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Should Auld Liturgics Be Forgot?

When I check the page hits for this blog, it’s clear that the thing that most excites visitors is the great antiquity of the Church’s liturgy — the most ancient forms of worship — the rites I discussed in great detail in my book The Mass of the Early Christians.

I share the fascination of those visitors who home in on the Didache, the Didascalia, the rites of Addai and Mari. But it’s good for us to temper our thrill with the caution of Pope Pius XII, in his 1947 encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei. While he, too, took great interest in the patristic retrieval at mid-century, he warned Catholics against an “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism”:

The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.

62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

63. Clearly … unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.

4 thoughts on “Should Auld Liturgics Be Forgot?

  1. While browsing, I found a book that you’ll probably find amusing:
    Only a Ghost, by Irenaeus the Deacon, 1870.

    It’s an anonymously written book, which shows the state of Christianity in England from a third century Christian’s point of view. (A ghost third century Christian, which sorta goes against the Christian thing, one would think. But better the ghost than the inevitable loooong elaborate explanation of time travel or survival through the ages.) Apparently some people think Sabine Baring-Gould wrote it.

    I haven’t read the whole thing, but it had some really funny bits in it.

  2. The author seems a little confused about altars in the last chapter, though.

  3. And the end of the book’s missing. Bah. Well, apparently it’s an Anglican tract, ’cause they never go to a Catholic church.

  4. Well, sometimes a step back would be refreshing, like pitching out Schutte, Haugen, and Haas, and bringing back polyphony and chant.

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