Sunday, June 24, 2007

Liturgical recapitulation, not revolution

Fr. Martin Fox has some parting thoughts on the annual Sacred Music Colloquium at CUA:
Why should we rekindle and bring back out the treasures of chant and polyphony? Because it is part of who we are, because it expresses the faith so well, because -- as music specifically composed for the Mass -- it conveys something special, and above all, because it is beautiful.

The Sacred Liturgy must be beautiful.
Beautiful, but not pretty or fancy. Not that Fr. Fox is saying otherwise. But I'm finding in a lot of wealthier Catholic parishes the mentality that the duty to liturgical Tradition is fulfilled by having virtuosic polyphony sung by professional choirs and well-polished organ blaring away. This always comes off to me as Anglican-lite. I've noticed this off-putting aesthetic both at the Roman Catholic St. Matthew's Cathedral and the Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception here in DC. I think it's the cross-town osmotic effect of the ECUSA-run National Cathedral, as well as the general federal, Beltway snootiness that infects the Archdiocese of Washington. True Christian Beauty, as any Balthasarian will tell you, cannot be self-referential or performance-oriented at all; it must rather be screaming the Truth and the Good with every inch and beat of its existence. So while the pretty fancy liturgies at many Catholic parishes are a welcome change from the folk liturgical mockeries, we've still many miles to go before we can sleep in these liturgy wars.
This doesn't mean only chant and polyphony; but it does mean these must not be excluded. On the contary, the Church, at the highest level, teaches they merit "pride of place" (particularly chant).
The modernist spirit of the post-V2 era was so wrong to think that liturgical innovation or development could occur by the logic of revolution. Revolution abandons the past, and deems it unworthy of even a moment's pause much less a drink. Development, in the Catholic sense, however requires immersion in and internalization of the Tradition before anything new under the sun can emerge. That means we sip, slurp, swirl, swish, and swig the Tradition down deep into our bellies before we try the new stuff. Why? Because instead of the law of revolution, our Lord gave us the law of recapitulation. Yeah, it's not just a soteriological concept.