Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Reform of the Reform: Style Over Substance?

My recently posted review of the late László Dobszay’s (1935-2011) book, The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite, prompted “A Sinner” to comment on the “reform of the reform.”  In the comment thread, he provides a link to his own website where he portrays the advocates of a “reform of the reform” (and of the “new liturgical movement” in general) as superficial aesthetes for whom externals matter more than doctrine — a characterization I have read elsewhere.

That portrayal is unfair. Anyone who is acquainted with the liturgical writings of Monsignor Klaus Gamber (d. 1989), Fathers Brian W. Harrison, Joseph Fessio, Aidan Nichols and others whose sympathies fall more or less under the “reform of the reform” tent (and here I would include Prof. Dobszay) realize that there is more to reforming the reform than correcting liturgical abuses and “gussying up” the novus ordo with traditional trappings.  While opinions vary among the “reformers of the reform” as to where to begin and how to proceed, it is generally agreed that, beginning around 1969, the reform failed in many instances to preserve substantial continuity with the received liturgical tradition, and that this problem must be frankly acknowledged and remedied.  One is of course free to dismiss such an endeavor as a vain effort to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but one should take care not to misrepresent it.

In the fashion of our friend “Father Z,” I reproduce here a portion of “A Sinner’s” remarks on the “reform of the reform” movement, with my own commentary in red print:

There is a lot of talk in some circles [indeed, in the highest circles] about a “reform of the reform.” Usually it comes from that bizarre but influential category who waffle between trad positions [positions that range from sedevacantism to insistence on the pre-1911 Divine Office and the pre-Pius XII rites of Holy Week, to contentment with the Bugnini-influenced 1962 Missal “of John XXIII”] and neoconservative ones [I assume he means those who are largely satisfied with the novus ordo when conservatively celebrated]. People who clearly “highly sympathize” with traditionalism, but are unwilling to publicly portray themselves as purists [I am unsure what constitutes purism in this context].The idea is often that “liturgical abuse” is the cause of most of the problems in the New [now 40+ years old, but still new in the grand scheme of things] Liturgy, and that simply by dressing it up, by approaching it with a better ‘ars celebrandi’ we can make it at least tolerable and more what “Vatican II intended” [...] Just do it in Latin, ad orientem, with nice vestments, use chant and incense, always use Eucharistic Prayer #1, and voilà[But this is not the “reform of the reform” agenda as spelled out by Fr. Harrison et al.  Those who speak of “reforming the reform” envisage a restructuring of the novus ordo along more traditional lines.]Now, it’s true that there is nothing about the Novus Ordo that requires that it be celebrated in a patronizing vernacular translation in polyester vestments as a “four-hymn sandwich.” But, a lot of the problems are inherent to the rite itself, especially the removal of numerous little gestures and details. So, the “reform of the reform” crowd will tell you... the solution is simply bringing back the maniple (“which was never abrogated!”) [Its use was made optional in 1967 and is simply unmentioned in the Missal of 1970], re-inserting genuflections (“which aren’t specifically called for, but maybe they’re not forbidden either?!”), having the priest hold his fingers together after the consecration until the ablutions (“he could still do that just voluntarily!”), etc. [Again: The “reform of the reform” camp is not so superficial as caricatured here.] But, even then, there are problems inherent to the text itself [Agreed, with some qualifications...]: the butchered Offertory, of course [of which I am no fan; however, as Prof. Dobszay has noted, these prayers do not belong to the essential material of the Roman Mass], the cut Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and Last Gospel [ditto], the totally artificial three-year lectionary [which, I grant, is not the only conceivable application of the conciliar mandate to expand the use of Scripture], the Frankenstein reworking of the Collects [Thank you, Fr. Anthony Cekada and Dr. Lauren Pristas, for your enlightening studies of this particular feature of the “reform”], a very blithe reworking of the calendar, and an unnecessary multiplication of sometimes poetic, but nevertheless untraditional, Prefaces. Well, they’ll tell you, maybe the priest could reinsert the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar as a “private devotion” before Mass, and likewise for the Last Gospel after. There is talk of the “mutual gravity” of the “extraordinary form” someday leading the Vatican to allow for the more substantial Offertory or the restoration of certain calendrical features like Septuagesima or Ember Days; but as for the new Lectionary and Collectary, at this point people seem to defeatistly believe we’re pretty much stuck when it comes to the extent of the “Reform of the Reform.”  [Some may think so, but Pope Benedict has cautioned against treating either form of the Roman liturgy as a museum piece, frozen in time.  It is not inconceivable, though it might be improbable, that many of the traditional Collects could find their way into a new typical edition of the Missal.] But, we’re also told, somehow the “final product” will eventually resemble the Old Rite more than it resembles the New.  However, even this is always fatalistically placed at some ridiculous distance into the future: “decades” or “generations” or “centuries,” as if, though the revolution took only a few years, the restoration can only be some eschatological event at the end of a brick-by-brick rainbow.  [“Decades” and “generations” seem less fatalistic than realistic, especially if we’re talking about another typical edition of the Missale Romanum that would essentially be the classical Roman Mass in both its Ordinary and Propers.  Consider how long it took to get a proper English translation of the Missal “of Paul VI,” now in its third edition.  A new typical edition would mean a new round of vernacular translations — a process not likely to begin so soon after implementing the revised English translation.  What’s more, it will take some time to clarify what, exactly, belongs to the essential material of the Roman liturgy, and what is secondary.  As Dr Alcuin Reid has noted, typical editions of liturgical books “appear but rarely, usually decades apart.”]

By way of closing, I point out that the 1965 Ordo Missae played a role in the earliest discussions of the "reform of the reform" (a phrase originating probably with Msgr Gamber).  That would not have been so had the "non-trad" critics of the post-conciliar reform been primarily, or even exclusively, concerned with "smells and bells" aesthetics.  If the "reform of the reform" movement is understood as a shallow aestheticism, it is only because it is approached too shallowly rather than viewed in the light of its historical origins, which are embedded in properly liturgical and theological concerns.  Put simply, one need not choose between liturgical renewal as promoted by the Liturgical Movement (with due caution against the errors espoused by some pioneers of that movement and justly denounced by the Magisterium) and fidelity to the historic Roman liturgy.

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