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November 2001



Following on from last year's revision of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the instructions on how to celebrate Mass in the Latin Rite), and its scathing October 2000 letter to the perennially subversive ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) accusing it of composing unauthorised, inaccurate and incomplete texts and translations, the Congregation for Divine Worship this year released Liturgiam authenticam. Concerned with the use of vernacular languages in the Roman liturgy, it is the latest welcome/belated/(futile?) Vatican attempt to reform the Modern Rite of the Mass. It occasioned the usual liberal outrage, creating a British kerfuffle when a local (clerical) clown variously described the document's simple demand for accurate translations of the original Latin texts of the Mass as "troubling," "authoritarian, not to say totalitarian in tone," "mean-spirited," "wholly grudging and concessive and… hard to reconcile with the positive openness to other cultures and languages displayed by Vatican II." Furthermore, in the three-ringed circus that passes for the Church in Britain today, the clown had vented his spleen in a liturgical newsletter published under the auspices of his ringmasters, the Bishops of England and Wales. "How surprising!" you facetiously cry. And yet this non-event resulted in a terribly serious "opinion" from the editor of the Catholic Herald [17/8/01] calling for the bishops to declare themselves for or against these inanities spouted by a dissident underling - as if this routine clerical diatribe against a Roman directive might not have reflected the opinion of the English and Welsh hierarchy.

Call me ungracious for failing to get excited about this rare and faint calling of bishops to account by our "Catholic" press - but isn't it rather pathetic? Am I the only one to consider the possible liturgical concurrence of Britain's arch-Modernist ecclesiastical bureaucrats with their arch-Modernist episcopal masters about as relevant and newsworthy as, say, a meeting of minds between Victor Putin and his KGB? After all, Bishop Crowley of Middlesbrough had adorned both Herald and secular press headlines around the same time, for agreeing to offer Mass in public celebration of a 25 year homosexual 'relationship' between an ex-priest and the director of CAFOD, the Bishops' overseas aid agency! Well of course the outrageous Modernist views expressed in the liturgical newsletter represent those of the hierarchy, whose lengthy and ongoing record of liturgically-related sins - of commission and omission; both collegial and personal - belie any predictable attempts to distance themselves from such views. And that surely is all that needs saying on that score.

If the editor of the Catholic Herald and other well-meaning but distracted souls therefore missed the point and failed to address the real issues raised in the wake of Liturgiam authenticam, they might benefit from the following article by John Vennari. Directly and succinctly he gets to the heart of the matter, echoing many salient points which have been raised in Christian Order articles and editorials down the years, such as the overriding importance of the ancient Roman Rite as the indispensable template of Western liturgical reform, whether of the Modern (Novus Ordo) Rite or any other [cf. "Rescuing the Mass: Route #1", March 1999]. Simply put, when all is said and done, Liturgiam authenticam is not primarily about the Novus Ordo. Ultimately, it is about the thorny but vital question of where things are heading apropos of the Old Mass.

In that regard, it has been noticeable both in personal correspondence and news reports of the past few years that very many among the millions of faithful attached to the traditional Roman Rite have become increasingly distrustful of Rome's escalating push for liturgical reform. Even while justifiably infuriated by it, most traditional Catholics are savvy enough to appreciate the realpolitik - the episcopal impasse (largely of Rome's own making) - which prevents the Vatican from granting a universal permission to celebrate the old liturgy at the present time. They also understand that there will be no winding up of the new liturgy (the Holy Father and Cardinal Ratzinger have made that abundantly clear). They are realistic about these things and quite content to let the Vatican pursue its patchwork reform of the Novus Ordo - as long as that reform does not impinge on their papally proclaimed "rightful aspiration" to traditional worship. They reasonably assume, however, that rather than allow the old and new rites to co-exist, Rome's preference is for a return to one uniform rite and, therefore, that instead of merely rectifying ('traditionalising') the Novus Ordo, a contrived reconciliation of the Roman Rite with the Modern Rite is in the offing. In other words, they are concerned that the much vaunted and desperately needed "Reform of the [Vatican II] Reform" will be driven by the new at the expense of the old; that the '62 Missal will be pushed inexorably towards the '69 Missal, 'updated' by a Vatican committee, leading eventually to the alien spirit and profane practices of the Novus Ordo being introduced into the Old Mass.

One hopes and prays that this nightmare scenario never eventuates, yet such a gloomy perception derives not from traditionalist paranoia but wholly warranted and healthy scepticism born of harsh post-conciliar experience. It is given further credence by a Vatican approach to liturgical development which, in keeping with the origins and nature of the Novus Ordo itself, remains distinctly inorganic and haphazard. The aforementioned revision of the 1975 General Instruction of the Roman Missal is a case in point. While redressing many abuses and insisting on such things as a traditional crucifix with a corpus on or near the altar during Mass (in lieu of the bare "Protestant cross" we often see) and priests remaining on the sanctuary during the Sign of Peace etc., the new Instruction has simultaneously managed to further undermine tradition: by turning the never mandated Mass versus populum (facing the people) into a quasi-mandatory practice ("whenever possible"); by declaring that the tabernacle should not be on the altar where Mass is offered; and in limiting genuflections to the Blessed Sacrament, if reserved on the sanctuary, to the beginning and end of Mass only. From the bowels of which faceless sub-committee of Vatican mandarins, one wonders, did these liberal directives emerge? How does one reconcile the imposition of such practices with the purpose of the new General Instruction - which, we are told, is to make the Novus Ordo conform more closely to the intentions of the Council - when the Council Fathers most certainly never envisaged either Mass facing the people or a detached tabernacle, and would surely have baulked at a wholesale reduction in genuflections?

With this mindset guiding liturgical reform, is it any wonder traditionalists fear that the 1962 Missal might be compromised. The imposition of a scatter gun mixture of traditional and progressive instructions, masquerading under facile slogans about 'drawing on the best of old and new', hardly inspires confidence in the triumph of authentic liturgical reform, which, as the journal of Australia's Ecclesia Dei Society recently recalled: "does not come, ready made, from on high. It grows up from within local communities deeply attached to the forms and to the texts in which their worship is expressed. And the reform spreads if other communities, under their relevant authorities, adopt changes in liturgical use made elsewhere for the better. This is what "organic development" means" [Oriens, Winter 2001]. Which is to say that only incrementum authenticum (genuine development) rooted in traditionem authenticam (genuine tradition) produces that liturgiam authenticam (genuine liturgy) embodied in the 1962 Missal - whose further organic development was considered by the Council Fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium authenticum (the Council document on the sacred liturgy whose genuine letter and spirit was hijacked by Modernist ideologues and transmuted into the Novus Ordo).

That being so, and without wishing to downplay the importance of recent Vatican initiatives vis-à-vis the Modern Rite or dwelling on the invariable difficulties of enforcing such directives, Christian Order's contribution to the debate about liturgical reform is best made by returning to Sacrosanctum Concilium and the (as yet unrealised) reform of the traditional Roman Rite. To this end, we commence herein a stimulating two part critique by Father John Parsons, a priestly scholar familiar with both the '62 and '69 Missals, in which he first considers the historical and psycho-spiritual roots of the post-conciliar liturgical crisis, before suggesting possible reforms to the 1962 Missal drawn from the pre-Reformation Western liturgy, along the lines actually requested by the Council. While reaction to the suggested reforms will vary greatly, some Latin Mass communities may even consider certain proposals worth adopting ad experimentum with the permission of the local bishop. In any event, it is only via such reforms established at grassroots that the Church slowly but surely develops genuine liturgy - the bliss and benefits of which radiate from the Old Mass. 'Top-down' reform, like the contrived 1969 liturgy it spawned and is now trying to rein in, has little to do with liturgiam authenticam.


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