Wednesday, February 16, 2022

How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Canon? (Part 2)

This is the second part of an article by a guest contributor on the attitudes of liturgists to the Roman Canon in the pre-Conciliar period; read the first part here. The fundamental question which he poses is one that requires an answer: if it was licit before the most recent ecumenical council to claim that the whole of the Roman Rite, including the very heart of it, the Canon, contained any number of grave defects, why is it not licit to make the same claim about the post-Conciliar rite?

Pre-Conciliar critiques

It is here important to note that critical evaluation of the Roman Canon specifically (and the entire Mass more generally) was not limited to the years following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, in the decade before the council, scholars published numerous articles and books discussing the “problems of the missal”, the defects of the Mass and Canon, and proposing changes.

Article by Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ., published in Worship 28, No. 3 (February 1954). The article was a summary of a paper read by Jungmann at the “restricted” meeting of specialists at the Liturgical Movement congress in Lugano, Switzerland on September 14, 1953.
Additionally, hundreds of liturgical experts, clerics, and church officials from around the world regularly met at high profile conferences to make formal recommendations for liturgical changes that were then formally presented to the Holy See for consideration. The most famous of these international congresses were held at Maria Laach Abbey (1951), the Monastery of Mont Sainte-Odile (1952), Lugano, Switzerland (1953), Mont Cesar Abbey (1954), and Assisi, Italy (1956).
These conferences published extensive reports of their discussions and lists of resolutions for changes to the entire Mass, not just the Canon, and eventually almost all of these suggestions were realized. Some were acted upon by the Holy See before the Second Vatican Council (the reforms of Holy Week, the simplification of the rubrics and breviary, etc), and the rest were granted and exceeded in the creation of the new liturgy.
The list of proposed changes to the liturgy were widely discussed Catholic periodicals and newspapers. They also were used as the basis for book-length treatments which offered examples of what a future reformed liturgy could and should be. One example of such a work is Rev. H. A. Reinhold’s Bringing the Mass to the People of 1960.
Reinhold, whom McManus called one of the “prophets who have been proved right”, included the resolutions of Maria Laach, Sainte-Odile, and Lugano in the text of his book in an attempt to reassure his audience: “these resolutions were proposed to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and are the basis of most of the suggestions in this book. We ask the readers to keep in mind, especially when this book seems bold or radical, that the company we are keeping consists of the cream of liturgical scholars.”
The importance and influence of these liturgical congresses cannot be overstated. Long before the Second Vatican Council, these clerics, laymen, and scholars engaged in systematic critical evaluation of the rituals of the Mass and the sacraments. They spoke and published openly, with imprimatur. They took pains to reiterate their fidelity to the Church and highlight how their suggestions and actions conformed to the current law of the church and the magisterium of each Pope of the preceding 50 years. Even without the urging of authoritative decrees of an ecumenical council, they were convinced that reform was needed and confidently petitioned the Pope to consider their requests.
Questions and challenges
We can see that the sentiments expressed by McManus, Vagaggini, and Ruff are essentially identical: the official decrees of the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical constitution gave the church a new set of principles for understanding the nature of the liturgy and the Church, which definitively revealed the defects of the Roman Canon and old form of the Mass.
This new teaching is not merely a deepening and forward-moving development, like a branch which sends forth new shoots as it matures and flourishes. Rather, it is literally superlative, standing above and outside of the preceding history of the liturgy and theology of the Church, and able to adjudicate retroactively in light of the new understanding.
All of this pre- and post-conciliar context helps to better illuminate Father Ruff’s theological assessment of the old Mass and similar discussions now taking place in the wake of Traditionis Custodes and subsequent decrees.
Returning to the commentary offered by Patrick Smith at the beginning, it does seem that these assertions raise certain basic questions that should be more fully explored:
1) How can the central and most sacral part of the western Church’s corporate worship, specifically attested to by the Fathers, unchanged and nearly universally used since 600 AD, now be said to have contained serious defects and limitations? How can an official text of the Roman liturgy which has existed in verifiable form since the late 4th century now be said to “sin in a number of ways” against guidelines which were promulgated nine days after the burial of John F. Kennedy?
2) It is the assessment of Father Ruff and others that the decrees of the Council legitimately developed the Church’s theological understanding of the liturgy in a way which allows this ex post facto judgment about the quality and nature of the previous rites. Does this mean it is possible that a future ecumenical council may do likewise and similarly result in revised sentiment concerning the rites published after 1964? If not, why not?
3) In the decades before the Council, it was officially permitted by the Church for laity and clerics alike to examine the historical development of the liturgy, the state of contemporary praxis, and the unique circumstances of the current year, and to formulate public proposals and petitions for alterations.
Given that this was permissible, and that it occurred without any new teaching drawn from conciliar decrees, does this mean that it is likewise licit in principle for similar groups (either now or in the future) to evaluate and propose corrections to a legitimately promulgated liturgical rite of the church even without the explicit prompting of a recent council or synod? If not, why not?
In his interview with America, Father Ruff emphasized his “concern for the good people who are affected by” the recent motu proprio, because he “sensed immediately that there would be a lot of hurt and anger and sadness and desperation” to follow.
I suggest that questions like these deserve a rigorous and honest discussion. We need earnest engagement about the theological underpinnings of these assessments (and their implications for understanding the past, present, and future of the liturgy) in the hopes of resolving confusion and avoiding worsening division about these most fundamental mysteries of the faith.

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