"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Catholic Liturgical Reform and Its Eastern Impact

If it isn't obvious, then let me make it so: I regard the liturgical reforms of Vatican II as little short of disastrous, and not only in their consequences but also in their very presuppositions. That is, of course, a view that is far from aboriginal to me. It comes from far more important figures, not least Joseph Ratzinger in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977 (and many other works of his) and Louis Bouyer in the recently translated Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, about which I have been writing this week as you will have seen and continue to see.

I am also deeply indebted to Catherine Pickstock's far-reaching, singular, and largely unanswered critique in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. In fact, I think her criticisms are far more searching than those advanced by just about anyone else and the fact that (to my limited knowledge) Western liturgists have failed to answer them only condemns them all the more in my eyes and renders their project an even greater failure than they themselves often realized.

Let me also plainly state that I have long regarded with little less than abject terror the prospect of some wise-ass in the East trying to do to the Byzantine (or Coptic, or Armenian, or West- or East-Syrian) liturgical tradition what was done to the Latin in the 1960s and 1970s in the name of "updating" or "reforming" or "modernizing." There is, to be sure, room for change in Eastern liturgies, as there always is, but if anyone takes the Novus Ordo reforms as a model then they deserve to be run out of town on a rail, excommunicated, and drawn and quartered for good measure.

But let me equally plainly state that I know my good friend Nick Denysenko to be a superlative scholar whose sober judgments about matters liturgical I have never once doubted, and very often greatly profited from--not least in, e.g., his recent book on Chrismation, which I have used with my graduate students to great effect. He is that rarest of creatures who is able to combine the best of scholarship with the best pastoral sensitivity, equally at home in front of the lecture podium as in front of the altar. So I fully expect that while I will not agree with everything in his next book, set for release in December, I will nonetheless find deeply considered arguments judiciously arrayed for the edification of all concerned: Nicholas Denysenko, Liturgical Reform After Vatican II: The Impact on Eastern Orthodoxy (Fortress Press, 2015), 240pp.

About this book we are told:
Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) was the first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. The impact of this document was broad and ecumenical—the liturgical reforms approved by the Council reverberated throughout Christendom, impacting the order and experience of worship in Reformed and Orthodox Churches. Unrecognized in most studies, the Orthodox Churches were also active participants in the liturgical movement that gained momentum through the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the twentieth century. This study examines Orthodox liturgical reform after Vatican II through the lens of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical dialogue. After establishing the retrieval of the priesthood of the laity and active liturgical participation as the rationales for liturgical reform, the study presents the history of liturgical reform through four models: the liturgical reforms of Alexander Schmemann; the alternative liturgical center in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR); the symposia on liturgical rebirth authorized by the Church of Greece; and the renewed liturgy of New Skete Monastery. Following a discussion of the main features of liturgical reform, catechesis, ars celebrandi and the role of the clergy, Denysenko concludes with suggestions for implementing liturgical reform in the challenges of postmodernity and in fidelity to the contributions of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical dialogue.
I greatly look forward to reading this book over the Christmas break, to discussing it on here, and to interviewing Nick about it.

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