Review of “Worship as a Revelation” by Laurence Paul Hemming

If you are able, I recommend that you subscribe to The Catholic Herald, which seems to be pretty much on the correct side of most of our issues.

Today I read an interesting review by Alcuin Reid of a new book.  My emphases and comments.

Divine worship and the rise of ‘feel-good liturgy’
Philosopher Laurence Paul Hemming’s critique of the changes to the Mass after the Second Vatican Council will shake the liturgical establishment, says Alcuin Reid
11 July 2008

Picture
A priest celebrates Mass in the extraordinary form in New Orleans, Louisiana

Worship as a Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy by Laurence Paul Hemming, Burns & Oates £14.99

We talk too much. We read too much. We hear too much. So much so, that we have lost the art of doing, of acting either as individuals or as a people. We no longer understand what it is to belong to a people who acts, who has "public action" of its own. We are no longer liturgical. For in our vernacularism and modernisation and reform, the very nature of the leiturgia – the nature of what is truly the work of the people – has been lost. [At this point, I am scratching my head wondering where he is going.  Liturgy is certainly the "work of the people", but it is first the action of the true Actor, Jesus Christ.  So… let’s read on.]

Today we seek to comprehend and explain and decide what we do in our churches but it is utterly questionable as to whether our people experience the liturgical revelation of Almighty God[Good.  I am constantly writing that a liturgical action which does not facilitate an encounter with Mystery, is a failure.]

In fact, let’s drop the adjective "liturgical" and use Hemming’s words which assert that the liturgy is nothing less than "the ordinary and continual revealing of [God’s] truth". If this is so, it cannot be a forum for our own self-expression. [Yes.] It cannot necessarily be within our immediate comprehension or subject to our didactic commentary. [Very good!] It must be experienced, indeed lived, as worship of Almighty God – as opposed to being "enjoyed" as a form of Christian activism – in order to begin to grasp something of what is being communicated in it: the very life of God Himself.

This raises the question not only of what liturgical practices are appropriate but, more fundamentally, of the place of the liturgy in Catholic theology.

Why has Hemming, essentially a philosopher, concerned himself with this question? The answer is simple. This is not an erudite academic discourse. Nor is it an ecclesio-political one. It is the fruit of the author’s experience of Catholic worship. It is also testament to his experience that most attempts to facilitate such connection in recent decades – from guitars to garrulous clergy – while they may have resulted in our happily holding hands with each other, have in part (at least) led us to forget about the worship of Almighty God.

And while modern liturgical forms might have led us to "feel good", it is the former that most clearly and fruitfully reveals the Triune God who has definitively revealed himself in our history, and who thereby makes demands upon us by way of both orthopraxy and orthodoxy. Hemming – as a worshipping Catholic – knows this. As a philosopher and a theologian he has investigated its import for us today. Hence Worship as a Revelation.

This book’s philosophical and theological sophistication will challenge theologians and liturgists to re-examine their assumptions about how they perceive the relationship between theology and liturgy. For if worship is indeed the revelation of Almighty God, its centrality and indeed its priority in theological endeavour cannot be denied. [This is what Pope Benedict is making apparent.] The Sacred Liturgy can no longer be one component of theology; it must be its foundation, for theology that is not grounded in the living revelation of God rapidly degenerates into the mere study of religion.

Hemming’s evaluation of the liturgical reforms over the past century are provocative. Very few will have located the genesis of the late 20th-century liturgical crisis in the reign of the good and sainted Pope Pius X, but Hemming’s argument for precisely this is compelling.

The author wisely refrains from proposing simplistic solutions but allows us to see the anomalies of liturgical reform in the 20th century for what they are - a dangerous tampering with the continuity of God’s revelation. [Could we call that "tampering" perhaps a journey into "discontinuity and rupture"?] Few "trained liturgists" have been prepared to enter into serious debate on this question. It is to be hoped that this book might bring them forth.

For Hemming’s rich and clear liturgical theology is starkly distinct from that prevailing in the western Catholic Church because it is not based on the desire for archaeological reconstruction of a "dreamtime" primitive liturgical purity, nor indeed for a modern ideological construction of something tailor-made for "modern man".  [Very good.  This is a rejection of what Pope Benedict has rejected.]

Hemming is no ideologue, nor is he an antiquarian. Catholic worship is indeed a revelation. It is a live epiphany. It is tangible theology. It is the very heart – indeed the "source and summit" – of our faith. That, of course, is why we tamper with the liturgy at our peril. That is why Pope Benedict XVI has placed the reform of the Sacred Liturgy so high on the agenda of this pontificate. [as part of his Marshal Plan]  And that is why this book will provoke the liturgical establishment, for Hemming does not accept that the apotheosis of all Christian liturgy may be found in the forms produced following the Second Vatican Council, or indeed in the manner in which these forms have been celebrated in the subsequent years.

The role of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church is another area in which his liturgical theology makes serious and important claims. In short, he points out – and at last someone has had the courage and clarity to do this – that "the liturgy is the proper ground of Scripture (and not the other way round, ie the false view that the liturgy derives from Scripture)," or, put more simply, in the modern understanding of the relationship between the liturgy and scripture, "scripture has lost its ground".  [A very good observation.  In many places liturgical studies have had the life sucked from its veins by the wrong sort of theory of reading and studying Scripture.  Also, remember what Papa Ratzinger stated in The Spirit of the Liturgy in regard to the proper translation of pro multis.  Ratzinger correctly gave the absolutely perfect answer to the issue in stating that translation of liturgical texts is not, in fact, the same as translation of Scripture.  The liturgical texts constitute their own theological source.  Thus, we must translate what the liturgical texts really say.]

This claim to priority on behalf of the liturgy over the biblical text will certainly provoke debate. But, once again, if Worship as a Revelation becomes a catalyst for the re-examination of what a Catholic understanding of the role of Sacred Scripture is, it shall have done very well indeed.

This then is a book that must be read and studied and read again by theologians, scripture scholars, liturgists, all seminary faculty and indeed by all liturgical practitioners.

It will challenge and it will inform. The pontificate of Pope Benedict continues to remind us that "the true celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the centre of any renewal of the Church whatever". Hemming has rendered the Church a fine service by pointing us along the path toward a true understanding of the liturgy, a path that cannot but inform our celebration of it.

Dr Alcuin Read is a London-based liturgical scholar

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28 Responses to Review of “Worship as a Revelation” by Laurence Paul Hemming

  1. joy says:

    Sounds great, I just pre-ordered a copy, should ship on 8/19. I can hardly wait!

  2. RJM says:

    I heartily recommend Reid’s own book, The Organic Development of the Liturgy. It is one of the preeminent studies of the origins and trajectory of the twentieth century liturgical movement. Reid keeps his analysis objective, but, in the end, the disconnect between the liturgical movement’s legitimate aims and the actual reform that took place are obvious.

  3. King David says:

    There is a vast difference between the blogosphere and reality. There is a vast gulf between what the Holy Father wants and what Diocesenal Bishops will permit. The realms of theory (talk) and application (reality) are very different. The bottom line is this: as long as communion-in-the-hand is allowed all this talk of liturgical reform is vapor. No amount of incense, genuflection, or accurate translations will help if the laity think they can touch the sacred species. Communion-in-the-hand is all about self-esteem of the laity as well as poor catechesis and “church policy set by democracy”. “I want to touch the sacred host!” exclaims the “Protestant Catholic” who thinks that a) Christ should somehow be “more accessible” to them because, after all, it is the 21st century, or b) who don’t believe in or understand the Real Presence anyway. Coupled with a hierarchy who allowed it in the first place because they assumed people would do it anyway and you have a recipe for disaster. In my local diocesanal parish I am exposed on a regular basis to such sacrileges as “extraordinary ministers” (erroneously referred to, by the way, as “Eucharistic ministers” in the church bulletin) who dress in sweat pants and sneakers and who don’t genuflect before the tabernacle (although the mere existence of an extraordinary minister should raise any Catholic’s eyebrow). Where I go to church it’s all about what a “wonderful job the musical director is doing” and not about the Sacrifice of Calvary. This is the direction I see it going, from my vantage point, on a weekly basis. None of what is praised on this blog has made the slightest or most minute appearance in my church’s world. Rescind the indult permitting communion-in-the-hand, eliminate communion under both kinds (ended centuries ago for good reasons), and relegate for all time unto the dust heap of history “extraordinary ministers” and excommunicate all bishops who don’t immediately comply and then maybe we’ll get somewhere (we need less of the Mr. Rogers approach and more of the Pope Paul V approach). Lex orandi, lex credendi, remember? Well — as a matter of practical reality — communion-in-the-hand is a component of “lex orandi” and that’s why the majority of Catholics are lukewarm, which is why their “lex credendi” is more Protestant than Catholic. The likes of Alcuin Reid and Klaus Gamber have sharp minds, but the hierarchy must have the will to endure mass defections by the laity if they’re offended they can’t touch the host anymore. Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Divine Majesty deserve no less.

  4. wmeyer says:

    Hemming’s book sounds like one I must read. And now, thanks to RJM, I’m adding two books to my already overloaded list….

    But in truth, I welcome both, as I have found that the more I study the liturgy, and the Constitutions of VII, the more I crave a properly traditional approach to te liturgy.

  5. LCB says:

    King David, Have you requested the mass in Latin according to the 1962 missal? Might be worth giving a shot.

    Back to the topic… this book sounds fascinating. I believe Reid recently released a book (perhaps Fr. Z discussed it), but as far as I know it’s still only available in England :(

    I don’t want to bash liturgists (unless it’s with a large and heavy risen-Christ processional cross…), but the lack of rigor in some liturgical programs astounds me. For this reason it is no wonder that, “Few “trained liturgists” have been prepared to enter into serious debate on this question.”

    Friends in those programs will earn a Master’s degree and only be able to discuss how everyone should “feel” during liturgy while being totally unable to address any substantive liturgical issues. I wish this were a straw-man representation of their education. When I brought up the topic of “Spirit of the Liturgy”, several of them were astounded to hear that the Pope had written a whole book on the liturgy and were totally ignorant of any of the liturgical issues brought up in it. Perhaps I am ignorant, but I can not fathom how a person can earn a Master’s degree in Liturgy and not read the book written by the reigning Pontiff on that very topic.

  6. But isn’t it good when we find that translation of liturgical texts as liturgical texts comes up with the same result of what the Scriptures really say?

    Actually, for all the rubbish errant biblical scholars have come up with, it doesn’t change the fact that “pro multis” in Scripture still means what it does in the Liturgy, or vice versa. Or should we be so sycophantic before errant biblical scholars that we must take their word for what the Holy Spirit has actually inspired?

    The understanding Fr Z has of “pro multis” — getting what the prayer really says correctly — is the same thing put forward by the Scriptural text. Isn’t that a good thing? It there a problem with consonance with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Liturgy, the latter of which, in its essence, is the living expression of Revelation?

    The missing element for some seems to be a proper understanding of Sacred Tradition, which is the Living Faith infused into our souls, which unites us to God in sanctifying grace. Tradition does not mean that the Faith is handed on by hand. The Church has always spoken of Sacred Tradition as being handed on only quasi per manus, for it is done by the Holy Spirit, who also makes use of us.

    The Holy Spirit, in inspiring the Scriptures, is not ignorant of the central act of religion in the Liturgy, the Sacrifice of the Son of God Himself. To pit the Holy Spirit with the Scriptures against the Living Word of the Father who Christ IS — or vice versa — is rather not the thing to do.

    All Scripture, in one way or another, speaks of the Sacrifice of Christ. The Holy Spirit inspires Scripture to form us into being the members of Christ, so that through, with and in Him we give glory to the Father, Christ redeeming us, the Holy Spirit Sanctifying us.

    Usage of the Scriptures in the Liturgy — for instance, the sermon/homily — is to bring one face to face with the Sacrifice, which is why this is the prerogative of the priest.

    Scripture and the Sacrifice do not trump each other with adolescent triumphalism. The Sacrifice does not relegate Scripture into something secondary that can be ignored or trumped. That would be to suck the life out of both the Liturgy and Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

    I say all this not in reference to anyone or anything in the post… what I have written above is what I got to thinking about after I read the post, and may not have much to do with the post. I hope, then, that no one finds what I have written to be offensive.

    Cheers!

  7. K David: There is a vast difference between the blogosphere and reality. There is a vast gulf between what the Holy Father wants and what Diocesenal Bishops will permit. The realms of theory (talk) and application (reality) are very different.

    But this does not take into consideration that words actually do mean something, they make a difference. Also, this does not take into consideration that although Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day it surely is not rebuilt.

    Brick by brick.

    … as long as communion-in-the-hand is allowed all this talk of liturgical reform is vapor. … Communion-in-the-hand is all about self-esteem of the laity as well as poor catechesis and “church policy set by democracy”. “I want to touch the sacred host!” exclaims the “Protestant Catholic” who thinks that a) Christ should somehow be “more accessible” to them because, after all, it is the 21st century, or b) who don’t believe in or understand the Real Presence anyway.

    This touches, but only touches a key point: poor catechesis. 99% of these people are guiltless in their lack of understanding. Woe to those who deceived them. But I think it is the wrong starting point to put too much blame on the people who do these things.

    Coupled with a hierarchy who allowed it in the first place because they assumed people would do it anyway and you have a recipe for disaster.

    Woe to them.

    None of what is praised on this blog has made the slightest or most minute appearance in my church’s world.

    Patience.

    The likes of Alcuin Reid and Klaus Gamber have sharp minds, but the hierarchy must have the will to endure mass defections by the laity if they’re offended they can’t touch the host anymore. Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Divine Majesty deserve no less.

    Better yet is an approach with will instructed, persuade and then delight the laity who have been so misled so that harsh remedies will not be necessary.

    Patience.

  8. PNP, OP says:

    (Fr. Z. if this post is off-topic, please forgive me and just delete it.) I get it that folks are worried about communion in the hand. I get all the arguments…really I do. But I have to ask just one question: if the laity can’t touch the consecrated Host b/c their hands aren’t consecrated, why is it then OK for them to touch the Host with their tongues (and lips and throat and stomach and on down? As far as I know, the laity don’t generally have their tongues consecrated. This is a serious question. I’m not being cheeky or disrespectful here. My Dominican obsession with distinctions has been chewing (no pun) on this for some time. Fr. Philip, OP

  9. tjl says:

    Quick question: does anyone know the biography of Dr Reid? A google search isn’t all that helpful. I was laboring under the impression that he is a former Benedictine monk, and that’s about it. It would be interesting to know more about his background, given the topics he writes about.

  10. Emilio III says:

    Fr. Philip, this may be answered (at least in part) by the latest podcaZt 63. In the traditional rite of Baptism the priest places exorcised and blessed salt on the tongue, which is thus prepared to receive the Eucharist.

  11. Fr. Philip: Go here and listen to the PODCAzT. This is directly discussed.

  12. Brian2 says:

    Last weekend I was in Atlanta for a wedding, the following Sunday I went to mass at a church my wife and I used to attend. And in the past the liturgies were everything King David complained about. Except that the ‘Choir’ made ample use of Rain sticks and cow-bells. I’m not kidding. But now…. redesigned sanctuary, new altar, carpets torn out, and NO EMHC! That’s right: the priest and 2 deacons did it all. And I have reason to suspect that this is just the beginning. Things are changing, slowly but surely.

    Anyway, coming back to the main point of this combox: Hemming’s book. I’ve read some of his other work. His discussion of the concept of the sublime (which he translates as ‘upliftment’), in “Post Modernity’s Transending: Devaluing God” from Longinus to post-modernism might be helpful in approaching this new book. I won’t get into it here, but it is worth pointing out.

  13. Mark says:

    Dear King David:

    I completely agree with your sentiments, but consider that Traditionalist Catholics, by necessity, dwelled in ghettos for the past few decades. The goal was to survive, and changing the reigning new order was, until recently, out of our reach. Now, Pope Benedict XVI has given us not only a pass out of the ghetto, but a mandate to re-plant the Traditional Latin Mass in every parish. The enthusiasm to do this in my opinion is there, but what’s lacking to a large degree is the practical knowledge on how to accomplish this mission. For example, how many TLM Traditionalists have made contact with the NO Conservatives and established some sort of solidarity? Also, a few of us have become habitual ghetto dwellers.

    We do need to learn how to translate all this verbiage we’re generating into concrete actions. Our progress will be measured by the rising number of parishes where both liturgical forms coexist.

    One source of know-how that’s available to us are the methods Pope John Paul II used to help change a political reality that was thought to be unchangeable. We can learn from him by translating his ways into our present situation. If God smiles on our efforts, we too will be successful.

  14. Mark,

    I’m not so sure the issue is not knowing how to proceed (though I agree that is part of the problem). In the past the only real strategy open has been to try and establish TLM-only communities. Now new possibilities have opened up, and I’m not sure people have really come to grips with them. Moreover, there are a few background issues tha need to be worked through.

    First I think many traddies are reluctant to engage with the conservatives who have persecuted them for the last several decades!

    Secondly, I think many feel challenged already by the newcomers to TLMs who may not share a traditionalist perspective – and there is a real challenge in educating and incorporating this group into the existng communities.

    Thirdly, though, I think some remain opposed to priests using both forms of the mass.

    I’ve written more on this in my blog…

  15. JPG says:

    tlj,
    Be careful of biographies on the internet. There were connected with Dr Reid some falsehoods that I will not mention. To my knowledge he was and is a member or a monk of the Abbey of St Michael at Farnborough in England. They have a great website and online bookstore. http://www.farnboroughabbey.org.and http://www.theabbeyshop.com
    I hope this is helpful.
    JPG

  16. Mark says:

    Excellent analysis, Australiaincognita.
    It seems to me that when we do venture outside our enclaves, the NO conservatives are the only people who will talk to us (at least that’s my experience). They do seem to care about the reform of the reform, and the challenge for us is to make it clear that the TLM is one of the missing ingredients in their parishes. It seems that the progressives remain unreachable for the moment, but we still can appropriate their language (tolerance, diversity, active participation, liturgical action, Christ event, etc), and infuse it with a new, that is, Traditional, meaning. My guide here is Pope John Paul II who so masterfully used the language of the communists against them. How easy and effective it would be for us to do likewise.

  17. Rose says:

    Mark has made an interesting point; I’ve noted that in many of his works, Fr. Ratzinger (when he was just starting to write in the 1950s) and later as Cardinal Ratzinger and now as Pope Benedict, often converts (or as the unconverted would say, co-opts, subverts) the language of “liberalism” to the language of “orthodoxy” and the “reform of the reform.”

  18. This book is a must get for my Library!

  19. dominic1962 says:

    We discussed this a bit on New Liturgical Movement. From my experience, we (Trads) do get along well with the Reform of the Reform folks who we see as fellow travelers on the road to finding the fullness of the liturgical traditions and growing into them. I meet such folks at the parish level, though some times it takes a bit of digging.

    However, we do tend to have the most viscious fights with other Conservatives who see the TLM as only a means to get to the Reform of the Reform and then it will be superceeded by Novus Ordo 2.0. I personally could live with the TLM and NO side by side if the NO was properly traditionalized but I think that the NO will be absorbed by the TLM some day. It almost has to happen if “organic development” is to make any sense. The 1970 MR is such a drastic break in the continuity of the Roman Rite that it simply cannot replace nor even exist side by side with the TLM for too long.

  20. dominic1962 says:

    Also, I almost see the situation as the basic experience of Dom Gueranger on the universal scale. He, as a parish priest, celebrated the Mass according to the local diocesean missal but later celebrated Mass for a convent of nuns according to the Roman Missal. Once he celebrated Mass according to the Roman Missal, he knew he found the “real” Missal-the one that really put him and the people who assisted at this Mass into the greater tradition of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church back to the hazy days of the Early Church in Rome. This Missal is “home”. I see it the same way, when I assist at Mass according to the traditional Roman Missal-I’m at home. I’m fully aware of the Communion of Saints who worshiped with this missal for centuries before my time. I am in continuity with Dom Gueranger and get a real feel for what he must have felt in “discovering” the Roman Missal.

    It is not that the Neo-Gallican Missal that he had been using was heretical and invalid, as it must not have been as he didn’t mention it as being so. It is just that it was a “banal, on the spot fabrication” to paraphrase then-Cardinal Ratzinger. It was some French bishop, diocesan synod, or cadre of “liturgists” who basically “made it up”. Listening to Neo-Gallican chant gives me some idea of this. While I do like it, it rings hollow as a “restoration” as was claimed of it.

    Same with the NO. While it is certainly not heretical or invalid and I know that this and that part came from this or that Rite or time frame, it really rings hollow of a “restoration” and seems much more like an innovation. However, it doesn’t even have the airs of tradition (the smells and bells and pomp and circumstance) that many of the Neo-Gallican innovations had. Even if the post-Vatican II Mass were an obvious and external bastard of Eastern Rite, Roman Rite and Western non-Roman mashed into one, it would seemingly have a lot more “street cred” were it to maintain what those Rites were known for-lots of external smells and bells and the like. It falls rather flat to say this or that was based on the Eastern Rite when there is nothing that really calls the Eastern Rite to mind except to the bookworm that studies the texts.

  21. Fr. Philip: As far as I know, the laity don’t generally have their tongues consecrated.

    As pointed out in Fr. Z’s most recent podcast, in the traditional rite of baptism the tongue is consecrated by the application of salt that has been exorcised. It’s not only in the Mass that we have lost so much.

  22. Royce says:

    Hemming seems to be working off the conclusion of Catherine Pickstock’s masterful book, After Writing. For anyone who is interested in the idea of our a-liturgical society, her book is very interesting. (Just be warned, it’s no easy read.)

  23. Romulus says:

    I hope it isn’t off-topic to mention that the photo illustration above was taken at St. Patrick’s church in New Orleans last September 14. The mass of course is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross — in thanksgiving for the implementation of the motu proprio “Summum Pontificum”. The celebrant is the pastor, the Rev. Stanley P. Klores.

  24. Brian2 says:

    Royce: I’m not sure that he is working off of Pickstock, at least not in the sense of an agreement. Towards the end of ‘Post Modernity’s Transcending: Devaluing God’ he breifly mentions the liturgy to assert that it is not the ‘consummation of philosophy’ That seems to me to be a challenge to Pickstock’s thesis that liturgy is such a thing. But perhaps working off in terms of a debate.

  25. Mark says:

    Rose:

    Great observation, it seems that we can learn from two masters.

    I propose that we take the ugly twins “Tolerance” and “Diversity” and give them a Traditional makeover. As in “I think it would be very tolerant of you to agree to increase the liturgical diversity of your parish, by allowing the TLM to complement your NO”.

  26. Royce says:

    Brian2:

    I don’t think Pickstock really presents much of an argument that liturgy consummates philosophy. On the other hand, she really seems to assume this and spends her energy showing how this happens. Hemming, at least based on this review, seems to take Pickstock’s conclusion (modern society is irredeemably a-liturgical) as a starting point. I’ll definitely look up the other book of his you mention, though.

  27. Ralph Roister-Doister says:

    “The author wisely refrains from proposing simplistic solutions but allows us to see the anomalies of liturgical reform in the 20th century for what they are – a dangerous tampering with the continuity of God’s revelation”

    Which is why “reform of the reform” cannot do what its supporters hope it will do. Only the TLM is the TLM — anything else in its place is by its very nature an anti-liturgy. “Tampering with the tampering”, so to speak, is no less a danger than the original tampering.

    “The Banished Heart” by Geoffrey Hull is also worthwhile on this subject.

  28. Brian2 says:

    Royce: that is an interesting take on Pickstock. Making the assumption would square well with Radical Orthodoxy’s strategy of producing counter-narratives rather than arguments. (A strategy I have reservations about but that is another com-box entirely…) I’ll try to give her work another look and see if I can see it your way. I may have reversed the title of Hemmings previous book (it may be ‘Devaluing God — Post Modernity’s transcending).
    Cheers