Monday, August 8, 2016

The end of the reform of the reform?

The sentiment among some of the major liturgy hubs online intimates that the "reform of the reform" in the Roman Church may well have come to a sudden and definitive stop. An address given by Cardinal Sarah in which, among other things, the popular criticism of the Pauline liturgy among more "traditional" quarters, in which it is stated the reform of the Roman liturgy went beyond the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium, was given voice by the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and said prefect exhorted the clergy to re-institute ad orientem as normative practise in the Roman Church. You can find the full text of his remarks here.

Cardinal Sarah's remarks elicited a flurry of effluent responses from more traditional leaning quarters, although it was somewhat premature. The cardinal made these comments outside of any official directive - their force limited to the persuasiveness of opinion and not institutional attempts at inculcating a normative practise.

The Roman liturgical establishment delighted when Cardinal Sarah appeared to receive a not-so-subtle rebuke from the Bishop of Rome, in which it was plainly stated that the GIRM holds final say in determining normative practise and the very concept of a "reform of the reform" was explicitly dismissed. Andrea Grillo, one of the more notable Roman liturgists (literally) was among the most vociferous, relishing this as the end of a self referential delusion. Grillo's piece underlines the latent suspicion opponents of the "reform of the reform" have that the entire notion is an attempt to role back the modernizations implemented with Vatican II and its aftermath. In his analysis, the death of the "reform of the reform" is intimately tied with attempts to normalize the SSPX (and the resulting ecclesiological fallout), a return to a conception of the Church as predominately the affair of clerics and hierarchs, and an intention to restructure the Pauline liturgy with as many elements of the so-called Tridentine liturgy as possible.

The reality is, Grillo and other opponents of the "reform of the reform" are in fact correct. The "reform of the reform" readily demonstrates all of the characteristics they so viscerally disagree with. One could go further: the "reform of the reform" was and is delusional. Its aims revealed a liturgical vision thoroughly benighted by its in ability to get beyond the series of questionable liturgical reforms implemented by the "Pian popes," and its devotion to an ecclesiological image that largely exists in romantic notions of what the Roman Church must have been like in previous decades.

This said, the liturgical vision of the likes of Grillo is unquestionably terrifying. A liturgical landscape in which even Redemptionis Sacramentum (or Ecclesia Eucharistia) is considered an attempt at "rolling back the vision of Vatican II" is a deconstructionist nightmare, fulfilling only the wishes of a limited few who are pathologically obsessed with innovation, bordering on a tyranny of the "eternal now," a liturgy in which even anamnesis is dead, in so far as nothing is recollected.

Has the "reform of the reform" worn out its welcome? Perhaps. There was a specific context in which the concept was created and entered the sphere of "public" (relatively speaking) knowledge and discourse. Then there is the history of the idea, from its initial debut and reception, through its maturation. At the heart of the concept is the quest to recover the sacred, or some tremor of the supernatural in an ancient patriarchate that seems to have succumbed to materialism. Most modern permutations of Catholicism differ very little from the myriad of NGOs and other political/social action organizations.

There were and are some worthwhile points for discussion raised by the "reform of the reform," at least in its earlier years, not the least of which is the orientation of the celebrant during the liturgy. The versus populum celebration that became normative in the Roman patriarchate after Vatican II is in direct conflict with the ad orientem celebration that both East and West converged upon. This is significant; although early evidence seems to indicate that there was vacillation on the matter, it is impossible to ignore that both East and West come to uniformly settle upon "ad orientem," to such a degree that it is impossible to find clear evidence of any memory of versus populum shared in the undivided Church. A case can therefore be made that rejecting ad orientem is in fact rejecting a shared tradition that has no practical example to the contrary.  On a more pragmatic level, there is the matter of the actual rubrics of the Pauline liturgy presuming ad orientem celebration in virtue of the fact that the celebrant is instructed to turn from his position in order to face the assembly as specific times. These include

  1. Cantu ad introitum absolutio, sacerdos et fideles, stantes, signant se signo crucis, dum sacerdos, ad populum conversus, dicit: In nomine...
  2. Stans postea in medio altaris, versus ad populum, extendens et iungens manus, dicit: Orate, fratres...
If the celebrant is presumed to be facing the people during the liturgy, these rubrics are redundant, or at least in need of a little copy editing. Having survived approximately 50 years of publication history, it seems reasonable to suggest that ad orientem is the presumed orientation of the celebrant during the liturgy, and that we ought not chalk these rubrics up to mishaps in the Vatican publishing house. Immediately, this brings the Missale Romanum of Paul VI into conflict with GIRM governing the celebration of said liturgy and its directive in favor of versus populum

In retrospect, ad orientem probably should have been the primary goal after John Paul II's edition of the Missale Romanum was published. The orientation of liturgical prayer goes a long way towards setting the tone and directing our focus during the liturgy.  The "reform of the reform" began to lose the plot when it fixated upon greater use of Latin and re-incorporating elements from the 1962 books into the 2002 Missale Romanum. When a certain proponent of the "reform of the reform" tried rallying the troops like a scene from Brave Heart after the publication of the new translation (not because he found if faulty, but because it didn't go far enough towards reconstituting the so-called "Tridentine" Missal) it became apparent that the movement was leaving behind what had become the dominant liturgy of the Roman Church in favor of a very particular liturgical vision. 

Whatever merit there was in the concept's implicit critique of the Roman Church's modernization, the "reform of the reform" movement oftentimes overshot its bounds and thereby failed to accurately assay the context in the West and the developing world. In the Western context, the majority interest is for the Pauline liturgy to be celebrated well, and in the vernacular. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, St. Paul's in Cambridge (right near Harvard University), and Blessed Sacrament in Seattle are three such churches which demonstrate how the Pauline liturgy ought to be celebrated, and, it could be argued, capture what most active members of the Roman Church want to see in the celebration of liturgy. All three parishes demonstrate that the Pauline liturgy done well will invariably satisfy the desire for the sacred among the majority - interest in other liturgical forms will always be, for better or worse, the priority of a smaller subset. 

Again, this is a "for better or worse" situation. Although the Pian reforms of the 20th century were the original wrecking balls taken to the Roman liturgy, there was nevertheless some semblance, however mutated, of the ancient Roman liturgy. Granted, at a certain point prior to the 1960s we can no longer speak of a pre-modern or pre-reformed Roman liturgy in any real sense. Yet, the early attempts at liturgical modernization still retained some threads of a more ancient observance, thereby facilitating continuity with the tradition, even if such moments had to be eruditely sought in the Missal of 1962. That interest in these genuinely modernized examples of the old Roman liturgy elicit such limited interest (and it is genuinely limited) demonstrates how removed the "reform of the reforms" aims were with the major current in the Roman Church. 

This is not to say the Pauline liturgy ought to be uncritically accepted. It is, however, to point out the degree to which the "reform of the reform" crowd was often detached from the interests and expectations of their co-coreligionists. 

To a certain degree, the most damnable weakness of the "reform of the reform" was its inability to clearly articulate a critical vision of the Pian reforms. Plainly, there often appears to be a self imposed restraint from critiquing papal mandated liturgical reforms prior to Paul VI. Again, this is not to shield the Pauline liturgy from much deserved criticism. It is to say, however, that the "reform of the reform" hardly passes itself off as anything more than a sociological or cultural response if it fails to propose a coherent program for reform that addresses a history of questionable liturgical impositions from the Tridentine to the modern period. A genuine, and non-ideological, discussion of reform would have sought to retrieve what was lost during the transition away from pre-Tridentine Catholicism. Self-censorship (inspired by a rather recent dogma, one imagines) has prevented this movement from seriously engaging a long history of liturgical problems.

If the "reform of the reform" is truly dead as Grillo seems to believe (and I am not sure that it is, although I think recent events are yet another wake up call that needs to be answered), then it seems only too reasonable, if only for the fact that it is time to dismiss the fantasy that Rome will walk back on the liturgical reforms it implemented. This is simply not going to happen, if not due to consequences of post-infallible ecclesiology, than due to the simple fact the consistent judgment from John Paul II to Francis has deemed anything that could be conceived as an other liturgical revolution ought to be avoided. There is some wisdom in this. Rome has lived in the wake of one such revolution in its history. In producing its own revolution, the Roman hierarchy discovered just how fragile institutional faith really is. Institutions do not typically endure when they convey any semblance of the ephemeral. By committing itself to modernization, the Roman Church actively shed the perception of permanence and stability. Further disruption to now normative liturgical praxis would, it can be argued, only further Rome down the spiral of institutional upheaval and disruption, further undermining any pretense to religious stability. If Francis has stamped out the "reform of the reform" it is with an understanding that the Roman liturgy requires a period of stability before any person of institutional influence should begin entertaining reforms of either structure or praxis.

The immediate future of the Roman liturgy is attainment of stabilization of its modern form; the Pauline liturgy must get to the point where it simply is the liturgy and investment of resources is directed towards celebrating it well. This is the direction the signs are pointed in.

For those who labor in the field with a broader perspective on Western liturgical history and practise, they must content themselves to continue with their own research and personal edification - perhaps the next eventual wave of liturgical reform will look to recapture the spirit of Western Christianity as found in pre-Tridentine Catholicism. However, this has always been the minority, hardly represented by the "reform of the reform" and certainly not represented by the Traditionalists. Indeed, one criticism that will always linger when discussing the "reform of the reform" is that it always appeared to follow along the lines of the 20th century reforms imposed by Rome. The fundamental question it should have raised was not whether reforms implemented in the name of the Second Vatican Council were well and good, but  whether the whole program of papal tampering with the ancient liturgy of Rome (and arguably the premiere liturgical expression of the Western Church) ought not to have been sufficiently audited against the Tradition.

Beginning with Pius IX's tampering with the Mass and Office of the Conception, the papacy showed no feeling of restraint imposed by the Tradition, seeing the liturgy increasingly as a vessel for papal prerogative. It is tempting to give pontiffs such as John Paul II and Francis the benefit of the doubt by viewing their steadfast insistence on the Pauline liturgy as a return to restraint. Invariably, however, it proves difficult to avoid concluding such positions are intended to be more a re-emphasis on modernization than re-discovering a pre-infallible papacy, or returning a sense of reception to the liturgy.

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