What If We Just Said “Pray?” Indeed.

There’s an interesting post over at our friend Fr. Anthony Ruff’s PRAY TELL blog in which he gave notice to yet another petition concerning the ecclesial and liturgical scenarios swirling about St. Blog’s with the coming promulgation of the Third Edition of the English Roman Missal. The usual suspects, myself included, have had quite the banter going. But as the combox count nudged to a buck twenty five, these consectutive comments tweaked my attention and the following response. What’s your take?

Why does anybody think that a new translation is going to squelch liturgical innovation? I expect it to increase as priests try to cope with mangled syntax and tongue twister prayers. Lots of earlier accretions were added to fill the void of incomprehensible or unspoken prayer, like encouraging people to pray the rosary during the liturgy.

Not that I am opposed to innovation. I think the whole STBDTR idea is classicism gone wild. It may appeal to some people, but there is a lot of good jazz out there that complements the classical.

Jim McKay on March 28, 2011 – 9:44 am

Creative innovation is to be welcomed — though I agree with Mr Culberth (sic) that bad preaching is a key factor. I do not know what paradise he writes from — in the USA one third of Catholics have left and Garry Wills reports that the heart of the Catholic crisis lies in what is experienced in the sunday liturgy: Ireland is in far more sudden and widespread disarray as are Belgium and Austria. 

Joseph O’Leary on March 28, 2011 – 4:02 pm

“Creative innovation” has never been unwelcomed to be introduced into liturgy, even after the winnowing of Trent. But then, as now, there was a clear clarion that in its ars celebrandi, music being a principle example, that innovation without the disciplines cultivated organically within the ecclesial culture, would inexorably evolve towards an art for art’s sake in equal measure to its decadence and unsuitability at service as a worship art. It was true before Trent with the parody (both profane and benign cantus firmi versions) Masses and the excessive unintelligibility of works by certain composers, and after Trent when the classical Sunday Mass in Vienna was as much an entertainment as liturgy. (IMO, YMMV.) This, predictably, continued in concert with the Enlightenment through to its inevitable clash represented by Pius X’s motu proprio “Tra le sollecitudini.” We’re just in yet other cycle that we prefer to examine with contemporaneous eyes and spectacles. In whatever arena Jos. O’Leary wants to superimpose over the term “creative innovation,” it cannot adequately serve worship without an accompanying discipline to which it must, for worship’s own betterment adhere to.
I don’t worship or write from any liturgical paradise, Mssr. O’Leary. In fact, we are a bishop-less (R.I.P.) diocese in central California; but our parish (cluster) is endowed with sensible yet idiomatically unique celebrants who understand that the liturgy is not to be a trifle, whether merely mouthed from a pulp missalette, or a platform for the exhibition of the cult of personality on display before a “captive audience.” And they understand that the humility involved in cantillating their collects and orations not only compel an active response from the faithful, but will likely be an asset come November 28th.
As I’ve mentioned, I do appreciate (uncharacteristically to my RotR colleagues)  a certain amount of the critiques of Professor Wills. I can’t testify to this, but I would bet that Wills would concur that if Sunday Mass was truly the life-blood nexus of parish life, as advanced by the liturgical theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand, that some of the post-conciliar “Catholic Crisis” so lamented by both traditionalists and modernists as ancillary ecclesial crises in vocations, reproductive and gender issues and clericalist authoritarianism, might have been postively mitigated, and perhaps would have benefited towards remedies by the sheer beauty and power of a fulfilled liturgy performed universally.
(Save the liturgy, save the world. *”G”)
Perhaps that’s a bit pie-eyed.
But I’d also bet Professor Wills would prefer to be fully engaged in FACP and sing the Credo in a well mannered TLM or “DTRSTB” OF, than to bear the distractions of giant paper maché puppets of our Savior and saints parading about in sanctuaries.

What does “creative, liturgical innovation” really mean in our era?

*often misattributed to a famous cleric.

8 Replies to “What If We Just Said “Pray?” Indeed.”

  1. Mr. O'Leary's reliance on the authority of Garry Wills as to things Catholic, including the liturgy, I suppose indicates that he and his confreres share Mr. Wills' priorities, as indicated in his Nov 2004 op-ed in the NYT, where Wills asked "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?"

  2. Chris, I had hoped that a dialogue would ensue about liturgy's relationship to the notions of creativity and innovation without being side-tracked by the obvious controversies that arise when Professor Wills' name is merely cited. I'm not dismissing your skepticism in the slightest, but I'm just as wary of pigeon-holing anyone, even Wills, on the basis of a one line quotation that, alone, contextually can imply many different imports. Wills' own admission in his "Why I am a Catholic" boils down to his profession of the Creed at daily and Sunday Mass. That admission certainly doesn't jibe with your quotation easily. His other volume on the Rosary also contains much wisdom. I fully realize and accept disdain that he has invited from catholic orthodoxy. But these controversies stem from his political criticisms of ecclesiology, not from a strictly liturgical platform.
    If allowing Wills to be anathema, can we move onto the point of the post, where lie the boundaries of creative innovation within the liturgical disciplines?

  3. Charles,

    Your intention is spot on. A reasoned discussion of the role and limitations of creativity in liturgical music is much needed, and will be of considerable interest. It is clear from tradition and teaching that gregorian chant and rennaissance polyphony are proper to the Latin Rite. The church also recognises that other music can be suitable, in as much as it approximates to the character of the recognised models in its sympathy with the liturgy. Analysis of this qualification will take us beyond a slavish adherance to historical style on the one hand, and insensitivity to the ethos of the rite on the other.

  4. "if Sunday Mass was truly the life-blood nexus of parish life… some of that “Catholic Crisis” would have been mitigated, and perhaps some of the ancillary ecclesial crises in vocations, reproductive and gender issues, and the problem of clericalist authoritarianism would have benefited by the sheer beauty and power of a fulfilled liturgy performed universally."


    The problem with innovation arises because of the ego-centrism of post-lapsarian man, who does not not always successfully discern between creative innovation and DESTRUCTIVE innovation.
    You don't need to be religious to suffer as a result of it –
    I imagine we've all had baleful nights at the theater or opera where some ersatz genius has "deconstructed" the work of an actual genius.

    I'm probably not interested in sitting through Joe Schmo's "Hamlet" or Mons. Schmo's "Mass."

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  5. Charles:

    You're right…I was side-tracked.

    OK…on "boundaries of creative innovation within the liturgy." I think that it is harder to begin by trying to define the boundaries, but perhaps easier to start by trying to set some criteria for "identity" in the liturgy. I think that liturgy must be alive, therfore it must grow (innovate), but also the words "boundary" and "within" acknowledge that there are/must be limits.

    I can begin with the analogy that liturgy, and liturgical music, is authentic (in the sense of Liturgicum Authenticum) because it is part of the ancient living tree of liturgy…it's branches may have different shapes and twists than other brnaches, but it is recognizable as an integral part of the tree (it has has the same DNA, the same substance and form as the other parts of the tree). And the fact that the tree is both ancient, and alive, like an ancient live oak, brings to mind a thing that is very old, massive, majestic in size and shape, astonishingly twisted and in many of its branches bent down with its own weight, yet still integral (not a new species) and evergreen, with abundant new growth organically growing (Ratzinger) from the ancient wood.

    So there ought to be a lot of new stuff on the tree, yet the majority of the stuff is old. Using an analogy like this, we wouldn't see hymnals like "Gather" with 2/3 – 3/4 of the music being "contemporary," but something more of the converse, with the bulk of the hymnal being the beautiful music passed down over the ages, and a smaller portion being beautiful "new music" that is strongly identifiable as the outgrowth of the old. That's a start anyway…time for bed for me…

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