Monday, June 08, 2009

Participants not witnesses

This excruciatingly beautiful clip of Vespers of Great and Holy Friday from the biritual Benedictine Monastery of Chevetogne is on Rorate Caeli. The power of this "liturgical experience" comes from the harmonious combination of the music in the form of chant, the liturgical action and the liturgical environment, the architecture, vestments etc.

What always strikes me when I attend Byzantine liturgies is the sense of being embraced by the liturgy, of being absorbed into it. The music enters into one's being like the smell of the incense, if there is something like a procession or the invitation to venerate an icon, or simply just the incensation of individuals by the deacon, there is a singular sense of "active" or "actual" participation.

Over the last 40 years liturgists on the right and left, progressives and traditionalists have been struggling with how the phrase "participatio actuosa" should be put into effect.

For many this has meant liturgical dance, country and western style folk music, filling the sanctuary with as many lay people as possible, or at its ultimate extreme the abandonment of the Church's liturgy and the development of something entirely constructed by the congregation, as at St Mary's Brisbane.

It is tempting for me to see "participatio actuosa" in terms of a "spiritual participation" or "raising the heart and mind to God" albeit facilitated by music, and the liturgical environment, but I have the vague feeling that behind this there a certain manichaeism tendency. People in the liturgy should be more than witnesses, the type of participation that is seen at low Mass, might well be a participation of the heart and mind but human beings are more than that and the Church has always understood that, High Mass with all its ceremonies was the norm.

Fr Alan Griffiths who taught me a little liturgy used to blame pews, "people pens" he used to call them, for stopping people from genuinely participating, they stop people from moving around the Church, moving to join in processions, stepping aside to make way for clergy to sprinkle or incense them, moving closer to here the Gospel. Certainly chairs or benches which have been introduced to Greek Orthodox churches in recent years tend to reduce people to witnesses rather than participants. One church I know of used to have people regularly pouring perfume over the priest as he made his way to the altar or strewing his way with flowers, with people bowing and prostrating and making the great Sign of the Cross during the liturgy, introduced seating and the people became sacks of potatoes.

So how do we really get people to be participants, rather than witnesses, or worst an audience?

I always think clapping is a sign of the people being reduced to the level of an audience.


George said...

"One church I know of used to have people regularly pouring perfume over the priest as he made his way to the altar or strewing his way with flowers, with people bowing and prostrating and making the great Sign of the Cross during the liturgy"......

Art thou having a laugh and winding us up Fr Ray?

Barring making 'the Great Sign of the Cross' and I assume that refers to the greatness of the Sign of the Cross, rather than some collossal windmill movement and flapping about of the arms, what a strange liturgy it would be indeed if all the faithfull simply milled around in the Church waiting for an opportunity to douche Fr Tim (for example) with a spray bottle of Brut aftershave or Hai Karate (remember that one!) or perhaps something more earthy and 'green' such as Rose Petal water. Emptying buckets of flowers and petals all over the Sanctuary then all that prostrating and bowing. Throw in the Sign of Peace under such circumstances and total anarchy. Yikes!!! It conjurs up interesting images in the minds eye - LOL! :-D

OK, I agree, probably a lot more reverent than barn dancing, zazzy crimplene rainbow vestments, glass pitchers and cane baskets, with guitars, bongos, kazoos, tambourines and the dreaded liturgical dancettes!

To be honest I'm a simple lad. I love my God with all my heart and soul and the ceremony of the High Latin Mass is for me as good and great as it gets, receiving Our Lord kneeling and on the tongue is the pinnacle of the Liturgy for me. It is truely Life changing, albeit will take many many such visits to receive Our Lord over my lifetime to make a serious dent in my stubborn nature for the better!

Fr Ray Blake said...

George no I'm not.
"The great Sign of the Cross" touching the head, the floor, the shoulders.
Greeting the "Alter Christus", the "one who comes in the Name of the Lord" with reverence and a degree of exuberance, is frequently part of oriental liturgies. Sometimes even carrying him in on a chair is not unknown.

I suspect this kind of thing happened before the Reformation in in England, there are certainly records of strewing herbs, which later became "herb carpets".

There was a time before pews, there was a time before coins were being offered in the collection.
There was a time when even at High Mass there was a certain spontaneity.

Mark said...

When one sees film footage of Orthodox liturgies from proper Orthodox countries (it's not quite the same over here), the way in which people venerate icons in various parts of the church in what appears to be a totally spontaneous but profoundly devout way is deeply impressive.

I suspect Fr Ray is absolutely right in what he says about pre-Reformation Western liturgy exhibiting the same engaging spontaneity and "participatio actuosa", and that things became much more regimented in the West after the Counter-Reformation.

Annie said...

I think I would have like pre- Reformation England.

MC Man said...

I remember attending Bylo Russian Divine Liturgys at Westminster Cathedral many years ago.Celebrated by Bishop Sipovitch assisted by clergy and choir from Cockfosters,truly wonderful services.

Anagnostis said...

Yes, Father...

Traditional Catholics tend to think of the ossified, over-clericalised "pew-penned" post-Tridentine forms as somehow normative, but I suspect you're right: the experience of the pre-Reformation Sarum liturgy, for example (with its profusion of processions and sequences) was probably a great deal more like that of Orthodox liturgy than of "TLM" Low (of even High) Mass.

I have long suspected that a major component of the problem of participation in the modern (i.e. post-Tridentine) Roman rites is the practical submergence of the diaconate, Vatican II's bid to restore it notwithstanding. In the Byzantine rite, the Deacon is the busiest man in the Church. Everything the priest does is at the behest and prompting of the Deacon (Bless, Master, the Holy Bread); everything the people do is at the Deacon's bidding (Again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord). He moves continually between the sanctuary and the nave, visibly uniting both. Imagine, for example, if your bidding prayers were always chanted solemnly by a vested Deacon (a "permanent" deacon - not an unfinished presbyter but a man of the parish, with a "day job") standing facing East with the people in the centre of the nave

Again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord

Lord have mercy! etc..

That's how the first reformers of the Roman rite imagined the prex fidelium, before it was decided, for ideological reasons characteristic of the era, deliberately to avoid the "solemn register" of the Byzantine litany.

The answer to all such problems is always present in the Tradition, if only we are prepared to look for it humbly and honestly, setting aside our various tendentious, ideological agendas. Disaster follows when we don't.

Volpius Leonius said...

Why not remove the pews, they only came into use because of the protestants and their emphasis on long sermons and multiple bible readings which we decided to copy to some extent. Having been in Cathedrals without pews in Malta(they put out chairs during mass however) I can testify that the sacred space is so much more awe inspiring when not cluttered with pews.

Before the Protestant revolution Catholics just stood and knelt, with perhaps the odd chair brought from home for the old and infirm and the people generally gathering in awe as close to the rood screen as possible trying to catch of glimpse of the Blessed Sacrament.

I recommend "The Stripping of the Altars" by Eamon Duffy to get a sense of how the liturgy used to be at the height of Catholicism in England, a book all English Catholics should read in my opinion.

AP said...

There were no pews in the Philippines until c. 1900. I think it not coincidental that liturgical life in the Philippines pre-1900 was extremely splendid and magnificent, with most people going to Mass daily. It was all downhill after that.

becket said...

Here is another good website Father.

Elizabeth said...

I always think clapping is a sign of the people being reduced to the level of an audience.

How true that is, if you can clap in Church why can't you BOO - or will we start stamping our feet and whistling. I wish people would remember where they are and in whose presence they are.

One simple question, who cleans up all the petals, buckets of flower water and whatever other expressions of beauty that are thrown at the priest, altar etc..

old believer said...

Rather than all the textual and ritual reforms that were implemented last century more effective re-engagement with the liturgy could have been made, IMHO, by (a) as you suggest, removing the "people pens"; (b) abolishing said services as a means of fulfilling Sunday obligation (i.e. making sung services the norm; and, (c) using real unleavened bread for the Eucharist rather than paper-like wafers.

Annie said...

Elizabeth, I agree about applause too.

More worrying though than cleaning up, chucking petals etc would be a nightmare risk assessment for health and safety - what if someone slipped, lol!

Lee Lovelock-Jemmott said...

I agree. I have attended Byzantine services a number of times and what strikes me is there is always a Deacon present. Now, I do not know what happened in the Latin Rite but we have been greatly improverished by the lack of Deacons who's first role is 'liturgical' and thus KEY to the Mass. In regards to that, I think the Latin Rite needs to move gradually away from Low Masses been the norm or Missa Cantata and towards the proper Mass of High Masses with Deacon and Sub-Deacon present.
With regards to pews, remove the wretched things for they stifle what use to be a high practice of veneration in our churches. One can still see this as services are conducted at cathedrals and people are 'milling' around towards chapels and 'icons' saying prayers, praying the rosary, saying novenas etc etc. Brompton Oratory leads the way here very much so even though it has pews. Latin Rite Catholics have long been banged with the proverbial pole to somewhat 'illegitimize' us of our heritage and perhaps the oldest of all the rites.
It is as if orientalist warmongers and their pseudo-catholic friends put the Latin Rite in their cross hairs pre VatII (round the turn of the 20th Century) up until today where Eastern Catholics can pretty much get away with anything (good and bad) but Latin Catholics continually have to put up with alien and foreign concepts in their rite and thus belittling and damaging the church's mission in converting heathens to the Holy Faith (and thus damages the mission work done through other rites as well). Sorry for my rant but I have been around and seen the Latin Rite done properly to been done absolutely wrong but hardly ever see the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics having their liturgy done wrong;unless one counts Maronites who had a nice synthesis between Roman and Antiochian but have somewhat been caught up in the Novus Ordo mess.

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