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spiritual liberty & the language of ritual

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jun 03, 2006

A couple weeks ago I tried to show how Bishop Donald Trautman's objections to the language of the new translation of the Roman Missal were misplaced. In a word, he blamed the translators for not giving us the Bible, when their job was to give us the Mass. Allyson Smith's re-cap of the L.A. Religious Education Congress includes further remarks by Trautman that deserve comment:

Trautman addressed another proposed change to the first Eucharistic Prayer -- from "cup" to "precious chalice." Said Trautman: "'precious chalice' -- when I hear those words, I think of a gold vessel with diamonds on it. Did Jesus, at the Last Supper, use a precious chalice or a cup? The gospels clearly say 'cup,' but even in the lectionary from Rome we have the word 'chalice' imposed on the inspired text to carry out this 'sacred language.'"

When the Church, in her Missal, says "taking this precious chalice into his holy and venerable hands" (accipiens et hunc praeclarum calicem in sanctas et venerabiles manus suas), is she really inviting us to imagine that Jesus used a gem-encrusted goblet at the Last Supper?

Of course not. The chalice Jesus used is not "precious" because it was bejeweled or made of gold but because it contained the Blood of our Redemption. It is the Church's contemplative understanding of the unique value of this redemption that prompts her, in awe and thanksgiving, to call the chalice praeclarus. It holds, and allows us to partake of, that blood by which our redemption was achieved.

The Institution Narrative recounted at Mass is not a mere transcription or bare-bones synthesis of the Bible. Rather, the Narrative has been given a ritual form expressed in ritual language, and as such reflects the biblical accounts as they have been reshaped by traditions of prayer, worship, spiritual converse, and theological reflection.

Does this ritual language differ from the language of the New Testament? It does. It should. The Bible gives us the story in stark narrative terms. The Eucharistic Liturgy re-tells that story in a way that foregrounds its spiritual meanings -- yet not all spiritual meanings, only those proper to one particular ritual of sacrifice and thanksgiving. Though rooted in the Last Supper narrative in the narrow sense, its diction, imagery, and emphasis ultimately derive from the whole of Scripture, New Testament and Old. Prophecy, history, psalmody, and proverbial wisdom -- all appropriated and transfigured by the worshiping Church -- are among its tributaries.

Think of a newspaper story telling how, by a fluke, a soldier's dog-tags deflected a bullet aimed at his heart and so saved his life. Think of how the same soldier, thirty years later, might speak of the dog-tags when he shows them off to his grandchildren: "Take a look at these beauties: best body armor ever made." He's not deluded about the cheap stamped metal in his hand. He's not denying or correcting or imposing an agenda on the original newspaper account. He's giving voice to "emotion recollected in tranquility." Yet the Church's language reflects not one man's private contemplation but the spiritual patrimony of centuries of believers, guided and shaped by the Holy Spirit into a public and ecclesial form.

The fact is that many people, including some Catholic clergy, don't understand rite, and are put off by ritual action and language. In the years following the Council many were enraptured by the image of the Protestant minister, seated on the lawn with a Bible open on her lap, reading and expounding God's word in Pauline simplicity. By contrast, incense and Gothic vaulting and liturgy itself seemed, to them, impure and pointless impositions on the real thing (whence "imposed" is a frequent term in their polemics). Many dealt with their distaste for rite by enacting the Eucharist as if it were theatre, or Bible study, or a family picnic: occasions more friendly and familiar to their training and sensibilities.

But we can also see lingering traces of an antipathy to rite that goes beyond distaste and becomes active resentment. Many churchmen find noxious that character of the Roman Ritual which Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book Feast of Faith, singles out for esteem:

The obligatory character of the essential parts of the Liturgy also guarantees the true freedom of the faithful: it makes sure that they are not victims of something fabricated by an individual or a group, that they are sharing in the same Liturgy that binds the priest, the bishop and the pope.

As no one is above the law, no one is above the liturgy. And that's bad news for a lot of professional Catholics convinced they have a clearer idea than the Church herself of how the Church should pray, should teach, should worship. Authentic liturgy, as the document of that name makes plain, lets the Church speak in her own voice and protects the faithful from the self-credentialed sophists. No wonder they detest it.

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 07, 2006 10:52 AM ET USA

    Ladybird ... sometimes bad people achieve positions of power. Nice words don't reach them. God can change things ... and He will when He is ready to do so. Pray for sinners.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jun. 06, 2006 10:19 PM ET USA

    The USCCB is reaping what it voted for: Bp. Trautman's anti-Church agenda. The bishops who voted for Trautman (indeed nominated him from the floor, displacing Cdl. Rigali & Bp. Vigneron, the actual candidates) as chair of the Liturgy Committee will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ one day. And may God have mercy on them for the damage/abuse that they inflict on the Church & Her Liturgy. If I know Trautman's agenda, the bishops must know it. Might one or more bishops stand up to him?

  • Posted by: ladybird - Jun. 06, 2006 11:51 AM ET USA

    Yes, but has anyone made these points to Trautmann? Shouldn't we in charity put these arguments to him and the USCCB? I'm kinda new at this, and I know that most lib-progs only listen to each other, but is it too naive to hope these points (Diogenes etal) could effect a conversion? So many of his ilk just swoon over new rites & pageantry while rejecting the traditional. It's not that they don't appreciate ritual, they just want it to be their ritual, new ritual. It is vanity-pure and simple.

  • Posted by: MM - Jun. 06, 2006 7:49 AM ET USA

    A more reverent, uniform liturgy poses a greater threat to ultra-liberals than doomdsay docs or seminary visitations. They know that the liturgy informs the faithful in a uniquely powerful way: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Some see reverence towards God is an obstacle to friendship with Him. In choosing an unabashed iconoclast like Trautmann to head the liturgy committee, its hard not to conclude that the USCCB are trying to make a statement of some sort: "Rome, we're going to fight you on this"

  • Posted by: - Jun. 06, 2006 5:40 AM ET USA

    "Gothic" ritual reflects the longing of mankind to WORSHIP Almighty God. The traditional priest leaves his personality in the sacristy and enters the sanctuary vested for the Holy Sacrifice. Christ is now visible at the altar through him. Christ acts through his hands and mouth! Christ leads His people, through the ministration of His priest, to His Father. For a few short moments, heaven comes to earth. And kumbaya, coffee and donuts followed Mass in the church hall. Priorities straight!

  • Posted by: - Jun. 05, 2006 3:57 PM ET USA

    Memo to Bp. Trautman: Not only the current "lectionary from Rome" has "imposed on the inspired text." Aquinas did, too. "[I]f the priest pronounces the words of consecration ... with the intention of consecrating, then, without every one of the things mentioned above--namely, without house, & altar, consecrated chalice & corporal, & the other things instituted by the Church--he ... is guilty of grave sin in not following the rite of the Church." Summa Theol. 3, Q. 83, Art. 3, Reply Obj. 8.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 05, 2006 3:34 PM ET USA

    His Excellency seems far off target. Not only the chalice but virtually every vestment worn & vessel used by any Mass celebrant from the time of Gregory the Great (& likely well before him) has some Biblical suggestion outside the Last Supper accounts. Scripture is to be read as a unity, CCC #102, & the Mass expresses this entire unity & that of our tradition. Vestments? Not the Last Supper for suppers, but Ex 28 & 39 & Lev 8 & 16. Blood? Look at John 6, Lev 17, Heb 7-10, & Gen 9.

  • Posted by: zonner - Jun. 04, 2006 1:57 PM ET USA

    My heart sank when I watched First vespers of Pentecost at the Vatican,With the Pope who is the hoped for reformer of the liturgy presiding,the Movements sang the Veni Creator and then the first psalm and then we heard a lengthy sermon by a layman and then a psalm .and another sermon by a layman from the Neo-cats.Fine in a scripture service but Vespers? It seems as one thing-the translations-improve,other things decompose..

  • Posted by: Joseph Paul - Jun. 04, 2006 8:00 AM ET USA

    I vote Diogenes be elected on behalf of us faithful to be given the opportunity to explain all this to the full membership of the USCCB. One can live in hope. Some of them may even understand Uncle Di's argument. We the long suffering faithful are sick of the banality, disrespect and arbitrariness of modern liturgical practice.

  • Posted by: Clorox - Jun. 04, 2006 7:09 AM ET USA

    In all charity, "immature and irresponsible" could be the episcopal motto of a good number of American bishops.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 04, 2006 6:38 AM ET USA

    Should the Trautman's of the world be debated with, or simply laughed at? They add nothing and harm much and are beyond recovery.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 04, 2006 3:37 AM ET USA

    Even if Bp. Trautman's criticisms would have been correct, the fact that he used the forum of the REC is immature and irresponsible.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 03, 2006 9:10 PM ET USA

    If I were to tell the Bishop that my child were coming home from school and the "precious bus" was arriving any moment, would the "good" Bishop be looking for a gold and jewel studded school bus?

  • Posted by: - Jun. 03, 2006 2:38 PM ET USA

    Agreed. But nevertheless, there might be a better translation for præclarum than "precious": "noble," perhaps?

  • Posted by: - Jun. 03, 2006 2:21 PM ET USA

    Bravo! Diogenes. The traditional liturgy gave freedom to the soul to soar to heaven as an eagle. The new common liturgy chains us to the ground in common terms too simple to adequately express the imagery intended.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 03, 2006 7:57 AM ET USA

    Beautifully, simply stated, Diogenes. Ritual does not bind, it frees - to pray, to contemplate, to unite. I know of many priests, rebelling against authentic liturgical ritual, who have imposed their own 'absolutes' on the Mass, which then become as rigid as the universal rubrics. Sadly, the way many priests "augment" the liturgy tells me that they don't really believe, that they're doing improv theatre at best, the value of which depends solely upon their creativity. Where's their faith?

  • Posted by: - Jun. 03, 2006 7:45 AM ET USA

    He keeps revealing what he believes by what he preaches, teaches, and defends. Sounds like his Excellency is firmly rooted in sola scriptura…wait a minute, that’s not Catholic!?!?