"The Liturgy Changes Us...": A Review of "Worship as a Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy", by Laurence Paul Hemming | Rev. Brian Van
Hove, S.J., Ph.D. | Ignatius Insight
"The Liturgy Changes Us...": A Review of Worship as a Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy, by Laurence Paul Hemming | Rev. Brian Van
Hove, S.J., Ph.D. | July 29, 2009
Worship as a Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of
by Laurence Paul Hemming
Continuum, 2008 (paperback)
192 pages, including glossary, bibliography and index
Liturgy has shifted with the appearance of younger scholars
and critics who write about the reform of forty years ago. Generally, they see
defects of the reform to be pronounced and the benefits of it to be dubious.
L. P. Hemming calls the present state of Catholic liturgy "chaos".
Defenders of the official liturgical reform in the days of
their euphoria were once able to dismiss negative assessment. Unable now to
ignore this rising tide, they are at last compelled to address it. Examples of
still-serious defenders are John Baldovin and Piero Marini.
Of course the same official reform (with special reference
to the Missal of 1970) is also criticized by those of another extreme who
maintain that it did not go far enough. Ironically these, so opposed to
authority, do not remember that it was authority itself which launched and
supported liturgical reform.
Living with a failed reform is uncomfortable. Pastors who
would set things right are afraid to disquiet the ordinary faithful who have
already been so disturbed during the previous generation. One is reminded of a
work proposing "national repentance" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, From Under
the Rubble.  Where do we go from here? Can the Church correct what has gone awry? 
Hemming's academic concentration in philosophy gives him
analytical power to comprehend the liturgical situation, even though he does
not propose a specific solution to our plight. "However, what historical study
of the liturgy has all too often overlooked is the philosophical aspect –
or it has substituted the most fundamental philosophical aspect for a
metaphysics or rationalism. That missing aspect is what we might call the
'surrounding world' – the place from out of which man emerges, needing to
be redeemed." A return to a "philosophy of being" was mandated by Pope John
Paul II in Fides et Ratio at a juncture
when the "turn to the subject" ended in rationalism and nihilism. The quagmire
of subjectivism took the liturgy down with it!
Perhaps not since the publication of Jonathan Robinson's The
Mass and Modernity  have we had such
adroit use of philosophy to help us understand liturgy. Hemming regards this
book as a preparation for even greater depth along the same themes, either by
him or from future writing of named allies and others who see things,
especially the historical Liturgical Movement since Guéranger, in a similar
Our author asserts that the enemy of Catholic liturgy is
rationalism – "the fact that a propensity towards philosophical
rationalism was one of the motor forces of the post-conciliar liturgical
reform". Rationalism is defined as "the understanding that everything, all
truth, arises on the basis of what can be foreseen by man, what is calculable
and predictable for him in advance of its occurring." Again, "the rational is
the essentially calculable...."
The effect of rationalism and its inherent problematic as applied
to the "adaptation of the liturgy" has an extensive history. Only gradually did
it become as strong as it is now. Hemming agrees with Martin Heidegger that
"God is not an object of philosophy" and he finds an ally in Aidan Nichols on
the point – "... the impulses for liturgical reform have their origins in a
commitment to rationalism that stems, certainly from the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, and even before." 
Allies in addition to Nichols include Alcuin Reid and Lauren
Pristas. Cited favorably are Klaus Gamber, Martin Mosebach, Uwe Michael Lang
and László Dobszay. Hemming is no supporter of Catherine Pickstock who, for a
time, was quite fashionable in some circles. Other contemporary figures whose
thought he engages in various ways include Odo Casel, Romano Guardini, Cipriano
Vagaggini, Berhard Blankenhorn, Margaret Barker and John McDade. This is not a
taxative list, either.
When Hemming assesses the calendar reform of 1911, well
before the calendar changes so familiar to us, he is only illustrating one
example in the long saga of erosion which he sees before the Second Vatican
Council. He mentions that the Eastern Church has preserved some liturgical
understanding or "ancient practice" now lost in the West. Besides the loss of
the "distributed body of Christ" is the
loss of all sense of intertwinement between the cycles, sanctoral and temporal.
The Christian East kept both insights.
The gravest misunderstanding today is the erroneous
interpretation of "active participation" in the liturgy. In Hemming's view,
this misperception which grew in strength after Vatican II, "betrays an
underlying rationalism in understanding what the liturgy itself is to do."
The author traces its root to the "modern self" of Cartesian
philosophy. "In his Meditations on First Philosophy, after having established the self as first in the
order of things of which I can be certain, the second indubitable thing
Descartes discovers is God." However, the second indubitable thing Descartes
discovered was not God, but the idea of God. After explaining the philosophy
that reduces the external world to subjectivity, Hemming concludes: "Liturgical
prayer works in exactly the opposite way." We do not approach the liturgy as
complete selves – we let our incomplete selves be filled and perfected by
Rather than beginning with the fixed Cartesian ego, approaching the liturgy must begin with an
unfinished self "constituted through a pilgrimage of discovery." Over a
lifetime we slowly discover God in and through the liturgy. At least that is
what should happen; or that was traditionally the perceived goal. Hemming
asserts that the purpose of this book is to emphasize that we do not make or
force God to become present in the liturgy. Rather, we listen and wait for God
to act and to move us. "Prayer does not bring God or the divine presence to
us." Even esteemed friends seem not to understand this. 
Chapter 5 bears the title "Understanding Understanding".
This summarizes Worship as Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of
Catholic Liturgy. Unless we come to
understand what the liturgy is and how it works to draw us into the mysteries
of God, it becomes something else, discontinuous and novel. Hemming identifies
the philosophical ideas that affected the formal liturgical reform of our
tradition. These ideas show their imprint upon Sacrosanctum Concilium.
Deepening our understanding of what happened over the last
century or more can help us address the confusion introduced by the reform. If
the old Liturgical Movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
influenced bishops, council and pope, then a New Liturgical Movement may do
something similar for us.
Paraphrasing Hemming, we need to recover the wisdom that
"the liturgy changes us – so who are we to change the liturgy?"
 John F. Baldovin, Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics.
Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008. pp. 188. $29.95, pb. ISBN
978-0-8144-6219-9. Piero Marini; John R. Page and Keith F. Pecklers (eds.), A
Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal, 1963-1975. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007; The
Columba Press, 2008; 205 pages, $15.95, pb. ISBN: 9780814630358. See also Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy (1948-1975), hardcover. Liturgical Press, 1990. ISBN-10:
0814615716; ISBN-13: 978-0814615713.
 Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, From Under the
Rubble. Tr. from the Russian, A. M.
Brock... [et al.] under the direction of Michael Scammell; introduction by Max
Hayward. London: Collins/ Harvill Press, 1975. ISBN: 0002622343; DDC: 947.085.
Also Bantam Books, 1976; University Press of America, reprint 1989, pb.
 Publication of Rembert G. Weakland's memoirs tainted the
reputation of the official reform's inception since we know that after Vatican
II Weakland was a "liturgy insider" consulted in Rome by Paul VI. See Rembert
G. Weakland, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 2009; 433 pages, $23.10 hardback, ISBN:0802863825.
 Jonathan Robinson, The Mass and Modernity: Walking to
Heaven Backward. San Francisco: Ignatius
Press, 2005. ISBN-10: 1586170694; ISBN-13: 978-1586170691.
 Aidan Nichols, Looking at the Liturgy: A Critical
View of its Contemporary Form. San
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996. ISBN-10: 0898705924; ISBN-13: 978-0898705928
Esp. p. 11-48.
 Robert Sokolowski, Eucharistic Presence: A Study in
the Theology of Disclosure. Washington,
D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994. ISBN-10: 0813207894; ISBN-13: 978-0813207896.
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Father Brian Van Hove, S.J,, resides at Jesuit Hall, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.
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