09 July 2013

What Might have Been

I've reached a point, looking at the changes to the Liturgy introduced by the reformers, where, with the resources I have at hand, I can't work out exactly why they went the way they did.

Contemporary views of the development of the Liturgy weren't such as would definitively push any group of people towards what we ended up with, and the archaeologism condemned by (even though indulged in) by Pope Pius XII could easily have led a reform of the Mass in other directions.

I need to explore further the consequences of a post by the LMS Chairman which I think makes one wonder as much about the ecclesiology of the reformers as about their liturgiology, if only to avoid finding myself heading down a path towards conspiracy, freemasons and albino monks, but in the interim, here is a challenge.

Dom Gregory Dix expressed an ideal of public worship as practised mediaevally.  Mutatis mutandis, I can't see this as anything but an ideal to aim at, but I can't see that this is practised anywhere any more, but am I alone in perceiving it as an ideal?  (NB the fact that this worship is carried out not by regular, but by secular clergy, who therefore need to be supported by the faithful to carry out this practice.)  (NB also that the capitalisation is Dom Gregory's, not mine.)

"Yet it would not be just to judge the mediaeval western liturgy by the regime of low masses alone. They were a devotional by-product, even an unavoidable one, though one with momentous consequences. Rather our judgement must be based on the complete round of the liturgy as it was meant to be performed, not so much in a religious house as in one of the great secular churches set in the midst of a busy city, like old S. Paul's or Notre Dame de Paris or the Duomo of Milan or the Dom of Cologne. There the dav began with quite a large staff of clergy and clerks rising before dawn for the long office of mattins and laud lauds, to praise God on behalf of the citizens before the city's day could be spoiled by sin. All through the day the public recitation of the hours of the office followed one another to the Nunc dimittis of compline, voicing prayer and penitence and praise on behalf of the whole population working in the streets around the church  - making the sign of the cross continually over the city's daily bread. But the centre of it all was the mass. The thirty or forty low masses going on continually through the earlier hours of the morning were offered for the special intentions of individuals, and they made it possible for any who wished to join in the central act of christian living before daily work began. The chapter high mass, offered corporately and solemnly every day in the name of every christian soul in the diocese, lifted to God and brought under His kingship the cares and joys and troubles and work of the whole christian people as members of Christ.

It may have been a great burden of worship for those who offered it to bear easily, especially with the additions of the Office of our Lady and the Office of the Dead which the ninth and tenth centuries had unconsideringly added to the daily round. Few mediaeval visitations failed to reveal evidence of routine and formalism and sometimes downright irreverence in such corporations. Yet there is this to be said: Society at large supported these quite considerable bodies of men in leisure for continuous public worship, because it was then convinced that God ought to be assiduously praised and thanked for the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, where the substance of worship is held to lie in the sincerity of the individual's interior response to God and his own consciousness of that response, the whole conception of such a 'worship by representatives' will seem meaningless or worse. Protestantism has been consistent in its general abandonment of a liturgical worship offered on behalf of society. Its public worship is held not as representative of society, but as an opportunity for each of the individuals in society to attend and be 'edified' for himself in company with the others. But mediaeval men had not a purely subjective notion of worship; it was still for them, as for the primitive church, largely something 'done'. Nor had they arrived at the notion of society as essentially composed of isolated individuals. On their own grounds they too were consistent in what they did.

It is a historical mistake to idealise and romanticise the middle ages. The ordinary mediaeval man lived in a world which was horribly uncomfortable and dangerous, very poor in material resources and also very sinful. And he knew all that quite well. But his literature, from the popular literature of the ballads up to the great works of genius, reveals a world that was hopeful nevertheless, and had a great zest for living. Our own world is also uncomfortable and dangerous; it is much better  equipped with material resources, though it has made poverty its nightmare. And it is reluctantly returning to the conviction that it is sinful. But it is hardly what one would call hopeful, and it has a fear of living. This is because our world has forgotten or has ceased to believe that it has been redeemed."