Thursday, January 19, 2012
Wordlessness and the Microphone
I might be a little dyslexic or just plain stupid but I can read a chapter or two of scripture time and time again and still not understand it. It happens with the Office of Readings, a passage carefully selected by some liturgist for my edification, and get to the end and wonder: what was the point of that?
It is words, words, words. We can be lost in sea of them.
Tonight we had Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Benediction, it is Old Rite, opens with O Salutaris, ends with Adoremus, it is the same every week, in part because I am too lazy to choose hymns every week and to avoid a scripture reading which would necessary if we used the New Rite properly. I have aversion to doing the Church's rites improperly.
What I like about Exposition is that it is wordless, "God looks at us and we look at God". It is that simple.
Benediction is reasonable simple too, God is there, we kneel before him, burn incense before him, pray to him, receive his blessing. He is the centre, we are supplicants. If you want a statement of Catholic faith. either we are idolatrous bread-worshippers or else that which appears bread is God himself. It is simple. It is iconic. It teaches in a very clear tableau form.
The same with traditional Mass, priest ascends to the altar to offer bread and wine before the people, again a simple tableau. Time and again he turns to the people to remind them the Lord is with them.
It is simple!
At a deeper level, the priest offers the Eternal Son the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, down the ages he mutters, "Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Qui Tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, Per omnia saecula saeculorum" or something similar.
Words and actions together reinforce the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: the Incarnation and the Trinity. Other doctrines are certainly there but it is these two that are focussed on with lazer like precision. It is the simplicity of it find captivating.
In many ways the rites that developed under the influence of the Liturgical Movement in the 1920s and 30s and reached their fruition in the Bugnini reforms of the1960s and 70s though having the elegance of line of the Art Deco and functionalism of 1950s Utilitarianism seem to have a scatter gun approach.
I am sure that the biggest influence on liturgy in the 20th century was the microphone, bringing with it the assumption that once words can be heard, they can be understood. It should be remembered that Liturgical revision took place in the "radio age", one suspects by men who thought hearing or listening was the answer to all the Church's difficulties. The problem is that when everything can be heard, all is heard but then everything tends to becomes noise, there is no focus no discrimination.
The understanding that words are not all is perhaps a good reason for the more complex verbal structures of the new translation of the Roman Missal and why so many younger priests are exploring rites where words are not the be all and end all.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake