the ritual slaying of ritual

By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 18, 2006

The December Adoremus Bulletin includes an excellent paper by Prof. James Hitchcock titled "Liturgy and Ritual." It's a sober, balanced, and thorough account of the trajectory of the post-Conciliar liturgy and its cultural and intellectual tributaries. Worth downloading and reading with care.

Catholicism has always been rich in ritual gestures and symbols, but after the Council the renewed spirit of puritanism discarded many of those enduring symbols as "meaningless". In keeping with the rationalist mentality of the reformers, most liturgical change took place only on the conscious level, leading to what might be called the fallacy of explicitness -- the meaning of the rituals was didactically explained in such a way as to render the symbols themselves superfluous.

At first the errors caused by this insensitivity were probably not intended. But as it became obvious to what degree change had disoriented the community, many innovators embraced disorientation as a positive good, because it "liberated" Catholics from what was now declared to be an oppressive and burdensome past. The "purification" of worship, instead of opening ever deeper wellsprings of spirituality, often created a vacuum that was quickly filled by invasions from the secular culture.

Sacred ritual always presents itself as divinely ordained, but the speed with which liturgical changes were introduced, the confusing and often contradictory things said about them, the way in which they were decreed by committees and bureaucratic offices, the continuing debates, the replacement of sacred liturgical books by discardable leaflets, the wholesale destruction of so much that was venerable, and the endless tinkering all had the cumulative effect of making the liturgy seem an all-too-human activity, not a divine action in which humans were privileged to participate but something that they themselves created.

For forty years Hitchcock has been viewing the changes he describes at close hand, and, as a professional historian, has been taking notes and filing away clippings as well. One of the advantages he brings to the task is that of illustrating the abstract intellectual history by vivid and apposite quotations from the mouths of the innovators (and resisters) themselves -- quotations their authors, some decades after the fact, may wish had remained in oblivion. This is particularly valuable in the case of liturgical reform, at a time when creators and partisans of horizontalist liturgy see their project at risk and are pleading for stare decisis on the grounds of pastoral solicitude ("liturgical change is painful for the lay faithful..."). In the 1960s and '70s they were singing a different, a very different, tune.

Offertory: St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, 1967

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 22, 2006 2:34 PM ET USA

    Regarding purification of vessels in Orange County the procedure now is to remove the vessels(cups and plates) from the altar(table) and take them into the sacristy to be cleaned after mass by the priest(?) along with the Eucharistic ministers who assemble there immediately after mass. So out of sight, I suppose nobody will complain about the disobedience to the Pope's orders. There is no schism in the American clergy.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2006 10:29 AM ET USA

    As usual, Dr. Hitchcock provides an excellent historical overview and analysis. Where he fails though is in his recommendations. Is it even possible for a "reform of the reform"? The liturgical renewal was saboutaged from the start and even today we are far beyond the NO of 30 years ago (i.e. liturgical dancing, music, loss of sacred, etc.). From my observations, most NO priests and bishops would fight any "backward" changes. The only solution is to allow the Triditine and NO to co-exist.

  • Posted by: Deacon Bart - Dec. 19, 2006 10:26 AM ET USA

    The military has all those silly rituals like saluting, etc. because they know how to form men into a strong unit. GI's would rather face death than be thought cowards by their fellows.The Ritual of the Sacrifice of the Mass forms us into the Body of Christ.Either the liturgiNazis don't know this or know it & hate it.I won't die for a meal;I will die for my Lord God if He asks it.We need the rituals of the sacrifical Mass for the persecutions to come.Sing alongs & warm fuzzys just won't do.

  • Posted by: Patricius - Dec. 19, 2006 12:29 AM ET USA

    It really points to the de-evolution of the training of the priests who ultimately become bishops. I would argue the case for most Western professionals as well. We beleive our culture is the cause for out success rather than the result of our sucess. Thus we should to some extent continue the ways of the past. The bishops today are worse than the bishops of old whose appointment was subject to the approval of the diocese's sovereign. Who is the Sovereign today? The New York Times?

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Dec. 18, 2006 9:47 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Gertrude & altar boy, we need such troopers in the trenches, fighting the good fight, standing with the Holy Father, Magisterium & Teachings of Holy Mother Church -- courageously, prudently urging bishops & priests to do likewise. Indeed, at their ordination, the "successors to the apostles" vow to hear Peter speak & to do what he tells them to do. If the bishops want unity & uniformity, then they need to glue us to the Successor to Saint Peter, not to their ideaological agenda. AMDG.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Dec. 18, 2006 9:34 PM ET USA

    Ouch. St. Patrick's Seminary is just a few miles down the street from where I live. In 1960, this enormous three-story edifice secluded on twenty acres of suburban forest was full to bursting with seminarians. By 1990, it was nearly empty, and most of its lands had been sold off for the building of multi-million-dollar homes. The gorgeous chapel is still there, but if anyone wanted to see a monument to the impact of the liturgical "reformers", there it is, full of ghosts and echoes.

  • Posted by: Dalaigh - Dec. 18, 2006 7:48 PM ET USA

    Was there really a baby in that bath water?

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2006 5:54 PM ET USA

    Luther said that the way to destroy the Church was to destroy the Mass. He and his ilk did a good job of it but, thanks to the Holy Ghost, and courage of the Fathers of Trent and Pius V, the Mass was restored and the Church reinvigorated. Now, we are engaged in a second struggle. The neo-modernists have taken Luther’s model and perfected it--the Mass is now an assembly of the people, devoid of almost all Catholic ritual and traditional peayers. The “smoke of Satan” has indeed entered the walls.

  • Posted by: Gertrude - Dec. 18, 2006 5:32 PM ET USA

    When history looks back on this time, we will be known as the generation who endured. All that the devil and those in his employ could dish out. We're still here, and our children are being taught to know the True Faith, and defend it. Including incidentally what is and is not allowed liturgically. We will continue to fight the good fight.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Dec. 18, 2006 1:46 PM ET USA

    Amen, Diogenes & Hitchcock. I have heard (in person & via EWTN's televising of USCCB meetings), from such bishops as Trautman, Pilarczyk, Mahony, & their whole gang, this call for a "stare decisis." They call for this after they themselves have wreaked havoc on the Church's Liturgy, after they have caused & continue to cause so much pain/confusion for the lay faithful. Indeed, rather than following the Church's Teaching, they form USCCB committees to respond to (read: alter) it. Jesus, help us.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2006 9:22 AM ET USA

    In my diocese, there are priests fighting Cardinal Arinze's direction that only priests and deacons can purify the sacred vessels(or as the more hip like to call them; the cup and plates) as too upsetting to the laity. I wonder how upset they would be if we preached on sin?

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2006 9:00 AM ET USA

    The post-conciliar changes (I was an eye-witness) struck me as similar to those imposed by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, in 17th century England: sudden and drastic.