Thursday, August 22, 2013

A New Image of God

In last Sundays readings Jesus says to his disciples: "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division". It is the type of reading that the compilers of the Lectionary normally move to the Wednesday of the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, or there abouts.

A useful tool for any spiritual director or regular confessor is to get the directee or penitent to examine his image of God. Images of God change through history, iconography changes, they are important in that they affect the way in which we relate to God and understand His relationship to us and to the world. The image of the young smooth faced shepherd, says something different from the mighty Pantocrator, Christ the Priest reigning from the Tree produces a different spirituality and sentiments to the bloody Christ suffering in agony on the Cross; Christ the Judge "with limbes white and woundes rede who comes the Judge the quicke and dede" again produces a different understanding to the image of the tender Sacred Heart.

Images are important.

The problem is we tend to make of God in our own preconceived image of other things, often they are socio-political and from our own experience, thus the child of a brutal harsh distant father often tends see God in those terms, and will have difficulty in relating to God as Father or to Jesus, until they have learnt to change their image 'fatherhood'. I always tell dads at baptism how important they are in being an icon for their children of God.

The lectionary for Extraordinary Form seems to present Christ in a more vivid way than the Ordinary Form Lectionary. It was organic, hammered out over the centuries, although the Sundays are basically those in use at the time of Gregory the Great. The readings for feasts reflect the imagery, theology and spirituality of the time they were introduced. What was used at the time of Pope Gregory in the sixth century had undergone a long process of redaction going back presumably to the early Church. The old Lectionary by the time St Thomas wrote the Office and selected the Lections for the Feast of Corpus Christ had undergone a slow development and of course the old Lectionary itself had formed the theology and spirituality of St Thomas himself. The Church's theology until the 20th Century was built on her Liturgy and the scriptures presented there and most especially in the Lectionary of the Missal

I can't help thinking of Abp Annibale Bugnini writing the Missal of Paul VI and composing the present Lectionary through a haze of whatever was smoked in 60s. Maybe I am being unfair and he didn't smoke anything but the Pauline Lectionary has a decided 60s feel to it. The image of God, of Jesus is not organic, it has the feel of one particular period in history, to me it is decidedly Beatnik to early Hippie. If it hadn't been compiled after two World Wars and the Holocaust it would probably have been quite different, if Bugnini or Paul VI had been different types of men the image of God presented to us would be quite different. Because fundamentally it is their image of God, it is not the image that St Thomas Becket, St Francis, St John of the Cross, St John Vianney, or Padre Pio met every day at the altar.

The OF Lectionary presents us with a new theology; the ancient Lectionary formed the theology of the Church, it was an unchanging 'given'. What Bugnini produced was very much the product of the Council and 20th century theology. It comes from the same school that applied the scalpel to excise the cursing psalm, that separated that bit about eating and drinking one's own condemnation from the Epistle for Corpus Christi and so many other bits and pieces that they were uncomfortable with, that simply did not reflect the theological fashion of the time.

Yes, we now have a lot more scripture but it is carefully selected, carefully edited and from a very particular time in Church history and produced by very strange men indeed, some of whom were quite unsaintly, who had their own image of God they wanted to impose on the Church.

In a sense the new Lectionary gives a new image of God, in that it has change the Church fundamentally because it has changed the face of God.

I know I have written about this before, but the image of God we worship and that Church believes in is of absolute importance.
Ben too has done a lot of work on a comparison of the two Lectionaries.


Fr John Hunwicke said...

Absolutely - and characteristically - splendid, Father!

Sister Lynn Marie said...

This is more a question than a comment. For some time now our chaplain chooses not to kiss the altar before and after Mass. Today he came up the steps and went straight to the chair without going to the altar at all. After Mass he just left from the chair (to the side of the altar) without kissing the altar. He regularly changes words and ad libs other parts of the Mass but this was the first time he's done this. I don't know all the rubrics but I was wondering if something has changed in this matter? Or am I just being too fussy?

Fr Ray Blake said...

No, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is still the same, nothing has changed.

The Rad Trad said...

The Pantocrator reminds me of that "troped" Kyrie from the old Norman liturgy: Orbis Factor, Rex Aeterne, eleison! Kyrie eleison!

The Sacred Heart just does not have the same effect.

Sixupman said...

At one stage I had to endure Mass Celebrated entirely with the use of a loose-leaf folder. The priest being the diocesan liturgist, educated in Paris in such respect, created new formats at a whim. I attended one of his Masses and if the uninitiated could discern the same from a Co-Consecration with the laity, who had flocked to the altar, I would be amazed.

Granada TV broadcast some years ago, from a Catholic Church, in Preston, Consecrations jointly with Protestant clergy and the mixed congregation all participating in Communion. That fiasco was organised by a Jesuit.

Fr Simon Henry said...

Well said Father.
You focus on the Lectionary. The same critique might be made of the setting in which it is used.

Ian Coleman said...

Thank you for a very perceptive and enlightening post! The change in mind-set brought about by the OF Lectionary is made more insidious by the way it appears to open up more Scripture to the congregation than the EF did. As an example, take the Responsorial Psalm: it takes a much larger chunk of text than was ever used for Graduals (or even, mostly, Tracts) but almost never uses an entire psalm; often the 'editing' has been done with a very particular theological slant. At least when you read of sing the Gradual you know that you are dealing with a pericope and not the whole. Other examples abound; the result is that, if anything, Catholics have an even less reliable knowledge of Scripture (taken as a whole) than they did before!

Jacobi said...

Benedict XVI showed us the way forward from the confused impasse that followed Vatican II. He declared that it was a pastoral council which taught nothing new, and that its documents, (in spite of the numerous ambiguities and even contradictions, I might add), had to be treated and interpreted “in continuity”, that is in the light of understanding as has been expressed by the teaching Magisterium of the Church for two thousand years.

I agree, Father, that the New Mass lectionary attempts to impose a new theology, a Modernist interpretation – and that has to be corrected by the “Reform of the Reform”.

Our bishops have effectively chosen to ignore this glaring reality for decades and it is only really in the last 5-6 years that these grave matters have been openly mentioned, let alone discussed. I should add that Michael Davies and such were obvious exceptions, but their warnings were studiously ignored.

By the way, given the current willingness to sanctify all and sundry, and not just all our Popes, what about Davies?

Matthew said...

I think you are right in what you say, Father, about the two lectionaries presenting different images of God. I'm not aware, though, of any extended scholarly studies that explore this question. It's definitely a question that needs a lot more research. For one thing, what exactly were the aims/criteria/etc. of the Consilium group in charge of drafting the post-conciliar lectionary? Indeed, who was even in that group? I imagine such information would be in the minutes of their meetings, but where are those? Has anyone published them? If not, why not? (I may try writing such a study if I can find the time - and the requisite information!)

Oh, and if you don't mind a little bit of self-promotion... :-) I have compiled some tables and indexes that people may find handy for their own compare/contrast studies between the OF and EF lectionaries. They can be found at my Lectionary study aids blog (, along with some other resources. At the moment, it's fairly EF-centred: there is a table of all the chants and readings of the EF Missal organised by the liturgical year, and an index of those same chants and readings organised scripturally. I have also started some comparative work on the Gospel readings in the OF, which I'll upload to my blog when it's done. My resources are free to use as people see fit - I hope they're useful!

Amfortas said...

'New' lectionary. Most living Catholics have only known this lectionary. Do you see no merits in the OF lectionary?

Jon said...

It's nearly despairing to consider none of this will likely be remedied under the current pontificate.

The rumored replacement of Cardinal Canizares at CDW, if true, only deepens the gloom.

PS - Just call me Eeyore.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for kindly plugging my blog, Father. In answer to Matthew, the information he requires about the new lectionary's ideology and those who drafted it are all to be found in Bugnini's apologia. I have refered to the criteria in some of the posts on my blog.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Thank you Ben for the work you did

servusmariaen said...

Why do you suppose that all of this escapes the powers that be in the Church? It all seems as obvious as the nose on your face and yet for nearly 50 years virtually all bishops, priests and popes seem to have nothing but praise to heap on our glorious revolution.

Mme Scherzo said...

Please forgive my ignorance, Father, as I am a spanking new convert to the faith. I left evangelicalism because of a hunger that I can't explain, except to say that it is constant and gnawing where the liturgy is concerned. One of the reasons I left Protestantism is because of the noise. The endless noise of chatter, of the music - which is awful beyond description. And I see this same hideous music in the Catholic church. If it weren't for the vast wealth of resources available to me, I'd go mad.
I am thankful not to have experienced the kind of modernistic travesties in our church that are happening in many, even though we are definitely not EF.
My library of good Catholic books is limited to my Kindle, but it would be a pleasure to have something in a traditional book. I don't even know where to begin.
Any suggestions?

Fr Ray Blake said...

The proper music for both forms of the Mass is in the Graduale

Supertradmum said...

And, one thing one learns the hard way if one allows God into one's imagination is that almost all the preconceptions one has of God are wrong, wrong, wrong. This post is superb.

Next step after this post is a good dose of St. John of the Cross.

Supertradmum said...

Amfortas, most Catholics? Really? One would have to add up all the numbers of those of us who grew up with the EF and all those parents of us who are still living. I think you might be surprised as to how many of us pre-NO people are still around and kicking!