Monday, April 21, 2014
The Holy Fire
The Exultet speaks of the Church shaking, of the night being changed to day, of the mighty voices of the faithful. of trumpets sounding, of being filled with joy it doesn't seem to happen quite that!
The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem, is the popular highlight of Orthodox worship in the city of the Resurrection. It is a strange mixture of liturgy, devotion, political expression, partisanship, it is exuberant and wild, westerners who have witnessed have described it as terrifying. For Palestinian Christians especially it is a celebration of who they are and of the simple fact that they belong in the Holy Land, Holy City and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This year Israeli police have tried again to restrict access to the Holy Sepulchre and to the areas around it, it is part of the process of 'control' of minorities, especially Palestinians and Christians who have lived in Jerusalem for centuries. Even under the Ottomans there was fear of riot, today the same fears exist, as well as modern concerns about 'elf and safety'.
Many really do accept the fire is indeed supernatural as the videos introduction says; in the West the movement of the Crucifix from the tomb to the High Altar was often so described, before the Reformation; and I seem to remember, when Holy Week rituals varied considerably from place to place that fire or a candle was 'entombed' in some hidden place and its reappearance as fire was described as 'miraculous'. Many Orthodox would describe not just the coming of the fire as miraculous but the fire itself, saying that when first taken from the tomb it doesn't burn, of torches spontaneously lighting, even of miracles of healing taking place during the ceremony.
For us Westerners exotic exuberance is really very alien, it is certainly not part of the staid matter-of-factness of the Roman Rite. If anything post-Concilliar piety has become even more staid and controlled.
A Polish priest friend told me of having several thousand at food blessing on Holy Saturday, less than a hundred at the 'Queen of Liturgies', the Easter Vigil and just hundreds at the Easter Masses. In Spain the traditional penitential street procession bring out the whole town, apart from the old lefties, whilst the attendance at official liturgies can be somewhat meagre. At Christmas some parishes do a children's crib service with the Eucharist tacked on, early on Christmas Eve, they are packed out, whilst the actual Christmas Day Masses have dramatically decreasing congregations.
Low Sunday, the Liturgy certainly speaks of God's mercy, the Gospel of Jesus giving the Apostle power to forgive sins but it is the devotion to St Faustina's 'Divine Mercy' that has gradually taken over. For some, Good Friday seems to be just the first day of the Divine Mercy Novena.
Most priests are creatures of the 'Liturgical Movement' but I am beginning to wonder whether its followers are necessarily doing something good. 'Devotions' were very much part of the Irish experience, pilgrimage to local sacred sites, the Rosary, the Sacred Heart, private penitential practices seemed to have nourished something vibrant, I can't help thinking imposing the liturgy on people at the expense of devotions is one of the reasons for the loss of health in the Irish Church.
The video of Fr Ray Kelly fills me with horror but I wonder if in fact for most people the modern Liturgy actually creates a vacuum, which priest like Fr Kelly feel obliged to fill, other 'pastoral' priest seem compelled to fill something which is lacking by puppetry, dance, entertainment, felt banners, in fact what people like me roll our eyes at.
In the Old Rite, which even Pope Francis recently described as becoming fashionable, especially amongst the young, it seems to be accepted that the clergy said Mass and did what priests should do, often in a perfunctory, workman-like way, whilst the faithful simply did their own thing. Clergy and laity were interdependent but somehow rather than controlling the faithful, or worst still clericalising them, the clergy seemed to feed and encourage their devotion.
In the video of the Miracle of the Holy Fire the clergy seem to do their own thing and they laity there's, is there a clue that the laity here are predominantly rather loud men, not in suits? They could be a football crowd. It strikes me that perhaps one key to new-evangelisation is simply putting as much effort into promoting popular devotion as we have into the Liturgy, maybe somehow especially amongst men.
Basically, I want people to go wild with the Easter Mysteries rather than treat them as an old maid's tea party in an English parlour.
Another example of 'Greek Fire'
thanks to Fr Tim
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