When I typed, rather unwittingly, my personal reaction to Fr Thomas Kocik’s re-assessment of the Reform of the Reform initiative, little did I know the the issue would be such a lively one. Most of it has been interesting. Only once has it descended to invective (under the guise of muscular Christianity or something similar).
Dom Mark Kirby’s more recent contribution is another personal contribution, from one who did his best for the new liturgical order and found it to be exhausting and in vain. His reference to Thomas Merton’s trepidation at the prospect of liturgical reform was an eye-opener. His own later confusion seems to mirror and coincide with that of the liturgy.
There are three posts which have really captured my attention. One is by Dom Mark again, looking at (in part) the merits of the 1965 Missal which has occupied my recent speculation. Purists argue, rightly, that this Missal was not conceived as a permanent Missal but a transitional one. Put another way, it was not an editio typica for posterity. That ultimately seems irrelevant, since the point Dom Mark makes (and I agree) is that this Missal was never given a decent chance. It was an opportunity lost. He explains in his post 1965’s continuity with the pre-conciliar liturgy, and also its modest reforms. He cites the Vatican Secretary of State, writing on behalf of Paul VI in 1966, who expressed the view that,
(t)he singular characteristic and primary importance of this new edition is that it [the revisions of 1965] reflects completely the intent of the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
It took me aback to see in writing, from the highest authority, what appeared to me to be so obvious of the 1965 Missal: it fulfilled the mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and no further novelty was needed (save, maybe, for refinements or restorations in light of pastoral experience). But what should have been an end-point for immediate reform ended up being commandeered as one in a sequence of changes, each of which softened the blow of the one following. The results we have seen all to clearly in some truly horrific travesties of Mass.
Dr Joe Shaw has not agreed with this view, and did so with his usual logical evenness. One excellent point he makes in an earlier post in his series is that the Novus Ordo of 1969/70 and the Vetus Ordo of 1962 are radically different in their methodologies, for want of a better word at this time of night. The new Mass is built primarily on verbal communication and comprehension, and exalts the text; the old Mass operates primarily by non-verbal communication and silence, and exalts ritual action (I have paraphrased and grossly simplified his writing: please go and read him direct). For him the 1965 Missal is fatally flawed in that it seeks to compromise between the two methodologies, and such a compromise is doomed to failure, as “falling between two stools.” His analysis is compelling and convincing. For him, naturally, the only solution is a return to the Missal of 1962.
Dr Shaw focuses most of his critique on the 1967 changes made to the 1965 Missal, and which were the subject of the Agatha Christie indult. It is the existence of this indult that led me to mention the 1967 changes, since they appear to be licit, permissible even now in England and Wales. By preference, I would prefer the 1964 or ’65 reforms This is not to quibble with Dr Shaw, but merely to clarify.
One thing I do quibble with is his assertion that “none of these changes find direct support from the Council.” That seems not to be a compelling point. The Council Fathers were not concerned with itemizing individual changes, so I would expect to find such direct support almost no conceivable change. This of course raises the issue of the naïveté of the majority of the Fathers, those who came without a fully-worked out agenda and plan of action. They left the field to those who did. Their vagueness served very well those who desired radical change.
Lastly, please do go and read the latest from Dr Peter Kwasniewski at the New Liturgical Movement. He expresses my own position far more coherently than I do. He accurately identifies the two approaches that make up the Reform of the Reform movement: to use the current books with with rubrical integrity, and with as much reverence and traditional beauty as possible; and to revise the books themselves and restore what was too hastily discarded while removing what was too hastily introduced. At present, I live by the former, and I yearn for the latter.
Dr Kwasniewski then goes on to explain that to recognize the apparent futility of the Reform of the Reform is not to have abandoned the prevailing liturgical order lock, stock and barrel. If that were so, I (for one) would not still be daily celebrating, or even concelebrating, the new Mass. “One cannot recover lost continuity by stubbornly insisting on it”, writes Dr Kwasniewski. The options are a complete return to the status quo ante concilium or such a radical revision of the new Mass as to have effectively abolished it, not because it is not valid but because it represents,
a detour, an evolutionary dead-end. It is like those modernist churches that do not suffer gently the passage of time, that are trapped in their own era and mentality, never able to escape from it. The way forward is not to keep developing the modernist aesthetic but to abandon it resolutely and definitively, embracing and cultivating in its place the noble artistic tradition we have received, which retains tremendous power to speak to us of realities that are timeless and transcendent.
Some no doubt see that a “detour”, a new departure was precisely what was needed for the liturgy, to make it relevant to modern circumstances. Whether that view is right or wrong is one question, but what is beyond question is the fact the Council did not mandate any such detour from liturgical tradition.
But we need to remember that any resolution needs to be done fully in the bosom of the Church, as far as possible bringing her members with us willingly and not dragging them by their hair. For now, we must employ the two options universally and licitly available: the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form, and present each at its very best – a new Mass with reverence and traditionally-consistent beauty, and an old Mass performed with loving care and joy as something in which all are invited to share as an enduringly and intrinsically Catholic means of worship. The first must never involve the abandon of liberty hall (as some might see it) and the second must never be the work of a traditionalist ghetto (as some might see it).
For most of us some sort of personal resolution of the issue is possible. For the pastor, and just as much for the faithful Catholic too, the desire must be for a communal solution. For me, as is clear, the glimmer of hope that reconciles the realpolitik of the conciliar teaching on liturgical reform with the urgent need to recover a radical and authentic continuity with the liturgical tradition of the Church’s worship lies in the 1965 Missal. It exists, was used for an obscenely brief period of time, is post-conciliar and yet more comfortably sits in the liturgical tradition. Perhaps it could even be introduced as a third Form (despite my horror of too many options) and allowed to sink or swim on its own merits. Perhaps it would attract those who continue to attend the OF because it is seemingly the only viable option for them, for whom the EF would be too much, too soon. Perhaps it would serve as an excellent entrée to the EF.
Perhaps it could go some way to addressing the acute and chronic haemorrhaging the Church has endured in the last 50 years or so. The need to reverse this dismal decay in the Church is something we can all agree on.