Friday, February 21, 2014

The Growing Realization of the Irreparable Failure of the Liturgical Reform

As I had occasion to point out some weeks ago in connection with mounting critiques of the post-conciliar liturgical calendar (see here), it seems we are entering a phase of great honesty and frankness in assessing not only the false principles behind the Pauline liturgical reform and the worldwide damage it has wrought—a sobering assessment that has certainly not been lacking over the past 40 years—but also, in particular, the possibility of a correction of this reform that would preserve its core while removing abuses or re-integrating foolishly discarded elements.

The new and more realistic phase to which I refer is captured succinctly in Fr. Thomas Kocik's recent article at NLM, "Reforming the Irreformable?," which has attracted a remarkable amount of attention. In essence, the conclusion is this: a "reform of the reform" is not, in fact, possible. The Pauline rite is so radical a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Roman liturgy that it does not exist in the same tradition of organic development. It is a new departure, a new thing, not a revision of the old thing that had been handed down over the centuries. As an artificial liturgical entity constructed out of pieces of the Roman heritage combined with modern scholarly inventions, any future reform of it would be no more than a variation on the new theme. The only way forward is not to tinker any more with this "fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product" (as Ratzinger called it in 1992), but to return steadfastly and stalwartly to the Catholic and Roman liturgical tradition embodied in the preconciliar Missal.  Indeed, only in this way can the deepest aims and aspirations of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy be achieved and even applied.

Fr. Kocik's bracing honesty was the long-awaited and necessary announcement that "The Emperor has no clothes." There are many people who have said similar things over the years, but people perk up when an educated priest who has specialized in the study of the Roman liturgy and who, for a long time, defended and promoted the reform of the reform, finally cashes in the chips and says, "The only long-term solution and path into the future is to celebrate everywhere the usus antiquior, with full, active, and conscious participation." It has a way of clearing the air so that we can breathe freely. Here's a brief round-up of some of the best writing from recent days that, either expressly or implicitly, takes its cue from Fr. Kocik.

Dom Mark Kirby, Prior of Silverstream Priory, at Vultus Christi: "Let Nothing Be Preferred to the Work of God"
I was, at one time, as deeply committed to the reform of the reform as was Father Kocik, having contributed to the Beyond the Prosaic conference at Oxford in 1996 and to the book that followed it. Like Father Kocik, although several years earlier, I came to see the futility of trying to repair something that, at bottom, is structurally unsound. Nowhere is the old adage, “Haste makes waste”, truer than when applied to the precipitous reform of liturgical rites and the books that contain them. In most places the liturgical landscape has become a dreary wasteland. The liturgical rites and books prepared so feverishly in the wake of the Second Vatican Council have been tried and found wanting.
          There are, it is true, liturgical oases here and there, where the reformed rites are carried out intelligently, with dignity, reverence, and devotion—I am thinking of certain communities, monasteries, and parishes, the Communauté de Saint–Martin, for example—but these subjective qualities cannot make up for the objective flaws and structural weaknesses inherent in the same rites.
          ... The passing of the years has demonstrated the intrinsic inadequacies of the reformed liturgical books of the post-conciliar era. The cracks in the post–conciliar liturgical edifice became evident almost as soon as the new rites began to be “lived in.” Today, the same edifice appears like so many shabby buildings put up hastily during an economic boom, now revealing their structural flaws, and threatening imminent collapse.

Fr. Hugh Somerville-Knapman of Dominus mihi adjutor: "The Lament of a Liturgical Loner"  (a very remarkable soul-searching article that deserves to be read in its entirety):
If liturgy was a live issue before the Council of 1962-65, it has become in the wake of that Council an explosive issue. Liturgy seems never to be at rest. For some, the Council gave a licence to change comprehensively the performance of the Church’s liturgy, and the change has been unrelenting. For others the changes were unjustifiable, unconscionable even, and they reject them outright. For others still, liturgy has been something to be coped with, an unavoidable battlefield on which they try to find shelter in some compromise that acknowledges the reality of change and seeks somehow to keep it organically connected to the Tradition of the Church. Few have been satisfied.
          We might ask ourselves: where is my foxhole, my bunker, my bastion, on this battlefield? So much of my reading the past year or more has shown my foxhole [i.e., the reform of the reform] to be filling with mud, slowly but ever more surely. It is not a tenable position in the long-term. ...
          [I]t is hard not to conclude that the structure and the rubrics of the new Mass lend themselves to such a [cavalier, creative] practice and attitude. If you remove so many of the sacralizing elements of a ritual, of course it is going to end up secularized. Rather arbitrarily included after the Council among “useless repetitions” the same Council had deprecated, nearly all the signs of the cross and genuflections and kissings of the altar were removed from the Mass. To one not formed under the old Mass, these gestures can appear to be fussy and pedantic and almost obsessive. They seem to cry out for some rationalization. But is such a principle appropriate to the symbolic and sacred ritual of the Mass? Are time-and-motion principles suited to something that should take us out of time and out of ourselves? ...
          In other words, there is a disjunction between what we are taught happens at Mass and what seems so often to be happening. There is an incongruence between the words and the actions. It is possible to do the new Mass properly; but the new Mass seems to have the inherent flaw that it is so easy to do improperly.

Fr. Richard Cipolla, "The End of the 'Reform of the Reform'" at Rorate:
This [article by Kocik] is indeed “Tract 90” for the "reform of the reform" and sounds the death knell of any serious attempt to hold onto the fiction of continuity between the 1970 Missal and the Traditional Roman rite.  Just as Tract 90 marked the end of Newman’s attempt to find a Catholic continuity and a Via Media in Anglicanism, so does Fr. Kocik’s public articulation of the abandonment of his attempt to find a liturgical and theological continuity between the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Roman rite mark the end of the Reform of the Reform movement. What must be done now—and this will require much laborandum et orandum—is to make the Extraordinary—ordinary.

Those of you who read Nicholas Postgate's piece "Is It Divisive to Speak of a Crisis?" will recall his unambiguous stance:
The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Missal of Paul VI, is irreparably broken. Due to the false principles, exploded assumptions, and rationalistic method behind its composition, it was wrong from the first day, and it remains wrong, no matter how well it is celebrated. Its very prayers and rubrics embody a hermeneutic of discontinuity that cannot be cured without a complete reworking that would bring it substantially back into line with the preceding liturgical tradition. In the language of the philosophers, it would require not an accidental but a substantial change. As far as incremental reform goes (for example, if we look to how some Oratorians celebrate the new rite), nearly every successful step has involved adding or substituting something from the old Missal, or removing something painfully novel. In most respects, the Ordinary Form becomes better by becoming the Extraordinary Form. As such, the Ordinary Form does not so much need to be reformed as it needs to be retired, so that the genuine Roman Rite may once again occupy its proper place in the life of the Catholic Church, as it had done for centuries before.

We have come a long way since the optimism of the 1990s, when it seemed as if one might somehow restart the process of organic development from within the Novus Ordo. If these authors are correct in their assessments, that is a fool's errand. No one thinking with the mind of the Church disagrees for a moment that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should always be celebrated as beautifully, reverently, and solemnly as possible regardless of the form in which it is offered, whether the historic traditional rite that nourished Catholics for a millennium and a half and continues to prove its durability, or the newly created rite of Paul VI that is already showing its age in an unflattering fashion. But it is no longer necessary to pretend that, with a certain yet-to-be-found alchemy, we can transmute lead into gold.