Saturday 12 October 2019

Synod 2020. Number 19. Muddling the Mystery

Tomorrow we celebrate Synod Sunday here in the Archdiocese of Liverpool - the presentation of the four "Themes" on which we are to submit proposals. It's rather a pity that it comes on the same day as Cardinal Newman's canonization - as both subjects could certainly fill a Sunday.

The four themes are:

All called and gifted by God
Sharing the mission of Jesus
How we pray together
Building community, nurturing belonging

A little nebulous to my way of thinking and despite some references to the loss of transcendence in the liturgy and a nod to those who are "attached to the Extraordinary Form" in the presentation to the Synod members at the last meeting when these themes were revealed, the direction of travel seems clear. The language, presentation and mind-set all encourage a further travelling on a now well-worn path that has led to the need for an "emergency Synod" in the first place. Certainly there are those among my fellow priests and among the laity who do not see that "more of the same" is going to solve any of our problems or inspire any new evangelisation. However, we continue to take part in the hope that those with some different ideas from the formularies of the last forty years which have led us to this dire state in the Church might still get a look in.

I might translate the themes from secularese into the ecclesial thus:

The call to sanctity and participation in Christ's priestly, prophetic and kingly offices  (Catechism 1694 ff & 897ff )

Mission - a requirement of the Church's Catholicity (Catechism 894ff)

Praying like the Apostles (Catechism 1124ff)

How to belong to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church  (Catechism 748ff)


The main focus of this blog has always been liturgical, so I would like to focus there. I suppose that comes under the heading of "How we pray together". I have just started reading Cardinal Sarah's new book, "The day is now far spent". As you might expect from him, it pulls no punches. On page 43 he quotes Romano Guardini in his book "Meditions before Mass" (one of the most important thinker of 20th century Catholic life) at some length, speaking of transcendence; the altar as both table and threshold:

"the altar, a threshold that creates first the border between the realm of the world and the realm of God...  That is why it is not fitting for the priest celebrant to stand 'on the other side of the altar', as though he were taking the place of God. In doing do he is like a screen that hides the Transcendence of God. He is a veil that hides the majesty of God. Thus, instead of looking at God, the faithful look at the priest. And he, by his movements, gestures, and many words, muddles the mystery, hides the divine Transcendence."

I don't think I've ever come across a better description of what we have done to our liturgical worship over recent years than that: we have muddled the mystery. At a plain and simple level but also understanding musterion in its biblical sense: which we might call the administration of the sacred secret.

As the next part of the Synod process we are all called upon to proffer proposals based on the four themes. I would encourage everyone to think boldly in suggesting these, to the revolutionary even. Not in the sense of mimicking the fashionable and passing revolutions of the secular world but the truly revolutionry that is of Our Lord and His Church. The great thing is that you don't have to scour your imaginations or the world's philosophies or ape the latest PC policies, all these truly revolutionary idea and practices are there in the fullness of the Church's teaching, in our very own Tradition (including the Bible). All we have to do is hold them up once more before the world and renew them in our own practice.

On the liturgical front a renewal of the sense of the sacred and transcendent might be helped by such practices as restoring the altar rail, guardian of the altar, that threshold Heaven. Cardinal Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith has mandated this in all the churches in his diocese.

Restoring the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. Some diocese have encouraged this practice, which is, after all, the norm.

Encouragement to receive Holy Communion kneeling. Cardinal Sarah notes in his book, "We will rediscover the sense of human greatness if we agree to acknowledge God's transcendence."

Encouragement to apply the Church's norms on music and Latin in the liturgy. This is mandated by the Second Vatican Council. "Steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 54) Gregorian chant has a "foremost place" in the celebration of the Mass (Sac Conc 114-117).

Let us NOT continue the work of the Reformation by negating the role of the priest in the liturgy and replacing it with overblown ministries for the laity. This undermines the true, best and most noble and most essential call of the laity. "By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will." (Catechism 898) Surely, it is in this challenge that we have abandoned our Tradition, the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism to most disastrous effect. It is so much easier to send someone on a course, dress them up in a fake stole and give them a "ministry" than it is to ask them to challenge those in their workplace and families to direct their affairs according to God's will.


I don't mean that the Archbishop should mandate all theses things tomorrow (although by doing so he would only be putting into practice what is laid down in black and white in the Church's documents and is presently often ignored). All these things could be encouraged by word and example (in the Cathedral, for example) and by the kind of resources provided by the various departments of the Archdiocese.

We are muddling the mystery because we are saying one thing - in our mandate from our Tradition, from the Second Vatican Council, from the Catechism and from our liturgical directives - but doing something quite different in practice.

A muddle indeed.

1 comment:

Margopool said...

Your article is so very clear Fr. Henry. It is so very easy to understand. Thank you and may God Bless you and Our Most Holy Mother protect you always.
Prayer, Fasting and Penance is much needed.