Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fr. Fessio on the Ancient and Modern Liturgy

Sober Inebriation sent me news of an interview they recently held with Fr. Joseph Fessio. A good part of that interview surrounded the liturgy and I wanted to give some excerpts here. Do keep in mind these are excerpts. If you wish to read Fr. Fessio's entire answers do go over to that blog.

Q: ... Tell us from your view what you think the Holy Father is doing right now in terms of liturgy:

Fr. Fessio: Well I don't think it's a secret, he's made it very public. He gave his reasons in the cover letter of the motu proprio. The main reason was- he said he wanted to work toward an "interior reconciliation". That's a very important phrase- interior reconciliation. And the day after he was elected pope he said he would make his theme the implementation of the Second Vatican council, in continuity with the church's 2000 year tradition... and he clearly wants the Church to live its doctrinal and catechetical and liturgical life in continuity.

So, going back to the motu proprio, when he says he wants interior reconciliation, he clearly means that those groups in the church who have different preferences for the liturgy should be able to find what they want- those who wish to have the old Mass may have it, and those who wish to have the new Mass may also have it, and therefore all the groups should be satisfied. However, there is a deeper meaning in my opinion. He also wants to reconcile the liturgical life of the church so that the Mass before the council and the Mass after the council are seen to be more in continuity. He has spoken many times in the past about a breach, a break, a rupture in the liturgical tradition and in the same cover letter of the motu proprio, he says that he hopes that in having the two usages of the same rite, it will be mutually enriching.

Clearly, he wants to see the Novus Ordo celebrated more in continuity with the Mass of 1962. He also wants the mass of 1962 to make some gradual and organic adaptations over time... I think, what he wants is a convergence- a greater sense of contiutity with the past, which for a time will be expressed both by the 1962 missal, which he called a standard of continuity (He said that in a talk in 2001 at fontombault in France.) and by the new missal being celebrated in a way that is more traditional.

There's a book called the "Ceremonies of the Roman Rite" by Fortescue, revised by O'Connell, and further revised by Alcuin Reid. In that, there is a reference to a document by the Congregation of the Rites in September 1958. I've always referred to it as "De Musica Sacra" because it has much in it about music. But it's actually called "De Musica Sacra et Sacra Liturgia" and it has very important elements about the liturgy too. It encourages a more active participation in the Mass. This is in 1958 before the Council, and it says that the most perfect form of celebration would when the congregation is able to sing some of the parts of the mass such as the Kyrie, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei and also respond with the server, the so-called 'dialogue Mass' of the 1950's. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Ignatius Press has published a booklet called "The Mass of Vatican II" which is a way to celebrate the Novus Ordo that is more traditional. Using Latin for the ordinary parts of the Mass, facing East, using the first Canon, and so on. We are now producing a booklet which we are calling "A Mass According to the Motu Proprio", in which, we are giving all the directives for celebrating the Mass according to the missal of 1962 but in a way that implements some of the desires the council expressed for greater participation by the faithful. The most important part of the booklet would be the introduction which has excerpts from the 1958 document.

Q: Initially and even now, the Holy Father received both copious amounts of criticism and praise (more heavy on the former than the latter) on the issue of Summorum Pontificum- why do you think it was such a polarizing document and do you see any relationship between it and the false sense of a 'spirit of Vatican II' so to speak that Benedict has alluded to often?

Fr. Fessio: Well, I don't fully understand this, but it certainly has been the case that in the past there has been a huge resistance to anything which would restore all or part of the old Mass. There's also huge resistance to saying the new Mass, the Novus Ordo, facing east, which is perfectly legitimate. The bishop does not have the authority to prohibit the celebration of the Novus Ordo in Latin- in terms of his actual authority. In terms of what actually happens of course, bishops imposed their will on this, going beyond their own authority.

But why is there such hostility toward Latin and the Mass celebrated facing East? I believe that there are people who thought the Council was a call to massive change from a sclerotic church, and they think that if you restore the old Mass, or say the new Mass facing east, you're repudiating the Council. But this is completely false. However, these people have spent the last 30-40 years of their lives committed to this vision of the Council which is not a vision of continuity but a vision of rupture. Their whole lives are being called into question. So, there's enormous resistance to this (the motu proprio). This is the reason why the pope had to do the motu proprio. It's quite possible to say the Novus Ordo in ways that are very traditional, but today, it's simply taboo.

So, the pope has said that people have a right to worship in this form (traditionally) and therefore we'll take this and make it more widespread and take it out of the hands of individual bishops. It's now in the hands of the faithful- if they want this, they are to be given it.

Q: Agreed. To that point, it seems that the spirit of Vatican II so to speak, comes from what the Holy Father refers to as the 'Copernican revolution' mentality- people believe that there's a complete overturning of the authority within the church as, so they say, it resided within the magisterium and now evenly rests in the hands of the laity, almost stripping the church of her hierarchy. Talk about the way that this has become an effort of secular humanism through 'leveling the playing field":

Fr. Fessio: I think the entire process we've seen over the last couple of hundred years has been an outgrowth of the enlightenment and rationalism. The Holy Father very clearly accepts certain positive aspects of the enlightenment... [but] he sees a narrowing of reason as the greatest problem of the west.

This liturgy (the Novus Ordo) is really a Cartesian rationalistic liturgy that instead of the dark, the mysterious, the sacred, and the opaque, even bewildering, that elicits awe and wonder, it's become didactic. It's supposed to be easily understood, in your own language, a celebration of community, a form of entertainment- this is all part of the enlightenment project. It's working out its conclusions over time.

I've got a little book by Vagagini, who was a very fine liturgical scholar, a Benedictine Monk from Maredsous in Belgium. Sometime between the Council and the Novus Ordo he wrote a book on the canons of the Mass. Basically he said that the first canon (the Roman Canon) is not adequate because it is not rational enough- it's not clearly structured enough, it was deformed by many additions and deletions, but it doesn't have a clear, concise structure. I read that- and now in hindsight, after seeing what's happened with the liturgy, this is clearly the legacy of Descartes- clear distinct ideas. Everything has to be intelligible upon first hearing. No sense of mystery.


NLM: Two things jump out at me from this interview. One is Fr. Fessio's comment about the psychology behind some of those who so adamantly resist the project of "reform in continuity" -- as well as the Motu Proprio. The second is his comment about the rationalist nature of the much post-conciliar liturgical expression.

Both ideas have been heard before of course, but they are quite pertinent.

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