The Unfinished Liturgical Work of Benedict XVI

One of the things that I hoped against hope for during the pontificate of Benedict XVI was an encyclical on the liturgy marking the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum concilium.  That will now never come to pass.  Only the future can tell how much the liturgical theology of Joseph Ratzinger will continue to enter into the life of the Church via the Roman Magisterium.  That liturgical theology, of course, is itself the heir of the classical Liturgical Movement, applied to the problems of today in such a way as to herald a New Liturgical Movement.  This renewal movement, like its early 20th century predecessor, has not been a uniform one by any stretch of the imagination.  But it clearly reflects the thought of Joseph Ratzinger.
But there are also some significant lacunae that present themselves at the end of this papacy as well, that his successor will have to in some way address.  There is much in Ratzinger’s theology, which never saw itself translated into anything concrete via the munus regendi of the Roman Pontiff and the Curia.  There are other things which found their counterpart in things the Pope did by way of example, but were never enshrined in any other way.  A question burning in the hearts of many a disciple of the Pope of the Liturgy is whether any of those things will find their way into the next pontificate.  Or will they remain as they were in the papacy of Benedict XVI: quiet provocations to thoughtful people to integrate them into the ars celebrandi, not by force but by their intrinsic worth becoming more visible (or not) with time?  It can also be asked, and must be, whether the Reform of the Reform was a “quixotic movement doomed to extinction” as a priest friend once said of the Traditionalist Movement, a force which will lose its guiding star, fading before the burning sun of secularist might?  Or is now the moment of its greatest epiphany, as Pope Benedict leaves to his followers the shadow of a blueprint for how to go about it all?
I don’t think anyone can adequately answer these questions.  But we can look at the work that has been done in the years of Pope Benedict’s papacy and then surmise what is left to accomplish if we are to advance the goals of the New Liturgical Movement.       
Reorientation of the Liturgy
If I had to say what I thought is the single most important accomplishment of Pope Benedict’s liturgical magisterium, I would have to say the reorientation of the liturgy.  That might surprise you.  After all, the only public papal ad orientem celebrations were on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, in the context of what otherwise might have been an ordinary Italian Novus Ordo parish Mass.  No edict issued forth from Rome encouraging the type of celebration that Klaus Gamber and Joseph Ratzinger argued had an inherent and irreducible liturgical symbolic weight.  What has come to be called the Benedictine arrangement, which in reality is just the post-Tridentine arrangment of cross and candles on altars in Roman Basilicas where a confessio precluded celebration of the Mass in front of the altar, appeared in the papal liturgy and was imitated all over the world.  It had no legal force behind it.
But Ratzinger/Benedict was very clear on the christological orientation of the Sacred Liturgy.  The Mass had to be oriented towards the Christ of the Paschal Mystery.  His insistence on this principal was a needed corrective to a one-sided emphasis on self-celebrating community and the meal aspect of the Mass.  It serves to reduce the temptation of clerical presiders to be protagonists in creating the liturgy, and puts priests and liturgy commissariat apparatchniks in their place, which is not in the center of the celebration, but in its service.
Yet how is this principle translated into action?  It is foremost a spiritual principle which can be made visible in liturgical celebration in various ways.  The challenge for the future is that, now that more and more celebrants are choosing to celebrate the Mass facing what is now described as liturgical East, will it remain an eccentric option able to be marginalized, and hence manipulable by those who claim it causes division?  Will it grow unencumbered by discriminatory retributions on the part of those who despise it in principle and in action?  Or will a future edict of the Pope, the Congregation for Divine Worship, or Bishops’ Conferences mandate or proscribe it?
Leadership from on high will be needed if the movement towards ad orientem worship is going to contribute to the unity of the Church and not detract from it.  And that leadership cannot ignore the fundamental Christ-centered liturgical action of Benedict’s teaching.
Two Forms of the Roman Rite
The 2007 document Summorum pontificum and its 2011 follow-up Universae ecclesiae introduced a radically new notion into the life, and the law, of the Church.  The Roman Rite was henceforth to consist of two forms, an ordinary one (the 1970 Missal of Paul VI) and an extraordinary one (the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII).  This declaration is unparalleled in the history of the Church.
But what has it actually done?  First of all, it has removed the stigma that ambiguously marked millions of Catholics who were attracted to the classical form of the Roman Rite.  No longer second-class citizens, traditionalist-minded faithful all of a sudden found themselves (at least most of them) no longer questioned for their loyalty to the Church.  What’s more, the traditionalist critique of men such as Lefebvre and Siri and their heirs has once more began to be heard in the open, and no longer in secret enclaves.  Whether this should be the case or not, it is, and a newer generation of clergy and young people are asking questions that were stifled only a decade ago.
Second, it has enshrined the principle that there is such a thing as legitimate liturgical diversity even within the one Roman Rite.  This has been used to free other ancient uses as well, such as the rites of the religious orders, and can be applied also to other historic uses. 
Third, it puts the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, and the pre-reformed rites, front and center in the Church’s life again. It is no longer marginalized, and cannot be.  The steady increase of the older missal’s adoption marks a new stage in the faithful’s expectations of liturgy. 
Yet, since the proclamation has done all these things, it also brings up numerous unresolved issues.  Will the Church revisit Vatican II and seek out its authentic interpretation?  How will the Church do this?  By another council, by the Synod of Bishops, by theologians laboring to bring it forth, by Roman decree?  How can the traditionalist critique that the liturgical reform was a rupture be integrated into a Church which has been oriented by Benedict XVI to seek out a hermenutic of continuity?  
The diversity of the Roman Rite also presents its own challenges.  Does that diversity only apply to preconciliar expressions of worship, or can it also apply to things like the Zairian Rite, the newer liturgical customs of individual monasteries, LifeTeen Masses and the Neocatechumenal Way?  In what does the Roman Rite consist now?
Greater access to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII also has had the effect of raising some searching questions about the preconciliar liturgical reform.  How will the Church address the growing momentum to reconsider the reforms of the Pontifical and Holy Week before Vatican II, and liberate the usage of previous forms of them?  Likewise, how will the Church address the ways in which Liturgiam authenticam inspired translations of the Ordinary Form which have not always been received well by liturgists and pewsitters alike and through processes which have not always been accepted by them either?  Will any of the indications of Sacrosanctum concilium, such as the use of the vernacular, be brought to bear on the Extraordinary Form?
Pastors, theologians and liturgists have a weighty task now in evaluating how the christological reorientation of the liturgy in this papacy, and its accompanying recontextualizing of the Roman Rite, looks in practice. 
Reform of the Reform
Ratzinger had indicated that the time was propitious for there to be a Reform of the Reform.  But in what does that consist?  For all of the rumoring of various propositions that were supposed to be coming out of the Vatican which would give flesh to a Reform of the Reform, nothing has ever seen the light of day.  Did Pope Benedict have a Marshall Plan for the reform of the liturgy, or was that a fanciful notion driven by wishful thinking and some inside knowledge?  Regardless, the motor which drove forward the whole project, the person of Pope Benedict XVI, has now been removed from the vehicle of the liturgy.  Can that motor be replaced by another charismatic person who understands what must be done, or by a series of liturgical and legal proposals to bring the liturgy to a state of what would make its Christocentric nature more apparent?
“Something must be done” has been on the lips of many Catholics about the liturgy for a very long time.  But the question now becomes what that something is, and how it can be done in a way so as to not compromise the unity of a Church which finds itself pressured from inside and out by dividing forces?
Can the proposals for how the liturgy should be reformed enter into a dialogue with the whole Church, with theologians, liturgists, pastors or lay faithful?  Or will they be imposed by the hierarchy?  Will their imposition by the hierarchy yield long-time benefits despite short-term discomfiture?  When do the Pope, the Curia, Bishops and pastors know the time is right to advance the Reform of the Reform, and in what does it consist?
Mutual Enrichment
The placement side by side of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Missal was done with a hopeful view to mutual enrichment.  Some people have claimed that such enrichment has been too one-sided.  How are the two Missals supposed to enrich each other?  How can they do so if the mixing of the two forms is forbidden?  Is there a tertium quid which will recognize the merits of both and combine them in some fashion into a once again unified Roman rite?
Sacred Art and Music
The Liturgical Art and Sacred Music Commission of the Congregation for Divine Worship has been formed under the leadership of the Pope.  But what is its competency?  What is it supposed to do and how can it be used as a tool for the Reform of the Reform?  Will black lists of music and art be published, or will general guidelines for the arts in church be crafted?  How can they take into account what actually exists in the Church and the many different situations in which the Church’s worship is celebrated throughout the world?  Will the Congregation for Divine Worship oversee the Reform of the Reform as Consilium did the original reform?  How will the new commission be integrated into that project, if it ever sees the light of day?
Theologians and liturgists continue to puzzle over the guiding principles of inculturation in various spheres of the Church’s life: theology, liturgy, discipline, clerical formation, and more.  They also continue to puzzle over what that looks like in the concrete.  Where are the boundaries of such inculturation?  What limits do Revelation, canon law, or common sense impose on the experimentation which drives inculturation?  Will inculturation increase the diversity of the Roman Rite, or will there cease to be a recognizable Roman Rite?  Does inculturation apply only to mission countries in the developing world, or is there a sense in which the nations of Old Christendom need their own inculturation of the Gospel as well?
The Pope, in all of his thought on the liturgy, avoids discussion of minute details of how the liturgy should be celebrated.  An exaggerated rubricism seems hardly amenable to the spirit of the times, but how does the papal vision look when it is celebrated according to the principles which guide it?  If it is up to individual interpretation, it is hard to see how the liturgy can remain a unifying factor in the Church’s life.  The Reform of the Reform advanced in an individualistic way can risk the same type of protagonism alien to Benedict’s conception of the ars celebrandi.  Greater guidance is needed from the Roman Curia on how to craft a workable ceremonial which incarnates the principles.  Greater guidance is needed to see how such a ceremonial may be adapted to the different situations in which the Church worships.  Is it too much to hope that a new General Instruction of the Roman Missal and an accompanying Ceremoniale Presbyterorum, rich in catechetical and theological depth alongside the necessary rubrics, may end the stop-and-go gradual transformation of the liturgy according to Benedictine principles and create a harmonious whole for the Ordinary Form just as the old books did for the Tridentine liturgy?
Reception of Holy Communion
The various indults allowing Communion in the hand have continued to exist and be granted, even in the papacy of Pope Benedict.  The norms for the reception and distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds remain what they are according to the third typical edition of the Roman Missal.  The norms for standing and kneeling remain what they are.  Yet, Pope Benedict himself chose to distribute Holy Communion to communicants who knelt at a prie-Dieu and received under the form of bread alone and directly on the tongue.  This mode of reception of Holy Communion, so closely associated with preconciliar practice and the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form, was clearly preferred by Pope Benedict XVI.  Books like that Athanasius Schneider’s Dominus est! provide a loud call for a return to that mode of reception.
In what sense can that mode be called traditional and preferred when there are many counterindications to its perduring historical presence?  What does it mean when the Roman Pontiff mandates it at his Masses, does not allow those receiving at his Masses to exercise all of the options allowed to them by liturgical law and at the hands of every other celebrant in the Roman Church, and clearly prefers it?  Do other modes merely indicate greater diversity in liturgical practice, and are they helpful for unity in worship?
The way in which Pope Benedict XVI distributed Holy Communion at his Masses reflects much of the thought in traditionalist and Reform of the Reform quarters, and goes against everything the Liturgical Establishment has said for 50 years should be the norm.  Perhaps during this Year of Faith there can be a reflection on how modes of distribution of Holy Communion should be located in the context of what it means to be properly disposed to receive, and how they have positively or negatively affected faith in the Real Presence.  It is time to address whether, and to what extent, Communion in the hand, Communion under both species, and Extraordinary Ministers have contributed to the growing crisis of faith.  It is also time to address whether aspects of the liturgical celebration, such as the mode of reception, should be conformed to the practice of the early Church, to pre-Vatican II practice, or to current needs, especially in light of confusion as to sacramental theology.  For decades now the Roman Magisterium has urged proper catechesis to go along with what has become accepted practice in many places for the current modes, but can a case be made for the modes themselves obviating or obscuring what is done in the catechesis?
Also, given that we have this struggle between norms in liturgical books and indults, local exceptions and eccentric practices, is it too much to ask that the Roman Magisterium clarify or mandate one form of reception for Holy Communion for the Roman Rite?  If Holy Communion is supposed to be a sign par excellence of the unity of the Body of Christ, can this bewildering diversity of practices in the modes of reception of Holy Communion really manifest and help preserve that unity? 
Papal Liturgy and the Roman Tradition
People for centuries have looked to Rome for how to celebrate liturgy (or how not to, as well).  Modern media have made it possible for everyone to analyze and imitate (or react against) what they see, particularly at papal liturgies.  The aesthetic cultivated under Pope Paul VI and Virgilio Noë became a standard for what the post-conciliar liturgy should look like, and how it should be celebrated.  Continuing under Bl. John Paul II and Piero Marini, this aesthetic formed opinions about how the reformed rites should be celebrated.
Under Pope Benedict XVI, however, something different has happened.  While the Noë look continues to a certain extent in the Vatican Basilica liturgies and in international celebrations, there has been a progressive adoption, at least in papal liturgies at the Roman Basilicas, of an ars celebrandi, from vesture and vestments to interpretation of rites, which to many recalls the papal liturgy before the Second Vatican Council.  To those who live outside the clerical culture of Italy, this has become a source of concern.  Many have interpreted it as a symbolic repudiation of the ecclesiology and liturgical reform of Vatican II.  Some have charged that it is a return to triumphalism, mediated by the restoration of a style associated with the now-abolished Papal Court and too tied to Baroque ceremonial traditions.  While many of those who make these comments are of a reformist, self-identifying liberal bent, this is not the case of all of the detractors.
Even conservative columnist George Weigel in his recent book Evangelical Catholicism identifies this trend with what he sees as “Counter-Reformation Catholicism” whose time has come and gone, and is no longer applicable to today’s needs.  As more and more younger clergy reproduce this new/old style in their own spheres, he intimates that it is “precious” and “prissy” and must be rejected as an unwelcome effeminate accretion to the liturgy.
It can be easy for critics of this Benedictine style to charge that these elements are all exercises in “retro-liturgy.”  Because many people associate so-called fiddleback chasubles, lace albs and surplices and birettas with the pre-Noë aesthetic, they also surmise that their use is evidence, at best, of nostalgia, and at worst, of moral degeneracy. 
Yet, outside of the Vatican, these same things are not interpreted, at least in Italian clerical circles, the same way.  The dichotomy applied to them is not liberal/traditionalist, but antico/moderno.  The choice for their use depends on a complicated calculus which includes the aesthetic of the church building (are you in a Baroque building, a Bauhaus church, or a Neo-Gothic chapel), the degree of solemnity (is it a feria of Lent or is it Easter Sunday), and the rank of the celebrant (is it a permanent deacon doing a Baptism or the Pope at a canonization).  While to outsiders, it may seem entirely too much falderol, it does represent a certain continuity with what came before.  It is a cultural thing which is peculiarly Roman, and has little to do with ecclesiology and liturgical questions in se.
The Roman basilica aesthetic and ars celebrandi is a tradition which has been handed down.  Gromier and Dante’s cultivation of it had its successor in Franck Quoëx’s application of it to the Extraordinary Form in our time and in Guido Marini’s reapplication of it, d’après la scuola liturgica siriana-genovese, to the papal liturgy.
But is the cultivation of this style in the Benedictine papacy a secret attempt to force effete nostalgia via Counter Reformation frocks upon an unwilling Pilgrim Church?  Is it an exercise in the hermeneutic of continuity, by stressing that the post-Vatican II papacy is in communion with that, both of Paul VI and Pius XII, at least in some visible way?  Is it simply bringing forth things new and old from the Church’s storehouse?  Or is it just a sign that polyester is out and brocade is back in?  And why have many younger people, particularly clergy, responded so enthusiastically to it?
Part of this question also involves concrete actions which have a symbolic weight.  Until recently, the Pope in the reformed liturgy was the only person who did not wear a Eucharistic vestment proper to his rank.  The restoration of the fanon brought back an important liturgical principle.  That action was rejected by many, because they depart from an esentially conciliarist principle that the Pope is really primus inter pares, and if anything should dress like any other Bishop, or any other Christian.  Difference is interpreted as a sign of willful clericalist discrimination.  Or the fanon is seen as an incomprehensible piece of nostalgia for people who like dressing up.
In reality, the fanon is the liturgical complement to the nota previa to Lumen gentium.  Just as the conciliar constitution on the Church had to have an appendage to salvage a proper understanding of the Roman papacy against the just clarification of the episcopal office by Vatican II, the fanon underscores the papal office against the anti-papal court style of the reformed rites.
Even though the Holy Father himself neverly celebrated the Extraordinary Form publicly, his unleashing of Summorum pontificum has led to a renewal of interest in both the papal and pontifical forms of that liturgy.  But that has led to some thorny issues.  Are celebrations of Bishops and the Pope in the Extraordinary Form to be brought in line with Pontificalis Domus of 1968, for example?  Are they subject to the 1983 Code of Canon Law (forbidding Mass coram  Or are they carried out according to the terms of the old liturgical books without reference to current legislation?  The fact that these are happening is already leading to calls for a revision of the austere pruning of Pontificalis Domus and the gutting of the Pontifical and Ceremonial in the revised rites.
In short, is the reappropriation of certain elements of Roman Basilica style in this reign a blip on the screen?  Were they just pushed by the private taste of Marini II and Gänswein?  Or are they part and parcel of a Reform of the Reform which will continue on into the next pontificate?
Nobody doubts that Ratzinger’s rich teaching and Benedict’s beautiful practice of the liturgy has been tremendously influential in a brief space of time.  But has it had time to take root, and will it be appreciated and advanced in the next pontificate?  The liturgy in our time is in a delicate situation, in a time of transition.  Only the Spirit can say how the next generation will engage the Sacred Liturgy, and whether Benedict’s unfinished work will morph into an enduring legacy.