Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Discussion on Liturgical Reform in 1980

Via a blog called Ex Laodicea, I recently stumbled across this fascinating episode of the program Firing Line, broadcast on April 22, 1980. The occasion for this discussion between the host, William F. Buckley, Michael Davies, and Fr (later Monsignor) Joseph Champlin, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, is Pope St John Paul II’s “disciplinary” action against Fr Hans Küng; the previous December, the Pope had decreed that the University of Tübingen, where Küng was then teaching, could no longer refer to him as a “Catholic” theologian. The conversation quickly turns to a general discussion of the state of things in the Church, with much said about the liturgical reform.
At the time, of course, the Novus Ordo was only 11 years old; in the United States, as in many other countries, the more outlandish sorts of liturgical experimentation and abuse were still very common, and the almost total prohibition on any celebration of the traditional Mass still very much in effect. De facto, if not de jure, this unjust prohibition was very often extended to any attempt to celebrate the reformed liturgy according to something resembling the mind of the Council. Buckley’s magazine National Review just recently republished electronically an article which he wrote about the Latin Mass in 1967; almost two-and-a-half years before the Novus Ordo was promulgated, a priest dared not celebrate in Latin the wedding Mass for a member of his family, for fear that the bishop find out. Whatever difficulties we face today in the quest to improve the Church’s liturgical life, we must never allow ourselves to forget that enormous strides have been made since those days, a fact which should be an encouragement to all, and a cause for tremendous gratitude. These labors have not been in vain.

A few other points of interest.

1. Buckley rightly points out in his introduction, “the practical effect (of the Pope’s actions) on Fr Küng is barely noticeable; he continues to teach theology...” Nevertheless, as Michael Davies says later (12:27), the reaction among Küng’s supporters was ferocious, with the Anglican Church Times calling the Pope the “ayatollah of the West.” The viciousness of this language may perhaps be difficult for some of our younger readers to appreciate; at the time of this broadcast, 52 Americans were being held hostage in the American embassy in Tehran, under the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government. (Archbishop Bugnini, then in his second career as nuncio in Iran, had just celebrated Easter Mass for them in the embassy two weeks before.) In his second memoir, published in 2008, Küng himself refers to this act of defamation in an approving quote from the American novelist and sociologist Fr Andrew Greeley; his chapter is titled Roma locuta, causa non finita, in a booked called, with no sense that the irony is deliberate, Disputed Truths. I will of course not be the first to note that pleas for civility and deference to Papal authority are a relatively new phenomenon among the more (can we say?) daring voices in the Church.

2. We recently passed the anniversary of Michael Davies’ death, which happened on September 25, 2004, and it really does behoove us to remember the heroic efforts which he made as a writer and speaker in defense of the traditional litury. Especially noteworthy here is the exchange which begins at 18:30, in which he refutes the canard, stated by Fr Champlin, that anciently the Church celebrated Mass “facing the people,” citing Fr Bouyer among others; faced with the evidence, Fr Champlin has no response to make at all. At the time, men like Davies and Fr Bouyer who spoke against the many scholarly errors that were incorporated into the reform were almost universally dismissed as cranks and ignored; today, no less a person than the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship publicly recognizes that ad orientem worship is preferable, and the historical custom of the Church.

3. Davies also speaks (starting at 28:10) of an aspect of his work which I either never heard of before, or forgot if I did, an example of the kind of dishonesty actively present in the reform which led Fr Bouyer to call Abp Bugnini (with classic French restraint) a man “as devoid of learning as he was of honesty.” It is a well-known fact that a group of six Protestant ministers were “consulted” by the Consilium ad exsequendam in the process of reforming the Mass. Bugnini would later claim in Notitiae that they only intervened once, and were merely observers; this led Davies to write to one of the six and ask to what degree they were involved, “and he said ‘Oh no, we played a very active part, and we were given all the documents same as the Catholic observers, every morning there was a discussion, a great free-for-all in which we put forward our opinions.’ That sort of thing has happened again and again.”

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