Monday, February 18, 2013

The Liturgical Movement As Pope Benedict Sees It.

Recently, Pope Benedict's speech to the priests of Rome has made the rounds on account of his forthright comments on the popular presentation of the Second Vatican Council versus its content. I would like, however, to focus our attention on another matter that emerges in his speech: the original intention of the liturgical movement:
Referring to the reform of the liturgy, the Pope recalled that "after the First World War, a liturgical movement had grown in Western Central Europe," as "the rediscovery of the richness and depth of the liturgy," which hitherto was almost locked within the priest’s Roman Missal, while the people prayed with their prayer books "that were made according to the heart of the people", so that "the task was to translate the high content, the language of the classical liturgy, into more moving words, that were closer to the heart of the people. But they were almost two parallel liturgies: the priest with the altar servers, who celebrated the Mass according to the Missal and the lay people who prayed the Mass with their prayer books”. " Now - he continued - "The beauty, the depth, the Missal’s wealth of human and spiritual history " was rediscovered as well as the need more than one representative of the people, a small altar boy, to respond "Et cum spiritu your" etc. , to allow for "a real dialogue between priest and people," so that the liturgy of the altar and the liturgy of the people really were "one single liturgy, one active participation": "and so it was that the liturgy was rediscovered, renewed."
Benedict's comments are accurate and a rare instance of the liturgical movement and the original intention to reform the Roman liturgy being put into context. There was no intention of recasting the order or producing a substantially new missal. The intention was to give the liturgy actual precedence over extra-liturgical prayers and piety. The first goal was to make the "Tridentine" liturgy accessible, translating "the high content of the liturgy." The second goal was to eventually close the gap between the liturgy celebrated at the altar and the liturgy the people prayed in their hand missals, to re-establish the corporate nature of the liturgy, so apparent in Byzantine and Orthodox Churches, via the "Tridentine" missal. The liturgical movement never intended to displace the old liturgy. The long term objective was to restore corporate or communal celebration to the old Missale Romanum.

Of course, it would be impossible to ignore the fact that, whatever the original intention of the liturgical movement, the Roman liturgy was given a new form and a new missal under the authority of the Second Vatican Council. Benedict remarks:
The Council also pondered the principals of the intelligibility of the Liturgy - instead of being locked up in an unknown language, which was no longer spoken - and active participation. "Unfortunately – he said - these principles were also poorly understood." In fact, intelligibility does not mean "banalizing" because the great texts of the liturgy - even in the spoken languages ​​ - are not easily intelligible, "they require an ongoing formation of the Christian, so that he may grow and enter deeper into the depths of the mystery, and thus comprehend". And also concerning the Word of God - he asked - who can honestly say they understand the texts of Scripture, simply because they are in their own language? "Only a permanent formation of the heart and mind can actually create intelligibility and participation which is more than one external activity, which is an entering of the person, of his or her being into communion with the Church and thus in fellowship with Christ."
The use of the vernacular was thought advantageous as was the idea of fostering the corporate nature of the liturgy. Benedict does not interpret these elements of Sacrosanctum Concilium in a restorationist sense, that is, he, in this instance, does interpret the Council as envisioning only targeted use of the vernacular in the liturgy. Benedict's criticism, however, is reserved for the liturgical school that came into dominance after the Council, whose methods included the imposition of oftentimes trite language and stripping the liturgy of any complexity under the pretense that such elements rendered the Roman liturgy incomprehensible. What I find most evocative about this portion of his speech is that Benedict does not take the time to distinguish whether or not the reform of the Roman liturgy itself or simply its normative celebration is identifiable with the banalization of "the great texts of the liturgy." I would imagine Benedict intends this statement to be interpreted in continuity with previous statements he has made regarding the reform of the Roman liturgy. Overall, he appreciates the form the Missale Romanum of Paul VI took and believes the seeming disparity between the two is the result of bad liturgics. Nevertheless, one wonders if Benedict has put aside public protocol and begun "shooting from the hip."  It's any one's guess, although I do not think one can reasonably say Benedict has ever entertained the idea of restoring the pre-Conciliar missal so much as he desired to cultivate a sense of the transcendent in the normative Roman liturgy.