The Rite of Spring

Fr Jonathan Munn has just written Springing into the English Lent or Lenting into the English Spring?

I don’t think we need to be too hard on the old Pagan feasts, since I often mention the “two Old Testaments” – that of the Jewish people and that of the rest of our ancestors. Both announced, through signs and symbols, the Advent of Jesus Christ and the Universal Church. But I think Fr Jonathan is “up to speed” on this point.

Nature itself is a sign of the Resurrection, which is already present in Lent. In the Use of Sarum, we have the Transfiguration Gospel on Ember Saturday (the Roman rite has it on the second Sunday of Lent). The glory is already there and we are shown what we are preparing for.

Indeed, though I am just over the Channel, in a part of the world that gave us English much of our culture, I miss many of the traces of pre-Reformation Anglicanism. He has some rather beautiful ideas about Lent. If it were meant to be torture, I would suggest as a penance living in a concrete city listening to modern noise and bustle and communicating only by mobile phone, Twitter and Facebook! For me that would be like a stint in Supermax Prison in America! Lent is not about punishment or torture, but about finding the essential by shutting out the maelstrom and the noise.

Lent is about finding God and ourselves through silence – inner silence, the silence of harmony. We do well to spend time in nature, away from towns and modern life. There is also human art and music, and Lent can be a time of honing our finer senses. It’s a most thought-provoking article and another look at this season – which some find interminable! The French say aussi lent que le Carême – as slow as Lent! For me, Lent is a time to treasure and take day by day. There is a Ferial Mass for each day during Lent when there isn’t a nine-lesson feast, and each Epistle and Gospel guide us through the stages of becoming as interior as we are exterior before we come to meditate on the horrors of human evil.

This year, we are invited to commemorate the beginning of World War I and what was effectively the end of World War II in much of Europe. As I have written in other articles, they were humanly the end of our civilisation – and we are either facing the end or a transition to something new. Perhaps this waiting is at the same time an Advent and a Lent. Last night, I watched the film Massacre in Rome, made in 1973 with Richard Burton as SS Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler. There are only two ways to react: deny God and sink into nihilism and despair – or seek to transcend the evil and allow Christ to conquer death. These are the themes we will follow as we reach Passiontide.

Treasure each day of this Lent. It goes too quickly!

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6 Responses to The Rite of Spring

  1. AbpLloydOSJV says:

    Just FYI in the Tridentine Rite, the Transfiguration Gospel is on both the Ember Saturday and the Second Sunday of Lent.

  2. Stephen K says:

    To an Australian, an antipodean, Lent comes at the wrong time to make sensual sense: Easter arrives just as autumn draws to a close and the nights get longer and colder as winter approaches. The natural imagery does not correspond to the liturgical ideas. Thus, what Father Munn so eloquently describes is reduced to a theological construct. The Christian Easter is supposed to be the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel: for the Australian, it is the moment of descent into miserable darkness and biting chills.

    I have, of course, been long aware of the Northern hemispheric bias in liturgical symbolism for a long time. Over 30 years ago I heard first that the incongruence of the southern seasons with Christian liturgy was a crucial factor in why Benedictine monasticism (at least for men) had failed to take root and prosper in the South.

    There is no doubt to me that the kind of assimilation that characterised the Christian adoption of pagan rhythms and symbols makes a kind of sense. But now I find myself asking, whether in fact liturgical Christianity – or traditional liturgism – is really a beast of the North.

    When we talk about Christianity, we often mean the forms it has taken historically pre- and post- 1517. If we in the Latin West are more sophisticated we include the reference to East and West, from about 325. Liturgical Conservatives, like the majority of those who inhabit this and linked blog-sites, often find it hard to accept that Christianity can be other than as what it has been officially promulgated. New Age Christians – modernists if you will – often think the traditional symbolism is a construct, and that the essence of Christianity must first be encountered, not in liturgy or prayer, but relationship and social action.

    What a fascinating subject! The disconnect between traditional symbolism and southern seasons exposes – to one angle – the fragility of much Christian liturgical and theological discourse.

    The other day I was watching a BBC programme on St Patrick. It presented various new perspectives on who he was. But the presenter included a segment in which he met modern Druids illustrating some of the pre-Christian rituals and beliefs, and I found myself asking, what really does it matter, whether our prayers go to the goddess Brigid or Mary? The nature religions placed Man as part, not masters, of the system: modern environmentalism, planetism, etc are all reflecting a rediscovery of both the punyness of Man and the awesome responsibility He/She bears in human interactions with our World, and indeed, the Other. The challenge seems to me to be whether Christianity, an embrace of Jesus’ Incarnation, can transcend what may in the end be trivial second-order preoccupations of theology, and engage billions of individuals in a reflective, compassionate and just relationship with their God(s) and each other.

    • Stephen K says:

      I should qualify my earlier comment by saying that there are many places in Australia where winter is a theoretical term and my lyrical description of darkness and bitter chills does not apply. There is a vast expanse north of the Tropic of Capricorn, for example, bigger than a third of the USA or several countries in Europe, where winter apparel is never required. But my co-readers will get my point, I’m sure.

      • Answering both of your comments, Stephen, the fact of the mundus borealis and the mundus australis, does relativise the liturgical discourse somewhat. Everything is reversed. We have both just passed the equinox. We are at the 22nd March and you are like the northern 22nd September. It’s not too bad yet, but it will be about three to four weeks before your leaves start changing colour, and ours are still tender green buds. I have known someone who lives in Australia over the warm months (September to March) and the rest of the year in England. Like that he experiences only the warm seasons from equinox to equinox. Oh! Wouldn’t it be easier if the world were flat and consisting only of the Mediterranean basin!

        Does the fact of the Southern Hemisphere being the opposite of the northern cancel out the concordance we find between the natural cycle and the liturgical year? The pagan feasts developed in the Northern Hemisphere and Christianity “baptised” them. For the southern world, one would need to know something of the feasts of the Aborigines, the Zulus and the people of what is now the southern tip of Chile and Argentina. Is there a way in which the Aborigine finds “light at the end of the tunnel” as the days shorten and the leaves fall off the trees? We seem to be talking about acculturating Christianity to the Southern Hemisphere.

        A possibility would be to strip Christianity of all symbolism and make it purely an affair of human beings. Frankly, I would find it as boring as meeting about global warming caused by humans. Perhaps there can be a “cosmic” Christianity of the north and a “human” Christianity of the south, just one colour and one liturgical season. Perhaps the liturgical year could be reversed, with Christmas on 25th June and Easter between late September to late October depending on the full moons or other criteria. That would be for the temporal cycle and the saints can be celebrated on their dates. The essence of Christianity must first be encountered, not in liturgy or prayer, but relationship and social action. Perhaps, but people of politics or humanitarianism or entertainment do their job better than church people. Why bother with Christianity at all?

        Christianity is fragile, and man without God is even more fragile. We are perhaps at the brink of World War III and we might all be dead by the end of this year from the nuclear fallout. In the last paragraph of your first comment, you state things so eloquently. We are part of our world and not its masters.

        The challenge seems to me to be whether Christianity, an embrace of Jesus’ Incarnation, can transcend what may in the end be trivial second-order preoccupations of theology, and engage billions of individuals in a reflective, compassionate and just relationship with their God(s) and each other. The problem is now that of finding a handful of people who care one way or the other.

        Should we become Quakers? Should we do away with symbol, sacrament and rite? Should we be Christians without religion? It was the question raised by Dietrich Bonhöffer when he saw churches, priests and ministers collaborating with the Nazis. The questions come back again and again. There are religious people who are not Christians, Christians who are not religious. And there are Christians who are religious.

        In the light of my reflections so far, Christianity might survive as a fundamentalist theocracy to bolster up the authority man needs to avoid being evil, but authority that becomes absolute power, and absolute power which itself becomes corrupt and evil.

        As I don’t know the answer, and live in the Northern Hemisphere, I don’t seem to be able to do otherwise than to carry on in the same old way. Do any other Australians, South Africans, people on the Falkland Islands or in very South America reading this blog have any reflections?

      • ed pacht says:

        Of course, if I understand it correctly, the alignment of liturgical/year symbolism with the cycle of hot and cold weather is an addition to the calendar made by much more northern folk than those who devised the calendar in the first place. If I am correct about the climate in the Holy Land (and, to a large extent, in the Mediterranean countries), the major emphasis would be on a twice-yearly alternation of wet and dry seasons. Perhaps it is not the calendar that needs to be adjusted for Australia, but rather the interpretation put on the calendar. Perhaps also we northerners might need to learn to interpret more globally. I’m not aware that RC Peruvians, Chileans, and Argentinians have any problem with living the traditional calendar in the South Hemispheric conditions. What think ye all of this?

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