The Presence of Christ in the Gathered Assembly

(This is Neil.) Why would anyone want to post on the presence of Christ in the gathered assembly? I won’t resort to the old cliché, “Because it is there.” I think that reflecting on this theme can help us better grasp the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and recover an awareness of the “presence in the fullest sense” (as Paul VI would write) of Christ in the Eucharist. And, more immediately, I’ve just read a book by the Fordham theologian Judith M. Kubicki, CSSF, entitled The Presence of Christ in the Gathered Assembly (2006), to which this post will be indebted. (I’ll probably post on her treatment of the Liturgy of the Hours later in the week.)

Sister Kubicki follows the late Jesuit Edward M. Kilmartin in suggesting that Vatican II’s description of liturgy contains two important developments. First, Sacrosanctum Concilium  (SC) places great emphasis on the beginnings of Christian worship in God’s action: “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in his church, especially in liturgical celebrations.” While this sentence is also found in Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei (which Kubicki doesn’t note), the relative prominence given to God’s action in the liturgy in SC very possibly comes from the work of the Benedictine liturgist Odo Casel, who claimed (in Kilmartin’s words), “Through the sacramental rite the Church cooperates with Christ’s action, entering into his redeeming work by faith and responding to God’s initiative.”

Consequently, the Second Vatican Council viewed worship as dialogical – the assembly’s response to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Worship begins when we are baptized into Christ Jesus, which, as Kubicki says, allows us to “respond to Christ’s self gift with our own self gift.” Baptism, then, “authorizes us to do Eucharist since it is through baptism that we receive Christ’s mandate to ‘do this in remembrance of me.’” We receive a new identity as we are gathered into the ekklesia to more fully realize communion with God and one another through the body and blood of Christ. The second development of Vatican II on the liturgy has to do with the role of this assembly as the subject of the liturgical action.

This gathering (better: being gathered) for the Eucharist is mentioned at four places in the Didache, including in a communal prayer that asks God that his “church be gathered together” just as “this broken [loaf] was scattered over the hills [as grain]” and “gathered together became one,” and in the exhortation that the community “having been gathered together, break a loaf. And make eucharist …” Much more recently, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal reminds us that the first parts of the Mass are meant to ensure “that the faithful who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves to listen properly to God’s word and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily.”

Christ is present in this gathering/being gathered. As SC reminds us, “He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matt. 18:20).” The 1967 document Eucharisticum Mysterium, issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, tells us that in “every gathering around the altar,” “Christ is present and the power of his presence gathers together the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” to receive that body and blood of Christ that will (as St Leo says) “change us into what we receive.”

But how do we keep from making this presence of Christ in the assembly a competitor to or a distraction from the presence of Christ par excellence in the Eucharist? Can the presence of Christ in the gathered assembly actually heighten our attentiveness to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Kubicki suggests that we might recover a Eucharistic awareness when we emphasize “the purpose of that presence – the presence of Christ in the community.” The res sacramenti is the unity of the Church, St Thomas tells us. But it in the patristic writers, especially Augustine, that we really see the ecclesial meaning of the Eucharistic presence.

Augustine writes (Sermon 272; for a quick exegesis see here):

However many loves may be placed there, it’s one loaf, however many loaves there may be on Christ’s altars, throughout the world it’s one loaf. But what does it mean, one loaf? Paul explained very briefly: one body is what we, being many, are. That is the body of Christ, about which the apostle says, while addressing the Church, But you are the body of Christ and his members (1 Cor 12:27). What you receive is what you yourselves are, thanks to the grace by which you have been redeemed; you add your signature to this, when you answer Amen. What you see here is the sacrament of unity.

The purpose of the “presence in the fullest sense” of Christ in the Eucharist – Augustine’s “sacrament of unity” – is made very clear in our Eucharistic Prayers. After asking the Father to look with favor on the church’s offering and to remember Christ’s sacrifice, the priest prays, “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III).

Also, if we remember that our unity only comes through Christ’s presence and not some sort of ideological program, our awareness of his presence in the gathered assembly should not fall prey to the danger of “autocelebration”: the worship of the community by the community.

If an awareness of Christ’s presence in the gathered assembly strengthens our awareness of his presence in the Eucharist, we should ask how to cultivate our awareness of the former mode of presence – both verbally and non-verbally. This can be difficult because well-intentioned revisions often lead to disunity (or absurdity), and, as always, there are practical concerns (while a single cup on the altar might powerfully symbolize unity – Augustine tells us to look at how “the juice of the grapes is poured together in one vessel” to understand how we must belong together to Christ – it increases the risk of spillage). Sister Kubicki does give at least three suggestions that most of us might agree on:

Giving prominence to the sprinkling rite. “The use of the symbol, water, makes the sprinkling rite a particularly significant gesture since recalling each person’s baptism ritualizes the basis for the assembly’s coming together for worship as members of the Church.”

Understanding the real role of singing. The Instruction Muscam Sacram associates singing with the unity of the eschatological banquet, for it makes “the whole celebration a more striking symbol of the celebration to come in the heavenly Jerusalem.” Furthermore, we sing because of our unity with Christ and each other (St Paul writes, “And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body,” immediately before telling the Colossians to sings hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs [Col 3:15]). We have to remember that singing does not create unity, but manifests or exists an already existing unity (“music-making is not propositional but confessional”). Ideas, Kubicki tells us, play only a secondary role. Is our music manipulative or overly didactic?

Use communion hymns that emphasize membership in the one Body of Christ. Kubicki suggests a musical genre that “allows the assembly to walk in procession, receive communion, and sing at the same time.” Songs that can be sung by heart are better than hymns with multiple stanzas. Cyclic, rather than sequential, structures “do not tie the assembly visually to a text” but focus attention on the corporate action of receiving the body and blood of Christ together.

Please let me know what you think. Other suggestions are welcome.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgy, Neil. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Presence of Christ in the Gathered Assembly

  1. Liam says:

    A counter-comment on #1: while I agree, I also realize (1) there are people who misunderstand the ritual as a purification in lieu of the penitential rite, and (2) non-Christians might feel co-opted.

    A counter-comment on #3: I think that idea has been tried like a hammer in many communities and has failed spectacularly in all sorts of conditions; the successes seem to be idiosyncratic exceptions to the broader pattern (and where there have been success, I would not disturb it). It’s a great illustration of something that appeals strongly from a theoretical point of view – it’s beautiful, it’s meaningful, it ties to lots of tradition, et cet., therefore it *should* “work” – but it generally doesn’t. Let it serve as a reminder that theory is merely that, theory.

  2. Neil says:

    Dear Liam,

    Thanks, as always, for commenting. Regarding #1, I understand that there might be difficulties. But, surely, those “people who misunderstood the ritual as a purification in lieu of the penitential rite” can be corrected, perhaps preemptively. And I must say that non-Christians attending Mass will almost inevitably be co-opted, especially with the gestures of standing and kneeling.

    I don’t think that I understand your objection to #3. Frankly, I don’t see why this idea would fail spectacularly. Sister Kubicki lists various genres that possess the necessary type of structure: the ostinato, canon, litany, refrain or response, theme and variation, and acclamation.

    I completely agree with you that we should take care to remember that “theory is merely that, theory.”

    Best,
    Neil

  3. Liam says:

    Neil

    Actually, non-Catholics are not required to follow the postures of the faithful – if I ever “host” non-Catholic guests, as it were, I make sure to inform them that they need not stand nor kneel if they do not wish to. The posture rubrics only apply to the faithful, and then only as reasonably possible under the circumstances.

    As for #3 my objection is experiential/empirical. The theory has not panned out as it promised, and by many many accounts this is very widespread though not universal. Even in two uber-progressive communities where we (the music ministries I was part of) followed this to the rigid letter, we often got very feeble responses from our congregations. Beloved hymns, however, would gain response from more (partly from those yet to receive and partly from those who had received), but even then not reliably.

    I have previously offered the simplistic theory that several decades of catechesis are hard to shake: that is, after Pius X encouraged the faithful to frequent reception, people were catechised to a deep state of interior prayerfulness during the Communion rite. I don’t think this state is private or individualistic, but it has proved durable long after such catechesis ceased to become common (about 35 years ago, let’s say).

    And the empiricist in me says: perhaps the faithful are onto something that the theorizers have neglected. That a deepened state of interiorized public prayer is perfectly suited to the ritual.

    Finally, I will add that the notion of a hymn as normative at this moment is belied by the fact that the normative musical action during the Communion ritual is the singning of the Communion antiphon propers, which a choir would do well to lead regardless of whether the congregation joins them. I would provide means to empower the congregation to join, but I would not cajole them to join. Too many theorizers have, it is much recounted, tried to cajole congregations into singing when most of them resent that cajoling. And that perhaps has added to silence in addition to the catechesis issue I mention above.

    As a postscript, I should note that, as a formal matter, the preconciliar ritual prescribed nothing for the people in the pews to do or not do – it strictly governed the servers as their proxies. The post-conciliar ritual attempts more scripting of what congregations themselves do or don’t do. I don’t think that’s bad, but perhaps the larger context may encourage greater modesty in setting expectations of congregations beyond what the Missal itself already has set as a goal, since Catholic congregations can be gifted in passive-aggressive reactions to excessive regulation, which is something that some progressively-inclined liturgists and writers are even more fond of than rubricist traditionalists.

  4. Neil says:

    Dear Liam,

    Thanks for writing again. I do realize that non-Christians are not required to follow the postures of the faithful, but, in my experience, they often do follow them out of respect or perhaps just to avoid seeming conspicuous. Thus, I really don’t see the sprinkling rite as necessarily co-opting non-Christians in a way that wouldn’t probably occur anyways. But, fine, I agree that one should always pay attention to local contexts.

    Thanks for clarifying on #3. The GIRM seems to allow the option of a “suitable liturgical song” for the “communion chant,” and says, “Its purpose is to express the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the ‘communitarian’ nature of the procession to receive Communion.”

    But I don’t have any evidence to put up against your claim about the durability of the Pian catechesis or that the resulting interior prayerfulness isn’t “private or individualistic.” (And it is the most charitable interpretation of current practice.)

    Let me ask a question. I gave three suggestions of means to raise our awareness of Christ’s presence in the gathered assembly. I purposely avoided some of Sister Kubicki’s more controversial or impractical (IMHO) suggestions – e.g., the congregation’s standing during the Eucharistic Prayer. Would you have any other suggestions?

    Thanks again.

    Best,
    Neil

  5. Liam says:

    Neil

    I don’t think there’s an all-pervasive lack of awareness of the presence of Christ in the gathered assembly. So I don’t think there’s a problem that needs fixing in terms of raising awareness.

    The real problem, as always (even in apostolic times) is connecting the awareness to something deeper. I don’t think the prescriptions offered do anything about that.

  6. Liam says:

    I wrote the preceding a rush before my early morning 2K swim, so forgive the terseness.

    My highlighting of the communion antiphon simply was about being careful about raising hymns as normative for the Mass; the only hymns that are normative for the Roman rite are the Gloria and the Sanctus. Otherwise, hymnody is allowed but not normative. It’s a technical point but an important one: too much emphasis has been placed on choice of hymns, and hymns cannot bear that weight in liturgy. So when I read someone once again placing too much emphasis on hymnody, I feel a need to shift perspectives and offer the larger context that the rite intends. That’s all.

    I don’t think I am being particularly charitable about the kind of prayer that occurs during the Communion rite. The liturgy naturally invites all sorts of periods of common silent prayer. I think slapping the criticism of private or individualistic is a projection not necessarily borne of any evidence other than the occasional rosarian, as it were. I know for myself that my prayer in that context is different than the kind of prayer I have before the Presence in the tabernacle, as it were, and I know from discussing this point over the years that I am far from alone in that.

    As for standing for the EP: while the US norm is kneeling, the larger norm in the church is to stand for portions of the EP and kneel for others. I count myself among the segment of progressive liturgist-types who believe that re-engineering posture customs in this regard is oversold and not worth the effort (I believe Todd has made remarks in a similar spirit in the past, too). It’s one of those lovely theory things that has the earmarks of “well, this isn’t working, so let’s try something at least to see if that work’s better.” I am not aware of any evidence that standing for the EP improves discipleness or increases apostolates over kneeling. The silence has, in fact, been stunning on that point. (I would have to say that, were I to base a conclusion on the evidence I have personally witnessed, I would say that communities that stand for the entirety of the EP (I was in 2 such communities over a 13 year period) were significantly less active in their apostolates and depth of faith than those that maintained the custom. That’s just an observation, not a conclusion, though. I would suggest that the massive nature of apostolates among American Catholics long antedates the liturgical reforms, so there does not appear to be a causal link of the type some assume.)

    Which goes back to my larger point: there is a misdiagnosis in search of a solution. Fixing the liturgy is not the solution to it. In fact, it’s time we get off the back of the liturgy and let go of our misplaced hopes that tweaking and fixing it necessarily has effects we want.

    I will posit one very general speculation, however: the sacramental revolution of Pius X probably saved more spiritual lives in the 20th century – compared to what would likely have transpired without it – than anything else we’ve done in the Church since. I am a true believer in the possibilities of sacramental graces, and what he did was to open a floodgate of them into the world that was previously dammed up. (The next best thing was the modelling (by Solidarity and the active support of JP2) of non-violent resistance to Communism in Poland that made the (relatively, Romania aside) non-violent fall of the Iron Curtain possible. How many hundreds of thousands of lives were saved by *that*!)

  7. Anne says:

    Neil, regarding your question about raising more awareness to Christ’s presence in the assembly. I agree with all of your suggestions. Here are a couple of thoughts.
    A simple task for an Art and Environment committee is to always make sure to decorate the assembly’s area. I stressed this with the committee at my former parish and made it a point to explain why we did this. We became experts at bow making and seasonal floral arrangements that were wired or somehow attached to some of the pews. We hung plain banners from poles extending from the pillars in the appropriate liturgical color. Depending on the church, there are many different ways of honoring the Presence within the assembly.
    Another way, though not a practical one, is for the architectural setting to be conducive not only to active participation(which is important) but to a gathering around the Table, which would emphasize the meal character of the liturgy as well as the sacrificial aspect. There should be a balance in design between “mystery” and hospitality. I’m not an an architect so i can’t describe how it should look. Some churches after the Council tried to do this in various ways but failed but I’m hearing of great improvement in new construction and renovations.
    As far as keeping the presence of Christ in the assemby from being a competitor or a distraction from the Presence par excellence…it doesn’t have to be, or I should say…it’s not at all. This presence par excellence makes possible Christ’s presence in those who gather. The goal and ultimate result of Eucharist is not the transformation of bread and wine, but the tranformation of the people who eat and drink.

  8. Liam says:

    Apropos of Anne’s comments:

    I agree that decorating the sanctuary to the exlusion of where the people are sitting demonstrates a lack of thoughtfulness. It reminds me of when celebrants incense the altar but fail to incense or have the servers incense the people. Which brings to mind that the rite already has a wonderful ritual for reminding the people: incense. Bring it on! Just allow asthmatics some space….

    I do not believe the visuals of how the assembly gathers in the church deeply affect their sense of the Presence. My sense is that the impression, if anything, appears to be ephemeral at best. I have no objection to new spaces being built that incorporate seating in the round, as it were, so long as the natural acoustics for ministers and musicians are not compromised in the process (premising a visual on an acoustical crutch like PA systems is a good sign of short-sighted thinking in church design). I am skeptical of the need to reconfigure existing spaces, however, as again I have reason to wonder about misdiagnoses in search of solutions.

  9. Neil says:

    Dear Liam,

    Thanks for writing. I do take your point about “raising hymns as normative for the Mass” – I just wanted to point out that “suitable liturgical songs” were at least permissible.

    I really don’t support standing at the EP – I just wanted to mention that Sister Kubicki does discuss the subject and my avoidance of that discussion as some sort of evidence that I am conscious of the danger of unnecessarily “tweaking” the liturgy.

    Furthermore, I also think that the “sacramental revolution” of Pius X was quite important (I suppose that you refer to the “medicinal” quality of the Holy Eucharist).

    I also agree that the liturgy “naturally invites all sorts of periods of common silent prayer.”

    The question for us here, though, is whether Fr Alexander Schmemann’s lament about Orthodox worship adequately describes the contemporary Catholic situation (he did issue the same complaint about the effects of Western theology):

    “Yet the experience of worship has long ago ceased to be that of a corporate liturgical act. It is an aggregation of individuals coming to church, attending worship in order to satisfy individually their individual religious needs, not in order to constitute and to fulfill the Church … we today consider Communion as the most individual and private of all religious acts, depending entirely on one’s personal desire, piety and preparation.”

    If that description is anywhere near accurate, we do have a problem in recognizing the presence of Christ in the gathered assembly. I take it that you would suggest that the description is not correct at all, yes?

    Thanks.

    Neil

  10. Neil says:

    Dear Anne,

    Thanks for writing. I’m curious about your statement, “I’m hearing of great improvement in new construction and renovations.” Could you let me know about this “improvement”?

    I don’t think that I’ve posted very much at all about church architecture. Perhaps it would be a good subject for reflection.

    Thanks again.

    Neil

  11. Liam says:

    Neil

    I guess I would ask the great and esteemed father: what is the experience of liturgy as a corporate act in the long distance past that we lack today? When was the watershed? Did the watershed thwart Providence? And how do we know?

    I have a couple of ideas about his question:

    One is whether it is a product of existential self-consciousness that would not have troubled many pre-moderns. That is, it is a question that itself betrays modernity and existential alienation. If my intuition is correct, then answering the question won’t resolve the cause.

    Another is that, when gathering for liturgy involves the risk of persecution, imprisonment, and death for the congregants in the material dimension, it has a certain quality we cannot replicate when those risks are only present in the spiritual dimension. Because our senses quicken us differently in those modes, and it is much easier to sense material danger corporately. One traditional approach – which we see in some sermons of the Fathers after Toleration – is to make spiritual dangers more palpable to congregants. This is not an approach congenial to moderns….

  12. Neil says:

    Dear Liam,

    I haven’t read all of Fr Schmemann’s works, so I can’t really describe the sort of historical narrative he would give in any depth, other than noting his lament about “official, post-patristic and ‘Westernizing’ theology.” Michael Plekon would suggest that his main motivations were, first, intellectual, “exposure to the ecumenical liturgical renewal movement,” and, second, his own experience as a child in France of the divergence between church services and “ordinary” life. He would take care to distinguish his thought from the “socially-oriented ‘ethos'” of our time – I don’t really know of any evidence of “existential self-consciousness.”

    If we do want to talk about a “watershed” and a historical narrative, we can return to Kubicki, who would claim that, after the medieval Eucharistic controversies, theologians emphasized the Eucharistic presence per se and the priest’s ability to consecrate the Eucharist. Thus, the Mass was dislodged from “its ecclesial context” and Christ’s presence came to be seen almost solely in the consecrated bread and wine, which could be adored, rather than eaten, as holy objects par excellence. Furthermore, its purpose as a sacrament of unity being lost, the Eucharist could be seen as the sacrament of union with the individual believer and Christ.

    Obviously this is way too simple, but the general perception is of loss and recovery, with the medieval period being a time of loss (as it seems to be in the work of many liturgists).

    Do you think that it is very problematic?

    You are right that liturgy has a certain quality when it involves the risk of physical danger, but I don’t think that the end of persecution is emphasized in the historical narrative as any sort of real “watershed.” Nor do I know of its effects on Eucharistic theology in “reality,” so to speak.

    Obviously, I would agree completely with you that making “spiritual dangers more palpable to congregants” is a very, very, very bad idea. (See my posts on Bonhoeffer.)

    As always, I am grateful for your contributions …

    Best,
    Neil

  13. Liam says:

    Yes, I do think that is problematic. I think it is anachronistic: a reading back into the medieval period of things that are more characteristic of the preconciliar period. It also partakes of some lame perspectives that are belied by the rich liturgical life that scholars keep on documenting in the pre-Reformation periods.

    I will note that it has been a secular scholarly trope for several generations that the renaissance of the 12th century (yes, that’s the standard term) involved the “discovery of the individual”. I would suggest that the addition of that dimension to the liturgy did not displace what occurred before.

    I would also suggest that frequent popular communion had died out long before then, and that it was Lateran IV that required at least communion on Easter as a bare baseline (which bare baseline remains today, btw). Was Lateran IV too modest in its aspirations? Perhaps. But that was *before* Eucharistic devotion had been popularized. In fact, that popularization followed a few generations after the “discovery of the individual” in the western thinking classes, so the causal effect is if anything contradicted by this pattern.

    After that, one would also need to consider the effect of the synthesizing of philosophical/scientific/theological models in Palermo & Toldeo in the 11th-13th centuries (courtesy of Norman conquests, the Reconquista and the other Crusades), climate change in the 13th century (it got colder), the Black Death and strife in the Church in the 14th century on culture and liturgy, which is too vast to go into here. But it ended up strengthening individualism mightily – for example, the pool of labor was dramatically lessened, the value of that labor went up, peasants got uppity, the establishment had to devise ways around this (enclosure of lands, for example), et cet. This lead to mobilisations of consciousness, et cet.

    But the development of Eucharistic devotions (and, I should add, mystical contemplatives) was hardly causal to any of this, and in fact was probably more a corporate salve to the dislocations involved.

    It’s not a tight little arc from Berengarius of Tours & Hildebrand/Gregory VII to Lauda Sion.

    Anyway, it’s messy to try to attempt to address it here. Kubicki doesn’t seem grounded in what medievalists have uncovered and reconstructed in the past 40 years; her perspective seems much more dated. Which isn’t surprising; it takes generations to turn around the teaching of history to non-specialist audiences. After all, high Whig templates of European history – dating from Gibbon 200 years ago – still dominate news magazine and street historical discourse on history. Sigh….

  14. Neil says:

    Dear Liam,

    Let me first apologize for taking much too long to get back to you. Of course, we should be wary of “tight little arcs.”

    My sense is that theologians still generally see a decline in late medieval liturgy. You are right that we must take, say, the Black Death and other factors into account. But we are left with a decline nonetheless. For instance, William Cavanaugh, in a 2001 article in the Journal of Early Modern and Medieval Studies, speaks of a decline in the “medieval social imagination.” Why?

    1. The focus on the consecration of the Eucharistic elements because of controversy effectively ends the patristic assignation of “corpus verum” to the Church and “corpus mysticum” to the consecrated elements. There is a corresponding decline in liturgical participation. His source is Henri de Lubac’s Corpus Mysticum.

    2. The Church’s designation as a mystical body effectively “confined to the altar” allows the temporal power to assert its own independence as a space “outside” the Church, allowing for a new, secular form of social organization. His source is Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies.

    3. There is a corresponding loss of medieval social rituals in the late medieval period. For example, the Pax ritual during the liturgy becomes the passing of a “pax-board” to be kissed from the most prominent to the lowliest members of a community, giving rise to predictable discord, and merely confirming the existing social order. His source here is John Bossy.

    Do you feel that your emphasis on individualism would supplement this sort of narrative (perhaps illustrating an aspect of it), or is it meant to provide a counter-narrative?

    Thanks, as always.

    Neil

  15. Liam says:

    Neil

    I am baffled by the word “decline” to describe the liturgical participation or social imagination between mid-10th century (the end of several centuries of continuous invasions of western Christendom – at least until the Mongols tore east & east-central Europe to shreds around 1240) and the Black Death, that is, the “High” Middle Ages. It seems general trends are assigned sloppily to the entire “middle ages” that belong more granularly to parts of them and those parts don’t neatly align with Kubicki’s assumptions…

    I will say that a great deal of energy in the late Middle Ages was directed to things outside the Mass – “paraliturgical” events (processions, plays, et cet.) and, in certain rising classes (clerical, bourgeois and gentry – which are distinctive markers of this period), things like the Liturgy of the Hours and devotional reading. But that’s a lot more alive than what passed for Christian corporate life in the period before this (and before the development of Eucharistic theology & devotion).

    There seems to be an implied idealization of certain kind of liturgical life that is not yet firmly identified and placed: which century and place is the benchmark for assessing “decline”? It would baffle me to label 12th-13th century western Christendom as “declining” liturgically. Later Antiquity (6th-7th centuries in the Mediterranean & Gaul) and Early Middle Ages (8th-9th century, earlier outside the aforementioned regions), seem more plausible, but that’s centuries before Eucharistic theology & devotion were developed as they were in the high Middle Ages. But the reasons for the decline were not theological; they were circumstantial (liturgical preservation and conservation became dominant in this time – you see the firming up of the definition of the various western ritual books, for example).

    As for medieval social rituals in the pre-Reformation period, some declined while others became more elaborate. It’s wasn’t a universal vector of decline. Quite the opposite in some areas. A lot of older readings of history have been turned on their heads in the past generation in this regard.

    My mentioning of individualism was simply that it was an additional driver in the high Middle Ages to liturgical development, as opposed to the liturgical replacement/deplacement posited Kubicki.

    I appreciate your bearing with my somewhat querulous reaction to the thesis. I am no romanticiser of the Middle Ages, but my basic rules of thumb here:

    1. Be fiercely skeptical of any thesis that assumes the Middle Ages as some sort of univalent marker of decline – that’s a red flag of exceedingly stale history. Time and place need to be very carefully delineated, because the stories are much richer and more complex and defy a lot of our neat little arcs.

    2. Be even more skeptical of the modernistic conceit: we know better than they who preceded us, especially them in those Middle Ages, and we can restore what they lost for us. We may know differently, but not necessarily better, and we normally restore little but confect much that reflects our blinders, our own cherised nostrums (especially in diagnosing the ills of the past). (Which is not to adopt the reverse conceit, either: our elders knew better than we do.)

  16. Neil says:

    Dear Liam,

    Thanks for responding again. I think that we’re currently off the main page of the blog. Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to look at some case studies of people or localities in the Middle Ages and you can comment on thos future posts. I’ll try to get to that in a couple weeks.

    Best,
    Neil

  17. Pingback: The Superparish: A Liturgical Problem? « Catholic Sensibility

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s