An interesting essay at the Chant Cafe here. Kathy Pluth picks up on Cardinal Sarah’s continuing sojourn in the seventies to posit two constrasting view of Church and how worship follows from each.
I like the question: do we see ourselves as orphans?
If God is absent from the world … then we are on our own. We are orphan children of an absent God, making our own way, and depending primarily on each other. Petitions and hymns are discussions among ourselves about values. The congregation is the primary instantiation of community. The most appropriate posture is humans facing humans, closing the circle. Intelligibility is of highest importance.
I would suggest this describes a not-insignificant portion of Tridentine Catholicism. To many, God indeed seemed very far away: disinterested in Europe tearing itself apart in four centuries of aristocrat-inspired warfare, oppressed workers told to “offer it up,” and in America, a lot of ethnic-flavored religion, many generations of it before we had a good number of clergy for a generation or two.
Mass was a less significant part of Catholic life. It was an obligation, but what really floated the Catholic religious boat was the community gathering for devotions, meals, and family-inspired traditions.
By the way, those “petitions and hymns … about values” were quite often teaching moments. Because, you know, you have that captive audience at Mass, and why not tell them what they should do?
Here’s the other side of Ms Pluth’s coin:
If God is actively at work in the world here and now, on earth and in earthlings, continually strengthening and raising us, then liturgy is a privileged opportunity to meet God. Liturgical language expresses our dependence on God’s help. Petitions and hymns ask for more and more divine intervention, and not only for those present in one time and place, but for all people, living and the dead. The most appropriate posture involves all of the people facing the divine presence. Receptivity to grace is our highest action, and God Himself is of the highest importance.
Not much to argue with here, but I would suggest the current challenge, for both traditional and contemporary Catholics, is the need to widen the permissino we give God to enter into our lives. The conciliar call is the universal holiness into which we are all baptized. If God is of the highest importance, why wouldn’t we invite him into our car on the way out of the church parking lot, into our homes and workplaces, into the times when we speak or sing of what we should do, and pretty much everywhere we are?
Liturgical language is as expressive as any other human language. Read the Psalms. Not all are about dependence. Some are about joy. Some express anger and tell God what to do. Some even quote the words of God or tell other people what to do or sing.
My problem with reform2, or whatever one wants to call it, is that the vision is too narrow. It’s a safety net: what worked once, for someone else, will work for nearly everybody today. If it gets a fifty-fifty mix with the so-called people-centered liturgy of today, we’ll be better off than before. Count me a skeptic on that. The wider horizons, the deeper oceans are places nobody has yet begun to explore. The question is not one of God’s absence or action, but ours.