Thursday, July 20, 2006

From the Spirit of the Liturgy

After the second Vatican Council there were a great many changes (“reforms”) made to the Roman Catholic mass and the church’s liturgy. Now there is a growing momentum for a reform of the reform and support appears to coming from the very top of the hierarchy. Pope Benedikt (the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) is the intellectual father of the reform of the reform.

Why do we need a reform of the reform? What can we expect from the call by Vatican II to reform the liturgy of the Roman Rite? Here is some background from a very personal point of view.

Through most of the twentieth century, there was something called the liturgical movement (in German, die Liturgische Bewegung.) In the years prior to the Council, a great many good things were being done. Scholars were rediscovering the depths of meaning in the liturgy. They were studying the history of the liturgy. Sacred music was being rediscovered and reformed. Here and there the liturgical movement was spreading to a few churches. I was in high school 1959-63. We did dialogue masses in Latin with the congregation doing the responses aloud. Chant was being revived. Unfortunately this spread of the movement to the pews was much less than a mustard seed and a far cry from a mustard tree.

The bishops of the world met with the Pope in an ecumenical council from 1962-1965 at the Vatican. The first major document adopted by the Council was Sacrosanctum Concilium ( ), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In 1969 the Vatican issued a new missal and General Instruction to reform the Roman Catholic liturgy. This was translated into English in 1970. These changes, the translation, and the actual implementation of the new mass and liturgy were directed by the “experts,” middle level bureaucrats in the dioceses and their counterparts in the universities and in the national ecclesiastical organizations. These liturgists took no quarter.

My comments to these “reforms” grow from my own personal experience of the mass as translated into English in the U.S. Personally I feel the bureaucrats who implemented the Constitution on the Liturgy betrayed the liturgical movement and defiled the liturgy itself. I have shed many tears over the vandalism that was done in the name of the Council.

Still I have no illusions: the mass as performed in the U.S. in my youth was in need of reform. Not the radical reform of Paul V after the Council of Trent nor the vandalism of the liturgists after Vatican II, but the organic growth, pruning and restoration that would have made richer and more meaningful the relationship between the people (the "plebs" to use the Council's word) and the clergy and their God as expressed in their praise and adoration. I believe the people’s parts needed to be restored to them (in Latin.) The masses should all be sung (chanted.) The rest of the family is skeptical that the mass would be more meaningful in Latin and using chant (both advocated in Sacrosanctum Concilium.) My daughter Brigid has just returned from Slovakia. There she was a fellow at the Slovak Seminar on the Free Society with Michael Novak. She told me they had mass every day sung in Latin. Experiencing done well convinced her that there may be something to this after all.

The reform of the reform is a new liturgical movement that seeks to do what the Council actually said should be done as opposed to what the liturgists actually did do.

But the promise of the liturgical movement was more than just renewing the liturgy. The liturgy should join scripture as a source of our spiritual life and our theological understanding. According to then Cardinal Ratzinger, the liturgical movement in Germany was started by one little book by Fr. Romano Guardini, S.J., Vom Geist der Liturgie. The German means “From the Spirit of the Liturgy.”

There is a Latin phrase, lex orandi lex credendi, that is often misused. Search the Internet and you will be overwhelmed with the number of hits. It has come to mean “What we pray is what we believe.” The implication is that liturgists can change what we do in liturgy and replace what we believe from revelation with what we “experience” in our “community celebrations.” Quite the contrary, the Latin maxim was first proposed as an argument against heresy. What we pray in the mass provides proof of what we believe in. The original quote attributed to Pope St. Celestine in 422 A.D. and probably written by Prosper of Aquataine was “Legem credendi statuit lex orandi.” In other words, the ancient rites give us evidence of what we believe in. Guardini says this quite plainly: “The liturgy, the lex orandi, is, according to the old proverb, the law of faith—the lex credendi—as well. It is the treasure-house of Revelation.”

Thus there is a very personal payoff from studying the liturgy. Prayerful reading and meditating on the liturgical texts will deepen our faith. This goal was at the very heart of the liturgical movement before the vandals hijacked it. This is the ultimate pastoral promise of the reform of the reform.

Hope is a theological virtue and thus I am an optimist. I believe in Christ’s promise that the Spirit will be our paraclete. The first Vatican Council did not bear fruit until forty years after it ended. We are now experiencing the blossoming of the fruits of the second Vatican Council. We are now led by the last great man of the Council, a man deeply in love with the liturgy of the Roman Rite. Benedikt, before he became Pope, wrote very thoughtfully and beautifully about the liturgy.

Please pray for him.

[Originally posted 7-18-06, republished 7-20-06]

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