Friday, 25 May 2007

The wisest fool in Christendom

I found this on the net this morning, and find myself shaking my head. The late Fr Kavanagh seems to have belonged to a group of people, many of whom I have known, who have been frantically opposed to the old Mass for years, and yet whose devotional and intellectual life point unfailingly towards it. It reminds me of that scene in CSLewis' The Last Battle where a group of dwarves are unaware that they are eating and drinking the most wonderful food, and believe themselves to be gnawing on bits of old rubbish from a stable. Most of the people in this group whom I have known seem to have found their way to the old Mass eventually, and embraced it with joy when finally they allowed themselves to. There seems not to have been time in the case of Fr Kavanagh.
Which is to say, don't be put off by his first paragraph: keep reading to the end.
The article is taken from Commonweal magazine's blog, which you can find here if you would rather read it on the original site.


A Countercultural Tornado
May 24, 2007, 2:17 pm
Posted by J. Peter Nixon
One of the voices I am missing in the current debate over the forthcoming motu proprio on the liturgy is that of the liturgical historian Fr. Aidan Kavanagh, OSB. Kavanagh, the author of such well-regarded works as On Liturgical Theology and Elements of Rite, died on July 9, 2006.

Awhile back I came across an essay that contains much of what I think Kavanagh would say to us now if he could. It is contained in a collection of essays entitled The Awakening Church, published as reactions to a study of liturgy in 15 parishes across the United States. Kavanagh’s contribution to the book is notable for its thoughtfulness and balance.
In the essay, Kavanagh makes his core commitments quite clear:
I am a creature of the Second Vatican Council; my ministry, piety, and academic career have been framed by the Council; I am a steadfast advocate of its reforms and will remain so long as I live. I continue to refuse to have anything to do with the revival of the Tridentine Mass liturgy quite simply because I regard such an attempt as a vast mistake, often well meaning, but still mistaken. It is a mistake because the reformed liturgy that has issued from the Council is an incomparably more rich, vital and traditional liturgical settlement in the truly Catholic sense than that of Trent, given its times, ever could have been. If the reforms of the recent Council in liturgical worship are not perfect, and if they have suffered from reductionism and misinterpretation, the same happened to the less insightful reforms of Trent during the Counter-Reformation period. Even a Mozart concerto can be badly played.

Having said this, Kavanagh also expressed deep concern about some trends in contemporary liturgy:
The old discipline and its egalitarian sense of obligation is now replaced by local options often generated by committees made up of clergy and semiprofessional lay persons who represent largely middle-class values and techniques of short-term joining and therapy, which may be problematic for the poorer classes and disdained by the upper classes. A kind of humorless symbol mongering often results from this, buffering or even suffocating the fundamental sacramental reality at the core of the rite—the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in Christ being transmuted into some kind of cultural high tea followed by seminars on social justice, world hunger, or how we are and are not permitted to speak of God in brave new ways. Such issues, no less than liturgical reform and sacramental symbolism, are very important indeed. They are also very complex, require high discipline and competence, and are trivialized by simplistic reductionism when they fall into the hands of the undisciplined and incompetent.

Toward the end, he reminds us of some first principles that are too often forgotten:
What this Word has always told those who celebrate the liturgy is that the Holy One in whose presence they stand is pleased to have them stand there precisely because of their sin, which merited so great a redeemer, and that because of this they have no abiding city. Their home is with God in Christ, who reveals his Father just as the Holy Spirit reveals him to them as the Christ of God. Their liturgical worship belongs to these three, who allow us to take our unmerited and gratuitously given part in it, and it discomforts us as it comforts. In no way must it confirm us in our illusions—that this liturgy belongs to us, or our social class, or our culture, or our world; that we are without sin; that our salvation is sure in spite of what we do; that our prognosis is only progress; that our city will abide; that our glands preside; that more education has all the answers. A “divine liturgy” is a countercultural tornado, and we do it not for ourselves, or the parish, or the Church, but for the life of the world.


caleb1x said...

The final quotation from Kavanagh is hard to understand. What does it mean to say that the "'divine liturgy'"--in quotation marks!--is a "countercultural tornado" which "we do . . . for the life of the world"? (And this after saying that the liturgy does not belong to our world.)

Confused said...

What is this????

"What this Word has always told those who celebrate the liturgy is that the Holy One in whose presence they stand is pleased to have them stand there precisely BECAUSE of their sin"

I really don't know about this. I cannot believe that God would be pleased about our sinful state for whatever reason.

I know God loves us but I never thought he loved our sin.

Anonymous said...

Confused, I have no doubt that the flawed, inadequate, half-hearted praise sporadically offered by us sinful creatures means infinitely more to God than the unceasing and perfect praises of the entire angelic host.

As we know, there is more joy over one sinner who repents than over 99 who never sinned. This doesn't mean that God loves our sin, but rather that our sinfulness gives all the more scope for the operation of his grace. This is a common theme in Paul (e.g. Romans 5.20), and is echoed in the Exsultet which Kavanagh is clearly quoting: "O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!"