Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review - True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’, Massimo Faggioli

By way of preface, NLM was very kindly sent a review copy of a new book published by the Liturgical Press, Massimo Faggioli's True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in 'Sacrosanctum Concilium'.

The book in question is an important one to draw our readers attention to because it is very much a part of the debate that is presently taking place around the sacred liturgy, the Second Vatican Council and the hermeneutic of reform in continuity. In this same regard, it is also very much tied to the considerations we have discussed here before relating to the so-called "Bologna School" which has been critically considered by the likes of Agostino Marchetto (in The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council).

Given the topic and given the importance of this discussion, I decided to asked Dom Alcuin Reid if he could review this title for NLM and he very kindly agreed to do so. Here is his review.


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True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’
Massimo Faggioli
Liturgical Press, Collegeville 2012, 188 pp pb $19.95

Reviewed by Dom Alcuin Reid

In December 1963, following the promulgation the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy at the close of the second session of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI consulted the Council’s Liturgical Commission on how to commence the Constitution’s implementation. He also consulted the Archbishop of Bologna, Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro. Lercaro asked Father Annibale Bugnini, CM, to draft a plan. The following January 3rd Bugnini was nominated Secretary of the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia ― a body intentionally distinct from the Sacred Congregation for Rites ― and set to work on its implementation.

What ensued is not the direct concern of this book, however what is of importance here is that Paul VI wasted no time in commencing the liturgical reform. Neither he nor those to whom he gave responsibility for the work perceived the need to wait until the conclusion of the Council (December 1965) before implementing Sacrosanctum Concilium. Indeed, by then the Consilium had, as Archbishop Piero Marini relates (A Challenging Reform, Liturgical Press 2007, chapters 4 & 5), wrestled control of the reform from the Congregation for Rites and was well underway with it.

These realities are of importance when considering True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ because of Massimo Faggioli’s fundamental question: “How much of Sacrosanctum Concilium is present in Vatican II, and how much of Vatican II is present in the first constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium?” (3)

This question bears re-reading, for historically, the second part of it at least, makes little sense. Neither Paul VI, Lercaro, Bugnini nor their collaborators could have articulated this question as they set about the work of liturgical reform. What Faggioli means by “Vatican II” was not a distinguishable entity at that time as perhaps it became afterwards. And whilst contemporary theological trends and other orientations certainly influenced the persons involved, as well as the reform itself, one will search in vain amongst the papers of the Consilium to find an agenda paper calling its members to sit down to consider “How much of Vatican II is present in the proposed new liturgical rites?” Their constant reference point was the Constitution itself―or at least it should have been―as the name "Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia" makes perfectly clear, not any overarching reality called “Vatican II” or associated “spirit.”

It is evident that True Reform is not a book dealing with liturgical history. Rather it is an argument for a particular hermeneutic for interpreting Vatican II. Faggioli’s other recent work Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning (Paulist Press 2012), demonstrates that his stance owes much to the ‘Bologna school’ as well as to Georgetown’s John W. O’Malley, SJ’s, What Happened at Vatican II (Harvard University Press, 2008). This hermeneutic insists that something happened at Vatican II and that this “something” is greater than the texts approved by the Council. Indeed, they argue, it is nothing less than constituent for the post-conciliar Church, “the Church of Vatican II.” Vatican II is, therefore, more an event (specifically a “language event” for O’Malley), than a series of documents calling for pastoral reforms. It is the epoch-making ressourcement of the Church and the Church’s rapprochement in respect of herself and towards the world. Furthermore, this “something,” this event―this spirit―is held to be the only legitimate starting point for interpreting the Council’s constitutions and decrees, and thus furnishes a hyper-hermeneutic for assessing the probity or otherwise of developments in the life of the Church then and now.

For this school of interpretation there is a very definite ‘before’ and ‘after’ the Council. Radical change, discontinuity and rupture with the ‘pre-conciliar Church’ is not a problem―indeed it is celebrated. Concern for continuity in reform is not present. These scholars oppose the view of Pope Benedict XVI (articulated in his address of 22 December 2005), that the correct way to interpret Vatican II is through “the ‘hermeneutic of reform,’ of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.” Through “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” the Council is “basically misunderstood,” the Holy Father argues, and “in a word, it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit.

It should be clear from the Pope’s words that this is no trifling academic disagreement, as the subtitle of Faggioli’s earlier book, “the Battle for Meaning,” underlines.

This has clear implications in respect of the Sacred Liturgy, particularly when recent years have heard talk of a reform of the post-conciliar reform and more lately of a “mutual enrichment” between the older and newer forms of the Roman rite, as well as witnessing the unfettering of the pre-conciliar liturgy.

Faggioli is not a liturgist and is not directly concerned with the “technical outcomes” (the ritual changes) of the liturgical reform. He is a theologian of the “event” of Vatican II, and as the subtitle of this book indicates, he is directly concerned with the ecclesiology of the Council and with the ecclesiology grounding any form of liturgy. He argues that “rejecting the theological core of the liturgical reform is nothing less than rejecting the theology of Vatican II and the chance to communicate the Gospel in an understandable way in our time and age.” (156-7) Furthermore, he asserts, “the liturgy of Vatican II is constitutionally necessary for the theological survival of Vatican II. Undoing the liturgical reform of Vatican II leads to dismantling the Church of Vatican II. This is why it is necessary to understand the deep connections between the liturgical reform and theology of Vatican II in its entirety.” (158)

Such absolute identification of the Council, its theologies (there were more than one), the liturgical reform that followed it, and the mission of the Church today, is staggering ― though it is an accurate reflection of the implications of the hyper-hermeneutic advocated. Is no other liturgical theology than that of the Paschal mystery acceptable? Are we to believe that the Mass celebrated facing the people with a Eucharistic prayer other than the Roman Canon and entirely in the vernacular―in perfect accordance with the modern liturgical books―is indispensable for communicating the Gospel today? (Nb. none of these ritual reforms were authorised by the Council itself.) Is questioning the value for the twenty-first century of pastoral reforms and theological preferences deemed apposite fifty years ago to be declared anathema?

Further still, according to Faggioli, granting indults for and liberty to the celebration of the pre-conciliar liturgy “is not far from renouncing Vatican II as such” and from “stopping every pastoral effort aimed at receiving the liturgical reform and Vatican II through the liturgy,” because “the basic ideas of the liturgical reform are so connected with the core values of the Council that renouncing the liturgical reform is a manifesto for the renunciation of Vatican II.” (144)

These are strong and exclusivist assertions. They make clear that, for Faggioli’s school of thought, Vatican II, indeed the “Church of Vatican II,” is simply a matter of ‘take it or take it.’ They permit of no consideration of a reform of the reform―liturgical or otherwise―based on historical or theological research or on changed conditions some five decades later. Nor do they allow any place for the older rites. They elevate the historically contingent pastoral decisions of an Ecumenical Council into quasi-dogmas, excluding the possibility that the signs of the times of the twenty-first century may demand new, even different, pastoral policies. And they ignore the fact that, ecclesiologically, “something happened” with the “event” that was Summorum Pontificum.

Historically, Faggioli’s stance is problematic. The liturgy of Vatican II―the liturgical books promulgated by Paul VI―is not a straightforward ritual articulation of the ressourcement theology, Eucharistic ecclesiology and ecumenical and interreligious rapprochement espoused by the Council. Whilst Paul VI and Bugnini were obviously sympathetic to these causes, and whilst these certainly influenced the Consilium’s work, the fact is that the new liturgical books were the result of many conflicts and much compromise at the highest levels, as well as of the public disobedience of some, of opportunism, and of the private enthusiasms―theological and liturgical ― of others, as Bugnini’s memoirs demonstrate. Certainly these influences include the theology and ecclesiology espoused by Faggioli, but historically it is simply not the case that the officials, members or consulters of the Consilium used Faggioli’s theological yard-stick in effecting the reform. The “theological core” of the Council of which he speaks was articulated by some theologians (and never by the Magisterium) only well after the liturgical reform was significantly advanced. Whilst historically it may be asserted that the new rites have become iconic in respect of some theologians’ view of the Council, this is most certainly an a posteriori phenomenon.

The distinction between the new liturgical books and the Conciliar Constitution itself―much was promulgated that was never envisaged by the Council―is one that Faggioli fails make. Yet it is an historical reality which gives rise to the question, “How much of Sacrosanctum Concilium is in the liturgical books of Paul VI?” Historical research has an important contribution to make here in terms of what indeed happened at Vatican II, and afterwards, as well as to any discussion of what should happen now. It also possible to do this without casting doubts on Vatican II’s “validity and legitimacy as an ecumenical council.” (168) Indeed, it is possible to be utterly faithful to the Council whilst questioning significant elements of the liturgical reform that followed it. Thus his label “the anti-Vatican II ‘new liturgical movement’” (16 et al.) is neither accurate nor appropriate.

Faggioli’s ecclesiological position is also debatable. For, in his adulation of Vatican II as “event,” and in his idolisation of the liturgy Paul VI promulgated as indistinguishable from this “event,” he displays a greater rigidity and intransigence than that which he would attribute to so-called “traditionalists.” In doing so he ignores the profound ecclesiological ressourcement of Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus, which re-establish that communion with the Church of Christ is and always has been possible whilst enjoying diverse traditions in ecclesial life, governance and worship. He does not take into account the ecclesial and ecumenical rapprochement they seek to facilitate. Thus Faggioli reacts frequently throughout this book (as also in his other) to the ecclesiological largesse of Summorum Pontificum and to any act of pastoral solicitude shown towards sympathisers with the concerns of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

True Reform is a polemical work which would have benefited from a calm editorial eye. Whilst the bibliography is large, some assertions require more than the mere reference to a work without the relevant arguments being advanced. Some of the research may be questioned, such as the use of William Cardinal Godfrey’s interventions at the Council. It is not always clear what the author means by “ecumenical” when prefixed to “Council,” though such obfuscation may itself not be without its content. That sources such as J.A. Jungmann’s commentary on the Constitution are sometimes referenced in German and other times in English is frustrating.

Preaching on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council, Pope Benedict spoke of “the need to return, as it were, to the ‘letter’ of the Council―that is to its texts―also to draw from them its authentic spirit.” “The true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them,” he asserted, adding that “reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity.” This is the opinion of a pope, to be sure, not a dogmatic definition, and, with the respect due to authority, may be judged on its theological and historical merits―just as may the pastoral reforms and theological preferences of any Council. The Church of Christ encompasses such liberty. Does Faggioli’s “Church of Vatican II”?

Dom Alcuin Reid is a monk of the Monastère Saint-Benoît, La Garde-Freinet, France. More about his academic work can be found here.