Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Finding that moment of liturgical rupture...

A discussion has sprung up among persons delighting in all things Missale Romanum related. You can check out the original entry at The Chant Cafe`. The article centers on the criticisms of Monsignor Léon Gromier concerning the Pian liturgical forms of the 1950s. The conversation offers some room for weary eyed optimism. The author isn't content with merely revisiting the merits of the reforms of Pius XII, rather, he seems to consider reviewing the Missale Romanum of 1570. Again, this is a conversation that provides any one with a genuine liturgical interest some point of cautious optimism. The Missale Romanum of 1570, with or without justification at the time, set the decay of the Roman liturgy in motion. The liturgy codified in the Missale Romanum of 1570 was largely centered on the sacredotal action, other liturgical roles being reduced and corporate participation left unmentioned. This has become the archetypal figure of the Latin liturgy since. Many liturgical pieces from the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary to the wide variety of Medieval uses were lost amid the liturgical pruning, the wide variety of local uses in England and Italy being displaced for the liturgical landscape.

The article, however, lacks substantial historical perspective. When discussing liturgical reform, it is always helpful to look at the products of the pre-Vatican II liturgical movement. There were numerous theoretical writings, however, the most tangible result were the numerous hand missals produced during the period, an effort that sought, ultimately, an opening of the Roman liturgy as it stood then to the laity. The hand missals balanced Latin-to-English, provided instruction into the meaning of various parts of the liturgy and/or Mass sets and heavily promoted the dialogue Mass. While the Missale Romanum of 1570 certainly impoverished the Roman liturgy, the Tridentine liturgy was posed to become a genuine liturgical use in so far as it would become a corporate expression that reflected the local ecclesia. I have always thought that (as opposed to the Missale Romanum of 1965 and then 1970) utilizing the approach of one of the more comprehensive hand missals would have provided better ground for a liturgical reform or, more accurately, transforming the Tridentine liturgy into an authentic liturgical expression capable of directing the spirituality and prayer of the individual and the community.

Of course, this wasn't done. While discussions of what should have happened or restoring a particular edition of the missal are fun activities, one cannot escape that the Missale Romanum of 1970 is normative. The task now is to make the Missale Romanum of 1970 an authentic liturgical expression, a task that has thus far failed due to the lackluster quality of the effort. There is potential in the new liturgy that needs to be explored, although I suspect such an endeavor requires a breed of liturgist more reflective of those principles held by the early 20th century liturgical movement, as opposed to the idealization imagined by those who have tried to claim for themselves the appellation of the liturgical movement's new successor.