|The Foundations of
(Sacrosanctum Concilium Anniversary Address)
Francis Cardinal George
From Adoremus (Online Edition) - Vol. X, No. 1: March 2004
The question of participation is perhaps the overriding preoccupation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The text refers over and over again to a participation which is sciens, actuosa, fructuosa, conscia, plena, pia, facilis, interna, externa, and so on. But how does that participation take place?4
Here the conciliar document is rather reticent. Here also the last forty years have given us examples of participation which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Once again, it is the Catechism which makes significant strides in this area. The Church participates in the Liturgy by synergy. This idea comes from the fruitful synthesis of Father Jean Corbon, whose insights in his book The Wellspring of Worship5 ... appear later in the Catechism. Participation is the common work or synergy between divine initiative and human response. The agent who makes participation possible is the Holy Spirit. "When the Spirit encounters in us the response of faith which He has aroused in us, He brings about genuine cooperation. Through it, the Liturgy becomes the common work of the Holy Spirit and the Church" (CCC 1091).
The Holy Spirit prepares the faithful for the reception of Christ (CCC 1093-1098), recalls the mystery of Christ (CCC 1099-1103), makes present the mystery of Christ (CCC 1104-1107) and brings about that communion which is an anticipation of the fullness of communion with the Holy Trinity (CCC 1107-1109). In fact, the most intimate cooperation, or synergy, of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the Liturgy (CCC 1108). Without insistent reference to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Eucharist might easily come to be imagined as a recreation of the Last Supper, a sort of memorial tableau, rather than a re-presentation in unbloody, symbolic forms of the sacrifice of Calvary.
In the Magisterium of the Church -- in particular in Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- the liturgical subject is clearly delineated from a theological point of view, and the question of participation at its most profound theological level is wonderfully illustrated. Much remains to be done to communicate this teaching more effectively and to internalize it, but the teaching itself is clear.
What is less clear is its philosophical underpinnings. Under this rubric we will consider the nature of the human person who celebrates the Liturgy.
The human person as the subject of the Liturgy can be considered philosophically from three points of view. First, Sacrosanctum Concilium refers to the individual subject of the Liturgy simply as homo. It is clear that the text is referring to man as such, in a generic sense. The fields of study here are the philosophy of man and epistemology. The questions are: what is the nature of the human person and how does he know? These are areas which the Council did not have explicitly on its agenda.
Secondly, Sacrosanctum Concilium also uses the term fidelis [faithful], or man as a Christian believer. The discipline here is theological anthropology; the conciliar constitution, Gaudium et Spes, took some first steps but their use of terms such as "modern man" and "the modern world" lack a clearly defined framework for their interpretation, a lack that has had unfortunate effect for the development of liturgical forms in the postmodern mass culture (See Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II, pp. 18-21, 168). In this situation the question becomes more specific: how does the believer know divine realities?
Thirdly, anthropologists have coined the phrase homo liturgicus, since we are dealing with man as he lives and acts in a liturgical context. This is a new category of philosophical investigation, unknown to the Council Fathers, where the waters are not yet completely charted. The philosophical question now is: how does man, who believes, know divine realities as communicated in the Liturgy?6
These questions point to vast and complex fields of study, the investigation of which is urgently needed in order to be in a better position to address contemporary questions of liturgical reform. We can do no more than give a brief historical sketch here of some of the main themes in these areas of philosophical anthropology and note the questions they raise.
Saint Paul's letters reveal a sophisticated anthropology, although difficult to put into a system. He speaks of the various constitutive elements of the human person as soma (body), sarx (flesh), psyche (soul), pneuma (spirit), nous (mind), and kardia (heart). How does the Christian, considered under these polyvalent aspects, know the world around him? How does he grasp the things of God?
In patristic ascetical theology, one frequently finds a description of the soul as tri-partite: the logikon or rational part, the thumikon or irascible part, and the epithumikon or concupiscible part. How does man, understood in this way, respond to the exterior world? How does he apprehend reality, if not by means of reason, emotion and sense perception? Here is a classic synthesis that will remain a constant point of reference throughout the centuries.
When Saint Thomas asks the question of the specific powers of the soul (I, q.78, a.1), he takes the triple distinction of the tradition (the soul described as rational, sensitive and vegetative) and develops it with extraordinary subtlety and insight. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, we can say that the vegetative part includes nutritive, augmentative and generative elements; the sensitive part includes the five exterior senses as well as five interior senses (common sense, fantasy, imagination, and the estimative and memorative senses); and the intellectual part includes such aspects as memory, understanding, and will.
It would be worthwhile for his tightly ordered reasoning to be unpacked and explained for the sake of the non-specialist, for here is a very sophisticated analysis of how man knows, how he perceives both interior realities and the exterior world in which he lives. This kind of philosophical reasoning could be very helpful in trying to understand how homo liturgicus perceives natural and supernatural realities.7
In terms of epistemology, the Enlightenment rationalist position affirms that reason alone is the source of knowledge and the ultimate test of truth. Revelation as a specific source of knowledge is denied. Human powers other than reason, such as sense perception, imagination and intuition are downplayed. While positive elements of rationalist thought can be seen in a rejection of prejudice, ignorance and superstition, the logical consequences of the rationalist position sooner or later lead to the profound secularization experienced in the western world today.
A moderate Enlightenment position would grant worship some role in human life, since religion has as its purpose, according to this point of view, the inculcation of moral virtue. Thus religious instruction, not the worship of God, was seen as the central point of church services. The Liturgy thus risks being reduced to a pedagogical aid.
There are studies today in German8 and English9 which argue that the roots of the 20th-century liturgical movement, and hence of the post-conciliar liturgical reforms as well, lie in the Enlightenment, with all the attendant positive and negative consequences. These studies merit serious attention.
For our purposes, the question here is how man, understood in this rationalistic sense, interacts with the world and understands supernatural realities.
It is not surprising that the extraordinary force of Enlightenment thought would provoke an equal and opposite reaction. The Romantic response was to emphasize all those things that rationalism denied: sense experience, imagination, intuition, sentiment. This experiential emphasis became the hallmark of a new movement in art and literature. In the life of the Church, the positive aspects of this movement were a rediscovery of the Medieval period, a new God-centeredness, and a high theology of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Romanticism is not without its negative consequences, however, such as piety without dogma, subjectivism, an exaggerated emphasis on feeling, and a kind of deification of "cosmic nature". How does man know? The romantic answer might be: He feels.
The contemporary period seems to be heir to this dichotomy between the Enlightenment and Romantic movements. The dominant view is still a rationalist one, but the vigor of the romantic reaction is striking. It is ironic that the Holy Father, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, would have to defend reason itself in the face of a massive movement of popular culture toward New Age spiritualism. In the area of the Liturgy, this same dichotomy finds expression in a multitude of ways. The reality is a complex one, different in different places, but liturgical polarization between a rationalist and a romantic position is common, and few people have the tools necessary to move beyond the present impasse.10
A curious concept which seems to be in the air we breathe, an idea born of evolutionary theories and the experience of scientific progress in the 19th and 20th centuries, is that man is always progressing, getting better and better. The myth of human progress replaces salvation history. It is said that modern man is more advanced than in ages past, and therefore cannot be understood according to categories of earlier times. While it is true that technological changes have revolutionized the way we live, how true is it that the nature of man has changed?
Sacrosanctum Concilium can give the impression of ambiguity in this regard, referring frequently to the need to adapt liturgical structures and forms to the needs of our time (SC 1), to contemporary needs and circumstances (SC 4). It is also necessary to explore the question of how man needs to adapt to the demands of the Liturgy, as well as how Liturgy adapts to the demands of modern man.
B. How does the personal subject participate in the Liturgy?
Given the polyvalent reality which is man, and the difficulties of formulating how the individual subject knows, it is with some caution that we approach the topic philosophically of how the human person participates in the Liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium appears to set up a dual approach. First of all, the Christian people must understand, then they will be able to participate.
Words most frequently used for understanding are intellegere and percipere. To foster this understanding, there is a heavy emphasis on catechesis and instruction (cf. SC 35/3). Our understanding of the Liturgy should be readily accessible or easy (facile) (cf. SC 21, 50, 59, 79, etc.). If we apply the tri-partite anthropology discussed earlier, it seems that the conciliar text is emphasizing a rational understanding of ritus et preces. The aspect of intuition and imagination is not discussed, nor the apprehension of reality by sense experience. In all fairness it should be said that Sacrosanctum Concilium does not pretend to give an exhaustive treatment of liturgical epistemology, nor could the Council Fathers have possibly imagined the pastoral situations that would arise in subsequent years which would require a more nuanced and sophisticated treatment of this topic.
By understanding the Liturgy more easily, so the reasoning goes, the Christian believer is better able to participate in it. While the conciliar text mentions interior as well as exterior participation (SC 19), and states that sacred silence is also a form of participation (SC 30), the emphasis is on verbal response and physical gesture (SC 30), and in fact, the post-conciliar experience is one of an extremely verbal Liturgy with much activity going on. The more profound understanding of participation, not in the external, visible sense, but in the sacramental, internal and invisible dimension11 is not elaborated by Sacrosanctum Concilium.
What is needed, therefore, is a more unified vision of man and a more profound understanding of liturgical participation. The human person understands the Liturgy by means of reason, without a doubt. The best and brightest intellect has ample material for reflection in the rich complex of truths which the Liturgy expresses. At the same time, the human person experiences the Liturgy through emotion and feeling, through an aesthetic appreciation of beauty, through the intuitive making of connections, through associations which take place on the subliminal level. This kind of human knowing should not be undervalued. And finally, man experiences the Liturgy through the five senses, which is the human foundation of the sacramental system. This sensory experience has the capacity to open up spiritual realities, as the famous text of Tertullian says:
The cultural anthropologist examines not only the individual subject, but also the communal subject of the Liturgy, that is, the ritual assembly. In the Liturgy the celebrating community is usually a heterogeneous gathering of people: old and young, rich and poor, "male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile" (as Saint Paul would say), from every level of society, gathered together not because of some common human element, but because God, who transcends every human category, calls them together. For such an unlikely combination of people to act together as one, something extraordinary must take place. From the theological point of view, what happens is the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church which we spoke about earlier. From an anthropological and sociological point of view, what happens is a specific kind of ritual behavior.
The ritual assembly participates in the Liturgy according to a complex set of rules and roles. The activity is ceremonious, formal, repetitive. What happens this Sunday is the same as what happened last Sunday, for authentic ritual functions according to disciplined patterns of habit and continuity. This kind of participation avoids spontaneity and on-the-spot adaptation in favor of the predictable and the familiar. The vehicle of expression includes words, but relies more heavily on symbols and symbolic actions. The more profound symbols have many levels of meaning, are "opaque" in that sense, are not susceptible to superficial and easy understanding. Symbols are always self-involving, objective in a way that incorporates the subjective. The qualities of beauty and holiness are communicated by signs which are the product of the highest cultural achievement. Immersion in the ritual action takes the participants out of themselves and transforms them.
On the other hand, numerous and rapid changes in ritual forms can produce estrangement and anomie; an experience reported by many of the faithful in the post-conciliar years.
In recent decades, ritual activity has been the object of study by the relatively new discipline of social anthropology. This discipline began to come into its own a decade or so after the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and thus the valuable insights of social anthropology simply were not available at the time of the drafting of the conciliar text and the formulation of the liturgical reforms, although we can see perhaps an oblique reference in the assertion that liturgical change must respect the general laws of the structure and mens of the Liturgy (SC 23).
Aidan Nichols observes: "The postconciliar Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia was wound up in 1975 through absorption into the Congregation for Divine Worship, that year coinciding more or less with a real turning point in the anthropology of religion as new schools of thought began to emphasize meaning, not explanation, the non-rational as well as the rational, and ritual's transformative power: all of which led to a new respect for the formal, ceremonious ordering of rite"13.
From the point of view of social anthropology, it is not self-evident that simplicity in ritual form is more effective than complexity. It is not clear that a sign which is immediately intelligible will be more effective than a multi-faceted symbol which reveals its meaning only over time. In short, simplifying ritual action will not necessarily bring about the greater understanding and more active participation desired by the Council.14
Further work in the area of social anthropology, then, could provide insight into the many open questions concerning liturgical participation.