Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Problem of the Offertory

I have had to return Bugnini to the Library, (hence the pause in my commentary).  I plan to buy a copy - I had rather hoped Mrs T or one of the little Ts would produce one for Christmas, but it was not to be.

In  the meantime, I have been reflecting.

Above all, I have been reflecting on the underlying view of liturgy, as manifested in the changes.

Bugnini refers to the 'problem of the Offertory' as a given. As far as I recall (and, as I say, I no longer have a copy to hand) he does not actually define that problem anywhere.  But I think from things I have read and heard elsewhere that the perceived problem of the Offertory was that it pre-empts the Canon and, in particular, the consecration.

Michael Davies, of course, had another view, pointing out that Luther's objection was that: From this point (the offertory) almost everything stinks of oblation!

Whichever view one takes, it is quite clear that the Offertory was subject to the greatest changes of any part of the Mass (you can see the old and the new texts together, here, and Bugnini's explanation of the process (though not really the reasons) on Ttony's blog, here)

Incidentally, one of the things some objected to was the Lavabo, as it was not really necessary unless the celebrant had had to dirty his hands, by preparing incense etc.

All of this, I think, is illustrative of a larger point. That is, that people were conceiving of Liturgy in a very linear, logical, one-dimensional way - a bit like a mathematical formula. If x, then y, and so on, with no room or reason for repetition or recapitulation.

But I think a better analogy is a great symphony. The Mass is (inter alia) to teach us, certainly. But that does not have to be in a dull logical fashion. It could teach us in the way that beauty teaches us.  In a symphony, a theme is introduced, repeated, varied, left for a period while another theme is introduced, and then recapitulated, and so on. The cumulative effect of that is very powerful.  And so it was in the Mass.

The penitential theme is introduced at the start of Mass, but is regularly recapitulated, in the Canon and in the repetition of the Confiteor before Communion.  The encounter with the Word of God progresses from the word of the Old Testament, to the Word revealed in the Gospel, to the Word made present sacrificially on the altar, to the Word received by each communicant, and so on.  Thus, the Offertory introduces the sacrificial theme, which is brought to a climax in the Canon.

This allows for another aspect which musicians will grasp: counterpoint.  One of the fascinating things about our Faith is the balancing of things that seem to pull in opposite directions: the Omnipotent as a human baby is one; the virgin birth is another; the altar as place of sacrifice and table of the Banquet of the Lamb… petition and thanksgiving... justice and mercy… joyful and sorrowful mysteries… the Easter People in this Vale of Tears…

The traditional rites allowed for this play of tensions: first one theme comes to the fore, then another, then the first is reprised, and finally there is a climax and a cadence.

The traditional funeral Mass is a prime example: ranging from the awe of the Dies Irae to the beauty of the In Paradisum and the angel welcoming the soul into paradise.

Yet, it seems to me, the modern liturgists have little sense of this.  All is logical progression: we have an Act of Penance, then the Liturgy of the Word, then the Preparation of the Gifts, then the Eucharistic prayer, then the Peace, then the Communion, then the Dismissal.  All very orderly, none contaminating the other but rather all hermetically contained - and all (it seems to me) rather one-dimensional. 

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that so many of those who signed the famous Agatha Christie indult request were prominent figures from the world of the arts and literature.


Joseph Shaw said...

And prolegs is, dear fellow, the Offertory is proleptic.

Even more so with the Eastern rites' veneration of the unconsecrated bread.

If you want to confuse the liberals, say you reject the late medieval legalistic idea that the consecration happens any just one specific moment...

Fr Dickson said...

Thank you for this very sound post. I particularly like the analogy of the symphony as applied to the Mass.

Ttony said...

Whom was Agatha insulting? Answers on a very-large-indeed postcard!

rereading the piece I scanned from Bugnini, I'm struck, as I seldom am when reading the detail, by just how high-handedly full of themselves they were!

Ben Trovato said...


Yes quite. In fact I had intended to say something about the Mass collapsing time (if that's the right term) - us being made present at Calvary. It is so easy to forget that time is a part of creation and God may do with it as He will...

Ben Trovato said...

Fr Dickson

Thanks for your kind words: i am glad you like the analogy: I was rather pleased with it myself, if I am honest!

Ben Trovato said...


Sorry, I have just corrected that typo (thanks to Bruvver Eccles). But I agree with your comments about Bugnini and team: who did they think they were?...