Monday, February 24, 2014

Is the Reform of the Reform Dead?

Peter Kwasniewski over at NLM has given a good synopsis of a flurry of articles in recent weeks which have predicted the end of the “Reform of the Reform.”  Voices have been raised in the past year since Pope Benedict’s abdication prophesying the end of the Benedictine liturgical vision because of what seems to them to be an antipathy to such ideas on the part of Pope Francis.  Others, though, who have been widely known for their ROTR advocacy, are now themselves saying that such a reform is useless.  Why all of a sudden are these articles provoking thoughtful discussions, and what are the possibilities for the future?

Re-evaluating the Original Reform
Up until fairly recently, the bulk of the advocates of the ROTR have taken the books of the Liturgical Reform and the documents of the Roman Curia and national episcopal conferences, not to mention Sacrosanctum concilium, at face value.  Many of the original ROTR ideas have as their departure point these texts.  There are many reasons for this.  Some have argued that, because these documents have been produced by legitimate authority, it is essentially useless to work against them.  To do so would be evidence of disloyalty at the best and schismatic dissent at worst.  Others have argued, more pragmatically, that, because the vast majority of Catholics now worship according to the modern Roman liturgy, any liturgical discussion has to begin from and work within that framework.  Also, the often invoked and also often caricatured spirit of resistance of the traditionalist Catholic world led many of the ROTR crowd to deliberately avoid any discussion of the Pian Missal as such, to avoid getting bogged down in what they saw as essentially quixotic and eccentric concerns.
            But as ROTR thinkers delve deeply into the actual texts of the liturgical reform, as well as the now readily available historical accounts of the reform (Bugnini, P. Marini and Card. Antonelli being the most widely read of these), a more complex picture of the reform has come to the fore.  As more and more people begin to deal with the actual process by which the reform was conceived and implemented, and the principles that guided all of those decisions, more and more questions have come up as to whether process and principles were up to the task of producing the reform actually envisioned by SC 4 and 25: “that the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition” and “as soon as possible.” 
            This has led to a very simple question: was the so-called Missal of 1965 not the legitimate incarnation of the revision of the Roman Rite as conceived by the Bishops who voted on SC, which begs the question of why the Missa Normativa, which became the Missal of Paul VI, was necessary in the first place, especially when its own architects and proponents, at the time, made clear that it was really a new rite.
            The rather difficult to sustain position of some the early voices associated with the ROTR, that the two expressions of the Missal were really not all that much different from each other, and that the divergences were really more cosmetic than anything else, may have prompted some of the early ROTR thought to not delve deeply into the actual history of the reform.  But as that history becomes clearer and more accessible, that position has been more and more abandoned as untenable.
            All of this has brought some ROTR thinkers to go beyond the extant texts of the reform to how the reform was brought about, and that has unsettled many of them from an earlier position of relative ease with the reformed books.

The Futility of the Letter vs. Spirit Dichotomy
Many of the ROTR advocates loudly argued that we must return to the letter of the Council documents and of every jot and tittle written down by the legitimate authorities which produced the documents surrounding the reform.  The idea was that the “spirit of Vatican II” was at best a chimera, which had derailed authentic reform.  To anchor the spirit back to the letter of the liturgical books and documents, they assured us, would usher in the age of liturgical renewal that the Council Fathers really wanted.  A monumental work of catechesis and education has been done by many leaders of the ROTR, particularly in parishes where clergy and laypeople formed in the school of thought worked.  How many parishes have gone about the difficult work to read the documents, and fashion their liturgical and catechetical lives according to those texts?  Obviously not all of them, but increasingly more of them.
            But there are three problems with this.  First of all, the sheer amount of verbiage surrounding all of the reforms is so immense, that it is difficult to even locate all of it, much less analyze it and present it to the faithful in such a way for it to take root and be fruitful at the level of parishes and seminary formation.  Furthermore, the more that one delves into these things, the more that one notices the contradictions that come up between documents, and then the person interpreting them is left with the herculean task of trying to evaluate which words have priority, and who establishes the priority.  This alone has produced a dizzying array of differing opinions within the ROTR world as to what the sacred liturgy should really look, feel and sound like.
            Second, the reality of our ecclesiastical life is that what many of our parishioners experience in their parishes as the fruit of Vatican II is nothing like anything proposed by the ROTR advocates.  As soon as a priest in a parish begins to implement these notions, no small amount of struggle invariably ensues.  Parishes are divided, and the consumer mentality has taken over, with parishioners decamping to parishes where they feel comfortable.  While veritable oases of ROTR liturgy have been created because of this, it has at the same time contributed to a further balkanization of Catholics along lines which critics of the ROTR are quick to deem ideological.
            Third, there are many Catholics, intent on describing themselves as orthodox and faithful, whose idea of the Roman Primacy and the authority of the Church over the sacred liturgy does not reflect the theology of the Church in any century.  This exaggerated ultramontanism, whose roots most certainly cannot be found in the Magisterium of John Paul II, Benedict XVI or Francis, or Vatican II, has poured out no small amount of invective against those who uphold the actual texts of the reform when they come into conflict with abuses of authority.  This pietistic and simplistic notion of obedience has frustrated the advance of many ROTR and traditionalist ideas among ordinary Catholics, by painting them with the hue of rebellion.  It also provides for an untenable situation in which priests and people are expected to thoughtlessly obey what has actually been conceived of in terms of revolt against the authority of the Church!  Unscrupulous detractors against the ROTR have capitalized on this phenomenon to effectively quash the implementation of ROTR ideas in parishes, religious communities and seminaries.
            In short, the dichotomy between letter vs. spirit has sent many ROTR thinkers to assess the spirit behind the letter of the reform as well!

Aesthetic Accidentalism vs. Substantial Liturgical Theology
There is not always agreement among ROTR advocates as to what should be part of the reform.  Inspiring themselves from the letter of the texts, many have argued for certain practices, like the restoration of Latin, ad orientem celebration and Gregorian chant.  While all of this is certainly laudable, the question becomes controverted whether these things are accidental or substantial, to both the liturgy in and of itself, and to the reform.  Often practices have been encouraged because of their aesthetic value, which, while important, then highlights the cognitive disconnect between their presence in the liturgy and the spirit behind the reform itself (one thinks of the use of orchestral Masses at the Novus Ordo, for example).  When they are presented as aesthetic additions to the Mass, they are then caught up in questions of taste, or inculturation.  And in turn they provide the pretext for adoption or rejection, based, not on their intrinsic value or propriety for worship, but their cultural context. 
            It appears that there are many ROTR thinkers who want to go beyond the aesthetic to a more rigorous application of the insights of liturgical theology to the actual practice of the liturgy.  But many are finding that, when they do so, it brings them up against the need to evaluate the way the liturgical reform was carried out.  It eventually has to be asked, why spend the time investing in the aesthetic and the accidental, when certain options enshrined in the rite itself, and not just appropriated by whimsy, can be employed in such a way as to work against both aesthetic sense and theological appropriateness.

The Fruits of Summorum Pontificum
When ROTR ideas started to gain more visibility in the 1990s, the Tridentine Mass was, in most places, a marginalized underground niche often associated with certain curious characters whose love for the Church was questioned.  Summorum pontificum brought the Mass out of its ghetto and inserted it into the mainstream of the Church’s life.  Pope Benedict’s assertion that “what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot all of a sudden be entirely forbidden to even considered harmful” has contributed greatly to a certain normalization of the Extraordinary Form in the life of the Church.  Celebrations of the EF have become much more prevalent than they were in the 1990s.  The exposure of more people to it has also given people the contrast to the Ordinary Form which has raised many questions.  As more and more priests celebrate the two forms of the Roman Rite on a regular basis, and more and more Catholics experience the two forms at close range, they want to know why the differences exist.    
            As Msgr Peter Elliott has also just pointed out on NLM (, there could also be more room for expansion of the vernacular within the EF.  If some kind of permission was granted for greater use of the vernacular within the EF, then I am somewhat certain that it would gain even more appeal and usage.

Is Vatican II Really Dead?
Numerous people who invested their lives and careers in the liturgical reform and Vatican II have passed on to their reward.  Many of those left have a dreaded sense that ROTR types and traditionalists are deliberately trying to undo everything they have worked for, and they have seen that campaign as being partially successful.  They see the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as essentially, or partly, betrayals of the original vision of Vatican II and John XXIII.  In the meantime, we have been assured over and over again by many in the hierarchy that we are living in a new springtime and that the reforms of Vatican II and the Roman Rite have been enthusiastically embraced by the faithful.
            The actual demographics of Catholic practice in the West, which are now easily accessible to all who look for it, have led many to see such assertions as either wistful or deceitful.  Many concerned Catholics are coming up with variant explanations as to why the decline of religious practice is the case.  The secularist model sees this as a sign of Vatican II doing its work: that the sacred and the profane have merged.  The progressivist model sees only a return to the “spirit of Vatican II” and the ROTR only a return to its letter as the way forward.
            In the meantime, new generations of Catholic thinkers are coming up who were born after Vatican II.  For some of these clergy and lay leaders, certain ideas of Vatican II are such a part of their lives that they hardly question it (one thinks of the sacramental nature of the Church as described in Lumen gentium).  But the world described by Gaudium et spes is not the world that these younger people are experiencing.  They are acutely aware that Vatican II does not have the answer to the problems that they see as affronting the life of the Church.  While not necessarily arguing for the overturn of the last ecumenical council, it also does not hold the same kind of power of them, and they are ready for a Church that has gone beyond Vatican II and the Liturgical Reform to something which actually speaks to them where they are now.  And some of them do not feel that continued arguing over the proper implementation of Vatican II and the original ROTR ideas are up to the task.
            This may in part explain a phenomenon observable in some younger people today which may seem, at first glance, unsettling.  These youth respond energetically to Pope Francis’ engagement with the world, simplicity, humility and desire to evangelize, and at the same time to Pope Emeritus Benedict’s liturgical theology, practice, and critique of the modern world.

What Now?
            I think that it is important that we realize that the world is no longer the same world described by Vatican II.  That does not mean that the last council does not have something to contribute to the life of the Church today, but that the Church must take into account the world she is sent to evangelize.  That will mean that there has to be more honesty about the state of Catholic practice and more humility as to how the Church must go about her mission in the world.
            As ROTR advocates delve deeply into the actual celebration of the Extraordinary Form and undertake a clear historical analysis of the liturgical reform, that will raise more and more questions about, not whether the reform was implemented properly from a legal perspective, but from a theological and pastoral perspective.  No longer departing from the assumed position of the reformed texts and surrounding documents, ROTR types can begin to assess where the liturgical reform authentically incarnated, and where it has betrayed, the true spirit of the liturgy.  Without making the liturgical theology of Benedict XVI a new unquestionable standard, it has given us lots of insights with which to disanchor the ROTR from slavery to the reformed liturgical books and give it freedom to consider how the liturgy might look like when purged of the rationalist and modernist elements which were part of, although not, entirely constitutive of, that reform.
            Up until now, there has also been a reticence to more liturgical experimentation, given the questionable results of such initiatives in the past fifty years.  Summorum pontificum indicated a desire for mutual enrichment between the two forms of the Roman rite without mixing them.  Yet Pope Francis has indicated little patience with a preoccupation with “little rules.”  Could this be the moment to propose to the Church the following?
            First, the spontaneous adoption at the local level of certain practices that have been advocated by the ROTR for a while, alongside the Extraordinary Form, accompanied by the production of rich catechetical materials for the faithful.
            Second, an official proposal of which of these should be adopted officially by national bishops’ conferences and the Congregation for Divine Worship, and the rationale behind them.
            Third, more comparative liturgical history and theology which analyzes very closely every text and document of the Reform alongside the pre-reform books, along the lines of Lauren Pristas’ methodology adopted in her book The Collects of the Roman Missals
            Fourth, a concerted effort of thinkers to come up with a plan for an Ordo Missae, Corpus Collectarum, Lectionary and Kalendar which, using the 1570 Missal as a base, integrates into it those features of 1965 and 1970 by way of options for keeping all of the traditional elements, but also providing for a judicious use of what is good from the reformed books.  The new Anglican Use Missal is certainly something to look at as this is considered.  This proposal could be given to the Holy See to be used ad experimentum on a very limited basis, in collaboration with the pertinent Vatican dicasteries and local conferences.

The ROTR is Dead, Long Live the ROTR
All of the flurry of articles on the death of the ROTR indicates that there is a sense that some of the original ideas surrounding it are being abandoned.  But it might also be proper to say that, as the ROTR lives with the EF alongside the OF, and deepens its understanding of the reform, that vision is undergoing, not a death, but a transformation.  It is not one which means simply a return to the status quo ante Vatican II.  But it is, at its maximal capacity, an opening to a deeper understanding of what the liturgy is all about, and that in turn will have its effect on how that mystery is celebrated.  It now no longer has be antagonistic to, or apposite, the tradition, but can be part of that tradition by drinking even more deeply at its sources.      

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