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Archive for September 30th, 2008

Antidotes

I have noticed, in the last year or two, that congregations in the Melkite and Romanian parishes we visit have started exchanging the Holy Howdy, aka the Kiss of Peace, a misnomer if ever there was one for the disruption introduced into the Roman rite in the 70s. I don’t know how widespread the practice is in the Eastern churches; I think I remember first seeing it in a Ukrainian parish, along with altar girls. Mercifully, it has not raised its gregarious head in the “Ruthenian” Byzantine Catholic Church, a parish of which our family usually attends.

When I asked the priest about it he said that it was an ancient practice that was being restored. Well, yes; at one time the Liturgy did have the Kiss of Peace, and you can be sure it had no resemblance to the glad-handing, backslapping and small talk that it occasions in the Roman rite shortly after the Consecration. At least the Eastern parishes who have introduced the social minute do it before, not after, the Consecration. The Kiss of Peace in the ancient Church was undoubtedly done with grace and reverence. When modern Americans, informalists that they are, try it the result is an interruption of the flow of the Liturgy, as if everyone broke into a hoedown in the middle of a minuet.

Indeed, the dance is a good illustration of the American Banality Principle. If you do a YouTube search on some variant of “Ethiopian sacred music” you will see exquisitely robed singers singing Ethiopian Orthodox chant, accompanied by drums, strings, and woodwinds. As they chant, they move in unison, swaying and stepping to the music. It is graceful and beautiful, and it is liturgical.

Then if you do a search with some term like “liturgical dance” you will see often aging women and men in leotards, prancing around altars and generally making fools of themselves. The dance is individualistic, sensual, and show-offy. There is nothing beautiful or liturgical about it.

When it comes to religion, American pop culture, informal, individualistic and dumbed down, poisons all it touches. That is why it is extremely unwise to turn over the liturgy to the likes of us. Think rock Masses, felt banners, and clown priests.

What we need, in our debasement, is the antidote of the undiluted ancient forms of our Faith, like pure springs from the rock, preserving for us what we have lost.

The Eastern Catholic Churches took away from the Second Vatican Council quite different marching orders than did their western brethren. They set about reclaiming their tradition, excising latinizations where they had crept in. They have largely succeeded, and the rites of the East have not endured the attack of the rough tribe of liturgists that the West has.

It would be a shame if after all that the silliest innovation of the Roman rite now found widespread acceptance in Byzantine worship.

Daniel Nichols

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