Monday, February 24, 2014

Is the Reform of the Reform Dead? Fr. Christopher Smith's Essay at the Chant Cafe

Over at the Chant Café, Fr. Christopher Smith has posted a thoughtful contribution to the current discussion about the Reform of the Reform movement.

Peter Kwasniewski over at NLM has given a good synopsis of a flurry of articles in recent weeks which have predicted the end of the “Reform of the Reform.” Voices have been raised in the past year since Pope Benedict’s abdication prophesying the end of the Benedictine liturgical vision because of what seems to them to be an antipathy to such ideas on the part of Pope Francis. Others, though, who have been widely known for their ROTR advocacy, are now themselves saying that such a reform is useless. Why all of a sudden are these articles provoking thoughtful discussions, and what are the possibilities for the future?

Re-evaluating the Original Reform
Up until fairly recently, the bulk of the advocates of the ROTR have taken the books of the Liturgical Reform and the documents of the Roman Curia and national episcopal conferences, not to mentionSacrosanctum concilium, at face value. Many of the original ROTR ideas have as their departure point these texts. There are many reasons for this. Some have argued that, because these documents have been produced by legitimate authority, it is essentially useless to work against them. To do so would be evidence of disloyalty at the best and schismatic dissent at worst. Others have argued, more pragmatically, that, because the vast majority of Catholics now worship according to the modern Roman liturgy, any liturgical discussion has to begin from and work within that framework. Also, the often invoked and also often caricatured spirit of resistance of the traditionalist Catholic world led many of the ROTR crowd to deliberately avoid any discussion of the Pian Missal as such, to avoid getting bogged down in what they saw as essentially quixotic and eccentric concerns.
          But as ROTR thinkers delve deeply into the actual texts of the liturgical reform, as well as the now readily available historical accounts of the reform (Bugnini, P. Marini and Card. Antonelli being the most widely read of these), a more complex picture of the reform has come to the fore. As more and more people begin to deal with the actual process by which the reform was conceived and implemented, and the principles that guided all of those decisions, more and more questions have come up as to whether process and principles were up to the task of producing the reform actually envisioned by SC 4 and 25: “that the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition” and “as soon as possible.”
          This has led to a very simple question: was the so-called Missal of 1965 not the legitimate incarnation of the revision of the Roman Rite as conceived by the Bishops who voted on SC, which begs the question of why the Missa Normativa, which became the Missal of Paul VI, was necessary in the first place, especially when its own architects and proponents, at the time, made clear that it was really a new rite.
          The rather difficult to sustain position of some the early voices associated with the ROTR, that the two expressions of the Missal were really not all that much different from each other, and that the divergences were really more cosmetic than anything else, may have prompted some of the early ROTR thought to not delve deeply into the actual history of the reform. But as that history becomes clearer and more accessible, that position has been more and more abandoned as untenable.
          All of this has brought some ROTR thinkers to go beyond the extant texts of the reform to how the reform was brought about, and that has unsettled many of them from an earlier position of relative ease with the reformed books.

The Futility of the Letter vs. Spirit Dichotomy
Many of the ROTR advocates loudly argued that we must return to the letter of the Council documents and of every jot and tittle written down by the legitimate authorities which produced the documents surrounding the reform. The idea was that the “spirit of Vatican II” was at best a chimera, which had derailed authentic reform. To anchor the spirit back to the letter of the liturgical books and documents, they assured us, would usher in the age of liturgical renewal that the Council Fathers really wanted. A monumental work of catechesis and education has been done by many leaders of the ROTR, particularly in parishes where clergy and laypeople formed in the school of thought worked. How many parishes have gone about the difficult work to read the documents, and fashion their liturgical and catechetical lives according to those texts? Obviously not all of them, but increasingly more of them.

Read the rest here. 

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