Thursday, June 07, 2007

The two sides of the question of liturgical reform

A couple of interesting posts to share with you from the Cafeteria is Closed.

Gerald makes a good reflection on the problems with the liturgical reform in his piece Annibale ante portas, particularly as regards the ethos of the liturgy as it has come down to us on a parish by parish level.

He contrasts this with, for example, the way Fr. Joseph Fessio celebrates the modern Roman liturgy (see right) with dignity and in a spirit of continuity.

Evidently, there are two issues as regard the liturgy today and both are important to discuss. One is the ethos of the liturgy. In other words, matters like sacred music, sacred art, the position of the priest at the altar, the translations employed and so forth. For most people, these are the issues that especially matter, because these are what are front and centre for them in their contact with the sacred liturgy each and every Sunday. When they aren't done well, they know it and feel it immediately. We might look at this aspect of the question, in a broad sense, as pertaining to the ars celebrandi -- but taken beyond the scope of the priest alone to the art of the celebration of the liturgy generally.

The other issue, which also must not be lost sight of, relates to the deeper matter of the very missal and its reform itself -- that is, both as a process and also as a product. Gerald touches on this matter in his piece as well, though I wish to draw it out a bit further and use it as a jumping off point for a discussion.

Having an awareness of these two sides to the liturgical-reform 'coin' is what gives us both a deeper understanding of the task of the reform of the reform, and also helps to lay bare the issues that draw in the classical Roman rite to the equation.

When we lose sight of one or the other we end up with a misunderstanding. On the one hand, if we lose sight of the profound importance of the liturgical ethos that surround the Missal itself, we, in a way, become as guilty as some of the reformers themselves in losing sight of the importance of piety and beauty in the liturgy; we too then are in danger of intellectualizing and rationalizing the liturgy. Liturgical forms matter, and they matter a great deal. That's why this early stage of the reform of the reform needs to be appreciated and understood as important.

At the same time, we also cannot lose sight of the fact that the liturgical question is not solely about ethos. When we do such, we are in danger of trivializing or losing sight of the deeper matters of the missal texts and rubrics; of organic development and tradition; of our place of stewardship rather than mastery over the liturgy; of the cultural and spiritual inheritance that the classical liturgies of the Church represents, and the doctrinal and theological importance of the texts and rubrics of the liturgy. Losing sight of this aspect can in turn lead to a misunderstanding of the reason for the movement for the classical Roman rite. If all that mattered were the external aspects of the liturgy, then indeed, that movement may not make much sense when compared with liturgical revisions in the missal prior to the Council. However, it is when we understand why the revisions before the Council differ in nature and scope from the post-conciliar revision that manifested itself in the 1970 missal, that we can appreciate the crucial role the classical liturgical movement has to play and is trying to bring forth -- in serving to preserve and highlight the Roman liturgical tradition prior to the problematic reform, and also as a movement which expresses sincere hesitations about the liturgical reform as it happened in relation to our tradition of liturgical development.

It seems to me that bearing in mind these two sides to the question of liturgical reform is useful for a better understanding of both movements and their co-operative role in the present liturgical climate.

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