Thursday, April 23, 2009

Alcuin Reid Reviews Fr. John Baldovin's Critique

Readers of the New Liturgical Movement will recall Fr. Thomas Kocik's review of Fr. John Baldovin's book, Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics.

One of the critics that Baldovin responds to as a part of his book is Dr. Alcuin Reid, the London-based liturgical scholar and author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy.

Now in turn, in today's edition of The Catholic Herald Alcuin Reid gives his response to Fr. Baldovin's work in a review of Reforming the Liturgy.



At last, the liturgical establishment is taking on its critics. Let the debate begin

But this book is too thin to tackle the critiques of Vatican II reform, says Alcuin Reid


by Alcuin Reid

A commentator recently recalled Mahatma Gandhi's saying: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." The occasion was the publication by a prominent North American academic liturgist, John Baldovin SJ, of Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics. It marks a significant stage in the recent disputes over the liturgy: for the first time the modern liturgical establishment which has been "in possession" has found it necessary to engage in dialogue with those who have advanced scholarly critiques of the reforms that followed the Council.

Baldovin's publisher and its journal, Worship, have studiously eschewed such debate. That they now find it necessary is a felicitous sign of the times. The "question of the liturgy" is on the mainstream agenda.

But Gandhi's saying is partially inadequate: Baldovin does not seek a fight. He wishes to treat the critics with "respect" and he "would not have written this book if [he] had thought that the critics had nothing to offer". This augurs well for serious, charitable discussion of the vital issues at stake, for the liturgy is the "source and summit" of the entire life of the Church.

However, I am not at all sure that Baldovin has provided a "response" to any or all of the scholars considered: his work is simply too thin to deal with the substantial works it surveys.

Rather, it is a summary of some of the major critiques which makes a few pertinent observations en route. He groups the critics into the philosophical, the historical, the theological and the sociological / anthropological.

Cambridge's Catherine Pickstock, though, defies such categorisation. Listed as a philosopher, she employs history, theology and sociology in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy in demonstrating both the brilliance of the medieval liturgical and cultural synthesis and the inadequacy of that forged in the Sixties. The precise nature of Pickstock's criticism of the latter is, however, not clearly understood. She is no traditionalist regretting reform. Rather, she asserts that the reform was insufficiently radical and failed to create a new synthesis appropriate to the modern age.

Baldovin's account of her work appears over-sensitive to her appreciation of medieval liturgical forms and does not explore the implications of her thesis, which seem to have more in common with his school of thought than with the critics of whom he writes.

An all-too-brief four pages are given to the Canadian philosopher Jonathan Robinson's insightful book The Mass and Modernity which neither criticise his work nor respond to it: they are merely descriptive.

The German Klaus Gamber is the first of the historians discussed. Baldovin makes two significant assertions. The first, in response to Gamber's criticism that the reforms were, as Baldovin puts it, "too radical for some and too tame for others", is that this is, in fact, "a sign of the reform's success" by having achieved a compromise between extremes. One must ask whether one may justify liturgical reform by means of the politics of compromise. Surely the theological and pastoral issues must be given priority. And, historically, one must ask how free such factions which existed at and after the Council were to engage in compromise, when papal authority imposed reforms that were proposed by partisans of but one faction under obedience.

Baldovin then accuses Gamber of a "kind of 'idolatry'", asking: "What needs to take priority ... worshipping the liturgical rite or the God whom the liturgy addresses?" Such a question is either something of a cheap shot or evidence of a failure to understand the theological value and sacramental efficacy of the liturgical rites which, in Catholic theology, are by no means a matter of "mere externals".

And this is Gamber's point: in Baldovin's words Gamber is concerned that "the Missal of Paul VI represents a radical and unwarranted departure" from the tradition hitherto.

Baldovin does not dispute this. He is clear that there has been "a radical reform of the liturgy" which represents a "radical shift in Catholic theology and piety". And for him, such a rupture is simply not an issue.

The present writer is next. It is for others to assess Baldovin's treatment of my work. However, one observation is necessary. In his conclusion it is asserted that I am an "extreme traditionalist" (his American penchant for placing persons holding complex positions into simple categories defies the necessary distinctions involved), who denies "many of the principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium". It is to Baldovin's credit that he has since accepted that this is "inaccurate" and that I "nowhere deny the principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium".

Such "Vatican II denial" seems to be the ultimate crime for him: Sacrosanctum Concilium is elevated beyond criticism. This is an error, for dialogue about the reform cannot exclude critical study of the liturgical constitution any more than it can pretend that it does not exist.

The French historian Denis Crouan follows. He is not a critic of the reform itself, rather of its implementation in a more classical sense at the local level.

The prime theologian discussed is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. This is as brave as it is broad. In an extensive treatment which includes praise for the cardinal's insistence on the centrality of Christ in the liturgy, we hear of his "problem with his use of Scripture" and his "somewhat literalistic" biblical exegesis, of his "unwarranted" conclusion that trends in modern Eucharistic theology have communities to consider themselves the subject of liturgical celebrations, that he is "very far from the consensus about the nature of active participation that most liturgical scholars would support", that he is "Eurocentric" and "haunted by the Enlightenment and its privileging of historical-critical analysis", and that he has "a somewhat romantic view of the liturgical glories of the past".

Romance, as they say, is much to be recommended and, with a clear head, can certainly assist and inspire future action. It is true that Pope Benedict is deeply concerned about Europe, but Europe's issues are not all that different from those of many other western countries. The Enlightenment "and all its works" are crucial in this debate, and the Pope's 2008 synodal intervention on historical-critical analysis underlines his concerns about this as cardinal.

Appealing to the "consensus" of "most liturgical scholars", however, just doesn't hold water - a democratic majority simply does not constitute truth - and, as Fr Aidan Nichols OP has famously said, liturgy "is too important to be left to liturgists".

The sociological and anthropological critiques - including Bristol's Kieran Flanagan and St Louis' James Hitchcock - which assert with fascinating detail that the reforms stripped the liturgy of its ability to connect with the needs of man's profoundly ritual nature, lead Baldovin to admit that "it is possible that Flanagan is correct" and that there is indeed, today, "a need for a new 'choreography' of the liturgy in the sense of conscious and intentional uses of the body".

But he is also concerned to justify the reforms: "Change was needed," he asserts, "because the Vatican II liturgy was indeed a relic of a bygone age." This mantra flags the centre of the discussion: was change necessary, or was it development - reform in continuity, not rupture - that was required?

Baldovin honestly admits that the early Church did not celebrate Mass "facing the people" as we do today, though he thinks we should. His commitment to everyday vernacular inclusive language and his opposition to the free use of the older liturgical rites are predictable, though nuanced. He is opposed to "musical nostalgia" in the liturgy though he would allow chant "from time to time". He wants greater reverence in the reception of Holy Communion, but "without insisting that Communion be received on the tongue" or kneeling.

He is an advocate of the ordinary use of extraordinary ministers in order to respect "the integrity of a particular worshipping assembly". He is a liturgist utterly committed to the modern reforms who has nevertheless noted the existence of serious critics.

'Then you win," Gandhi said. It is far too early to declare victory. Much more debate remains, particularly over the production of the modern rites.

But while one would vigorously contest the first of Baldovin's conclusions, that "there is no going back" - for past liturgical tradition, including the more ancient rites, is, in the words of Benedict XVI, "sacred and great for us too". His second conviction is one on which we can happily agree. "It is of the utmost importance," he writes, "that we concentrate on the liturgy as God's gift to us and that we find more and better ways to cooperate in receiving this gift."

If this conviction alone can be understood and implemented by parish pastoral liturgists, a significant victory will have been achieved.

Who knows what further dialogue will bring?

Source: At last, the liturgical establishment is taking on its critics. Let the debate begin (Catholic Herald Online)

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