Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Reform of the Reform: Quo Vadis?

It cannot pass without notice that a great deal of news in the domain of the liturgy relates to the usus antiquior at this moment -- with the notable exception of the papal liturgies. To some extent, this is hardly surprising, because the motu proprio set forth a new reality in the Church and we are as of yet only seeing the very earliest stages of this being appropriated into the life of the Church. It should come as little surprise therefore that there would be much activity in this area.

But some Reform of the Reformists may be rather torn about what to think of this -- and understandably so. The question might be asked: does the growing activity and mainstreaming in relation to the usus antiquior represent an abandonment of the reform of the reform?

Before looking at that, it bears minding the precise reasons we are seeing this activity. It seems quite straightforward: something profound has been changed by the Pope's motu proprio. Summorum Pontificum was not only a legal clarification, it was also a teaching moment. Both aspects are important and effectual, with the former giving impetus to the rights granted by the Church to her priests and faithful, while the latter taught all alike about rejecting any sense of rupture in favour of continuity. This new reality put into motion a kind of momentum for the usus antiquior when it made it clear that it was a part of the mainstream life of the Church, to be treasured and to be available, explored and lived accordingly. By removing the stigma and burden of permission that went along with the former indult, a whole new set of liturgical delicacies were opened up to priests and seminarians that formerly seemed distant, unapproachable and marginalizing if partaken of.

When this changed and the Supreme Pontiff made clear there was no stigma rightly to be attached to these things, the floodgates began to open -- and thankfully so. (As one priest friend put it to me, it was as though there was a collective sigh of relief at the resolution of this liturgical tension.) Never mind for a moment the struggle of some in the reform of the reform to adapt to this new situation, even some traditionalists (and let us note, only some) have interpreted at least some of this with some suspicions of their own, seeing this influx of interest as being simply being an expression of trendiness. But I believe that this response -- aside from lacking an apostolic and evangelical sense -- underestimates just how important, dare I even say revolutionary, the legal clarifications and teaching of the motu proprio have been. One needs to be honest; the former classification as an "indult" was confusing and marginalizing whatever might have been said about "rightful aspirations" (cf. Ecclesia Dei Adflicta). The shift away from that has indeed altered the liturgical landscape as The Catholic Herald recently put it.

The climate of the former decades was such that while the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books as it is often popularly referred) fell by the wayside, one might have been forgiven if one felt as though the only thing that was a forbidden book was a pre-conciliar liturgical book. This is, of course, what Summorum Pontificum justly corrected both legally and catechetically. With that clarification and teaching now in place, liturgical doors were quickly opened and one might say, to borrow the phrase of John XXIII, that the windows were thrown open to allow the fresh air of liturgical tradition to again more freely blow through the Church.

What has happened since then is the frequent reporting of priests and seminarians learning and celebrating the usus antiquior, and this leads us back to our question: where is the reform of the reform in all this? Has it been left behind? Not at all, but we can say that the strategies and options for pursuing the reform of the reform have both expanded and evolved with this new situation.

We need to ensure we don't place a divide between the reform of the reform and the usus antiquior. It has often been observed that in order to pursue that very project of reform, it logically makes sense that it proceed from the liturgical tradition of the Church as it was expressed prior to the Council. There is no better way to accomplish this than by an experiential and working knowledge of the same. In this regard, one can no doubt see the hand of Providence at work and one can understand that there is in fact a relationship between the two. The growth of the one will help assist the advancement of the other -- and vice versa.

Additionally there is also something both pragmatic and strategic in this development. The project of reforming the reform is naturally one of degrees and stages. The reasoning for this ranges from pastoral considerations to the roadblocks put up by ideological opposition resistant to perceived "backsliding". The former requires a certain studied approach so as not to confuse the faithful, and the latter can create a climate of tension within a particular diocese that makes it more difficult for a priest to enact reforms in his parish liturgy. Formerly this same opposition touched also upon the usus antiquior and would manifest itself when permissions were needed to celebrate it, but in the post-Summorum Pontificum era, this has been significantly changed -- and even if there are still pockets of resistance, and there most certainly are, that resistance has been substantially enfeebled.

Accordingly, many priests may find it not only desireable in and of itself to learn and celebrate the usus antiquior (and why wouldn't they after all?), they may also find it advantageous, given the aforementioned issues, to begin the project of re-forming the faithful and re-enchanting the liturgy of his parish precisely by introducing the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum into their own parish and priestly life. With that immediately comes various desireable elements, such as a clear verticality of worship, ad orientem, the use of the Latin language, the use of chant and so on. In this way, they get a "quick win" that will help their liturgical life and that of the parish immediately, while also providing a framework that strategically begins to prepare the soil for planting of some of these liturgical elements in his other parish liturgies in the modern form. In addition, this usage further helps lay the groundwork for the deeper, structural reforms that the reform of the reform is interested in.

Of course, all of this requires that a parish priest does indeed make that leap, be it sooner or later, and this is where the example of the Pope is a particularly important as a source of encouragement and an example to follow. Above all we must all avoid submitting to any false distinction which sees the ordinary form as ontologically about the vernacular, versus populum or a generally more modern and horizontal form of worship. Issues of sacred music, sacred orientation, organic development and the like span all rites of the Church (Eastern and Western) and are not sole preserve of this or that rite or "form".

So then, I would encourage all to take heart at these developments, understanding that the flurry of activity being seen on the grass roots level in relation to the usus antiquior is good for both projects. It is not an either-or but is instead an evolution and expansion; it is a sign of the advance and growth of the ancient Roman liturgy, indeed, and it is also a new and effectual enabler for the reform of the reform, preparing the foundation and setting the direction to which it must go in both the short-term (ethos) and long-term (structural reform).

I would encourage our priests and seminarians then to not exclude the usus antiquior from their aspirations of pursuing a reform of the reform; learn it and celebrate it. Likewise, I would encourage them to not to fail to take their example from the Pope and Msgr. Marini, working toward the re-orientation, re-enchantment and re-connection of the ordinary form with the Roman liturgical tradition as it has been received over and through the centuries.

Many are indeed doing just that, and so it seems no exaggeration to suggest that the future has never looked brighter for both the usus antiquior and the reform of the reform.

Post Scriptum

This piece has been focused upon those interested in reforming the reform and the relation of that to the usus antiquior but I would like to make clear that this does not mean to imply there is anything wrong about a priest or parish determining they wish to focus upon worshipping in the context of the ancient liturgy.

Indeed, while we should all be interested in the project of reforming the reform, there is yet nothing wrong with such a focus and such actions or decisions are still of merit, not only to the individuals who have so chosen, but to the Church generally. Anywhere decorum and dignity of worship is pursued, it is of help to the Mystical Body of Christ and contributes to the building up of it.

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