Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Concerning Reform in the Roman Rite

One of the many casualties within the Church over the last eight years has been the care of the Sacred Liturgy. This lack of care has been detailed often and in many places; but reiterating disedifying instances is not the purpose of this post.  Perhaps the key word is dis-edification : to injure piety or morals; to shock higher sensibilities or religious feelings.

When ambiguous or false teaching, bad example, insensitivity to religious sentiment and routine derision of those holding different (and Catholic) views comes from the See of Peter itself, it is not to be wondered at that there will be Reaction.

Not surprisingly, an acute understanding and perspective of such situations was given in July 2007 by Pope Benedict when he wrote to the Bishops of the World about his Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum :

Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows. (1)

What was described by Pope Benedict in 2007 has subsequently occurred again: the abdication of that care required of the Holy See for the Sacred Liturgy. Furthermore, the ecclesiastical culture of the present is tainted with a desire to use the Liturgy for particular ideological ends. In the vacuum of wholesome Liturgical teaching, those movements which are more Conservative and those which are more Progressive are becoming increasingly dominated by imprudent radicals who do not accept reasonable limits in the pursuit of having their views prevail. It should be clear that radicalism is not for the Greater Good of Holy Mother Church, although it may be disguised as such. What is "old" is not necessarily good and helpful, whilst what is "new" is not necessarily bad and unhelpful ... and vice versa.

Perhaps it is time again to study carefully the philosophy which underpins Pope Benedict's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. We can but touch upon it in this discussion. He refers again and again to the two forms or usages of the Roman Rite and expresses a desire that one may enrich the other. Some have interpreted this as being a one-way street : the New Mass must be reformed to conform more closely to the earlier liturgical Traditions. It could equally be argued that Pope Benedict wished to convince adherents of both distinct usages that there is no perfect form of the Roman Rite and that enrichment of both forms was desirable. 

Such an aspiration seems like a fantasy in the realities of the Church's present state. The spirit of moderation, teaching through charity and mutual respect - keynotes of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict - have been thrown aside. New Prophets have arisen whose hallmark is self-righteousness and didacticism rather than moderation. They are found amongst the "Progressives" and they are found amongst the "Traditionalists", even if defining those two terms is no simple matter. 


Need what has been described in former years as "the reform of the Reform" be a dead issue? Officially, it seems to be; but in parishes all over the world, "enrichment" continues to take place based on Tradition and not least so, through the Church's musical traditions. Would there be an agreement amongst Catholics of good will that it is desirable that the Church's Liturgy, as expressed in its Ordinary Form, needs to be slowly reformed in the light of Tradition? Some years ago, it was widely thought that such an agreement existed. Now, it is less clear.

In recent years, a new direction in the movement of Catholic liturgical Tradition has been taken. At its most extreme, it demands that 20th century revisions of the Extraordinary Form be rejected as inconsonant with Tradition and tainted with modernism. With such an approach, however, is there a danger that a particular Rite is venerated as an end in itself, rather than a means to end, namely a pure act of the worship of Almighty God?

Will the unhappy by-product of this new direction within the Traditional Mass movement be that, in the pursuit of "purified" Liturgical forms, common ground will be lost with the majority of Catholics who have little concept of or interest in Liturgical Tradition and common ground with those Catholics who do?

For the present, the reform of the Ordinary books of the Roman Rite seems more in the realm of notions, ideals and articles such as this one, rather than a particular program or movement. Or is it? Something may be waiting in the wings ...

To be continued. 

END-NOTE

(1) Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishops on the occasion of the publication of the Apostolic Letter "motu proprio data" Summorum Pontificum on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970, given at Saint Peter's 7th July 2007.