Each week this summer, a Pray Tell contributor puts up a question for discussion. Here is this week’s.
Because in my head I’m living in the 13th century, I thought I would frame this weeks discussion along the lines of a medieval quaestio disputata.
The question posed is, Utrum “dic nigrum, fac rubrum” sit clavis ad liturgiam bonam? (whether “say the black, do the red” is the key to good liturgy).
Is seems that is it:
- Ritual by its very nature is based on repetition of precise words and actions, and careful attention to the prescribed words and actions of the liturgy is therefore fitting to the ritual character of the liturgy.
- Saying the black and doing the red helps to keep the presider and his or her idiosyncrasies from dominating the liturgy.
- The words and actions of the liturgy have developed over centuries and connect Catholics to their tradition, and therefore should not be monkeyed with.
- The uniformity among liturgies afforded by saying the black and doing the red helps convey a sense of the unity of the Church throughout the world.
- The liturgy was carefully reformed after the Second Vatican Council by highly trained experts and has been meticulously translated into the vernacular by people who know a lot more than you do, so keep your hands off.
- The Venerable Translator* has often said this, and sells copious quantities of swag with this emblazoned on it.
But on the other hand:
- Liturgy is a living and growing thing, and variations from the printed text, done in the proper spirit, are the best way for it to continue to develop.
- Liturgy is an expression of the action of the Spirit in the local community, and the local community should have the freedom to shape the words and actions of liturgy in response to the Spirit’s movements.
- The unchanging nature of the liturgy can induce boredom and people like a bit of variety, so the different ways in which different presiders say Mass help keep the assembly on its toes and spiritually awake.
- Even if “say the black; do the red” is a necessary condition for good liturgy, it is not a sufficient condition, and therefore cannot be called the “key.” Much more is needed for even minimally adequate liturgy than reading the words on the page and doing the prescribed actions.
- What the hell were the translators thinking! Is English even their first language! I must be able to do better than this!
Feel free critique any of the above arguments and to add your own arguments on either side.
*Often identified by scholars with a blogger from the north country known as “Father Zed,” though other scholars claim that this Zed-person is legendary and that the “Venerable Translator” is in fact a sockpuppet for the Bishop Donald Trautman.