A REFORM OF THE REFORM?
FATHER JOHN PARSONS
Reform of the Liturgical Reform introduced into the Western Church during the 1950s and 1960s was the subject of a paper delivered by my friend Rev. Brian Harrison at Colorado Springs in 1995. It was that paper which moved Father Joseph Fessio S.J. to launch the Adoremus movement to work towards such a reform.
Having been asked by Father Harrison to respond to his paper, the first question that presents itself is: "How realistic should one be?" It is always possible to indulge personal preferences about an "ideal" liturgy, but, apart from the unlikelihood of these preferences being put into practice, any such scheme would constitute an arbitrary and eclectic exercise of the very sort that Archbishop Bugnini's Consilium permitted itself when producing the existing set of liturgical options. If that conception of liturgical "reform" is in large part a source of the problems we face, more of the same theorizing is not only futile in practice but objectionable in principle.
At the other end of the pragmatic spectrum, there stands the possibility of suggesting a few modest improvements to the 1969 Roman Missal. These would be so small and piecemeal as to present no unified vision, and would be equally open to the charge of subjectivism and eclecticism, which must somehow be avoided if any "Reform of the Reform" is to be intellectually coherent, or to gain acceptance on a wide scale.
I think the most appropriate way into the subject is to attempt to identify the fundamental problem, or mentality that has created the present liturgical malaise. To do that, one must begin historically by attempting to trace the motor forces in liturgical change.
I. THE "MODERN" MENTALITY AND THE SEARCH FOR AN IDEAL LITURGY
The received histories of the Liturgical Movement sometimes deal with the neo-Gallican experiments of the eighteenth century, but more generally begin the story with Dom Gueranger and the Abbey of Solesmes from the 1830s, continue to Dom Lambert Beauduin at the Abbey of Mont Cesar prior to the Great War, and conclude with Odo Casel, Pius Parsch and the other names familiar in liturgically conscious circles during the 1950s.
While not attempting a history of the Liturgical Movement, it is perhaps true to summarise the movement's course by saying that prior to Vatican II, it passed through three "moments" or phases. The first, typified by Gueranger, stemmed from the realisation that the liturgy was no longer being celebrated perfectly anywhere, and was devoted to creating ideal conditions in which it could be lived out. The second, typified by Beauduin, stemmed from the realisation that the liturgy was not being celebrated perfectly by the mass of the faithful, and was devoted to promoting the liturgical life as far as possible in the setting of a parish. The third, in the period after the Second World War, with increased experimentation in France and elsewhere, and the holding of International Liturgical Congresses annually from 1950, stemmed from the realisation that it was impossible to involve the mass of the faithful in the existing liturgy, in a full and equal way. Attention was therefore devoted to changing that liturgy in the hope of procuring the perfect participation of everyone. We note here the beginnings of a Copernican revolution: initially the idea is to make modern life revolve around the liturgy, but as the movement develops there is an increasing tendency to make the liturgy revolve around modern life. After the Second Vatican Council, the latter tendency clearly had the upper hand, and the post-conciliar Missal and Office marked a definite break with historic forms in an attempt to make the Church's worship simpler, easier and more immediately comprehensible to homo modernus, be he an uninformed Catholic, a non-Catholic, or a non-Christian.
If the liturgical standard of the immediate pre-conciliar period was no worse, and in fact, thanks to the Liturgical Movement, a good deal better than it had been for much of the Church's history, why was a change felt to be desirable in the second half of the twentieth century? Increasing popular education and the democratic or egalitarian spirit of the age may be part of the answer, as these would give rise to an expectation of a heightened degree of universal and equal "involvement" in the liturgy. I think, however, that a more fundamental factor was the increasing awareness in western society of the relativities of human culture across time.
If a wrestling with historical relativity is the root of the matter, then the spirit of the recent liturgical revolution may be grasped by beginning not with the revivalist ultramontane traditionalism of Dom Gueranger, but with the revolution, part antiquarian, part rationalist, part historicist, that was attempted at the beginning of the contemporary period by the Jansenist party. The most formal move in this direction occurred at the diocesan Synod of Pistoia in Tuscany, convened by Scipio de Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia and Prato in 1786 and which was condemned by the Holy See for the first time in 1794, and for the last in 1947. With the benefit of hindsight, Pistoia can be seen as the beginning of the current Catholic debate on the cultural adaptation of the liturgical lex orandi, and on its subtle but profound connection with the lex credendi. The Holy See's volte face in its response to the kind of adaptation the Synod of Pistoia proposed, also serves to demonstrate how far the Papacy has been prepared to reverse its historico-cultural judgements on liturgical matters in the past. This in turn should provide supporters of the traditional liturgy with a helpful precedent to cite when the time comes for the Holy See to reform its own recent reform.
It can hardly be denied that the spirit which hovered over Archbishop Bugnini's Consilium following Vatican II, was more akin to the spirit of Scipio de Ricci and his synod, than to that of Prosper Gueranger and his abbey. In the bull Auctorem Fidei of 1794, Pius VI censured as "heretical" the Synod of Pistoia's assertion that "in recent centuries a general obscuring has occurred regarding truths of great importance relating to religion". It is true that the doctrinal assertions of the Synod which contradict the Church's lex credendi were the principal object of this condemnation; but the Synod's implicit assertion that the Church's lex orandi had also been defective and contrary to the will of God for many centuries would certainly have been held by Pius VI to be, if not heretical, then at least close to it; haeresi proxima as the traditional phrase has it.
Modern Rationalist Mentality
The age of Rationalism, standing as it does between a pre-Modern Christendom and the post-Modern present, was an inadequate first attempt to respond to the awakening of the historical sense. With the intensification of historical scholarship from the end of the seventeenth century, (one thinks of the efforts of Jean Mabillon and the Benedictine Maurists, the Jesuit Bollandists, the great Theatine liturgist St Giuseppe Maria Tommasi, and a philosopher of law and literature such as Gianbattista Vico) the consciousness of change across time, both in the Church and in the general culture, was borne in upon the thinking of the educated classes. (A tell tale sign of this shift is the end of the artistic practice of depicting historical characters in contemporary dress). This growing awareness of historical change poses a crisis of confidence in existing practice, whether secular or sacred. What had been predominantly perceived as necessary and timeless, comes to be predominantly perceived as contingent and the product of shifting fashion.
In the "Post-Modern" or the "Radically Orthodox" perspective, we may be inclined to overcome such a crisis of sensibility by frankly acknowledging the historical relativity of much of human culture, and continuing nonetheless to use traditional forms for good reasons of our own, which are impervious to historicist attack. The "Modern" or rationalist mentality, on the other hand, does not react in that way. Its first response to the crisis of historical relativity is an attempt to "dig deeper" beneath existing practice and to "expose" an ideal order which really is as "true" and "timeless" as the older forms had been spontaneously assumed to be by pre-critical minds. Deism in religion and "enlightened" revolution of the French kind were both, at the intellectual level, attempts to carry out this enterprise. Belief in a self-evident order which has been overlaid by historical accretions, but which will satisfy and convince everyone, except the culpably perverse, if only it can be "restored", is the foundation of the Modern approach.
Although the Jansenist programmes of reform in Austria, Italy and elsewhere were ostensibly Christian and patristic in inspiration, the eighteenth century dawn of the Modern spirit definitely influenced the Pistoian call for a change that would be not only the revival of an ideal patristic past, but also the production of a more logical, simple and rational Church. The Pistoians' rejection of post-patristic developments in the forms of Catholic life, was predicated upon the belief that the Christianity of the patristic era was the original, true and normative Christianity, we might almost say the "rational form" of Christianity, and that it had a prescriptive right to overturn subsequent developments deemed to represent a declension from the primitive ideal. This is really a kind of "patristical rationalism", less radical than the "scriptural rationalism" of the sixteenth century reformers, but based, like it, on the assumption that the Church has been in error for centuries past.
Search for Liturgical Archetype
The tendencies inherent in this desire to "restore" a lost rational archetype by means of a sweeping "reform" are analogous whether the instinct be applied in civil legislation (like that of the Enlightened despots and the French revolutionaries) or in matters ecclesiastical or liturgical (as in the case of Scipio de Ricci or Archbishop Bugnini's Consilium).
First, the reform is implicitly totalitarian. If there is one and only one rational or authentic way of doing things, then there is no room for tolerance of any other way of behaving. Tradition, whether in Church or State, will have to submit to sharp and compulsory correction. In liturgical matters, this means that if one can deduce from first principles a "correct" way to celebrate Mass, as the tone of the "General Instruction to the Roman Missal" of 1969 implies, then there is logically no room in the Church for a family of different Mass rites. The Eastern Rites, as well as any of the "unreformed" Western Rites, must be viewed as at best superfluous, or at worst an obstacle to truth. Rights to worship based on long-standing custom are abolished by this rationalist totalitarianism. This is the direct antithesis to the reform of 1570, which aimed to abolish recent innovations and to leave long standing custom untouched.
Second, the reform minimizes or denies the worth of historical developments. If one is "digging deeper" to reach the bedrock of first principles, then the most primitive form of all is closest to Nature, and is thus the most desirable. Historical development can only be seen as the corrupting or overlaying of a pristine original. This mentality rejects the actual course of the development of the liturgy, as Protestantism rejects the actual course of the development of doctrine. Both indulge in an anachronistic and logically incoherent rifling of the resources of the historic mainstream of Christianity, upon which they are parasitic.
Since precise and detailed texts of the liturgy in the Ante-Nicene period are rare, it is to the fourth and following centuries that the more pronouncedly antiquarian kind of reformer must look for his primitive model. So far as the detail of the Roman Rite is concerned, the form recorded in the earliest Ordines Romani, giving the practice of the seventh and eighth centuries, before the Carolingian Empire adopted and adapted the Roman Rite, must serve as the antiquarian's guide. The more distinctly rationalist reformer, on the other hand, will go even further back and base himself on St Justin Martyr's description of the Eucharist in the second century, the earliest we have. From this he will create an "ideal Mass" which has never actually existed, but which will simultaneously derive from and prescind from, all the traditional historic rites of Christendom. The Neo-Roman Missal of 1969 is the joint product of these two mentalities, antiquarian and rationalist, with the rationalist greatly predominating.
The extrinsic difference between the Catholic liturgy in the Greco-Roman period on one hand, and in the post-classical period on the other, is that even in the Latin part of Europe, the liturgy ceases to be celebrated in the vernacular speech, since the daily language of the people has developed. Thus the antiquarian possibly, and the rationalist certainly, will conclude, like the Pistoians, that the restoration of a vernacular liturgy is one essential element in a re-establishment of a lost authentic relation between worshippers and the cultic forms in which their worship is expressed.
The rationalist also values the conveying of information above the symbolic, ritual expression that is so fundamental to worship of the Divine Mystery. He will therefore tend to shift the balance in the liturgy, and to move it towards a didacticism, in which a relentless stream of informative words takes precedence over sacramental action, ritual singing, silence or ceremonial movement. The making present of a saving mystery, at a variety of levels and in diverse ways, will tend to be replaced by the monolinear delivery of a lecture. To someone imbued with this mentality, a non-vernacular ritual language is simply an absurdity.
Let us then briefly recall the mixed rationalism and antiquarianism of the Pistoian project, noting the similarities between the changes in theology and practice which that Synod wished to make, and those which have occurred de facto since Vatican II.
These include the notions:
Are these the proposals of the 1780s or the 1980s? They are both.
Striking as these parallels are, it is even more important to note that the Synod was praised by its supporters as being "perhaps the most regular which has been held for ten or twelve centuries", that is, since the age of St Gregory the Great. Taking the patristic Church as normative, the Pistoians, carried along by a spirit of revolutionary pedanticism, outlined an impossible scheme for recreating it. It was a hankering to create a modern analogue of that same patristic Church, which haunted the imagination of many in the reform party in the mid-twentieth century, and which inspired them with the same revolutionary zeal.
II. THE CHANGE IN CURIAL POLICY
The Pistoian line of argument was solemnly rejected by the Holy See. From Pius VI in the bull Auctorem Fidei of 1794, to Pius XII in the encyclical Mediator Dei of 1947, the papacy explicitly condemned the Synod by name, and also its contemporary emulators, as promoting a false "liturgical antiquarianism." The Synod had asserted it to be "against apostolic practice and the counsels of God unless easier ways are provided for the people to join their voice with the voice of the whole Church." Article 66 of the Auctorem Fidei condemns this proposition, understood as proposing the introduction of the vernacular into the liturgy, as "false, temerarious, disruptive of the order laid down for the celebration of the mysteries, and easily productive of numerous evils." It is the unhappy privilege of those living in the late twentieth century to see how prescient that condemnation was! Mediator Dei reiterated "the serious reasons the Church has for firmly maintaining the unconditional obligation on the celebrant to use the Latin tongue." In 1956, at the International Liturgical Conference held at Assisi, the Holy See maintained its warnings against a vernacular liturgy, though the rites for the sacraments were being vernacularised with Roman authority by that time in countries where the more advanced liturgical thinking prevailed. Even as late as 1962, in the encyclical Veterum Sapientia, John XXIII said "let no innovator dare to write against the use of Latin in the sacred rites...nor let them in their folly attempt to minimise the will of the Apostolic See in this matter."
Annibale Bugnini: Neo-Pistoian Reformer
From 1948 however, the year after Mediator Dei appeared, the Roman line had begun to change. In that year a Commission for Liturgical Reform was established in the Roman Curia, of which the most influential members seem to have been Augustin Bea S.J., confessor to Pius XII, and Annibale Bugnini, the secretary of the Commission, who was to remain the central bureaucratic figure in Roman liturgical reform until his dismissal by Paul VI in 1975. The sentiments of Auctorem Fidei are not those of this extremely influential figure, for Bugnini shared Scipio de Ricci's conviction that Catholic worship had been in need of reform for many centuries, and shared also in the complacent conviction that he was just the man needed to reform it.
When in 1969 Hubert Jedin, the distinguished historian of the Council of Trent, criticized the effects of the post-conciliar liturgical changes in an article in the Osservatore Romano, and in particular the introduction of the vernacular as sacrificing an important bond of unity in the western Church, Archbishop Bugnini replied saying:
The "ignorance and 'dark night' of worship" to which the Archbishop refers is reminiscent of the Synod of Pistoia's belief in a centuries old "general obscuring of truths of great moment relating to religion". Since Archbishop Bugnini's argument is based on the existence of a non-vernacular liturgy, we must assume that his dark night has reigned from at least the eighth century, if not the sixth; just the same point identified by the Synod of Pistoia's supporters as the beginning of the decadence of the Church.
In his invaluable work La Riforma Liturgica 1948-1975, published in 1983, and in English translation in 1990, Archbishop Bugnini makes it plain repeatedly that his words to Professor Jedin are not a misrepresentation of his habitual state of mind. A very negative and dismissive evaluation of the liturgical practice of the Catholic Church, at least in the Latin rites, ever since the Carolingian period, is a strikingly persistent part of his mentality. The assumption underlying the work of the Consilium over which Archbishop Bugnini presided is distinctly parallel to that of the Pistoian reformers. The assumption is that the Church has been off course for centuries, since the end of the patristic age, and that it is now the task of the Consilium to sweep away whatever it deems appropriate from the "accretions" of the past, in order to implement its own ideas as to what Catholic worship should be. Antiquity can be appealed to where possible, but rationalist clarity or "pastoral need" must be invoked whenever antiquity stands in the way; thus, on one ground or the other, the will of the Consilium must always prevail, since no fixed and objective criterion can be invoked against it.
Symbolic Repudiation of Tradition
The two flaws of the rationalist mentality noted earlier, namely its totalitarian and its anti-traditional tendencies, were much in evidence in the Consilium's "reform". First, the implication was drawn that all other Catholic rites, from Milanese to Malabarese, were to undergo a rationalization based on the neo-Roman model. This has consequently been done, with results that Rome has regretted, at least in the South Indian case. Second, no tolerance was shown to those who believed in the merits of the liturgical development that had occurred down the centuries. Such people were seen rather as obscurantists who failed to appreciate what the revolution was trying to achieve. It was entirely in keeping with this spirit that the historic Roman Rite of Mass was put under a de facto if not a de jure ban between 1974 and 1984, and that some people were even driven by the papacy out of full communion with the Church in pursuance of the Consilium's policies.
We should note in passing that like all revolutions, this one has its unconsciously humorous side. As the poet puts it: "Would that God the gift might gi' us, to see ourselves as others see us". On 3 July 1999 Cardinal Medina Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, signed a protocol beginning with the splendid assertion that "After the Liturgical Restoration mandated by the Second Vatican Council, a certain group of the Catholic faithful appeared, (who were) strongly attached to preceding forms of the Roman Liturgical tradition". This is like saying that "After England turned Protestant, a group of Englishmen appeared who were strongly attached to the Old Religion". In both cases it is not the appearance of the group in question that is the novelty calling for comment, but rather the disappearance of traditional loyalties on the part of everyone else!
A policy of an aggiornamento or updating of the Church, undertaken in the modern context, logically implies that the secularised culture of a decayed western Christendom shall provide the standard by which the Church is to be updated. It was in this context that the reconstruction of the historic liturgy rapidly became a damnatio memoriae of the Church's practice, at least since the time of Charlemagne, when the definitive liturgical forms of that same western Christendom emerged.
The symbolic repudiation of the tradition of Christendom, as Cardinal Ratzinger has stated, has contributed very greatly to an undermining of confidence in the Church in general. While it may be possible logically to believe in a Church which is an infallible guide in doctrines of faith and morals but which, for most of the time since its foundation, has promoted, in Archbishop Bugnini's striking phrase, "lack of understanding, ignorance and dark night" in the worship of God, it is not possible psychologically to carry out a mental juggling act of this sort for very long, or on a scale that involves any great number of people. If the lex orandi could be so profoundly misguided for so many centuries, what confidence can be placed in the lex credendi upheld through those long centuries by the same misguided papacy and ecclesiastical authorities? Here again the adage lex orandi, lex credendi rules, but with a new and destructive twist. Either the damnatio memoriae of the traditional liturgy must be clearly and publicly revoked, or confidence in the Church's authority will never be recovered.
If this is indeed how matters stand, what is to be done?
III. RESTORING RESPECT FOR THE CHURCH'S TRADITIONAL PRACTICE
If the crisis is one of confidence in the Church and its tradition, then the only way out of the crisis is via a clear, modern reaffirmation of tradition, vindicating the historic Roman lex orandi as the Catechism of the Catholic Church has vindicated the historic lex credendi. We must attempt a modern presentation of the historic Roman Rite, analogous to the Catechism's modern presentation of the historic Catholic Faith. We must negate the negations and overcome the discontinuities of the post-conciliar period, always remembering, however, that the Faith is one, while liturgies are diverse. The Catechism is for Coptic and Greek Catholics as much as for Westerners, while the liturgical families of the Catholic Church are available at choice to any Catholic who feels particularly drawn to them.
Does such a reaffirmation mean an immobile Traditionalism? Are we to press for the abolition of the 1969 regime and a universal return to the state of liturgical affairs as they stood in 1962? Not at all. The very idea that the Holy See would, or even effectively could, abolish the post-conciliar changes is absurd. In that sense, a "Reform of the Reform" is impossible. One cannot in fact expect any of the permissions, variations, exceptions, delegations or modifications made to the historic Roman Rite in order to transform it into the new set of liturgical options, or any of the ceremonial developments that have accompanied these changes, such as the introduction of communion in the hand and of female altar servers, to be reversed. If one were attempting this impossible task of compulsorily changing the existing official Novus Ordo, I would support a reform of the kind I have already outlined in the Adoremus Bulletin.
1962 Missal: Benchmark for Liturgical Reform
In fact, however, I believe Father Harrison is right when he envisages the real way forward as entailing a new parallel implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium which would be available to all who wished to use it. His proposal is that "an alternative for implementing the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy" should be gradually elaborated and then "presented to the Holy See, possibly some time during the next pontificate, with the request that it be approved for use throughout the Church - perhaps after a period of local use ad experimentum - as an alternative implementation of Vatican Council II, having equal status and recognition [his italics] with the rite introduced by Paul VI." If therefore any "Reform of the Reform" can only entail the establishment of yet another parallel rite for the celebration of the Eucharist, is the task worth undertaking? To such a proceeding there are many objections. The Holy See and the bishops are unlikely to be favourable. Will not confusion be compounded? Can the eclectic and subjective character of the 1969 reforms be avoided the second time around?
Despite the obstacles and difficulties, I believe the attempt is worth making, provided that the new reform is founded upon a careful respect for the historic Roman Rite.
When they voted for the conciliar decree on the liturgy, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council never imagined that they were launching a process whereby the Mass rite that most of them had known all their lives would disappear. They thought, as they declared in their decree on the Oriental Churches, that the various rites were of equal dignity and that "the Catholic Church wishes the traditions of each particular church or rite to remain whole and entire". In decreeing a reform of the Roman Rite, the Council Fathers did not authorise the introduction of alternatives to the Roman Canon as the sole eucharistic prayer; yet many have been introduced. The Council Fathers did not authorise the destruction of the immemorial Roman Lectionary; yet it was destroyed. The Council Fathers did not authorise a recasting of the annual cycle of Sundays or any change to the very ancient Sunday collects; yet both these changes were made. The Council Fathers did not authorise a redistribution of saints days; yet that is what was undertaken. The Council Fathers did not authorise the abandonment or tendentious alteration of over eighty percent of the orations (Collects, Secrets and Postcommunions) throughout the Missal; yet this momentous step was taken. The truth is that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council assumed that the great Roman Rite as known to history would be maintained in all its essentials and would continue to be the principal form for the celebration of the Catholic Eucharist. In this they were deceived. The historic Roman Rite was suppressed de facto. The reform as implemented is not the reform the Council authorised. Adoremus is therefore attempting to be genuinely loyal to the Fathers' intentions when it takes their document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, as the fundamental reference point for any scheme of reform.
Sacrosanctum Concilium presupposes that the Missal of 1962 is the benchmark from which any change in the Roman Rite will commence. After all, the Latin majority of the bishops at the Council, and of Catholics around the world, were using the ancient rite in its 1962 edition to celebrate Mass each morning during the years in which the Council met. Proposals based on Sacrosanctum Concilium must therefore be proposals to make variations in that Missal, with everything in it remaining in force unless otherwise specified. I presuppose that the reader is familiar with the traditional Missal, and hence I do not attempt to explain its structure or terminology in the course of this article. My aim is merely to take up the discussion begun by Father Harrison, and to present what I suggest is a legitimate implementation of the conciliar decree of 1963. To that end, the second part of this essay will treat the major elements in the Council's consideration of the Mass:
Father John Parsons is a priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, Australia, who studied and was ordained at the Venerable English College in Rome. He has been priest in charge of the traditional Roman Rite congregation in Canberra since 1993.