Examining Continuity

In yesterday’s discussion on altar candlesticks, Fr Brendan suggested some old liturgical practices are part of “the so called hermeneutic of continuity; a catch phrase used to justify the re-introduction of all sorts of pre-Vatican II excesses.”

You can’t deny it: the catch-phrase excuse is operable some of the time. *Some* of these re-introductions are made, and sometimes, there’s just no good reason for them. The most grievous violations of continuity arrive with new pastors. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great priests who saw the wisdom in letting go, watching, adapting, and waiting before continuing the needful changes to a parish’s liturgy (and other things). I’ve know of other guys who come in and change just to show they have the power to muck things up. They may well be traditionalists or self-styled progressives. They may have very good reasons. But they show no grasp of the principle of continuity.

In the next comment, Jeff correctly pointed out that the pope himself has adopted the principle of a “hermeneutic of continuity” as a valid and needful approach to liturgical reform on a broader level.

Indeed.

The pope has even said that sometimes aspects of faith have appeared to be in “apparent discontinuity,” when it “actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.”

One question might be: do we trust our eyes alone? Is continuity all about matching up close to what went on last week? Or is it about continuity with the Church’s “inmost nature” and “true identity?” I think I’d side with the pope on nature and identity as universal principles, and that continuity is a pastoral value for the local church. Generally speaking.

When looking at a hermeneutic of continuity for liturgy, is it about finding the Scriptural roots in the Last Supper narratives? Do we strive for continuity with the simple Pesach shared by Jesus with his disciples? If so, we have to ask ourselves (as the bishops did during and after the council) if a vernacular liturgy, visible to worshippers, engaging their active participation, and shed of pagan (Roman) and court (Kingdom) trappings is more in continuity with the true Christian nature.

Good heavens, we might have to call into question large churches, megaparishes, and the like. Lots of good Catholics did and do so. But we adapt, don’t we?

This is my take on the candlesticks: they’re a distraction. They reinforce the notion that the important battles are taking place on the altar, not in the hearts and consciences of the individual believers coming to Mass.

On one hand, many worshippers are edified by beauty and style. Others find solace in attempts at style. But I would ask of an innovation or change: does it appeal to the Church’s true nature? At liturgy, that means the worship of God, and the sanctification of the faithful. And if it’s not about either of those, then we have to ask the question: who’s it for?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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30 Responses to Examining Continuity

  1. Liam says:

    We should remember that the Eucharistic Liturgy is *not* simply a representation of the Last Supper -nor simply so of Good Friday – but the entire Triduum and Pentecost as well as the Incarnation and also be a foretaste of the wedding banquet of the Lamb described in the Book of Revelation, et cet. It’s not supposed to re-create any one of those things. Preconciliar practice in some places perhaps overemphasized Good Friday to the exclusion the Last Supper, but many today reverse the overemphasis – and both miss the point. The liturgy isn’t supposed to look like a simple Pesach or the killing of a lamb. So a discussion that uses either as the reference point is very flawed in its assumptions.

  2. Todd says:

    Good point, Liam. I’d agree 100% we’re not looking for a “recreation,” but rather an inspiration.

    And while I think the theological justification aimed more at Good Friday, what we saw in practice was more a momentum begun with ancient pagan or political practices later justified by a selective theology.

  3. pjsandstrom says:

    One of the serious advances of liturgical understanding since the 19th century and brought to fruition with the Second Vatican Council was that the correct ‘pivot point’ for the Western Church’s understanding of the Paschal Mystery is Easter/Pentecost [including of course all the build up to Easter (Holy Thursday/Good Friday]. This has been the general understanding in the Eastern Church all along–and was the understanding till at least Charlemagne’s time in the West (perhaps till the year 1000 more or less). We all should give great thanks for this very important ‘resourcement’ by the Western Church for our spirituality and general devotional life. What we partake in in the Holy Eucharist is the Risen Lord.

  4. “Do we strive for continuity with the simple Pesach shared by Jesus with his disciples?”

    What evidence do we have that it was a “simple Pesach”? The disciples were a mixed lot, but some owned businesses, so weren’t necessarily dirt poor; even humble families often have nice things for special occasions; and the Scriptures indicate some of those associated with the Lord had means.

    In any case, Todd, I think you know that the continuity we’re about is not about one moment in time, but the eternal sacrifice that is present in all moments in time; and insofar as “catholic,” more substantively than “universal,” means “embracing the whole,” then Catholic liturgy is in continuity with the whole tradition, including what you seem to dismiss as “pagan” and “kingdom” trappings…

    As to which, by the way, where’s the evidence that the bishops at the second Vatican Council, agreed with such designations of said “trappings,” let alone sought to “shed” them?

  5. Todd says:

    “(W)here’s the evidence that the bishops at the second Vatican Council, agreed with such designations of said “trappings,” let alone sought to “shed” them?”

    Good question. Three instances come to mind:

    From SC 21, I’d say the focus on clarity and a Roman simplicity: “In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.”

    From SC 27, “It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private.”

    In light of this, I’d wonder why an altar crucifix is really needful.

    And from SC 124, a caution against “display”: “Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments.”

  6. Liam says:

    To apply SC 21 and 27 to the placement of candles on the altar is a stretch worthy of Dick “The Vice President is Not a Member of The Executive Branch” Cheney.

    And the key word in SC 124 is “mere”. My impression is that it is designed to discourage things like commissioning a new gilt Iberian baroque reredos 90 feet high (without requiring that existing art be dismantled – that’s clearly gainsaid elsewhere).

  7. Liam says:

    I guess I am mystified about the energy directed at marginalizing a clearly legitimate practice of furnishing the altar that was never repudiated either by the Council or by the missals and ritual books that followed.

    This is well within customary practice.

    I suspect a serious tactical error is being made in conceding it as a clear harbinger of the fanon, falda, faldstool, tiara, gauntlets, buskins, sandals, flabella, sedia gestatoria, restored papal court and the Pontifical Mass at the Throne, et cet.

  8. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    I was aware that already during his time at the CDF Benedict XVI had shown a liking for the phrase “Hermeneutic of Continuity”, and was also aware of how he has used it. However my problem is with how it is used by others, and I have seen it used to justify all sorts of pet projects of those involved in Reform2, and other fields of theology and pastoral practice. Just within the context of liturgical reform I often wonder how correct it is to assert that those who promoted reform both before and after the Vatican II didn’t observe the hermeneutic of continuity. My own reading of history, pre and post conciliar, doesn’t back up that assertion.
    Writing from Asia, as the hermeneutic of continuity is interpreted and practiced by some, with almost evangelistic fervour, and frequent lack of charity in their remarks, seems to reflect a very Western/European model of the church, with no attention paid to the very demanding task of finding ways to proclaim and witness to the Gospel in the “traditional” mission territories. Here I am encouraged by the election of Fr.Adolfo Nicolas as the new Superior General of the Jesuits.
    Whether, here in Asia, we are observing the hermeneutic of continuity in accord with the criteria of some of its advocates, all I can say is while still a minority, a small flock by western standards, the vitality of the Church in Asia is shown in the numerous vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and a strong commitment to promoting justice, peace and the integrity of creation. God is blessing us, the Holy Spirit seems to be working among us,and one day we shall see a harvest that exceeds our expectations.

  9. Todd says:

    It’s possible I’ve missed a particular intent from Fr Fox’s question. Actually, the candle issue doesn’t seem important enough to me, either. I don’t think I’m incorrect to label it a fad, especially given that church decor as such is more dependent on the actual interior design and decoration of particular churches, as Liam suggested earlier.

    In quoting SC 21, 27, and 124, I was referring more generally to my sense of pagan and triumphalistic trappings in the Roman liturgy which mostly, strike me as inappropriate for most parishes.

    But if Fr Fox was speaking particularly of candlesticks on altars, I’ll repeat my remark that it’s a curious nod to Eucharist as meal in the eyes of some, but that I don’t have a problem with it in theory so much as part of a greater design.

  10. I wasn’t speaking specifically of candlesticks on the altar; I was responding to what seems to me to be Todd’s isogesis of Vatican II.

    What Todd calls “pagan” and “triumphalistic” are just as fairly given less loaded names, and are, in any case, deeply embedded in the liturgical tradition. That doesn’t mean Todd has to like them; nor does it mean he or someone else can’t try to make a case for a Roman liturgy without them…

    But it does mean, to me, that he can’t shift the burden of proof to those who keep them or put them back when they’ve been left out in a particular place for a bit of time.

    I.e., the argument that a parish or a diocese can develop, over a few decades, a competing sort of “tradition” with which one is bound to be in continuity, I don’t buy that for one second.

    And, as to why I like the candlesticks on the altar, I can’t give better reasons than the holy father; i.e., this is all about ad orientem, or in its absence, some way to get some of its benefit while offering Mass versus populum.

  11. Todd says:

    One problem with the current state of liturgical affairs would be the sense that a lack of uniformity implies some sort of “competition” among factions. This kind of mindset, aside from being questionable from the view of charity, may be an outright danger to unity within and outside the Roman Church.

    Another problem would be the blanket presumption that liturgists of recent past generations were idiots and had no good reason for making reforms. Even more doubtful would be the revisionism that ignores the judgments of the immediate post-conciliar period being made by the world’s bishops. Just about all of them. No cabal, no brainwashing, no demonic motives.

    There’s a clarity, even a Roman virtue about an altar uncluttered. But in a sumptuous sanctuary on a spacious altar with an eye to design, sure the candles might work.

    As for the charge of isogesis, Fr Fox, I don’t see your comments on Vatican II all that frequently. All I can say is: prove it.

  12. Liam says:

    “One problem with the current state of liturgical affairs would be the sense that a lack of uniformity implies some sort of “competition” among factions.”

    Which is why I think a legitimate practice with deep roots in the customs of the Roman rite like the altar arrangement in question should not be termed a “fad” and treated as abberant (there simply being a different “uniformity” implied in such an approach).

  13. Todd says:

    Possibly.

    My point is not that the practice is illegitimate, but that it has spawned some mindless imitation.

    Do some clergy and liturgists have authentic reasons for the arrangement? When Egeria the Pilgrim commented on practices far from her home, she included mystogogia from the practitioners.

    If we’re going to let altar candles slip by without a remark, can their advocates come up with something better than, “The pope made me do it?”

    And if it’s a practice without legs–something the next pastor or liturgist can and will easily change, then sorry; it’s a fad. It may be a fad with a history behind it.

    My challenge to its proponents is this: don’t be intimidated by my questions. Just develop a working brief in favor of it.

  14. Todd:

    I have read the conciliar documents carefully, and re-read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy many times; and, if you can show where it refers to removing “pagan,” “kingdom” and “triumphalistic” elements, I’ll proverbially eat my hat. It simply doesn’t say any such thing; the passages you cited above say no such thing.

    That is what I referred to as “isogesis” of the documents.

  15. Todd says:

    No need to change your diet, my friend. We all know that explicit criticism was not part of the Vatican II ethic, but that many, many Catholics took advantage of liturgical reforms (or their explanation) to omit aspects of liturgy that were not in keeping with the continuous principles of the Gospel.

    Being an advocate for pastoral continuity, I don’t think you have a serious quibble with me. But there is no doubt that the modern Mass still contains elements that have origins in pagan religions, Roman politics, clericalism, elitism, and even pragmatic food service, not to mention the obvious: Judaism. I don’t have a problem with the inspiration of non-Christian aspects as such. But others may attempt to make a strong case against some aspects that might otherwise be considered traditional. As with anyone else, I’d say: let them bring their best.

  16. Liam says:

    “…something the next pastor or liturgist can and will easily change, then sorry; it’s a fad”

    Todd, that definition of “fad” covers a host of practices, including many near and dear to you or me – it covers anything not required. I don’t think it’s a tenable definition. I think you’ve overargued your point beyond the point that is helpful to your apparent goal. Which, it would seem is simply to ask people to understand more – the problem being there that you assumed those who arranged the papal altar are lacking in understanding. If your real argument is simply “don’t just ape the current papal altar arrangement solely because it’s the papal altar arrangement”, that I can fully agree with that, but you went very far afield of that one here.

  17. Todd says:

    Thanks, Liam.

    Now I get it.

    ” … the problem being there that you assumed those who arranged the papal altar are lacking in understanding.”

    Apologies for it coming out that way. I did say it looks like an iconostasis, and you did reply it aesthetically fit St Peter’s, which undoubtedly it does. It might be that something a bit more grand is called for, even there, but I have no serious quibble with the point.

    From the start, my main intent has been to advise, “don’t just ape the current papal altar arrangement solely because it’s the papal altar arrangement,” as you say.

  18. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    Nobody seems to ask the question as to what should have priority and/or pre-eminence in how liturgical space is organized and how our liturgies are celebrated. I won’t quote chapter and verse, but given that the altar is considered a symbol of Christ, that the celebrant is also ‘in persona Christi’, and that in and through the Eucharistic elements Christ is present on the altar, amazingly large candle sticks and a large Crucifix would seem come under the category of “distractions’. If the Eucharist shown in the photograph is an example of the application of the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, then I would be reluctant to commend both the example and the hermeneutic itself.
    I have just comeback from celebrating an English Eucharist for the expatriate community at the local parish church. As one who believes that I am mandated to celebrate the Eucharist both for that community and with that community,that our Sunday Eucharists are an act of the Eucharistic Assembly, having a Crucifix on the wall behind the altar, and just two candles to one side seemed appropriate and adequate.
    One other minor (??) point, the GIRM would seem to show a preference for the Crucifix used during the Entrance to then become the Crucifix used during the celebration. It should be placed so that all can see the image of the Crucified One. From what one can judge from the photograph, the ‘corpus’ seems to be facing the celebrants, or as the advocates of ‘ad orientem’ would have it, the celebrant facing the Crucifix. For now I would feel justified in questioning whether the hermeneutic of continuity is leading us in the right direction, and will not be looking for large brass candlesticks, fiddle-back chasubles, or elaborately embroidered vestments that were made in the 19th century or earlier.

  19. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Todd: You said “not that the practice is illegitimate, but that it has spawned some mindless imitation.” Can you back that up? Can you report cases of priests or liturgists adopting the “Benedictine” arrangement on the altar for “no good reason” (other than that they saw the Pope do it)? It’s my guess that the people advocating (and using) this arrangement are the people that do know about and care about ad orientam worship; perhaps they were afraid to be so brazen about it, but not they see the Pope personally standing behind the practice, they are no longer afraid of being ridiculed for it. I’m being serious here.

    Or maybe they didn’t know before they saw the Pope doing it, and learned about it, and agree with it, and thus have adopted the practice themselves.

    When I think of “mindless imitation” in liturgical matters, what pops into my head (not that I was alive to see it, though I’ve read about it) are the “wreckovations” of the 1970s based on “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship” and other documents that skewed S.C. and the post-conciliar liturgical directives.

  20. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Fr. Brendan, can you cite the GIRM on the direction the altar crucifix should face? I only ask because GIRM 308 could be ambiguous in the English, and perhaps even in the Latin; Fr. John Zuhlsdorf interprets it this way:

    308. Item super altare vel prope ipsum crux, cvm effigie Christi crucifixi, habeatur, quae a populo congregato bene conspiciatur. … Likewise, on the altar or near it there is to be a Cross with the likeness of Christ crucified, which is easily seen by the congregation. …

    The problem in figuring out the Latin revolves around what that quae refers back to. Since quae is feminine singular, it goes back to something feminine and singuar. There are two options, crux (“Cross”) and effigies (“likeness”). So, that thing which must be easily visible to the congregation is either the Cross or the image of the Lord on the Cross. If quae goes back to effigies, then we should read this to mean that the Cross on the altar ought to be turned so the image of the Lord on it it is in the direction of the people.

    However, I am sure that quae does not refer back to effigies. It refers back to crux. That little clause, cvm effigies Christi crucifixi, simply describes something specific about the object placed on or near the altar: it is to be a Crucifix and not just a Cross. Our quae must go back to crux because the adverb and verb bene conspiciatur goes back to the physical location of the crux on or near the altar.

  21. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    Jeff
    Until the recent Papal Mass, the Crucifix on the altar would I suspect have been a rare exception on such occasions. When I wrote, I had 308 in mind, and that the congregation could see the effigy seems the most natural reading of the English,( and also of the Japanese which would normally be my first point of reference). As I mentioned, the GIRM seems to indicate a preference, or may be that should be a presumption that the Cross/Crucifix used during the entrance procession is then placed near the altar, see for example no.117. In turn, that it may be seen to be what it is, a Crucifix, then placing it so that the congregation may see the effigy, would seem both logical and appropriate. In processions the Crucifix faces away from the celebrant, in the direction the procession is moving. Possibly a distraction from the main focus of your question, I just note that in references to the use of incense, the Cross and the Altar are incensed separately. This would seem unnecessary if the Cross was on the Altar, see for example no. 144
    Finally to return to my previous comment, since the Altar and the consecrated Eucharistic elements are symbols, sacraments of Christ’s presence, the addition of a Crucifix on the Altar may be a case of overkill

  22. Todd says:

    “Can you back that up?”

    I remember seeing on at least three priests’ web pages imitative arrangements within days of the Roman example. Would that clergy and liturgists were similarly attentive to the GIRM, SC, and other church documents.

    “It’s my guess that the people advocating (and using) this arrangement are the people that do know about and care about ad orientam worship; perhaps they were afraid to be so brazen about it, but not they see the Pope personally standing behind the practice, they are no longer afraid of being ridiculed for it. I’m being serious here.”

    I realize you are being serious.

    I don’t see the connection between this and ad orientam worship. Fr Brendan mentions “overkill” in the comment above, and I’d have to agree. SC and other liturgical documentation is explicit in a caution against the mulitiplicity of images. If you have one crucifix for processional purposes, well-visible for the edification of the faithful, I’d wonder why a priest needed an additional altar image. It does have the effect of splintering the unity of the assembly.

    The Eucharistic elements are always on the altar regardless of the “architectural” orientation of the clergy. Those signs are pre-eminent.

    Your allusion to architecture is interesting, but most certainly wrong. The minimalist trends in Catholic architecture date to the post-WWII period, not the 70’s. They probably have more to say about building priorities of parishes with schools than parishes with AECW in hand.\

    That document, in fact, wasn’t promulgated until 1978, and the result (despite certain photographs therein) was that church architecture has improved somewhat since then.

    That said, do you have particular evidence for your claim in this regard? Otherwise, I’d seriously ask if you’re only parroting others’ mistaken ideas.

  23. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Brendan: According to this poster, the Dominican Rite includes the turning of the processional crucifix so that the congregation sees it:

    It is interesting to note that in the present dispensation, the PROCESSIONAL cross always faces the direction in which a procession is headed. In the old Roman rite, the same practice was observed except for an archbishop, in which case the cross faced the archbishop.

    In the old Dominican rite, the PROCESSIONAL cross always face THE PEOPLE, which made things more interesting! As the procession approached the church/assembly, the cross face forward (a procession entering the church from the main door behind the people, for example). However, once the cross entered the body of the faithful, the subdeacon turned it round so the people, facing forward towards the altar, would see the figure of Christ crucified being carried forward. After the liturgical celebration, the subdeacon would have carried the cross so that it face forward (as in the Roman rite without archbishop) down the church, towards the front door, again allowing the people, facing the altar, to see Christ crucified.

    The old Dominican practice is, at least, strong on having the people seeing the figure of Christ crucified on the processional cross.

  24. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Todd: Yes, I realize my timeline is off; I’d thought EACW was from 1973.

  25. Jimmy Mac says:

    “What evidence do we have that it was a “simple Pesach”? The disciples were a mixed lot, but some owned businesses, so weren’t necessarily dirt poor; even humble families often have nice things for special occasions; and the Scriptures indicate some of those associated with the Lord had means.”

    Heavens; there might even have been (gasp!!) women there!

  26. Jimmy Mac:

    Nobody likes a smart ass.

  27. Todd says:

    “Heavens; there might even have been (gasp!!) women there!”

    Without them to cook the food, it may have been a very simple meal indeed.

  28. Jimmy Mac says:

    And no one likes a humorless priest, either.

  29. Tony says:

    Todd said: If we’re going to let altar candles slip by without a remark, can their advocates come up with something better than, “The pope made me do it?”

    I find it disturbing that this isn’t enough. I also find it disturbing that you would ignore the Holy Father’s wishes until someone convinces you his logic is sound by your standards.

  30. Todd says:

    Tony, I duly note your inner sense of serenity is disturbed. I find it strange you would posit a particular practice in a particular church as consonant with the pope’s “wishes.” Within the given rubrics, the best church decor is properly understood as an aesthetic expression of the surroundings–the particular church building.

    Mega-Masses, whether celebrated in stadiums or St Peter’s, don’t strike me as part of this pope’s “wishes,” from what I’ve read of his writings. Extending this to the average use in a parish, I don’t think there’s any convincing logic at all to adapt for parish use. Slavish imitation without understanding potentially reduces the pope to a guru, and imitators to mindless dittoheads. I have more respect for the pope than that.

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