Friday, April 21, 2006

What's Pope Benedict (possibly) up to? A discussion at a neighbouring blog

Domenico Bettinelli Jr. wondered aloud the other day:

So what if Benedict isn’t really interested in either going back to the Tridentine Mass, but is really more interested in returning to 1962, in a sense, and bringing forth a reform of the liturgy that is an organic development?

It's an interesting piece and I wish to comment on it. I think Mr. Bettinelli has it partially right here, but I wish to round out what he's said with some comments of my own.

I believe the basic thrust that Mr. Bettinelli is getting at is that Pope Benedict may have in mind, primarily, that he wishes to reform the reform and he will use the "Tridentine" books to help accomplish this end. Thus, his end is not the Tridentine books per se, but rather the reform of the post-conciliar liturgy.

I think those of us with a good familiarity of Pope Benedict's liturgical thinking certainly understand that the Holy Father isn't trying to simply turn back the clock and replace the 1970 Missal with that of 1962 in some carte blanche fashion. What he is more likely trying to turn back the clock on is an approach toward the liturgy which finds its modus operandi in the artificial world of committees and editors rather the natural (and traditional) liturgical world of organic development. Moreover, he wishes to combat two views at two ends of the spectrum: that of the Church having begun at the Second Vatican Council (the progressivist-dissenter view), and that of the Church having ended at the Second Vatican Council (the hardline-traditionalist view). In other words, he wishes to promote that hermeneutic of continuity he has spoken of. In short, that tradition and continuity must gain pride of place again; not rupture and novelty.

As regards the liturgical question then, clearly the Holy Father is for a reform of the reform. Why wouldn't he be after all? In the Latin rite, it is the rite which most Catholics worship in. And after all, as Cardinal, he was considered a kind of spiritual father of the reform of the reform movement.

So how does that leave things for the classical Roman liturgy?

It seems to me that if there is anything the Holy Father has shown himself to be it is a highly nuanced thinker. One who holds fast in matters that must be held fast to, but who seems able and willing to look where our tradition of legitimate diversity might be applied and flexed; he is one, I think, whom considers precisely how we have gotten into the situation we are now faced with today and the corresponding pastoral realities we must now deal with.

Cardinal Ratzinger, and presumably Pope Benedict, has shown immense love, tolerance and support for both the reform of the reform and classical liturgical movement. Part of this, of course, could indeed be because of the role the classical liturgy can play as a point of reference, and, additionally as an aid to restoring Catholic worship in general in the post-conciliar Latin rite. But there seems to be more behind it than that. I certainly have no sense that the classical liturgy is understood by him only as a temporary tool, a means to an end, for the purpose of the reform of the reform and nothing else.

Pastorally speaking, it is hard to imagine someone with such evident pastoral concern for his flock, and with such a good history with these communities (communities, let us remember, made up of young families, seminarians, religious and priests; of parishes, seminaries, monasteries and lay associations), would relegate them in such a way - let's recall it was he who said that those attached to the classical liturgical books are often treated like lepers. It would seem in contradiction to his words and actions, if not also his genuine pastoral concern.

Frankly, I think no one, the Holy Father included, really feels that they know what will transpire in the future. There are many factors and we're dealing with many souls on all sides. Will there be a two variants on the Roman missal or will they eventually converge? It's hard to say.

In the here and now the Holy Father has demonstrated himself as a man who is sensitive to both tasks and the pastoral realities facing each side. Ultimately, whatever happens in the future will happen beyond Benedict's time. For now it would seem plausible that he wants to kick off the reform of the reform as best he can, and also give as wide and generous an availability to the classical liturgical communities as possible. To that end, I believe the Holy Father approaches this question as a "both-and" issue.

Where we end up in 40 or 50 years will remain to be seen and perhaps he is content to leave that to the Holy Spirit.

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