Monday, May 25, 2009

The Reform of the Reform: Looking Ahead

The recent installation of Archbishop Vincent Nichols to Westminster was a liturgical event which inspired a very great deal of positive reaction in relation to the ceremonies and sacred music which were seen and heard there. By consequence, this has quite rightly brought some focus and attention back upon the specific question of the modern Roman liturgy and the matter of the reform of the reform.

Not, mind you, that it was ever forgotten of course, but since the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, much attention has been understandably focused on the beginnings of the adoption of the usus antiquior in a broader way within ecclesial life. Much attention has been given to training sessions for clergy, to the appearance of the usus antiquior within the context of parish life -- from seminaries and cathedral churches to the small rural parish. Given the significant opportunities that were afforded by this new situation, not to mention its potential import upon the liturgy generally, this was indeed as it should have been. But of course, as the months and years move past, while all these things will no doubt continue and while much work remains to be done, we have also moved past the initial time when these events were news by reason of their novelty, to a time when it has become a normal, if growing, aspect and expectation of modern ecclesial life.

Of course, a matter which needs emphasis (and re-emphasis) is that this post-motu proprio situation has been and is to the benefit and advancement of both the project of the usus antiquior and to the project of the reform of the reform. This is so by virtue of the fact that it can help, and already has begun to help with a re-familiarization with the forms of the Roman liturgical tradition as they were prior to the liturgical reforms -- as well as some other practical benefits. This familiarity will help to serve as a solid foundation for the project of the reform of the reform. This is particularly important for generations who have had no familiarity with the pre-conciliar forms, thus making it difficult for the priests of those generations in particular to have much in the way of a point of reference for what might be entailed as part of their pursuit of reform of the reform -- and beyond this, it might be pointed out that liturgical praxis was not always what it might have been prior to the Council, so this re-approach can be useful even to those who do have a living memory of the pre-conciliar age.

This leads us to another important point. Namely, we have to understand what the idea of a reform of the reform entails. There is certainly no single, definitive definition it must be noted, and some variations have developed over the years (informal schools of thought one might say), but this said, it is important to recall that in its origins, it meant not only the consideration of the external dimensions of the liturgy, or faithfully following of the texts and rubrics (though evidently both of these form an important part of it) it also meant something further and deeper; an actual consideration of the texts and ceremonies of the Pauline missal in the light of the pre-conciliar form of the Roman Missal and the desires of the Council Fathers expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium with regard to it -- and here we could perhaps begin to reflect upon the Pope's own proposition of mutual enrichment, what that might entail and how it might mesh in relation to the concept of the reform of the reform; this matter is now in need of serious consideration.

Of course, the question of how to go about the pursuit of the reform of the reform is often one of no little debate; likewise, the question of what that might specifically entail is also a question for study and reflection. Further, as regards Sacrosanctum Concilium itself, legitimate questions might be asked, as for example, in the preliminary considerations of Dr. Alcuin Reid on this subject. But that we should give serious consideration and focus to the Missa normativa, to the most common form of liturgical worship found within our Roman rite parishes and cathedrals, and that we should pursue what we can today, this should be a matter of common sense I should think.

A part of this will involve study and I would suggest that study should include an intimate familiarization with the Roman liturgical tradition and a contextual awareness of the principles that informed the early Liturgical Movement.

But aside from the activity of study and reflection, the question then may well be asked, what might we do here and now within the context of modern Roman liturgical books?

Some of the greatest models for the active and advanced pursuit of the reform of the reform today are to be found in the English Oratories of London, Birmingham and Oxford, as well as that of Toronto. Outside of these, the parish of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Church of Our Saviour in New York City, and that of St. John Cantius in Chicago all come to mind as well. A smaller scale example might be found in the likes of a St. Gabriel's in Stamford, Connecticut. There are of course others, but these should be considered -- and if possible, experienced and consulted.

It would also be possible to present a litany of practical ideas for pursuing the reform of the reform in our present day context, but these have been covered off on more than one occasion here and elsewhere; liturgical orientation, sacred music, sanctuary appointments, so on and so forth. But if I were to highlight some further aspects that are not so commonly spoken of, the first would be what has already been discussed at the beginning of this article, and that is, whether in regular or occasional public celebration -- or even simply in private Masses -- an important contribution can be made by familiarity with the Roman liturgical tradition as it was practiced prior to the Pauline reforms. A parish or priest seeking to implement the reform of the reform today would do well, in other words, to ensure that the usus antiquior has at least some strategic presence as a part of their reform of the reform projects. While the pre-Benedictine situation did not permit this to the same degree, to not avail oneself of these possibilities today would seem rather incomplete and an impoverishment.

Moving beyond the individual instances, the reform of the reform as a movement needs to come together further as a visible entity, similar to what might be seen with regard to the usus antiquior. To a certain extent some of this exists, insofar as there are some publications out there which do focus upon the reform of the reform, but one certainly has the sense of greater possibilities and potentialities in this regard: more accessible and visible resources for clergy and laity, local and national reform of the reform societies, directories and a greater internet presence -- particularly in the form of the active promotion of reform of the reform liturgies through photo and video, which will have the ability to capture the hearts and minds of people.

There are many possibilities of course, and there is much work to be accomplished. In his pontificate, Pope Benedict has significantly shifted the landscape, and it remains for us to help him in his project of liturgical reform.

Duc in altum.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: