Monday 24 February 2014

Revision of the Rites: How can it happen?

Celebration of Mass according to
the 1965 Missale Romanum.
One of the lessons to be learned from the Revision of the Liturgical books, which took place (mainly) between the years 1965 - 1970 is that changes took place in stages.

The first stage - introducing vernacular into the Rite of Mass and the celebration of the Sacraments was very dramatic and very popular. Why it was so popular would bear a great deal of discussion, which perhaps might be the subject of another post. Changes to the ritual actions of the Mass took place by degrees and - except for the innovation of the celebration of Mass facing the people at freestanding altars, went by without a great deal of handwringing or even attention, except of course for the celebrant and his ministers. Ritually, so much was altered step-by-step in this period, that when the New Order of Mass came into effect on the First Sunday of Advent, 1969, it was seen quite clearly as just another revision amongst a continuum of revisions. That was the strategy.

For those who believe that the only way forward for substantial Liturgical reform ( according to the ideals expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium ) is to return to the offering of the 1962 Missale Romanum, only disappointment lies ahead. Too many ecclesiastical careers have been built on a continuum of "reform" for that to occur in the next decades. It is not adequate, or even responsible, for the 1970 Missale simply to be declared "unsalvageable", as we have seen suggested on various Blogs over the last two weeks or so.

"It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness."

The situation is not hopeless. A more sacral and accurate translation of the 1970 Missal has been published in the English-speaking world and has been (mostly) well-received. A new translation of that Missal, of course, does not overcome the problem of its textual defects, which can only be addressed by the Holy See.  Furthermore, in so many places, the aesthetics of the Liturgy are being re-sacralised by the use of more fitting music; new churches are being built (and others renovated) which are more like a sacred space than a bunker; more attractive vestments are being used. All these things - which pertain to the externals of the Sacred Liturgy - and more, are taking effect gradually. 

Is there anything else that could be done "on the ground"? Yes, and probably it is not so difficult. The celebrants of our Masses (not presiders!) might consider if any ritual actions of the Extraordinary Form could be incorporated into their celebration of the New Mass in such a way as would not disturb the Faithful. This is already happening, of course, (for example, at the London Oratory it has been taking place for many years). Would this be so objectionable? For some, probably. Others might not even notice (just as the average catholic-in-the-pews didn't notice much in the period 1965 - 1970). Still others might welcome the enrichment of an other-worldly ritual dimension in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Prudence in all things.

An ongoing discussion of this notion will be the subject of other posts, alongside the discussion of the various revisions of the Roman Rite, 1965 - 1970.

"Mutual Enrichment", particularly pertaining to the use of the Roman Canon, has also recently been treated in the usual scholarly fashion by the redoubtable Father John Hunwicke (pronounced Hunnick) at his blog Father Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment. Father Hunwicke recommends that the First Eucharistic Prayer, being that Canon anciently and continuously associated with the Roman Rite, ought always be used, unvaryingly, to the exclusion of all recent compositions.