Saturday, March 01, 2014

Reforming the Irreformable? A Postscript

s might have been expected, my posting of February 9 has caused quite a stir, both here1 and elsewhere2 in the Catholic blogosphere. Since some commentators have cited me in support of views which I do not espouse, I want to offer a few points of clarification.

First, in raising doubts about the feasibility of reforming the reform, I was not calling into question the legitimacy, orthodoxy, or efficacy of the post-conciliar liturgical rites. Indeed I have never done so. That should go without saying, but since I have been accused of “not thinking with the Church,” I’ll say it anyway. Rita Ferrone and Dave Armstrong raise the stakes of the discussion by claiming it to be a matter of doctrine, invoking the assertion of continuity found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal3 and in Summorum Pontificum.4

I hope we can at least agree that thinking with the Church begins with clear thinking. Catholic teaching itself distinguishes different levels of authority for different kinds of teaching and different kinds of Church pronouncements. Even in an encyclical one finds statements of various levels of authority; the more one descends from general principles to particular analyses that usually involve prudential judgments, the less one is dealing with binding doctrine and the more one is dealing with pastoral guidance. The mind of the Church has been persuaded of many things, such as the two natures of Christ, but I am not convinced that the organic continuity between the 1962 and 1970 missals—a question germane to liturgiology, not dogmatic theology—is one of them.5 As Paul Inwood and Karl Liam Saur (neither of whom is friendly to my position) seem to understand, the proper context for this debate is not papal authority but liturgical history. My assertion that the liturgical reform promulgated by Paul VI constitutes a break with a very ancient and slowly developed tradition depends on comparative liturgics and is further informed by the historical evidence that has come to light in the past twenty years about the workings of the Consilium of Paul VI in general and of its secretary, Father Annibale Bugnini, in particular. Moreover, in view of what the future Pope Benedict XVI said in his tribute to Msgr Klaus Gamber,6 I believe that Summorum Pontificum provides nothing more than a juridical—and purely pragmatic—solution to the relation of the two ‘forms’ of the Roman rite presently in use. The 2011 Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (clarifying Summorum Pontificum) recognizes a clear distinction between the development of the Roman Missal “until the time of Blessed Pope John XXIII” and of the “new Missal” approved in 1970 by Paul VI. Sounds to me rather like a rupture.

Second, I did not pronounce the death of the ‘reform of the reform’, if by that is meant the end of any movement of liturgical practice towards ‘reform of the reform’ ideals (e.g., more chant and more propers, Eucharistic celebration ad orientem, etc.). On the contrary, I affirmed the importance of celebrating the modern rites “correctly, reverently, and in ways that make the continuity with tradition more obvious.” That, as Bishop Peter Elliott rightly asserts, can and must continue. At the same time, I acknowledged the great, if not insurmountable, challenges posed to any attempt at organically connecting the older and newer forms due to their extensive material disparity.

Third, I did not argue for the abandonment of the reformed liturgy. I deliberately left aside the question of what to do with the modern Roman rite as the Church implements the Council’s liturgical desiderata more faithfully using the basis of the Extraordinary Form and in view of the liturgical gains and losses of the past half century.


1 Dr Peter Kwasniewski on Feb. 21 and Feb. 27; Bishop Peter Elliott on Feb. 24.
2 Notions romaines (Feb. 11); Fr Richard Cippola (Feb. 12); Louie Verrecchio (Feb. 14); Fr Hugh Somerville-Knapman (Feb. 18); Fr Mark Daniel Kirby (Feb. 20); Fr Christopher Smith (Feb. 24).
3 Specifically articles 2-15. This introduction to the GIRM argues that the Missal of Paul VI is very much in continuity with the Church’s unbroken tradition and is an appropriate response to modern conditions. It is, in effect, a defense of Paul VI’s 1969 Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum approving the new Missal.
4 SP art. 1: “The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi [law of prayer] of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St Pius V and reissued by Bl. John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same lex orandi, and must be given due honor for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi [law of belief]. They are, in fact, two uses of the one Roman rite.”
5 While I do not dispute Paul VI’s repeated claim that the changes in no way affected the essence of the Mass as defined by the Council of Trent, I would point out that the GIRM is not an expression of the Magisterium. It bears repeating that the discontinuity which I posited in my original posting concerns the relationship of the material content of the modern Roman rite to that of the Tridentine liturgy. The fact that many of the revised texts were drawn from ancient liturgies and scriptural sources is often adduced as evidence of the Pauline missal’s continuity with tradition, but the Council desired a modest adaptation of the developed liturgical tradition as it stood in late 1963.
6 “After the Council… in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of organic development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it—as in a manufacturing process—with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.” The English translation of the original German was published on the back cover of Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Rite: Its Problems and Background (Una Voce Press; Foundation for Catholic Reform, 1993). See also: The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 86; Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Ignatius Press, 1998), pp. 147-48.

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