Thursday, June 15, 2006

Report on the 2006 RICL Conference: Looking Again at the Liturgical Reform

by Shawn Tribe

There is little doubt that the Research Institute for Catholic Liturgy (RICL) is an organization to watch out for. Already it is has brought such important speakers as Msgr. Peter Elliott and Dr. Alcuin Reid to our North American shores. For this they are due great thanks.

First off, let it be stated that the RICL are consummate hosts. Every aspect of the conference was handled with decorum. The facilities of the conference, a former seminary property that is still run by the local archdiocese to some extent, made for a beautiful and traditional setting and set the mood. As well, from what I can gather, no guest at an RICL conference need ever be concerned about going hungry. So as far as conferences go in these practical regards, I can heartily recommend them.

The Evening prior to the Conference

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to come the day before the conference for a very pleasant evening with Fr. Neil Roy and Dr. Daniel Van Slyke, our RICL hosts (and whom are both also involved with the Society of Catholic Liturgy (SCL) and its journal, Antiphon) as well as Dr. Alcuin Reid and Father Samuel Weber, OSB. Such an opportunity afforded many interesting and insightful conversations concerning the sacred liturgy and many other topics of ecclesial interest. It also afforded me a chance to get to better know not only Dr. Reid and Fr. Weber, but also the RICL and the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

The Conference Liturgies

As I mentioned, the conference itself was hosted in the former seminary of St. John's. The chapel in which the liturgical ceremonies were to take place was a large chapel with typical antiphonal seating. The chapel was dignified, with the only downside being the placement of the pipe organ behind the altar in the sanctuary where the original high altar would have been placed.

The conference included, on the liturgical front, the celebration of Lauds, Vespers, Benediction and Holy Mass. Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB, an expert in chant, led all involved in a very beautiful and straight-forward form of chant that non-chant experts like myself could readily handle. This lent itself to a very beautiful recitation (in English) of the Psalms and Canticles of the Divine Office for Pentecost.

Following Lauds was the solemn celebration of the Mass of Pentecost (according to the modern Roman rite) with Fr. Roy as principal celebrant and Fr. Weber as concelebrant. Dr. J. Richard Haefer, also a chant expert, led the choir who sang the proper and ordinary Gregorian parts, including the Introit chant (as opposed to an opening hymn) and the Graduale. Mass was celebrated ad orientem. I had the personal pleasure of serving at all the liturgical celebrations together with Dr. Reid, who, as would be expected of a student of Msgr. Elliott, and no meagre Master of Ceremonies himself, ensured that the various liturgies of Mass and Office were all accomplished with precision and reverence.

Finally, Fr. E. Perrone of Assumption Grotto, led the final celebration of Vespers and Benediction.

The Conference Papers

For the conference papers, I wish to focus in primarily on those given by Alcuin Reid, as that given by Dr. Schaefer is rather harder to summarize given the nuances and particularities of his topic.

I. “The Fathers of the Council on the Liturgical Reform: How Do They Assess What Happened?”

The first paper by Dr. Alcuin Reid and was a presentation of his research into the question of how the Council Fathers assessed the liturgical reform as it happened, and whether it was representative of what they had in fact envisioned. An interesting testimony emerged at the beginning of this paper. According to a number of conciliar bishops from Third World countries, it was the bishops of the First World who were most ardently pro-vernacular, while those of the Third World most wanted the retention of the Latin language in the sacred liturgy. This is particularly interesting as often one is given the impression these days that being "pro-Latin" or "pro-tradition" is somehow "eurocentric" and "colonial", and not in consideration of the principle of inculturation and insensitive to non-European cultures such as Africa or the Orient. To a certain extent, this testimony contradicts the assertion that the traditional liturgical practices and customs of the Latin rite are not truly of universal relevance or desirability. But I digress.

The majority of this paper consisted in elucidating some of the more detailed responses to the questions posed them, both pro and con, in regards the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, beginning with that of 1964. This paper painted an interesting picture of the division between the Council Fathers in regards this question. Quite a number of the Council Fathers admitted or stated that the implementations put forward by the Consilium following the Council had gone beyond the mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC). Still others, when asked the question of whether the 1965 Ordo Missae was understood as the definitive response to SC, stated that in their opinion it was.

While some responded that they believed "all was well", the conclusion that Dr. Reid proposed was that with the obvious division in thought in this regard, and given that some of the Council Fathers still alive at the time of polling were not content with the present liturgical form as representative of the Conciliar mandate, that there is thus merit in re-examining the liturgical reform as it happened.

II. “Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Reform of the Ordo Missae”

The second, but probably most significant paper, was one which looked at the manner and program of liturgical reform in relation to the Council. This was prefaced by an insightful discussion on the keys to analyzing the method of liturgical reform. What criteria was liturgical reform subject to, not only in relation to Church tradition, but also by mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium itself? As such, the themes of organic growth and development, the retention of Latin, of only pursuing those reforms which were truly necessary (all stipulations of the Council's document on the sacred liturgy) are examples of paramount "keys" in analyzing the liturgical reform.

Dr. Reid takes us through the reform of the Mass as it began after the Council. Interestingly, we learn that the proposed 1964 revision of the Ordo Missae was actually far more radical than what we came to receive and now know as the 1965 Ordo Missae (Dr. Reid points out there was no "1965 Roman Missal" proper; rather simply a revised Ordo Missae with the remainder of the parts being taken from the 1962 Missale Romanum and bound into the Missal format so many of us have seen. This was done by publishers on the assurances that this was to basically be the form of the new, normative Roman Missal -- publishers otherwise would not have put such time and money into the production of, what in fact became, an interim altar missal. The fact that they did, and the flurry of changes following thereafter put a number of substantial Catholic printing houses, including Benziger Bros. out of business. I mention this fact because it is demonstrative that those publishers, and the men of the Church whom they consulted, all felt confident that this edition that we've come to recognize as that of 1965 could be published in a fixed, permanent manner, suitable to its apparent longevity and relative permanence. In short, they earnestly believed that this was, effectively, the definitive missal of the Council.)

In point of fact, what seems to have occurred was that the more radical program of liturgical reform that had been pursued by some members of the Concilium was merely set back with the more traditional Ordo Missae released in 1965; thus they ("Study Group 10") privately and quietly continued their work, having had it not made public (including to the bishops themselves) until 1967. It was at this point that the famed incident occurred whereby a Mass, ad experimentum, was celebrated for a number of prelates of the Church in the Sistine Chapel. This experimental Mass was not at all well received and was ultimately rejected. Celebrated by Father Bugnini, and the product of "Study Group 10" of the Consilium, it was to be an example of the normative liturgy according to the further revised rite. An interesting dimension in all of this was the secrecy surrounding this study group and its work and proposals.

What is further interesting, and Dr. Reid stressed this, was the assurances which had been made to the fathers of the Council that the current Ordo Missae was to remain intact -- that is to say, the classical Ordo Missae as found in the 1962, or Tridentine, liturgical books.

Of course, it is a matter of liturgical history that this assurance, in the end, fell through for one reason or another. In fact, of the most significant changes to the Ordo Missae was the plethora of additional Eucharistic prayers that were introduced into the Roman liturgy -- something neither mentioned, nor called for, anywhere in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. This fact then begs the question as to how these (and perhaps other) additions can be seen as "in accord" with the Council, given that there was no mention of such additions?

Ultimately, Dr. Reid surmises, Archbishop Bugnini, the architect of the liturgical reform, had an improper view of liturgical tradition. Instead of seeing the liturgy as it is, as something received and handed on; as the product of a living tradition and inheritance to be treasured, he, like many of his confreres, saw liturgical tradition as being found in its ‘purest’ or ‘un-corrupted’ form in the early Church and as something to be "mined". (If I might expand up on this, he saw it as a kind of puzzle whereby one takes this or that piece, re-arranges some of the pieces while discarding others, possibly even pulling in pieces from different puzzles altogether, thus creating a substantially new entity.)

Further he states that while we can, and should, acknowledge those post-conciliar liturgical developments which may have been good and fruitful, by the same token we should not pretend that all of those developments have the approbation of the Second Vatican Council. Clearly they did not. (In fact, some of those same bishops who were very positive about the present liturgical reform, fully admit this and simply have said they were glad the Consilium did go beyond the Conciliar mandate. A poignant, and at very least honest, admission)

Dr. Reid concludes (as Cardinal Ratzinger has also concluded) that the 1969 Ordo Missae cannot be understood as an organic development of the Roman liturgy. It has broken with this tradition. That isn't of course to say it is not a valid Catholic rite. It is indeed. That being said, while we cannot question its validity, we can indeed question the prudence of this liturgical rupture and innovation. This too then is cause for us to "look again" at the reform of the liturgy.

[For those interested in reading the papers given by Dr. Reid, as well as Dr. Haefer, please note that they will be published in the journal, Antiphon, in due course.]

Please also see Dr. Alcuin Reid's important study, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, now published by Ignatius Press.

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