Christ's Faithful People
|THIS little book has been in circulation some ten
years. It was written to help open up the world of the liturgy. That world will never be
made accessible by accounts of how the certain rites and prayers came into existence and
under what influences, or by explanations of the ideas underlying liturgical practices.
Those ideas may be true and profound, but they are not apparent in the present liturgy,
and can be deduced from it only by scholarly research. The liturgy is not a matter of
ideas, but of actual things, and of actual things as they now are, not as they were in the
past. It is a continuous movement carried on by and through us, and its forms and actions
issue from our human nature. To show how it arose and developed brings us no nearer to it,
and no more does this or that learned interpretation. What does help is to discern in the
living liturgy what underlies the visible sign, to discover the soul from the body, the
hidden and spiritual from the external and material. The liturgy has taken its outward
shape from a divine and hidden series of happenings. It is sacramental in its nature.
So the procedure that avails is to study those actions that are still in present day use, those visible signs which believers have received and made their own and use to express the "invisible grace." For this it is not liturgical scholarship that is needed,--though the two things are not separable,--but liturgical education. We need to be shown how, or by some means incited, to see and feel and make the sacred signs ourselves.
It strikes me that the right and fruitful method is to start off in the simplest way with the elements out of which the higher liturgical forms have been constructed. Whatever in human nature responds to these elementary signs should be fanned into life. These signs are real symbols; consequently, by making them a fresh and vital experience of their own people would get at the spirit which informs them, and arrive at the genuine symbol from the conventional sign. They might even again be caught up in the Christian process that sees and fashions the things of the spirit into visible forms, and do so freshly for themselves. After all, the person who makes the signs has been baptized, both soul and body and therefore able to understand (this was the idea) the signs as sacred symbols and constituent parts of sacrament and sacramental. Then from the practice of them, which can be gained from these little sketches (which make no claim to completeness) he could move on to a deeper understanding of their meaning and justification.*
It is a real question whether something written under special circumstances, and growing out of the needs of a particular group, should be republished after so long an interval of time. There are other objections to these little essays of mine of which I am quite aware. They are not sufficiently objective; they meet no classified need. They are subjective, semi-poetic, casual and impressionistic, and all this apart from their obvious literary deficiencies. Yet it remains that basically they are right, and have a claim, consequently, in spite of sound objections, to republication. For if they do not attain the end for which they were written, at least they indicate it, and no other liturgical work comes readily to mind that does even that much any better.
One person who could do what they attempt both better and more appropriately, would be a mother who had herself been trained in the liturgy. She could teach her child the right way to make the sign of the cross, make him see what it is in himself the lighted candle stands for, show him in his little human person how to stand and carry himself in his Father's house, and never at any point with the least touch of aestheticism, simply as something the child sees, something he does, and not as an idea to hang gestures on. Another competent person would be a teacher who shares the lives of his pupils. He could make them capable of experiencing and celebrating Sunday as the day it is, and feast days and the seasons of the church year. He could make them realize the meaning of doors or bells, or the interior arrangement of the church, or outdoor processions. These two, mother and teacher, could bring the sacred signs to life. A short article by Maria Montessori, whose work in education is so significant, made me feel when I read it, that here was both the fulfillment of these ideas and their promise for the future. Her method is to teach by actual doing. In one of her schools the children take care of a vineyard and a wheatfield. They gather the grapes, sow and harvest the grain, and, as far as they can technically manage it, make, according to the rules of the church, wine and bread, and then carry them as their gifts to the altar. This kind of learning, together with the right kind of instruction, is liturgical education. For the approach to the liturgy is not by being told about it but by taking part in it.
To learn to see, to learn to do, these are the fundamental "skills" that make the groundwork for all the rest. The doing must of course be enlightened by lucid instruction and rooted in Catholic tradition, which they learn from their courses in history. And "doing" does not mean "practicing" in order to get a thing right. Doing is basic; it includes the whole human person with all his creative powers. It is the outcome in action of the child's own experience, of his own understanding, of his own ability to look and see.
When teachers such as these, out of their own experience, give instruction in the sacred signs, this little book may vanish into oblivion. Until then it has a claim, even an obligation, to say its say as well as it can.
MOOSHAUSEN in the "Swabian Alligau" Spring, 1921
*See my book on Liturgical Education