While surfing the web not long ago, I found myself washed up on the unfamiliar shores of the www.catholicliturgy.com web site.
Being a (sometimes) practicing Catholic myself, the site and its discussion of liturgical architecture touched upon an idea that's been milling around in my head for quite some time now: the 1960's were absolutely the best time to have Vatican II and absolutely the worst time to have Vatican II.
Nowhere does this dichotomy manifest itself in a better way that when you consider trends in Catholic liturgy in the last 30 years. One of the best things I think you can say happened in regard to Liturgy was Vatican II -- it brought about the use of the vernacular in the Mass, encouraged participation of the laity, and encouraged local, ethnic accents in choice of music. I understand that these changes have not been without cost -- the idea of Latin as a sacred, non-ordinary language seems to be an important idea in religious ritual down through the ages (see Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces"). I also tend to see ritual as a beautiful thing, and the orthodox idea of a single Mass transcending time, without change has more than a little appeal for me.
At the same time, however, too many of the changes that reformers attempt to institutionalize seem to come straight out of the 1960's for my taste. After all, the 60's were a time of political and cultural foment here in the United States. It was a time when it was out with old, hierarchical, reactionary was of doing, seeing, and building things in favor of truly new, progressive advances. For the Church, I think this produces something akin to urban renewal, a process that gutted old neighborhoods and buildings in favor of tract housing and superhighways to the suburbs. Specifically, there has been a tendency to reject the rich cultural history of Liturgy in terms of music, ritual, and architecture in favor of the seemingly modern and rational.
What we get from this liturgical urban renewal is something that feels like it comes out a hippie commune in some ways: music that is predominantly folk, architecture that is plain and suburban, and a Mass that seems to focus on the communal circle of the "happening" as much as anything else.
Then again, maybe it's just me. I like eclectic Victorian and Arts and Crafts style housing instead of the modern ranch house. I can appreciate symphonies and harmony as well as the blues. I can understand a Mass in a gothic Cathedral with Gregorian Chant as well as the Newman Club Mass in a health center conference room.
But I'm still left asking a question: does taking a step into the future with the Church mean rejecting nearly 2000 years of tradition and cultural contribution from the past? I wonder.
on 2003-02-19 at 11:03 a.m.
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