Bill Riccio Weighs In: Voice of the OF/EF

Bill Riccio was MC for the Sacred Music Colloquium, and one of the leading rubrical experts on the planet. Here are his thoughts on the ongoing discussion of whether the OF has a distinctive voice and whether or to what extent it does or should depart from tradition.

In the ongoing discussion (one is tempted to call it “controversy”) occurring here and elsewhere concerning the Masses as celebrated during the recent CMAA Colloquium, a few points should be noted. As the person who was charged with putting the liturgical parts together into a coherent whole with Fr. Robert C. Pasley, I wish to dispel some suppositions that seem to be the underpinnings of many of the comments.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll not try to answer each criticism or objection, as they seem to be as numerous as the individuals making them. I will stick to some principles given and decisions made based on those principles. I will confine my remarks to the Ordinary Form as with the Extraordinary Form few decisions have to be made. One just opens the books, makes a few adjustments as to space and logistics, and proceeds.

The first principle — and one expressed by Fr. Pasley implicitly and explicitly — was that of continuity. This was our first priority.

I’m always intrigued by the fact those who seem to frown on Tradition have little to say except what their liturgical preferences are. There’s no acknowledgement of the fact that having the OF in the context of Tradition is the will not only of the Holy Father, but more and more people whose job it is to safeguard the liturgy. It always boils down to preferences, likes and dislikes. The “me” never comes out of the equation.

Some of the comments were written as if we were the ones breaking with tradition — that liturgical practice within the context of the Roman Rite-in-continuity is something avant garde.

Seeing the post-conciliar Mass as something breaking with Tradition is what got us into trouble in the first place. Trying to steer it back in line with Roman liturgical practice is what is necessary for the good of the Church. That is certainly the opinion of more august individuals than this liturgical traffic cop.

Fr. Pasley is exactly right when he states the years following the council saw liturgical practice never envisioned by the council fathers, and things done in “the spirit of the Council” served no purpose but to take us off our Liturgical moorings.

The Mass is the heart of the Mystical Body, and the problem with the Missal of Paul VI is not what it does, but what it says – or doesn’t say. The Mass as a re-presentation of Calvary and offering for sin is less evident because of deletions. Many of those deletions were intentional because the goal of the post-conciliar revision was to make the liturgy more accessible to a non-Catholic audience. That was the heart of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci’s famous Intervention.

The Intervention was written following the presentation of the Missa Normativa at Rome in 1967. It held up publication of the missal for two years, and allowed Paul VI to re-introduce Roman elements into the rite – including the Roman Canon, the Orate, Fratres, and incense. It also caused a re-write of the infamous No. 7 in the Instructio Generalis.

It was under this set of circumstances the new missal was published, and the fears of those venerable cardinals realized. A rupture occurred, and that rupture led to all kinds of liturgical abuse. But, it did more. It all but eradicated the ethos that surrounded Roman Liturgical practice. Admittedly, problems happened in the immediate years after the council, but the imposition of a new missal at just that time finalized the rupture.

Fast forward to the pontificate of Benedict XVI. He saw the difficulties in the revised rites and had first-hand experience with some of its problems. He sees the “reform of the reform” as going back to the seminal documents that came out of the council, and using those liturgical resources that stand on the foundation of Roman Tradition.

Using Sacrosanctum Concilium and the desires of Pope Benedict XVI as expressed in his writings both before and after his accession to the papacy as starting points, decisions were made. The use of Latin, the chants as listed in the Graduale Romanum and other liturgical books, and taking the missal at its word (in the matter of orientation) were conscious decisions made by Fr. Pasley and the CMAA directors. It was not an attempt at turning the clock back, but a way of showing what the mind of The Church was then and what it is now, some two generations after the 1970 missal was promulgated.

The second principle was set forth at the outset of the Colloquium. In his remarks at the opening dinner, Dr. William Mahrt expressed the goals of the Colloquium and said the decision was made to show the Mass, both EF and OF, at its most grand in music and ceremonial. In other words, a paradigm was used that showed members of the CMAA as well as others what could be done in their parish churches in part or in full.

I believe the CMAA and its directors should be commended. They accomplished what they set out to do.

The lack of the Prayers of the Faithful or decisions to have choral sections instead of congregational chants was a big criticism by some. The crux of the criticism (as I understand it) was the lack of participation on a certain level by those in attendance. I disagree. The amount of participation (actual, not active) was palpable in every Mass celebrated that week, regardless of the rite. And, to be clear, the decisions were more practical than agenda-driven.

I agree with at least one comment that lamented the fact after 40-plus years of the Pauline Missal, we are still having this discussion; but, it is a discussion that should have taken place long ago. That it is happening now is because people are starting to acknowledge the elephant at the cocktail party.

The question is not the Missal of 1962 or the Missal of 1970. The question, instead, is how does the Church convey what she believes about the Mass and herself in her worship?

A final note, one particularly irksome comment had to do with whether the CMAA was in the business of music or spirituality. One would hope it is a “both/and” not an “either/or” proposition. Music directors and those charged with the service of the altar, no matter how peripherally, must have a spiritual (one would hope “Catholic”) center.

This was my first Colloquium and not my last, please God. It was the spiritual side that touched me most. The participants were unabashedly Catholic and faith-filled people.

One can only hope such would be the case in all the choir lofts around the world.

Bill Riccio, Jr.

Master of Ceremonies