I have just discovered Fr Ray Blake’s article Loyola’s non-liturgical legacy about the effect of the Jesuits and the Counter-Reformation on the liturgical nature of the Church. Before going into this subject, it would be good to reassure readers that I will not make sweeping statements about Jesuit priests. Many of the most enlightened theologians of the twentieth century were Jesuits: Henri de Lubac, Jean Daniélou and Hans Urs von Balthasar. The two former men established the Sources Chrétiennes with Fr Claude Mondésert. They were heavily involved in the ressourcement movement. I haven’t forgotten Fr George Tyrrell, the so-called “modernist”, who wrote his mind knowing that he would get into deep trouble. Fr Joseph Jungmann of that Order also gave us the monument of liturgical scholarship Missarum Sollemnia – The Mass of the Roman Rite. Also, one cannot disdain or underestimate the heroic efforts of the priests who brought Christ to the Guarani in what is now Brazil, immortalised by the film The Mission that was released in 1986. They were no less heroic in the far East.
Is this movement still in vogue in the Society of Jesus? Or rather, was it replaced in the years following Vatican II by a kind of decadent neo-scholasticism as happened with some of the Protestant Reformers, a particular way of dis-incarnating theology to turn it into a political or social idea and away from its liturgical, monastic and contemplative roots? I found a considerable amount of insight in Tracy Rowland’s book Ratzinger’s Faith (OUP 2008).
Fr Blake makes some points that strike a distinctive note. Unlike the monastic orders and the prebendary canons of old, the Jesuits did not have the Office in choir. This was also a hallmark of the Oratorians and some other lesser known communities founded in the late sixteenth century in Italy. The other main point, a consequence of the Office being said only in private, was a major change in church architecture, the disappearance of the choir. The jubé or rood screen disappeared and the short and stubby chancel is separated from the nave only by the communion rail. The free-standing altar for Mass facing the people, introduced in France and Germany as early as the 1920’s, was only a logical development in a perfect hermeneutic of continuity!
Another Jesuit innovation was mental prayer – unknown in ancient monastic Rules – but even among the friars, especially the Carmelites it tended towards the via negativa, whilst the Jesuits, following the example of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises gave full scope to the imagination, ‘picturing a scene’ moved very quickly from the minds of Jesuits to the walls, ceilings and altar pieces of their churches.
The use of the imagination in prayer is often discouraged in the Benedictine tradition. The Jesuit method of meditation or mental prayer is to use the imagination in the place where one could nowadays play a video of the life of Christ or other related themes. From there would come the use of inculturated popular entertainment to try to get the message over. We see where all this goes…
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One aspect of Anglicanism that preserved a considerable amount of the medieval Catholic tradition was the Cathedral Office. The Reformation stripped parish worship down to very little, dividing the church into a preaching hall and using the old chancel as a place for the Lord’s Supper. Music and any sensual stimulation were things of the past. In the cathedrals and collegiate churches, Anglicanism was something else. The medieval Church remained almost intact and the Offices were sung by a professional choir to a high standard. In the wake of the Oxford Movement, the prevailing idea was to introduce cathedral worship into the parishes. Thus from about the 1840’s came the rehabilitation of what remained of the medieval quires and places where they sing, surpliced choirs and large pipe organs in the vicinity of the choir stalls. The aesthetic effects of oversized organs stuffed into side chapels and specially built chambers was not always satisfactory. All the same, the effort was there in an optic of restoring parish worship to a pre-Reformation standard.
The next question is one that concerns Pope Francis (a Jesuit and apparently insensitive to aesthetics) and the possibility that he might to some extent cancel out the work begun by Benedict XVI in the fields of theology and the liturgy. I only belonged to the Roman Catholic Church for a brief period (within the time of the John Paul II pontificate) of my life, and I feel unqualified to make any kind of negative judgement. All the same, I try to keep an open eye on things as they happen. I think he is a deeply spiritual man with something highly positive to offer, but I have my reserves about the more cultural and liturgical dimensions.
What we need to do in the ACC, with our modest means and marginal position in society, is to seek to continue this work of liturgical restoration and the inspiration of the English cathedral tradition. This involves careful design of buildings within the limits imposed by lack of resources and getting clergy and laity informed about the role of the liturgy in the Church. Much can be done even without the grandiose buildings. We may never be able to do very much, but every little helps.