Thursday, October 25, 2012

The End of Creativity

‘Creativity’ cannot be an authentic category for matters liturgical… creativity means that in a universe that in itself is meaningless and came into existence through blind evolution, man can creatively fashion a new and better world.

Modern theories of art think in terms of a nihilistic kind of creativity. Art is not meant to copy anything. Artistic creativity is under the free mastery of man, without being bound by norms of goals and subject to no questions of meaning. It may be that in such visions a cry for freedom is to be heard, a cry that in a world totally in the control of technology becomes a cry for help. Seen in this way, art appears as the final refuge of freedom.

True, art has something to do with freedom, but freedom understood in the way we have been describing is empty. It is not redemptive, but makes despair sound like the last word of human existence. This kind of creativity has no place within the liturgy.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 168

Reflection – Ratzinger speaks strongly here, and of course his words have to be understood properly. In a very different context he speaks positively of creativity, saying that “We can only be really creative if we are in harmony with the Creator of the universe. We can only really serve the earth if we accept it under the aegis of God’s word. Then we shall be able to further and fulfill both ourselves and the world.” (In the Beginning, 52).

We are all, however, all too familiar with ‘creativity’ within liturgy, when a certain attitude emerges that practically the one thing we cannot do in the liturgy is what the book tells us to do—any other words, gestures, arrangements will do except the ones given by the Church. It is this which Ratzinger criticizes, along with an idea that what is truly valuable in liturgy is what we creatively contribute, not what is already there, given.

This idea—that the ‘given’, the ‘already there’ is of little value until we gussy it up a bit—is troubling outside of liturgy, but is blasphemous within it. What is given in liturgy? The Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, right? Whatever human contribution we make to this Supreme Given is of relatively little importance, right?

Ratzinger goes on to discuss modern theories of art. I have to confess (non-artist that I am) that I simply have to take his word on these matters theoretical. But if these theories are indeed dominant in the art world, then there truly can be no place for them in liturgy. Liturgy is the place of supreme meaning, absolute truth, the perfect form of God coming down to form us according to the pattern of his divinity. Art as rebellion, as a protest against form or meaning or truth, cannot be expressed in this wholly divine way.

I guess as a priest and not an artist I tend to look at myself here, though. We priests have to be very careful in our ‘creative’ license, liturgically. I am glad that with the new translation of the Mass has come a renewed emphasis on simply saying the words that are written down in the book. No paraphrasing, no creative editing, no ‘in these or similar words’ any more. Just say the black, do the red. Hurray!

But even then, even with a total fidelity to the rubrics and texts, we priests have to be very careful. It’s a matter of the heart, a sense that it is on us, somehow, to make this Mass ‘meaningful’, that our (brilliant, of course!) homily or our inflections or our dramatic flourishes are somehow really really really important if the Mass is going to have an impact on people.

Ugh. The Mass is meaningful because it is Full of Meaning, and that Meaning is the living presence of Christ. It has an impact because the full power of the living God is there, not because Fr. Lemieux is so wonderful (snort!), but because Jesus is.

We have to go deep into these things, all of us. Because Fr. X or Fr. Y or this or that liturgical expression or way of singing or habit—all of this is passing away. We have to abandon our false creativity and plunge deeply into the Creator of all who is there at the heart of the Mass and at the heart of each of our lives, awaiting us. He will show us how to be creative according to his truth and his love.