Friday, 18 January 2008

The ideology of sixties liturgy

In the New Liturgical Movement Blog there is an interesting post on the ideological nature of much contemporary liturgical practice. We hear continually the arguments that the traditional liturgy with its beauty and magnificence is ’elitist’, ‘clerical’, ‘stuffy’ and ’exclusive’ when we should be ‘focused on the poor and social justice.’ These arguments we hear ad nauseam, and it seems that no amount of patient explanations will satisfy them.

Who makes all these claims? I will look at those from my own church, the Birmingham Oratory. This is a church and community with not just a magnificent and 'clericalised' liturgy, but with a parish covering some of the worst areas of inner city deprivation in England, and not far from our church are some notorious council estates with appalling squalor and social problems. Some of the parishioners are refugees while others are elderly and housebound.

But these are not the people who attack our worship as 'elitist'. They come to the Oratory mostly to seek material and spiritual support and rarely to criticise. Indeed some of them seem to have considerable affection for the church and the fathers, who do excellent pastoral work often in very difficult circumstances. High mass and vespers is for them the only opportunity they may ever have to experience high art, and it is completely free and open for all people of whatever background and nationality. It hardly seems fair to describe it as 'elitist and exclusive'!

Indeed the very focus of our liturgy is sacrifice of the cross, and the priests who offer it are merely unworthy servants who face the Lord in the same direction as the rest of the faithful. Their backs are turned not to shun them and be aloof, but because they are not the centre of attention. The beauty and magnificence of the liturgy exists purely as a sign of God's power and transcendence, not as a means for vain attention seeking.

It turns out that the real critics almost invariably are white middle class living in the affluent suburbs of Edgbaston and Harbourne, often with plum jobs in public institutions (and sometimes readers of the Guardian). They hardly qualify for the role of being members of the poor and dispossessed! And despite their claim to be in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, their talk of social justice seems to be at best their vicarious imagination.

So why do they really see our worship as elite clericalism? The reason why is that in liberal eyes, the focus on sacrifice and on the transcendent is no more than a mask to disguise clerical ‘power’, a ‘power’ that has been unlawfully assumed at the expense of the ‘community of the poor’. It is a mentality of resentment of the apparent 'success' of others, and the exclusion of themselves. The members of liberal elites who attack traditional liturgy as being 'exclusive' and 'clericalist', do as they are the ones who are really feel excluded, who have been deprived of their 'right' to 'active participation' and 'leadership'.

This is because the focus of modern liturgy is not sacrifice or divine transcendence, nor is it even the gathered 'people of God' despite claims to the contrary. It is on the person of the celebrant and those that hold the so - called 'ministries' that have been invented by sixties liturgists. Those who partake in them have a vested interest in modern worship for good reason. It is a celebration of themselves and a cult of their personalities, where they become the 'facilitators' of the gathered community. The supposedly ‘community centred’ and democratic masses are really focused on worshipping an elite inner ring of ‘ministries’.

The classical liturgy on the other hand deliberately hides the personality of the ministers. The celebrants are not seen face to face, while the choir is often discreetly hidden at the back out of sight. In such an arrangement, we see not the personality of the celebrant or the ‘community facilitator’, but of Jesus Christ himself, the priest, the altar and the lamb of sacrifice.

It turns out that the hatred of the traditional liturgy is due to the fact that it is a total repudiation of the cult and worship of self, a stark reminder of our sinful unworthiness and fallen state, and need for atonement by none other than the blood of God himself. In short the liturgy, like our faith, is a sign of contradiction, a sign that is to be rejected and despised by the world.


Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Go for it oliver! These self same middle-class ones you mention want to inflict sex education on the poor working classes who are too stupid to teach their own children! Not!

Oliver McCarthy said...

Good post!

I love the word "exclusivist". Personally I think when people feel excluded you'll find them fighting to get in the door: when they feel that the priests don't really care whether they're there or not they just shrug and wander away.

For me the most revealing thing about "liturgists" - as with my slightly crazy new chum Tom McIntyre (of Frome, Somerset) - is how whackily disingenuous their arguments are. They'll set up fantastically complicated archaeological theories to justify how they want to say Mass, when what they really mean is "We prefer it the way the Protestants do things."

japhy said...

The traditional manner of the liturgy (whether EF or OF) reminds us all of our poverty before God, as it should. How can supplication, beseeching, entreating, and begging enter our minds when Fr. Jokesalot won't let us pay attention to anything other than himself?