“If it ain’t baroque. . .”

Once upon a time — late 19th/early 20th century — a priest by the name of Percy Dearmer raised a serious critique of the direction that Anglo-Catholic ritualism had taken in the Church of England, which was notorious for an unconsidered and frankly tasteless idolization of the immoderate Baroque arts that characterized much of Roman Catholic liturgy on the European Continent since the Council of Trent. In The Art of Public Worship, he wrote:

Anglican Romanism, if we may be allowed the quaint but true description, is only a naughty child of Protestantism, and would never have existed in a Church that had been true to its ceremonial traditions. It can never succeed, because it has no intellectual, aesthetic, or moral justification; and for this reason it has sometimes become strangely unhealthy. If the Anglican Church is destined to rise to the great opportunities of the future, this particular wave of reaction will disappear and be forgotten. It is unworthy of our self-respect.

Dearmer believed that there a fundamental flaw in the idea of Anglicans mimicking the arts, ritual and ceremonial practices of post-Reformation Roman Catholicism. The Baroque sensibilities these represented were entirely foreign and inauthentic to the English ethos. Anglicans had the native resources (in terms of historical precedent) and the ingenuity necessary for developing a form of truly catholic liturgy without bending to the Baroque. In his now-classic The Parson’s Handbook, Dearmer asserted that

Most of the tawdry stupidity or stuffy gloom of our churches, most of the bad ceremonial — whether static, bustling, or convulsive — have been due to the decline of art in more recent days, or to the senseless imitation of those meretricious ornaments, both of the Church and of its Ministers, with which ignorant and indiscreet persons have ruined the ancient beauty of the Roman Catholic churches abroad. We, who have the noble standard of the Prayer Book for our guide, are saved from that barbarous degradation of Christian worship which the educated men of the Latin races despise not less than we ourselves.

Dearmer mined the resources of pre-Reformation English Catholic liturgy and the arts, particularly but not exclusively those of the Sarum Use, to develop liturgical forms and advocate liturgical arts that were more in keeping with the historical foundations of the first generation of Anglican worship.

In spite of a fair amount of success, Dearmer’s detractors accused him of promoting a “British Museum Religion”: antiquarian at best, and twee — precious and affected — at worst. From Dearmer forward, two forms of Anglican Catholic liturgy developed: one very English — Dearmer’s own “English Use” — and one very Roman — characterized above all by the Baroque.

Now fast forward a century, and take a look at what’s happening on the other side of the Tiber, as it were.

Before I continue, I need to post this disclaimer: as a “liturgiologist” (whatever that means), I have no objection to the occasional, extraordinary use of the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite liturgy of the Roman Church. I favor eastward or oriented liturgical celebration; I enjoy Gregorian Chant and believe it has a place in contemporary as well as “traditional” liturgy; and, inasmuch as Latin is a language understanded by me, I don’t object to it being employed for the liturgy.

But what I do object to is the unconsidered and frankly tasteless appropriation of Baroque forms of vestments, vessels and other ornaments for a liturgy that should be as fresh and as contemporary as its Ordinary Form counterpart. Although it is “antiquior” in the sense that it is older than the reformed liturgy of Vatican II, it need not be antique, a quaint glimpse into another era, or an escapist refuge from present troubles. (Nor is it the usus antiquissimus, the ancient use of the Western liturgy, a point that is all too often forgotten — or ignored — by its proponents.) If people find it meaningful only because it looks old, there’s a problem: and if the videos and still photos that emerge from such liturgies are any indication, such is the case.

I think there is a real future for the Extaordinary Form liturgy: but unless the Baroque disappears, or at least takes a backseat to dignified but contemporary arts, vesture and appointments, that future is one of derision — as the liturgy of “Roman museum religion.”


  1. I am not a big fan of wearing antique vestments. I prefer a simple gothic cut chausable for a practical reason–it is less cumbersome around the wrists and hands so it doesn’t get in the way while incensing or knock things over on the altar. That being said, the vast majority of contemporary arts, vesture, and appointments are anything but dignified. Many are cheaply made (and expensively sold). There is a blog called bad vestments. It’s pretty funny (and sad at the same time).

    1. As an aside, the “cheaply made and expensively sold” sort of thing was one of Dearmer’s pet peeves — particularly when it meant “cheaply made in an ecclesiastical sweatshop” of the sort that were prevalent in England at the turn of the century.

      Somewhere well in-between the stiff baroque fiddleback and this is the sort of thing I have in mind. Neither is particularly appropriate for any form of the liturgy in 2010. No need to sacrifice dignity, but no need to pretend that it’s 1601 or 1951 either…

      1. Well, I would have one exception to all this: namely, that finely crafted old vestments of high artistic merit or of historical significance should be be used periodically in the service of good stewardship. Let not styles become shibboleths.

      2. On this point, I think the actual practice of the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations may prove instructive: in recent Ordinary Form liturgies involving the Bishop of Rome, a variety of vestment styles and cuts have been employed. Some very clearly have been contemporary designs (see, eg., photos from this Palm Sunday past, or the Easter Vigil), some from another period of liturgical history (eg., Good Friday’s fiddleback). There is no good reason that a similar variety of designs and styles could not be employed within the Extraordinary Form — particularly (but not exclusively) when it is celebrated in a setting in which one or another style is wholly out of place.

        Strangely, buildings constructed before the 20th century seem to permit a greater variety of styles, cuts, designs, etc. — Gothic architecture seems more hospitable to variety than, say, Bahaus. My point is that, particularly in the US, a slavish attitude of “EF therefore Italian Baroque” only serves to identify the Extraordinary Form as a liturgy of primarily historical (rather than latreutic or pastoral) significance.

  2. Like the publishers of throw away worship aids, the “religious goods” vendors who mail out those colorful catalogs of tasteless, mass produced, overpriced schlock do not have as their primary concern the dignity or beauty of liturgy. Their main concern is to sell stuff and they wouldn’t be there if (mostly) tasteless clerics didn’t buy it . . . . instead of going down to Walmart to pick up the same glassware or gold colored plate.

  3. I agree that endless Baroque clone celebrants are off-putting. However I’ve seen all different vestment cuts at EF Masses. Many priests wear simple albs and ample Gothic vestments. I’ll admit that televised EF Masses tend to fit the Baroque clone aesthetic. That’s the choice of the priests and TV program producers. These choices do not necessarily reflect practices on the ground.

    Maybe EWTN and other broadcasters should stage sung Masses with tasteful but simple vestments more suitable for everyday celebration. That would give viewers a more reasonable appraisal of the EF that’s less intimidating and congruent with average Catholic Sunday worship. No polyester please.

  4. “Although it is “antiquior” in that it is older than the reformed liturgy, it need not be antique, a quaint glimpse into another era, or an escapist refuge from present troubles.”
    Father, no offense intended, but I find the terms “quaint glimpse” and “an escapist refuge” rather cynical and insulting. I’ve only attended three EF Masses in my 40 years as an RC musician at service, and were I afforded 40 more years of weekly EF attendance, I likely still wouldn’t comprehend the mystery and wonder that my senses would take in. And that’s why it is a most viable and valuable option for human worship and adoration of our Creator.
    ” If people find it meaningful only because it looks old, there’s a problem..”
    Your article is premised upon issues of era, history, style and time. I would think that you could appreciate the most primal element of true worship in either form, namely that as it is enacted in union with heaven, those externals ought be subsumed. Reconsider and…

    1. It is precisely the attitude that the EF has a “mystery and wonder” that are absent from the OF that concerns me. If the EF is more mysterious because it’s in Latin, that’s a problem. If the EF is more mysterious because of chant and incense, that’s a problem, too…

      My perception of the popular grounds for preferring the EF is that somehow “feels” more mysterious, more uplifting, more holy: and I find such appeals to these categories suspect: they smack of “mystification,” not “Sacred Mystery” and border on magic. And I have real concerns about the level of emotional satisfaction/appeal that the EF holds for many: the comments that get generated on the popular level sound no different than those coming out of the mega-churches.

      I do appreciate the value of the EF liturgy as one viable option for the worship of God and the sanctification of the human family. But precisely because of that, I believe it needs to be detached from anything that makes it a period piece, and not something that belongs to the present.

      And please note that I am not saying there can be no learning from the arts of the past — a little continuity on this point is laudable. . . but not to the degree that it stifles any development beyond a given period (by which I have in mind specifically the baroque), as if that period is the apex of human artistic development.

  5. Why is it that so many critics of the restoration of the Extraordinary Form also feel the need to tell us how to save it? Doesn’t that seem a bit disingenuous? Kinda like the Liberal Democrats telling Conservative Republicans what they need to do to save their party.

    1. The language of “us” and “them”, and comparison to political parties, is rather inappropriate when applied to different opinions and attitudes within the people of God.

      And certainly, those who favor the EF — who for so many years have been critical of the OF and its proponents — will recognize that both forms of the liturgy have their problems and are open to critique.

  6. An excellent point on the issue of vestments. But vesture is only one of the negatives so apparent in the old Latin Mass. I watched the Liturgy of the Word (Mass of the Catechumens) celebrated at the National Shrine. I am familiar with this form of the Mass from seminary days in the sixties, but now the rite does appear to be a museum liturgy, a ritual of mystification rather than mystery.

    I must be honest in saying that I find this rite offensive by todays’s liturgical standards. It isn’t just the endless bows, nods and genuflections, nor even the silly dancing birettas. Nor is it the bishop preaching, surrounded by vested ministers sitting undecorously on the steps, as if the basilica has run short of seating for ministers of the Mass. And to whom, exactly, are the readers proclaiming the scriptures? If it’s to the people, then this critical proclamation is in an unintelligible language. If to God, well, God already knows the readings.

    I find it offensive that anyone…

  7. would foster the return of a rite that is immune from the fundamental principles of good liturgy annunciated by the formal teaching of Vatican II. Why would anyone return to a rite that virtually ignores the Hebrew Bible on Sundays and feasts, that requires no homily on the scriptures, that strictly exculdes any lay ministers? The Church teaches that full participation is required by all, that our rites should be simple, short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repitions. Our rites should be within the people’s power of comprehension, and not require much explanation. The old Latin rite ignores all these fundamental principles. It is a rite that cries out for reform, just as it was crying out the day before Vatican II began.

  8. So, as a convert who never experienced an antiquated Mass, whether Baroque, Viennese classic, Rococo, whatever, prior to 2007, should regard my inclination or attraction to the EF rites as coming from nostalgia and a mindless adherence to “smells and bells” bottom line?
    Further more, such an attraction is really “superstition” or has its foundation in “magic?” And this has been successfully superceded by well-mannered OF’s? Not necessarily or always true in my neck of the woods, particularly on Ash Wednesday.
    I also sort of think you both skirted my concern that your caricature of Sunday’s Pontifical Mass as a “quaint glimpse” and “escapist refuge” might, in fact, be cynical and divisive, and paradoxically introduced an “us versus them” scenario prior to Jeffrrey Herbert’s comments. You still don’t think those declarations are likewise inappropriate for this discussion?
    And for the record, I would never suggest that mystery and wonder is absent from the OF.

    1. I do not doubt that the vast majority of people for whom the EF is a primary mode of liturgical expression, for whom it is a genuine help to their piety, are well-intentioned and properly grounded in the attitudes necessary for the right conduct of their obligation to render due worship to their Creator; nor do I doubt that the EF can be a proper mode for that worship.

      That being said, the EF is bound up in an ecclesiology that — although it has been given new vigor in recent decades — is patently at odds with the ecclesiology espoused by the Second Vatican Council. “Smells and bells” are adiaphora so far as I’m concerned — matters of utter indifference — as long as they are not harnessed with the EF as part of an overall program to overturn the ecclesiological advances of the Council. Herein lies my at times acerbic attitude to certain presentations of the EF. I appreciate the rite from the outside, as I appreciate the Council from the outside. I have no dog in the battle for the “reform of the reform” except insofar as the new translations of the Roman Missal undo the ecumenical advances of the council, which include explicitly liturgical advances, as well as advances in ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and pastoral ministry. I have poured through the Council documents again and again, with Gamber, Dobszay, Nichols and Reid as guides — as well as with Bugnini, Alberigo and the like — and I fail to see how some of the Reform of the Reform claims can be sustained. What then can be made of the present use of the Extraordinary Reform? What purpose does it serve, if not to support a turning back of a clock — artistically, culturally, theologically? That, I’m afraid, is nostalgia and escapism into an idealized vision of the past vis-à-vis a less than pleasant present. But harnessing the EF in this way isn’t going to work: the vexing questions of what the church is and how it is to interface with the world can be neither salved nor solved by appeal to a liturgy that is bound up in a long-past form of culture.

      As I have said repeatedly, this isn’t about the EF in itself, but the bondage of the EF to a very narrow actualization of it, wholly dependent on a certain aesthetic sense. And I stand by what I originally wrote: I believe that the EF has a greater potential to be a meaningful means of worship for a wider variety of people on the condition that it be celebrated in such a way that it is not immediately (and to the point of being solely) associated with the baroque arts. Perhaps in that way it can also be less of a weapon in an ecclesiological war, and more a sign of unity among the people of God.

  9. I’m a little confused, Father.

    On the one hand you say that the problem is not the EF in itself, but the “narrow actualization” of it – i.e. its association with the Baroque arts. This looks like an aesthetic issue.

    On the other, you state categorically that “the EF is bound up in an ecclesiology that . . . is patently at odds with the ecclesiology espoused by the Second Vatican Council.” This looks theological.

    If there’s a connection here, I don’t see it.

    1. In this case, the art supports the ecclesiology: pyramidal, triumphalist… I’m not going to throw stones here, but I will stand by the assertion that Vatican II articulated an ecclesiology that was more circular, plenary, subsidiary, and that its liturgy reflects its ecclesiology.

      Stepping away from the baroque and its almost automatic association with the EF won’t solve all of those problems, but it would be a useful step in making the EF a viable, valuable expression of worship for the twenty-first century.

      Again, on the one hand, the artistic/cultural expression is indifferent; on the other, it may make all the difference in the world. With the baroque, I’m sorry to say, there is more being communicated than just the worship of God and the sanctification of the human family.

  10. Father,
    I wonder if you’ve missed a critical point of discussion, or as Todd would say, talked passed some of us (as this thread does intersect with Fr. Ruff’s.)
    What provides you the insight to assess that any who embrace the EF, even in the most extravagant of circumstances, do thereby demonstrate their ignorance or rejection of the mandatum, the Great Commission or the literal manifestation of Matthew 25?
    I, reluctantly, believe you’ve not been paying attention- you and many of your fellow travelers seem to think that EF proponents are either hung up on escapism or demarcating liturgy from the larger canvas of “the work of the people.” That, I believe, is evidentially not supportable. How could people like me not get what comes after “Ite Misse est?”
    It also pains me to wonder whether yourself, Fr. Ruff and other priests (for whom I still owe respect and fealty) advance your POV’s from a (perhaps unconscious or unintended) stance based upon clericalism. Say it ain’t so.

    1. I don’t know that the claim of clericalism is fitting here — at least not for myself, as it’s neither my rite nor my church that’s at stake. As I’ve said above, I’m looking in from the outside; nevertheless, my “outside” position is informed both academically and pastorally. So looking in, I see something that a fair number of academic liturgists don’t — a fundamentally good and useful (though not entirely unproblematic) rite that is encumbered with a socio-historical aesthetic baggage that does not serve it, nor the people of God, all that well.

      I stand by what I wrote in the original post, which I have repeated in subsequent comments and therefore do not need to repeat here. If anything, the questions being posed are talking past that topic as the topic at hand, seemingly in an attempt to bait either myself or other commentators and to no apparent good end. Any further pressing of these points seems to be an exercise in futility, as I have nothing to say on the matter that I have not already said.

      1. “it’s neither my rite nor my church that’s at stake.”

        Sure it is. (and I think we may have discussed this before). If the EF promoters are (speaking roughly and drawing mainly on your argument) opposed to your view of the liturgy in some way and, you say in this very thread, your ecclesiology, then the spreading and normalization of the EF means effectively the marginalization of your rite and your church.

  11. I find the Gothic revivalism of the liturgical movement just as artificial as baroque revivalism. Among Catholics, many of our churches and altars are still older examples built in a baroque or italianate style. Roman vestments rather than gothic ones often match the environment in which our liturgy is celebrated.

    But you misunderstand what, I think are fundamentally the practical and not ideological roots of the dominance of baroque vestments. Here in New York City, we see a mix of baroque and gothic vestments (and among those involved, there are a variety of preferences)

    1) Our precious and/or antique vestments are often those in the baroque/Roman style, so we use them for that reason.

    2) Historically, Latin Mass communities got used to using baroque style vestments, in many cases, because these older sets had maniples, burses, and chalice veils needed for the celebration. Then when they needed or wanted new stuff they purchased the same style.

    1. Samuel, let me reply to both of your above posts in one box.

      First, no, it really isn’t my church, isn’t my rite. I’m looking in on a situation that interests me for academic, pastoral and ecumenical reasons, but ecclesially, I’m looking in as an Episcopalian, an outsider. The situation that I observe holds both great potential and great need for further reflection, further catechesis, further development. Coming from a synodically governed church with national boundaries and a variety of ways for regulating the liturgy, I’m inclined to identify the ecclesiological issues involved. And as an Episcopalian, I’m always conscious of the aesthetic considerations. Both seem to me to be in play here in a formative way.

      Second, I understand and appreciate the recourse to what’s at hand and what’s already in the sacristy — and having poked around a fair number of NYC sacristies, there’s a great wealth to draw on in that city. But apart from high mass, where vestments are needed for three sacred ministers, I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use what they normally have at hand and regularly use for the OF… there’s a wide range and a wide variety of possibilities here, and I wouldn’t exclude any of them. . . which is what I all too often see with regard to the EF: all-too-frequent exclusion, particularly in high profile settings — of everything but the baroque.

  12. “If anything, the questions being posed are talking past that topic as the topic at hand, seemingly in an attempt to bait either myself or other commentators and to no apparent good end.”

    As Ronald Reagan famously said,” There you go again.”
    Speaking for myself only, I am not trying to talk passed you or bait you into some semantical, logical or rhetorical inconsistency. This is NOT a game.
    Though you may have implicitly applied “game rules” with the cannard “baroque,” you have consistently avoided accounting for your own rhetoric, which I’ve honestly questioned.
    As far as I’m concerned, in this thread if not others, you have portrayed your intellectual position (to the laity, which was supposed to be ’empowered’ by VII) as no more than “Father knows best.”
    Taste is in our mouths. Can we get over that and move on?

    1. Charles, in all fairness and charity to both you and our other readers, I will attempt to address the questions you posed above at #15 — as these seem to be the point where the conversation became frustrated.

      You ask “should [I] regard my inclination or attraction to the EF rites as coming from nostalgia and a mindless adherence to ‘smells and bells’ bottom line?”

      I would say no, not necessarily. I would be hard pressed, however, to say that this isn’t the case for a good number of people, for whom the aesthetic appeal of the EF is a prime motivator. I wonder, therefore, if the EF liturgy would hold the same appeal, for example, if it were celebrated at a freestanding altar with the assembly on both sides, such that the priest-celebrant might have to face the nave to be “oriented;” with a recumbent cross on the altar and the candles in low holders to the extreme edges of the mensa; and with the ministers in contemporary vestments: everything dignified, but representing a very different aesthetic than what one usually sees.

      Frankly, I would hope that such a celebration would be well received. But I suspect the case would be otherwise — then begin the arguments about the continuity of the arts, etc., etc… and as I have been saying, I just do not believe that the EF has a long-term future if it simply becomes a repository for one or another style. Thus I wrote in the original post ”it need not be antique, a quaint glimpse into another era, or an escapist refuge from present troubles,” and yes, I did intend that to be understood as a critique on particular attitudes that are often but not always found among the proponents of the EF.

      I’m a fan of the gothic revival myself, architecturally and in terms of vestments. My own personal stoles were hand-woven in Guatemala and hand-embroidered in Bruges. My favorite alb is a monastic cut, in 100% polyester. I like an unornamented euro/monastic cut chasuble just as much as I like one with a Saint Andrew’s cross orphrey. I’ll work with just about whatever is set before me, because I think that unless something is completely hideous — like the microchip chasuble I linked at #3 above – it’s just not that important in the Christian west. . . unless, of course, the rite itself becomes identified with one particular style: we can’t make the same claims as the East can make here, because we have a different history — some of which (in the last 45 years, for example) has been pretty bad. . . but certainly not all, and not just that which mimicked a bygone era.

      Again you ask, “is such an attraction really ‘superstition’ or has its foundation in ‘magic?’”

      First, I did not use the word superstition; nor at any point did I say that attraction to the EF liturgy has a foundation in magic.

      I did write that “[m]y perception of the popular grounds for preferring the EF is that somehow “feels” more mysterious, more uplifting, more holy: and I find such appeals to these categories suspect: they smack of “mystification,” not “Sacred Mystery” and border on magic.” My perception on this point is based on what I see and hear on the internet, on television and in conversation with every-day Catholics. The appeal to mystery makes me nervous here – there is a long history of the liturgy and especially its language and aesthetics being used to mystify people, to impress them without edifying them (but claiming to do otherwise because it stirs all religious devotion an fervor) and the like. If the EF leads people deeper into the Mystery of God and their communion with that Mystery, then wonderful!! I see that as a genuine potential of the EF — but also, and just as much, with the OF, and not because of a return to “smells and bells.” While encounter with that Mystery may be enhanced by incense, extra candles, altar bells, etc. (or even more fundamental things, like east-facing celebration), the encounter should in no way depend on such things. When Mystery equals “mysterious” then — from the standpoint of an academic definition, at least — you do indeed have mystification and magic, not a vital encounter with the living God. And again, the indicators here are not positive: about two years ago, Fr. Dwight Longenecker had a post on his own blog, Standing on My Head, in which some of these attitudes were painfully obvious in reference to oriented celebration, apparently in the OF. Fr. Longenecker’s attempts at on-the-fly catechesis were quite pleasing, but I wonder whether he really diffused the attitude of “I really like that it feels mysterious,” which I cannot help but read as “I enjoy being mystified because it makes me feel like I’m closer to God.” Again, I think it’s good, important and virtuous to feel close to God, but that’s not why one participates in the Eucharist.

      Finally, Charles, you ask, “And [has this] been successfully superceded by well-mannered OF’s?”

      Well-mannered OF’s? That’s a new one for me… Seriously, though, the answer is yes and no. The OF is a different liturgy than the EF, even if they are both realizations of the same basic Western Rite. During the first 15 years of the implementation of the OF, there was a lot of hierarchical toleration for free experimentation at the local level. Many people were thoroughly engaged in this, and found their faith renewed and invigorated and…. and many others were appalled and scandalized and much harm was done. Tolerance for such experimentation began to decline around 1985, and took a real sharp turn around the year 2000 (though in some places some people still seem to be able to get away with anything.)

      For some people, I know that the restoration of the EF has proven a healing balm in this regard; others are content with a more by-the-book OF. I don’t think one supercedes the other, and I never suggested that. I do believe that things have changed in the last howmany years, and changed to such a degree that recourse to the past inevitably falls under a hermeneutic of suspicion — which is not a hermeneutic of exclusion, but a critical questioning of motives and means. “Why are we doing this, doing in this way, doing it this way now, and how shall we do it well? And how shall we catechize people to the doing of this?” Those are, I believe, good questions to be asked at the pastoral level, whatever form of liturgy is being celebrated.

      As I reflect on your points and questions I can’t help but think that there’s a lot of talk about how dioceses and parishes will catechize to the new translation of the Missale Romanum due out next year. I wish there had been as much consideration regarding catechesis after Summorum Pontificum was issued… but that’s another post entirely.

      I do hope that these responses shed a little more light on my concerns and the topic at hand; and I apologize for their length.

  13. “I think it’s good, important and virtuous to feel close to God, but that’s not why one participates in the Eucharist.”

    Cody, do you think this isn’t even one of the reasons to participate in the Eucharist?

    1. Kathy,

      I look at it this way: the most reason indicated by people who don’t go to church as to their nonattendance is “I don’t get anything out of it.” I’m sorry when that isn’t the case, because I do believe that people should find their participation in the church’s liturgy to be a positive and rewarding experience. But emotional fulfillment needs to be subordinated to the responsive nature of liturgy: we go to church, we enter into worship in order to give out thanks and praise to God for all the blessings we have received — in creation, in redemption and in our daily living. We go to give something, not to get something. That we do get something is good, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. But I get very nervous when that becomes a motivating factor… it’s that sort of expressed desire that leads pastoral liturgists down the path of “we need to make this a rewarding experience” and leads to the various “liturgy as entertainment” abuses, which offend at least as often as they reward.

      And I get very, very nervous indeed when such experiences are taken as indicators that God has been present, active, etc., in worship. . . I think of John Wesley’s remark, “my heart was strangely warmed.” In a lot of (a-liturgical) settings, lack of such experience is taken to mean that God was either absent, or that something was wrong on the part of the worshiper. That seems to me to be a very dangerous path to start down, particularly when it’s liturgical worship that’s under consideration.

      It’s a fine balance, but one that I would suggest is very necessary to maintain. That we experience such good and holy things (and they are both good and holy) is wonderful, but to experience such things (as a motivator) is not the reason behind why we enter into worship.

  14. Cody,

    I’m a devotee of St. John of the Cross, whose twin credo might be, a) God is drawing you, so don’t worry, and b) do NOT get attached to warm feelings in prayer. So in that sense I sympathize.

    On the other hand, we’re not yet all on the summit of Mt. Carmel, where only the honor and glory of God exist. Many of us are still (in sanjuanist terms) in the pre-contemplative period when the imagination is a crucial element of prayer. To deny congregants the experience of sublime beauty is to destroy their icons of God.

    At the same time images of worldly glamour have multiplied, in HD no less, our liturgy has become very stark. We’re not all Carthusians. I don’t think that this suggests the need for relevant felt banners, but for true beauty.

    The Mass last Saturday was exquisite, like the most tasteful possible art. It was subtle and fluid, appealing to something unusually sophisticated in the human person, like something from Klee or Austen or Messaien.

  15. Thanks for responding.

    “I wonder, therefore, if the EF liturgy would hold the same appeal, for example, if it were celebrated at a freestanding altar with the assembly on both sides . . .” etc.

    But does the shoe fit on the other foot? I wonder whether the OF would hold the same appeal for some if, for example, it was ad orientem at a Baroque altar, etc. “representing a very different aesthetic than one usually sees” at an OF mass.

    I think we already know the answer to that question.

    More to the point, I wonder whether you have overplayed your argument here. I too get nervous when the emphasis is on the emotional experience in liturgy, as if God is absent when this is lacking. However, I would be careful not to confuse the emotional and the aesthetic – the latter I would call an intellectual / emotional experience that can open us up to the spiritual. It’s enough to say that animals, though they have emotions, cannot appreciate beauty.

    Which is to say that…

    1. Sam,

      Sorry not to respond sooner — I spent the day dwelling with Thomas F. Torrance’s trinitarian theology (which has its own liturgical dimensions….)

      You ask if the shoe fits on the other foot. I can only comment on what I see, which on the one hand is a continued rise in the extremely contemporary celebration of the OF — which has included now the publication of specifically “Christian Pop/Rock” songbooks for liturgy — and on the other hand, an equally strong rise in OF liturgies on the lines of the reform of the reform. Both seem to be working in their own settings, so I’m not sure that we do know the answer to that question.

      As to the other point, perhaps I have overplayed my argument, and I take the distinction that you introduce to heart for further consideration.

  16. I think you take too much exception to Baroque. Candidly, I am neither a huge proponent of the EF, nor particularly interested in stylistic revivalism of any sort.

    My own architectural work concerns the recovery of sacramental language that both informed and is embedded in the various historical styles — whether Romanesque or Renaissance, Gothic or Greco-Roman, Byzantine or Baroque. But certainly the historical styles do constitute a body of cultural memory which help us understand a building as “sacred” in the Christian tradition.

    After a century of architectural and liturgical reductivism it seems that the complexity and rich detail of Baroque are inevitable responses. Much like the 16th and 17th century Baroque was to create an architectural polemic against the austerities of Calvinism and reformational iconoclasm, as well as against the epistemological reductivism of the Enlightenment, a new interest in Baroque architecture could well serve to pull folks out of the rationalistic sense of active participation that mid century and later liturgists have insisted upon, and which has done a disservice to a vigorous implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

    The architectural language of the Baroque, based on the Classical orders yet warped and twisted to express relationships of space and time, knowability and limits of knowledge, materiality and dematerialization, can serve those same liturgical and epistemological ends today.

  17. I realize that this is an old thread, so I don’t expect many to read my comments. However, I’ve been to a number of EFs and wanted to comment on the visual aesthetics of them.

    What you see in the pictures at the New Liturgical Movement and on TV are definitely characteristic of some places that celebrate the EF – particularly when its a high profile Mass. However, most of the EF Masses I have experienced are celebrated at the freestanding altars within the carpeted sanctuaries of ordinary Catholic Churches. Aside for the major preference for fiddle-back vestments, the extra candles on the altar, and kneelers assembled up front to form a makeshift communion rail, there isn’t much to differentiate the visual aesthetics of what surrounds these EF Masses from what you would see at OF Masses held there. The church I usually attend the EF at was built in the mid 1960’s as a school gymnasium – it’s been made very pretty and churchy over the years, but it isn’t Baroque.

    Since a lot of the churches around here are older churches that were remodeled in the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of EF masses end up with a sort of MadMen (the TV show) aesthetic. Even the Victorian-era church that’s specially dedicated to the EF here has a white and gold color scheme with broken-glass style 1960’s windows and red carpets.

    That isn’t to say that EF communities shouldn’t embrace more of the contemporary where it is good, but I wouldn’t consider most EFs to be too Baroque.

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