Monday, August 04, 2008

On active participation and beauty

From The Spirit of the Liturgy:

Of course, external actions - reading, singing, the bringing up of the gifts - can be distributed in a sensible way. By the same token, participation in the Liturgy of the Word (reading, singing) is to be distinguished from the sacramental celebration proper. We should be clearly aware that external actions are quite secondary here. Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet him. The almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy, which is so common today, especially during the Preparation of the Gifts, quite simply misses the point. If the various external actions (as a matter of fact, there are not very many of them, though they are being artificially multiplied) become the essential in the liturgy, if the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstood the "theo-drama" of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parody. True liturgical education cannot consist in learning and experimenting with external activities. Instead one must be led toward the essential actio that makes the liturgy what it is, toward the transforming power of God, who wants, through what happens in the liturgy, to transform us and the world. In this respect, liturgical education today, of both priests and laity, is deficient to a deplorable extent. Much remains to be done here.
I was just going through old unpublished posts and found this quote. Even though I originally grabbed it over a year and a half ago I can't say that much has changed on the ground; likewise, much has changed strategically. My subsequent exposure to the Mass in the Extraordinary Form has served only to reinforce my long-held impression that there is a wide disparity between what we see every weekend and what we could see every weekend.

I should rather say the disparity, depending on your intersection with Providence at this point, varies point-for-point between close to what could be hoped and far from it. I personally have seen what impact a new Pastor with an interest in beauty can have and conversely how even someone who knows what must be done can be slowed down by considerations external to the liturgy.

But more to the point of the quote, I've been thinking lately about the intersection of beauty qua beauty and properly understood active participation in the liturgy. A beautiful liturgy may not, I am coming to believe, in and of itself be enough to bring people to that true interior personal involvement in the liturgy so desperately desired by the Church. Certainly a Mass beautifully prayed with ceremony befitting the King of Kings can awe and impress and perhaps even shock some into finding the beauty of the Love that is at the core of that celebration. But a Monet is just paint if you can't understand its beauty.

What I am asking is this: how do we find a way to move hearts and souls in a way that can be comprehended by the uninitiate and those not prepared to or desirous of finding beauty? Is there a kind of aesthetic beauty that is sufficiently universal to encapsulate those with every level of theological and liturgical formation? Answers of "Latin" or "ad orientem" are but minute slices of the picture I'm trying to form here.

Let me also ask the contrary question. Is the possibility of a universal beauty an impossibility in this world because that beauty is in fact only found in God Himself? Let us not forget that God is, as the perfection of all Good, the perfection of beauty to the point we capitalize it as "Beauty". Is the problem perhaps that since grace builds upon nature this quest for a beauty to be apprehended by all is simply quixotic? Should that be the case, then let me ask an even further leading question: is it possible that the decision of the Council of Trent to require only one form of Mass in the Latin Church actually impeded in some way the quest for universal beauty, that beauty that brings all to understand what truly unfolds before them in their hearts? Discuss, if you would be so kind.