Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Apostasy in Sacral Disguise"

Owing to the comments on Connect the dots... I am posting here another part (p 21-23) of Ratzinger's very good book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

This is too long and I invite you not to read it, but I can't bear to edit it, nor am I so qualified.

In the context of Ratzinger having described the product of the liturgical reform as a banal fabrication, here is his take on the consequences that follow such fabrication. Pay special attention to the bit where he says "pointless", "empty" and especially "apostasy in sacral disguise":

Man himself cannot simply "make" worship. If God does not reveal himself, man is clutching at empty space. …But real liturgy implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship him.

In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of "what you please." Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf (strictly speaking, "bull calf"). The cult conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods. Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God who lead Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. Everything seems to be in order. Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics. And yet it is a falling away from the worship of God to idolatry. This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes. First, there is a violation of the prohibition of images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote, and mysterious God. They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one's own world. He must be there when he is needed, and he must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.

This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult. When Moses stays away for too long, and God himself becomes inaccessible, the people just fetch him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification.

The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one's own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.


James said...

There's nothing in that post, or any of the quotation, that contradicts what I said about the new communities. You're chucking the baby out with the bath water if you are saying that new communities undermine Catholicism. It is clear that, although you know alot about many noble things, you do not, perhaps, know much about the new communities - representatives of whom Pope Benedict recently met at Pentecost, in Rome. Read what he has to say about them...

james (yes the same one) said...

Follow up comment put on your 'dots' thing. hey - that's a total of 10 comments so far!!! You're storming the internet. There'll be a crash!
cause for a 'birthday' celebration, whatwhat?

J D Carriere said...

Dancing around the golden calf is perfectly in keeping with the Holy Faith?

Oy vey.

james said...

there's no dancing around the golden calf.
or not in the communities I know. tell me some that do such dancing, if you would be so kind. I'll cross them off my christmas card list.

J D Carriere said...

Let's do this one more time. Ratzinger calls the new Mass a fabrication and a falsification. Then he cites the golden calf incident as what happens when we fabricate our own liturgy, "an apostacy in sacral disguise", or, if you like, a falsification.

The new Mass, even if celebrated with incense and bells, is a fabrication and a falsification. It is "self-seeking" and "clutching at empty space" just like the golden calf.

Don't blame me. Take it up with the Pope.

James said...

then why does the Pope celebrate the New Mass at all? This I don't understand.

J D Carriere said...

You're asking me to speculate about the motivations of the Holy Father?

Well, okay then.

Most of the Latin Church by now holds a concept of worship which is quite opposed to true worship. This can't be changed over night.

It seems evident that the liturgy has had quite enough imposition from above. Unless it is done carefully and slowly it obviously causes people great distress. From his writing, it seems Ratzinger was well aware of this.

I suppose he would like to solve the problem without leaving behind huge numbers of innocent, good-willed people.

He's got to guide the barque he's been given. He's a very pastoral guy, you know?

James (again) said...

OK, I get that. But there's still something I'm not sure about. You've given me examples of collects and stuff that have been diluted a lot in the new Mass. Granted - the words are not as beautiful or eloquent; also, the priest faces the people, which I too understand to be not strictly correct; the Mass is not said in Latin...yes ok, there's an argument for that, but not a majorly strong one. BUT - is that it? is it really just a question of style and fancy words? is that why you detest the new Mass so? Because - to me - a lot fo it seems to boil down to bad translation in english, and bad parish choirs etc. The Mass, in its essence, is still the same. As siad before, I have been to Masses in communities in France which are extremely beautiful. the music heavenly - lots of polyphany, chant, etc, and the french translates quite beautifully in a way that makes the english parish Masses seem v poor. BUT - these French Masses I've experiences - are still the Novus Ordo. So what, really, makes them that different from the Traditional Masses? Is there really much difference if the New Mass is celebrated properly with decent music, beauty, reverence and correct translations?

J D Carriere said...

Is that all you got from it; that they were not quite so poetic?

Poetry is needed, to be sure, but that's not the whole point.

And to say the prayers of the new Mass aren't eloquent isn't what I was getting at either.

On the contrary, they are eloquent enough. But they are talking about the wrong thing, namely us.

Do you not see how little the supernatural is even mentioned? How can anybody know a doctrine that's never mentioned? How can you not end up a secular humanist when mankind is the explicit purpose of the exercise?

Or pick just about any other really vital bit of Catholicism.

Really. See that the new Mass comes up short. Make a head-to-head comparison. I dare you. I beg you.

Maybe this will be my next project. Give me a few weeks.

bearing said...

Nice to see you two getting along.

Great excerpt, John! I was really glad to read it. food for thought.

J D Carriere said...

It's a subterfuge. We aren't getting along.

james said...

Ah John, come now.
We're getting along just dandy. You know I'd give you a big charismatic happy-clappy hug if we met. That's probably ruffle your starched carry-hair shirt.