Thursday, December 07, 2006

Preparing Spiritually for the Reform of the Reform

by Stratford Caldecott

“The Church lies in the midst of the natural and supernatural cosmos like a source of light that sets all things revolving around itself; in that she represents everything symbolically, she also is an effective guarantee of the transformation of the whole universe.”
– Hans Urs von Balthasar

In 1996 the Centre for Faith & Culture in Oxford organised a conference on the "reform of the reform" movement within Catholic Liturgy. Its closing statement summarising the aims of that movement, the Oxford Declaration on Liturgy, was widely quoted – including by the then Cardinal Ratzinger – as a sign of hope. The conference gave birth to a book, Beyond the Prosaic (T&T Clark, 1998). Since that time, the movement to restore a genuine liturgical sensibility, spirituality and form has gathered momentum and authority. Pope Benedict is undoubtedly working on a long-term strategy for the Reform of the Reform, even though (quite rightly) he has said that he sees his role as that of a “gardener” rather than an “engineer”. We have had too many engineers tinkering with the Liturgy of the Church!

As one of the people behind the Centre for Faith & Culture, I can say that we were amazed by the emotions stirred up by our conference. One liturgist in Oxford, who thought he had been deliberately excluded, flatly refused to shake my outstretched hand when I offered it to him later. But we resisted the temptation to build yet another liturgical pressure group for reform. Organizations such as Adoremus and the Society for Catholic Liturgy with its journal Antiphon, the Association for English Worship, C.I.E.L., the Latin Mass Society, and a number of others made such an organization redundant. Furthermore, the election of Cardinal Ratzinger and the reform of I.C.E.L showed that the goals of the Reform movement had been accepted into the mainstream, and would eventually triumph.

We realized that our contribution might lie in another direction: that of education and formation. There is still a burning need for people to be taught what the Sacred Liturgy is and why it is important. The majority of Catholics seem still to think that it is merely a community-affirming event in which you sing a few songs, say some responses, listen to a reflection, swallow a symbol, and go home.  

That is why over Easter 2007 we are offering a prayerful educational and spiritual retreat in the heart of Oxford to study the meaning of the Liturgy, drawing our inspiration from Pope Benedict’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy. I don’t think anything quite like it has taken place before – although it ought to be happening in every diocese, in order to prepare the people spiritually for the reform that is coming.

Shawn Tribe helped me to define the goals of the retreat, which are to help us better appreciate and understand the following things:
1. The vertical dimension of the Liturgy (and the Church herself) as containing at its heart the sacrifice of the Cross, joining earth to heaven.

2. The sacrificial dimension of the sacred Liturgy, tied to a greater sense of the meaning of Holy Eucharist, the Christian priesthood, etc.

3. The eschatological dimension of the Liturgy, as a making present of eternity in time, an actual drawing up of the mundane into the realm of the divine.

4. The relationship of the external forms of the Liturgy to catechesis, to interior formation and disposition. The place of beauty, structure, symbol, cosmic orientation, language and music in divine worship.

5. The Liturgy as something received, something objective, and not something we are can engineer. The essential role of tradition as a vehicle for the Holy Spirit and the organic development of liturgy and community.

6. The intrinsic relationship of contemplation to action, of love for God to love for neighbour, in the Liturgy itself. The nuptial anthropology that makes Mass the consummation of a wedding between divine and human nature.

Out of this course, with the experience of a beautiful Easter Liturgy at Blackfriars and especially at the magnificent Oxford Oratory, and some training in the use of the Divine Office and Gregorian Chant in the Benedictine Hall of the University, will come refreshment of spirit and a renewed energy to serve God in the world.

We have never tried to organize an event over Easter before, and we are a bit nervous that many people will find it hard to come at that time (we are prepared to find that some may only be able to manage Holy week, and others the week after). But what better time could there be to study the Liturgy than the end of Lent and the three sacred days of Easter (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday)? Pope Benedict says of the Easter Triduum that it is "the fulcrum of the whole liturgical year.… propitious days to reawaken in us a more intense desire to be united to Christ and follow him generously, conscious that he has loved us to the point of giving his life for us" (12 April 2006.)

We won’t get the organic reform we need, and the liturgical changes themselves will cause dissension and confusion, unless people prepare themselves and their communities by deepening their understanding of the liturgy, and their own life of prayerful involvement. To help us achieve this with our own group, we have invited a small team of wonderful people, both priests and laity, to lead some of the sessions during our retreat – sessions on the spiritual warfare of Holy Week, on Christ’s Sacrifice, on the cosmic dimensions of the Liturgy, on the imagination, on Guardini and Pope Benedict and Maximus the Confessor (Orthodox and Catholic Easter coincide this year, and we want to learn what we can from the Christian East). We are very pleased to have with us David Fagerberg from Notre Dame, who is known for his writing and teaching on Liturgy especially in the US, Alcuin Reid (one of the leading voices in the Reform of the Reform), and Adrian Walker (known from Communio and the John Paul II Institute).

If you are interested, take a look at our web-site, and the related materials on the site associated with our journal, Second Spring (

3rd – 12th April 2007 at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford

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