06 September 2003

Nichols' Looking at the Liturgy Ch.3

The third chapter is titled, "The Idiom of Worship." Fr. Nichols begins with a quote from Canon Vigo Demant (of Christ Church, Oxford, and contributor to T.S. Eliot's Christendom Group), which may soon become one of my favorite quotes: "When the Church begins to proclaim the Gospel in a secular idiom she may end by proclaiming secularism in a Christian idiom." "Idiom" can be taken to mean several different things, and Fr. Nichols discusses the following categories:
Architecture "For the last forty years Catholic architecture has been dominated by the school of thought known as 'radical functionalism'... Not only by virtue of its dedication but also because of the purposeive Christian intelligence of its builders, a church should be a vehicle of grace for those properly disposed to dwell in it...In modernist vocabulary, a door, for instance, is simply that. It cannot address the pregnant processes of entering, crossing thresholds, transition, and passage and therefore cannot speak, as in the mediaeval period it did to Durandus and Abbot Suger of St. Denis (authors of important tratises on building) of the person of Christ."
Language "That outstanding student of patristic language Christine Morhmann [has] described the whole of the earliest eucharistic terminology in Greek as 'deliberately isolated from the language of everyday life'...There is an argument here either for the retention of an otherwise unusual sacral language (Latin, Church Slavonic, premodern Greek) or for the preservation of a relatively archaic and high version of the vernacular, marking off a difference from secular language use."
Music "And yet of course the Roman rite is essentially a chanted rite...Pius X saw Gregorian chant as the classical or paradigmatic music of the Church, though it need not be exclusively performed. Still, to serve as a paradigm, the "classic" music must of course be available, known, and used...What has replaced the chant and polyphony does not bear too much thinking about [the first place where I think I really disagree with him]."

"What we are witnessing here is not simplay a secularization of the idiom of Christian worship but the expropriation of the Liturgy from the Church altogether, in favor of its recreation by particular groups that cannot claim to represent the ekklesiastikon phronema, the sensus Ecclesiae."

What Fr. Nichols is saying is what most of us already know, that the Mass should be truly divine and separate from the world; a gate into eternity, but we have made it human and of the world; a gate leading nowhere but where we already are. A door that is just a door.

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