Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Longer vs. Shorter Collects

It is no secret that the Collects of the "Ordinary Form" of the Roman Rite (the Rite of Paul VI) are often longer and wordier than the orationes of the "Extraordinary Form" of the Roman Rite, i.e, the traditional Roman Rite in use in the Latin West until the late 20th century. As is well know, the classical Roman Rite developed within a culture and in a language which lent itself to a sober style that was simple and direct in expression. This characteristic (sometimes called "the Genius of the Roman Rite") was especially evident in the collects, which were often short to the point of virtually interchangeable generality. But in recent centuries a more modern, expressive sensibility began to creep into the liturgy - long before anyone even imagined the Novus Ordo. This sensibility can be detected in some of the more modern Mass texts added to the Missal of Pius V - for example, the 18th-century Mass of the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Of course, it was only to be expected that this modern tendency to verbosity would find an even more congenial home in the contemporary rite's late 20th-century compositions.

Recently British blogger, Fr. Hunwicke, commented on how the newer sanctoral collects in the contemporary rite refer more often than those in the older rite to the distinctive charism of the saint being commemorated. Although himself liturgically clearly quite conservative, he acknowledged that "some of the new collects are indeed fine and cited one example, that of Saint Joseph, "an elegant, slinky, almost Leonine piece of Latinity." Still his endorsement is limited by his view that "A rite should not too closely reflect the fashions of any one particular phase in its history." combined with his concern that the contemporary preference for 'biographical' collects is a something of a modern fad. He emphasizes that "The most important thing about the saints is that they are our fellows now; not dead figures in the past with whom the only relationship that we can have is that of recollection and emulation ... we seek the protection of their prayers, and admission into their consortium."

Fair enough! I agree that the role of the saints as contemporary intercessors certainly needs to be highlighted in the liturgy at least as much as their historical significance and value as role models for our imitation.  But, in defense of "biographical" collects, I would also suggest that the saints' historical significance and value as role models for our imitation has always been relevant and is often a major factor in why a particular saint gets canonized at all and why a particular saint gets a feast in the calendar. If our devotion to the saints were exclusively focused on our contemporary fellowship with them as intercessors in the communion of saints, then in fact we would have little need for feasts of individual saints. The feast of All Saints would suffice! It is precisely the particularity of an individual saint's historical significance in the Church's life and his or her image as a model of sanctity that distinguishes one saint from another and warrants particular as opposed to generalized devotion.

There is undoubtedly something to be said for the classical simplicity and sobriety of the traditional Roman liturgy. But, especially when it comes to the veneration of the saints, the more modern, more wordy, and thus more particularized prayers are, in my opinion, probably a major improvement.

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