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The great forward march of the reform of the reform

Pope Benedict has said the objective of Conciliar reform was not to change the rite and texts of the liturgy but to renew the sense of Paschal Mystery

By on Friday, 6 May 2011

Cardinal Antonio Canizares-Llovera celebrating Mass (Photo: CNS)

Cardinal Antonio Canizares-Llovera celebrating Mass (Photo: CNS)

The Holy Father has just been incredibly outspoken about liturgy. I’ve never heard him be quite so forthright on the subject.

Addressing a group of liturgists who were meeting for the Ninth International Congress on the Liturgy, organised by the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Rome’s St Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum, the Pope said: “The liturgy of the Church goes beyond the ‘conciliar reform’, the objective of which in fact was not mainly to change the rites and texts but rather to renew the mentality and to put the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery at the centre of Christian life and pastoral work.

“Unfortunately the liturgy has perhaps been seen – even by us, pastors and experts – more as an object to reform than a subject capable of renewing Christian life, seeing that ‘a very close and organic bond exists between the renewal of the liturgy and the renewal of the whole life of the Church’.”

“The liturgy … lives a proper and constant relationship between sound ‘traditio’ and legitimate ‘progressio’, clearly seen by the conciliar constitution Sancrosanctum Concilium at paragraph 23 … Not infrequently are tradition and progress in awkward opposition. Actually though, the two concepts are interwoven: tradition is a living reality that, in itself, includes the principle of development, of progress”.

The conference, entitled “The Pontifical Liturgical Institute: Between Memory and Prophecy” spanned over three days and focused on the legacy of the liturgy of the past 50 years, really since the Second Vatican Council. Speakers included liturgical luminaries like the electric guitar-playing Abbot Primas Notker Wolf of the Confederation of Benedictines, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and veteran liturgist Fr Matias Augé CMF. It also featured a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the Emeritus Archbishop of Brussels-Mechelen – a diocese where most people remain seated during the consecration and the churches are pretty empty.

Fr Augé and the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had a heated letter exchange about the Extraordinary Form in the mid-1990s, in which Fr Augé made a case against the “re-instatement” of the 1962 Missal. Fr Augé was essentially objecting then to what has become one of the key points of Benedict’s papacy where liturgy is concerned, namely the “reform of the reform” and the “hermeneutic of reform” which provides renewal and continuity.

In the spirit of the reform of the reform, Pope Benedict liberated the use of the 1962 Missal with his 2007 Motu Proprio Summorum pontificum in the hope of mutual enrichment of the newer liturgy as well as the older liturgy.

It is interesting to note that next week, the Angelicum will host a massive conference entitled “Summorum Pontificum: a Hope for the Church“. It could not be more different than the congress described above. Four years after the publication of the Motu Proprio, the older form of the Mass has quietly entered the mainstream. Speakers here include hard hitters of the reform of the reform including the Kazakh Bishop Athanasius Schneider whose book on the Eucharist has been much vaunted, the new head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, who will speak about ecumenical points, and the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares-Llovera.

Such a mainstream conference was unthinkable four years ago, but now it has come to pass without much fuss. The reform of the reform is happening. I think it is unlikely that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass will ever be very widely used, but it is good to have it, because its liberation has, slowly, slowly meant a more reverent celebration of the newer form of the Mass. Last Sunday’s Mass at St Peter’s for the beatification of Pope John Paul II was a wonderful example of the reform of the reform at work. It was a sort of tribute to the late pope’s simplicity of taste, being less elaborate than Benedict’s normal Masses but with the new Pope’s appreciation of reverence (Credo III and simple Latin hymns).

And, after the beatification ceremony was concluded and the Mass really began, the faithful were politely asked to refrain from clapping and waving flags during the consecration. The Mass proceeded reverently and prayerfully, despite the million plus people who had come out for the new Beatus.

  • Anonymous

    I thought that it was wonderful that Benedict appreciated the desire of the congregation to express their joy and enthusiasm for JP2′s beatification…and then changed the tone to reverence during the liturgy. The people seemed to respond in kind.
    To every thing there is a season…

  • Parasum

    “Unfortunately the liturgy has perhaps been seen – even by us, pastors
    and experts – more as an object to reform than a subject capable of
    renewing Christian life, seeing that ‘a very close and organic bond
    exists between the renewal of the liturgy and the renewal of the whole
    life of the Church’.”

    IOW, The “pastors and experts” muffed things in the 1960s. Which means one has to ask, if you characters made a pig’s ear of things then, what possible reason can there be to have any confidence in you now ? What guarantee is there that in 2050 Pope Adrian VII won’t say that it is vital to the health of the Church for the botched reform of Benedict XVI to be corrected ?

    What’s the Church coming to, when the very people who should be expert among the experts in all matters of the liturgy sell the faithful a dud ? After all the kerfuffle about how the 1962 Missal was old hat, defunct, & what bad Catholics people for wanting the very things that the present Pope wants, like orthodoxy, reverence, etc., this is a bit rich :( Fortunately, the evidence against those who tried to justify what the Pope now condemns is abundant.

  • Sean O’Connor

    “I think it is unlikely that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass will ever be very widely used …”

    Don’t quit your day job … you’d never make it as a prophet.

  • Anonymous

    “I think it is unlikely that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass will ever be very widely used…”


    In fact, I believe that one day it will be exclusively used in the Latin Rite. The “ordinary form” will die, if not by Papal decree, by it’s own shallow and contrived nature, just like the modernism that spawned it. The Tridentine Mass is alive. The Novus Ordo is a weak photocopy.

  • Nishant Jeyaraj

    If the “traditionalists” are correct in saying that the Church erred in giving the faithful a botched liturgy, then we should all be sedevacantists. The fact that “traditionalists” recognize sedevacantism to be error by itself proves that they are wrong, because their own position implies it.

    However, we can hold that, just like with indulgences earlier, because of various abuses, while there was nothing wrong with the thing itself, it proved to be a cause of loss of faith for many. But to hold that the OF Mass is either invalid or “inferior” or “flawed” is to become a schismatic.

  • Kieran

    I just love amateur theologians. Put 2 and 2 together and make 5.
    What is implied by “traditionalists”? Surely not those groups within the Church attached to the traditional liturgy such as the FSSP or the Institute of Christ the King Soverign Priest?
    “The fact that “traditionalists” recognize sedevacantism to be error by itself proves that they are wrong, because their own position implies it.”- A rough and generally sweeping statement completely undermining the Moto Proprio- Summorum Pontificum and making the generalisation that all people attached to the traditional liturgy are Novus Ordo haters and Schismatics. Thanks for your opinion but thank God Rome and the Holy Father seem not to share your very basic sentiments.

  • Torkay

    “I think it is unlikely that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass will ever be very widely used,..”

    For which you Scots have only one group to thank: your corrupt, schismatic bishops.

  • J Kearney

    There was a genuine movement to reform the Mass before Vatican II. For example the Dialogue Mass of St Pius X. The laity it was felt were not `engaging` in the liturgy. I am not talking about the nonsense of getting on with their private devotions. So I beieve there is still a case from reforming the Tridentine Mass. Equally the translation of the Novus Ordo left much to be desired. Add to this the shameful destruction of altar rails and the glib lies that this was authorised by Vatican II, and we have Catholic liturgy in a shambles. To solve this we need a impouring of of honesty which is in short supply.

  • Vivian

    The Church is universl and not Western or European or American.All the problems we are faced with in the Church are actually the problems of Europe and not of Asia, Africa or parts of Latin America
    .It is time our Cardinals make themselves felt and do not blindly ape the West.Change for change sake is hardly right.It must result in growth of understanding of the faith.

  • James H

    Yes, we have to go back to not participating in the Mass, but having it all go on without us. After all, when else is a man supposed to read the Sunday papers?

  • Charles Martel

    Is anyone else out there as sick as me of hearing about “the papacy of Benedict of XVI”. You would have thught that Catholic journalists would know the difference between papacy and pontificate. This is sheer religious illiteracy. Would they say “the episcopacy of Vincent Nichols”?

  • Charles Martel

    I’m afraid the reform of the liturgy in the 1960s and the reform of the reform both suffer from rather questionable principles. In the 1960s the reform was driven by a “false archeologism” condemned by Pius XII and an even more dangerous false ecumenism. The reform of the reform is based on an attempt to produce a synthesis from thesis (“tradition”) and counter-thesis (“progress”). Needless to say this is not a principle known to Catholicism. It is the product of a Pope who has a deep love for the old liturgy but who was one of the leading lights at Vatican II and is understandably reluctant to jettison the botched results of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Now, bizarrely, we have two different “Roman” rites of Mass of equal standing, and a Pope who seems to think they should mutually enrich each other (and, I suppose, eventually merge in a delicate compromise).

    I absolutely agree the New Mass needs enriching by the Old Mass, but I’m afraid it will need more than incense and six candles on the altar. The New Mass needs to be purged of its dreadful Offertory prayers and needs the Old Offertory prayers back in their rightful place. That would be a start. In the end, the new Mass should merge into the Old Mass unnoticed – and sooner rather than later

  • AgingPapist

    “Actually though, the two concepts are interwoven: tradition is a living
    reality that, in itself, includes the principle of development, of

    Very revealing and I think a way for B16 to prepare the faithful for what for many will come as disappointing news. The Extraordinary Form of the mass is going to be radically altered by the CDW. News of it will be coming very soon.

  • AgingPapist

    In fact, I believe that one day it will be exclusively used in the Latin Rite.


    Pure SSPX/Sedevacantist inspired wishful thinking. With no basis in fact from anything Benedict has ever written on the subject. The entire Roman liturgy, EF and OF, is “contrived”. It’s the nature of all liturgies to be contrived and to change with the times. The “organic” liturgy is a myth. The last one died out in the first century.

    As for the best in liturgies, you need look no further than the east and to Canterbury. Rome has made a colossal mess of the mass since the 16th century. The mystery and the enchantment of the liturgy started to go at with Pius V’s “reforms” at Trent. The missal of 1570 is a uniform liturgy for cretins looking for uniformity. Freezing the past for those who live in it.

  • AgingPapist

    Charles Martel, the only thing that needs purging has nothing to do with the liturgy. We need a purgative to be administered to the corrupt and venal hierarchy with the Bavarian bureaucrat at the helm.

  • AgingPapist

    “Summorum Pontificum” has become THE motu proprio noteworthy for being more honored in the breach by the universal episcopate of the Roman rite rather than in it’s observance. Benedict may try to impose the 1962 rite on the whole Latin rite, but the next great scandal the Vatican will face is open revolt throughout the world,. In many cases leading to the creation of schismatic groups. While others openly defy the pope’s so-called “reforms”.

  • Michel Roi

    I don’t follow your reasoning Nishant. The traditionalists resist certain innovations and novelties introduced into the Church since the 1960′s. Their argument is that none of what they resist is tied to the infallible magesterium. They believe that the last few popes have erred in prudential decisions and the like. Catholic doctrine allows for the possibility of popes making such errors. No traditionalist holds that by making these mistakes any pontiff has ceased to be pope (the sede-vacantist position). The present pope ceratinly implies his predecessors made a mess of things, thus adding some fuel to traditionalist claims.

  • Charles Martel

    Any particular evidence for this prophecy, AgingPapist? Please share it with us.

  • Charles Martel

    If you think the liturgy doesn’t need any purging, then I don’t know where you’ve been for the last 40 years. I largely agree with you about the hierarchy, but don’t blame our Holy Father for the whole atrocious mess he inherited.

  • Charles Martel

    Did anyone else find the title of this piece “The great forward march of the reform of the reform” somewhat exaggerated? What evidence has anyone seen in any of their parishes? As far as I can see, the liturgy is in a state of absolute degradation. The priest in my parish has his own version of the Canon, ending with ‘Through Jesus, with Jesus, and in the spirit of Jesus, all glory and honour….’ I have written to the bishop about this several times over several years and nothing changes. At my father’s funeral recently, the priest was chatting and laughing with some of the congregation during the procession to the cemetery for the interment. At communion, the sanctuary was crawling with female ‘Eucharistic Ministers’ – 7 I think. All totally unnecessary, as we had 3 priests. This is totally against the rules. Sorry, the debate is not even about how to improve the Mass of Paul VI. That Mass has not been celebrated in my parish for 20 years or so. There are now thousands of rites of Mass, made up by liturgical committees or renegade parish priests. Let’s be realistic; the reform of the reform is a non-starter. In the end the battle is between the traditional Roman Mass and the thousands of versions of the new rite which can never be reined in.

  • Weary Convert

    “There are now thousands of rites of Mass” – is that really so awful? if one thinks about it dispassionately, and not overwhelmed by prejudice in favour of the rigidity of years ago, it seems rather a good thing if aspects of the liturgy are changed to suit the local congregation. And does “Through Jesus” etc rather than “through Him” etc.represent such an heretical horror that frantic letters to the busy local bishop are required? Perhaps these “renegade” priests are simply pushing a slow, ponderous and over-hierarchical Church along the path of local reform that otherwise would be stuck forever in the deadening world of Vatican committees dominated by the egos of over-powerful cardinals and clerics. Sadly the underlying approach of Mr Martel is revealed by his phrase “the sanctuary was crawling with female ‘Eucharistic ministers.’” I realise that it was his father’s funeral and the priest should have paid more attention to the family’s wishes, but even so “crawling” is hardly a Christian way to address female Eucharistic ministers. I often think when reading these tirades against the changes to the Church, if it was so marvellous, why, after 2000 years, the whole world is not already Catholic?