Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Abbé Claude Barthe on the New Liturgical Movement

Some of our readers will no doubt be familiar with the name of Abbé Claude Barthe, a French priest, speaker at the CIEL 2006 colloquium in Oxford and author of Beyond Vatican II: The Church at a Crossroads published by Roman Catholic Books.

It came to our attention yesterday that Fr. Barthe has given an interview to Monde et Vie related to the topic of his book, published earlier this year, La messe à l'endroit - Un nouveau mouvement liturgique. (In the interests of transparency, I should note that Monde et Vie's website does not turn up this particular interview; this said, one can find it referenced on various other French language sources.)

Fr. Anthony Chadwick has done a translation of this interview on his blog, the English Catholic: For a New Liturgical Movement.

We reproduce it here in full.

* * *

1. Your most recent book (Claude Barthe, La Messe à l’endroit. Un Nouveau mouvement liturgique.), took us by surprise, because you are known as a defender of the traditional Mass, and now you are concerned about the so-called Mass of Paul VI. Why does this interest you?

Standing up for one has never prevented me, on the contrary, from being concerned about the transformation of the other, that of Paul VI. In 1997, 10 years before the Motu Proprio, I published a book of interviews, Reconstructing the liturgy. These were interviews about the situation of the liturgy in parishes. The theme is exactly that of this book. It is clear that the Motu Proprio of 2007 gave these ideas new life. This consists of remarking that the two parallel criticisms of the changes under Paul VI, namely the head-on criticism that wants to promote wide dissemination of the earlier liturgy, that of St Pius V, and the reforming criticism, which calls for the reform of the reform, wanting to make a change within the liturgy of Paul VI, are increasingly linked. The proposed reform of the reform cannot be achieved without the backbone of celebrating according to the traditional Missal as widely as possible. The traditional liturgy cannot hope to be massively rehabilitated in ordinary parishes without re-creating a living environment which would the work of the reform of the reform.

2. The “extraordinary form” traditionalists think that the Missal of Paul VI cannot be saved and that it should be discarded. Now you think it can be reformed, and even that it can be “enriched”. How?

I think first of all that it is totally unrealistic to believe that we can wave a magic wand so that all Masses are celebrated according to the former usage in every parish in the world. However, I note – with many others, some of whom are very high placed – that the missal of Paul VI contains an almost infinite possibility of options, adaptations and interpretations, and that a progressive, systematic or systematically progressive choice of the traditional possibilities it offers, makes its “re-traditionalising” possible in parishes, and quite legally (according to the letter of the law, and its spirit). This is a simple fact: of many parish priests (I have already compiled a quick list for France, which I am careful not to publish, but which is impressive) practicing this reform of the reform, often in stages, and in the vast majority of cases also celebrating the traditional Mass. To answer your question, I would say that I think the Roman liturgy can be saved, which goes, as can be seen in practice, through a two-speed action: getting the St Pius V rite better known and the reform of the reform. This will make it possible, quoting a famous speech of Paul VI, to phase out everything of the reform that is old and obsolete, because it is not traditional. We’ll see what will be saved after this operation…

3. You had us discover a wealth of relatively unknown liturgical history of the past forty years. Whilst supporters of the old Mass do not care for a reform of the new Missal, its “moderate” followers, a small minority current, are constantly promoting its reform. Could you briefly outline that position?

This is the story we could call the reforming criticism of the new missal. Briefly, and to speak only of France, we can recall that theologians like Louis Bouyer, who had actively participated in the conciliar reform, quickly came into conflict with a number of its aspects (the meaning of the celebration). The Abbey of Solesmes and, to varying degrees, some of its daughter houses, have accepted the reform, but entirely in Latin and Gregorian chant. The Community of St. Martin, of Msgr Guerin, also opted for the Missal of Paul VI, but in a very traditional interpretation. Msgr Maxime Charles, rector of the Basilica of Montmartre, and then Father Michel Gitton, who had been parish priest of St Germain l’Auxerrois in Paris, his main spiritual heir, have endeavoured to preserve what could be saved from the ruins. And, most importantly, there was the Ratzinger phenomenon. Already, in 1966, Joseph Ratzinger had intervened very severely at the Katholikentag in Bamberg about the ongoing reform. The fight against what he feels is a “false spirit of the Council” has become substantial for the one who became Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981, then Pope in 2005. Now, in matters of liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger went much further than the other reformers. We now know that he had organised a meeting of Cardinals in Rome, on November 16th 1982, “about liturgical questions”, getting all Prefects of the Congregations attending the meeting to affirm that the “old” Roman Missal should be “accepted by the Holy See in the whole Church for Masses celebrated in Latin”. In 1982, this was exactly a quarter of a century before the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

4. Your book bears the subtitle A new liturgical movement. Is this wishful thinking or fact that around Benedict XVI, who seems to be the spearhead of this reform of the reform, there is an influential group of prelates and priests who intend to push forward for the best?

Precisely, based on the works of Joseph Ratzinger (The Ratzinger Report; My life; The Spirit of the Liturgy; A new song for the Lord, The celebration of the faith), a new generation of theologians, historians of worship, often high-level officials, has been built up. They now form a circle of reform of the reform thinkers – a new liturgical movement as the Pope likes to call it – and support the motu proprio.

That being said, none of them – and especially not the first of them, the Pope – intend to promote reform of the reform by texts, decrees, and even more so by publishing a new missal to merge the two rites, a Benedict XVI missal to be added to the Pius V and Paul VI Missals. No, they want to proceed by example, exhortation, education, and more importantly, to evoke the theme of St Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, causing a healthy tension between the form known today as “ordinary” and the form known as “extraordinary”. It remains a feature of the Ratzinguerian restoration since 1985: it seeks to influence the course of conciliar events, but in an exhortatory and not coercive way. That is the way it is. The reform of the reform already exists in many parishes. It suffices to encourage, expand and especially raise it to diocesan level. It would be more fitting, that instead of it being done by priests at the bottom and the Pope at the top, for it to be the work of the bishops. Imagine the wonderful effect of restoration, not only liturgical but everything that goes with liturgy: vocations, doctrine, catechism, revival of practice, produced by a bishop, then two, then three, etc., turning the altar of their cathedral back, restoring communion kneeling, reintroducing Latin and Gregorian chant, having the traditional Mass regularly celebrated. I emphasise: this reform of the reform cannot be achieved without the widest celebration of Mass according to the traditional Missal. And, inversely, the traditional liturgy, to exist in ordinary parishes, need a spirit of retuning to traditional sources represented by the reform of the reform.

Senior officials in favour of this new liturgical movement also willingly encourage: the reduction of the number of concelebrants and even of concelebrations, reducing the number of Eucharistic prayers “revealing a worrying situation, especially as their almost unbearable quality and theological orthodoxy”, reintroducing elements of the traditional Mass in the many ritual “holes” of the form of Paul VI (genuflections, kissing the altar, very ancient signs of the cross during the Canon), the replacement of masses gathering huge masses of followers, where worship becomes a demonstration, certainly piously intended but not liturgical, by Holy Hours, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the restoration of a sign of peace as a sacred action and not a sign of social courtesy, etc.

This book brought me also many positive reactions from priests. All corrective ideas are good provided they are put into practice and do not remain wishful thinking. They come overwhelmingly from parish priests who celebrate both the old and new forms of Mass. 40 years after this unprecedented upheaval in the history of the Roman Rite represented by the reform of Paul VI, and amid the ruins of secularisation in the Catholic world that it did not – at least – prevent, it is clear that there is a climate of “return”, although by a minority, but just waiting to grow. Of course, the liturgy is only one of these aspects, but by the nature of the liturgy, it is a very significant aspect.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: