Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Revolution That Wasn't

As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and now Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI has repeatedly asserted (as did his predecessor, John Paul II) that the aggiornamento or "updating" of the Church proposed by the Second Vatican Council cannot be understood apart from that other great conciliar theme, ressourcement -- a "return to the sources" of Catholic theology in the Bible and in the early Church Fathers in order to remedy some of the imbalances worked by the Counter-Reformation. The sundering of these two essential dimensions of renewal has caused immeasurable mischief since Vatican II. As Benedict rightly sees it, true aggiornamento comes through ressourcement -- renewal through the recovery or reappropriation of the full riches of the Church's tradition.

Yet there are those of a certain generation who seem to persist in viewing the council solely in terms of modernization, often understood as bringing the Church into sync with the cultural revolutions of the Sixties. To them, any attempt to recall and strengthen the continuity of the tradition (be it in matters liturgical, doctrinal, or pastoral) signifies a betrayal of Vatican II.

"There should be no backsliding," said Bishop Donald Trautman in an address as outgoing chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) to the participants at the close of the annual convention of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC), held this past October in Hartford, Connecticut. "Do we accept the teaching of Vatican II? If we do, we should not be calling for a retreat from the reform of the liturgy of Vatican II" (quoted in the Adoremus Bulletin, Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008, pg. 11). Assuming the bishop was quoted correctly, I suppose he meant to say that we should retreat from, or try to thwart, the reform of the Vatican II liturgy, since he has consistently championed the status quo post 1970 and carries no torch for the "reform of the reform" movement. That the council's liturgy constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium, might just be open to an alternative reading seems not to have entered his mind (to say nothing of what that document says, and does not say, about the Latin language, Gregorian chant, altar placement, etc.).

Happily, the conference participants were treated to a perspective that is decidedly more catholic and liberal (in the truest sense of those words). The dream of bringing heaven to earth in the sacred liturgy, said Msgr. James Moroney, outgoing director of the bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy (1995-2007), is "too great to be the possession of any one group." Moroney named various liturgical groups across the left-right spectrum, and went on to say (again, from Adoremus Bulletin):

It is the dream of the Church, who in her love for her Spouse seeks to teach her children the Paschal hymn, first sung from the wood of the Cross and now echoed at altars in every time and place. Love that dream and love your fellow dreamers, whether they sing it in hymns or polyphonic forms, whether they prefer to kneel or stand, whether they prefer Latin or English, whether they prefer to look East or West. ... For at the end of the world, when we stand before the first singer of the Paschal hymn, what will matter most will not be our personal preferences, but our full and actual participation with heart and soul and body and mind in the Holy and Living Sacrifice of Praise!

Amen, Monsignor! And (no sarcasm intended) dream on!

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