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Once is not enough

One of the norms for Vatican II's reform of the liturgy was that "the rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be clear in their brevity and should avoid useless repetitions" (SC 34). The Roman liturgy was often described as more "sober" than the liturgies of other rites, and perhaps this entered into the mindset of those who drafted this norm. But I wonder whether the norm was appropriate given all that was said about adaptations to meet other cultures, some of which, after all, don't mind and even expect long rituals. And when are repetitions "useless"? And who decides that they're useless? Could there be some cultural bias behind this norm?Here's a comment of Augustine:

For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping; the Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord has received my prayer (Ps 6:9-10). The repetition of the same sentence isnt really necessary, but it shows the emotion of the exultant Psalmist. Thats how joyful people usually speak; expressing their joy once is not enough. This is the fruit of his groaning toil, of the tears that washed his bed and watered his couch (see Ps 6:7). For those who sow in tears reap in joy (Ps 125: 5), and blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Mt 5:5). (Augustine, EnPs 6, 11; PL 36, 95-96).

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Isn't the Rule of Three supposed be a very effective rhetorical device?

The repetition and parallelism of the psalms are part of the charm of Hebrew poetry. Their poetic force carries over into translation into English, and where they are quoted in the Liturgy who could wish them away? The kind of mindless, pompous reiteration endorsed by Vox Clara and so cleverly mocked in the "Commonweal Christmas Cookie " recipe is another matter altogether.

In the first ICEL version, two of the "mea culpas" were dropped as was one of the three petitions in the Gloria. The Novus Ordo itself reduced the threefold Domine, non sum dignus to a single one. But the threefold Sanctus and Agnus Dei

Repetition seems to be almost intrinsic to the psalms, but English poetry tends toward compact expression. Aeneas was perpetually and constantly pious, and that helped the meter, but if a poet of our own national myth were to insist that Washington was upright every time he mentioned the name, the poet would remain unpublished.More than "adoption to meet (an)other culture" is involved in translation. There is that, but there is also the structure of the language itself that must be respected. Latin sounds great in Gregorian chant because it abounds in endings, but when one tries to sing any kind of English-- with its plethora of one-syllable words and words ending in "nd" or "nt" -- with the same notes, the result is creepy when it isn't laughable.Which is not to say the 50-minute Mass to accommodate the parking lot should be normative by anyone's standards.

Who should say what is mere repetition and what is art? Why, the POETS of course!!! In the Renaissance the popes at least had the sense to call in the best artists of the day to invent their religious art. So why didn't theCuria and ICEL, etc., call in the best of the religious poets to critique, or even do, the new translations of the Mass? Why wasn't Levterov, Richard Wilbur, Seamus Heaney, Updike, etc., asked for their opinions? A translator doesn't have to be a practicing Catholic or a Catholic at all to identify bad rhythms and other linguistic and imaginative patters. Sorry to say it, but the liturgists as well as the Curia have shown a certain pride in not getting the opinions of the very best experts in revisions of the lituries. And how do you tell who are the best of the artists? History shows, I think, that the best artists are those who are most appreciated in their own time tend to be those who are appreciated for a very long time in the future. And even those who lose popularity are rarely if ever found to be totally without merit by succeeding generations.

Oops -- that should have been "Why didn't the Curia and Icel call in the best of the poets?" Even agnostic and atheist poets could have helped because they do can recognize a bad pattern when they find one. But there are some religious poets, and some are Roman Catholic. Why weren't they asked to help???

The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition. W. H. Auden

I belong to the Syro Malabar Rite, which is an Eastern Rite confined for the most part to the state of Kerala, in South India. But as I was outside the state for a long time I grew up more familiar with the Roman Rite. It is only in the last 10 years or so, after settling down in my home state that I have frequented the Syro Malabar Mass more often. Compared to the Roman liturgy, it has a many more prayers, mostly praise and thanksgiving and I have really grown to like that Mass. [The srvice is longer though, and since the nearest church is a Latin one we end up going there most of the time :-)]

Yesterday while the presiding priest washed the right foot of 12 persons, repeating the same gestures 12 times, which took, maybe, 5 minutes, we sang the Taize refrain, "Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est" over and over again. I don't know how many times we repeated it, but it was clearly too many for me. Maybe not for others, though: the kind of people who do not tire of reciting the rosary might also not tire of singing that single even more repetitive refrain. As for myself, after the first ten of fifteen iterations, I would have been happy to watch the rest of the ritual in silence.

"Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est We chanted that when walking between some of the stations at the Way of the Cross yesterday. We also chanted"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" and "Wait for the Lord whose Day is near, wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart". I thought the repetition worked. I'm usually put off by chanting, but it seems like we should have been saying some kind of prayer when going between stations, and these were short enough I could remember them.

"...they should be clear in their brevity and should avoid useless repetitions (SC 34). Strange how the consilium added some repetitions to the rite while reducing or eliminating others. The added Responsorial psalm and bidding prayers are repetitious but they reduced the Kyrie and the refrain from the centurian while keeping the Sanctus as mentioned above. I'm sure this makes sense to someone.

Might I politely request that the word strange be banned from the vernacular?

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.