Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ritual Matters: Liturgy and Personality

In the 1990's I went through quite a Dietrich von Hildebrand phase. Sophia Institute Press was reprinting many of his works, including Transformation in Christ, The Art of Living, Man and Woman, Jaws of Death: Gate of Heaven, and Liturgy and Personality. Other publishers and used bookstores supplied me with The Trojan Horse in the City of God, The Devastated Vineyard, and The New Tower of Babel, his series of books descrying problems in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. One of the problems that he saw was the reform of the liturgy that had sapped its Divine Mystery, downplayed the sacrificial aspect of the Mass, and of course, stripped it of the Latin that the Second Vatican Council required to be preserved and indeed, inculcated more firmly among the faithful, both in prayer and in chant in the other liturgical reforms mandated by Sacrosanctum concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. I remember hearing these issues discussed at the Newman School of Catholic Thought I attended in 1979, and von Hildebrand's works were mentioned then too.

But when I read Liturgy and Personality: The Healing Power of Formal Prayer the first time in the Sophia Institute Press edition, Latin in the liturgy was at its lowest point of usage in the Masses I attending. Monsignor William Carr at the Newman Center at WSU held a few Latin Masses in the Novus Ordo rite, but those may have been the only ones I'd ever attended. Now that I've attended Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Liturgy of the Roman Rite for about ten years since the 2007 issuance of Summorum Pontificum, however, re-reading von Hildebrand's study  in the Hildebrand Project edition has a much greater impact.

As in all of von Hildebrand's works, the basis of his exploration of the connection between Liturgy & Personality (I think that Sophia added the subtitle) is the appropriate response to the hierarchy of values. We are as human as we should be when we respond to the objective value of things: nature, works of art, God. God should receive our most exalted reaction and response: love, adoration, obedience, worship. When we offer Him what He deserves, with the Grace He has given us to do so, we fulfill our humanity: we will be authentically human. This structure of subjective response to objective value is also a theme in the philosophy of Karol Wojtyła and Edith Stein as a Phenomenological philosophy that acknowledges the objectivity of being while exploring the human response to being. When we respond correctly to objective goods and truth and beauty, we will have personality. The Hildebrand Project provides a substantial sample where you can read his argument.

Von Hildebrand uses this response-to-value framework through Liturgy & Personality. Chapters 4 though 11 describe the objective values of the Roman Rite: the Spirit of Communion, the Spirit of Reverence, the Spirit of Response to Value, the Spirit of Awakenedness, the Spirit of Discretio, the Spirit of Continuity, the Organic Element, and the Classical Spirit of the Liturgy. Then in each of those chapters, citing examples from the Latin Liturgy of the Roman Rite--it was published first in German in 1933, so it's not exactly the Mass of the Missal of 1962--he describes how the Mass or the Breviary exemplifies those qualities. Von Hildebrand further explains why we won't always respond to them: because of some defect (sin) in our personality. Our egocentrism, isolation, concupiscence, narrowness, unconsciousness, etc., prevent us from responding to the great spirits and elements of the liturgy.

I presume he would have acknowledge that the same spirit and elements are present in the Eastern Rites of the Church, but what he knew of course was the Latin Rite. Dietrich von Hildebrand obviously attended Mass often and must have prayed the Breviary throughout the day. He is completely attuned to the Latin Rite.

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