Monday, September 28, 2009

Firing Childhood Imagination--The TLM Of Pope Benedict, And The Wizard Of Oz

Dorothy looks behind the curtain of 'mystery and awe' and finds out she alone has the only power which is real and will take her home again.

The following is excerpted from a Zenit article on the recent meeting between Pope Benedict and Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev. The two men met to discuss common objectives of Roman Catholicism and the Russian Orthodox Church. Apparently the meeting was very cordial. So cordial in fact that the Vatican has released very little information concerning the talks, as to not raise hopes about any pending unification talks. It didn't stop Zenit from speculating as the article was unapologetic about hopes for the potential healing of the schism between the Vatican and Moscow.

My interest was peaked at the very end of the article, when the author switches from hopes for unity to common interests between the Pope and the Archbishop. A major commonality was their respective attitudes towards the liturgy:

"As a 15-year-old boy I first entered the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies of the Orthodox Church,” Hilarion once wrote about the Orthodox liturgy. “But it was only after my entrance into the altar that the 'theourgia,' the mystery, and 'feast of faith' began, which continues to this very day.

"After my ordination, I saw my destiny and main calling in serving the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, everything else, such as sermons, pastoral care and theological scholarship were centered around the main focal point of my life -- the liturgy."

These words seem to echo the feelings and experiences of Benedict XVI, who has written that the liturgies of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in Bavaria when he was a child were formative for his entire being, and that his writing on the liturgy (one of his books is entitled "Feast of Faith") is the most important to him of all his scholarly endeavors.

"Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard," Hilarion has written. "I have had the opportunity to be present at both Protestant and Catholic services, which were, with rare exceptions, quite disappointing… Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, services in some Catholic churches have become little different from Protestant ones."

Again, these words of Hilarion seem to echo Benedict XVI's own concerns. The Pope has made it clear that he wishes to reform the Catholic Church's liturgy, and preserve what was contained in the old liturgy and now risks being lost.

Hilarion has cited the Orthodox St. John of Kronstadt approvingly. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: "The Church and its divine services are an embodiment and realization of everything in Christianity... It is the divine wisdom, accessible to simple, loving hearts.

"These words echo words written by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, who often said that the liturgy is a "school" for the simple Christian, imparting the deep truths of the faith even to the unlearned through its prayers, gestures and hymns.

Hilarion in recent years has become known for his musical compositions, especially for Christmas and for Good Friday, celebrating the birth and the Passion of Jesus Christ. These works have been performed in Moscow and in the West, in Rome in March 2007 and in Washington DC in December 2007.

Closer relations between Rome and Moscow, then, could have profound implications also for the cultural and liturgical life of the Church in the West. There could be a renewal of Christian art and culture, as well as of faith.

All of this was at stake in the quiet meeting between Archbishop Hilarion and Benedict XVI on Friday afternoon, in the castle overlooking Lake Albano.


I sincerely hope that Pope Benedict doesn't really understand the function of liturgy as an appeal to the simple, the uneducated, and for children. This would be a truly frightening thought, but would explain a great deal about his actions when it comes to his own liturgical services.

If his goal is to return a sense of sacred and mystery to liturgical rites, it's true that one of the easiest ways to do that is to make a direct appeal to the child inside the adult. Hollywood has this down pat, which is why the Wizard of Oz, the Star War trilogies, and Lord of the Rings were so successful across all generational lines. They were magical, had sacrificial heroes, and were ultimately about hope.

My personal favorite is still the Wizard of Oz because as I've grown older, I've been able to relate to it on more mature levels. I went from understanding it as a black and white, good witch/bad witch movie, to a story about the nature of personal relationships, self understanding, and the power of community to effect change. The exact kind of change that was profound for both the individuals and the community at large.

One of the technological tricks they did in the Wizard of Oz was change from black and white film to color when Dorothy lands in Oz. To current generations that change is easy to gloss over, but to the original movie audiences, who had never before seen a color movie, that was one of the most profound things about the movie. It underscored that Dorothy "was not in Kansas anymore".

I could say the same thing for the Mass of Paul VI. It underscored the Church wasn't in Vatican I anymore. The Norvus Ordo Mass was colorful and engaging in a way the older Tridentine Mass was not--and this in spite of the fact that for the celebrant it was literally far less colorful. Which leads me to wonder about Benedict's memories about this Mass.

I can see him as a young boy focusing on the priest, surrounded by incense and gold, dreaming of wearing the same colorful chasubles and imagining himself in that role. Much the same way my imagination as a young girl was fed by the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was my hero--er heroine--in a way I absolutely could not connect with the priest in the Tridentine rite. She was a she, not a he, and she was powerful because she was a girl learning to doing womanly things. That is, more or less raising her male acolytes to stand up and act like responsible adult males.

In a way, the Wizard of OZ was the 'anti clerical' movie for the ages. The ending is priceless. We see an exposed fallible human old man, manipulating the gears and levers behind the scenes which created the illusion of Wizardly power, screaming, "IGNORE THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN."

While Pope Benedict has the power to revert the Church to his childhood experience of the Mass, the Wizard of Oz has informed far more childhood imaginations. Latin may return and the priest may face ad orientam and we may have to be like little children and be fed the Eucharist, but in the back of my mind I'll be saying: LONG LIVE DOROTHY!


  1. The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorites too Colleen. The entire production was so wonderful and who can forget Dorothy singing "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow."

    I listened to some of Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev's music on youtube. My only comment is that he is stuck and I was bored. I appreciate his try at this theme of St Matthews Passion No 1 which is to depict the Last Supper. There was no melody to speak of, unless you call going through the musical scale of an octave over and over again a melody. It is nice that he is an Archbishop and he has access to an orchestra & choir to pump up the sound. I can imagine him making a deal with Benedict to be on the Vatican Label and selling his music, and including his music in the Mass.

    I agree, Long Live Dorothy! As far as Sunday and the Latin Mass and where I'll be if they bring it back - there's no place like home, there's no place like home.

  2. All the Catholic church has to do is celebrate the tridentine mass in an accurate english and other non-latin languages translations, making them new liturgical languages.

    I havent put all this effort into adapting 11th century prosa ad sequentia hymns into english for nothing. Do whatever the ROCOR or antiochian orthodox western rite vicariates do and all will be well.

  3. I don't know that I want to give more fuel to the tradional camp, but I too have thought that had the Latin been taken out of Traditional Latin Mass, there would be far less resistance.

    One of the Masses I have never forgotten was the one the diocese had in the Cathedral when I graduated from a Catholic college. It was for all practical purposes a Tridentine Mass in English, including Gregorian chant and fanfare trumpets. It was both unbelievable theatre and awe inspiring celebration.

    Well, until one moment during the offertory. The organist had some of the accompanying material played through a Moog synthesizer. He hit the wrong button during an interlude and all of a sudden the currently very popular song "Sky Rockets in Flight" blasted over the sound system. Contrary to the title of the song, it sort of regrounded the whole affair.

    The Holy Spirit does have a sense of humor. However, this little faux pas is not the only reason why I remember this Mass so vividly. It was the English used in a very traditional Tridentine type rite.