03 September 2003

Nichols' Looking at the Liturgy Ch.2

The second chapter of this book is titled "The Importance of Ritual." Fr. Nichols, with the help of some social anthropologists and sociologists, dismantles the idea that less is more when it comes to ritual. Echoing Professor David Martin of the London School of economics, he says that the "popular local heresy" of the "cult of choice" results in "a dangerous and destructive imbalance." Directly from Martin, "What is done by rote and performed in ritual provides the necessary substratum of experience on the basis of which experience becomes possible."
Quoting from Kieran Flanagan (yes, this book does read like a book of quotations in places), "The relationship of rite to the cultural was far more ambiguous and complex than was understood at the time of the Council...Only recently has a form of sociology emerged that could offer a means of understanding liturgical operations in a way that is compatable with their theological basis."
"To a sociological eye, rites work best when they are repetitive and formalized, so that the liturgical actor can practice a certain forgetfulness of self, 'playing into' his role...Rites that do not allow a sense of distance deny to the people, paradoxically, a means of appropriating the act of worship, crippling them just at the point where they could be taking off Godward by a leap of religious imagination. For liturgical actors, though presented within a social frame, have to convey properties of what lies beyond that frame, a rumor of angels."

Essentially, in the eyes of sociologists, the reform of the liturgy undertaken immediately after Vatican II came just a few years too soon. Had they waited ten years, the sociologists would have been telling the liturgists that simpler, understandable rites with plentiful options are not actually better for the human community. We are creatures of ritual and lovers of mystery. As Fr. Nichols said, the Church forgot this just as the sociologists discovered it.

No comments: