Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fr. Joseph Fessio speaks to the NLM about the Usus Antiquior and the Reform of the Reform

NLM Preface

One of the issues of recent decades was that within the movements for liturgical continuity and tradition, the "reform of the reform" and usus antiquior movements came to understand themselves in fairly defined "silos". The reform of the reform was about the modern Roman liturgy; the usus antiquior movement was about the ancient form of the Roman liturgy.

It is arguable that this vision was defined by the realities that shaped the times. They were in their infancy and adolescence, and their approaches and ideas were formed by the liturgical climates and law of those periods.

The ancient form of the liturgy was understood as an indult and so it required special episcopal permission for a priest to even celebrate it. This created a barrier, both in terms of practice and also psychologically. To even practice it would require effort to gain that permission, but perhaps greater still was this status of "indult" which had a negative connotation as an exemption to the law -- in other words, from what should otherwise be so. Beyond that, there yet remained in those times a greater defensiveness about the Second Vatican Council even as regards it implementation; it was rather a "sacred cow" if you will in terms of critical questions being asked, and to celebrate the older form of liturgy bore with it a stigma of rejection of the Council (something not entirely yet absent, but still greater in earlier decades.) Each of these aspects could cause a priest concerned about continuity in the liturgy to at least ask themselves whether they shouldn't rather just focus upon the modern Roman missal therefore. Of course, others may have not just made a strategic decision, but could have even had their own principles formed by these ideas. In other words, they may have themselves determined that this was the wrong area to focus.

On the other side, the usus antiquior was a movement that faced extreme marginalization, such that they might have been classed as "the new lepers", pushed to the fringes of ecclesial life and fighting against the stigmas mentioned above -- and in some cases, even acquiescing to those stigmas. Further, those attached to the ancient form of the liturgy were likewise themselves the subject of polemics, which couldn't help but to foster a climate of polemicism generally. Beyond that, the climate of restless liturgical change (likewise still not absent) created a certain understandable, principled protectiveness and defenseness about liturgical development generally, resulting as well in a certain stand-offishness about the reform of the reform or most anything to do with the by-products of liturgical change. Each of these things helped to shape the earliest form of the usus antiquior movement, which couldn't help but to contribute as well to the siloed approach of which I speak.

Now, there was a softening of these lines and a greater amount of cooperation since Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, but it is particularly with the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum that we are now finally at the beginning of a new stage of evolution in which we can begin to see even greater cooperation and mutual advancement. For one thing, this idea of an "indult" has been erased. Whether or not the "ordinary form" of the Roman liturgy hits more of the faithful, the "extraordinary form" is of no less centricity in the life of the Church and is not a second-class citizen within it. Second, the aspect of episcopal permission has also been erased. Priests and parishes may decide for themselves. By consequence, what one sees is more priests who have, to date, celebrated the modern form of the liturgy exclusively, picking up upon the ancient form of the liturgy. All of this constitutes a de-marginalization of this form of the liturgy, and suddenly communities and priests who have been more exclusively dedicated to this form are finding themselves in greater demand -- thus making them less marginalized as well.

In both cases, what we are seeing is that factors are now put in place that are beginning to change the climate that had been established previously, allowing for the beginnings of a greater trust and cooperation. You will note I speak of beginnings. What has been developed over a few decades cannot be erased overnight. There will still be elements of mistrust that will be manifest and need to be overcome and this will only happen with time and particularly with new generations who don't carry the weight of the same baggage as those who have been involved in these matters for decades. That said, as with Benedict's own liturgical reforms at the Vatican, so too in this area are things seemingly happening at a fairly rapid speed, all things considered.

The common thread found between these two movements is the recognition of a problem; a problem of rupture. There is a recognition that the liturgy is not as it ought to be, not only in practice, but that there are even problems within the very liturgical reform itself.

The reform of the reform for its part recognizes the need to re-reform a missal (and parish practice) that effects most of our Roman rite parishes and faithful at this time. The usus antiquior movement recognizes a need to preserve, promote and foster the ancient Roman liturgical tradition, continuing to make that received Roman liturgical tradition a living, breathing reality giving witness to the liturgical tradition of the Roman church.

One example of this fading of the lines might be seen in the many reform of the reform parishes and priests who have taken up the usus antiquior or are at least learning about it.

Recently the NLM reported upon the fact that Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. has started to offer the usus antiquior in a regular way -- in addition to his celebration of the modern form of the Roman liturgy. We deemed this significant because Fr. Fessio was one of the founding proponents of the reform of the reform and one of its leading voices in the English speaking world. Few people are as identifiable with that movement as is he and yet here he was "going unto the altar of God, to God who gives joy unto my youth" according to the 1962 liturgical books. Precisely because of his intimate involvement with the reform of the reform, some might have seen his celebration of the usus antiquior as rather surprising; perhaps even a contradiction. Of course, this idea is informed by the very approach of which we have been speaking.

It seems to me that Fr. Fessio, by his actions, is speaking to his own understanding that there is no contradiction between advocating the reform of the reform and likewise celebrating the ancient form of the Roman liturgy. Indeed, far from being contradictory it is rather complementary and strategically smart. After all, the usus antiquor, besides being a necessary point of reference to any deeper reform of the modern Roman missal, can likewise be a leaven for the reform of the reform. This aspect clearly comes out in the thought of Ratzinger-Benedict who likewise has never made a harsh distinction between these two liturgical movements.

Beyond that, it is also seem to me to be a recognition of the liturgical value of this form of the Roman liturgy.

Bearing that in mind, the New Liturgical Movement determined to speak to Fr. Fessio, not so much about the motu proprio itself (we touch upon this, but this is a topic he has already spoken publically about quite a bit) but rather about the nature of the reform of the reform, his view of the usus antiquior both generally and in relation to the reform of the reform, and also what deeper reforms he would like to see as regards the Missal of Paul VI.

Here is that discussion.

The Interview

NLM: Fr. Fessio, sometimes the "reform of the reform" is understood as simply meaning improving the music and general ethos of the celebration of the modern Roman liturgy -- something that is very important of course. Others propose that this is only one aspect of the reform of the reform, and that there is also a need to propose reforms of the modern liturgical books themselves. What is your thought on the matter?

Fr. Fessio: First, let me give a general overview of my view of the “Reform of the Reform” with respect to the Moto Proprio and the easing of restrictions on the celebration of Mass according to the Missal of 1962.

Behind the idea of the “Reform of the Reform” is the fact that the implementation of the renewal of the liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council went far beyond what the Council anticipated and constituted what Cardinal Ratzinger called a “breach” or “rupture” in the liturgical tradition that was unprecedented. What was intended to be organic growth was replaced by a “fabrication” of the professoriate. This was the reform that needed to be reformed. To reform it meant to bring it back into continuity with tradition to the extent possible.

This idea of reform of the reform led Ignatius Press to publish a booklet called “The Mass of Vatican II” which is simply the Mass of the Missal of 1969, which has many options, celebrated in such a way that wherever there is an option, the one chosen is the one most in continuity with the Missal of 1962. So for example, having at least the ordinary parts of the Mass in Latin, facing East, using the Roman Canon, having Gregorian Chant, using an altar rail for people to kneel at Communion, etc.

As you can see, this reform of the reform was a way of bringing the form of celebration of the 1969 missal more in harmony with the previous form of celebration of the 1962 missal. However, what is implied here is that there are people who believe in organic growth, in liturgical continuity, and also believe that the Second Vatican Council—while it might have been called at a time which later proved to be unpropitious--is nevertheless a valid Council called by the Church, whose declarations on the liturgy represent the authentic mind of the Church. The reform of the reform is an attempt to approximate, from within the Novus Ordo, what the 1962 Missal would have become had it undergone a modest and organic reform guided by the explicit demands of the Council. We think, therefore, that the 1962 missal was meant to remain within a living tradition where the typical organic growth could continue within the liturgy.

It is demonstrable that the Holy Father did not want simply to restore the status quo ante in giving permission to all priests and stable groups of the faithful to have the Missal of 1962. In his covering letter he specifically talked about mutual enrichment in which there could be some changes to the 1962 missal. In the Motu Proprio itself, he gave permission for the readings to be in the vernacular. In his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy," he says that some of the reforms of the last century should not be rejected. He specifically mentions moving the altar away from the apse towards the transept, the separation of the ambo from the altar, and having the readings in the vernacular.

Therefore, I think it is more than arguable that the Holy Father’s intent is that the Mass should celebrated in a way somewhere in between the Missal of 1962 as it was in 1962 and the Missal of 1969 as it is celebrated today. There can be great differences of opinion on where that in between point is. But you can get to the point from two directions. 1) From the Missal of 1969 moving backward, by reforming the reform; or 2) by taking the Missal of 1962 and moving forward using the Second Vatican Council as a hermeneutical guide for continuity and organic growth.

NLM: There is evidently merit and necessity in approaching the matter of the liturgy from the starting point of either Missal, would you agree?

Fr. Fessio:
Yes. Let’s have a “pincer movement” and close the gap between the two Missals. But taking seriously paragraph 23 of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing”.

NLM: Some believe that the spread of the "usus antiquior" into parish liturgical life, or even just the fact of priests learning about the "usus antiquior", aside from being of benefit to those attached to that form of the Roman liturgy, can also be a leaven for the reform of the reform. Does the new situation created for priests and parishes by the motu proprio create new terms in which we should strategically look at and consider the project of reforming the reform? Would you say that the "usus antiquor" is even a contributor in the project of reforming the reform?

Fr. Fessio: I do think that the spread of the use of “usus antiquior” in parish liturgical life will in fact act as a leaven. I can say from my own experience now that learning to celebrate the extraordinary form has already affected the way I celebrate the Novus Ordo.

NLM: How so? Can you elaborate what your own personal experience has been so far in this regard?

Fr. Fessio:
For example, when possible I recite the prayers at the foot of the altar as I’m approaching the altar. I make the sign of the cross with the paten and chalice before placing them on the corporal at the offertory. I add the prayer “Corpus tuum quod sumpsi” after the “Quod ore sumpsimus” during the ablutions.

NLM: Focusing just upon the "extraordinary form", do you think this liturgical form has an important place in the life of the Church even just in its own regard?

Fr. Fessio: I do think that the “extraordinary form” has a value in itself. As the Holy Father pointed out, it has never been abolished. And there is certainly great diversity, at least potentially, in the way of celebrating the Novus Ordo. Of course, that’s one of the problems Cardinal Ratzinger has pointed out: there is too much diversity in the Novus Ordo. Since some may not know just what he said, I’ll summarize it here in his own words. “In the new Missal we find formulae such as: sacerdos dicit sic vel simili mode [the priest says this or something similar] or, Hic sacerdos potest dicere…[Here the priest can say…] These formulae of the Missal give official sanction to creativity…and with this false creativity…the liturgical unity and ecclesiality of the Liturgy is being destroyed.”

However, if we are going to have such unwarranted diversity within the new Missal, why not have this additional, more traditional, element of diversity as well?

NLM: You've recently started to celebrate the ancient Roman liturgy. Although this is still a fairly recent development, have you found anything in the texts or ceremonies of that Missal that has particularly struck you on a liturgical or spiritual level?

Fr. Fessio: You asked whether I have any personal preferences as a result of celebrating both the extraordinary form and the Novus Ordo. I would like to see the prayers at the foot of the altar restored with the people able to make the responses with the server. As a matter of fact, this was permitted at least as early as 1958 when this was proposed as the “most perfect form” of participation by the faithful in the Mass at that time. I think that the offertory prayers are richer and more inspiring than the Novus Ordo offertory prayers. And I think preparation for Communion is also more beautiful. I am sure I will raise the ire of some proponents of the 1962 missal when I say that I do think that the last Gospel is an accretion which should be eliminated. I also think that having the priest and the server/congregation recite the Confiteor together is quite appropriate. And I would say that between the Novus Ordo celebrated in Latin in the most traditional way, and the extraordinary form celebrated as a Dialogue Mass done without the Leonine prayers (which are not in the Missal of 1962) the “gap” between the two forms is significantly reduced. And the sense of continuity much more obvious. This, I think is a path to “mutually enriching” forms which can lead to an “interior reconciliation”—these being, in my opinion, the critical phrases for interpreting the motu proprio.

NLM: There are of course other aspects with regard to that "gap" that liturgical scholars in particular raise -- in addition to the one we just addressed about the many options found within the modern liturgy -- particularly as regards the revision of the prayers and some aspects of the structure of the liturgy and its ceremonies. Would you agree that while that approach helps reduce the gap, it is only the first step and there yet remains substantive liturgical issues that need to be addressed beyond that?

Fr. Fessio:
Yes, I would. The whole cycle of readings, for example. I’m not sure where a re-thinking of this would lead. The 1970 Lectionary does have more selections from Scripture, and the Council explicitly called for this. But having a 3-year cycle for Sunday has a number of disadvantages: it eliminates the immemorial association of specific texts with Sunday Masses, which is of particular concern on certain Sundays and Feastdays; the second Sunday reading is continuous and only occasionally and co-incidentally fits well with the First Reading and Gospel. Again, the principle should be: start with the 1962 Lectionary; consider how best to make the changes called for by the Council; always keep in mind Sacrosanctum Concilium no.23 (no innovation unless genuinely and certainly necessary for the good of the Church; and always in an organic way).

There is a twofold problem with the proper prayers, especially the Collects. The Latin prayers have been changed, often with a loss of theological and stylistic richness; and the English translations are very inadequate—to put the matter as gently as possible.

NLM: Aside from the texts of the Missal itself, there were other reforms that occurred following the Council. One example was the suppression of the subdiaconate and also the modification of the "four minor orders"; another was the revision of the liturgical seasons. Do you believe the reform of the reform should look critically at those revisions as well and do you have a personal position on whether it might be desireable to consider restoring some or all of these things as part of a reform of the reform?

Fr. Fessio: I really have not thought about the possible restoration of the minor orders. [As for the calendar] the phrase “Ordinary Time” says it all. Even the Latin “per annum” is etiolated. Why not the sturdy, colorful “Nth week after Pentecost”? And why not the mysterious, beckoning “Septuagesima Sunday”? And while we’re at it, let’s get back to celebrating Holy Days on the Holy Days. Not: “Ascension Thursday will be celebrated on Sunday in this diocese”. Just at the time when the Church is the last remaining bulwark against the radical secularization of culture, our leaders succumb to a pandemic of timidity.

NLM: What aspects of the post-conciliar Missal do you personally consider the most in keeping with Sacrosanctum Concilium and what the Council Fathers seemed to have intended?

Fr. Fessio:
You can find them all in Sacrosanctum Concilium (50-58): Distinguishing the Liturgy of the Word from the Liturgy of the Eucharist; some simplification; more of Scripture in the daily readings; encouragement of the homily; limited use of the vernacular, particularly for the readings; and yes, for those of us living in a community of priests, concelebration.

NLM: A final question. Under the new papal master of ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, we have seen Pope Benedict again begin to use more ornate forms of vestments, and we have also seen a return of the central altar cross and traditional candlestick arrangement, and even the celebration of Mass to the liturgical East in the Sistine Chapel. In your estimation, how important do you think this papal liturgical practice is in terms of effecting liturgical practice at the parish level and helping push forward the reform of the reform?

Fr. Fessio:
Well, it can’t hurt. It certainly gives support to those priests who for so long have quietly longed to celebrate in a more traditional way.

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