Monday, July 31, 2017

Mount St. Helens after the Blast

Kwasniewski, Peter. 
Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages. 
Angelico Press. 2017. Kindle Edition. 

In his new book pleading the case for a full liturgical restoration, Peter Kwasniewski is really feisty, but in a well argued, pondered sense of the term. I generally like the professor's writing, but apart from refreshing, I found this particular book timely, both for my own reflection and apropos to the present hour. I expect to read nothing better during this year of the tenth anniversary celebrations for Summorum Pontificum. It fits my way of thinking and will inspire much of what I want to say in an upcoming lecture I want to prepare for a sympathetic audience during this jubilee.

Peter is not restrained in the critical observations he makes about the harm done to the life of the Church by the Consilium crowd after Vatican II. He expresses his hope of recovery or for the restoration of the usus antiquior using the striking image of the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens (1980, Washington State), which destroyed all for miles around, but only for a time as nature soon began to rejuvenate itself. His book makes the best case I have read to date for an unapologetic restoration of the Church's ancient liturgy. In more than one chapter of the book, he approaches the topic of the central role of liturgy in the life of the Church and elucidates the sense of the teaching of the Council about the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian existence.

Dr. Kwasniewski's book deserves to be read, pondered and discussed. If I do nothing else with this blog post, I would encourage you to take up this book and read it. I have highlighted tons in the book for myself and will go back to it, I am sure, again and again. Let me mention, just mention one of his refrains, and namely, that liturgy is not meant to be easy, neither for celebrant nor for folk. He approaches that notion from various angles, all worthwhile, but I'll quote just one:

"Let me summarize my argument against liturgical rationalism. Liturgy that is totally intelligible is irrelevant, because it no longer summons forth from us the leisurely labor of the deepest and fullest response we can give, with our senses, imagination, memory, intellect, will. Liturgy that is totally transparent is invisible and thus ignored, because it does not catch our attention at the very point where the invisible God becomes visible in otherworldly signs and symbols, like light becoming narrative in the stained glass window." (Kindle Locations 679-682)

Better reviewers than I have already reveled in the beauty of Dr. Kwasniewski's prose, that only makes the reading that much more enjoyable. The point he makes, which I wish to underline because it is mine as well, is that what happened after the Council was probably not what was in the mind of the Fathers to the extent of their general intention to make the Church more fit to face the challenges of the times. Perhaps they failed to understand the sad lesson of Pistoia, which took liberties with the liturgy, only to have them rolled back by Pope Pius VI: 

Traditionalists today recognize, with some melancholy, how right Pope Pius VI was to condemn, over 200 years ago, the Synod of Pistoia (1786), with all its pomps and works. That pope identified part of the Pistoian program as “recalling [the liturgy] to greater simplicity of rites, by expressing it in the vernacular language or by uttering it in a loud voice,” on which he commented: “as if the present order of the liturgy received and approved by the Church had emanated in some part from the forgetfulness of the principles by which it should be regulated.” To this view Pope Pius VI memorably applied the following pontifical appraisal: “rash, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favorable to the charges of heretics.” (Kindle Locations 4800-4806). 

Liturgy is of its nature the celebratory part of a life lived, focused primarily on our duty to give glory to God in union with Christ. We cannot come unprepared for our sharing in the action of the Lord of Life.

As tempted as I am to drive several points home, I will rest here and allow Dr. Kwasniewski to speak to those who read him. The tender growth is ineluctably returning to the highlands not of Washington State but of Mother Church!


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