Liturgical confusions

John Hunwicke is fascinated by the struggle between the different approaches to the Liturgy in Rome and offers his own solution to the problem

Liturgically, we live in a confusing betwixt-and-between. What our confusions amount to is: how to reconcile the ‘clean start’ liturgies of 1967 onwards with their ‘messy and illogical’ predecessors. The various ‘old’ rites are not just a fading memory; they keep popping their heads up in rather unexpected ways.

Echoes of the old

Examples: (1) The Common Worship Calendar follows the root-and-branch radicalism of the post-Conciliar Roman Liturgy by abolishing the Gesimas – those three Sundays in purple vestments which, before Ash Wednesday, prepared us for Lent...

Or does it? In its Lectionary we discover two ‘Sundays before Lent’, which revive certain elements of what Rome abolished in 1969.

(2) The Pope has declared that the ‘old’ Roman Rite was never canonically abrogated; the whole culture of liturgical ‘staging’ which, although never mandated, followed the Council (facing the people; communion standing; abolition of Latin), is now seriously questioned; and, above all, the new English translation of the Roman Rite, due to come into use in December 2011, is in a radically different English idiom, more literary, latinate, and sacral than the version in use for the last four decades. ‘And with your Spirit’!

Rumours persist, moreover, that, in forthcoming Ordinariates, our dear old English Missal might find a new lease of life.

What actually happened

A distinguished Hungarian musicologist and liturgist, Laszlo Dobszay, has written a fascinating – but, I would argue, radically flawed – book on current dilemmas [The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite; T & T Clark]. His title refers to the command of Vatican II that liturgical revision should ‘develop organically’ and that only ‘essential’ changes should be made.

The actual revisions which followed the Council – associated with the name of Hannibal Bugnini – went far beyond this modest agenda. But (delicious paradox) a radical turning back of the clock now, to what we were accustomed to forty years ago, would itself be... inorganic!

Roman Catholic liturgical circles have for some time been divided about this. As well as the now ageing hippies of the period after Vatican II, with their Liturgical Dance and Clown Masses, there are the traditionalists.

But these themselves are divided.

In one corner, we find the Tridentinists: not only Mgr Lefebvre’s followers but an increasing number of authorised priestly groups with the canonical right to use the ‘books of 1962’.

In the other corner, there are those who would ‘reform the reform’; dedicated to the post-Conciliar texts, but using them in as traditional a way as possible. The current Roman Pontiff has been helpful to the former, but in his own praxis is definitely one of the latter.

Bringing back 1962

Dobszay occupies none of these camps. He looks back to Vatican II, and asks that the old rite should now, even if forty years late, be given the sort of modest make-over which the Council Fathers actually had in mind.

He takes as his starting point the Council’s decree Sacrosanctum Concilium (it is worth remembering that liturgical conservatives such as Marcel Lefebvre were completely happy to sign this decree).

The reforms there mandated were rooted in the scholarship of the Liturgical Movement of the previous half-century; but the committee which was given the task of implementing them soon developed a radicalising impetus of its own, which preferred to slash and discard rather than to develop sensitively and organically. Dobszay, then, urges a return to the Roman Rite as it was under Pope John XXIII; and its revision in the light of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The best solution

My problem with this is that it is what nobody wants. Tridentinists have memories of wound, persecution, and struggle. Having secured liberty for the Old Rite, they are in no mood to hand it over. to be picked about and tossed around by another group of supposed experts.

And the great majority of the adherents of the Roman Rite who use the Ordinary Form (i.e. the rites of the period following Vatican II) would take a lot of convincing to dump four decades of lived and experienced liturgy. So how can we move ahead to what most people seem to want: a single, unified, Roman Rite?

As ever, this Reviewer has all the answers. Elements of the ‘Old’ Rite should be incorporated into the ‘New’ Rite as options. The old Prayers at the Foot of the Altar could be added to the already quite numerous options for Greeting the People and expressing Penitence.

The old Offertory Prayers said silently by the priest could return as an option (many clergy need reminding that the ‘modern’ prayers, ‘Blessed are you...’ etc., are not ordered to be said aloud and are not even permitted to be heard at Sung Masses).

Then the various possible combinations – and the ethos associated with them – could be left to find, ‘organically’, their own level in the life of the worshipping Church. ND

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