REFORM OF THE REFORM?
ORIENS has invited Father John Parsons, priest in charge of St. Brigid's traditional mass parish in Canberra, to respond to the Adoremus proposal for a "reform of the reform". St Brigid's Parish is, for the time being, the only parish of its kind in Australia, and Father Parsons one of (so far) only two priests in this country whose traditional-mass apostolates have received full official recognition. About his reflections on the Adoremus project, Father Parsons writes:
"Those of us who celebrate or attend Mass every day in the traditional Roman Rite, value it as the pearl of great price which regulates the rest of our priorities. We believe that the changes in the liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council have proved in the main undesirable, and that it would have been better for the church if the 1969 Missal had never seen the light of day. While not denying the basic orthodoxy or validity of Masses celebrated in the approved new forms, we find them unsatisfying and do not wish to attend them. On the other hand, we do not forget that there are millions of orthodox Catholics trying to worship God devoutly, whose only option for Mass is to attend an increasingly aberrant celebration under the Novus Ordo regime. Many of those people would rally to the traditional Mass if only a way could be found to familiarise them with it, and a door opened through which they could pass smoothly and easily back to the traditional ways whenever they are ready. The new movement called Adoremus could provide millions of people with a way to return to our authentic liturgical traditions. In my article I explain how the door could be opened."
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After a full generation (1970-1995) of the new liturgical regime in the Latin rites of the Catholic Church, a movement has arisen among Catholics in the United States, calling for a "reform of the reform" begun by the introduction of the new Roman Calendar, Missal and Lectionary of 1969. The movement is called Adoremus, and is led by Father Joseph Fessio S.J. of Ignatius Press in California. He was initially inspired to found the movement by hearing an address given late in 1994 at Colorado Springs by Father Brian Harrison, a fellow Australian and an old friend.
Earlier in 1994, Father Harrison had been in Australia and had discussed the idea of a reform of the reform with me and with Gary Scarrabelotti, co-founder of the Ecclesia Dei Society of Australia. All three of us had by then become very familiar with the traditional Mass of the Roman Rite, in its most recent typical edition of 1962. All three of us believed that the Second Vatican Council's decree on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, issued in December 1963, had been very imperfectly implemented. We agreed on almost everything in our discussion of matters liturgical, and certainly felt that the Consilium, or committee on the liturgy, which had claimed to implement the conciliar decree during the late 1960s, had been allowed to go far beyond the mandate for change laid down by the Council Fathers in 1963. The one point of disagreement between us was whether or not we were free as Catholics to conclude that the whole notion of an aggiornamento of the liturgy was misconceived. Gary and I held the view that since the Church as such, and any general council like Vatican II, was infallible only in its definitive teaching on matters of faith and morals, we were perfectly free to conclude that on pastoral, prudential and disciplinary matters, such as the reform of liturgical rites, a council might well have been barking up the wrong tree. Father Brian, on the other hand, felt that it was most unlikely, and perhaps impossible, that a general council would be permitted by Providence to call for a major liturgical reform when none in fact was needed.
I suspect that the three of us were representative of thoughts that millions of Catholics were, and are, mulling over in the 1990s. Whatever we felt about the wisdom of launching a reform in the first place, we were all agreed that something must be done to try to raise the low standard of worship that has become common under the successive evolutions of the 1969 regime.
Adoremus has so far been concerned with the broad aim of raising standards in liturgical celebration, and criticising the "reform" of the 1960s. When it comes to the more narrow task of defining its precise aims, it seems to me inevitable that there will be tensions within the movement as it tries to come to grips with the details of what it wants by way of a reform. Is it not doomed to fall into the trap that the Consilium failed to avoid in the 1960s? That is, can it escape the charge of eclecticism; of creating a new synthetic liturgy by picking and choosing on the basis of personal taste, populist aspiration or antiquarian revivalist opinion?
Although we may be able to agree that we do not like the way things stand at present, it is extraordinarily difficult to procure agreement about where things should go from here. Even if Adoremus is able to produce an agreed agenda for change, it is for the time being inconceivable that the Roman authorities will ban the kind of liturgical options and practices which they have sanctioned hitherto. And if they were to ban them, would not the cry go up that "Vatican II" was being betrayed; and would not the worst perpetrators of liturgical abuses then gain a certain legitimacy from the fact that they would also become defenders of official options sanctioned by the name of Paul VI? It should also be remembered that Roman authority does not count for nearly as much now as it did in the 1960s, and it is doubtful that any new papal fiat as sweeping as that issued in 1969 would actually be obeyed. Thus, even if Rome were to accept a future detailed Adoremus programme, it is hard to see how it could be anything more than another option added to the options already available.
It may well be, with the Church in its present condition, that the interests aligned against a reform of the reform are invincible, and that Adoremus, and articles like this present one in its support, are doomed to ineffectuality. Nonetheless, it would be a counsel of despair to let Fr Fessio's initiative pass without any response from those who wish it well. It deserves frank and constructive comment.
Frankly then, while welcoming the Adoremus initiative, I would suggest that its true future lies in broadening its vision yet further, and undertaking the great task of a campaign for the recreation of a new unified Roman Rite of Mass, which is what the Council Fathers thought they were voting for in 1963. The bishops at the Council never imagined that they were launching a process whereby the Mass rite that most of them had known all their lives would disappear. They thought, as they declared in their decree on the Oriental Catholic Churches, that all liturgical rites were of equal dignity and that they should all be preserved and fostered in the future.
The Council Fathers did not authorise the introduction of alternatives to the Roman Canon. They did not authorise the destruction of the immemorial Roman Lectionary. They did not authorise a recasting of the annual cycle of Sundays or any change to the extremely ancient Sunday collects. They did not authorise a wholesale redistribution of saints days. They did not authorise the abandonment or alteration of over 80% of the orations (Collects, Secrets and Postcommunions) throughout the Missal. The truth is that they assumed automatically that the great Roman Rite as known to history would of course retain all its essentials, and continue to be the main form for the celebration of the Catholic Eucharist.
Adoremus is therefore attempting to be genuinely loyal to the Council Fathers' intentions when it takes their document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, as the fundamental reference point for any scheme of reform. What that decree presupposes is that the Missal of 1962 is the benchmark from which any change in the Roman Rite will commence. Thus, if we are to try to move towards a reform based on Sacrosanctum Concilium, it must be a reform drawn up around the continuing historic core that the Council Fathers took for granted, but which the Consilium subsequently abandoned. The division of Roman Rite Catholics into two groups, old and new, using incompatible Calendars, Lectionaries, Breviaries and Missals, is something the Council Fathers never envisaged or intended. If this division is to be overcome, and the conciliar decree implemented at last in a legitimate way, it will have to be by an interweaving of the new material with the historic Roman Rite. This is what should have been done in the late 1960s.
It is not such a difficult task. On the one hand, as post-conciliar experience has shown, there are continuing, and indeed growing, numbers of Catholics who are strongly attached for a variety of reasons, to the historic Roman Rite as one of the priceless treasures of the Catholic liturgical and doctrinal heritage. They want it to survive not merely in library books, but as their normal form of worship, and as the chief liturgical support of their lives. On the other hand, there is no corresponding enthusiasm for the new rite as a rite. It is rather the new elements which the new rite embodies, that many people value highly. These are what the Council Fathers voted for. They include a streamlined Ordinary of the Mass, the optional use of the vernacular, a wider selection of Scripture readings, the trimming of saints days (as St Pius V trimmed them in 1568) and so on. It is these new elements in the rite, not the new rite as a rite, that orthodox Catholic supporters of the new liturgical regime are attracted to.
The way forward, considering the interests of the whole Church and not merely those of small groups of enthusiasts on either side, must therefore lie in bringing the new elements into an organic union with the historic rite.
It would be self defeating to try to combine this reform with an attempt to suppress the broad style of liturgical practice now in use, which Catholics have taken up in good faith and with the sanction of legitimate authority. Whatever one may wish the reform of the 1960s to have been, it was what it was. Facts are facts, and it is futile to pretend that we can behave as if we were all back in 1963 with a clean slate before us waiting to be written on. The immense labours of the reformers, although we may believe them misdirected, are not intrinsically worthless. Furthermore, any new set of committees which might be established to repeat their work is unlikely to generate a better outcome. It would in any case be undesirable to increase the confusion and loss of unity by drawing up a whole new reform from top to bottom which would stand parallel to the 1969 regime. On the other hand, if a unified rite is to be re-established, any absolute incompatibility between the old and the new material must be removed.
The following are the chief elements that would need to be considered in any reform:
The Temporal Cycle, especially Sundays with their orations and chants.
The Lectionary, especially the Sunday Epistles and Gospels.
The Eucharistic Prayer, especially the role of the Roman Canon.
The Ordinary, especially the distinction between its older and newer parts.
The Sanctoral Cycle, especially any unhistorical elements.
Let us address these elements in turn, sketching in the briefest and baldest possible way how a reunified Roman Rite could be created by "calling in the Old World to redress the balance of the New"!
Since the Council did not authorise a recasting of the annual cycle of Sundays or any change to the ancient Sunday collects, "Ordinary Time", a dreary concept, should be abolished and the Sundays after the Epiphany, Septuagesima and after Pentecost should be restored. The annual cycle of orations and chants of the 1969 Missal, slightly amended to fit the amended Sunday cycle, should stand on an equal footing with the traditional texts.
Since the Council did not authorise the destruction of the immemorial Roman Lectionary, its Sunday epistles and gospels which date from an unknown time well prior to the seventh century should be declared the Sunday readings of year A, and supplemented by an Old Testament reading. Complementary years B and C should be formed by a reworking of the 1969 material. As is already the case for the Sundays of Lent in the 1969 Missal, a rubric should be inserted stating that the readings of year A may be used in any year. All the Old Testament readings should be optional. Old and new lectionaries would be thus perfectly married.
The Council did not authorise the introduction of alternatives to the Roman Canon, but any attempt to ban those printed in the 1969 Missal would simply be ignored. The Eucharistic Prayers should therefore stay as they are in the 1969 Missal, except that the Roman Canon should be restored word for word to its traditional form. The rubric at the beginning of section 91 of the 1969 Ordo Missae should be removed. It asserts that the words of consecration demand of their nature to be said aloud, and thus incurs the solemn anathema of the Council of Trent (Cf Denzinger 1759). It should be licit to say the Roman Canon in silence.
The Council said that the rite of Mass should be simplified, and that parts which were in the passage of time duplicated or added with little advantage, should be omitted. In the Ordinary, these words, if construed in their widest sense, are applicable to all the celebrant's private prayers, which are of Carolingian and mediaeval origin. These include: everything prior to the Introit, all that the celebrant says silently thereafter (apart from the Secret, Canon and Libera Nos), and everything after "Ite Missa est"(the point at which older Ordinaries, like that of the Carthusians, end). These private prayers should be optionalized en bloc, all to be said or all to be omitted. This would satisfy those who want a very streamlined Ordinary, but would at the same time be ultra traditional. This optionally simplified Ordinary should replace that of 1969, which is a hybrid and historically unintelligible creation.
The Council did not authorise a wholesale redistribution of saints' days. The removal of many saints from their traditional days to the day nearest the date of their death, was pedantic and vexatious. The traditional dates should be restored, with both old and new orations being available for use. Some people feel however that saints of whom nothing is certainly known, like Venantius or Martina, hardly warrant a mandatory feast. Some people also feel that the sanctoral cycle is overcrowded. There is a simple, non-revolutionary way to accommodate their views. A rubric in the 1962 Missal allows any commemoration to be celebrated ad libitum as a third class feast; a parallel rubric should be added allowing any third class feast to be celebrated merely as a commemoration. Perhaps the historically unknown saints should just be left in the Martyrology, with the option of celebrating a votive Mass in their honour on the day in question. The elimination of unhistorical feasts, and the reduction of all feasts below the rank of double major (that is, the vast majority) to the rank of a commemoration, was proposed by Benedict XIV's reform commission as long ago as the 1740s.
A single Roman Rite
There are of course other questions which would need to be addressed, including the Holy Week liturgy. I propose this scheme merely as a general framework. Nonetheless, a reform of the reform along these lines would mean that a single Roman Rite would be recreated, which could be celebrated from a single unified set of liturgical books. The whole could be celebrated either in Latin or the vernacular, the English translation also being in many places revised. All Catholics would thus be accommodated, from those who wished to continue using traditional forms, to those who wanted quite sweeping changes. Both the letter and the spirit of Sacrosanctum Concilium would have been respected to a much greater extent than they were in the reform presided over by Archbishop Bugnini.
With the barriers between the old and new rites thus removed, future generations could move peacefully and without disruption to whichever point they wished along the spectrum of a Roman Rite, reformed "in accordance, with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council."
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