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

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’.”

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“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.

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