Tuesday, 1 December 2009

What's Wrong with Catholicism? The Novus Ordo!

What's wrong with Roman Catholicism? The Novus Ordo! At least that's what many conservative Roman Catholics will tell you. The First Sunday of Advent marked the
40th anniversary of the implementation of the Novus Ordo or 'new order' of the Mass, and British Catholic Damian Thompson has a wryly humourous post marking this commemoration on his blog (click on the post title to view). Scroll down the comments page to the comments by Benedict Carter for an articulation of a conservative Roman Catholic viewpoint on all this.
I must say, having attended quite a few Novus Ordo masses, that I can to some extent sympathise with the lament of conservative Roman Catholics over the loss of the numinous and transcendent aspects of the old Latin mass that the introduction of the Novus Ordo seemed to bring about; it must have been quite a wrench for the generation that experienced the change. Even as resolute a Lutheran as Hermann Sasse remarked that the Novus Ordo introduced the spirit of Zwingli into the heart of Rome.
But at the same time I remain ambivalent about those lost aspects of traditional Roman Catholic worship; if one thinks of what happens in worship as a set of concentric circles, with God's means of grace in the centre, then the response of faith that those means elicit forming the next circle, and so on, then much of what ultra-conservative Catholics lament as lost by the Novus Ordo is at best on the perphery or outer boundary (or even outside the circle set altogether!), rather than at the centre of worship.
Futhermore, to what extent, I wonder, second-guessing myself, does the craving for numinosity and transcendence that marks the journey of so many of my generation suggest the failure of faith to grasp the reality that God's presence and grace is there for our justification wherever his people are gathered in his name around his Word and sacraments? (These are thoughts, not theses, I hasten to add.)
Perhaps the best response to the problem of the loss of a sense of the transcendent in worship, whether among Lutherans or Roman Catholics, is not to restore the worship practices of a bygone era (e.g. the Latin Mass!), but to teach people to pray the liturgy and enter more fully into its drama. Without the response of faith the most awe-inspiring and beautiful liturgy is incomplete and ultimately lifeless, is it not?

(Note - As of 3.12.09 I have edited this post in light of a discussion with Phil in the comments section that led me to realise that there were ambiguities in the original that could lead to misunderstanding. I put it down to haste in posting the original!)


Phil said...

In the Liturgy, we have God Himself who works through means and is therefore really and truly yet invisibly present.

In the Liturgy, we have as a consequence the Church's confession in response to and because of this real Presence. The confession is made in many forms--verbal and musical (maybe the first to come to mind for us Lutherans) but also visual and rubrical-ceremonial.

If you want to say that those visual and rubrical-ceremonial traditional elements are "peripheral", you might as well say that beauty is also peripheral. It is not the "point" or the "core" of the Liturgy, certainly, but God Himself is certainly numinous and transcendent, and for that matter ultimately beautiful as well.

We ought to confess these things. It's like asking whether the Church was somehow deficient in the first century because it lacked the clear formulations of the Lutheran Confessions at that time: certainly it wasn't a sin or a flaw, yet the Church was blessed as those formulations became clearer. Yet to throw away those Confessions now after having received them is not the same as to go back to the innocence of the time before they were written (as if that were possible). Lutherans are liturgical conservatives and not liturgical minimalists.

Sasse taught me that liturgy is confession.

Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for your comment, Phil.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that liturgical form is irrelevant. I was specifically reflecting on the tendency of ultra-conservative Catholics to make what is peripheral central and what is central peripheral.

Here's a Sasse quote that was in the back of my mind :
“We Lutherans know nothing of liturgy that is prescribed by God’s Word. We know that the church has freedom to order its ceremonies and that it can therefore preserve the liturgical heritage of Christendom, as long as it is consistent with the Gospel. Indeed, our church in the Reformation placed the greatest value on preserving as much as possible this heritage that binds us with the fathers. But these ceremonies do not belong to the essence of the church or to the true unity of the church, as Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession and Article 10 of the Formula of Concord teach. Löhe knew this when in his Drei Bücher von der Kirche [Three Books on the Church], right where he speaks of the beauty and greatness of the Lutheran liturgy, he protests against overestimating it: ‘The church remains what she is even without liturgy. She remains a queen even when she is dressed as a beggar’ (Book 3, chap. 9 [p. 178]).”

The Lutheran Understanding of the Consecration
Letters to Lutheran Pastors Number 26, July 1952

Phil said...

Pr. Henderson,

I recently read Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy, and I would agree that by virtue of the very fact that they subscribe to Roman doctrine, in some cases they are not quite capable of seeing what the Gospel actually is. (It is interesting to see, by the way, that Ratzinger/Benedict's argument for ad orientem liturgical celebration is virtually the same as Sasse's.)

However, I am not sure whether "central" and "peripheral" are the best terms to use to describe what you are talking about here. If we want to say that the human ceremonies in the liturgical rite are peripheral, I suspect we would also have to say that the Confessions are likewise peripheral and not central. Strictly speaking, we might be able to talk that way, but there is a difference between them and something that bears little or no relation to the Word (e.g. the decision to buy shoes that have shoelaces or shoes that don't).

Likewise, we as Lutherans would insist that in no pastor's sermon are the particular words he speaks "prescribed by God's Word" (to say so would be to become one of the Fanatics), yet have we ever talked about the writing of a sermon as a "peripheral" matter? Perhaps we might have to clarify the distinction if many pastors were claiming that their sermon texts were the result of private revelation, but as of yet we haven't faced that in our circles.

If the Lutheran Confessions are a correct expression of the Word of God, and if liturgical ceremonies are likewise confessions of the Word, I would submit that they are in such close contact with that Word that we should call them "secondary" and reserve "peripheral" for other things (like the shoe choice above).

Mark Henderson said...

Hi Phil,

I think we're basically on the same page but have a misunderstanding over language which can be quite easily cleared up.

When I said 'peripheral' I intended it to be understood according to the second definition in the OED, i.e. 'of the periphery', rather than the first definition, i.e. 'of minor importance', which is evidently what you have taken me to mean.
Of course, you were not to know that.
It would have been better if I had said 'on the periphery', meaning 'in the surrounding region', once again according to the OED.

Let me explain: I was thinking of the Divine Service as a circle, with God's gifts at the centre and human response radiating out from that centre in wider circles. For some reason it's an image that is on my mind lately. Whatever is 'in the circle' is important, but has different levels of cruciality. Yes, one could also use your terms of primary, secondary, and so on.

So, getting back to my point, which you also allude to in your opening remarks in your second post, is that Roman Catholics, particularly ultra-conservative ones (and some Anglo-Catholics too, in my experience), have a tendency to make what is secondary or tertiary or even 'outside the circle' altogether, central, in the sense of seeking justification through them, instead of seeking justification from God's gifts of Word and Sacrament.
Not only do the Lutheran confessions condemn this attitude as futile, it is not even consonant with the best in Roman theology these days.

Schütz said...

I'm on a roll tonight on your blog, so I will just keep going, shall I?

I never personally get into "Novus Ordo vs Latin Mass" arguments. Today, we call them, following our glorious and most holy Father in Rome, the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite. Really (and here I will be taken out by the Traddies) there is not much between them as they exist in the liturgical books. It is just that a whole lot of things were allowed (officially and unofficially) to be done in the liturgy after the introduction of the Novus Ordo that would never have been allowed before the Council. These things are not strictly a part of the Novus Ordo itself -eg. the ICEL translations, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, ad populem celebration, standing for communion, communion in the hand, folk songs etc. etc. It is conceivable that, even if Bugnini had never been allowed to get his hands on the liturgy, these things would have been done in the madness that followed 1968. And if they were done without a new liturgy, they would have been done to the old litury. Imagine that: the "same" liturgy (ie. the Extraordinary Form) could have ended up being done in just the same way without any changes to the actual prayers as the Novus Ordo is today. In a way, then, perhaps we were lucky. The old mass was continued by a small remnant, they preserved it in aspic in all its pristine purity (because the people doing it now were the purists, not the whole hoi poloi) and so today we have it restored as an example of how the Ordinary Form COULD be done if we really tried. Who knows? This is all speculation.

However, on the "periphery" business, I have learned that while there may be theological reason for making the distinction between central and less central aspects of the liturgy, the thing is to be taken as a whole or not at all. See the discussion on my blog about "for us men". Or the question of whether it is "peripheral" whether a single chalice or multiple shot glasses are used for communion.

Lex Orandi lex credendi does not allow for the distinction between peripheral and central. This is because, whatever way we look at it, while God gives his gifts as a part of the liturgy, the liturgy is nevertheless as a whole and in all its parts a human action. Nothing in the liturgy would happen if we were just all to sit still and silent in the pews like a bunch of quakers. The hard fact that Lutherans have to face in liturgical theology is that God gives his gifts precisely THROUGH the actions of the human beings doing the work of the liturgy.

The greatest example of this is the Eucharistic Canon or Anaphora. Lutherans have struggled to find a theology for this for years, because the sacramental words of Jesus are (and always have been) embedded within an offertory prayer of thanksgiving to the Father by the priest.