Live, from the orphanage

There is an interesting discussion going on about the reformed liturgy as practiced since Vatican II. The discussion concerns an expression of Cardinal Sarah’s: “too much man and not enough God.”

I would like to propose that this expression, while accurate, does not reach to the heart of the problem, which is philosophical and theological. The real liturgical question is this:

Is the firmament permeable, or not?

1) If God is absent from the world, separated by the bright line of an unbridgeable horizon from earthly life and in a noumenal realm, then we are on our own. We are orphan children of an absent God, making our own way, and depending primarily on each other. Petitions and hymns are discussions among ourselves about values. The congregation is the primary instantiation of community. The most appropriate posture is humans facing humans, closing the circle. Intelligibility is of highest importance.

2) If God is actively at work in the world here and now, on earth and in earthlings, continually strengthening and raising us, then liturgy is a privileged opportunity to meet God. Liturgical language expresses our dependence on God’s help. Petitions and hymns ask for more and more divine intervention, and not only for those present in one time and place, but for all people, living and the dead. The most appropriate posture involves all of the people facing the divine presence. Receptivity to grace is our highest action, and God Himself is of the highest importance.


Obviously there are multiple possible reasons for believing in one or another of these admittedly schematic theories of life, the universe and everything. But may I suggest that one possibility is the error of Esau, who sold his birthright for a nice dish of stew.

If God were absent from the world–which He is not–then we would be able to make our own morality. Right and wrong would be up to us. But it is not. And the cost of license would be much too high to pay.

One of the motivations for the reform of the reform–certainly my motivation–is that the reformed liturgy in its casual iterations leaves us feeling lonely for God. It distracts from prayer, rather than fostering recollection. It proposes a worldview in which we are stuck, alone, with what we have and who we are, rather than accurately expressing the truth, which, thanks be to God, is this:

the sky’s the limit.

10 Replies to “Live, from the orphanage”

  1. "One of the motivations for the reform of the reform… is that the reformed liturgy in its casual iterations leaves us feeling lonely for God. It distracts from prayer, rather than fostering recollection."

    A provocative and useful insight.

  2. The problem with the formulation "too much man and not enough God" is that it treats the relationship between God and creatures as a "competitive" one, as if the creature needs to diminish in order for God to be magnified. While it is true that scripture says non nobis, Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam, we also believe that in the hypostatic union Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human and that his created human nature in no way "threatens" or takes away from his divine nature. Mutatis mutandis, I would say that what we are seeking is a liturgy that is fully human and fully divine, not one that plays the human and divine off against each other is a zero-sum game.

    Indeed, I would argue that such a competitive account of creator and creature goes hand in hand with an impermeable firmament. While the humanists might rest content with staying on our side of the line, the "too much man and not enough God" views seems to say that we have to find a way to cross over to the other side of the line. But perhaps there is no line to be crossed. Perhaps God's transcendence is not at odds with God's immanence. Perhaps it is the case that, as Irenaeus said, "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God."

    Of course, the devil is in the details and there is much room for discussion of what this means in practice, but (with all due respect to Cardinal Sarah), I don't find the formulation "too much man and not enough God" to be very helpful in such discussions.

  3. Deacon Fritz, I agree with you about everything, except your rejection of Cardinal Sarah's expression. (In fact, since writing the above I've regretted not using the word "transcendent " in referring to the One Who comes.)

    If I understand correctly, the "too much" here refers to the focus of the Liturgy: what our attention is drawn to in a practical way.

    The revolutionary shift in posture and architecture , nowhere expressed by the Council Fathers, radically changes the focus of attention to the congregation. The Passover leaves a seat open for Elijah. Where, in a spatial way, do we leave an opening for God in se?

  4. Is Catholic theology not incarnational? viz we understand that the primary mediators of God on earth are human beings?

  5. I think it's Theology of the Mass as Assembly instead of Theology of the Mass as Sacrifice. I also think that "ecumenism" has a lot to do with it as well. In order to make the Mass look more Protestant, so they would feel more "welcome," we had to start doing some things the way Protestants would recognize: 1. Protestants are accustomed to having a liturgical leader who speaks directly to them, in their own language, 2. Protestants are accustomed to having the entire focus of the liturgy being Scripture and its interpretation, and 3. Protestants are accustomed to being permitted to interpret Scripture and sermons "according to [their] own light," (quote from Martin Luther). The idea being that because the Protestant liturgies are more man-centered, and community-oriented, in order to make the Mass more "welcoming" for Protestants in the spirit of "ecumenism," some disciplines and practices which clearly oriented the Mass towards God as a sacrifice had to be changed in order to make it look similar.

  6. I guess I'm just unconvinced by the diagnosis. When I go to liturgies that are particularly boring, irreverent, rote, ugly, blasphemous—or any of the other ways that a liturgy might fail to be what it ought—I rarely if ever think, "You know, the problem was that they focused too much on man and not enough on God."

    To be fair, I suppose there are a few occasions when I might think that, like if we are all invited to shake hands at the beginning, but I'm more likely to think, "Well, this sure feels phony. Why are we inserting the most trivial of human customs—introducing yourself to a someone with whom you have no intention of further meaningful interaction—into the liturgy?" But the problem isn't with the human-ness, but with the triviality.

    Just recently I happened to be at the Boston Museum of Art looking at Turner's Slave Ship. This is a very human thing: a human artifact depicting the kind of horrific event we humans are so good at bringing about, yet doing so with incredible beauty. Yet I don't think that giving it my attention in any way diminished my sense of God; it may well have enhanced it. But that is because it is, though human, non-trivial.

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I find the diagnosis "too much man and not enough God" to be a little like the prescription "say the black, do the red." While not entirely wrong, it's radically inadequate and might well be misleading in many contexts.

    As to openings for God in se, even when we are dealing with supernatural acts of God, we only know God through his created effects, so I'm not sure there is any opening for God in se. But I don't see that as a problem. While I think I know what you're trying to get at, I remain unconvinced that "too much man and not enough God" is the best way to get there.

  7. You? Nah….

    I do think you are making much too close an analogy between the situation of the Church and that of the two natures in Christ. The human and divine elements in Him are not in competition. But it is not that way in us. The flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, a concupiscence that we are left with after baptism.

    Moreover, although you probably wouldn't say the Arian error is "too much man, not enough God," there is something to the expression in this regard. By focusing on and arguing for one nature over another, the truth of the "and" was lost.

    We've had 40 years of indoctrination into an almost exclusively human perspective of Church–so much so that it is hard to notice anymore. But it's there, whenever pop psychology substitutes for theology in a homily, or All Are Welcome is the opening hymn.

  8. Actually, I don't know where the idea of competitiveness comes from, probably from American ideals of business or free enterprise. But if one must, there is an infinite competitiveness between God and man, and it started in the garden of Eden, with Satan pulling man away from God to its side by virtue of man's God given freedom, man made in the image of God Himself. But God gave man another chance after the garden, but how often it is refused. This other chance is that choice between God or nothing. Indeed, there is an infinite chasm between God and man as Kierkegaard pointed out, bridged only by the Absolute Paradox, Jesus, in Whom the Infinite becomes finite, an impossibility for the ivory tower inhabitants, but made possible through Faith, even that of a peasant. in fact more so. The new liturgy is the garden revisited, where the delights for man are chosen over duty to God, the source of all Good. The delights of knowledge, of understanding, of active participation in fabricated man-made choreography, in short, a rejection of the Absolute Paradox, rather than the love of God through the heart lead by the awe of sacredness in the mysteries of Faith.

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