Monday, February 19, 2007

A few thoughts on Father Farfaglia's recent column

This past weekend, a few people forwarded me the following article by Father James Farfaglia, Catholic Liturgy in 'State of Emergency'.

Father hits a number of very good and important points in his piece, and I am delighted that he is so evidently concerned about the liturgy. I did, however, want to pose a few (constructively) critical thoughts as I think they are important if we are to move forward and also move beyond any approach to the liturgical question that could foster a "reform of the reform" vs. "Tridentine" idea; one that has reigned in the past and which, as Abbe Claude Barthe pointed out in his excellent book, Quel Chemin pour l'Eglise? (Eng. trans. Beyond Vatican II, Roman Catholic Books) there is a need to move beyond if we are to make significant progress in helping the Roman liturgy out of its present state of emergency -- as Father Farfaglia so aptly describes it.

In his piece, Father Faraglia identifies three groups on the liturgical question:

"One group rejects the Missal of Pope Paul VI. Another group has misconstrued the liturgical norms of the missal and continues to spread errors and abuses that have nothing to do with the liturgy. Yet another group attempts to show the importance and beauty of the liturgical changes brought about by the council through a delicate fidelity to all the liturgical norms of the Church."

The first group Father is identifying is that of the hardline traditionalist camp. This would include such as the sedevacantists, significant parts of the SSPX, and some within the classical liturgical movement under ecclesial approbation. They might be described as those who believe the Pauline missal should be discarded and a full restoration should happen with regard to the missal of 1962.

The second group are the so-called "progressivists" who we know only too well in their approach.

The final group is being identified with one particular school of thought within the reform of the reform camp. I should like to emphasize this point. So far as I can see, there are two major groups within the reform of the reform that I think are arguably identifiable. The first is that group which believes the modern Roman Missal is indeed the Missal of the Council and that we need simply clean up the external abuses perpetrated upon the liturgy, problems in translation, and work at re-introducing those external elements which were never intended to be lost, such as chant and Latin. The other school within the reform of the reform acknowledges the necessity of these points, but also looks deeper at the very Missal itself with a critical eye as regards some of its forms, its rubrics, often (though not necessarily) with an eye to the 1965 Ordo Missae. This latter grouping not only spans part of those who make up the "reform of the reform" camp, it also includes an ever-growing number of people within the classical liturgical movement.

As such, I'd like to propose that Father hasn't recognized the existence of a fourth group. This is a group who do not reject the principle of liturgical reform (done organically and in a hermeneutic of continuity of course), nor do they claim the Missal of Paul VI is invalid or believe it is to be utterly rejected and abolished (as would the first group Father identifies), but they do believe it is in need of a reform itself to bring it back closer in line with the mandate provided in Sacrosanctum Concilium and in closer proximity to the classical Roman liturgical tradition. As such, they believe that there is both a need to clean up abuses in the liturgy, lackings in the area of sacred music and so forth, but they also look deeper at the the desires of the Council, at the liturgical tradition, and at the way in which the reform happened and what it produced. Moreover, they support a "freeing" of the classical liturgy as both meritorious in its own right (particularly given the circumstances where there is an arguable "rupture") and as a way of informing and helping along this process of a reforming the reform.

The likes of Father Jonathan Robinson, for example, in The Mass and Modernity raises the question of the rubrics of the modern Roman Missal and whether they have allowed for too much subjectivity to enter into the liturgy, damaging what ought to be its objective character. This is one issue that must be examined that doesn't just touch upon externals of the liturgy, but the very missal itself. He moreover raises the question of the underlying philosophical principles of the post-Enlightenment era which may have influenced the approach to the liturgical reform; the likes of Fr. Aidan Nichols did such as well in his pioneering critique, Looking at the Liturgy: A Critical View of its Contemporary Form. In studying this question, Alcuin Reid, author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy has presented his findings that the Council Fathers where assured that in any reform of the Roman liturgy, the Ordo Missae as it had developed throughout the centuries was to be retained - something which, placing the two side by side, is quite arguably not what happened given the number of deletions and additions. His conclusion is that it is thus a reasonable proposition that we need to look again at the liturgical reform.

These are only a couple such, of many, examples of the deeper critique that is being made, and not in a spirit of rejection of the Council or of liturgical reform. It does question, however, the prudence and principles of certain reforms, and whether the liturgy received is truly that which was mandated by the Council and whether it diverged too far from the organic liturgical tradition as received.

Further on, Father suggests in his piece that "the Missal of Pope Paul VI is not a divergence from liturgical tradition". Certainly this is one argument, though it is only one argument. After all, let's remember the famously quoted assessment of Cardinal Ratzinger, which while not infallible should bear some weight: "in the place of liturgy as a fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication..."

Cardinal Ratzinger is not of course suggesting by this statement that we must abolish the Pauline Missal, but he is pointing to a fundamental problem in the liturgical reform that resulted in the Pauline missal, and implicitly by consequence to some problems with the Pauline missal itself. The process of liturgical reform was not organic but was characterized by rupture; a fabricated, forced process, rather than a living and organic one. As such, the only conclusion that is logical to derive from this, if we accept it as true, is that there was indeed a divergence from the liturgical tradition, even though it was an approved one by the authority of Paul VI -- which raises the additional question of the prudent use of ecclesial authority.

Of course, Father is free to disagree with this assessment by Cardinal Ratzinger, but I would propose, at very least, the position should not be implied to be untenable or outside the Catholic pale if someone so theologically and liturgically informed as Ratzinger could make such an assessment, and echo it elsewhere in other writings.

Father points to the GIRM as his proof of his assertion, which comments upon the new Roman missal as acting in the same tradition at the Pian reforms:

"From the fact that the same words are used [by Sacrosanctum Concilium and St. Pius V in the call for reforms of the liturgical books] it can be seen how both Roman Missals, although separated by four centuries, embrace one and the same tradition. [The tradition of restoring the forms of the holy Fathers] Furthermore, if the inner elements of this tradition are reflected upon, it also becomes clear how outstandingly and felicitously the older Roman Missal is brought to fulfillment in the new'..." (GIRM)

Two things are spoken of here: the form of words used in expressing the desire for liturgical reform, and the "inner elements of this tradition". The former of course refers to a desire, but not to the specifics of liturgical reforms themselves. The latter refers to "inner elements of this tradition", which likewise cannot be understood as a comprehensive judgement upon the overall question or organic development and liturgical reform. It speaks to a specific dimension rather than the end product, or to the external forms of the liturgy, etc. (Certainly a side by side comparison of everything from the Ordo Missae to the liturgical year would speak of the substantive differences between what came before the Council and what followed in 1969.)

By no means, it would seem to me, should this be understood as a definitive and comprehensive judgement on whether or not there is a "divergence from liturgical tradition". We can only assume that the likes of someone such as Ratzinger himself concurs given his own critical statements about the process of liturgical reform that was undertaken and ultimately enacted.

Later on, Father suggests that one "must cease their continual criticisms" of the modern Roman liturgy. But bearing all of what has been said here in mind, there is a basis for constructive critique and examination. That criticism does not inherently place one outside the scope of the Second Vatican Council. Nor does it make one disobedient. We must not attach fidelity to the Church and Council with an utter acceptance of the Pauline liturgy without question, as though it were somehow an infallible matter. We cannot, of course, suggest that the Pauline liturgy is invalid, or not Catholic; nor should we simply be polemicists about it, but we can most certainly ask questions, and pose an earnest critique which is made in a spirit of love for the liturgical tradition of the Church, and out of respect for the mandate of the Council.

We have to distinguish between simple polemics or outright rejection of a missal or the Council with historical and theological critique that is arguably merited, and made not in a spirit of rejection of the Council, but rather in intention of being faithful to it and in a hermeneutic of continuity with our broader tradition. (And after all, was this process not pursued throughout Church history, whether it be under St. Pius V, or prior to this latest Council with regard to the official liturgical books of those times and places? And surely if that process was not wrong as a point of principle then, why should it be wrong now in regard the modern liturgical books? Why should they be "taboo?" I propose that the problem isn't that we might critically examine aspects of our liturgical books or specific liturgical reforms; the problem can rather lay in the principles and spirit which we bring to that critique. It is likewise with liturgical reform. Liturgical reform is not a problem per se, but how we pursue liturgical reform, and the principles that drive specific liturgical reforms we pursue can be a problem.) Many of the leading Catholic liturgical scholars of our day would seem to take this approach and make these important distinctions.

Father is obviously concerned with the proper celebration of the liturgy, and for that he is to be commended and thanked. Had we more priests with his care and concern for the liturgy, we would be much better off. Father evidently also loves the Church and seeks that people be faithful to it. For that too we can be thankful.

I offer these critical thoughts not in a spirit of malice, but in a spirit of seeking out the liturgical good, and regardless of our differences on these points, consider Father Farfaglia an ally in our general purpose to help restore sanity to the Latin rite liturgy. That being said, I do hope Father will reconsider his positions on these few points, as I believe these deeper liturgical issues are fundamental if we are to move forward and address the liturgical state of emergency that both Father Farfaglia and I agree we find ourselves in today.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: