Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reform or Return? An Interview with Rev. Thomas M. Kocik

Ignatius Insight has an interview up: Reform or Return? An Interview with Rev. Thomas M. Kocik by Carl Olson.

Here's the text:

Rev. Thomas M. Kocik is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, and the author of Apostolic Succession in an Ecumenical Context (Alba House, 1996) and many articles on Catholic belief and practice. He is also author of The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (Ignatius Press, 2003), described by Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review as a presentation of "an enlightening and fair debate between traditionalists and reformers on how to resolve the current liturgical crisis in the Catholic Church."

Carl E. Olson, editor of, recently interviewed Father Kocik about Pope Benedict's recent Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, what it means for traditionalists and reformists, and its impact on the liturgical life of the Church. You've been actively involved many years now in promoting a better understanding and appreciation of the Church's Latin liturgical tradition. What is your background and what are some of the ways that you've sought to bring about a liturgical reform that is in keeping with Church tradition and the directives of the Second Vatican Council?

Fr. Kocik: Having been born in 1965, when the Second Vatican Council was still in session, I am not old enough to remember the pre-Vatican II liturgy. The so-called Novus Ordo of Paul VI was all I knew growing up--though I happily add that my boyhood parish in upstate New York was spared the wackiest of liturgical aberrations. In the easy wisdom of hindsight, I now know that my usual experience of Mass could have been better, more in keeping with the mind of the Church in terms of music and ceremonial. (I rarely, if ever, heard Gregorian chant or Latin, and scarcely recall anything resembling "high" Mass.) I had heard of the days not long past when Mass was in Latin and the priest had his "back to the people," and I couldn't fathom anyone but nostalgic old folks missing that. It wasn't until the late-1980s that I began to understand what some were calling, favorably or unfavorably, the liturgical "revolution." I entered the seminary with a strong interest in the controversies surrounding Vatican II and its aftermath. On a few occasions during those seminary years (1990-95), I was able to assist at sung Latin Masses, and the experiences left a deep impression on me.

At every Mass I have offered since my ordination, I have tried not only to ensure against abuses such as the unnecessary use of extraordinary ministers, but also to accentuate, whenever possible, the continuity between the Missal of Paul VI (amended by John Paul II and published in 2002) and the pre-conciliar liturgical tradition. To give some examples: having a "preferential option" for the Roman Canon and the first form of the Penitential Rite (the Confiteor); singing the orations and using incense on Sundays and feast days; using a measure of Latin at every celebration; wearing black or violet vestments for funerals and other Masses for the dead; praying the optional sequences; offering votive Masses on occasion; and, in some circumstances, facing ad orientem. Your book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (Ignatius Press, 2003), offers a unique way of addressing the conflicts and confusion following the Council, with a fictional dialogue between a traditionalist and a reformist. How did the idea for the book come about? What did you hope the book might accomplish?

Fr. Kocik: I was familiar with the standard "traditionalist" condemnations of the Novus Ordo of 1970: that it is invalid, that it was devised by Protestants and modernist Catholics who deny the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, and so on. But having read balanced and scholarly works by Msgr. Klaus Gamber and Michael Davies, I knew it was a mistake to portray all traditionalists as intractable reactionaries who couldn't grasp the notion of a living, ever-developing tradition. Nor did I believe the liturgy could be "re-enchanted" simply by correcting abuses: had no wrong turns been taken?

In the mid-1990s, I first learned of what would later be called the "reform of the reform" movement, represented by such groups as the Adoremus Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy and the Society for Catholic Liturgy. Its protagonists did not advocate the abolition of the Novus Ordo, as if the post-conciliar reform yielded nothing beneficial to the Church; instead, they called for a critical reassessment of the reform in the light of a deeper understanding of Vatican II--one which views the Council as a reappropriation of the fullness of tradition, not a rejection of tradition.

And so, it was in the latter half of 2001 that I wrote The Reform of the Reform? My intention was to cull the arguments for and against competing alternatives to the liturgical status quo, in a way that sifts the chaff of extreme polemic from the wheat of sober assessment. I thought that a debate in conversational style, in which a "traditionalist" and a "reformist" move quickly from point to point, might help Catholics who lack theological and liturgical expertise to grasp the issues involved in any attempt to re-stabilize the liturgy of the Western Church. What is your initial reaction to Summorum Pontificum? In what ways might it give support to the traditionalist and reformist views, respectively? Differ from them? Reconcile them?

Fr. Kocik: The Holy Father has long maintained that one of the false interpretations of Vatican II is that it marks a clean break from the past. No, says Benedict: the Council is properly understood only in light of the Church's bi-millennial tradition, of which the liturgy is the prime expression. The distinction between reform and rupture, between continuity and discontinuity, is key to understanding Summorum Pontificum. As the pope explains in his letter to the bishops, it is not a matter of old rite versus new rite, but of "a twofold use of one and the same rite." Traditionalists may object--correctly, I daresay--that the Missal of 1970 cannot be put on a par with the relatively modest revisions of the Roman Missal made by Bl. John XXIII and earlier popes. On this basis, I think we can safely assert, without fear of contradicting the pope, that the 1962 Missal is the last Roman Missal representing a particular stream of tradition within the family of the Roman liturgy. But to speak, as some traditionalists do speak, of the 1970 Missal as a irremediable rupture with tradition is, ironically enough, to espouse the same hermeneutic of discontinuity applied by the Catholic far left to justify all kinds of unorthodox mischief. In your opinion, are do the directives in the motu proprio shape a working compromise, as such? Is Summorum Pontificum just one step--albeit an important one--in a much longer work of reform?

Fr. Kocik: I'm not sure "compromise" is the right word in this case, since both traditionalists and reformists value the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, albeit for different reasons. Summorum Pontificum is an important step toward reforming the reform. Pope Benedict hopes that both forms will enrich each other. He suggests, for example, that the prefaces of the current Missal be inserted into the 1962 Missal. Likewise, in this age of casualness and improvisation in worship, expanded access to the 1962 form can, over time, invest our celebrations of the ordinary form of Mass with the sense of "sacrality that attracts many people to the former usage...". Neither the Missal of 1962 nor that of 1970, Benedict has said elsewhere, should be treated as an unalterable museum piece. Some clergy and commentators have expressed concern that the motu proprio will place even more burdens on pastors and that it will even increase division between Catholics. How valid are those concerns? What will be some of the practical, logistical challenges faced by priests? And how willing do you think bishops in the United States will be to facilitate the extraordinary form of the Mass?

Fr. Kocik: The only way I envision a pastor becoming more burdened is with the sudden need to add more Masses to his parish schedule. This will not happen in places where there is no considerable demand for the extraordinary form of Mass. Where the demand does exist, but where there is no priest willing or qualified to use the 1962 Missal, the bishop is to arrange for such celebration to take place, or else refer the matter to the Ecclesia Dei commission. I daresay most bishops will find many of their young priests willing to step in. A bishop might also consider inviting into his diocese priestly societies exclusively committed to the extraordinary Roman Rite and in full communion with the Church, such as the Fraternity of St. Peter or the Institute of Christ the King.

With regard to the practical and logistical challenges likely to be faced by priests, let me refer you to my essay in the May/June 2007 issue of the Saint Austin Review ( "Benedict XVI and the 'Tridentine" Question'"). In it, I discuss (among other things) the question of altar placement, the challenge of maintaining two liturgical calendars side by side, and the likelihood of conflicts between pastors and their assistants. Do you think Summorum Pontificum will lead to a significant increase in the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII?

Fr. Kocik: There will probably be a more widespread use of the 1962 Missal and other sacramental rites, and perhaps of the 1970/2002 Missal in Latin. But I do not expect an immediate or sharp increase in the number of parishes celebrating Mass according to 1962 Missal. Most bishops and priests say there is no great demand for it, although that could change. If you had speculate, what does the future hold for the liturgy within the Catholic Church?

Fr. Kocik: Prognostications are always risky. Who knows where divine Providence will take us from here? I hope that, with the 1962 version of the Roman liturgy now de-marginalized (in theory, at least), more Catholics would take the opportunity to see for themselves what was lost and what was gained since the Council. As I say, increased exposure to the extraordinary form might encourage better, more dignified celebrations of the Novus Ordo and foster a responsible way of thinking about the liturgy. The liturgical books of 1962 enshrine certain Catholic perspectives and values that are often ignored or downplayed in contemporary worship.

In closing, let me register my agreement with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus's opinion: "With the possible exception of those who are incorrigibly nostalgic for the good old days of the revolution that was not to be, I believe that the pope's initiative will be recognized for what it is--a generous and hopeful proposal for a future in which Catholics are freed to celebrate the rich variety of the tradition that is theirs" (First Things, "On the Square," July 9).

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