DPPL 30: Medieval Separation of Liturgy from Vernacular Piety

STA altar at night smallThe Church lists some reasons for the 7th-to-15th century split in Christian religious practice:

30. The following may be counted among the reasons for the development of this dualism:
• the idea that the Liturgy was the competence of clerics since the laity were no more than spectators at the Liturgy;

The implied criticism of the spectator liturgy: a very post-conciliar comment.

• the marked distinction of roles in Christian society – clerics, monks, and laity – gave rise to different styles and forms of prayer;

It’s not only a matter of a carefully imposed caste system. Religious life was quite often a way to escape the worst aspects of secular society. The monastic cloister was the location where liturgy was a daily part of the communal life. Lay people in the world largely did not have the opportunity for daily liturgy.

• in Liturgy and iconography, the distinct and particular consideration given to the various aspects of the one mystery of Christ, while expressing a devotion for the life and work of our Lord, failed to facilitate an explicit realization of the centrality of the Paschal mystery and encouraged a multiplicity of particular times and forms of celebration of a distinctively popular tenor;

On the other hand, Good Friday continued to hold a great fascination, if not devotion, for European Christians.

• lack of a sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures on the part, not only of the laity, but of many clerics and religious, made access to an understanding of the structure and symbolic language of the Liturgy difficult;

Still true today. But it is getting better.

• the diffusion of apocryphal literature containing many stories of miracles and episodic anecdotes, on the other hand, had a significant influence on iconography which, touching the imagination of the faithful, naturally attracted their attention;

Absolutely true today. The Fatima secrets, films about Jesus, Christian fiction: all these fill in the gaps and tell us what we would like to know about people and events that fascinate us.

• the practical absence of any form of homiletic preaching, the disappearance of mystagogical preaching, and poor catechetical formation, rendered the celebration of the Liturgy closed to the understanding and active participation of the faithful who turned to alternative cultic times and forms;

The DPPL dates to 2001, and it’s good to know that active participation was still a key value even then.

• a tendency to allegory, excessively encroaching on the meaning of the liturgical texts and rites, often deviated the faithful from an understanding of the true nature of the Liturgy;

When formation is lacking in anything, people will fill in the blanks.

• the discovery of expressive, popular forms and structures unconsciously redrafted the Liturgy which, from many perspectives, had become increasingly incomprehensible and distant from the people.

Any other comments on any of these?

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to DPPL 30: Medieval Separation of Liturgy from Vernacular Piety

  1. Liam says:

    Part of the continuum of this would also be a soft spot for songs and art that “touch” us, “engage” us, “meet us where we are”, are “relevant”, et cet.

    As I’ve noted in earlier threads, it might help people to understand that parochial life as we know it was not commonplace in large swaths of Europe in parts of that period. The idea that everyone went to their territorial parish church for Mass on Sunday is about something that became more common as western Christendom re-urbanized. In any event, when one considers that the liturgy was not as commonly experienced as we experience it, then the development of a-liturgical forms of piety can be understood as a natural development, not only as a distortion. And one can see we might be heading Back to the Future in that regard.

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