26 August 2003

Nichols' Looking at the Liturgy Ch.1

I've just finished reading Looking at the Liturgy by Aidan Nichols, O.P. It is certainly one of the best-researched books I've ever seen, and Fr. Nichols has an extremely large vocabulary. (It's been a long time since I had to read a book with my dictionary close at hand, and some of his sentences are positively Dickensian in length.) He devotes his first chapter to the modern history of the liturgy, from the beginning of the Liturgical Movement with Dom Prosper Gueranger. Then he back-tracks a little: it is "abundantly clear that the origins of the liturgical movement lie in the eighteenth century Enlightenment."
"The Enlightenment liturgists offer to our gaze two further traits that may give us a sinking feeling of deja-vu. First, they put forward the notion that...parish priests have the right to modify individual celebrations of the Liturgy...And secondly, they are somewhat fixated on the fourth century." This does indeed sound familiar.
"What we, over half a century after Trapp [a German liturgist-historian writing in 1940], may note in out turn, however, is that the approach to Liturgy that apparently predominates today is much more reminiscent of the Enlightenment as he describes it than of the interwar liturgical movement that he presents as its foil. Antrhopocentric, moralizing, voluntaristic, didactic, subjectivist...[rather than] theocentric, redemption-conscious, and aware of [some impossible German phrase] 'ontological bonding' with God through the divine Logos incarnate, our Great High Priest, found as he is in all his glorious objectivity in the given cultic pattern of the community of faith." See what I meant about his writing style? His thesis is very convincing, if you can dig it out of his extremely scholastic language.
He actually offers his conclusion to this chapter at the begining, but I'm going to put it here: "Not enough attention was paid to certain ambiguities in the history of the liturgical movement either by those who brought about the Second Vatican Council's commitment to the "liturgical renewal", in the Constitution Sacrosanctum concilium, or by those who subsequently worked to give that commitment concrete form in the revised liturgical books whose publication began with the issue of the reformed Roman Calendar in 1969."

This is a book well worth tackling. It's not a particularly easy read, but it's only 126 pages. And (time for an ad) it's currently free with an order of $50 or more from Ignatius Press.

The cause for the beatification of Dom Gueranger has been put forward.

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