Each year the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments hosts a "study day", more or less around the date of the anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4 December. I have attended all the conferences so far, I believe.
This year the theme: Majesty and Beauty in His Sanctuary: Art in the service of the liturgy. It took place in the Hall of the Synod, as every year.
After an initial prayer by the Prefect, His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, the Secretary Archbishop Ranjith opened the proceedings.
The first talk was by H.E. Julian Lopez Martin, Bishop of Leon and President of the Spanish bishops’s committe on liturgy. His talk was to provide starting points: Theological Principles and Executive Norms for the Ordering of Churches. The talk left me confused. This came off as the sort of talk one would have heard perhaps 25 years ago. For example, there was not a single mention of the tabernacle, where it should be or even if there should be one at all. Zero. Also, I had the sense that he hadn’t actually prepared the talk himself, since he seems a little unsure as to where he was in the text. His focus was entirely, exclusively (and I mean that is the sense of "exclude") devoted to celebration versus populum. He also took a shot at the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. All along I thought that it could have been cribbed in part from Card. Mahoney’s Gathering the Neighborhood Together, or whatever that was called. Since he finished his talk early, Archbp. Ranjith opened the floor to questions before the next talk, something really never done in these parts. In any event there was blood on the floor, and I held the knife, I’m afraid. But I’ll get to that later.
The second talk was form H.E. Mauro Piacenza who is the Secretary of the Congregation for Clergy. He was in the news when he was transferred to his new post from the Commission on the Cultural Heritage of the Church. He is a solid fellow, I can say that. Among the many sound things he spoke of was the need for Gregorian Chant and a "sacred language", and for the Latin Church he meant Latin. He stressed the importance that the Council gave to Latin and to Gregorian Chant as well as the documents of the Church and Popes. He restated the need for a return to seminary formation in Latin and also music and art, etc. Too much of what is going on now, without that formation is characterized by "bad taste" or "puerile" approaches. He also said that when Popes ask for things in documents, what they ask for is to be done, not just set aside. He mentioned Redemptionis Sacramentum explicitly.
After the break for refreshments, which was itself interesting: I was in a small area where most of the main characters were: I met and chatted with Mons. Guido Marini, and spoke at length with both Archbp. Ranjith and Card. Arinze, as well as a few other notables. … I digress…
After the break, there was a talk by a fellow who was in the new recently for a book on the Sistine Chapel, Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, of the Gregorian University. While I can’t say I much cared for the rather dreamy talk he gave about interpenetration of the 4th dimension, and all that, he was a fire brand at the very end. Father was all about new forms of architecture and other artistic forms for churches and liturgy which serve to create in the person a sense of real contact with the sacred, with heaven, etc. Alas, some of the examples he cited led me to wonder if I was on the same page with this learned fellow. But at the end of the study day, for the real Q&A period, he was a firebrand. Back to that later.
Then there was talk by Mons. Crispino Valenziana, of Sant’Anselmo (emeritus of the liturgical institute). His never ending speech, which Archbp. Ranjith informed him was over the limit by 12 minutes, focused on the parallels of the liturgical reform after the Council of Trent carried out by the might St. Charles Borromeo, and some of the same problems we have today. It could have been interesting had Father gotten to his points more quickly. However, he gave some energy to how St. Charles thought it so important that the tabernacle be in the center and that the church and celebration of liturgy had to be ad orientem. St. Charles said churches had to be oriented to the geographic east. If that was impossible, he would give permission that they be shifted more sourthward, but never to the west or north. The focus was the rising sun, because the Church is directed to the Lord who is Coming from the east.
Finally, Cardinal Arinze made a speech. He returned to the bloody topic raised after the talk given by H.E. mons. Lopez Martin: celebration of Mass versus populum and ad orientem. His points were these. First, the Church never forbade celebration ad orientem. A priest who celebrates ad orientem is not violating any rubrics or laws no matter how surprised anyone might be. Also, and this was really good, celebration versus populum requires a great deal more concentration and focus for the priest, more focus than many priests have. Forgetting a proper ars celebrandi they become "priest showman" as if they were on TV. They become the focus of the action, not the Lord. Of course, Card. Arinze hit that one out of the park and people applauded. What he said also raises the question: if it is so important that the priest not become, or be tempted to become, the center of attention, and if many priests simply lack the focus needed to celebrate versus populum as is required, then wouldn’t it be better that there be more celebrations ad orientem? Effectively what Card. Arinze did was dismantle a major aspect of the first talk, by Mons. Lopez Martin. As I mentioned before, the talk by the head of the liturgy committee of the Spanish Bishops sounded as if it were from 25 years ago, when any consideration of Mass ad orientem was totally stiffled.
You see, during the Q&A opened by Archbp Ranjith after the talk by Mons. Lopez Martin, I asked him a question which resulted in an exchange. The exchange was along these lines. Since recently much more attention is being given to Mass celebrated ad orientem in books and articles, and since we now have Summorum Pontificum, why were you focused exclusively on celebration versus populum? Why no mention at all of ad orientem? Why? The answer came back that the GIRM says that Mass must be versus populum. I pounced. Readers of my articles and this blog know that I have written extensively about his matter, and thus I was able to quote the GIRM paragraph as #299 and I corrected his position saying that the altar must be detached from the wall so that Mass can be said also versus populum, not that Mass must be celebrated that way. He then seemed to crumble a little and said something about Vatican II and the Church wants the altar to be the center of attention, not the priest. So I shot back, tennisball-like, the question: Would celebration ad orientem tend then to diminish the personality of the priest better than would celebration versus populum? He said: You are free to believe that. At that point I decided not to press the matter. The point had been made and won. During the interventions that followed, however, the speakers did add side comments about Mass ad orientem in a favorable light. As I said above, Mons. Valenziano gave part of his talk to that issue at the time of Charles Borromeo, who considered that so critical a part of the Church’s worship.
I mentioned taht Pfeiffer stepped to the plate. A woman with degrees in canon and civil law asked a question about where the norms regulating the ordering of churches could be found. Please note that that was supposed to be the topic of the talk given by H.E. Mons. Lopez Martin. Archbishop Ranjith therefore gave Lopez Martin that question. No answer was forthcoming. He mentioned something about Sacrosanctum Concilium. However, when someone asked another question, which was passed to Fr. Pfeiffer, Pfeiffer returned to the woman’s point and added that, these days, "the Church seems to be afraid to censure anyone". His comment won the approval of the listeners.
There were a few more fireworks, but time constrains me.
One last thing. A fellow asked a rather polemical question, aimed I believe at Bp. Piacenza, about whether we were not confused about the concepts of "il sacro" and "il santo" ("the sacred… the holy"). What was that all about. Some liturgists who come from the twisted side of the liturgical movement which derailed the good things the liturgical movement emphasize an immanentist and horizontal view of liturgy. Those things which are for liturgy (music, buildings, art, vessels, etc.) thus stress congregation and the here and now, the immediate. Everything is in service of the liturgy, therefore, in a functional way. That distinction of sacro and santo was code. He was diminishing a "sacred" sense of things in themselves, a purpose entirely removed from the profane and given to God, and saying that we needed "holy", which is a different concept from "sacred". He was saying, basically, church buidings are for actual liturgical action, and they must be built and function in that light. Later, H.E. Mons. Ranjith gave the floor to someone who asked to speak, rather than ask a question. I didn’t catch the layman’s name, but I got the sense that this is one of the guys from the Cultural Heritage office which Piacenza ran until recently. He raised the question of what a church building is for? Is it functional? That is, is the building serving is purpose only when the liturgy is actually in action? What if the church is empty? Does it fulfill its purpose then? If the point is to have an encounter with the sacred, with mystery, etc., what about the empty church which isn’t in this precise moment used for liturgy? The idea is that everything about the church build must provide an encounter with the sacred, even when Mass is not being celebrated.
For me, this also raised the problem of the tabernacle. Where is the tabernacle? What is the building for?
This leads to other points and questions.
For example, music is not just ornament or useful. It is par integrans an integral or integrating part of the liturgy. It is liturgy in a deep sense. It communicates something of the awe at transcendence. Thus, sacred music must aim at more than congregational singing, which never can attain certain levels of artistey and expertise our liturgical action deserves. Still, in many cases everything for worship, including space, vessels, music, etc., are reduced in a minimalism approach to the utilitarian basics. Is that what we need?
This is already long, but I wanted to share some notes. I am sure I will be hearing more reactions about all this in the coming days.