Liturgy, the Last “Resistance.” A Commentary By Professor De Marco
From Settimo Cielo di Sandro Magister
THE LITURGICAL MOVEMENT AS PROBLEM AND AS “CHANCE”
1. ROME WAS ATTENTIVE, and this was its greatness during very difficult decades, to the protection of the authentic Council, not of the Council-project of the theological intelligentsia.
Already in September of 1965, at the end of Vatican II, Paul VI felt the duty to manifest his “anxietas” on Eucharistic doctrine and devotion. In the encyclical “Mysterium Fidei” he lamented that “in speech and writing are disseminating opinions on Masses celebrated in private or on the dogma of transubstantiation that are disturbing the minds of the faithful and causing them no small measure of confusion about matters of faith, just as if it were all right for someone to take doctrine that has already been defined by the Church.”
Less than three years later, in May of 1968, on the occasion of the publication of the new Eucharistic prayers, it was the very “Consilium” put in charge of the liturgical reform that gave in to the widespread theological revisionism, in the circular signed by its president, Cardinal Benno Gut, and by secretary Annibale Bugnini, which in explaining the theology of the Eucharistic anaphora stated (paragraph 2, points 2-3):
“The anaphora is the narration of the actions and words pronounced in the institution of the Eucharist. But [since] the account renews that which Jesus did [. . .] a prayer of supplication is addressed to the Father: that he make this narration efficacious, sanctifying the bread and the wine, which means, practically, making them the body and blood of Christ.”
It must have been difficult to have reached, in an official document, such a low level of Eucharistic theology in favor of commonplaces about memorial, about the narrative modes in exegesis, as well as a veiled negation of the consecratory value of the formula of the Institution, in favor of the epiclesis that precedes it.
But the antiliturgical apex would be the instruction “Comme le prévoit” of January 1969 on the criteria for the translation of the missal; it even went so far as to state in the introduction (no. 5) that a liturgical text “is a medium of spoken communication. It is, first of all, a sign perceived by the senses and used by men to communicate with each other.”
In spite of the corrective expressions (“But for believers. . .”), the formula equivocates on what the ritual may be, and as a result the “general principles” of the instruction situate the theology of the liturgy under the rules of a pragmatic philosophy of language (who speaks, how one speaks, to whom one speaks).
Elevated to a system, through its distortion, is the entirely pastoral practice of the so-called “dialogue Mass”: this expression itself is misguided, because this is not a matter of a priest-people “dialogue,” but of an “actio liturgica” essentially addressed to God.
The very celebration “versus populum,” without any foundation in history or theology, belongs to this climate, with the “disorienting” effects that stem from it. In fact the devotional-mystagogical axis, according to which and upon which Christ celebrates facing the Father, and the priest and people with him, is nullified.
2. IT IS WORTH THE TROUBLE to take a closer look at the situation of the theological intellect at the end of the 1960’s and its influence on the liturgical reform.
At the basis was, evidently, an imbalance between the ritual-mystagogical and sacramental “per se,” promoted by the best minds of the liturgical movement, on the one hand, and the demand for the participation of the faithful on the other, an imbalance that already weakens the constitution “Sacrosanctum Concilium.”
But in those years the Catholic intelligentsia implied, almost never making it explicit, much more.
It implied that theology had to be concretized by action, by analogy with the so-called philosophy of “praxis”, from Marx to Dewey. The liturgy was, for many in the liturgical movement, this action. The ritual is thought of as something that generates its own truth and efficacy from itself, in that it is a “human” ritual.
So to exacerbate and disorient the picture of the post-council there came along the fact that the “actuosa participatio” of the faithful in the ritual bore with it the ideological baggage of the 1960’s-70’s. An anthropocentric and secularistic dynamic (fostered by the prestige of Karl Rahner, but autonomously cultivated in French-speaking circles) prevailed over the ritual-mystagogical conception that sanctifies and transcends man and alone can make the liturgy “the source and summit” of the Christian life.
It was the collapse of the great liturgical theology of the 1930’s, of Odo Casel, of Dietrich von Hildebrand, of Romano Guardini himself.
With the fall of the ideological climate after the 1960’s, the ecclesial sensibility and theology, as a whole, from the fundamental to the pastoral, underwent a rotation from pragmatism to hermeneutics, from the realism of the materialistic conceptions of the Gospel to negative theology, from political militancy to “relational authenticity.”
Liturgical pastoral practice adapted easily. Liturgics worked both autonomously and together with with theology, but the inquiry, now philosophical-linguistic, now anthropological, now, but to a much lesser extent, neo-personalistic, could not avoid the slippery slope: the loss of reality of the sacramental moment and of the supernatural reality as such.
Pedagogical-pastoral “engagement” and the weakening of Christology, ecclesiology and canon law today allow everything to hinge on formative “spontaneity” and to a certain extent on the self-production of the Christian and of the community. Thus the experience of the Mass has become a socializing “participation” in an encounter that is “festive” rather than festival. The liturgy is likened to the community’s entertainments.
Also belonging to this picture is the frequent bleakness of the “new churches,” not thought of as the “house of God” but as spaces for various purposes, and therefore without a meaning of their own; expensive vacuities in which the “actio liturgica” is, to the letter, out of place and disoriented.
3. HOW THEN CAN THERE BE A RECOVERY, against the flow, of the human-divine, royal and cosmic understanding of the liturgy in a time in which Christology and Mariology are “humanized” according to paradigms that are emotional, relational, compassionate, impermeable to the glory and victory of the Cross? At a time of benevolent nihilism and the “falsification of the good”?
It can be done.
In fact, the liturgy and liturgical pedagogy can still transmit, if they wish, a complete body of divine revelation, that contained in the “lex orandi” correctly understood, and therefore rigorously translated not according to “Comme le prévoit” but according to “Liturgiam Authenticam” (2001), which realistically assessed more than thirty years of actions and errors.
The “lex orandi” is not only a formula. It is a complete body of doctrine, it is Tradition that today remains clear precisely in the liturgical texts, much more than in theology and even in the recent hierarchical magisterium. This is not a matter of setting up recreational or ecstatic assemblies, or of staging theatrical novelties, but of relying on the veritative resistance of the Revelation deposited in the missals, in the breviaries, and proclaimed and realized in the celebration responsible.
The tension between the “per se” of the ritual and its “participated” expression demands rigorous theological solutions, from which alone can come with certainty the practical-pastoral solutions. Not the other way around. Which leads to two advisories:
1. without sure faith in the “mysterion” as “substantia” and in the symbol as an epiphany that opens intellectually and sensibly – with the spiritual senses – to the Beyond as transcendence, every theological challenge such as “from the ethical to the symbolic” is already lost at the outset;
2. there should be no trust in any hope of new generation of the Christian truth from the ritual understood as creative immanence, without “logos.” The divine “logos” subsists of itself, before and after the “actio.” The liturgy would thus be another victim, after catechesis, of the “activist” tendency of practical theology.
The liturgical movement, therefore, as problem and as “chance.”
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)