Monday, August 01, 2005

A New Liturgical Movement? By Stratford Caldecott

(Originally posted: )

by Stratford Caldecott

A recent conference at Oxford brought together Catholics from around the world who drafted an "Oxford Declaration."

What does it mean?

Readers of Inside the Vatican are well aware of the vital importance of liturgy in the life of the Catholic faithful and the growing worldwide controversy over its future reform. In June, a conference was held in Oxford, England which some believe may mark a watershed in the history of the Catholic liturgy. Organized by Stratford Caldecott, head of Oxford's Centre for Faith and Culture (a research institute of Westminster College and publishers T&T Clark), the conference, attended by may leading liturgy scholars, including a representative from Rome, saw a broad consensus emerge, sufficient to enable a concluding statement to be issued on the last day. The statement, known as the Oxford Declaration on Liturgy, immediately began to attract the interest of the British Catholic press, with stories in The Tablet, the Catholic Times, the Catholic Herald and the Universe. The Herald commented that the Church "should realize how explosive the subject of Church liturgy is to the ordinary Catholic." Even "loyal parishioners have their breaking point, and increasingly over the last few years there has been a groundswell of opinion despairing at the state of liturgy in this country." The Declaration, it stated, "may be seen in future years as a watershed for English Catholicism."

The city of Oxford, with its famous University dating back to the beginning of the 12th century, was a remarkably appropriate location for a liturgy conference. In the wide avenue of St Giles near the centre of town, a great variety of religious houses seem to jostle for space, from the Oratorians at one end to the high Anglicans at the other, with Dominicans, Benedictines, Christian Scientists and Quakers in between. (The Jesuits and Franciscans also have well-known halls elsewhere in the city.) In the midst of them all is Pusey House, a reminder of the famous Oxford Movement that was led in the first half of the last century by John Henry Newman, before he left the Anglican Church to be received into full communion with Rome by the Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi.

Oxford remains not merely a memorial to the Oxford Movement and its influence but a growing centre of present-day Catholicism. Blackfriars has long been a favourite haunt of Catholic intellectuals in Oxford, and its chanted liturgies with brilliant preaching retain their popularity. In recent years a new phenomenon has been added, with the Archbishop's decision to entrust the church of St Aloysius to the Oratory of St Philip Neri (first brought to England by Newman over a century before). Now the young seem to be flocking to a new style of liturgy, celebrated with the maximum of artistic splendour and traditional ceremonial. Many are lapsed Catholics returning to the practice of their faith, disenchanted ex-Anglicans, or non-Christians discovering a heritage they did not know was theirs. Oxford is also an important centre of Catholic-Orthodox (and Catholic-Anglican) dialogue, with the presence of two Orthodox bishops. This dimension - so important to the Pope, who has called repeatedly for Christianity to "breathe with both lungs" - was present in the conference through Brother Aidan, who spoke on the Cosmic Liturgy from the perspective of an Orthodox monk and iconographer.

Mass was celebrated each day for and by the conference participants with devotion and dignity but with important variations in form - with and without concelebration, facing towards and away from the assembly, in Latin and in English. There was a splendid celebration of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy by Catholic Archimandrite Serge Keleher in the Methodist Chapel of Westminster College. Other masses in the same chapel were sung in Gregorian chant both in Latin and in English (using the English Kyriale developed by Dr Mary Berry). Other celebrations took place at the Oratory. In this way, the participants in the Conference were able to experience something of the range of liturgical possibilities currently available in the Catholic Church, many of which are simply unknown in the average parish - one might say (and some did) effectively suppressed by the liturgical establishment.

A New Liturgical Movement?

Catholic congregations, in general, tend to be rather passive. There is always a silent majority who will sit through any homily, however crass, and never betray by the flicker of an eyelid what they might really think of a particular priest or liturgical innovation. They may shake hands at the Sign of Peace, but they rarely make eye-contact. Secretly, perhaps, they wish it would all go away. Partly this is due to a long tradition of respect for the clergy; partly to a tradition of suffering in patience. This passivity, however, has been taken by a generation of clerical innovators for tacit approval, or even enthusiastic support. By now, more than 30 years after the Council, it is clear that the pastoral results of many of the reforms have been disappointing. Thomas Day has poured scorn on the musical dimension of the reform process in his surprise bestseller, Why Catholics Can't Sing (Crossroad). Mother Angelica, with her widely televised traditional liturgies, Joseph Fessio, S.J. with the Adoremus organization, and numerous scholarly critics of the banal ICEL translations of the Roman Missal, some of whom belong to the Society for Catholic Liturgy formed in 1995 by Monsignor M. Francis Mannion of Salt Lake City, have all contributed to the overcoming of this traditional passivity and the reawakening at a popular level of the Liturgical Movement originally associated with the names of Odo Casel, Louis Bouyer and Romano Guardini. Many of these concerns were addressed by former Editor of Communio James Hitchcock, in a book called Recovery of the Sacred that first appeared in 1974.

Most of the participants in the Oxford conference, both clerical and lay, accepted that there had been an "impoverishment" of the Catholic liturgy in the wake of the Council that was not mandated by the Conciliar documents themselves. That impoverishment affected the vital aesthetic dimension of the liturgy, including the language of the vernacular translations by ICEL. In attacking the latter (while praising some of ICEL's own proposed new alternatives), Dr Eamon Duffy was not afraid to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the bishops who had authorized the changes. "Catholics pride themselves," he said, "on their attentiveness to tradition, but we have come to place the weight of that tradition too much in conformity to the current directives of ecclesiastical authority, too little in the costly and laborious work involved in transmitting the insight and inspiration of the past as a resource for the future." Despite what in some ways is a healthier situation than before the Council, at least as regards the involvement of the average Catholic and access to the Scriptures, he added, the Missal of 1973 (the English translation of the 1969 Missale Romanun) "represents a massive and avoidable failure to hand on that tradition faithfully, and the Church is poorer, possibly permanently poorer, because of it."

What went wrong? In his assessment of the shorter prayers of the Roman Missal, where before 1973 were distilled "the essence of the Latin theological tradition in the patristic and early-medieval period," Dr Duffy concluded as follows: "In almost all cases the distinctive theology of the prayers has been evacuated, and in many cases it has actually been subverted, and replaced by a slacker, often semi-pelagian theology, far removed from the spirit of the Roman rite, but redolent of some of the more shallowly optimistic theological currents of the late 1960s." Neither the Liturgical Movement nor the Council were to blame, but those who carried out the reform completely misread the "signs of the times" which the Council had invoked. In the late 60s and early 70s, "Genuine theological renewal became inextricably entangled with a shallow and philistine repudiation of the past which was to have consequences as disastrous in theology as as they were in the fine arts, architecture and city planning."

Calling for a revival of the Liturgical Movement, Serge Keleher, himself a former student of Louis Bouyer, accused the reformers of the early 1970s of "snapping the continuity of tradition." He pointed out that the "revolution" was profoundly clericalist - a fact pointed out, too by Thomas Day in the book referred to. Even the fashion for turning the altars around and saying Mass "facing the people" contributed to the priest becoming more and more of a "performer" dominating the center of the stage.

Most participants agreed that the position of the celebrant in the New Mass should properly be "facing the same way as the people," at least during those parts of the Mass when he is primarily addressing God.

Fr Keleher claimed that the problems with the reform had their roots well before the Council in a spirit of servility, an idolization of practicality and a related preference for Low Mass (which became the model for Novus Ordo). If there is to be further progress towards the original ideals of the Liturgical Movement, he said, then lessons must be learned.

The importance of continuity in liturgical tradition must be respected, as must that of the sacramentals, the arts, the gestures, the Marian and Eucharistic devotions, and the sense of realized eschatology - all of which contribute to the power of the liturgical celebration to permeate the whole of life with its dynamic spirit, and to combat the deadly secularism of our age.

Legitimate pluralism must be encouraged rather than suppressed, so that the Catholic people can be exposed to the rich possibilities of Eastern rite and monastic liturgies.
Where vernacular translations are used, they should be dignified and accurate, and formal not colloquial.

The Limits of Pluralism

The question of pluralism quickly became an important theme of the conference. Fr Mark Drew requested the lifting of much of the current restrictive legislation and its replacement with creative permissive legislation. Don't fear anarchy, he said. Anarchy is what we have already. The law of the Church has been so widely disregarded that it is now in disrepute: if respect for law is to return there must be an end to the pretense that everything is under control. It was an extreme position, but an important one.

It certainly seems to be the case that there are now many global and historical forces pushing for further change. The Catholic Church is coming to terms with the decline of Christianity in Europe and its rise in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia. The demand for "inculturation" (adaptation of the liturgy to radically different cultures) has become impossible to ignore. This demand is pushing the Roman authorities to a deeper reflection on what can be changed in the liturgy, and why. In 1993, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke to Asian bishops on the principles of inculturation, in an important address that was only made public in 1995. There he warned against the dangers of syncretism, spoke of the close interaction between faith and culture, and recommended "inter-culturality" as a more comprehensive term than "inculturation." The heritage of European civilization, in which the Christian tradition has become clothed or even incarnated, cannot be simply discarded in order to graft that tradition onto another civilization. That would be to rob Christianity of its own historical force, and reduce it to "an empty collection of ideas." One cannot become a Christian, he said, "apart from a certain exodus, a break from one's previous life in all its aspects." God has bound himself to history, and works through that history. Yet, at the same time, conversion "does not destroy the religions and cultures but transforms them." It frees them from their limitations, and in so doing Catholic tradition itself develops and is enriched.

In the same address, the Cardinal pointed out that those who call most loudly for an "inculturation" that would denude the Christian liturgical tradition of all the trappings of European civilization would never, at the same time, call for their own exclusion from "the natural science and technology which originated in the West." Technology is no more "neutral" with respect to culture than the sacred arts, and the introduction of Western technology throughout the world is in any case eroding all the differences between ancient cultures, and creating a single global community with one life and destiny.

We see Pope John Paul II reflecting on the same problem in his address to the Brazilian Bishops' Conference at the end of September 1995. There he was particularly concerned to emphasize the fact that the modern Roman Rite, even without importing forms from other rites, "has a vitality in its liturgical expressions capable of taking into account the sensitivity and expressivity of various cultures, even those furthest from the area in which it arose and developed." This does make possible, however, "a new synthesis" of the Roman Rite with the specific genius and religious experience of a given people.

As the Pope spoke to the Brazilian bishops, he clearly had his eye also on the growing debate back in Europe and North America. He spoke about the failure of the liturgical reform so far to create any more than "the conditions and means to promote in the People of God the recovery of a deeper sense of the 'Church at prayer', and of the 'prayer of the Church." Much remains to be done: in Vatican-speak, this is a major admission. He went on, quoting important passages from the Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: "If the liturgy does not bring the faithful to express with their life the saving mystery of Christ, God and Man, and the genuine nature of the true Church, where what is 'human' is 'directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to the city yet to come, the object of our quest,' it would not be possible to speak of the application of the 'true and authentic spirit of the liturgy'."

That remark touches on the essence of the renewed Liturgical Movement. Yet within the one movement there are many differences of emphasis and approach, many of which were represented at the "Beyond the Prosaic" conference. Mgr M. Francis Mannion, in a paper that represented in a more developed form the argument he had recently presented in the pages of Inside the Vatican, outlined a "typology" of such approaches that owed something to definitions of Catholicity propounded by Avery Dulles and Henri de Lubac. Apart from the agenda of "advancing the official reform," these divided into a range of extreme and moderate positions. The extremes were those of the arch-traditionalists on the one hand, who wish simply to "restore the preconciliar" (i.e. the Tridentine or Old Rite), and the progressives, including many feminists, on the other, who wish to "inculturate the reform." But Mgr Mannion was concerned to show that a great number of people concerned with the liturgy do not fit into either of these polarized camps. There is an important middle ground associated with phrases such as "reforming" or "re-Catholicizing" the reform. Within this middle ground there is an intense debate about strategy and emphasis, but most moderates are prepared to accept the Missal of 1969 (preferably in a more poetic and accurate vernacular translation), and wish to move forward from there by restoring the rich vesture of Catholic devotion and liturgical arts - the spiritual, aesthetic and cosmological dimensions of the liturgy. In Mannion's words, "If the Church's liturgy must live more fully from the richness of Catholic history and tradition, it must also renew its eschatological vision, its doxological amplitude, and on the basis of these promote a new flowering of liturgical artistry."

Where does the Oxford Declaration fit on the spectrum? The consensus reflected in the Declaration supported a broad alliance between differing factions in the reform movement. The various groups have to be able to work together in charity - showing charity also towards those who would not identify with the movement at all. The form of the liturgy itself (assuming it falls within the range of valid rites of the Catholic Church) matters less than the spirit in which it is celebrated, and the attitude of the priest which conveys itself in voice and gesture. Fr Dermot Power gave a moving exposition in which he showed that the "transparency" of the priest in front of his suffering Master, mirroring Jesus's childlike trust in his heavenly Father, is the crucial element in the liturgical and pastoral effectiveness of the Church. Certainly, by the end of the conference there was a consensus that the reform process will get nowhere - and will deserve to get nowhere - if it proceeds by way of invective, suspicion and accusation.
As for the specific strategy to be adopted, the Liturgy Forum simply requested that no official reform (by ICEL or by Rome) be imposed in haste. Dr Kieran Flanagan (author of Sociology and Liturgy from Macmillan Publishers) had earlier made the important point that, however legitimate the criticisms that have been made of the 1973 Missal, the prospect of a continually changing Mass might only serve to alienate yet another generation from the Catholic tradition. In matters liturgical, there is a lot to be said for a period of stability, while the Church develops a well-founded consensus on the reform of the Roman Missal and the principles that should govern liturgical translation.

The way forward is to continue the debate that is now well begun over the liturgy and its relation to culture and the principles which a reform (or continuation) of the reform must respect. But no major reform of the present Roman Missal should be finalized or put into effect while that debate remains unresolved. As a temporary measure, greater tolerance of the full range of traditional rites and uses (the liturgical equivalent of biodiversity) would take some of the pressure off the reform process, allowing it to mature in an atmosphere of prayer. Ultimately only the Holy Spirit, which inspires human genius and cannot be replaced by it, will bring about a satisfactory outcome.

Stratford Caldecott is Director of the Centre for Faith & Culture at Westminster College, Oxford. Léonie Caldecott worked closely with him on the conference, the edited Proceedings of which will be published during 1997 by T&T Clark.

[These proceedings have indeed been published in a book titled "Beyond the Prosaic" - SRT]

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