Sunday, February 09, 2014

Reforming the Irreformable?

T COULD BE evidence of exemplary patience on the part of NLM editor Jeffrey Tucker that I am still counted among the contributors to this blog. More than two years have passed since I posted anything relative to the ‘reform of the reform’. Although I consider myself a capable writer, I am not a fast one, which impairment makes the demands of parish ministry even less favorable to the task of unpacking my liturgical ruminations for those who might care to know them. But that only partly explains the hiatus.

I have the impression that whatever can be said in general terms about the ‘reform of the reform’—its origin and aims, its scope and methodology, the various proposals advanced in its interest (if not in its name), its proponents and critics—has pretty much already been said.1 Although the movement is difficult to define (Is it synonymous with the ‘new liturgical movement’ or but one stage of it?),2 its overall aim was nicely summed a few years ago by the Ceylonese prelate who stated that the time has come when we must “identify and correct the erroneous orientations and decisions made, appreciate the liturgical tradition of the past courageously, and ensure that the Church is made to rediscover the true roots of its spiritual wealth and grandeur even if that means reforming the reform itself…”3

Long before Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he was critically evaluating the reform of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council, identifying those aspects of the reform which have little or no justification in the Council’s liturgical Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) and which undermine the true spirit of the liturgy.4  As pope it was in his power to remedy the deficiencies—the “erroneous orientations and decisions”—of the reform on a universal scale not only by his teaching and personal liturgical example but also by legislation. He accentuated the liturgy’s beauty, promoted the liturgical and musical treasures of the Western Church (including of course the usus antiquior of the Roman rite), and introduced more tangible continuity with tradition in the manner of papal celebrations (e.g., the ‘Benedictine’ altar arrangement, offering Mass ad orientem in the Sistine and other papal chapels, administering Holy Communion to the faithful on their tongues as they knelt). His successor, Pope Francis, is a different man with a different personality and style, and his priorities clearly lie with other aspects of the Church’s life. I am not holding my breath in anticipation of further official progress along the lines marked out by Pope Benedict, who has deservedly been dubbed the “Father of the new liturgical movement.”5

But let us suppose, practically speaking and perhaps per impossibile, that the ‘reform of the reform’ were to receive substantive institutional support. Even so, I doubt the endeavor would be feasible—if we take that term to mean the reform of the present order of liturgy so as to bring it substantially back into line with the slowly developed tradition it widely displaced. It is not sour grapes about last year’s papal abdication that prompts my saying so. Like any movement, the ‘reform of the reform’ stands or falls on its own principles, not on any one pope or partisan. No: the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined. In the decade that has elapsed since the publication of my book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate (Ignatius Press, 2003), which concerns almost exclusively the rite of Mass, a number of important scholarly studies, most notably those of László Dobszay (†2011)6 and Lauren Pristas,7 have opened my eyes to the hack-job inflicted by Pope Paul VI’s Consilium on the whole liturgical edifice of the Latin Church: the Mass; the Divine Office; the rites of the sacraments, sacramentals, blessings and other services of the Roman Ritual; and so forth.8 Whatever else might be said of the reformed liturgy—its pastoral benefits, its legitimacy, its rootedness in theological ressourcement, its hegemonic status, etc.—the fact remains: it does not represent an organic development of the liturgy which Vatican II (and, four centuries earlier, the Council of Trent) inherited.

There are significant ruptures in content and form that cannot be remedied simply by restoring Gregorian chant to primacy of place as the music of the Roman rite, expanding the use of Latin and improving vernacular translations of the Latin liturgical texts, using the Roman Canon more frequently (if not exclusively),9 reorienting the altar, and rescinding certain permissions. As important as it is to celebrate the reformed rites correctly, reverently, and in ways that make the continuity with tradition more obvious, such measures leave untouched the essential content of the rites. Any future attempt at liturgical reconciliation, or renewal in continuity with tradition, would have to take into account the complete overhaul of the propers of the Mass;10  the replacement of the Offertory prayers with modern compositions; the abandonment of the very ancient annual Roman cycle of Sunday Epistles and Gospels; the radical recasting of the calendar of saints; the abolition of the ancient Octave of Pentecost, the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima and the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost; the dissolution of the centuries-old structure of the Hours; and so much more. To draw the older and newer forms of the liturgy closer to each other would require much more movement on the part of the latter form, so much so that it seems more honest to speak of a gradual reversal of the reform (to the point where it once again connects with the liturgical tradition received by the Council) rather than a reform of it.

The twofold desire of the Council fathers, namely, to permit innovations that “are genuinely and certainly required for the good of the Church” and to “adopt new forms which in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23) could indeed be fulfilled, but not by taking the rites promulgated by Paul VI as the point of departure for arriving at a single, organically reformed version of the ancient Roman rite: that would be like trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. What is needed is not a ‘reform of the reform’ but rather a cautious adaptation of the Tridentine liturgy in accordance with the principles laid down by Sacrosanctum Concilium (as happened in the immediate aftermath of that document’s promulgation in 1963), using what we have learned from the experience of the past fifty years.11 In the meantime, improvements can be made here and there in the ars celebrandi of the Ordinary Form. But the road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite12—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC 14).


[1] A history and analysis of the movement (if it can be called that) with a useful bibliography will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy: The Western Catholic Tradition, ed. Alcuin Reid (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015). One of the first studies to take up the question of an alternate reform is Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, trans. Klaus D. Grimm (Una Voce Press and The Foundation for Catholic Reform, 1993) pp. 41-61 [on the Order of Mass], 63-75 [on the Order of Readings]; Gamber held that the Ordo Missæ of 1965 fulfilled the revision of the Mass envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. The earliest typology of post-Vatican II liturgical agendas is Beyond the Prosaic: Renewing the Liturgical Movement, ed. Stratford Caldecott (T&T Clark, 1996). More recently, see John F. Baldovin, Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics (Liturgical Press, 2008); reviewed on NLM here and here. Various ‘reform of the reform’ schemata can be found in the appendices of my book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate (Ignatius Press, 2003). The only foreign-language proposal (to my knowledge) is Claudio Crescimanno, La Riforma della Riforma liturgica: Ipotesi per un “nuovo” rito della messa sulle tracce del pensiero di Joseph Ratzinger (Fede & Cultura, 2009).
[2] See, e.g., here and here and here and here and here.
[3] Archbishop (now Cardinal) Albert Malcolm Ranjith’s foreword to Nicola Giampietro, The Development of the Liturgical Reform: As Seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli from 1948 to 1970 (Roman Catholic Books, 2009), p. xvi; reviewed in Antiphon 14 (2010) 312-14 and on NLM here. Ranjith was then Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and is now (since 2009) the Cardinal-Archbishop of Colombo.
[4] The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 1986); The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000); “Assessment and Future Prospects,” in Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference, ed. Alcuin Reid (St Michael’s Abbey Press, 2003).
[5] Alcuin Reid, “The New Liturgical Movement after the Pontificate of Benedict XVI”, Address to Church Music Association of America, 15 October 2013; available here and here.
[6] The Bugnini-Liturgy and the ‘Reform of the Reform’ (Catholic Church Music Associates, 2003); reviewed in Antiphon 9:3 (2005) 309-10. The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite (T&T Clark/Continuum, 2010). I was unaware of the former until 2006; my review of the latter is available on NLM here. See also Dobszay’s “Perspectives on an Organic Development of the Liturgy,” in Antiphon 13:1 (2009) 18-27.
[7] The Collects of the Roman Missals: A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons before and after the Second Vatican Council (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013). See the Book Notice; my review of this volume will appear in Antiphon 18:1 (2014).
[8] Also deserving of attention is Father Uwe Michael Lang’s essay, “Theologies of Blessing: Origins and Characteristics of De benedictionibus (1984),” in Antiphon 15:1 (2011) 27-46, dealing with the substantial revision of blessings in the Roman Ritual resulting from significant changes in the theological understanding of blessings.
[9] The three Eucharistic Prayers introduced in 1968 and included in the Missal of Paul VI as alternatives to the Roman Canon are innovations which the Council fathers had not even contemplated, never mind authorized. Whatever might be said in their defense, they are not the products of organic liturgical development.
[10] Only 17 percent of the orations of the 1962 Missal made their way intact into the Missal of 1970; so Father Anthony Cekada, The Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass (TAN Books, 1991). László Dobszay, in The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite, notes that “the Roman Rite is incarnated more in the Propers than in the Order of Mass” (p. 48), for the Sacramentary is “the most Roman component of the classical Roman Rite” (p. 201). I do not suggest that there is no basis in Sacrosanctum Concilium for modifying the propers (indeed there is); I simply point out the extent of the changes.
[11] The end result, I suppose, would be something like the missals published in various countries following the release of the Ordo Missæ of 1965, with the addition of new saints and prefaces.

[12] The ‘Tridentine’ Missal of 1570-1962 is not the only representative of the historic Roman rite, but unlike the Missal of Paul VI it differs only in minor points from the tradition which had already been alive for a thousand years when the Council of Trent codified the Roman curial rite. In this context the use of the word ‘traditional’ is wholly justified.

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