Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

A few days back Pontifications linked to a piece by an Anglican comparing and contrasting visits to a local Catholic mass and a Orthodox liturgy. In some ways, it's a very surface oriented analysis: The Orthodox church had tapers lit under each icon, while no votive candles were available in the Catholic church. The Orthodox liturgy was sung, while the Catholic mass was spoken with occasional hymns interspersed "like commercial breaks".

As often seems to happen, the comment thread eventually sinks into an Orthodox vs. Catholic sand kicking contest over whether current problems with Catholic liturgy prove that there must be something much deeper wrong with the Church. One often hears the same sentiment from traditionalists of one stripe or another, who point out that even poorly educated Catholics could pick up certain basic elements of theology and piety simply by experiencing the Tridentine liturgy, which the Novus Ordo liturgy (at least as celebrated in the average suburban parish) is much less overtly supernatural in orientation, and so teaches less. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Now, I can't exactly be classified as a traditionalist per se. I've only attended 10-20 Latin masses in my life. I somewhat prefer the Latin Novus Ordo high mass to the Tridentine. The sign of peace doesn't give me fits (though between the ages of four and six I refused to give or accept the sign of peace because I figured that if Jesus gave me peace I'd never have adventures like in Star Wars), I receive communion under both species when given the chance, and I often mess up Latin responses in mass by using the classical Latin pronunciation rather than the ecclesiastical (or nasty, modern, barbaric pronunciation, as we enthusiastic classics students call it). But I do firmly believe that mass should be firmly vertically focused. We should experience, both architecturally as we enter the church building and liturgically though the ritual of the mass, a profound sense of otherness -- that we area treading on ground that is only half of our world, and experiencing something that is not fully within our comprehension. And this is certainly well within the powers of the Novus Ordo when celebrated properly. Back before MrsDarwin and I were students traveling Europe on the cheap, we attended Easter vigil at the Brompton Oratory in London. (outside, sanctuary)

In this sense, liturgy is very important in fostering belief. With our modern issues in catechesis, the mass may be pretty much all the instruction that many Catholics get in their faith. However, lex orandi, lex credendi is not all there is to the story by a long shot. While the Brompton Oratory is a model of both liturgical and pastoral success, we stopped in at many cathedrals throughout the continent where beautiful masses were being celebrated in beautiful cathedrals, with almost no congregation except a few gawking tourists. Perhaps they put on a show for the tourists, and actual parish liturgies in Europe are more disappointing. But at least from what we saw I would say that the liturgies we attended there were far superior to most of what you can find in the US. We often hear, however, that the church in Europe is in many ways in far worse shape than the church here. Clearly, it takes more than the availability of good liturgy and beautiful architecture to create a thriving laity.

Still, I find myself much in agreement with what Bearing Blog said the other day, about feeling a certain sense of anger that the two generations before my own saw fit to throw out much of the Catholic culture they inherited, leaving those of us who come after to try to rebuild from the scattered stones.

1 comment:

Mike L said...

My first wife's parents, Peter Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe, were married at the Brompton Oratory and always loved it thereafter.

Fortunately, as Richard John Neuhaus says, the silly season is almost over. While the older generation of American priests doggedly maintains, for the most part, the usual post-Vatican-II level of liturgical banality and incoherence, the younger priests are mostly quite interested in recovering the treasures of "the bad old days" they never knew as such.

Even among the laity, demographics are on the side of the real Catholics.