Liturgical Obedience, the Imitation of Christ, and the Seductions of Autonomy
Audio of Dr Kwasniewski’s Lecture at Silverstream Priory

delivered a lecture this past Tuesday, July 18, at Silverstream Priory in Ireland, entitled “Liturgical Obedience, the Imitation of Christ, and the Seductions of Autonomy.” The full audio with Q&A may be found here (the lecture is about 45 minutes, and the Q&A 17 minutes).

Some excerpts from the as-yet unpublished manuscript:

Given what I have said about liturgy as inherently hierarchical, otherworldly, ecstatic, and absolute in its demands over us, it is entirely in keeping with the devil’s strategy to destabilize, democratize, secularize, and relativize the liturgy here on earth. He seeks to loosen our bond with a fixed and efficacious tradition. He seeks to smudge in our perceptions, and, eventually, to obliterate in our minds, the distinction between sacred and profane, formal and informal, fitting and unfitting.  He seeks to darken or blot out the manifestation of the heavenly hierarchy in the earthly distinctions of sacred ministers and their complementary but non-interchangeable roles.  He seeks to persuade us — particularly the clergy — that the liturgy is not the font and apex of the Christian life, but only one means among many for advancing a “Christian agenda.”

The devil knows he cannot prevent some advancement of the Christian faith, but he is well aware that nothing comes close to the liturgy’s power for hallowing the Name of God and establishing His kingdom in our midst, giving us our daily nourishment, and moving us to the forgiveness of sins and the avoidance of sins. In truth, liturgy is an end in itself because it is God’s peculiar possession and makes us His peculiar possession. If the devil can convince us that liturgy is not an end in itself, but rather, that it is a helpful tool we should manipulate for ulterior ends, then he has already won half the battle for souls. He has shaken our fundamental orientation to the heavenly Jerusalem and the kingdom that will have no end.

One of the great strengths of the traditional Latin liturgy is that it leaves nothing to the will or imagination of the priest (and the same may be said of every minister in the sanctuary). It choreographs his moves, dictates his words, shapes his mind and heart to itself, to make it utterly clear that it is Christ who is acting in and through him.  In the words of the Psalmist: “Know ye that the Lord he is God: he made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture” (Psa 99:3). Sheep are to follow the lead of their shepherd. The clergy is not and will never be the first principle of the liturgy; as St. Thomas Aquinas says with sobering humility, the priest or other cleric is an “animate instrument” of the Eternal High Priest: “Holy orders does not constitute a principal agent, but a minister and a certain instrument of divine operation.” Ministers are like rational hammers or chisels or saws, by which a greater artisan will accomplish His work of sanctification, while conferring on them the immense dignity of resting in His hand and partaking of His action.

[…] The clergy are privileged tools, to be sure, but they are still tools; and the liturgy remains the work of Christ, the High Craftsman, the carpenter of the ark of the covenant, the architect of the heavenly Jerusalem, the New Song and its cantor. In its external form, in text and music and ceremonial, the liturgy should luminously proclaim that it is the work of Christ and His Church, not the product of a charismatic individual or a grassroots community.

[S]ince free choice is antithetical to liturgy as a fixed ritual received from our forebears and handed down faithfully to our successors, choice tends rather to be a principle of distraction, dilution, or dissolution in the liturgy than of its well-being. The same critique may be given of all of the ways in which the new liturgy permits the celebrant an indeterminate freedom of speech, bodily bearing, and movement. Such voluntarism strikes at the very essence of liturgy, which is a public, objective, formal, solemn, and common prayer, in which all Christians are equally participants, even when they are performing irreducibly distinct acts. The prayer of Christians belongs to everyone in common, which means it cannot belong to anyone in particular. The moment a priest invents something that is not common, he sets himself up as a clerical overlord vis-à-vis the people, who must now submit not to a rule of Christ and the Church, but to the arbitrary rule of this individual.

Go to this link to listen to or download the audio of the entire lecture.