Sunday, October 16, 2005

Book Review: The Modern Rite, Klaus Gamber

Book Review: The Modern Rite: Collected Essays on the Reform of the Liturgy by Msgr. Klaus Gamber, St. Michaels Abbey Press, 2002. 96pp. ISBN: 0907077374

Reviewed by Shawn Tribe

Many readers will already be familiar with the name of Monsignor Klaus Gamber, the well known and respected liturgist from Germany. Some will be familiar with his primary work of liturgical criticism, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, while others will have no doubt heard of him quoted or referred to by other contemporary liturgical commentators, particularly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The Modern Rite is another contribution from Msgr. Gamber on the question of the liturgical reform. In point of fact, the book is comprised of essays published in various journals around the time of the Council and the introduction of the modern Roman rite of Mass. A common theme unites these essays, which Gamber states as follows: "The following collection of essays... are intended to draw attention to the dangers of liturgical reform from the point of view of a historian of the Liturgy, and to look for a middle way between rigid immobility within the old Tridentine forms , and an aimless pursuit of novelty."

The topic might seem quite to some. After all, are we not now long past the time when these debates were presently raging and where the ink was still fresh on the pages of the 1970 Roman Missal? Are not the liturgical reforms now a fait accompli? While we are indeed past the time when these debates raged fresh, Gamber's insights are still as relevant in our own day as they were in his. After all, we are not yet out of the very dangers that Gamber was pointing out; dangers rooted in an overall mindset and approach to the liturgy characterized by hasty experimentation and a thirst for novelty. Even our present missal and liturgical forms are not as set as some might think were some liturgists to get their way. Indeed, many Catholics are only too familiar with the ongoing instability of their parish liturgies; instabilities created in the pursuit of "creativity" and "relevance." Moreover, there is the question of the reform of the liturgical reform, an ever increasing voice which is again taking up a critical examination of the liturgical reform and seeking corrective measures to the excesses and destruction of the past decades. Far from being dated, there is something of a prophetic voice to be heard in these essays, a tone which Gamber is more than willing to take. Gamber's work is not only an interesting commentary on the issues of his day, but also serves readers today as a general guide to the principles of proper (and improper) liturgical reform.

Readers will find that Gamber is indeed a realist and a moderate in the true sense of the word. While valuing the tradition, he is able to admit where the old Roman rite was in need of organic development – things such as the use of vernacular in the epistle and Gospel for instance. At the same time, however, he is very critical of what he perceives as a lack of pastoral sensitivity in implementing liturgical reform, in the nature and scope of the particular reforms themselves, and the overall attitude of manufacturing liturgy which sits contrary to the tradition of organic development. The essays tackle most all of the major issues which have come up these past fourty years: Mass facing the people, communion in the hand, Latin and the vernacular in the liturgy, the nature of the Mass as a sacrifice, active participation, calendar reform and the question of making the liturgy relevant to modern man.

If you are looking for a book which critically analyzes the liturgical reform, which values the past while not immobilizing it and which is done in easy to understand terms, then this series of essays is something you will want to acquire.

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