Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Liturgy at the periphery?

Whenever someone trots out that well-worn phrase such as "periphery" or evokes the imagery of the "smell of the sheep", I'm tempted to smack myself in the head with a candlestick. Not because I don't agree with the sentiment expressed, but because Papal phrases have a way of becoming ecclesiastical buzzwords that are ultimately emptied of meaning. The same thing was true of prior Pontificates (or at least, the last two). When the Hermaneutic of Rupture and Continuity isn't hiding under the bed, it's the New Evangelization or . One is tempted to ask what in these days isn't the New Evangelization, or a periphery, or a sheep......

But you can only dodge the potholes for so long, and I too succumb to the attractions of ecclesiastical jargon. Which brings me to the topic I was thinking about this past week: Liturgy At the Periphery. 

Liturgical programs abound at seminaries, formation houses and educational institutions. Publications of all kinds abound, and the blogosphere has a particular neuralgic fascination with the liturgy. Yet most of these resources are all geared toward a fairly well-off segment of the population - the kind with a decent church building (maybe even air conditioned), some support parish staff, a decent budget, even a good data connection to listen to music or homiletic samples. That quite far from a mission station around the world where a parish priest might have to face different questions, such as:

How do you train clergy and other ministers adequately in preaching, celebration and other tasks with only the bare number of books, reference works or supplementary materials? How do you run your average parish catechetical and formation programs?
What do you do when you can't afford big copyright fees for texts and music?
How do you cultivate a music repertoire when many of your congregants don't have cars to drive them long distances to rehearsals, and can only practice on the Sunday when they come to Mass?

All these and more raise their own crop of challenges. Whereas a minister or associate in the developed world who wants to encourage the communal praying of the Liturgy of the Hours can simply print out a bunch of programs, or place an order with a publisher for books, that can be challenging half-way around the world when money, printers and even photocopiers are in short supply. And so, what we end up with is a liturgical inequality, where the 'haves' possess greater opportunities to worship than the 'have-nots' (and don't get me started on the redistribution of priests to wealthier countries....).

On one hand, technology has enabled us to make great strides. Smart phones are slowly becoming ubiquitous even in some of the most unlikely rural areas - I never cease to be amazed that people might not have plumbing, or live in a shanty, but to contact anyone will whip out a smartphone. Yet most quality liturgical resources - if they are free - are still largely geared toward that broad segment where living standards are higher.

There are some websites geared toward the developing world. Unfortunately, in my experience, these have a preponderance of Bad Taste, operating according to the worst outdated paradigms of the immediate post-conciliar era. Liturgists have come to recognize the limits of certain ideas that were all-the-rage in the 70s - theme Masses, for example, or that continuous fascination with "animation" of the liturgy. 

Now, no one can be expected to work for free, and liturgists, musicians, pastoral workers and theologians are also among those who need to earn their bread and butter through their work. Not everyone is a Archadale A. King with a day job, scribbling away at night. But I think it would help if those who do have and develop resources also have an eye to those less affluent regions of the world, and their hard-working and overstretched pastors. I'm reminded of that immediate period after the Council when many prelates and priests made a more conscious effort in favour of the missions to the poorer regions of the Catholic world. In our global interconnected age, sometimes such gestures are closer at hand than we imagine. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Rubric of the week: the Gospel Canticle antiphon in the Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours always seems to be something that confuses people. Judging by the last USCCB Plenary, apparently it confuses a fair number of priests. I must confess that I am not quite sure about the last one. I can understand how people who have to worry about kids, day-jobs and umpteen other concerns might not have time to dive into the bewildering terminology and intricacies of the different Offices and the liturgical year (although, it is far from impossible). But I cannot see why 4-8 years in a formation program is insufficient for acquainting clerics with the fundamentals of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Having dabbled with the 'old' breviary, and even delved into the intricacies of the pre-1911 Breviarium, it really is not that difficult.

That being said, there are some peculiarities here and there that crop up and can catch even seasoned veterans unawares. One I have frequently encountered is around the Gospel Canticle (i.e. the Canticle of Zechariah, or Benedictus, and the Canticle of Mary, or Magnificat) antiphon at Morning and Evening Prayer for memorials.

Many of those who regularly pray Morning/Evening Prayer are acquainted with the rubric of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, which reads:

Memorials During Ordinary Time 
235. In the office of readings, at morning prayer, and at evening prayer:
a. the psalms and their antiphons are taken from the current week and day, unless there are proper antiphons or proper psalms, which is indicated as the case occurs;
b. the antiphon at the invitatory, the hymn, the short reading, the antiphons at the Canticles of Zechariah and of Mary, and the intercessions must be those of the saint if these are given in the proper; otherwise, they are taken either from the common or from the current week and day;
c. the concluding prayer from the office of the saint is to be said;
As a result, especially during Ordinary Time, many commonly use the ferial antiphons for the Canticles of Zechariah and Mary, or a Common antiphon if they are using a particular Common of Saints (which seems to be less popular, owing to a desire not to flip too much).

However, the General Instruction is not the only source of rubrics - more specific rubrics are given in the Ordinary (if you are using the ICEL books. If you are using the UK books, then good luck! since the compilers for some reason went with the most confusing, outdated, pre-Pius X layout). And the rubric in the Ordinary reads:

In celebrations of saints, unless there is a proper antiphon, the antiphon is taken from the Commons
This is Volume III and IV (i.e. Ordinary Time). In Volumes I and II (Advent-Christmas, and Lent-Easter) a different version is given:

In celebrations of saints, unless there is a proper antiphon, the antiphon is taken from the weekday
In other words, unless a particular antiphon is indicated, the Gospel Canticle antiphon should be from the weekday during the 'special' seasons, and the Common during Ordinary Time. 

Why the difference? Well, it certainly has to do with the fact that proper antiphons are given for each day of the seasons other than Ordinary Time. This antiphon often corresponds to the Gospel of the day. On the other hand, the ones during Ordinary Time are more generic, often drawn from the Gospel Canticle itself. 

Given that the Gospel Canticle forms the highpoint of Morning/Evening Prayer, its antiphon has a long history of being singled out as a special element to match the day or season - along with the Collect, it is still used for the "commemorations" of  superceded liturgical memorials during Lent, weekdays of the Christmas Octave and Dec 17-24. The simple nature of the Ordinary Time Gospel Canticle antiphons, and their repetition over a 4 week cycle, makes its replacement by an antiphon for the saint during Ordinary Time much more attractive, and prevents a certain tedium. 

About me

This blog exists as a vehicle for my own musings - mostly on liturgical matters. Growing up surrounded by Christians of all denominations, I was always fascinated by the ritual forms of worship. Liturgy has remained an interest of mine ever since I read Jungmann's Missarum Solemnia at the age of 12 (!). The title of the blog is not simply a pathetic attempt to be witty but reflects one of my strongly held convictions on the importance of ritual worship. It's a conviction that has grown on me as I attend more and more liturgical services. We live in the heyday of liturgical functionalism, with atomized gestures and rites, leading to the intrusion of an extreme subjectivism. Absent of ritual coherence, many rites are left hanging on the intentions and invisible interior dispositions of people. The recovery of a ritual dynamic is something that is increasingly important in denominations with formal worship.

I eschew labels, but they do fulfil a function. In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that I do approach things from a fairly conservative viewpoint. I do give a certain amount of weight to the tradition, which has been reinforced by a strange, almost post-modern, suspicion about academic theories that seem to fit a little too well. Of course, that suspicion often finds me in conflict with people who identify as conservative or traditionalist as well. Admittedly, it does not crop up consistently, leading to some incoherence in application.....

So what is this blog going to be on? In short: anything that catches my fancy. It may be a niggling rubric from a liturgical book, an review of something I'm reading, a thought I've had, or a study I'm undertaking. I've tried to write blogs before and usually failed to find the time. But I've realized I need a place to put down my thoughts, so here goes......maybe it will work this time.  Nunc coepi!