Friday, September 01, 2017

“Irreversible” Round-Up

For a variety of reasons, I thought it best to wait a while before saying anything about the now famous (or infamous) “irreversible” speech which the Holy Father recently gave to the participants in the 68th Italian National Liturgical Week. A number of good articles have been published in the week following its publication.

- Canonist Dr Edward Peters, on his blog In the Light of the Law, addresses the proper object of the magisterial authority which the Pope invoked in declaring that the post-Conciliar liturgical reform is “irreversible.” The sum of it is “… I think it can be confusing to the faithful for any prelate to ‘affirm with certainty’ and/or with ‘magisterial authority’ that liturgical reform is ‘irreversible’ precisely because such language connotes in Catholic minds the exercise of a charism given not to underscore the importance of what is being asserted, but rather, to identify certainly and without error either what is divinely revealed and thus to be believed or what is required to safeguard reverently the deposit of faith and thus to be definitely held.”

- Fr Zuhlsdorf begins his very useful commentary by stating “Given what I have seen and heard in Italy, my mind reels in dread at the very notion of a room full of Italian liturgists.” This is a completely reasonable reaction; the state of the liturgy in Italy is appalling, with a particular emphasis on very bad music. (For example, it is not an exaggeration to say that most churches sing the sixth mode triple Alleluia at every single Mass outside of Lent.) I especially enjoyed his comments on these words from the Pope’s discourse: “Just as there is no human life without a heartbeat, so too without the beating Heart of Christ there is no liturgical action.”

“Our heart rates speed up and slow down according to activity, etc. The resting heartbeat is a baseline which is consistent, even, continuous. When our heartbeat is erratic there are problems. An arrhythmia can result in cardiac death. This is probably what happened with the artificial imposition of many liturgical changes after the Council (not actually called for by the Council Fathers in SC): liturgical arrhythmias. … Screw around with the Church’s liturgical heartbeat, and you wind up with what we have seen in the Church for the last 50 years, as virtually every aspect of Catholic life has become enervated, weak, lethargic and even necrotic.”

- We can always rely on Fr Hunwicke for intelligent commentary on any matter, and particularly on the true scope of Papal authority. (The dashes here are in the original, and do not represent omissions.)

“...But the liturgical texts and practices established after the Council are themselves not immutable. If a papal instruction, such as that of S Pius V in Quo primum, was in itself subject to change ... and Bergoglio seems to assume that it was changeable ... then clearly what Blessed Paul VI did, and what the current occupant of the Roman See now says ... are themselves changeable; they cannot be set in stone for ever.

Pope Francis has exactly as much papal authority as S Pius V. He does not have a milligram less.

And he does not have a milligram more.

And if it was acceptable (the Holy Father seems to assume that it was) for ‘experts’, in the decades before the Council, to explain at great length what (in their view) was wrong with the Liturgy as it then existed ... ... then it acceptable now for us to explain, at any length we like, what (in our view) is wrong with the Liturgy as it is done now in so many places.”

- Fr Geoffrey Kirk, an English priest of the Ordinariate who writes a very funny blog called Ignatius His Conclave, gives an excellent example of how liturgical reform was reversed within the Anglican church.

- I particularly commend to our readers’ attention an article by Fr Hugh Somerville-Knapman OSB, on his blog Dominus mihi adjutor. Fr Hugh rightly, in my view, says that the speech itself is really not all that interesting, and in any case, much of what it does say is at best unclear. (The Pope speaks, for example, of “practices that disfigure the liturgy.” It would take no time at all to come up a list of perfectly licit practices of the reformed liturgy which one may reasonably regard as disfigurements; leaving the celebrant to choose the Eucharistic prayer comes immediately to mind.)

“What is remarkable is the nostalgia that lies so close to the surface in so many commentators in the mainline reform movement. Seeing in the eyes of traditionalists the mote of a nostalgia for a golden age that never was, they fail to see the beam of the same in their own eyes. …

If ever there was a group stuck in a rut of nostalgia it is the mainline liturgical reformers. They have not seen that the world, and the Church, have moved on from the heady days of hippies, free love, the brotherhood of man and revolution in everything that marked, indeed scarred, the 60s. The mainline liturgical reformers have failed in their express intention of producing a liturgy that engages modern people actively, a failure proved by the precipitous decline in Mass attendance since the reform was introduced.

Blaming social change and militant secularism is just passing of the buck and does not stand much scrutiny. It was precisely such a changed and more secular society that the reformers sought to accommodate liturgically. … ”

- Matthew Schmitz published an article yesterday on the Catholic Herald about the continually growing interest in the traditional Rite on the part of the young, with the one title I most wish I had thought of myself, “The Kids Are Old Rite.”

“Who are these terrifying young traditionalists? Step into a quiet chapel in New York and you will find an answer. There, early each Saturday morning, young worshippers gather in secret. They are divided by sex: women on the left, men on the right. Dressed in denim and Birkenstocks, with the occasional nose piercing, they could be a group of loiterers on any downtown sidewalk. But they have come here with a purpose. As a bell rings, they rise in unison. A hooded priest approaches the altar and begins to say Mass in Latin. During Communion, they kneel on the bare floor where an altar rail should be.

In a city where discretion is mocked and vice goes on parade, the atmosphere of reverence is startling. ...”

- Just a few thoughts of my own then, to wrap up.

The post-Conciliar liturgical reform has been in every way a complete success. The Fathers of Vatican II knew ahead of time that the letter of Sacrosanctum Concilium would be repeatedly disobeyed in the actual execution of the reform, and approved of this, knowing that the same Spirit which inspired such holy foreknowledge within them would lead to greater and better achievements than they themselves could ever have envisioned. The committees that produced the reform acted from only very highest and purest motives; their liturgical scholarship was impeccable in every way, nor has any part of it subsequently been proved wrong or outdated.

Shortly after the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, an article in the Osservatore Romano proclaimed that the Council had officially embraced and approved of the goals of the first Liturgical Movement. And indeed, the wildest hopes of Dom Gueranger, the Blessed Schuster, Fr Fortescue and Dom Beauduin have been fulfilled in our times. Liturgical piety now flourishes as never before among the Catholic faithful, who have almost all joyfully embraced the reformed rites.

Of course, every movement within the Church, be it ever so obviously led and driven by the Spirit, encounters some resistance from reactionaries. “Reactionary” is a word to conjure with, as are the many abstract nouns which are helpfully employed to categorize the unhealthy motives lurking in the dark corners of the reactionary mind. The –isms take the lead here, with “clericalism” as the perennial favorite, alongside “triumphalism” and “formalism”; beyond them wait “rigidity”, “nostalgia”, and a panoply of others. In this most blessed age, however, the reactionaries are so few, their complaints so unreasonable, their challenge so baseless, that there is no need to respond to them at all.

Indeed, given the perfect triumph of the reform, it is difficult to see why any need was felt at all to assert (whether directly or obliquely) that it cannot be undone. We may even question whether such an assertion is altogether prudent, since it might suggest to some a degree of insecurity about its future, which is of course wholly unwarranted.

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