One of my favorite bloggers Fr Hunwicke is back after some absence and for this I am most grateful:
25 November 2013
'The Council' and the Liturgy: an alternative narrative
I suppose a common analysis of what happened in the 1960s might be: The Council mandated a fairly light revision of the Liturgy; however, particular interests subsequently gained control of the levers of liturgical power and pressed things to extremes. I suggest that something really quite different happened, realisation of which might have its embarrassments both for Trendies and Traddies.
The fontal point is this: The process of change was already firmly in place. I do not think that the Council, in fact, made any real difference whatsoever. My train of thought was started by reading some words which Annibale Bugnini wrote in the Preface to his 1956 Commentary on the new Holy Week liturgy. I give my own translation of his Latin:
"When the Easter Vigil had been restored, a certain keen liturgist did not hesitate to assert: Pope Pius XII, in the history of Liturgy through the ages, will be 'The Restorer of the Easter Vigil'. Now, indeed, by the help of God's grace he is to be called 'The Restorer of Holy Week'; while in the secret of our hearts we do not doubt that still greater things await this indefatigable Labourer, and it is very likely (nec veritatis specie caret) that He will be 'The Restorer of the entire Sacred Liturgy'".
Remember, also, the extremely radical nature of the 'restored' Holy Week. I venture to say that it is, if anything, more radical than the post-Conciliar changes to the Ordo Missae itself. 1951 and 1955 were simply two stages of which 1969 was the logically coherent third stage. The changes to Holy Week were only less radical than the later changes in that they affected merely one week of the year ... and services which were not of obligation ... and services which, in fact, for the most part, comparatively few people attended.
Now let me bring in Cardinal Ratzinger's famous words of 1999: "After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. ... In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the Liturgy. It is not manufactured by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity"*.
I think these are admirable sentiments. My only qualification would be is this: Pius XII had initiated the process of radical alteration, using the same people who were to be prominent after the Council, such as Annibale Bugnini, before and without the mandate of an ecumenical Council. We had come a long way since that admirable and erudite Pontiff Benedict XIV concluded that the disposition of the Psalter in the Roman Breviary could not be changed because there was no evidence that the Roman Church had ever used a different one. I suggest the Twentieth Century liturgical changes would most appropriately be called the Pian-Pauline Reforms. They are changes based on exactly that notion of papal power which Benedict XVI so acutely criticises: that the Pope can do anything. The process of liturgical 'reform' has, from the beginning, been the product of the maximalising Papacy of Pius XII. The 'Council' has only been an episode in that process. I never ceased to be amazed by this central paradox of mid-twentieth century Catholic history: that the 'Progressives' and 'Liberals'were able to transform the Latin Church pretty well overnight by manipulating an absolutist model of Papal power.
I think it will be very interesting to see, over the medium term, how Pope Francis understands his Ministry. It can be easy for a good man with admirable motives and who is facing real problems to use the power which his position gives him to take short cuts. It takes a very learned and a very truly humble Pontiff - such as a Benedict XIV or a Benedict XVI - to understand, and to internalise his perception of, what he ought not to do (and I'm not only talking about Liturgy). Pope Francis's two recent utterances which bear upon the Hermeneutic of Continuity make me cautiously optimistic. If this man can consolidate the gains made by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI and at the same time prudently develop the teaching of the Magisterium about the Preferential Option for the Poor, he could turn out to be a great Pontiff.
*Fr Aidan Nichols reports that Fr Adrian Fortescue, nearly a century ago, wrote "The Pope is not an irresponsible tyrant who can do anything with the Church that he likes. He is bound on every side ..."
Posted by Fr John Hunwicke at 09:00