Sunday, February 10, 2008

George Weigel reviews Marini's "A Challenging Reform"

A good friend of the NLM pointed out this piece in the Denver Catholic Register; a review by George Wiegel of Archbishop Piero Marini's book, A Challenging Reform. A couple of comments to follow.

Archbishop Marini on the liturgy wars

By George Weigel

Those seeking insight into the ideas that shaped the Missal of Paul VI, the revised breviary, and other facets of the Church’s post-Vatican II liturgy will have to look elsewhere than A Challenging Reform by Archbishop Piero Marini, Master of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies from 1987 until 2007 (Liturgical Press).

Oddly, coming from a man of strong convictions, Marini’s tale is bureaucratic rather than substantive – a lumbering walk through the maneuvers by which the “Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (an entity created by Pope Paul VI) wrested control of the reform process from the Curia’s Congregation for Rites and held the bit in its teeth for a crucial five-year period, 1964-1969. By the end of that half-decade, the Consilium’s de facto leader, the energetic Italian Vincentian Annibale Bugnini, had achieved a lot of his ambition to re-cast the Roman Rite in a dramatic way.

Bugnini’s star eventually began to fade, though, and in 1975 he was exiled to the ecclesiastical Siberia of the Vatican nunciature in Tehran. There, he wrote an apologia in the form of an enormous book, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975. Its most memorable moment is Bugnini’s description of using a stopwatch to time the performance of several experimental revisions of the Mass, conducted before Paul VI in the Matilde Chapel of the apostolic palace.

Alas, even as a tale of Vatican intrigue, A Challenging Reform is dull, duller, dullest. The excruciating detail of who-went-to-what-meeting is one problem. Another, and worse, is that Marini’s characters are cartoons: good reformers, wicked reactionaries, all seemingly devoid of ideas and arguments. Not only does Marini fail to give an account of the so-called reactionaries’ ideas; he doesn’t explore the ideas and personalities of the reformers, the party in which he was then a junior subaltern. Moreover, at the end of the day we’re still in the dark about the two crucial questions emerging from this drama: What accounts for Annibale Bugnini’s hold on Paul VI from 1964 until at least 1972, when he was ordained bishop by the pope? And what explains Archbishop Bugnini’s subsequent fall from favor and his exile to the Persian hinterlands? Marini gently suggests that his mentor and hero may have overreached at a time when the pope was becoming exhausted. But how does that square with Paul VI’s evidently high regard for Bugnini in the crucial period 1964-69?

Archbishop Marini’s filial piety toward Bugnini and his commitment to Bugnini’s cause lead him to claims that will strike some readers as contradictory. He insists that Bugnini achieved a historical reform “that was an answer to the needs of the whole Church rather than simply an expression of its central bureaucracy.” Yet he also argues that “it was...necessary to change the attitudes of both the clergy and the lay faithful to enable them to grasp the purposes of the reform.” Huh? The “clergy and lay faithful” were unable, unaided, to “grasp the purpose” of a reform that was “an answer to the needs of the whole Church”?

Certain Curial elements, having lost the debate on the floor of the Council, undoubtedly tried to block bureaucratically what the bishops of Vatican II had strongly endorsed: a reform of the Roman Rite. The fundamental flaw in Marini’s account, however, lies in his unexamined assumption that a reformed liturgy devised abstractly by “experts” (a recurring noun in the book) would necessarily respond to “the needs of the whole Church” (even if a considerable chunk of the “whole Church” would have to be, er, re-educated, in order to appreciate that their spiritual needs were now being met). The mental image of Bugnini and his stopwatch is hard to erase: this was organic, developmental reform, building on the achievements of the liturgical movement throughout the 20th century?

I am no nostalgic in the matter of the pre-conciliar liturgy. The point today is to reform the reform, not effect a liturgical Thermidor in a futile attempt to recapture an often mis-remembered past. Surely, however, the “challenging reform” of the 21st century requires an account of 1964-69 that’s something more than cowboys-and-Indians, Vatican-style.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Weigel’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver.


Some very good insights to be found here.

I did wish to offer a couple of thoughts about Weigel's concluding paragraph:

"I am no nostalgic in the matter of the pre-conciliar liturgy. The point today is to reform the reform, not effect a liturgical Thermidor in a futile attempt to recapture an often mis-remembered past."

First, let me state where I agree with Weigel. We should not construct golden-ages that fail to recognize that, for all that was good, there were liturgical issues that needed to be addressed -- the prevalence of the Low Mass as one good example. An honest remembrance of that past will not vilify it, but neither will it turn it into a liturgical Utopia. As well, we should not seek to immobilize the liturgy -- what I take Weigel to mean when he speaks of "a liturgical Thermidor".

This said, I'd like to suggest that this is by no means indicative of what the usus antiquior movement is about, nor is it necessarily representative of those who make their home in it. (In strict fairness, Weigel doesn't make that claim, but there is, arguably, an implication that could be derived from his statement to that effect -- which may well not be his intention.) There may well be some who do take up such positions, but there many others whose interest has nothing to do with self-perceived golden-ages but rather with a fundamental appreciation of the richness of the ancient Roman rite in its own right and a recognition of the issues at the heart of the liturgical reform as it occurred.

Further, (and again, Weigel may not be intending to say anything otherwise) I think it important to recall that the usus antiquior is a living liturgy that is part of the life of the Church today. While it is an ancient liturgy, it is not simply a pre-conciliar liturgy and is not, in and of itself, a thermidor in that regard -- something all the more driven home recently. In the same vein, whatever may have been lack-lustre in its celebration in the decades leading up to the Council, this is not indicative of the way it is celebrated today -- an important point, for as many would comment it does have a tendency toward a more routine expression of the richness of the venerable Roman liturgical tradition as well as manifesting much of what was best in the 20th century liturgical movement.

Finally, I think it important to keep a "Benedictine" view of the matter; the usus antiquior is neither a marginal note in the life of the Church, nor is it separate from the much needed reform of the reform. While it has value in its own right ("sacred then and sacred now" to paraphrase Benedict) it is a very central and important player in that equation as well.

Overall, I think we must be careful to avoid anything that might seem to marginalize the one or the other movement. Both the usus antiquior movement and the reform of the reform movement have an important place. I would daresay that in Benedict's view they both have a central place in this question, even if they approach the problem from different angles.

All that said, I enjoyed Weigel's critical insights about Marini's book.

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