Fr. Anscar’s Lecture on Liturgy (2)

It was a delight to see and hear a monk-scholar of international reputation giving a lecture on liturgy.  Fr. Anscar divided his lecture into 3 parts: the first part, what he terms as the “hermeneutic of continuity”; the second part, on the continuity of the Church’s liturgy with the classical Roman tradition; and the third part, on the Philippine experience of liturgical reform through what he terms as “organic progression”. Scholars could be technical most of the time and I believe it goes with the striving for intellectual clarity through rigid conceptual boundaries.

How did he fare during the lecture? Definitely, the former Cardinal now Pope will likely squirm in his chair too often if he was in the lecture hall. For sure, the scholar Ratzinger has been reading the mind of Fr. Anscar whose one mentor was Romano Guardini (I read Guardini’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy prior to the lecture and it awed me especially his chapter on the playfulness of the liturgy; will write a post on him at some other time). Fr. Anscar has been a  Consultor of the Vatican-based Congregation for Divine Worship. He has been writing articles and books and stirring local reforms worldwide to be left unnoticed by the circle of theologians including the now Pope. Where his mind is at variance with the mind of the Pope is very intriguing, to say the least must be disturbing especially for the ultraconservative sympathizers of the Pope who hail him as the “new reformer” in line with the Benedictine rigors for ecclesia reformanda. That there is an undercurrent Papal effort to restore the Tridentine rite through the issuance of Summorum Pontificum is what is going on the Roman Catholic Church and it is slowly gaining support from among conservative Catholics worldwide. The encyclical, says Fr. Anscar requires clergies and laypersons to at least learn Latin as a key to a better understanding of the Latin mass. For such a trend, Fr. Anscar deftly brought out its historical precedent – that prior to the medieval Tridentine rite, there was a classical Roman liturgy more faithful to the essentials and simplicity of the liturgy from between the 5th-8th century AD. It was the Germanic peoples who inculturated this classical tradition and brought it back to Rome in its more Germanic form. Coincidence, or a deliberate move by the Vatican? Fr. Anscar gave a sheepish smile. What was extra intriguing was how the Vatican, in its revisions of the Eucharistic prayers, had laid out its “do” and “don’ts” (don’ts translated as delicts, or delecta which is the Latin for crime). Fr. Anscar gave another sheepish smile. Summarily, Fr. Anscar’s conviction is this “hermeneutic of continuity” by way of restoring the medieval Latin Tridentine rite runs counter against the spirit of Vatican II, whose call is for active participation of the people by inculturating the liturgy, that is, by using languages and symbols intelligible to the local worshipers, cultural resources indigenous to local communities yet their usage expresses fidelity to the universal truths that liturgy speaks for.

There were a number of questions from the audience after the lecture. But there were 2 that stood prominently. One was from a young seminarian, who broached the idea of a liturgy as a combo of worship and entertainment especially in the context of the growing trend of young people who flock to the evangelical communities. But Fr. Anscar, faithful to his mentor Guardini, simply drew the line – liturgy is not entertainment but there is a way to make it more lively for the young. The second question came from a former “backslider,” who seems to be more sympathetic to Lefebvre than to the agenda of Vatican II, who also broached the idea of accommodating both the Tridentine rite side by side with the classical rite. Fr. Anscar responded wittily – “yes, you can have Jollibee today, and McDonald tomorrow” but strongly emphasized that the Tridentine rite should never be imposed on the liturgical resolutions of Vatican II considering that it has altogether some papal clout stamped on it.

Fr. Anscar infused poetry lines every start of the 3-part lecture. Guardini was in his book. I thought that every lover of liturgy cannot but be transformed into lovers of poetry. Liturgy is too deep for our plain, everyday words. It is Mystery because it is the silent, saving work of God. During the lecture, I was waiting for the contemplative take on liturgy the way Cardinal Danneels of Belgium broached it during his lecture in Boston College in 1997. It came almost as a footnote, when Fr. Anscar, before closing the question-and-answer portion, went back to where he is currently stationed, at a Benedictine monastery on a mountain in my home island in Mindanao, writing, praying. “Like a good monk,” he says, he now writes on liturgy as prayer, turning parts of the of the Mass into prayerful meditations and realizes at the same time that prayer is the most difficult thing to do. With his latest book and emphasis on prayer, his brother remarked: “Now Anscar, I’m beginning to understand what you are doing!”

Ah! The whole lecture made sense to me suddenly!


Photo credit: Fr. Anscar Facebook


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