Sunday, January 01, 2006

Merger or Co-existence?

I have been finishing off my reading of Father Jonathan Robinson's book The Mass and Modernity. The book is quite interesting and as Fr. Aidan Nichols puts it, (I paraphrase) it is a philosopher's gift to the liturgy. Like Dom Alcuin Reid's Organic Development of the Liturgy it gives the new liturgical movement the gift of a focused work on a particular topic which is quite important. The 350 odd pages of the book are, quite simply, dedicated to unpacking the idea that the thought of the Enlightenment and Romantic movements have adversely affected the liturgical reform and those responsible for it. Fr. Robinson is dedicated to the idea that understanding this intellectual climate is fundamentally necessary to seeking a resolution and antidote for the problems facing the liturgy. He's probably quite right, for a physician must know the cause of the sickness if he is to attack it most effectively. In short, the book is a very valuable contribution as one part of the whole of this question. (Note: some readers have asked if I might publish some formal thoughts and discussion on this book. I still intend to do this. This here is just a preface to such a discussion.]

The last sections of the book deal with the whole issue of the classical Roman rite and the reform of the reform. While I have about 40 pages remaining, the question arises of how we are to proceed?

Some (a minority I believe) would say that the most logical starting point in reforming the reform would be that of going back to the 1962 Missal, since it would be the last undisputed missal that fell within the organic liturgical tradition of the Latin rite. This makes sense on one hand. However, if we are to do this, this would presumably entail reinstituting this missal to universal usage if we are to avoid another paper-reform that occurs at the hands of particular experts; a created liturgy. The fundamental problem, as Fr. Robinson rightly notes, is that to most Catholics, the classical Roman liturgy is no longer familiar to them or has ever been a part of their Catholic life. They must be introduced to it. Pastorally, would this really be realistic or advisable to universally re-introduce it? Probably not in his assessment, and I would agree with it, despite my own great love of this liturgy.

Moreover, there is a consensus growing, one which Fr. Robinson expresses, and one expressed by a number of authors in the Looking again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger that radical change, even if good change, is not the way to proceed. Change must occur gradually and deliberately. Let me clarify, this is not to say that present liturgy cannot be celebrated in a traditional manner right away, but rather we are speaking in terms of the process of re-shaping the text and rubrics of the modern Roman missal to bring it back more into line with the previous liturgical tradition. (Fr. Robinson's own Oratory, for example, celebrates the modern Roman rite almost entirely in Latin, with Gregorian chant, ad orientem, altar railing is in the new church, tabernacle is placed in the centre, and the priest's chair to the side. In short, this deliberateness is not to be confused with inaction or holding off on re-enchanting the present liturgy with the options already available to us.)

Fr. Robinson suggests that we must start with where we are currently liturgically, using the classical Roman liturgy as a kind of standard or litmus test for transcendence, mystery, etc. For all intents and purposes I agree completely with him for the variety of reasons he raises.

One delicate question that arises in my own mind is what of the classical liturgy at the end of this process? This is a question which arises in Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy... Will the two rites be merged back into one? Or, on the other hand, will we have two Roman rites? Which is more desireable? If we take the pastoral perspective as a point from which we must begin, we are faced with a similar situation with regards the classical liturgy. Many modern families will now (and even moreso years from now) have grown up with the classical liturgy alone.

A mirror situation, it seems to me, may be facing both the classical and modern rites, at least if we are to envision the possibility of two Roman rites co-existing, rather than a merger scenario. The modern rite must be "reverse-engineered" back in the direction of the classical rite -- it won't be the same as the 1962 missal, but it will be much closer to it than it presently is now. The classical rite, if it is truly to have a future as its own rite, likewise must be allowed to develop so that it addresses the desires of the Council -- which, as Father Robinson has pointed out, were legitimate issues that intelligent, Church loving, liturgy loving, tradition loving people also approved of. There were issues that needed to be addressed. If the classical liturgy is not allowed to develop, then it will indeed face the very real prospect of being only a temporary standard to be dissolved at some point.

What, ultimately is for the best? I for one believe that these two rites can co-exist, but eventually (and slowly in both cases) they must develop in accord with the legitimate letter of the Council. This must be done prudently and with pastoral sensitivity.

These thoughts are by no means hard and fast or concrete. They are really an open musing. I don't know the answer. Thoughts?

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