Thursday, February 27, 2014

Clarifications on the Reform of the Reform Controversy

Reading through the comments to my recent post, as well as the welcome contribution of Most Rev. Peter J. Elliott, I have noticed that there may be some confusion concerning the skeptical stance taken by Fr. Kocik, myself, and several others on the Ordinary Form and on the “reform of the reform.” My goal in this short article is to lay out several clarifications that, I hope, will assist everyone in the conversation.

It seems to me that there are two very different meanings of the ROTR. First, it can mean simply celebrating correctly according to the latest edition of the revised liturgical books, following the desiderata of Vatican II (use of Latin as well as vernacular, Gregorian chant and polyphony, appropriate silence, only the right ministers doing what belongs to them, good mystagogical catechesis, etc.), and featuring everything traditional that is permitted in the celebration. Second, it can mean undertaking the step of a reform or revision of those very books, to re-incorporate unwisely discarded elements and to expunge foolishly introduced novelties. For convenience, let us call these ROTR-1 and ROTR-2.

I am completely in favor of ROTR-1, that is, celebrating the Ordinary Form in the most reverent, solemn, beautiful, and sacred manner possible, since that is the way Catholics ought to celebrate Mass in any rite or form. In this sense, I agree with Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s oft-repeated statement “when the tide rises, all the boats rise with it.” As for my bona fides, I have been directing choirs and scholas for Novus Ordo celebrations for over 20 years and am presently in charge of the music both for a weekly traditional Latin High Mass and a weekly sung Novus Ordo Mass with vernacular propers and hymns. On certain weekdays, our schola sings the Gregorian Ordinary and Propers out of the Graduale Romanum at OF celebrations. Our altar servers follow Msgr. Elliott’s Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite—truly a gift to the Church!—with the keen devotion that traditionalists have for Fortescue and O’Connell. So I am personally quite familiar with and supportive of ROTR-1 ideals.

What precisely is the object of controversy, then?

Many Catholics who deeply love the Church have been led by long experience and careful study of the liturgy to the conclusion that the reform carried out by the Consilium and promulgated by Paul VI is not just the unfortunate victim of a wave of abuses but something deeply and inherently flawed in structure and content [Note 1]. It is not in continuity with the Roman liturgical tradition as organically developed and received at the time of the Council. As a result (touching now on ROTR-2), it cannot serve as a suitable platform for the long-term future of the Roman Rite.

The reference to "failure" in the title of my last article refers to the fact that the revised sacramental rites of Paul VI:
  1. failed to adhere to fundamental principles and many particular desiderata of Sacrosanctum Concilium (inter alia, SC 23, 28, 36, 54, 112-116);
  2. failed to uphold the inherent auctoritas, the morally binding authority, of the liturgical tradition as such, as Fr. Hunwicke has shown[2];
  3. failed to reflect the duties and limits of papal authority vis-à-vis the liturgical tradition, as Ratzinger argued[3];
  4. failed to respect basic laws of psychology and sociology concerning behavior towards a cultural patrimony, requirements of ritual stability for group identity and harmony, etc.[4]
Now, none of this amounts to saying that the OF “no longer has a place in the life of the Church.” Obviously, it occupies and will continue to occupy a huge place—and may the Lord, in His mercy, grant people everywhere the grace, as long as this form remains the status quo, to implement ROTR-1. Nor does it amount to saying that the OF should be immediately discontinued and replaced by the EF, which is not practicable or advisable at this time.

What it does say, however, is that there are intrinsic and inescapable limits to the scope and success of the ROTR project. Even assuming a happy day when every OF celebration across the globe is reverent, solemn, beautiful, and sacred, in full accord with Vatican II and the post-conciliar Magisterium, there will STILL be a profound discontinuity between what came before the Council and what came after, in the very bones and marrow of the rites themselves, in their texts, rubrics, rationale, spirituality—even, to some extent, their theology.

In a superb series of posts in the past few days, Joseph Shaw, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, has compellingly argued that even ROTR-1 often ends up being an awkward “falling between two stools” because it respects neither the genius of the Vetus Ordo nor the specific motivations behind the Novus Ordo.[5] I have experienced firsthand exactly what Shaw is talking about and can only say that it makes the task of any kind of ROTR extremely tiring, a constant struggle with the plethora of options[6], the rationalistic assumptions, the minimalism, antinomianism, and horizontalism that define the culture in which the Novus Ordo was received and from which it has acquired long-standing habits difficult to overcome. Shaw concludes that it is much easier and far better simply to begin celebrating the age-old liturgy of the Church: it starts at a healthy place, it is a coherent whole, it is serenely and admirably just what it is and there is no nonsense about it. Whether it needs minor reforms or not, it is not hamstrung from the starting block.

One cannot recover lost continuity by stubbornly insisting on it. The only way it will happen is either if one should start afresh with the Vetus Ordo, which all agree embodies the received Roman liturgical tradition on the eve of the Council, or if one could modify the Novus Ordo in so radical a manner that it might as well have been abolished and replaced with a lightly adapted version of its predecessor. In any case, what we have now is not an evolutionary step towards that future authentic Roman Rite; it is a detour, an evolutionary dead-end. It is like those modernist churches that do not suffer gently the passage of time, that are trapped in their own era and mentality, never able to escape from it. The way forward is not to keep developing the modernist aesthetic but to abandon it resolutely and definitively, embracing and cultivating in its place the noble artistic tradition we have received, which retains tremendous power to speak to us of realities that are timeless and transcendent.

That, to me, was the point of what Fr. Kocik, Dom Mark, Fr. Somerville-Knapman, Fr. Cipolla, Fr. Smith, and others have been saying—not, Deus absit, that it is not worthwhile or even urgent to celebrate the Ordinary Form as well as can be done. Those who celebrate the OF have their work cut out for them, and those who already love and cherish the EF have their own work to do, for all celebrations of the liturgy should be as fitting as can be. Nevertheless, if this analysis is correct, there are systemic problems that the ROTR cannot address; it is good that we should not ignore or dance gingerly around these problems but truthfully and courageously admit them, in order to direct our efforts most of all towards a restoration that will bear the fruits of renewal denied to the Consilium’s reform.

Prompted (it would seem) by the controversy surrounding the ROTR, Dom Mark Kirby offered another and very poignant reflection on the issue, "Home from the Liturgical Thirty Years War." He admits that, after spending decades of labor on the revised rites, working to elevate them as much as he could, he came to realize how much richer and more fruitful the traditional liturgy is—and that his time all along would have been better spent within this welcoming and lovely house. Moving from the cramped urban apartment bloc into the spacious old country home (the family seat, one might call it), may not be an option yet for many Catholics, but we can surely pray, hope, and work for the day when it will be a familiar and beloved house of prayer for every baptized member of the Roman Rite.


[1] One need only study Lauren Pristas’s book, The Collects of the Roman Missal, to see what was done to the Collects and why. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; the same thing can be seen with all the prayers for all the sacraments.

[2] One of Fr. Hunwicke's recent posts is simply titled "Auctoritas." However, a search under that word at his blog turns up many helpful (and fascinating) discussions on such topics as the auctoritas of Latin in the liturgy and the auctoritas of having but one Anaphora, the Roman Canon, in the Roman Rite.

[3] Here is how Ratzinger expresses himself in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not ‘manufactured’ by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity. . . . The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition. . . . The greatness of the liturgy depends—we shall have to repeat this frequently—on its unspontaneity” (pp. 165-66)

[4] One thinks, for instance, of the work on cultural anthropology of Mary Douglas or Anthony Archer. For a discussion of the latter, see Joseph Shaw, "The Old Mass and the Workers".

[5] I cannot recommend these posts too highly: "The Death of the Reform of the Reform? Part 1"; "Part 2: The Liturgical Movement"; "Part 3: Falling Between Two Stools"; "Part 4: Novus Ordo in Latin?" Shaw provides knock-down arguments against thoroughly vernacularizing the old rite, which has kept floating up in recent days as somehow a good idea.

[6] Just yesterday Dom Mark Kirby gave us an incisive treatment of the problem of what can be called 'optionitis': see "Laws of Degenerative Liturgical Evolution." For my take on the issue, see "Indeterminacy and Optionitis."


Some readers have pointed out that this whole conversation is, in a way, “behind the times”; have we already forgotten about great contributions made in the past to a fundamental critique of the Novus Ordo? For an exceptionally fine example, see Fr. John Parsons, “Reform of the Reform?,” originally published in Christian Order, November–December 2001. Apart from its magnificent clarity and depth of thought, this article demonstrates that the skepticism about ROTR-2 recently expressed by Fr. Kocik and others has been around for quite some time among those who know their liturgical history and theology. Would that more people took the time to learn for themselves just how the liturgical reform was actually done—the principles by which it acted, the judgments it made—and what that means for the life and health of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.

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