The Roman Book of Spells?

The Congress also occurs at a time when the Church throughout the world is preparing to celebrate the Year of Faith to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, an event which launched the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite ever known. Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic sacrifice. At our distance today from the Council Fathers’ expressed desires regarding liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church’s experience in the intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities. The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal. In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life.

Benedict XVI, June 17, 2012

The above paragraph from a message of Benedict XVI to the Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin last year is a great summary of the Holy Father’s teaching on liturgical reform.  The statement reaffirms the importance of the liturgical reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council which center on the fostering the full and active participation of the faithful. The external changes were intended to help bring about an internal change, namely, the transformation that takes place when the soul has a personal encounter with Christ.  According to the Pope, the relative failure to accomplish this task has consisted in the changes remaining on a merely external level. For this reason these changes have been distorted into something that was never intended, namely, liturgical abuse.  Thus, the “reform of the reform” consists in properly understanding the meaning of active participation and the external reforms in relationship to it.

I believe that the new manual being prepared for by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to help priests celebrate the Mass properly, reflects both the persevering desire of the Holy Father to realize the “reform of the reform,” and that fact that progress is being made.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, when announcing the new document stated the following:

When speaking of the liturgy, continued the cardinal, one must not forget what the conciliar document states: “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in the liturgical action. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, be it in the person of the minister, ‘offering himself now through the ministry of the priests as he then offered himself on the cross,’ be it especially under the Eucharistic species.”

He stressed that the objective of the liturgy “is the adoration of God and the salvation of men,” which is not a creation of ours, but source and summit of the Church.”

It really has been the externalization of “active participation” that has been at the heart of the misunderstanding, and has done so much harm to souls by taking the presence of Christ out from the celebration of the sacred liturgy.  However one wishes to describe our participation in the liturgy, in the first place it is always a matter of prayer and adoration. Everything in the sacred liturgy should foster this.

What Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has been saying for decades is that the liturgical reality of our encounter with Christ is given by God “as in a sacrament” (LG 1), and can never be the result of our own engineering.  The liturgy, like the Church, like the sacraments, can never be manufactured.  Structural and external changes can only hope to relatively influence our ability to pray better, but they will never substitute what Christ himself has established.  For this reason Joseph Ratzinger has said that both the naive optimists and the rigid pessimists in regard to liturgical reform have it wrong, because they hang their hats on a certain set of externals and not on what the Church herself has determined constitutes true liturgical life.

Rigidity about these sets of externals have set up false dichotomies such as those between adoration and celebration, sacrifice and banquet, altar and table.  Without question, the hijacking of the liturgical reform has taken Christ out of the center of the liturgy and put man in His place.  The “celebration of the liturgy” then has become a self-created celebration of ourselves in which sacrifice has been replaced by a community meal.  And so only those external forms that favor innovation, creativity and “doing something,” are deemed to be liturgically appropriate.

But the reactionary response against liturgical abuse has been to deny the merits of liturgical development in favor of a rigid adherence to liturgical texts that circumscribe another specific set of externals: those which favor liturgical forms that tend to limit participation to private prayer.  This too fails to accurately recognize what the Church herself identifies as properly belonging to the liturgical life.  For this reason, Joseph Ratzinger pointed to  importance of seeing to it that any set of externals conform to the principles laid out in Sacrosanctum Concilium 34-36.

For this reason, it is not only the liturgical improvisers that will have a problem with the new manual.  Increasingly, any magisterial attempt to reclaim the Council for both Tradition and development is deemed by some as not going far enough, not quick enough and not sufficiently coercive to abandon skepticism about the Council itself.  The hard reality is that the Church moves slowly for good reasons, one of which is that she is always being pulled in different directions and must maintain a balance between the things that need to change and those that cannot.  The extremists on either side often articulate real problems, but mix them together with suspect motives and/or with solutions that are defective, ineffective or sectarian.

In the end it is up to the Church to determine both what constitutes legitimate liturgical development and what fosters full and active participation in the sacred liturgy.  Neither of these, according to Pope Benedict, in the first place will be determined by a rigid adherence to a set of externals.  As Joseph Ratzinger has pointed out, we should not get bogged down in specific texts.  Not that any reform can treat ancient monuments of our faith arbitrarily, but neither will these things in themselves save us in the end.

The Roman Missal in not a magic book.  The old blasphemous caricature of liturgical faith as “hocus pocus,” can become a half truth when we put our faith in something other than what the Church herself determines constitutes the true worship of God.  If the progressive hijacking of the liturgy is characterized by set of externals by which we worship ourselves and/or the goddess, the traditionalist ossification of the liturgy is characterized by attributing supernatural powers to a specific text (black and red) which it does not have.

Pope Benedict has hoped that the use of the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy executed side by  side the Ordinary Form will result in a mutual enrichment of the forms, with a particular restoration of the sense of the sacred and the spirit of adoration that accompanies it.  I just hope the new enthusiasm for the Extraordinary Form is not reduced to an “enthusiasm” in the gnostic sense described by Monsignor Knox, that is, in a belief that the old liturgy will zap the Church back into line.  Something far more radical needs to take place and it is not dependent primarily on external forms.  Pray, Dear Lord, that we do not get distracted from the real work that is before us.

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