Wednesday 11 November 2015

Is the Reform of the Reform Dead?

Pope Benedict smiling encouragement.

Last week in my parish we celebrated a Requiem Mass in the modern form of the Roman Rite in Latin - at least mostly in Latin, the Readings and the Collects were in English. It was celebrated with great grace by the Archbishop, assisted by two deacons and with excellent music - mostly Latin but with some English Hymns and two English motets. It was very prayerful, not overly fussy and enhanced by an excellent homily by Archbishop Malcolm on, amongst other things, the comfort of purgatory.

A parishioner told me yesterday that he had spoken to a visitor from a nearby parish who had attended who was convinced that what he had attended was the Traditional Form of the Roma Rite, the Usus Antiquior or Extraordinary Form, as it is sometimes called.  No harm to the man - he wasn't speaking against it - and it is through no fault of his that he has never experienced the New Form of the Roman Rite in a way that expresses continuity with the Mass of Ages that nourished the faithful in more or less the same form for hundreds of years. No fault of his, but a tragedy and a fundamental flaw in the celebration of the Mass since the changes following the Second Vatican Council.

I speak, of course, not of the changes mandated or suggested by the Council, but of the non-mandated changes experienced in so many places, of innovations, additions and subtractions brought in from foreign traditions, from Protestant worship, from Buddhist practice, from the children's birthday party and from the television game show.  The practices introduced in so many western parishes that are only envisaged in the documents that mandate them only for emergency situations (General Absolution) or in places where there is no priest to celebrate on a Sunday (Eucharistic Services).

Thus we end up in a place where a Mass with many of these elements in it can be regarded as perfectly usual but where a Mass imbued with our Catholic heritage, tradition and riches is seen as unusual. 

Under Pope Benedict, there was a great resurgence of enthusiasm and hope for the celebration of the Liturgy - and I don't mean just some new trinket dug out of from the back of the sacristy cupboard (as it might be styled by some). I mean a resurgence of the Liturgical Movement in its proper sense. For all the tradition of the authentic Liturgical Movement in what it desired was centred on two things: 
A return to authentic tradition (and this doesn't have to be set in stone at the arbitrary date of somewhere in the fourth century).
A call for fuller and more conscious participation on the part of the laity (and the clergy, I suppose!) And I don't mean the shibboleth of "active participation" meaning everyone up on the sanctuary with a line or action to carry out like some primary school class where no-one wants to leave out the shy children. (I think being ushered up onto the sanctuary to act as the equivalent of "third sheep in the crib scene" is rather patronising.)

The Reform of the Reform is associated with Pope Benedict and there has been discussion as to where it should lead but whatever the differing aims of those who proposed it and tried to move towards it, it can only have been to the good. Recapturing the heart of our Tradition and nurturing a better understanding of what we do - whether in the liturgy or in Religious Orders being called back to their original charism - is the way the Church has always renewed herself. Not in slavish archeologicalism but in true renewal; never rejecting its past but rather building on it. A hermeneutic of continuity going all the way back to the Apostles. Surely, the Church can have no other hermeneutic.

So, is the Reform of the Reform still alive? I think it is. Without the excitement of leadership by example from the top, certainly. It is not controversial to say that Pope Francis does not appear to have any great interest in the liturgy, which I personally think is a great loss, for it is at Mass that most ordinary Catholics - the poor, the sinful, the struggling, the faithful - actually experience the Faith, gain grace and strength to live the Faith and come together as the Body of Christ. Surely then, a powerful tool for nurturing and evangelising and building up the faithful to go out and bear witness by their lives.  But I digress.

Many priests with zeal and drive, many of the priests that haven't given up, many of the younger priests are, I think, as I meet them from up and down the country, quietly putting into practice the Reform of the Reform. They are exploring anew the riches of our tradition which lift the heart and mind to God, for how difficult that is in our modern society and we will not do it by detaching ourselves from our history nor by imitating the televisual jollity of the game show. I may sometimes make a poor priest but I make an even worse comedian!

So yes, it is still unusual (witness the visitor to Mass last week) but it is also no longer abhorred as it was, no longer dismissed (as it was in my seminary days), no longer (wrong-headedly) forbidden, no longer unheard of. Those of us engaged in it no longer feel pushed to the peripheries.

Deo Gratias.


Consternation said...

Excellent commentary and observations Father. Thank you.

Joseph Bracewell said...

Wish I could have been there Father. For many years now I have attended the Extra Ordinary Form almost exclusively for the simple reason I have never witnessed the Ordinary Form celebrated reverently and without novelty. The worst experience being at a parish where the PP was a Man United supporter and following a major victory the previous day a football strip and foot ball were carried down in the Offertory procession and remained on the altar for the remainder of the Mass. I have studied Sacrosanctum Concillium and know that these novelites were not mandated by the Council so it would have been good to see the Mass celebrated as you described.

David O'Neill said...

Having had the privilege of attending the Mass last Friday may I say how prayerful I found it. As a fervent supporter of the EF Mass, who nevertheless attends OF Masses, I found it a great 'happy medium' although (IMHO) not a replacement for the other worldly beauty of the EF. The fact that Archbishop Malcolm was the celebrant probably added to my acceptance as I have NEVER seen him involved in any of the weird ways of celebrating Mass.
I must say that I am very selective as to which OF Masses I attend & this is based totally on who the celebrant is. Sad to say there are known priests who can be relied upon to celebrate OF Mass which can sometimes lead such as me to question whether we have in fact attended a licit Mass at all.
Finally, no 'reform of the reform' will ever, for me, replace the beauty of the EF Mass called in the past 'the nearest thing to Heaven'

Sixupman said...

Father, in the last analysis, Latin -v- vernacular is not the issue, the actual quality of the prayers in the respective missals - Tridentine/Novus Ordo - is the crucial factor. There are a proliferation of arguements why the TLM is superior, all passing-over the head of the man in the pew. But consider the respective "Ablution Prayers" and consider the gap in belief expressed? The, what might be termed ancillary prayers, in the TLM, are extremely moving. [My usurped PP, prays the Tridentine Ablution Prayers in hos NOM, in Latin!]

That said: Latin constitutes the mortar in the brickwork, which held us all together. Whilst I can follow the NOM in most European languages, currently in Malta [not a TLM in sight], participation is most difficult.

By accident I heard an NOM in your own church and was impressed, as I am where, what I term as hybrid NOMs are Celebrated. The problem, now, is that when attending a strange church, you have no idea what you are likely to be presented with as a Mass.

David O'Neill said...

Sixupman has expressed my thoughts better than I did. His comments back up my quoting the EF Mass as 'the nearest thing to Heaven'.
Recently in my diocese (H&N) we had advertised that a "Latin Mass" was being celebrated to celebrate the anniversary of a parish to 'remind' parishioners of the past. Why do people constantly imply that it is the Latin language that we miss? Of course it isn't, it this solemnity of the EF Mass. Also recently said was that the EF Mass was 'too mysterious'. Of course it is as we aren't expected to know the meaning of the mystery of consubstantiation, or of the majesty of God. All of these parts of the Sacrifice (as opposed to the MEAL) of the Mass are way above the understanding of we poor mortals. Our priests at the Consecration change the bread & wine into the Body & Blood of Christ but neither they nor we (or even the Pope) know how it is done.

Ivan said...

A return to authentic Tradition would be at the latest, 1962, and preferably pre 1958. I really don't think the Apostle Paul would be caught dead at the Novus Ordo.