On wine and liturgical development

What toil lies behind the production of even one glass of good wine! A host of favorable conditions‒ geographical, geological topographical, atmospheric– must coincide to help yield the desired libation. Once a good patch of land is identified (no small feat in itself), the winemaster plants the seeds. If he has tilled the earth well and cultivated the soil, the passing of seasons, months, and years, which bring the requisite cycles of light and precipitation, may incite the first sprouts of vines.

It takes at least two years of arduous labor to produce the first grapes. Throughout this time, the winemaker must tirelessly cultivate his soil, combat pests, and water the vines. And yet, at the end of these intensive two years these first grapes are unworthy of wine. It is an anemic harvest, a poor parody of its potential. The vine, with its shallow roots and fragile leaves, cannot harness enough of the soil’s richness and sun’s warmth to yield a robust grape. The roots must grow deeper.

After the next harvest, he examines the yield. The vine, by now a bit more mature, gives grapes of a finer quality, but still unworthy of wine. This is where he must sacrifice quantity for quality in one of the most emotionally taxing steps of the process. He prunes over half of his grapes, leaving only a select few on the vine. The grapes that he painstakingly sends to an early end are often repurposed for less glamorous ends: either as vinegar, or simply left in the soil to die.

This pruning has two effects. First, it forces the roots to grow deeper in search of richer soil to compensate for the loss of so many grapes. Second, the few grapes chosen to remain on the vine receive the vine’s full nurturing power, yielding a stronger, more robust fruit.

Often, ten years or more have elapsed from the time seeds are planted to the time when worthy grapes finally reach the winepress. This is a decade of continuous tilling, fertilizing, pruning, and cultivating– an entire decade of his life invested in the diligent care of his crop. His toils, however, do not end here; he crushes the worthy grapes, ferments their juice, procures the right wood for the barrels, continuously tasting and adjusting until he achieves the desired result‒ an eminently refined product, taken from the raw materials of the earth, assimilated through organic processes with the skillful labor of the winemaster.

From seed to bottle, we find a process of slow, gradual changes nevertheless marked by a profound continuity. Thus, when an American enjoys a glass of chianti classico, he is in a sense transported to Etruria, where he experiences the Sangiovese grape, the volcanic soil, the Arno water, the wind, the wood, and the work that all coincide in the product he enjoys.

Authentic liturgy, too, is marked by such a continuity.

For when the opening prayers are intoned, the faithful are transported back to the Cenacle and to Calvary, where Christ planted the seed of salvation and established a nascent liturgical form to be imitated in perpetuo. The Apostles, who traveled across the known world to fulfill their Great Commission, likewise planted the seeds of faith, nourished by their blood, in what became known as the apostolic sees: Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. Their primitive liturgies, while retaining the essential core of Christ’s command, germinated and took root in their distinctive cultures. By a slow, gradual process, the roots grew deeper until the resulting liturgies, now more ritualized and complex, began to flourish with unique attributes that expressed in a special way the faith of the local church. The sacrifice of their martyrs, like the pruning of so many unfulfilled grapes, only served to strengthen the faithful who survived the persecutions, who would in turn praise God for the witness of the fallen through liturgical commemoration.

The one who faithfully enters into a liturgy today is not only taken back into the Cenacle and Calvary, but also into the Christianized culture of the place where the Apostles planted the liturgy. For us Latins, this means that the liturgy immerses us (or should immerse us) into the splendor of Christian Rome. Time-honored and well-loved characteristics of the Roman Rite‒ Ember Days, Roman Stations, rosacea (liturgical rose), the dismissal of the form ite missa est as proper to the deacon‒ these are all ritualized developments arising from concrete historical and cultural attributes of Christian Roman civilization. On a larger scale, the various sub-uses of the Roman Rite (the liturgies of Milan, Lyon, Toledo, Braga, etc.) represent special instances of the general Roman tradition incarnated in a local form. (We will here ignore the theory, suggested by men as prominent as Fortescue, that the rites of Milan, Lyon, and Toledo are perhaps Western incarnations of an Antiochene protoliturgy which developed independently of the Roman; one would be remiss to ignore, however, that all the Western sub-usages exhibit the strictly Christological Eucharistic theology of the urbs aeterna, as opposed to the East’s pneumatologial focus as typified in the epiclesis.) All these variations are examples of the natural flourishing of the liturgy as it assimilates, in a deliberate and measured manner, the best attributes of the local culture, while retaining what is distinctive, essential, and universal in the received liturgical form. As grapes grow further from the root, they nevertheless remain in the vine from which they draw life-giving sustenance; so too do the various sub-rites maintain their power through a firm rootedness in their parent rite.

Of course, such local assimilations can also yield the dreaded “accretions”‒ decadent or superfluous additions to the liturgy which, when given an absolute value, detract from an authentic liturgical spirit (literally an ab-usus). Discerning legitimate development from unwarranted accretions is no small task; this it pertains to the Church’s pastors (in primis, the Patriarch of the particular rite) to conduct assessments. Such discernment requires extraordinary patience, knowledge, humility, and faith, none of which can be adequately encapsulated in a few paragraphs. Nevertheless, we can identify a basic, overarching principle which will be useful in distinguishing, in general terms, authentic inculturation from incongruous innovation. The fundamental question is: did the development occur within the Church, or not?

The most eminent example is found in Church music. For the Latin Rite, Gregorian chant is normative. Because its development is inextricably linked to the very development of the Roman liturgy, the Second Vatican Council called it liturgiae romanae proprium. It is a completely distinct, wholly ecclesial, non-secular genre. Sacred polyphony, too, grew as an embellishment of Gregorian melodies. Both styles are then bound to the text of the liturgy. Even in the late Baroque and Classical eras, marked by a shift to orchestral Masses, the composers demonstrated an absolute respect for the liturgical texts‒ an example that here too, although the introduction of secular instrumentation poses a problematic precedent for future generations, these later musical forms nevertheless grew up inside the Church. Contrast this with the popular hymns found in so many Catholic parishes today; often set to piano and guitar and and bound by the banal chord progressions of everyday music, they also make liberal modifications to the prescribed liturgical texts (especially the introit and communion antiphon). The primacy shifts from the received liturgy to the individual abilities and tastes of the various composers, whose musical background not infrequently arises from the world of popular entertainment completely divorced from the traditional ethos of ecclesiastical music. Brazenly grafting a totally foreign species of grape onto a particular vine can produce malignant effects on those fruits which grow naturally from it, for it upsets the balance of nutrient distribution proper to the vine and its grapes; so too does the introduction of so many exterior changes into the liturgy threaten its integrity as a religious-cultural form sui generis.

Just as changes may be imposed from the outside, so too can changes come from within. Again, we turn to music as an example. While polyphonic and orchestral Mass settings find their origin in the Church, they represented a tendency‒ much like modern hymnody‒ to express the talent of composers and virtuosity of musicians, rather than an unadulterated focus on the liturgy through its text. Parts of the liturgy were then treated as movements in a secular musical production: antiphons became arias, sequences became solos, offertoria became opportunities for operatic ostentation. Entertainment, not contemplation, assumed the forefront, and what began as legitimate development spiraled into decadent accretion. Thus, the first Liturgical Movement, represented by Dom Prosper Gueranger and St. Pius X, sought the recovery of Gregorian chant and polyphony (typified by Palestrina) so that the Latin Church might once again discover her authentic liturgical core. It was a necessary and salutary pruning of the vine.

And still, such ressourcement, when taken too far, risks cutting too close to the root. The antiquarian malaise decried by Pius XII in Mediator Deior an over-enthusiastic preference for older forms on exclusive basis of its antiquity, is no less harmful than an impulsive drive to modernity. It risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater, destroying legitimate developments along with abuses and accretions. I will give three examples.

First is the abolition of the offertory prayers in the Missal of Paul VI on the account that they either [1] proposed a different theology of sacrifice from the one expressed in the Roman Canon and thus were “late/medieval accretions”(an absurd claim), or that [2] they preempted the consecration, and that because of this anticipatory character, they constitute an unwarranted anachronism. Lost in the Missal of Paul VI, therefore, were dozens of beautifully rich prayers, unique to the Latin Rite, used continuously in some cases since the the first millennium.

The second example of antiquarianism is one of the most obvious results of the post-conciliar reform: widespread use of the vernacular. Take the following quotation from a well-followed Catholic blog as a demonstration of the firmly-entrenched antiquarian bias among contemporary Catholics, even those of great erudition:

The [Second Vatican] Council went back to the ancient practice of using vernacular as the Eastern-Rite Catholics had done since time immemorial.

Here we are faced with three erroneous assumptions: [1] that older is better (antiquarianism in general); [2] that the complex, hieratic, sacred idioms of the Eastern Rites are completely interchangeable and mutually intelligible with the everyday common tongues of even their ancient congregations; and [3] that Eastern is older than Western (we will address this in the following point). The above quote also forgets that the Second Vatican Council itself allowed a limited, not wholesale, introduction of the vernacular, while at the same time mandating that the faithful must know how to say or sing the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin. In any case, we see the negative effects of the loss of Latin in an era when hitherto unknown global interconnectivity begs for a common language; gone are the days when an Anglophone Catholic could walk into a church in Austria and hear Mass as if he never left home. Instead, we Latins have succumbed to the linguistic-nationalist tempatations which have always plagued our Eastern brethren.

A third example of antiquarianism is the introduction of an explicit epiclesis in the post-conciliar Eucharistic prayers. Again, the underlying assumption is that everything Eastern is older and therefore better. (It is interesting to note that on the matter of the epiclesis, even Fortescue succumbed to the Easternizing temptation.) Each of the Eastern rites contain an explicit invocation that the Spirit should descend upon the gifts, thus effecting the Holy Sacrifice. The Roman Canon famously has no such explicit equivalent. However, as the incomparably erudite Fr. Hunwicke has painstakingly emphasized, the Eastern anaphoras all arise from the same era of the First Council of Constantinople (AD 381), which produced the first clear dogmatic statement on the operation of the Holy Spirit. Theological debates and speculation concerning the Third Person were largely unknown until this period; the Eastern liturgies, therefore, were formed at a time heartily concerned with upholding that council’s teaching. The Roman Canon, by contrast, represents a period of time when Christological concerns dominated theological reflection; thus, its focus is on the reception on the Son’s sacrifice by the Father. Hence, the so-called “Roman split epiclesis” is not an invocation of the Spirit, but a petition that the Father receive the offering: benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris, and iube haec perferri per manus sancti angeli tui in sublime altare tuum, in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae, etc.  A tendency toward “Easternization”, with its faux-historical and ecumenical undertones was so en vogue at the time of the post-council that the Roman Canon was (God help us!) consequently considered deficient (although, Deo gratias, it remained untouched by Bunigni’s Consilium). The result is that today, we have three Eucharistic prayers with an explicit Greek-style epiclesis, and only one without (although it is the oldest and most venerable anaphora of any rite, with the exception of the Addai and Mari anaphora)‒ with the implication that the latter is somehow deficient. In this matter, the knives of Bunigni’s Consilium did more than just salutary pruning; it slashed the vine close to the root to form what is, in many respects, a wholly new reality that does not recognize its illustrious heritage.

Just as a sip of chianti delivers a savor of Tuscany itself, so too should an authentic Roman liturgy breathe the fragrance of Christian Rome. But such liturgy must be continuously, diligently, and carefully cultivated. This requires a true labor of love. It must recognize the difference between pruning and slashing, between growth and grafting, between legitimate development and incongruous novelty. Like the winemaker who waits a decade to bottle his first vintage, lovers of the liturgy must willingly endure stained, scratched, and splintered hands in its service; but if pastors and populus are dutifully engaged in the toil of the Lord’s vineyard as humble workers in according to His will, then worthily shall they call upon the name of the Lord and drink from the chalice of salvation (cf. Ps. 116:13).

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