Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book Review: The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite

As a tribute to the late László Dobszay, I share with our readers my review of his book, The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite, which review first appeared in the journal Usus Antiquior 2:1 (2011) pp. 69-87. I gratefully acknowledge the kind permission of Maney Publishing and the Society of St Catherine of Siena to reproduce this review on NLM. For the online version of Usus Antiquior, go to

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László Dobszay, The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite. Edited by Laurence Paul Hemming. London: Continuum/T&T Clark International, 2010. Pp. xxiii + 277. ISBN: 978-0-567-03385-7 (HB), 978-0-567-03386-4 (PB)

László Dobszay is a Catholic layman who has dedicated his life to the study of music and the sacred liturgy. He is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, founder and Professor emeritus of the Church Music Department of the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in Budapest, and co-founder of the Schola Hungarica. His first book on the liturgy – which, he confides, was also ‘my first venture into English’ [xxii] – originated as a series of papers published in the American journal Sacred Music. Entitled The Bugnini-Liturgy and the ‘Reform of the Reform’ (2003), it is a comprehensive analysis of the sweeping changes that had been made to Roman Catholic worship after the Second Vatican Council, dealing not only with the Mass but also with the Divine Office, the rites of Holy Week, and the changes involving the Church’s musical life. Reading it, I was deeply impressed by the author’s robust knowledge of the Roman tradition as fluently applied to the present circumstance. The same proficiency is evident in The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite, which aims to provide ‘an explanation of a standpoint rather than a scientific survey’ [xxiii], with a focus on what the future might hold for the liturgy of the Catholic Church in the West. That standpoint is what Pope Benedict XVI calls the ‘hermeneutic of continuity in reform,’ according to which authentic liturgical development preserves substantial continuity with the past while remaining open to growth. In the author’s words: ‘Stability and “liquidity” can both be equally present in the life of a rite’ [3].

Dobszay avows what is arguably the most damning indictment of the reform of the liturgy following Vatican II, namely, that it caused “a ‘break’ in the liturgy, an interruption of the continuous development of the Roman Rite” [xxi]. He is not the first to say so. Many authors, most notably the Regensburg scholar Mgr Klaus Gamber (d. 1989), have asserted that the liturgical books promulgated by Pope Paul VI do not represent a properly organic development or reform of the Roman Rite, as called for by §23 of the 1963 Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. Accordingly, when speaking of the post-conciliar liturgy one should be cautious ‘not only with the use of the attribute “Roman” but also with the epithet “Conciliar”’ [21]. (Dobszay’s preferred term is ‘Neo-Roman.’) What, then, to make of the assertion, in Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of 2007, that the 1962 Missal of John XXIII (in use immediately before and during the Council) and the 1970 Missal of Paul VI represent two forms of one and the same Roman Rite? For Dobszay, the formula ‘two forms, one rite’ is possibly valid on pastoral and juridical grounds (as attempts, respectively, to ease anxieties about bi-ritualism and to acknowledge both missals as legitimate options for celebrating Mass in the churches of the Western or Roman Patriarchate), but it is untrue with regard to the content of the liturgical books. Here we come to the nub of the author’s effort to substantiate the ‘rupture’ thesis that has become a prolegomenon to criticism of the post-conciliar reform.

Dobszay’s main concern is the essential material of the Roman Rite (and not only the Mass), rather than the differences in theological accents between its two forms, or the immediately perceptible differences in the way each form is typically celebrated (especially as regards language and orientation). Phenomenological, pastoral, and even theological observations distract from the real differences between the traditional and revised orders of liturgy. The focal concern is thus with the liturgy qua liturgy, which is neither ‘a specified body of dogmatic statements, nor… a source of pastoral efficiency’ [xxii], but rather a living organism with ‘its proper vocabulary, grammar, rhythm and rhetoric’ [39], ‘its own laws of evolution’ against which any proposed solutions must be measured [xxii]. To this we now turn.

While much attention has been given to the changes in the Ordo Missae (for reasons that Dobszay explains in the chapter entitled ‘Objections’), the changes in the Proprium Missae are more significant, both quantitatively and qualitatively: ‘The Roman Rite is incarnated more in the Propers than in the Order of Mass’ [48]. The recasting of the Sacramentary – ‘the most Roman component of the classical Roman Rite’ [201] – was unwarranted, even if one counts as a gain the reintroduction of old orations and Prefaces from early Roman sources. In obedience to §51 of the Liturgy Constitution, the 1970 Lectionary contains more biblical texts (especially from the Old Testament) than previously; but its three-year cycle of Sunday readings eliminates the immemorial association between Sundays and their pericopes.

It is not easy to pinpoint the object of Dobszay’s strongest criticism. He laments the total rearrangement of the Paschal Vigil as the ‘most miserable result of the 1970 reform’ [254], yet acknowledges that the reform ‘went still further in the case of the Divine Office’ [49]. The changes made to the Paschal Vigil (barely a decade after Pius XII had already modified it) resulted in the loss of ‘its dramatic proportions and structure’ and seriously harmed ‘its meaning and spiritual significance’; the Roman Office, on the other hand, was completely demolished with the rejection of its three essential components: the structure of the Hours, the distribution of the psalms, and the stock material of the Antiphonary [49].

While appropriately critical of the reform, the Hungarian magister does not advocate a return to the pre-conciliar status quo. Not only would that be a renunciation of the liturgical desiderata laid out by the Council, it would also (paradoxically) immure the classical Roman Rite in a ghetto, since nowadays the majority of Catholics have from their early childhood known only the ‘new’ liturgy (now forty years old) and appreciate vernacular worship. The ‘restoration’ Dobszay envisages is not a retrenchment but a rectification along lines first proposed by the aforementioned Gamber: ‘we should return to 1962, not in order to stop there but rather to implement a badly conducted reform in a good way!’ [63]. In the mid-1990s, Fr Brian W. Harrison published the first detailed account of how this ‘reform of the reform’ might be carried out in regard to the Mass. Dobszay goes further, proffering a scheme for the entire liturgical edifice. Curiously, however, he expressly disowns the ‘reform of the reform’ programme, which he apparently (and too narrowly?) identifies with a reform of the reform that actually took place – something he deems unworkable [66].

The book is divided into two major parts. Part I garners in eleven chapters a treasure of information requisite to assessing the reform from a liturgical viewpoint, apart from the theological questions that have been raised about it. Dobszay discusses, inter alia, the meaning of the term ‘rite’, the aims of the Liturgical Movement, the intentions of the Council Fathers with respect to liturgical renewal, the dynamic interaction between doctrine and worship, and the possibility of a fruitful mutual influence between the missals of 1962 and 1970. He is convinced that the reform intended by the Council can and should be implemented within the framework of the historic Roman Rite. What concrete steps this might involve are taken up in the ten chapters comprising Part II. No detail seems to have escaped his attention in proposing a viable program for ‘reconciling’ the two forms of the Roman Rite presently in use, so as to produce one organically reformed version of the 1500-year-old Roman liturgy. As regards the Mass, for example, he proposes no essential change in the structure, texts and ceremony as given in the 1962 Missal: the penitential act (Confiteor or Asperges) takes place before the Introit; the traditional series of orations is augmented (not supplanted!) by texts taken from the ancient sacramentaries for use ad libitum on weekdays; the Secret or prayer ‘super oblata’ is sung/said aloud, as are the doxology at the end of the Canon and the embolism of the Lord’s Prayer; the 1962 repertory of Prefaces is moderately expanded; the Roman Canon (in Latin) regains its privileged position (perhaps by means of a rubric mandating its use on Sundays and feast-days), etc.

It should be noted, finally, that the author provides a convenient summary of his suggested alterations as well as an extensive bibliography (spanning ten pages), although the omission of a subject index disappoints. Anyone who cares about the structural integrity of the Roman Rite will likely come away from reading this volume with both a searing sense of regret for what might have been and a holy impatience for what could be. That some of Prof. Dobszay’s specific recommendations are open to question is a matter of course, but these he has always stated with becoming modesty. Certainly his scholarship, his candour, his ardent love of the Opus Dei, his charity (e.g., where he ascribes ‘extreme good will’ others could impute mendacity [49]), his admirable temper in the face of a reformist double standard [26-30], cannot be too highly admired.

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