Sunday, July 15, 2007

Alcuin Reid on National Australian Radio

[Australian National Radio's The Religion Report aired a program on 11 July 2007, "A Mass of contradictions" that I had both the pleasure and displeasure to listen to.

It was a displeasure because the piece contained much of the same old misunderstandings and cliche's about praying for the conversions of Jewish people and anyone else non-Catholic -- unfortunately coming from the interviewer as well as two of the priestly guests to one or another degree.

It was a pleasure because they also interviewed Alcuin Reid.

The transcript is finally available, of which I have chosen to simply cut out the main part of Alcuin Reid's contribution. Here it is:

Dr Alcuin Reid is a former Benedictine monk and an Australian. He's also a leading liturgy scholar and the author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy, the definitive text on the Tridentine mass. In fact the glowing Preface of his recent book was written by one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Alcuin Reid: It certainly is a big story in the history of the liturgy in the Catholic church, especially in the last 40, 50 years, big questions are raised by it, how does this relate to the reform of the Second Vatican Council? Is this a reversal? All sorts of big questions. In terms of local parishes, there probably won't be much difference immediately, I think any change, any development, any enrichment of the liturgical life of the parishes is likely to be gradual.

Stephen Crittenden: Is the most significant change that priests will be able to say mass according to the Tridentine Rite without needing to get permission from their Bishops?

Alcuin Reid: In some parts of the world yes, because unfortunately some bishops have not been generous as John Paul II wanted them to be in his Motu proprio in 1988. In other parts of the world, and I think in Australia, particularly Melbourne and Sydney, Perth, Canberra, the traditional mass has been made available very generously by bishops and archbishops over the last 20 or so years. And yes, it is significant that parish priests now have the faculty, the right, to decide if there'll be a public celebration -and I imagine there will be an increase.

Stephen Crittenden: And what do you make of the fact that a number of bishops conferences, the French bishops in particular, the British bishops, pleaded with the Pope not to go ahead with this? What do you make of that?

Alcuin Reid: I think some of the bishops were worried about losing control, perhaps they were worried about young zealous priests rushing ahead in an insensitive way, perhaps they were concerned that a lot of what they perceived the Second Vatican Council as standing for was being called into jeopardy.

Stephen Crittenden: Is there a potential here, do you think, for a two-tiered church to come into view? Maybe a High Church and a Low Church?

Alcuin Reid: I don't like the terminology High Church and Low Church. There are different styles of celebrating Catholic worship, and in a cathedral one can do more than one can do in a simple rural parish. The most important thing is that there is unity there. The Second Vatican Council talks about substantial unity within the Catholic liturgy, whilst respecting a legitimate diversity, a legitimate plurality of forms, and the Pope has broadened the possible limits of this plurality I think with this document. In terms of understanding the Latin, I think we need to be a little bit careful; the liturgy is not about understanding, it's about entering into an act of worship, and to attend a solemn Latin liturgy, if you try and sit there and understand every word, I think you'd go quite mad. You need to enter into the ritual experience. It's a form of entering into contemplation, it's not a form of brushing up on your Latin grammar.

Stephen Crittenden: So you're saying the important thing is not to understand the words necessarily, but to let the whole experience wash over you?

Alcuin Reid: I think in the first place, yes. I mean the words have meanings and it's terribly rich, and I think one dips into it and one takes from it gradually, over a lifetime, not half an hour, an hour in a church.

Stephen Crittenden: I suppose at various times in history when people were completely uneducated, the mass must have been a bit like that, sort of almost out of focus, something that they didn't fully understand?

Alcuin Reid: Well I think if we look at what the Second Vatican Council was talking about in terms of active participation, they weren't suggesting that every person in the church should be a liturgical scholar who can understand every text, the origin of it, the meaning of it and so on, they're talking about actively connecting with the liturgical act, with the worship of God, plugging in if you like, to what's going on. It's a matter of being part of the liturgical act of the church, it's not a matter of cerebral understanding of absolutely everything.

Stephen Crittenden: As I understand it, you think that the liturgy has changed over the centuries by a process of what you call organic development, but when the new missal was introduced in 1970 it wasn't a case of organic development, it was a rupture, a fundamental break.

Alcuin Reid: That's a very big question. Certainly in the 1960s, at the Second Vatican Council, the fathers of the Council called for a prudent or moderate development of the rite in the light of certain modern needs, and if they wanted to have the Scripture readings in the language of the people, the vernacular, and so on, after the Council various people, key people, on the commissions, imposed ideas perhaps which didn't come from the Council but which came from their own enthusiasms, from perhaps the enthusiasms of scholars. And certain things were introduced and then officially promulgated in a legally positivistic way. If the Pope approved it, then it had to be done. The Second Vatican Council didn't ask for the introduction of any new Eucharistic prayers into the Roman rite, and yet Pope Paul VI, acting on the proposals presented to him by scholars in the late 1960s, introduced three other Eucharistic prayers; of themselves there's no problem with them, but in the history of the Roman rite, that's a very significant change, and it wasn't called for by the Second Vatican Council.

Stephen Crittenden: Pope Benedict speaks about the deep pain that some people experienced when the new rite was introduced. Tell us about that.

Alcuin Reid: In the course of some researches in the last 10, 20 years or so, I've had the privilege of looking through some files of correspondence with bishops, and certainly Cardinal Heenan here in London who was Archbishop of Westminster at the time, the late '60s, and early '70s, his correspondence is full of letters from people who are saying 'They've taken away the mass we loved', and I think the pain was not that these people were opposed to a reasonable development, most of these people probably didn't understand the history of the liturgy of the church and so on; that's neither here nor there. The pain, I think, really was that from one moment something which people loved, which was part of the bread and butter of their lives of faith, was all of a sudden stopped, forbidden and something was put in its place which seemed totally foreign to them.

Stephen Crittenden: Dr Reid, there was certainly some speculation in recent days about the prayers for the Jews and their status and what would happen. What's your understanding of what has happened? It's hard to tell.

Alcuin Reid: OK. Nothing really has happened with the prayers for the Jews; there's been no change. The missal of John XXIII published in 1962 which has been permitted since 1984, which is used in the traditional mass centres in Australia and around the world, has the prayers which were modified slightly by Pope John XXIII in the early '60s before the Second Vatican Council, in which the word 'perfidis', 'perfidious', was removed, and it was removed in the early 1960s, and hasn't been used in the Catholic church's worship for well over 40 years now. I think we need to say that the liturgy is in a sense, the family prayer of Catholics, it's not sort of the Catholic church waving a flag or something we put on a billboard. And in the Good Friday liturgy in the traditional mass, we pray for heretics and schismatics that they'll return to the church; we pray for the Jews that they'll come to acknowledge Christ as the one saviour; we pray for Pagans that they will come to believe in God and the church. All of these things of course are basics from the faith of the church, from the Gospels.

Stephen Crittenden: So you're happy with the Good Friday prayers as they stand in the '62 missal?

Alcuin Reid: Yes, I mean I don't think there's anything there which is offensive, and again, I say, this is us praying privately as a Catholic family, it's not us trying to rub anybody's nose in our beliefs.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: