured as much

1 comment:

The Western Confucian said...

Depressing, indeed. I'm somehwat fortunate to be limited in my options here in Korea.