Monday, October 23, 2017

Liturgy, Authority, and Postmodernity: An Article by Dom Alcuin Reid on CWR

Yesterday, Catholic World Report published an article by Dom Alcuin Reid entitled “Liturgy, Authority, and Postmodernity”, originally delivered as the opening address at The Society for Catholic Liturgy’s annual conference, held this year in Philadelphia on September 28. Dom Reid addresses a number of very interesting questions, beginning, as he himself writes, with the following: “The liturgical reform which followed (Vatican II) was a self-conscious attempt to construct rites which would better reach modern people. Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, ‘modern’ is modern no longer: we have moved beyond modernity into the “post” modern era. ... What does that mean for our modern liturgical rites and practices as they approach their fiftieth birthdays?” This question becomes all the more pressing with each passing day and year, as the “modern” man for whom the reform was purportedly created recedes ever further into the background of history, and “post” modern man’s lack of interest in it becomes an ever more seriously problem for the Church.

He also addresses the question of the Church’s authority to change the liturgy, a question whose importance is all the more crucial in light of the way the post-Conciliar reform was done, purportedly on the authority of Vatican II, but in open defiance of its intentions. As Fr Bouyer wrote in The Decomposition of Catholicism, a passage which Dom Reid cites, “Perhaps in no other area is there a greater distance (and even formal opposition) between what the Council worked out and what we actually have.”

“Where was authority in respect of the implementation of the liturgical reform? It is clear that the authority of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy itself was all too easily set aside as key players sought to have initiatives and even personal enthusiasms endorsed in its name, at times in spite of such initiatives having nothing whatsoever to do with the Council or the Constitution itself. First amongst these reforms aimed at creating a new liturgy for the modern world was the total vernacularisation of the liturgy mentioned earlier. The rapid promotion of Mass celebrated facing the people, the enthusiastic introduction of new Eucharistic prayers, and the creeping concession of permission for the reception of Holy Communion in the hand are but three other examples.

Each of these ‘reforms’ was effected, ironically, by the utterly premodern exercise of absolute papal positivism. For the papal positivist the Pope’s will is sovereign and unquestionable. This positivism (ultramontanism by another name)—which is alive and well down to our own times—is a critical factor in the study of the implementation of the reform. Paul VI personally approved the details of the reform in forma specifica. To obtain his signature was to win the day.

Too few people are aware of the extent of the politics and of the spirit of opportunism in which the reform was affected. Any yet it was a reality. ...

If we ask whether the resultant compromise, the Missal of Paul VI promulgated in 1970, is an example of authority acting in regard to the Sacred Liturgy in a manner that respects and is utterly consonant with its nature so as to optimise the good of souls, we must take pause. For there is much evidence that those responsible for what the supreme authority promulgated had their eyes fixed more on modernity, certain related ideologies, and their own personal preferences rather than on Christ alive and acting in the millennial liturgical tradition of the Church. The resultant product (we may even say “products”, for the same reality is more or less true mutatis mutandis of the reform of the other liturgical books) betray a self-conscious desire to conform to modernity rather than the pursuit of a judicious development of the rite so as to give it renewed vigor in the light of the circumstances and needs of modern times. The distinction is subtle, but real: in the liturgical reform following the Council the tail of modernity wagged the dog, and not the dog the tail.”

There is a great deal of food for thought in this piece, and very much worth your time. I add only this passage, suggesting that it be included in a future Magna carta for truly Catholic liturgical reform.

“Catholic liturgy, then, intentionally has its eyes firmly focussed on Almighy God and not modernity, postmodernity, or any other culture or philosophy. It has, as Sacrosanctum Concilium taught, a fundamental place in the Christian life as the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church (see: n. 10). Catholic liturgy is normative for the life of the Christian, and enjoys an objectivity in that its content is not subject to the passing fashions of each generation – or to the peculiar tastes of given priests or bishops – but is handed down in tradition with integrity whilst being proportionately persuadable according to true pastoral need.”

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