Thursday, December 19, 2013

Point and Counterpoint: Was the Liturgical Reform a Success?

The Catholic Church has always been a death-defying miracle in that she can exist under the pressure of enormous internal strains that would tear apart any merely human institution, and indeed, she continues to produce fruits of holiness in the midst of it, at times because of the trials and at times in spite of them. In recent decades we have experienced the strain of a massive rupture at the very heart of the Roman liturgical tradition, and, often together with it, widespread confusion in teaching on faith and morals at the different levels of the hierarchy and throughout the people.
I was reminded again of the strangeness of this state of affairs when I read some remarks by (or at least attributed to) Archbishop Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and compared them with comments of quite a different sort by James Bogle, the new President of the International Federation Una Voce. Here are the quotations for your pondering.
Without the Second Vatican Council’s liturgy reform, dechristianisation might have forged ahead far faster than it has, Archbishop Müller said at a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium at Würzburg. “It is precisely because the liturgy was renewed in spirit and rite that it has proved an effective remedy against a godless culture.” The renewed liturgy was “a good means of evangelising”, he said. Archbishop Müller contradicted those who blamed the increasing disappearance of the faith and dwindling Mass attendance in the formerly Christian countries of the Western world on the reform of the liturgy following the Council, and expressly underlined the merits of the 1970 Missal. “All Catholics who think and feel with the Church realise that the reform was a success,” he said. [source]
And here is James Bogle, from the latest issue of Gregorius Magnus (September 2013):
     As Michael [Davies] so rightly explained to the less educated prelates whom he so often was obliged to school, nothing in Vatican II authorised, let alone mandated, changes that followed. Indeed, the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, expressly required the retention of Latin as the norm, as also chant and polyphony. But how many Catholics now know this? Very few! Never was a stipulation of a Council more flatly defied!
     There was no demand for the celebrant priest to face the people, nor that the prayers at the foot of the altar be removed, nor the Last Gospel be dispensed with, nor that almost all the Collects be replaced by new versions of which so many, as Professor Lauren Pristas, the American scholar, has shown, are doctrinally ambiguous.
     Yet, the Second Vatican Council ordered that changes must not be made “unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them.” Did the good of the Church genuinely and certainly require the radical changes that have since been authorised? Or the much more extensive changes that were made in the parishes? Has there been a markedly greater increase in attendance at Mass and Sacraments, or in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament?
     No. On the contrary, there has been an unprecedented, relentless and precipitous decline such as has perhaps never before been seen in the history of Christianity. Was that merely a coincidence? Or was it, perhaps, linked to that one event wherein all practising Catholics meet the Church, day by day or week by week—namely at Mass?

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