Kind Words and Wisdom

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I have added to my blogroll (under the category of “Catholic”) Moretben’s Undercroft. I always find him to be a good read, and more than occasionally to be a very kind reader of Glory to God for All Things. His words of kindness are a reminder of our common human bond and of so much that we all share together in our hearts. In a very recent post, he included the following quote that struck my heart quite deeply:

Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI’s reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy. Even those who want to preserve the liturgy or pray in the spirit of the liturgy, and even those who make great sacrifices to remain faithful to it – all have lost something priceless, namely, the innocence that accepts it as something God-given, something that comes down to man as gift from heaven.

Those of us who are defenders of the great and sacred liturgy, the classical Roman liturgy, have all become – whether in a small way or a big way – liturgical experts. In order to counter the arguments of the reform, which was padded with technical, archaeological, and historical scholarship, we had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy-something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy. What is absolutely indispensable for genuine liturgy? When are the celebrant’s whims tolerable, and when do they become unacceptable? We have got used to accepting liturgy on the basis of the minimum requirements, whereas the criteria ought to be maximal. And finally, we have started to evaluate liturgy – a monstrous act! We sit in the pews and ask ourselves, was that Holy Mass, or wasn’t it? I go to church to see God and come away like a theatre critic. And if, now and again, we have the privilege of celebrating a Holy Mass that allows us to forget, for a while, the huge historical and religious catastrophe that has profoundly damaged the bridge between man and God, we cannot forget all the efforts that had to be made so that this Mass could take place, how many letters had to be written, how many sacrifices made this Holy Sacrifice possible, so that (among other things) we could pray for a bishop who does not want our prayers at all and would prefer not to have his name mentioned in the Canon.

What have we lost? The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life, days begun with a quiet Mass in a modest little neighbourhood church; a life in which we learn, over decades, discreetly guided by priests, to mingle our own sacrifice with Christ’s sacrifice; a Holy Mass in which we ponder our own sins and the graces given to us – and nothing else: rarely is this possible any more for a Catholic aware of liturgical tradition, once the liturgy’s unquestioned status has been destroyed.”
Martin Mosebachfrom The Heresy of Formlessness

I read his entire post aloud to my wife. Afterward we marveled at its accuracy and went back in our memories to 1976, the year before I entered seminary, when we worshipped regularly at the old Episcopal parish in our downtown. We had no news of liturgy, just dusty prayerbooks and the daily pace of the Church year. We remembered it because in the next year we were plunged into the life of seminary – which, of course, is always a place to lose innocence, not realizing (because you are innocent) that it is a precious gift. The line in Moretben’s quote: “I go to Church and come away a theatre critic,” was dead on.

I must add, that part of the joy in being Orthodox (in my present situation which I expect to be my only situation) is the return of some form of innocence. I am well aware of those who think about the Liturgy and tweak and suggest. Our seminaries are not immune. But my peace is to delightfully obey my Archbishop and to pray. Just assembling services in accordance to the rubrics in an Orthodox setting is far more than enough – who needs to tinker?

But I reference the article on The Undercroft and commend a good blog to you, adding my thanks to Moretben for his frequent kind words and links to Glory to God for All Things.

18 Responses to “Kind Words and Wisdom”

  1. Visibilium Says:

    Yes, it’s a nice blog.

  2. Damaris Says:

    Dear Father Stephen,

    This is an extremely profound point and expresses for me my chief reason for attending an Orthodox church — innocence in worship, to use the above term. The “mix-and-match” church services in many — most — other churches remind me of a Chinese restaurant my husband and I went to. Instead of ordering a dish and counting on the cook to produce something tasty, customers took a bowl and went through a line, picking any combination of raw ingredients as they went. At the end of the line were cooks with woks, who fried up what you had chosen and gave you several sauces to choose from. Our dishes were pretty nasty, when it came right down to it. We never went back there, preferring to be able innocently to trust the abilities of people and traditions greater than we were.

    A silly simile, perhaps, but my husband and I keep going back to that experience as a revelation of an important truth.

  3. Nancy Says:

    Father,
    Thank you for posting this. A heartbreakingly insightful post. For myself, after years of Episcopal battles and a year of trying to adjust myself to the RC liturgy, it is such a blessing to rest in the peace of the Divine Liturgy. I often thank God for the many sacrifices made through the ages that have given me that opportunity.

  4. Peter Says:

    Lest we Orthodox be tempted to pat ourselves on the back too strenuously, in attending this morning a ROCOR Divine Liturgy, this OCA layman was torn anew by our division over the Calendar. Substitute for the word ‘liturgy’ the word ‘calendar’ and nearly every word of this portion of Catholic Mr. Mosebach’s lament applies directly to us Orthodox:

    “Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI’s reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy. Even those who want to preserve the liturgy or pray in the spirit of the liturgy, and even those who make great sacrifices to remain faithful to it – all have lost something priceless, namely, the innocence that accepts it as something God-given, something that comes down to man as gift from heaven.

    “Those of us who are defenders of the great and sacred liturgy, the classical Roman liturgy, have all become – whether in a small way or a big way – liturgical experts. In order to counter the arguments of the reform, which was padded with technical, archaeological, and historical scholarship, we had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy-something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy.”

    Very sad.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Peter, the comparison could be made. I am at peace myself about obedience to my Bishop and whatever calendar he asks me to use. If tomorrow they declared otherwise I would have no difficulty. But each man has his own temptation and his own tolerance.

    It is also true that if no changes of any kind had ever been made, there would still be enough temptation to turn anybody into a theatre critic. The devil does not sleep.

    I am glad of the relative peace within Orthodoxy (relative), but one has to remain far more vigilant against the evil one than against calendars and liturgists.

    Adam and Eve sinned in Paradise, and I am a greater sinner than they.

  6. Peter Says:

    Father, forgive. I intended only to indicate the sadness the calendar issue inspires in me insofar as 1) it represents an unnecessary division within the Church and 2) a consequent pretext for judging one another within the Church. I heard in Mr.

  7. Peter Says:

    Mosebach’s lament for his church a strain similar to my own for mine. But thank you for reminding me that proportion is all. And as a matter of degree the issue, or relative non-issue, of liturgy in our Orthodoxy is more to be thankful for than our divisions over calendar are to be mourned.

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    Peter, I agree.

  9. Phil Says:

    I’ve never heard anyone put it quite as Mosebach has, and yet, he’s got it exactly right. Thanks for this post, Father; and, Damaris, too. This is, indeed, the issue with so many churces. The mind is fixed on “what’s it going to be this week?” and, given our human weakness, inevitably, “I don’t like that.” This is what I’ve seen in my limited experience with Orthodoxy: an assurance that you are praying an unchanging, unceasing cycle of liturgy given for you by the Church, not the whim of the day’s celebrant. And so one does what is so often a long-lost thing for some Orthodox seekers: leaves the disputes behind, and prays.

  10. Richard Pinion Says:

    As a conservative Catholic I have heard the term “Vatican II Much” used to describe the changes in the Mass. I tend to agree with that observation.
    However, the person making the statement went on to say that the changes introduced by Vatican II were basically good. It was the implementors who caused the problems. Bishops, priests, and nuns who had their own agendas took the changes too far.

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Then it was bad law. If you create changes but do not imagine the ways they will be implemented then it is a poor change.

    Again, the lack of any real consensus in the Church and the invitation of modernity into the Church without enough discernment is one of the most devastating things ever done to the Catholic Church. It has done far more damage than the Reformation would have every hoped to have achieved.

    On a parish by parish basis, it is hard to find a Church that is Roman Catholic in anything other than historical and juridical connection. But it is a warning to all who pass by of what happens when man thinks he can and should change the things of God.

  12. Don Bradley Says:

    I have never quite understood the passion some people have over the calendar. I would say that the vast majority of folks don’t have a strong opinion. I would prefer the old calendar, not because of canons, but because it would be easier to secularize December 25th and have a fuller religious observance of Christmas January 6th; it would just be easier personally. And, just think of the money we would all save at after-Christmas sales:)

    Since the only passion over the calendar comes from old calendar folks; why not just give it to them? Why do the Bishops exacerbate the situation by insisting on the new calendar? They surely must have some reason for maintaining our calendar schizophrenia.

    Perhaps a post on the calendars would make for a good post. I have read a bunch of stuff on it, but I confess to being merely semi-educated on the issue, at best.

  13. Visibilium Says:

    I spent Sunday at an old-calendar parish. Naturally, since I belong to a new-calendar parish, the coffee-hour conversation covered the calendar controversy (and the lack of meat dishes). I agree with Fr. Stephen. Some issues just don’t appear on my radar screen. The calendar that I observe is a result of the parish to which I belong, and I didn’t choose that parish because of 13 days.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    I probably would be a poor writer to post on the calendar question. It has not been a matter of concentration for me. My Archbishop supports the use of the new calendar primarily because “it is the Church’s task to sanctify time not to invent a new time,” as I’ve heard him say (with some elaboration). I could serve either way. What matters to me about such things is obedience. I’m serving Christ in obedience to my Bishop and not my opinions in service to myself or an abstraction of Orthodoxy (not saying anybody else is doing this – just thinking of the temptations that could come my way). I have to stick to writing about what I know (though that is a limit) and what seems to me (in my best judgment to matter within the limited things I do know).

    But on such subjects you have to read my posts on “I am an ignorant man” and “What matters.”

  15. Michael Bauman Says:

    My brother is a priest in an old-calendar jurisdiction. I’m Antiochian. We get along quite well. He serves fairly often at the Antiochian parish in his town.

    Now for those who might not understand the foundation for the calendar passion (I’m not saying it is a good reason only pointing out some of the reasons).

    When the new calendar was “introduced” it was done in many places with neither love nor compassion, in fact, it was done with force similiar to, but not as extensive as the “Decade of Blood” that the iconoclasts launched against the icondules.

    The use of the new calendar is seen still by many as an unnecessary accomodation with heretics that in fact disrupts the action of the Church in her redemption of time. The old calendar is seen as a type of icon, not just something that marks the days.

    On the other side of the issue is the fact that split families would be even further split in old calendar jurisdictions, a pastoral problem my brother has had on several occasions. It is an extra pressure that has caused some to leave the his parish.

    It can be argued that the new calendar is part of the language of our culture in the United States and as our litugies should be in English our schedule of feast days should be in accord with the larger culture as well.

    I personally do not buy the argument that the old calendar makes it easier to celebrate the “real” Christmas, etc. The same worldly pressures that we carry within us are still there. It fact, the old calendar observance may make it easier for us to hide from our own worldly approach and become a matter of pride.

    Some years ago I had to opportunity to ask the calendar question of a wise bishop (new calendar). He expressed something akin to Don Bradley, that since the new calendarists were the ones who changed, we should go back to the old calendar if the choice had to be made to achieve unity.

  16. Don Bradley Says:

    I’m not advocating one way or another, as I could live under any calendar. I’m just at a loss to understand the passion it unleashes.

  17. moretben Says:

    Pray, Father, a blessing!

    I apologise for not responding earlier to your very kind post (computer problems, mostly!). As very infrequent poster, I’m deeply humbled – but I can think of no-one in this blogosphere of ours whose good opinion I value more.

    One of the things I lost along with my hard drive was another “Letter to a Fundamentalist Friend”, which speaks more of Orthodox worship, and the grievous error of making the liturgy the locus of “choice” – something which has the effect merely of inverting its meaning and direction, placing (trapping, even) ourselves at the centre of he action. I have another means of retreiving the piece, so with a bit of editing it should be up in another few days.

    May God bless you, dear Father

    moretben

  18. Fatherstephen Says:

    Don, I understand what you’re saying – I could live either way myself. I think positions unleash passions because the passions rule in people. Believing in something that is true and fighting for it, can often gives us excuse not to deal with our passions, under the guise of doing something good. My Church experience is that people are passionate about many things – some of them good – but the passions unleashed rarely accomplish good. St. Seraphim of Sarov said you cannot achieve good end through evil means.

    To some degree i don’t know what people’s passions are about the calendar, other than they think they are defending something essential about the faith. I would agree with anyone who says it would be better if Orthodoxy had made a decision viz the calendar only as a unified whole. It would have been better, but it wasn’t done that way. But I can’t see where anything in the 7 councils has been altered by the New Calendar. It is not a heresy. But I appreciate the thought and suggestion.

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