Friday, September 14, 2007

Mutually working out the Liturgical Good

With Summorum Pontificum coming into effect today, there will be much joy on the part of many. For my own part, I am greatly moved by witnessing the usus antiquior being offered from EWTN's beautiful shrine church, seeing the photos from the seminaries and from many parishes and cathedrals. Indeed, there is a palpable sense today that we are now, finally, welcoming back in our ecclesial life something that was treasured for so long, which is ever ancient and ever new; an article not merely of the past, but very much of the present life of the Church; something that does indeed speak to modern man. To use a Johannine metaphor, it truly feels as though the windows have been opened to let fresh air stream in. It is truly a great day for the Roman church and for those of us who find ourselves particularly attached to the classical Roman liturgy -- of which I am one of course.

But beyond these immediately evident gains, it is worth noting that this blessed Motu Proprio provides an opportunity for the growth for both the classical and reform of the reform movements.

Of course, it is by no means an unknown thing that the past of these two movements has occasionally been peppered with individual adherents who have turned the issue into one of rivalry and competition -- and some recent articles and comments have led me to believe now is, in this particular moment of "liturgical grace", an apt time to address this matter in the hopes of moving forward. The reason for that rivalry varies, but the effect is often the same: hindrance. Now this is by no means universal of course, for there have also been a great many who have not taken such an approach, even if they might have focused mainly in one context or another -- while others have moved about in both movements freely and willingly.

It seems to me that to understand why there is a great need for a mutual working out the liturgical good, we need to have an awareness of the needs of the present day that we find. Further, we need to rid ourselves of some of the faulty understandings and assumptions that have been proposed about either movement.

We seem to be at the beginning of a new era, and to that end, I wished to summarize some of these matters here today in the hopes that it might help contribute to an era of greater co-existence and collaboration between the classical movement and the reform of the reform movement -- in precisely the way we now see those liturgies co-existing in more parishes, cathedrals and seminaries.

Two Present Needs

I believe we need to have an understanding of two pressing and real needs that define the way in which we must approach this question. This will hopefully help people to understand the relevance and importance of both movements and what they bring to the table, and why both are quite necessary.

One is a need to move away from any sense of rupture by way of a reconciliation with the liturgical tradition (as represented in the usus antiquior) by drawing it back into the undisputed mainstream of Western liturgical life (which does not necessitate that all worship within it of course, nor that all priests say it, but that at least an attitude of openness and valuation of the liturgical tradition is adopted.) This historical form of the Roman liturgy has benefits in its own right, independent of other considerations, but it further provides an important framework of liturgical continuity and should be, along with Sacrosanctum Concilium, a significant point of reference for a reform of the reform.

The second need is as regards liturgy in the "ordinary use" of the Roman rite as it stands in most parishes today. This cannot be avoided or ignored; nor can the complexities and the realities it brings with it be glossed over. For many, this is a kind of "default rite" if you will -- that is say, it is the rite that most people partake of by mere virtue of birth into Catholicism or by sheer statistical probability. As such, whatever critiques can be brought forward on an academic level even about the very liturgical reform itself (and such can surely and legitimately be brought forward) the fact remains that this liturgy is the typically practiced expression of Catholic liturgy for a great many Catholics. Precisely because of its "ordinariness" in this regard does it bring with it a variety of baggage that must be taken into account in order to successfully address the matter. These are not intentional communities of Catholics, but rather communities made up of a variety of people, with varying levels of exposure to the authentic expressions of our Catholic liturgical tradition, and various levels of formation and de-formation as regards the liturgy specifically and doctrine generally. Typical parish settings do bring with them particular pastoral complexities and considerations that must be well considered. It is not that these complexities should tie our hands invariably, but in our task of bringing the faithful and their experience back into liturgical continuity, we must be smart, strategic and sensitive about it. There needs to be catechesis and steps taken to help bring people back into a comfort and familiarity with the liturgical tradition of the Church. This second area of need is very much driven by this and this is the context in which most of the reform of the reform presently works.

Avoiding Simplifications of each Movement's Raison d'Etre

It is also unhelpful when people in one or the other movement misrepresent, misunderstand or diminuish what the other liturgical movement is about. regards the Usus Antiquior

Sometimes, some suggest that the classical liturgical movement is based out of a rejection of the Second Vatican Council, papal authority, rooted in nostalgia or an inability to adapt to change. For others, there has been speculation that the only reason why some people come to the classical liturgy is because of the problems found in so many parishes liturgically. Eliminate that, so the thinking goes, and you eliminate the desire for the classical liturgy.

It's not that one cannot find people who might fit some or all of these categories, but it by no means defines the movement. There are many people who fully accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council; papal authority and the like, but who yet realize that they can express legitimate concerns about the way in which the conciliar documents were implemented or concerns about organic development. Likewise they can understand that the liturgical reforms are not subject to infallibility in the way doctrines are which thus allows for critique and prudential disagreement while still fully accepting and respecting papal authority.

Moreover, there may be some for whom the classical Roman liturgy has proven a shelter from poor liturgy experienced so often elsewhere, but there are many others for whom the classical liturgy has merit in its own right. They appreciate it not for what we might call "negative reasons" (to escape abuse or lacklustre liturgy) but because they appreciate the liturgy in and of itself with its movements, its drama, its ceremonial actions, its specific texts and its overall spirituality. There are those for whom, even given the choice of the ordinary use celebrated with the full glories of the London Oratory at 11:00am on a Sunday morning, would still rather call the usus antiquior their liturgical home and that in which they find particular attachment. Moreover, even in the case of those for whom the classical liturgy was at first a refuge, while that may have been an initial motivator, there is nothing to say that their motivations do not mature (in the way a converts can mature and deepen from their intial reasons for converting) and that such do not come to have a love and appreciation for the classical Roman liturgy for the reasons described above. As such, one shouldn't reduce attachment to the classical Roman liturgy to a kind of liturgical "escapism". It is certainly much deeper than that for a great many people. regards the Reform of the Reform

At the same time, I believe some Catholics attached to the classical Roman liturgy misunderstand or mischaracterize what the reform of the reform actually proposes at its deepest levels. This then becomes a source of critique of that movement: that it is only concerned with what is on the surface of the liturgy.

As in the case of traditionalists, there can be different schools of thought on that front. I would propose that the reform of the reform can be reduced to two fundamental variants. One is more or less tied to the retention of the current Pauline Ordo with the reform of the ethos of the celebration of that missal -- in which I include the matter of translation of the present Ordo. The other school of thought sees the importance of those goals, but understands this as only an initial stage of reform and further proposes some manner of re-evaluation and revision to the Pauline Missal itself.

As such, critiquing the reform of the reform as being essentially aesthetic is not really a valid characterization -- any more than characterizing the classical liturgical movement as being essentially nostalgic or a rejection of Vatican II and liturgical abuse -- for while there might be some who are mainly focused upon ethos, there are many others who are also interested in the same deeper questions of organic liturgical development and the mandate of Vatican II, just as many of their brethren in the classical movement.

Mind you, care must also be taken to not diminuish the pertinence of some of these aspects either. The harm caused by poor liturgy or the way in the liturgical tradition was treated and so radically handled in the early 1970's is a point of legitimate pastoral and liturgical concern. Likewise, the question of the ethos of the liturgy is nothing to diminuish -- as though it were unimportant. The point has been made recently that while we do deal with matters of aesthetics in the liturgy these are not mere superficialities. Indeed, the liturgy is multidimensional and in those multiple dimensions it touches upon both internals and externals. To that extent, it seems wrong to speak of form versus content in the liturgy; instead it seem more appropriate to say form is part of the content found within the depths of the liturgy.

If we can understand that there is some of relevance and pertinence in even that level of approach to both movements, then certainly all the more should we appreciate the deeper and more substantial approaches of the reform of the reform and classical liturgical movement.

On the Progress of the Two Movements

At times some have tried to diminuish the progress or relevance of the other movement. Some traditionalists, particularly in the light of Summorum Pontificum suggest that the reform of the reform is really not accomplishing much -- for one or another reason -- while some reform-of-the-reformers speak about the numbers of people who attend the classical rite, proportionate to the modern Roman rite, suggesting it is thereby not terribly relevant itself.

It is first worth noting that relevance and importance is not determined either by the speed with which something is being accomplished, nor by sheer numbers. Moreover, we should not be viewing this is the light of competition or rivalry, but rather as regards the progress toward liturgical continuity.

As well, Summorum Pontificum is quite clearly intended to help both movements advance and thus, generally, advance liturgical continuity. In that vein, it does not make sense to view it as only of relevance and importance for the one, but not the other. We should not diminiush its scope. Indeed, the growth and advancement of the classical Roman liturgy helps pave the way for the reform of the reform in its various aspects and the advancement of the reform of the reform in parishes paves the way for a pastoral situation that makes it quite easy for pastors to offer the usus antiquior in a public setting in their parish, thus allowing it to spread ever further. In short, progress in one can only help serve progress in the other.

As for the criticisms that some make, it must be remembered that the numbers in the classical movement have been naturally limited by the amount of permission formerly required which resulted in limited numbers and often poor time slots. With a free availability now, this is set to begin to change as it takes its place again in the midst of parish life.

As regards the reform of the reform, here it must be remembered that it operates in the broader context of the parish with all its variances and pastoral complexities. As such, it tends rather to manifest itself in degrees, rather than always being something immediately recognizable. One parish may begin by introducing some Latin, whereas another may already be also offering a Mass ad orientem. Each form a part of the reform of the reform to some greater or lesser degree. While these degrees may make it harder to see the fruits, this does not mean that the reform of the reform is not moving forward and itself advancing.

However, what seems clear is that now, with the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, we are truly in the time where we will see advancement -- and in both liturgical contexts. For that we can, all of us, be profoundly grateful.

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