If we give scandal by our liturgical disputes … we play the game of the master of division

Last week the Congregation for Eastern Churches hosted a Liturgical Congress to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Instruction for the Application of the Liturgical Prescriptions within the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches

In his opening remarks, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, encouraged participants “to avoid solitary escapes in pursuit of reforms that do not take into account the heritage shared with the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches.” This encouragement to promote the Eastern Churches to use a common liturgical rite with the Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches seems to be a constant theme in recent Roman thought on Eastern liturgies.

Pope Francis gave an audience to the members of the Congress on Friday 18 February.  Here the Pope made some remarks on Eastern liturgy. Some of these might be of interest to PrayTell readers. The Pope informed his listeners that “Mystagogical catechesis is lacking in the Latin Church.”

A little further on he continued stating that “the beauty of the Eastern rites is much more that simply an oasis of escape or of conservation.  The liturgical assembly recognizes itself as such, not because it was called together of its own accord, but because it hears the voice of Another, is constantly turned towards him, and, precisely for this reason, feels the urgent need to go forth towards our brothers and sisters, and to bring them the message of Christ. Even those traditions that preserve the use of the iconostasis, with the royal door, or the veil that conceals the sanctuary at some moments in the rite, teach us that these are architectural or ritual elements that speak not of distance from God, but rather heighten the mystery of the ‘condescension’ – of the synkatabasis – by which the Word came and continues to come to the world.”

Finally, the Holy Father concluded his remarks reminding the Eastern liturgists that, “fidelity to uniqueness is what creates the ‘symphonic’ richness of the Eastern Churches. One can discuss, for example, the possibility of introducing editions of the liturgy in the languages of the countries where their faithful are found, but where the form of the celebration is concerned, it is necessary that unity be experienced in accordance with what has been laid down by the Synods and approved by the Apostolic See, avoiding liturgical particularisms that in reality manifest divisions of another kind within the respective Churches. Furthermore, let us not forget that our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches are watching us: even if we cannot sit at the same Eucharistic table, nonetheless we almost always celebrate and pray the same liturgical texts. Let us be attentive therefore to forms of experimentation that can harm the journey towards visible unity of all Christ’s disciples. The world needs the witness of our communion. If we give scandal by our liturgical disputes, and unfortunately there have been some recently, we play the game of the master of division.”

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Eastern Catholic bishops at the Canonization of Saint John Paul II and Saint John XXIII

10 comments

  1. Rather interesting to ponder the valid question asked in certain quarters of the Eastern Churches of ‘why do some reforms only apply to the Latin Church and not to us’? Is it merely a matter of expedience, on account of the Orthodox? But then what of the sympathetic theological-spiritual-theroretical (as opposed to the pragmatic) justifications that are often produced by the Oriental Congregation and the Popes themselves (including Pope Francis) in favour of the retention of certain practices?

    I wish I could remember where I read it but I recall a Canadian(?) professor of liturgy writing approvingly of a visit to a Syriac liturgy – very hierarchic, etc. but disparaging the same elements when applied to Western liturgies. One might ask if people are really so different….

    It is a strange situation where justifications produced for certain elements of the Latin liturgy are held not to apply to the Oriental ones and vice versa. The early liturgical reformers may have articulated it in terms of the purity and characteristics of the Roman rite. That at least has the merit of a certain logic, though one might ask where the conceptual distinctions between ‘Latin’ mindsets, and ‘Oriental’ mindsets is outdated; and if liturgies do really have some kind of pristine state (quite untenable, given the myriad influences on the modern Roman liturgy).

    If indeed both are acceptable articulations, this does make one ponder on the Latin Church’s relationships with its own traditions (I don’t want to derail the thread into that discussion which can be conducted on other threads) and WHAT precisely makes one approach preferable to another.

  2. Since this is the only article where I feel it might be appropriate to discuss the “invalid baptism” controversy that has drawn so much media attention, may I raise the following questions:

    Are baptisms in Orthodox and (I assume) Eastern Catholic Churches valid when employing the following traditional formula: “The Servant of God, Name, is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?
    Or the following Byzantine formula for absolution: “Let us pray to the Lord. O Lord and God of the salvation of Your servants, gracious, and merciful, and long-suffering, Who is grieved at our misdeeds, Who desires not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live, have mercy now upon Your servant (handmaid) N.; grant him (her) true penitence, and the pardon and forgiveness of sins; remit to him (her) all transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary; reconcile and unite him (her) with Your Holy Church through Jesus Christ Our Lord, with Whom be power and glory ascribed unto You, now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.”

    I also note that “I” does not appear in the formulae for anointing where it is also deprecatory and the same with confirmation — though the Tridentine formula for the latter made much use of “I” in the traditional ritual.

    Finally, doesn’t Augustine’s dictum that “totus Christus” is “caput et membra” imply that when it comes to the Lord, “I” always means “We”?

    1. Spot on. As sensible as no married priests unless they convert. or no ordained female deacons, although there are 1100+ of them working as Board Certified Chaplains, with theological masters degrees bedside, preaching facility memorial services, and presiding at wakes/gravesides.

      Something about webs weaving and deceiving… le sighe

    2. Interesting. Would Eastern Christians then not have a problem if we changed the formula of absolution to, “We,” ? “Let us pray to the Lord. O Lord and God of the salvation of Your servants, gracious, and merciful, and long-suffering, Who is grieved at our misdeeds, Who desires not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live, have mercy now upon Your servant (handmaid) N.; [We] grant him (her) true penitence, and the pardon and forgiveness of sins; [We] remit to him (her) all transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary; [We] reconcile and unite him (her) with Your Holy Church through Jesus Christ Our Lord, with Whom be power and glory ascribed unto You, now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.” Isn’t it that Christ himself is doing the action that is traditionally reflected in our rites and shouldn’t it be preserved?

  3. With reference to the “I” “We” matter. Does this mean that if some priests in the US continue to say “All” rather than “many” in the consecration of the wine, the consecration is invalid due to an “error” in the form?

    1. Probably a category difference (liceity vs validity) because it had been duly promulgated as a valid formulation of form, whereas that was not the case with the baptismal formula. Whether there is personal sin on the part of the priest if doing so is an intentional instance of disobedience is a separate matter.

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