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

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.