Suggested principles of liturgical reform

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There is a considerable amount of talk about a reform of the reform in the Roman Catholic Church under the pontificate of Benedict XVI. We see many parallels between the initial thoughts and motivations behind this "new liturgical movement" and the Victorian Anglican ritualist movement.

I recently posted a suggested rite for Mass on this site, and deleted it when I found that some people thought I was using it for the actual celebration of Mass, and thus behaving like the progressives. Though my conjecture was based on objective principles and genuine sources, it was considered as yet another DIY eucharist. Perhaps they are right, because I do not have any authority in liturgical matters. All I can do is to offer the fruits of my own studies, and our Bishops are free to make use of them or disregard them as they see fit. Indeed, we Anglicans are on a knife edge, and all we can do at present is to use something like the authorised Anglican Missal (containing the Collects, Epistles and Gospels from the Prayer Book) or the old Roman rite when celebrating without a congregation. We can alternatively use the Book of Divine Worship, though it is generally not in use in our Church. The most widespread usage in the Traditional Anglican Communion is the Anglican Missal and the 1928 American Prayer Book. The English Missal is also widespread.

One notion against which we have had to fight is that of archaeologism - the only way to have a good, pure and pristine rite is to go against the whole history of the Church and the organic development of the liturgy and revive some ancient and long-disused liturgical rite. We have had, on the other hand, to admit that the liturgy would have become grossly misformed had the Pope and Bishops never intervened and pruned back the un-traditional apocryphal accretions.

The notion of recovering simplicity and sobriety in the liturgy is nothing new. The Council of Trent called for the codification of the Roman Rite and a return to what would amount to 11th century norms. Vatican II ordered a return to the ancient Roman Mass in recommending that elements... which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the earlier norm of the holy Fathers, and these reformed rites were to be distinguished by a noble simplicity, short, clear and free from useless repetitions. To what extent were the medieval additions to be removed? Which period of the Church's history would be a reference for the "pristine" liturgy? It would seem that Cardinal Sirleto's commission in the 16th century had access to the old Roman sacramentaries and ordines. The reference was obviously to the fully developed Roman rite at its best, even though it contained the Gallican elements absorbed in about the 9th century.

This question of "reference" in the Roman Catholic Church is a matter of simplifying a "medieval" rite, and, in the Anglican tradition where the question is inversed, restoring Catholic elements to an excessively mutilated and reformed liturgy. It is for this reason that constant principles need to be found and formulated in order to guide those who will be responsible for liturgical reform and restoration. We find that liturgical reform requires a reference point and sound principles.

The temptation to archaeologism remains very strong, even though the fruits of it in the Anglican and post-conciliar Roman Catholic liturgies are clear for all to see. Also, "inculturation" though it is needed in the Church, can become perverted and made a tool for de-sacralising the liturgy. Both of these tendencies destroy or compromise the notion of organic development in the liturgy. One problem remains in this discussion, since we are no longer at the time of the Reformation or the reforms of Paul VI. The old liturgical tradition is no longer a "driving force" in the contemporary Church, and the "Tridentine" liturgy is as archaic and irrelavant to the majority of Roman Catholics as the old Use of Sarum to Anglicans!

As in Victorian Anglicanism, the task of the Roman Catholic Church is to recover and restore the liturgical tradition insofar as it can be assimilated by the faithful. As I have mentioned elsewhere, there are many positive points in the modern Roman rite like the wealth of prefaces, the expanded Lectionary and the Prayers of the Faithful. At the same time, the Ordo Missae has been impoverished and "intellectualised". This is why I am more favourable to a reform of the reform, as happened in the Victorian Anglican ritualist movement, than to the simple restoration of the rite that is used only by a restricted and closed traditionalist Catholic sub-culture.

Certainly, the "Tridentine" liturgy should be freely allowed to all priests and laity who ask for it, but in a general context of partially reversing the post-Tridentine reform of Pius IV and Pius V. What is needed is diversity rather than the uniformity as inspired by the scholastic and rational spirit of the Counter-Reformation. Having studied the Tridentine reform in some depth, I found that the tendency was to freeze development as a way to defend Catholicism from Protestant influence. The liturgical life of the Roman Catholic Church between 1570 and 1965 (despite the minor modifications, notably by Urban VIII) was, in a way, in an unnatural situation. On the other hand, the old Roman rite, like the Sarum Use in 16th century England, was a mature rite - and had come to the term of its development.

In the absolute, it would seem that the Roman Catholic Church, in the Latin rite, would do well to return to the "Tridentine rite" in a definitive version, and that Anglican Catholics should adopt the same rite or the old Use of Sarum. However, our pastoral sense brings us to realise that such a measure would alienate the majority of the Church's faithful. Should we continue to reform according to rationalist principles of archaeologism and pastoral inculturations? It would seem that a third consideration enters the fray: pragmatism. What will work?

At this pragmatic level, given the rupture in the liturgical tradition, it is a matter of repairing a situation that is no longer ideal, fitting a round peg into a square hole as Tyrell would have put it. Lay people tend to think about the liturgy in terms of reverence, intelligibility and familiarity. The most significant step to restore reverence will be the eastward position. To maintain intelligibility, it would be good to maintain the possibility of the vernacular but in improved translations. For familiarity, the rites need to be "repaired" gradually and progressively. Some of the innovations in the modern Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies have proved meaningless at best and hypocritical at worst. I think of the Offertory procession and the Kiss (handshake) of Peace in particular. As for the notion of unction in the liturgy, I would not agree with those who would return to the "giddy piety" of 19th century neo-gothic churches, darkened stained glass windows and hundreds of votive candles, and appreciate the light and open baroque churches of Bavaria and Austria. I have greatly appreciated Masses celebrated on the old eastward-facing altar, but in a light and clear church, where the altar is not very far from the faithful, and where there the atmosphere is not lugubrious but joyful and frank. In this way, I appreciate the approach of the late 18th century in Josephist Austria.

Likewise, the liturgy needs to be emphasised over the plethora of devotions still found in Latin countries and traditionalist Roman Catholic communities. The Jansenists went too far in their attack against popular religion and piety, and a more healthy balance is found in Anglican Catholicism, where our Anglo-Saxon temperament eschews exhibitions of excessive piety whilst keeping a tender interior life. 18th century England went to the other extreme, and the Erastian secularisation of the Anglican Church was nearly complete. The modern liturgy facing the people in a stark, functional and whitewashed church, as often found in Germany, is the final result of the long Jansenist movement for rationalising the liturgy. Intellectually, all seems ideal, but it has proved a pastoral failure.

The history of the Church since the 16th century has been marked by this tension between continuing the medieval tradition and attempting to recover the spirit and practice of the ancient Church of about the 3rd or 4th century. Louis Bouyer castigated the liturgical outlook of the medieval, baroque and romantic periods in his La Piété liturgique, written in 1956. We will find that organic development, the liturgical counterpart of Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine, is a capital notion of setting a principle for dealing with the liturgy. Many contemporary scholars refuse this notion, as, ironically, is the case of most traditionalists. Joseph Jungmann affirmed that the primary aim of Pius V’s revision, as expressed in the bull Quo Primum of 1570, was to restore the primitive Roman rite by removing medieval accretions and restore the pristina sanctorum Patrum norma [the ancient norm and rite of the holy Fathers]. Judging by the severity of Cardinal Sirleto's work, I would not dispute that this was indeed the intention of the post-Tridentine liturgical commission and Pius V.

Having studied something of the history of the Roman liturgy, I would conjecture that this rite was at its best and most mature in the 12th and 13th centuries before popular religion began to influence and corrupt it. A number of rites have been preserved in the Catholic tradition, notably the particular rites of some of the religious Orders. The Dominican Rite is virtually the Lyons Rite of the 13th century. It is much simpler and more sober than the later medieval Roman rite, but it is a traditional and venerable rite. The Carthusian rite is even starker with its pre-medieval offertory (the host and chalice are offered without any spoken prayer) and the only spoken prayers are the In spiritu humilitatis and the Oratio super Oblata.

It is little known that the original missal of 1570 had a very severly simplified sanctoral calendar, and it was only after the Urban VIII revision in the early 17th century that the sanctoral started again to fill out to such an extent that the Temporal Cycle was being increasingly eclipsed.

Since the 19th century, the tendency has been to modify the liturgy according to theological tendencies and rationalism. Pius XII’s reversal in the encyclical Mediator Dei of the historical principle legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, i.e. "let the rule of prayer establish the rule of belief", is disturbing:

"Indeed if we wanted to state quite clearly and absolutely the relation existing between the faith and the sacred liturgy we could rightly say that the law of our faith must establish the law of our prayer.

This innovation became one of the principles determining the 1960's liturgical reforms. A rigorously conservative attitude concerning liturgical reform is also the constant teaching of the Eastern Churches. The Orthodox theologian George Florovsky made a point when he said "Christianity is a liturgical religion. The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second". The present liturgical chaos in the Western Church is largely due to the emphasis that Latin Christians have always placed on dogma, with the consequent tendency of considering the liturgical texts as a mere source of theology rather than simply the life of the Church. If we go to the extreme of emphasising the rational, we reject the living liturgical tradition in favour of Biblical and Patristic texts only. We can thus understand the Orthodox (Khomiakov) jibe that Protestantism was hatched from the egg that Rome had laid. It will shock some of the Roman Catholic traditionalists, but the liturgical reform of Paul VI began under Pius XII, and, after all, Msgr Bugnini was working in Rome in the Congregation of Rites from 1948!

So far, I have given a summary analysis of the background of the 1960's reforms, particularly the reversal of the famous maxim of Prosper of Aquitaine concerning the relationship between prayer and doctrine. The tendency is to modify the rites according to theological tendencies, historical discoveries and "relevance to modernity (rationalism)".

In the absolute, liturgy is best left alone, and when cancerous growths begin to attack it, the cancer has to be cut away whilst leaving the healthy tissue intact. In the actual situation, the Roman liturgical tradition has only been partially preserved, in a sub-culture of traditionalists that is still marginalised by the Church hierarchy. I clearly see the point of "mainstreaming" the old Roman liturgy in order for it to become a reference for a liturgical reform that would be more faithful to what the Vatican II fathers envisaged in about 1963. I would like to see other "references" like the old diocesan and religious uses, such as the Dominican Rite and French customs that persisted until very recently. Indeed, the customs of the dioceses of Evreux, Rouen, Bayeux and the neighbouring areas are still within living memory - and were almost identical to Sarum!

I see the liturgical question compared to that of pipe organ building. In the 1960's, a number of English cathedral organs were rebuilt. Their characteristics as romantic instruments, designed for accompanying the Anglican liturgy, were destroyed. Their pipes were revoiced to imitate the effect of baroque German and Dutch organs. They were great for playing Bach and Buxtehude, but they jarred the ear when the Psalms and Canticles of Evensong were to be accompanied. In the 1980's and 90's, historic organs were restored and preserved in an extremely purist attitude. For example, the Cliquot organ of Poitiers Cathedral was restored to exactly as it was when it was first built in the late 18th century. The result is that a modern organist has incredible difficulty playing on the archaic pedalboard, so Bach cannot be played. Only a narrow repertoire of French baroque music can be played on this organ, and the role of this instrument in church becomes questionable. The most sensible approach when restoring an old organ is to increase its possibilities for playing different types of music by adding more types of pipes and sounds, and above all, provide the kind of keyboards and pedalboard that can be played by an organist of our time. Now, let us apply this notion to the liturgy.

If we destroy and innovate, we will alienate the faithful and destroy the spiritual life of the Church. If we adopt the purist principle, then we can come up with an academic reconstruction of a 2nd century liturgy, but it will be as dead as a doornail. The obvious principle for the liturgy is keep the old and add to it what is good and useful. We can imagine how this could apply to the Roman liturgy: add what is good and beautiful and uplifting in the Paul VI liturgy to the old rite. Make it possible to celebrate the old liturgy in the vernacular. Now, perhaps a little simplication is needed - why not refer to the Dominican rite.

What were our Anglican ritualists doing at the end of the 19th century? They had to use the Prayer Book, but they added to it what had been taken away by Cranmer's reforms. Sometimes, the Roman rite was the reference, as in the English and Anglican Missals. Some Anglican clergy and religious communities referred to the old Sarum tradition. Such a liturgy is "ecletic", but it causes fewer problems than replacing the old with something new or a purist restoration and academic reconstruction. The Anglican Use approved by John Paul II in 1980 is a step forward, because it is distinctively Anglican. Now, imagine if our Anglican rite was not "filled out" by the modern Roman rite, but by - for example - the Use of Sarum, we would rediscover our liturgical roots and our communion with and in the Catholic Church.

It is difficult to speculate on the principles Benedict XVI will adopt for the reform of the reform, other than those given in Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II. This reform, when it arrives, should inspire us Anglicans to tidy up our present liturgical untidiness. As Anglicans, we have not to adopt the rites of the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church. We need to reform our own reform. Much of this work has already been done for us by the Victorian ritualists, and we would do well to study their writings, particularly those of Percy Dearmer. Since those days, and even since the days of Vatican II and Jungmann, historical scholarship has advanced. We are more aware today that many errors can be committed. Cranmer thought that the Gregorian Canon was a product of medieval scholasticism! Bugnini thought that Mass was said facing the people in the early Church, and this thesis has been refuted by Msgr Klaus Gamber and other scholars.

Regardless, the modern Roman rite promulgated by Paul VI has to an extent become a tradition for most Catholics, like the Prayer Book in Anglicanism. For most, it is impossible simply to return to the old liturgy as if there had never been a new or reformed liturgy. This fact has to be taken into account. The Anglican ritualist movement worked around six points: one of which was the orientation of the altar. If the immediate task is a "repair" to the liturgical reform, then this task will revolve around the:

  • restoration of the eastward-facing altar,
  • the use of Latin or better vernacular translations,
  • the restoration of standards for worthy church music - organs, choirs and congregational singing,
  • the use of traditional Gothic or Roman vestments instead of many of the garments presently used in churches,
  • restoration of parts of the Mass like the offertory based on medieval sources,
  • restoration of Septuagesima and the Ember Days,
  • the gradual re-introduction of traditional rites (the plural is emphasised),
  • above all, an adequate liturgical training for the clergy.

Some of these ideas seem to be on the Pope's agenda, but the "reform of the reform" movement has as yet little coherence and sense of purpose. Changes to the status quo take forever, as everything goes though a heavy bureaucratic system, as is seen with the new English translation to replace the awful ICEL texts, which is still unpublished. There is not only the question of putting some elements of the liturgy back to what they were before the reform, otherwise it would simply be a question of substituting the old rite universally - which will not work.

The new liturgy has undoubtedly produced good effects where it has been implemented with a Catholic spirit. The most important element is the vernacular language, which has been desired in the Latin Church since the middle-ages and used in some countries from that period. The new liturgy has underlined the Paschal Mystery which was weaker in the old rite and almost non-existing in scholastic theology. The modern liturgy has combatted rubricism, though the reaction went to the other extreme. There needs to be a middle ground between following the rite, obeying the instructions, and being a little more relaxed than a soldier or a robot.

The Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgical reforms, separated by four centuries, shed light on each other. In the Roman Catholic Church, the principles given by Sacrosanctum Concilium are sound, but they were never properly implemented and their meaning was twisted by men with an agenda. On the other hand, the Anglican reform was excessively radical and also based more on ideology than detached scholarship. Again, we need to look at what was sought by the Reformers despite their lack of historical knowledge. Victorian ritualism went a long way towards rediscovering an authentic Anglican liturgy, and many of its inspirations and methods could well guide a future Roman Catholic reform of the reform.

The real issue is the spirit of the liturgy rather than this or that precise rite. We need to get away from the categories of Protestant and Catholic, progressive and conservative, in order that we may be allowed to pray and listen to the Lord's voice. Liturgy is not about abolishing the priesthood or limiting the participation of the laity, but requires us to recapture the mystical and heavenly dimension. The liturgy is a road to freedom, freeing man from his enslavement of his selfishness, opening us to the infinite. Future liturgical reform must begin with this spiritual principle before going into the mechanics of the rites and surrounding human culture. Another important point in the Roman Catholic Church is to escape from the present polarisation between "conciliars" and "traditionalists" and refind its unity without rigid uniformity. This is another area where the legacy of Anglican comprehensiveness can help...

Again, comparing the liturgy with a historical pipe organ, when we begin to fiddle, meddle and tamper, we are never satisfied. There is a limit to what can be done to the liturgy, especially by individual priests. The Roman Church has reserved liturgical questions to the Holy See since the 16th century, where before each Diocese had its own Use, and the regulating authority was the Bishop and the Cathedral Chapter. As an Anglican, I favour Anglican and Gallican ecclesiology rather than post-Tridentine ultramontanism. But, if our bishops and their bodies of advisors are to take responsibility in liturgical matters, then they need the fruits of solid liturgical scholarship. The Traditional Anglican Communion would do well to have a single Anglican Catholic rite. The question now is to have the help of real liturgical scholars and spiritual men who have an internal understanding of the Mystery.