One of the things that struck me at Holy Transfiguration Skete when I was on retreat last week was the real sense of being outside or beyond time. I am no liturgical historian but I should imagine that the Byzantine liturgy in its various forms has been celebrated in pretty much the same way since around the 7th century. The Roman Liturgy, on the other hand, has been afflicted with changes for all my lifetime. Now there is to be another (admittedly much-needed) change in the English speaking world with a new translation. This will not be the end of it. As the Extraordinary Form becomes more available and younger people come to be attracted to it, the Ordinary Form will have to change again to regain those elements that were unnecessarily stripped away.
Here is an example of how just one prayer - the Confiteor - in the Novus Ordo differs from its previous form by the stripping away of the following:
- The profound bow in which the prayer was spoken;
- The structure of the prayer as a dialogue between the priest and the congregation;
- The invocation of various saints by name; and, finally,
- The sacramental of absolution.
Now we have largely lost the gestures of the faithful altogether, even those which are required by the rubrics of the Novus Ordo: in most churches they never beat their breasts in the Confiteor, never bow their heads at the et incarnatus est, and they add gestures which are not indicated in the Novus Ordo such as holding hands during the Lord's prayer and the prayer that follows. And priests fail to bow their heads at the Names of Jesus and Mary and the saint of the day or patron saint as the rubrics require.
A changeless liturgy is a sign of a heavenly liturgy. A changing liturgy is a sign of man's restlessness and boredom and his preoccupation with time. When we offer the Sacred Liturgy, it is a worship that is already going on in heaven that we are entering into, not one that we must invent or reinvent.