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Mutual Enrichment and the Coexistence of Varying Models of Liturgy in the Church

Peter Kwasniewski has a fascinating article at the New Liturgical Movement  called The Ironic Outcome of the Benedictine-Jesuit Controversy.  In it, he refers to a series of articles by Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory in Ireland.  I think that these articles are very much worthy of reflection, and that they may provide both a key to interpreting some of the liturgical battles of today, as well as provide a necessary tonic or corrective to some of the more extreme reactions in those battles.

The central thesis is this: A “Benedictine” liturgical model, inspired by monastic life and the classical liturgical movement, views the liturgy as the source and summit of Christian life.  A “Jesuit” liturgical model, in contrast, presents the liturgy as “one among many tools of personal spiritual growth, with private meditation having a certain pride of place.”  Today, after the Liturgical Reform, we have seen a meeting of the two models which underscores the capital importance of the liturgy, but a liturgy which is intensely personal and subjective in its actual execution. 

The merit of this thesis is that it looks at the history of spirituality and its relationship to the liturgy and provides a useful intuition.  Ancient and medieval spirituality was very much centered on the communal celebration of a liturgy which, although it was not entirely without organic development, was perceived as something “received.”  Its communal aspect became apparent in the tradition of the choral office and conventual Mass, cathedral liturgies and canonical ceremonial.  The piety of the laity was often centered in some way around, or inspired by the liturgy.  The devotio moderna in the late medieval period, as it focused increasingly on the humanity of Christ, and less the Kyrios of glory, took a turn to the more intimate, private and devotional.  Spirituality in this vein became less anchored to the liturgy and more intensely individualistic.  The monastic and mendicant model remained to a large degree liturgical, while the newer model become more devotional.

By the time the Society of Jesus and the new clerical associations of the Catholic Reformation came around, this later model of spirituality had already coexisted with the former for some time.  There were certainly points of contact, but new religious orders like the Jesuits dispensed with choral office and communal liturgical experience.  They did so in part because of the demands of the apostolate of the time, and in response to new models of evangelization and mission.  It is certainly understandable why it would be easier to transplant Low Mass and a rich devotional and processional life to the Americas as mission territory rather than attempting to transfer the entire liturgical culture of Sarum!

Interestingly enough, the history of religious orders in the Tridentine period indicate that, for monastics and mendicants, the new orders and for the laity, the devotional Catholicism of the modern school triumphed over the liturgical ethos of antiquity and the medieval period.  Even the most famous monastic congregations lived through a period of liturgical decadence in which their interior life was often rarely indistinguishable from the Jesuits who worked in the same towns. 

The ravages of the Enlightenment, after all of the unrest of the Wars of Religion, produced a spiritual hunger that yearned for community and antiquity, but in a very individualistic and modern fashion.  The refounding of Benedictine monastic life by Prosper Gueranger and friends in 19th century France could not have happened at any other time.  While an attempt to recreate a glorious Christendom of old that had been lost, the recreation itself was an exercise in Romanticism, and it is debatable as to exactly how much Solesmes really had in common with abbeys of ages past.  But, the Solesmes project (and similar ventures like Lacordaire’s refounding of the Dominicans) responded to a need.  It was extraordinarily successful, and it succeeded in re-establishing the sacred liturgy in its own right as source and summit of Christian life, and indeed, as the hope for the renewal of society.  That was the vision that moved people as diverse as LeMaistre and Pugin, from politics to parapets.

The nascent liturgical movement was undoubtedly influenced by a Romantic vision of the early Church, and was in its own way motivated by the very modern preoccupation for relevance: how can the Church, through her public witness of prayer and spiritual life, renew men’s lives and our whole world? 

As is well known, however, the Liturgical Movement came to a crossroads.  Do those of us formed in the liturgy go about the laborious task of educating others to reach the level of the liturgy, or do we simplify the liturgy to make it more accessible to the people?  This bifurcation produced a divergence between what was going on in monastic centers like Beuron and Solesmes and what was happening in parishes and youth groups under leaders such as Pius Parsch and Romano Guardini.  All the while, though, a not insignificant part of the Church was still living according to a liturgical and spiritual culture that could be described as Ignatian, in which the liturgy was one means among many for union with God.

Kwasniewski points out that, on paper, the Benedictine liturgical vision prevailed, during the time period from St Pius X to Mediator Dei.  There is a second period, though, from the 1948 encyclical to the 1970 Missal, where several currents of thought came together. 

What are those currents of thought?  1. The centrality of the liturgy praised by the classical monastic sources of the liturgical movement, 2. the pastoral orientation of a second moment of that movement which sought out the change of exterior forms of the liturgy for supposed greater accessibility by the laity, 3. as well as an Ignatian predilection for the individual, devotional and subjective.

That first current of thought seems to be the motivating principle behind most of the liturgical Magisterium of the Church in the 20thcentury and today, whether we are talking about Tra le sollecitudini, Mediator Dei, Sacrosanctum concilium, or Redemptionis sacramentum.  But that lives in tension, and some might say, opposition, to the way the second current of thought prevailed in the production of the Novus Ordo Missaeand how the third current of thought conditioned the reception of the reformed liturgy.

Ascertaining what current of thought prevails can help us understand why people react the way they do about matters liturgical.  Those who argue for the retention of the classical Roman tradition, whether they be SSPX adherents or the people who have been inspired by Sacrosanctum con cilium and the liturgical theology of Ratzinger and Gamber, all have the first school as their fundamental principle.  The second school is behind movements as various as Reform of the Reform to the original set of ideas behind the foundation of the Society for Catholic Liturgy in the United States.  The third school is behind some of the calls for greater experimentation and inculturation, such as the work of Keith Pecklers and Piero Marini.

The great influence of three very different schools of thought on the liturgy have led Kwasniesi to posit:

The legacy of the post-conciliar reform is a Benedictine insistence on the primacy of liturgy, fused with a Jesuitized re-conception of liturgy as collective private devotion. It is as if new Jesuit wine has been poured into old Benedictine wineskins, causing them to rupture. The moment of triumph was the moment of disaster, as the very notion of a rite—a formal ritualized act of common worship based on a common orthodox tradition—gave way to a pluralistic, relaxed, malleable, and privatized praxis of variations on a more or less Catholic theme. In short, the Consilium’s exploitation of Sacrosanctum Concilium left us with a volatile mixture that makes genuine reform today much more difficult.      

This is a bold claim, and one which I think needs to be examined more closely.  It removes the discussion of the liturgical reform away from hackneyed labels of liberal vs. conservative, and also removes it from the thorny question of hermeneutics of continuity vs. rupture vis-à-vis Vatican II.  This claim instead relocates the debate within the history of Christian spirituality, and within a broader historical context.

Now, that having been said, to the extent that one of the aforementioned three schools rises to prominence, it is clear that reaction ensues.  But the reactions have tended to be expressed in terms of fear: fear that the uniqueness of the historical liturgical tradition of the Church will be lost, fear that Vatican II and the liturgical reform is in danger of being undone by reactionaries plotting to usher a kingdom of pharisaical rubricist status quo ante, fear that all of these liturgical battles are losing sight of what is truly important and central to our Christian faith.

Those reactions may partly explain certain phenomena we have seen in the contemporary Church.  What provokes bloggers to pour out sheer vitriol whenever they see a picture of a prelate in a cappa magna?  To the extent that an observer is immersed in the third school as opposed to the first and second, they react accordingly.  What provokes someone to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite but refuse on principle to attend a celebration of the Ordinary Form?  To the extent that she is plunged into the first school as opposed to the second and third, she makes choices as to where to go to Mass.

Yet these reactions, these growing phenomena, are not limited to comboxes and where individuals choose to attend Mass.  They are being translated into absolutes, and are dictating policy and teaching. 

Under the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, and to a lesser degree, St John Paul II, Rome expressed a clear predilection of teaching based on the intuition of the first school that the liturgy was the source and summit of Christian life and is something received by the Church.  That teaching did not entirely exclude aspects of the other two schools.  The fact that Summorum pontificum was not an express repudiation of the liturgical reform is evidence of influence of the second school, of a pastoral orientation to the liturgy which recognizes the possibility of change.  The fact that even the liturgical experimentation of groups such as the Neocatechumenal Way were not entirely quashed is evidence of the influence of the third school.  The “Benedictine” model of liturgy, re-elaborated in our time by Benedict XVI, was a call to the essential insight of Vatican II that the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian life.  That this model was not imposed by legislative fiat was a recognition that this vision has not reached every cell of the Church’s life, and that the liturgical battles had to come to and end before this model could be peacefully received.  It was a sign of hope that the renewal of the Church promised by Vatican II, the new Pentecost, would be a fruit of the Spirit, and not merely the fruit of another papal document.

Now, though, we are living in a different time.  Pope Francis clearly manifests a certain predilection, as a good Jesuit, for the third school of thought, one which is influenced by the devotio moderna, the Ignatian tradition, and his experience as a pastor in Argentina.  Liturgy does not seem to be central to his thought, but neither it is it entirely absent from it either.  His constant calls for a purification from pharisaical tendencies or the desire to reduce the liturgy (and morality) to just another set of rules can serve as a necessary corrective to a temptation to formalism that the first school of thought risks.   

There can be more points of contact between the thought of the last two Popes than may seem evident at first glance, when we examine them from the relative influence of the three strains of thought.  At the same time, though, reactions driven by fear are also impelling decisions to be made which reflect a desire to exclude one or other of the schools of thought.

After a brief period of freedom in which the Extraordinary Form was allowed to flourish as a normal part of the life of the Church, there are signs of regression.  Rectories and seminaries are often abuzz with fears that priests and seminarians who have tried to make the Benedictine vision the model for their lives and their parishes will be ostracized or prohibited from doing so.  There are those who have already forbidden priests and seminarians from learning or celebrating the Extraordinary Form, or according to principles of liturgical theology which inculcate Reform of the Reform ideas.

It is hard to see how this will contribute to a more fruitful experience of ecclesiastical or priestly communion in the life of the Church.  Will the third school of thought impose its will all over the life of the Church, practically or expressly prohibiting discussion and practice of the liturgy according to the mind of the first two schools, and especially the first one?

It is yet another fear, and reactions are ensuing from that fear, but it is there.

Benedict XVI had hope that the celebration of the two forms of the Roman Rite would lead to mutual enrichment, and a corresponding renewal in the life of the Church.  Much ink has been spilled on promoting or proscribing one form or another of the rite.  I am beginning to wonder whether we need to examine, not which form is better or worse, but what lines of thought are driving the way we think about and execute the sacred liturgy, and whether, if they are allowed peacefully to coexist along side each other, that a true synthesis may emerge, one not forced by the work of human hands, but by the action of the Holy Spirit.         

Books Mentioned During Plenary Session

I have been asked several times to give a full list of all the books I mentioned in rapid random fire during my talk on Liturgical Theology: Are We Just Now Beginning?So, here goes the full list:Romano Guardini, The Church of the LordSt John Paul II, E…

Saints John XXIII and John Paul II: A Roman Seminarian Recounts

3 September 2000, the day that John XXIII (and Pius IX) were beatified, was also the day that I entered the seminary.  That might not seem of much significance to my reader, but it was to me.  Il papa buono was the last Pope alumnus in a long line of saints, popes and prelates to be ordained from the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, the house of formation where my Bishop sent me.  As an American in an overwhelmingly Italian house, I was caught up into the euphoria that marked the event.  As Providence would have it, I was finishing up my time in the seminary just as John Paul II “returned to the house of the Father” as it was said, and Josef Ratzinger became his successor as Benedict XVI.  My seminary career began with a papal beatification and ended with a papal funeral, election and inauguration, and my time there would be significantly marked by all three men.

Before I went off to the seminary, I had read just about everything I could get my hands on, written by anybody who had never had an unpublished thought, on Vatican II.  The John XXIII that I carried into the seminary with me was a split one: the enfant terrible who sang a new Church into being and became the icon of progressive Catholics in saecula saeculorum; and the eminence grise who betrayed the true tradition of the Church and ushered the Trojan Horse into the City of God.  You can imagine how perplexed I was when I carried these two ideologized portraits of the Bergamasch pontiff into the seminary, and there encountered a very different John XXIII.

My first days in the seminary were a profound introduction to how the Roman clergy saw their Papa Giovanni.  Even though he was not a native Roman, when he went to the papal seminary, he underwent a thorough Romanization.  He might not have been un romano di Roma, but he certainly became a Roman di core.

As we left the beatification for the summer villa of Roccantica, where I used the same shower that legend said John XIII had used as a seminarian (and to my horror, it wasn’t all that different than it would have been 100 years before), I started to read his Journal of a Soul.  As I read it, and through the years that I talked with so many cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laypeople who knew him, I came across a very different man that what I had read about in those conservative vs. liberal English books about him and the conciliar period.

The first thing that struck me was that John XXIII had a deep devotion to the patroness of the seminary, Our Lady under the title of the Madonna della Fiducia, Our Lady of Confidence.  The original image of Our Lady, which had painted by a Poor Clare nun and made its way into the seminary in the 17th century, was in a small chapel, where seminarians consecrate themselves to her, to be her priests in the world.  We alumni take holy cards and immaginette of her wherever we go, and the first thing we do in going back to visit alma mater is to visit her image and sing the seminary hymn composed by the man later known as Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, O Maria, quant’é felice, chi ti sceglie a tua regina!  John XXIII had this image on his bedside, at his desk, and it always accompanied him.

So why is this image so important?  In it, the Child Jesus with a chubby little finger points to Mary: if He can have confidence in her, so can we.  And so the pious aspiration that all of us alumni say repeatedly throughout the day and at the end of the Divine Office, made sense: Mater mea, fiducia mea.  The lessons of the Fiducia are simple, but guided John XXIII as he guided the Church: remain faithful priests to the Eucharistic King, Our Lady and the Holy Father, and have confidence that all will be well.

For some people, John XXIII was a naïve optimist who did not know what he was doing opening the windows of the Church to the world.  But for the Romans formed so close to the heart of the Church, and to the throne of the Fisherman, the idea was that all of us, from Pope to lowliest curate, had to be good solid priests and love our people, and Our Lady would make sure that all would be well. 

The Romanità that John XXIII showed extended to everything.  He remained first and foremost a priest, even despite his career as a diplomat.  He cared about people, real people, and wanted to bring them to Our Lord.  For him, that meant that he was just as willing to dialogue with the enemies of the Church as Don Camillo was with Peppone, all the while sure that Our Lady would win the conversion of their hearts.  There was no need to hurl denunciations at people, because he had confidence that just being a good Christian and a good priest, and the intercession of Confidence, could win hearts over to Truth.

That Romanità also formed the young Angelo Roncalli in his attitude towards the sacred litiurgy and popular piety.  I have yet to come across any indications that he was a liturgical revolutionary.  He could not have helped but be schooled as a seminarian in the Roman basilica tradition à façon de Carlo Respighi.  He loved the ceremonies and the prayers of the Church, and for him, all of the pomp and circumstance of the papal liturgy was not dead vestiges of an imperial past, but the continuation of a glorious Roman tradition.  Roma felix had no need of puritanical iconoclasm to shed the papal liturgy of its “imperial trappings” because by John XXIII, they had already been transformed interiorly into pomp and splendor of the King of Kings.  Even the changes that happened under his reign, such as the new Good Friday prayer for the Jews and the 1960 breviary, were motivated less from new ideas about liturgics than his desire to be nice to people and not burden them.  And he still lengthened the cappa magna back from the attenuated length that the author of Mediator Deihad cut it, a factoid that the propagandists of “John XXIII: Liturgical Revolutionary” are at sixes and sevens to explain.

All of this Johannine spirit was part of the received tradition of priestly formation in my seminary, and the powerful example of John Paul II, who was such an example of courage, faithfulness and Marian devotion, made it all very contemporary.  Every year John Paull II came for the celebrations of the Fiducia.  Evey year he stayed to hear the seminary and the diocesan choir under the direction of Msgr Marco Frisina sing a newly composed oratorio.  We all gathered in the sala del trono and one by one each year, were introduced to the Holy Father.  We served his Masses frequently, and I admit I was always rendered speechless in his presence, as holiness radiated from him.  We watched as John Paul II battled illness, and declined, giving an incomparable witness to the Gospel of Life. 

I know that there are those who question the prudence of canonizing these two popes so close after their death, and there are indeed those who are convinced this is all about canonizing Vatican II (or a certain hermeneutic of Vatican II) more than anything else.  But these two Popes had a strong influence on me personally.  Their witness gave me a love for the Roman Church and a burning desire for evangelization and mission.  In their way, they prepared me also for being a priest under the reigns of Benedict XVI and Francis.  Although by temperament and interest I am much closer to the Bavarian Pope than any of the rest of them, and I am always proud to be considered a priest of the Benedict XVI generation, I also welcome Francis’ desire to bring the Faith to those in the margins.  Now, how I may do so, it might be clothed in the glorious raiment of Romanità, with the piety of John, the courage of John Paul and the precision and sensitivity of Benedict, or at least I would hope for it to be.  But either way, the Church rejoices that John XXIII and John Paul II are models of virtue and sanctity.  And in a world in which there is such a lack of goodness and faithfulness, I for one rejoice that, in my life, I have had such models in these men.  May I, and all of my brother priests today, have a portion of their spirit.  Mater mea, fiducia mea! 

Guide to Ember and Rogation Days

As we celebrated the Ember Days for Lent, I started doing a little bit more research on Ember and Rogation Days, with a view to wondering how I might be able to explain to my faithful, especially my school kids, what these are all about.  As I con…

Is the Reform of the Reform Dead?

Peter Kwasniewski over at NLM has given a good synopsis of a flurry of articles in recent weeks which have predicted the end of the “Reform of the Reform.”  Voices have been raised in the past year since Pope Benedict’s abdication prophesying the end of the Benedictine liturgical vision because of what seems to them to be an antipathy to such ideas on the part of Pope Francis.  Others, though, who have been widely known for their ROTR advocacy, are now themselves saying that such a reform is useless.  Why all of a sudden are these articles provoking thoughtful discussions, and what are the possibilities for the future?

Re-evaluating the Original Reform

Up until fairly recently, the bulk of the advocates of the ROTR have taken the books of the Liturgical Reform and the documents of the Roman Curia and national episcopal conferences, not to mention Sacrosanctum concilium, at face value.  Many of the original ROTR ideas have as their departure point these texts.  There are many reasons for this.  Some have argued that, because these documents have been produced by legitimate authority, it is essentially useless to work against them.  To do so would be evidence of disloyalty at the best and schismatic dissent at worst.  Others have argued, more pragmatically, that, because the vast majority of Catholics now worship according to the modern Roman liturgy, any liturgical discussion has to begin from and work within that framework.  Also, the often invoked and also often caricatured spirit of resistance of the traditionalist Catholic world led many of the ROTR crowd to deliberately avoid any discussion of the Pian Missal as such, to avoid getting bogged down in what they saw as essentially quixotic and eccentric concerns.

            But as ROTR thinkers delve deeply into the actual texts of the liturgical reform, as well as the now readily available historical accounts of the reform (Bugnini, P. Marini and Card. Antonelli being the most widely read of these), a more complex picture of the reform has come to the fore.  As more and more people begin to deal with the actual process by which the reform was conceived and implemented, and the principles that guided all of those decisions, more and more questions have come up as to whether process and principles were up to the task of producing the reform actually envisioned by SC 4 and 25: “that the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition” and “as soon as possible.” 

            This has led to a very simple question: was the so-called Missal of 1965 not the legitimate incarnation of the revision of the Roman Rite as conceived by the Bishops who voted on SC, which begs the question of why the Missa Normativa, which became the Missal of Paul VI, was necessary in the first place, especially when its own architects and proponents, at the time, made clear that it was really a new rite.

            The rather difficult to sustain position of some the early voices associated with the ROTR, that the two expressions of the Missal were really not all that much different from each other, and that the divergences were really more cosmetic than anything else, may have prompted some of the early ROTR thought to not delve deeply into the actual history of the reform.  But as that history becomes clearer and more accessible, that position has been more and more abandoned as untenable.

            All of this has brought some ROTR thinkers to go beyond the extant texts of the reform to how the reform was brought about, and that has unsettled many of them from an earlier position of relative ease with the reformed books.

The Futility of the Letter vs. Spirit Dichotomy

Many of the ROTR advocates loudly argued that we must return to the letter of the Council documents and of every jot and tittle written down by the legitimate authorities which produced the documents surrounding the reform.  The idea was that the “spirit of Vatican II” was at best a chimera, which had derailed authentic reform.  To anchor the spirit back to the letter of the liturgical books and documents, they assured us, would usher in the age of liturgical renewal that the Council Fathers really wanted.  A monumental work of catechesis and education has been done by many leaders of the ROTR, particularly in parishes where clergy and laypeople formed in the school of thought worked.  How many parishes have gone about the difficult work to read the documents, and fashion their liturgical and catechetical lives according to those texts?  Obviously not all of them, but increasingly more of them.

            But there are three problems with this.  First of all, the sheer amount of verbiage surrounding all of the reforms is so immense, that it is difficult to even locate all of it, much less analyze it and present it to the faithful in such a way for it to take root and be fruitful at the level of parishes and seminary formation.  Furthermore, the more that one delves into these things, the more that one notices the contradictions that come up between documents, and then the person interpreting them is left with the herculean task of trying to evaluate which words have priority, and who establishes the priority.  This alone has produced a dizzying array of differing opinions within the ROTR world as to what the sacred liturgy should really look, feel and sound like.

            Second, the reality of our ecclesiastical life is that what many of our parishioners experience in their parishes as the fruit of Vatican II is nothing like anything proposed by the ROTR advocates.  As soon as a priest in a parish begins to implement these notions, no small amount of struggle invariably ensues.  Parishes are divided, and the consumer mentality has taken over, with parishioners decamping to parishes where they feel comfortable.  While veritable oases of ROTR liturgy have been created because of this, it has at the same time contributed to a further balkanization of Catholics along lines which critics of the ROTR are quick to deem ideological.

            Third, there are many Catholics, intent on describing themselves as orthodox and faithful, whose idea of the Roman Primacy and the authority of the Church over the sacred liturgy does not reflect the theology of the Church in any century.  This exaggerated ultramontanism, whose roots most certainly cannot be found in the Magisterium of John Paul II, Benedict XVI or Francis, or Vatican II, has poured out no small amount of invective against those who uphold the actual texts of the reform when they come into conflict with abuses of authority.  This pietistic and simplistic notion of obedience has frustrated the advance of many ROTR and traditionalist ideas among ordinary Catholics, by painting them with the hue of rebellion.  It also provides for an untenable situation in which priests and people are expected to thoughtlessly obey what has actually been conceived of in terms of revolt against the authority of the Church!  Unscrupulous detractors against the ROTR have capitalized on this phenomenon to effectively quash the implementation of ROTR ideas in parishes, religious communities and seminaries.

            In short, the dichotomy between letter vs. spirit has sent many ROTR thinkers to assess the spirit behind the letter of the reform as well!

Aesthetic Accidentalism vs. Substantial Liturgical Theology

There is not always agreement among ROTR advocates as to what should be part of the reform.  Inspiring themselves from the letter of the texts, many have argued for certain practices, like the restoration of Latin, ad orientem celebration and Gregorian chant.  While all of this is certainly laudable, the question becomes controverted whether these things are accidental or substantial, to both the liturgy in and of itself, and to the reform.  Often practices have been encouraged because of their aesthetic value, which, while important, then highlights the cognitive disconnect between their presence in the liturgy and the spirit behind the reform itself (one thinks of the use of orchestral Masses at the Novus Ordo, for example).  When they are presented as aesthetic additions to the Mass, they are then caught up in questions of taste, or inculturation.  And in turn they provide the pretext for adoption or rejection, based, not on their intrinsic value or propriety for worship, but their cultural context. 

            It appears that there are many ROTR thinkers who want to go beyond the aesthetic to a more rigorous application of the insights of liturgical theology to the actual practice of the liturgy.  But many are finding that, when they do so, it brings them up against the need to evaluate the way the liturgical reform was carried out.  It eventually has to be asked, why spend the time investing in the aesthetic and the accidental, when certain options enshrined in the rite itself, and not just appropriated by whimsy, can be employed in such a way as to work against both aesthetic sense and theological appropriateness.

The Fruits of Summorum Pontificum

When ROTR ideas started to gain more visibility in the 1990s, the Tridentine Mass was, in most places, a marginalized underground niche often associated with certain curious characters whose love for the Church was questioned.  Summorum pontificum brought the Mass out of its ghetto and inserted it into the mainstream of the Church’s life.  Pope Benedict’s assertion that “what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot all of a sudden be entirely forbidden to even considered harmful” has contributed greatly to a certain normalization of the Extraordinary Form in the life of the Church.  Celebrations of the EF have become much more prevalent than they were in the 1990s.  The exposure of more people to it has also given people the contrast to the Ordinary Form which has raised many questions.  As more and more priests celebrate the two forms of the Roman Rite on a regular basis, and more and more Catholics experience the two forms at close range, they want to know why the differences exist.    

            As Msgr Peter Elliott has also just pointed out on NLM (, there could also be more room for expansion of the vernacular within the EF.  If some kind of permission was granted for greater use of the vernacular within the EF, then I am somewhat certain that it would gain even more appeal and usage.

Is Vatican II Really Dead?

Numerous people who invested their lives and careers in the liturgical reform and Vatican II have passed on to their reward.  Many of those left have a dreaded sense that ROTR types and traditionalists are deliberately trying to undo everything they have worked for, and they have seen that campaign as being partially successful.  They see the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as essentially, or partly, betrayals of the original vision of Vatican II and John XXIII.  In the meantime, we have been assured over and over again by many in the hierarchy that we are living in a new springtime and that the reforms of Vatican II and the Roman Rite have been enthusiastically embraced by the faithful.

            The actual demographics of Catholic practice in the West, which are now easily accessible to all who look for it, have led many to see such assertions as either wistful or deceitful.  Many concerned Catholics are coming up with variant explanations as to why the decline of religious practice is the case.  The secularist model sees this as a sign of Vatican II doing its work: that the sacred and the profane have merged.  The progressivist model sees only a return to the “spirit of Vatican II” and the ROTR only a return to its letter as the way forward.

            In the meantime, new generations of Catholic thinkers are coming up who were born after Vatican II.  For some of these clergy and lay leaders, certain ideas of Vatican II are such a part of their lives that they hardly question it (one thinks of the sacramental nature of the Church as described in Lumen gentium).  But the world described by Gaudium et spes is not the world that these younger people are experiencing.  They are acutely aware that Vatican II does not have the answer to the problems that they see as affronting the life of the Church.  While not necessarily arguing for the overturn of the last ecumenical council, it also does not hold the same kind of power of them, and they are ready for a Church that has gone beyond Vatican II and the Liturgical Reform to something which actually speaks to them where they are now.  And some of them do not feel that continued arguing over the proper implementation of Vatican II and the original ROTR ideas are up to the task.

            This may in part explain a phenomenon observable in some younger people today which may seem, at first glance, unsettling.  These youth respond energetically to Pope Francis’ engagement with the world, simplicity, humility and desire to evangelize, and at the same time to Pope Emeritus Benedict’s liturgical theology, practice, and critique of the modern world.

What Now?

            I think that it is important that we realize that the world is no longer the same world described by Vatican II.  That does not mean that the last council does not have something to contribute to the life of the Church today, but that the Church must take into account the world she is sent to evangelize.  That will mean that there has to be more honesty about the state of Catholic practice and more humility as to how the Church must go about her mission in the world.

            As ROTR advocates delve deeply into the actual celebration of the Extraordinary Form and undertake a clear historical analysis of the liturgical reform, that will raise more and more questions about, not whether the reform was implemented properly from a legal perspective, but from a theological and pastoral perspective.  No longer departing from the assumed position of the reformed texts and surrounding documents, ROTR types can begin to assess where the liturgical reform authentically incarnated, and where it has betrayed, the true spirit of the liturgy.  Without making the liturgical theology of Benedict XVI a new unquestionable standard, it has given us lots of insights with which to disanchor the ROTR from slavery to the reformed liturgical books and give it freedom to consider how the liturgy might look like when purged of the rationalist and modernist elements which were part of, although not, entirely constitutive of, that reform.

            Up until now, there has also been a reticence to more liturgical experimentation, given the questionable results of such initiatives in the past fifty years.  Summorum pontificum indicated a desire for mutual enrichment between the two forms of the Roman rite without mixing them.  Yet Pope Francis has indicated little patience with a preoccupation with “little rules.”  Could this be the moment to propose to the Church the following?

            First, the spontaneous adoption at the local level of certain practices that have been advocated by the ROTR for a while, alongside the Extraordinary Form, accompanied by the production of rich catechetical materials for the faithful.

            Second, an official proposal of which of these should be adopted officially by national bishops’ conferences and the Congregation for Divine Worship, and the rationale behind them.

            Third, more comparative liturgical history and theology which analyzes very closely every text and document of the Reform alongside the pre-reform books, along the lines of Lauren Pristas’ methodology adopted in her book The Collects of the Roman Missals

            Fourth, a concerted effort of thinkers to come up with a plan for an Ordo Missae, Corpus Collectarum, Lectionary and Kalendar which, using the 1570 Missal as a base, integrates into it those features of 1965 and 1970 by way of options for keeping all of the traditional elements, but also providing for a judicious use of what is good from the reformed books.  The new Anglican Use Missal is certainly something to look at as this is considered.  This proposal could be given to the Holy See to be used ad experimentum on a very limited basis, in collaboration with the pertinent Vatican dicasteries and local conferences.

The ROTR is Dead, Long Live the ROTR

All of the flurry of articles on the death of the ROTR indicates that there is a sense that some of the original ideas surrounding it are being abandoned.  But it might also be proper to say that, as the ROTR lives with the EF alongside the OF, and deepens its understanding of the reform, that vision is undergoing, not a death, but a transformation.  It is not one which means simply a return to the status quo ante Vatican II.  But it is, at its maximal capacity, an opening to a deeper understanding of what the liturgy is all about, and that in turn will have its effect on how that mystery is celebrated.  It now no longer has be antagonistic to, or apposite, the tradition, but can be part of that tradition by drinking even more deeply at its sources.      


Guide to Lent, Holy Week and Easter

For my parish I have been busy preparing a Guide for Lent, Holy Week and Easter, principally for the children in my School and Religious Education programs.  I have added that to the Advent/Christmastide one in my Dropbox.  It is a rather lar…

Galles on Monsignors, Musical and Otherwise

The recent news that Pope Francis has abolished two of the three remaining ranks of monsignor and limited the one remaining to priests over 65 has elicited much comment, particularly in tradition-minded circles.  When I read this, I was immediately reminded of a series of articles in Sacred Music which presented a good history of papal honors for the clergy in general, as well as certain notes of interest to historians of Church music.  You can read Duane LCM Galles’ three part article Musical Monsignori: Or, Milords of Music Honored by the Pope here:

Part I Fall 1995 (pp. 16-21) 

Part III Spring 1996 (pp. 13-17) 

Here are some interesting quotes:

Part One

The oldest honor for clerical church musicians is the office of canon which arose out of the group of clerics in the see city who gathered around the bishop to sing the daily solemn Mass and the liturgy of the hours. These became the cathedral canons and, where centers for the solemn liturgy developed outside the cathedral, these centers came to be known as collegiate churches, because such churches were staffed by a college of canons or team of priest colleagues.

Because of their proximity to the bishop, canons became his closest advisors and administrative assistants and, by the beginning of the second millennium, when the Roman cardinals were winning the right to elect the bishop of Rome, cathedral canons got the right to elect the diocesan bishop and to administer his vacant or impeded see. The upshot was that the erstwhile church musicians became leading figures in the local church administration, the canons’ manifold administrative duties soon got in the way of their musical and liturgical duties and the latter suffered.

In order to fulfill their liturgical and musical duties in greater comfort canons had developed certain distinctive vestments to be worn during the long offices in choir in unheated stone churches. In time, these came to be distinctive insignia of canons and part of their distinctive privileges of dress. In some cases the granting of these distinctive vestments would become part of the papal system of clerical honors and provide the precedent for the honors of dress bestowed on papal prelates.

In the twentieth cantury Rome began creating honorary chapters of canons. There had long been honorary or supernumerary canons in chapters of canons. Franz Xaver Witt (1834-1888), who founded in 1868 and lead for many years the German Caecilia Society and revived interest in renaissance polyphonic sacred music, was made an honorary canon of the suburbicarian cathedral of Palestrina. Likewise, his successor Franz Xaver Haberl (1840-1910) had ad honorem his canon’s stall in choir there. Honorary canons have a stall in choir and the title and dress of a canon, but they cannot participate in chapter nor in the revenues of the chapter nor have they liturgical duties. But now entire chapters were constituted as honorary. An example is the parochial Church of San Sosio Martyr in Fractamaiore in the Diocese of Aversa, Italy, made a collegiate church ad honorem in 1923. The pastor was to become the archpriest and sole dignitary of the new collegiate church and its ten curates would be the canons. The archpriest was conceded the use of a cap-pa magna in choir equipped with a muskrat (muris pontici pellibus) cape in winter and a red silk one in summer; the canons got for choir dress a red mozzetta and all could wear the rochet with red lining under the lace of the sleeves. Their choir duties were attenuated and the curate-canons were removable at the will of the bishop and so lacked the life tenure normal to canons.

The tradition of Roman involvement in the erection of collegiate churches reached
its apogee when the Holy See began in 1783 bestowing the title of minor basilica on certain distinguished churches. The title and its associated privilege arose among the distinguished collegiate churches of Rome and came to be a sort of papal “ennoblement” of a church. For the church’s canons the title brought the privilege of wearing the prelate’s rochet and the cappa magna in choir. The basilica in limine was a purely Roman type of collegiate church with purely Roman privileges. It was now being inserted into the local church and today minor basilicas with special links to the Roman pontiff are to be found throughout the Catholic world.

The canonry had begun as a local liturgical and musical function and had later become a local clerical honor. By the nineteenth century and with its culmination, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the creation of chapters of canons under Canon 392 had become entirely co-opted by Rome, and the conferral of chapter dignities by Canon 396 had been reserved to the Holy See.

Part Two

“The most ancient college of domestic prelate was the protonotaries apostolic. Descended from the scribes who wrote down the confessions of the martyrs in the early church, these papal notaries came by the reign of Pope Gregory the Great (590- 604) to form a scola notariorum or college of notaries headed by a primicerius or precentor. Not only did this papal corps have the function in the apostolic chancery of authenticating curial documents, but notaries also served as papal nuncios and papal judges delegate.”

At the turn of this century Pius X effected notable reforms in the papal household through his 1905 reform of the papal household, Inter multiplices, and his 1908 reform of the Roman curia, Sapienti consilio. These measures aimed at structuring the Holy See on more functional lines and at codifying and simplifying the privileges of the clerics of the papal court.  In his reform Pius X placed the protonotaries apostolic at the apex of the minor prelates of the papal household. While his 1905 motu proprio pruned some of their extensive privileges, Pius X, nevertheless, left the protonotaries apostolic with many privileges. Like cardinals and bishops, they were by law privileged to maintain a private chapel where Mass could be offered. Before Vatican II, Mass could only be celebrated in a sacred place (such as a church or private chapel) and the erection of a private chapel required an apostolic indult. Hence, the right to such a chapel was a coveted privilege.

Although the origins of many of the offices of the pontifical household are very ancient, it will be seen that the current mass of monsignors is largely a phenomenon of the nineteenth-century when the centralization of the Roman Church reached its apogee. Clerics and laity alike were transformed into supplicants for papal honors and all grace and favor, all perquisites and precedence, were seen as deriving from the pope and were fitted into a Roman honors system. The pope became the sole fons honorum in the western church and all honors were seen as in his gift.

Purple silk became the tangible mark of Roman favor, and taking purple silk ever more copiously came visibly to mark the progress of a clerical career. It signaled the success of the young upwardly-mobile ecclesiastic much as a progression of post- nominal initials marks the advance of a British civil servant.

In the first paragraph of Inter multiplices Pius X explained that the reason for reforming and codifying the privileges of minor papal prelates was to protect the episcopal dignity. He noted that bishops were successors of the apostles and, even given the primacy of honor and jurisdiction due the successor of Peter, bishops were sacramentally his peer. Nevertheless, over time, concessions of privileges to minor prelates and extravagant interpretations of them had encroached on the episcopal dignity. His aim was to prune such excesses.

Over the centruies papal indults had conceded the use of the miter and of other pontificals and of increasingly splendid choir dress to minor prelates, to abbesses, and to the canons of cathedrals and other distinguished collegiate churches. Sometimes, as in the case of canons of minor basilicas, this splendid dress was the use of the violet cappa magna or of a rochet or of a violet mozzetta or of the mantelletta or even of a purple prelatial cassock with train. All of the papal concessions to canons and other ecclesiastics had the effect of making bishops look bland by contrast with these minor prelates, for as yet bishops, like simple priests, wore but black birettas and black skullcaps.

Earlier papal initiates had likewise attempted to redress this situation. In 1867, by his brief, Ecclesiarum omnium, Pius IX granted to all bishops the privilege of wearing the purple skullcap. Two decades later in 1888 by the motu proprio, Praedaro divinae gratiae, Leo XIII permitted all bishops the exclusive privilege of wearing a purple biretta in order that there might be a well-marked difference between the appearance of bishops and of simple priests. These two pieces of legislation set the tone that Pius X and Vatican II would follow and, in particular, established a policy of assigning specially colored headgear to particular sacramental orders. With bishops now wearing purple skullcaps and purple birettas, purple came to seem the color of the episcopal order and not merely of the papal court. This nineteenth century pro- episcopal and color-coding policy, Paul VI would extend more rigorously in his post- Vatican II reform.

Part Three

The deepened ecclesiology of Vatican II implied that ecclesiastical honors, like church life, would be restructured on the conciliar model. The church marches forward in time on her pilgrimage to her heavenly end and so the post-conciliar perestroika could not be merely a return to the status quo ante of the early period. Thus, all honors would not be local. There would be roles for both the local Church and the universal pastor.

While the principles of subsidiarity and collegiality demanded that locally-based initiatives and honors be respected, lamentably, most of the reform thus far has been at the center. Little had been done in the local church except as a sort of revanche against the age of papal monarchy. Today there appears in many places to be a distaste for papal honors, whether for musicians or others. Nor has there been much effort to create an honors system within the local church — except that in some places the order of deacon is now conferred on the sort of laymen who thirty years ago would have received the Order of Saint Gregory.

Since the coming into effect of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the Latin Church has permitted the restoration of the system of musical honors which flourished during the early period. The new Code places entirely within the power of diocesan bishops the erection of collegiate churches and the creation of chapters of canons within them. Three years ago in these pages I published a canonical map showing how this might be done entirely without resort to Rome. To canonical clients faced with the suppression of their parish church I have suggested the transformation of parochial churches into collegiate churches. These would be centers for the solemn liturgy and for the preservation and cultivation of sacred music and they might be staffed on a part-time basis by retired or semi-retired priests and so not exacerbate the shortage of priests. While becoming burgeoning centers for the preservation and cultivation of the treasury of sacred music, such collegiate churches and their chapters of canons would be the creation solely of the local bishop. The recourse to Rome in vogue for at least the last five hundred years has been rendered unnecessary by the 1983 Code. Once again the local church can honor its senior clerical musicians by making them canons (or honorary canons) of a collegiate church of its own creation.

If the reform of the honors system at the local Church level lagged, that on the papal level was accomplished almost at once.  Basically the Pian structure of 1905 was maintained, but the obsolete elements were removed or updated in accordance with Vatican II principles. Though radical, the reform respected acquired rights and hewed to precedents, while at the same time excising necrotic matter with the deftness characteristic of a skilled surgeon. For few reforms are cut from whole cloth.

Protonotaries apostolic created before the reform retained their privileges, but they were also permitted to abandon the use of the mitre, which henceforth would become an exclusively episcopal ensign among the secular clergy. This permission was necessary, for canon law does not allow someone who enjoys privileges by virtue of his membership in a class individually to give up the right to those privileges. Were a member of a group free to surrender such rights, the rights of the whole group would be harmed. Thus, the reform was careful to retain the rights of the group while permitting individual members of it to renounce their right to the mitre. Pontificalia insignia did provide that protonotaries apostolic created after the reform should not have the use of the mitre and so its use was abolished prospectively. From such prelates the reform took no vested right.

After the reform there were but two grades of protonotaries, numerary and supernumerary. The former were the old participating protonotaries while the latter were the old protonotaries ad instar. The canons of the Roman major basilicas, who in the 1905 legislation had been called supernumerary protonotaries, now lost that designation, although they continued ex officio to enjoy the privileges of supernumerary protonotaries in their own rich store of privileges. At the same time they expressly remained part of the pontifical household, even if it is no longer seen as necessary to create for them some special rank within the papal prelature of grace.

The class of titular or “black” protonotaries, which Pius X had merely reformed, was now sub silentio abolished. By 1968 this group was composed largely of episcopal vicars general. In the Vatican II ecclesiology, which sees the Church as a communion of communions, it was no longer necessary to fit episcopal vicars general, vicars capitular, and diocesan administrators into a papal cursus honorum. Like the diocesan bishop, they derive their rank from the local Church they serve. Their bishop is the head of that local Church and they are his vicar or locum tenens. No longer is the Church seen as the ecclesiastical analog of a unitary state in which bishops are but heads of prefectures.

At the same time, with the advent after Vatican II of the episcopal vicar to the list of local ordinaries (cf. canon 134), the suppression of this class of “black” protonotary exhibited great good sense. But for this reform many of the clerics in today’s episcopal curias would have had a just claim to be ranked as titular protonotaries and this grade of prelate would have become quite glutted.

The Pauline reform insisted on calling domestic prelates what they had in fact by and large become in the nineteenth century, honorary prelates of His Holiness. Moreover, their old Latin name, antistites urbani, was de trop after Vatican II had placed the accent on sacramental orders, especially the episcopal order. It is, after all, as antistite nostro that one prays for the diocesan bishop in the Latin original of the Roman canon of the Mass. No wonder the reform speedily decreed that new honorary prelates of His Holiness should never bear this quasi-episcopal title nor use the rochet (episcopal surplice).

The mantelletta and mantellone were also prospectively suppressed, for, henceforth, the reform would ground privileges to ecclesiastical attire in the sacramental order of the wearer rather than in the jurisdiction he held. This reform aimed at ending the divorce between theology and canon law, orders and jurisdiction. Thus before the reform, as choir dress, a cardinal outside Rome, a primate in his region, a metropolitan in his province, and a residential bishop in his diocese wore a mozzetta over his rochet and cassock. In other places (and in all places in the case of an auxiliary bishop) the mantelletta replaced the mozzetta.  After the reform, like a cardinal, any bishop — auxiliary or diocesan — could wear his mozzetta anywhere in the world, for now it was a badge of his episcopal consecration rather than of ordinary jurisdiction. In short after the reform garments ceased to be emblems of jurisdiction. Given the new sacramental principle, the mantelletta and mantellone were now rendered obsolete and so they were no longer appropriate dress for clerics of the pontifical household.

Like so many other reforms after Vatican II, it was more a culmination of earlier reforms than a new departure in itself. With great care it followed principles of reform laid down by Vatican II and these themselves were often only further developments on earlier papal reforms. But the Pauline reform of 1968 and 1969 is notable in that it followed these principles systematically and with determination at the highest level in the church.

Some may cavil at the Pauline reform for its relative colorlessness. But Sacrosanctum concilium, article 124, set forth the relevant aesthetic canon: “noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display.” Perhaps this aesthetic has not worn well after a quarter of a century when Bauhaus has become passe and when the post- modern style cultivates the baroque fancy for the boldly curvilinear and the brightly colored.  But to blame the reform for the vagaries of fashion is unjust. With speed, precision and theological clarity the Pauline reform incorporated the reform principles of Vatican II into its reformed system of honors for clerics.
This, then, is the post-conciliar reform of the honors system for clerical church musicians. It remains to be seen if bishops will exercise their faculty to erect collegiate churches and create canons (and canonesses) to encourage the cultivation and preservation of the solemn liturgy and the treasury of sacred music. These have now languished for three decades in the American Catholic Church, but with encouragement they may once again be cultivated, preserved and honored in a manner hallowed — as we have seen — by the most venerable traditions of the local Church.

Galles also published in the Summer 1985 issue of Sacred Music an article called “Papal Musical Knights” (pp. 13-20). 

It would seem from here, then, that, the whole complicated system of clerical honors was an organic outgrowth of a rich liturgical life, which also had its counterpart in the administration of the local church.  Secular canonical life at the diocesan level and the papal court over time

became conflated.  St Pius X and Paul VI both effected reforms based on ecclesiological and practical principles.  But neither succeeded in decentralizing the whole system.  Perhaps bishops who can no longer candidate priests for the capella papale under the present rules have another option.  If the present desire for decentralization is real, then what is to prevent diocesan ordinaries from establishing their own forms of clerical honorifics?  What would prevent them from breathing life into an often defunct, but ancient, tradition of collegiate chapters of canons, which would lead an exemplary liturgical and common life, and also bring back some of the color and diversity of the Roman Church?  Considering that paonazzo is the color of episcopal livery, and not just cappella papale, could it not also be integrated into the clerical vesture of local chapters of canons, whose constitution would not be subject to Roman interference?  Just a thought…  

Evangelii gaudium and the liturgy: First thoughts

Today, 26 November 2013, Pope Francis’ post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium was released.  The document is supposed to be a wrap up of the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.  But even veteran Vatican watcher John Allen is comparing it to Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech.  Future generations may well seek to discover how much of this document is rehashing what went on in the aula of the Synod of Bishops and how much of it is a programmatic statement of Pope Francis’ vision for his pontificate.  It certainly takes many of the themes we have come to associate with Francis and integrated them into a programme for reform, from the pastors “smelling like the sheep” (24) to his concern for the poor (53-60, 186-216).  It is a far-reaching document, and will certainly give much food for thought for the Church as Francis guides the New Evangelization.  In this article, I would like to focus on how the document treats the sacred liturgy and some of the theological themes surrounding it that might be of interest to Chant Café readers.


Music is only mentioned once in the text (139) and twice in footnotes (69, 131), and only by way of using music as an analogy for good preaching.  While that is certainly an affirmation of the value of music, the text nowhere speaks of the Church’s thesaurus musicae sacrae as a part of, condition of, or fruit of evangelization new or old.  Yet Pope Benedict XVI in an audience given to a pilgrimage of the Associazione Santa Cecilia  mentioned, “The conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy recalls the importance of sacred music in the mission ad gentes . . . sacred music  . . . can have and indeed has an important task: to encourage the rediscovery of God, as well as a renewed approach to the Christian message and to the mysteries of faith.” Pope Benedict’s contention in this message that music “can cooperate in the new evangelization” is entirely absent from this apostolic exhortation. 


Liturgy is mentioned five times in the text.  Let us examine each one of these occasions:

1.    Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. (24)

2.    The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving. (24)

3.    In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few. (95)

4.    Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors. (135)

5.    When preaching takes place within the context of the liturgy, it is part of the offering made to the Father and a mediation of the grace which Christ pours out during the celebration. This context demands that preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist. (138)

In these five uses of the word liturgy in Evangelii gaudium, we have some interesting themes emerge to the fore.  The first two quotes are principally concerned with one aspect of liturgical celebration, namely its beauty.  The third forms part of a pointed critique entitled “Temptations faced by pastoral workers” (76-109), attempting to diagnose some of the spiritual maladies which compromise the integrity of the Church’s evangelizing mission.  The last two are more directly about the office of preaching, and discuss preaching, not just as part of kerygmatic proclamation of the Gospel, but in the context of the sacred liturgy.

Liturgy and Personal Relationship

One of the things I find fascinating here is that nowhere is the liturgy seen as a source of evangelization itself, nor is it seen as an end towards which evangelization should strive.  Am I to conclude from this that the Bishops at the Synod and/or Pope Francis do not consider the liturgy to be even a part, much less central, to the New Evangelization?  This certainly seems to be distanced from the one of the central themes of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum concilium: “The liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed: at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows.  For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper.” (SC 10).  Is the liturgy as fons et culmen of the Christian life merely taken for granted in this document, or is its omission indicative of a shift of perspective on the role of liturgy in the life of the Church which evangelizes and is evangelized?

Throughout Evangelii gaudium there is an insistence on a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  As early as paragraph 3, Francis writes, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ . . . every day.”  There is great emphasis on the fact that the Church is a place of encounter, where human being must personally witness to their faith from a place of this relationship with Christ.  The notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is a very familiar one in evangelical and charismatic circles.  It is also one often described in emotional terms to describe an essentially spiritual experience.

There is certainly an aspect of this personal, emotional, spiritual experience, which is an undeniable part of Christian faith and its presence is a sign of its vitality.  It also, however, can easily remain individualistic, even atomistic.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ, for the historical Catholic faith, is never set up against or separate from the ecclesial, sacramental, doctrinal and liturgical aspects of that faith.  They are all part of one whole.  EG notes that “secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and the personal” (64), yet it is not apparent that the document considers the personal transformative relationship of an individual with Christ in the context of his encounter with a visible, institutional Church that lives the sacraments and the liturgy of the Church.  Baptism is seen as the door to the Church (47), but the deeper implications of the connection between Baptism, professing the integrity of the faith as handed down from the apostles, and the rest of the sacramental economy, are only vaguely hinted at. 

If the objective of the New Evangelization were merely to introduce the non-believer to the person of Jesus to begin some form of relationship with Him, it would be hard to find the difference between it and the admirable forms of evangelization already done by our Protestant brethren.  But if its objective is full communion with the Catholic Church, it is hard to see how the New Evangelization can ignore the fact that the liturgy is not tangential to it, but part and parcel of it.

As Christians, we do not just encounter Christ on an individual emotional level.  We encounter Him in medio ecclesiae as part of the Ecclesia Orans which transforms us into the Body of Christ by the sacramental economy.  As Kevin Irwin in his talk “Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization” points out: “Through the liturgy we experience an immediate and direct engagement with and participation in the mystery of salvation through Christ’s paschal mystery.  But we always experience that immediate encounter through two important tenets of Catholicism – namely mediation and sacramentality.  The theological concepts of mediation and sacramentality are necessary to understanding how Catholics can have a relationship with Christ.  To minimize or ignore them is to risk grafting an essentially Evangelical theology of grace onto the way we explain the rapport between God and man. In consequence, the sacraments become less the divinely instituted means to an end of union with God which effect the union, and more merely customary pledges of our own interior conversion.  The liturgy becomes less the space of encounter between God and man, and little more than external rites and ceremonies whose value stems from how relevant we see them in terms of our own estimation of our own spiritual conversion. 

In short, the liturgy and the sacramental economy can be drastically marginalized in terms of their impact on the life of the Church and the individual believer. 

Liturgy and Beauty

Note that the first two uses of the word liturgy in EG are not about the liturgy as such, but about one characteristic of the liturgy, beauty.  Of course, avid students of Benedict XVI will appreciate the nod to beauty as an essential characteristic of the liturgy.  EG is replete with numerous allusions to beauty as part of the New Evangelization, and in fact, Francis writes, “A formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be a part of our effort to pass on the faith.” (169) 

Here, however, nowhere is the liturgy considered in and of itself, but only by way of the transcendental beauty.  In the first quote, we read that “Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness.  This is a beautiful sounding statement, but what does it mean?  How does the one become the other, or is it a case of the former leading to the latter?  “L’evangelizzazione gioisa si fa belleza nella Liturgia” in the Italian version can be translated as become, but farsi has a connotation by which it is better to render it, “Joyful evangelization leads towards the beauty of the liturgy.”  That very nuanced translation alone would do much to correct the impression that EG identifies few points of causality between evangelization and liturgy.  Had the Italian version used the verb diventare, like the English becomes, the sentence appears to say that joyful evangelization itself at a certain unknown point then becomes beauty in the liturgy.  The question then becomes, “How does that happen, exactly?”

In the second quote we read, “The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.  It is striking that the text uses a transcendental of the liturgy, and not the liturgy itself, in describing how the Church evangelizes and is evangelized.  While it is certainly true that beauty has that power, it seems odd to mention that, when the goodness and truth of the liturgy, also transcendentals, are excluded, and when the liturgy considered in and of itself is not considered to be an agent of evangelization.  It raises the question of how the text would define beauty.  “Is the liturgy Beauty itself?”, which would indicate a very high theology of the relationship between the action of Christ in the Liturgy and its essential beauty.  Or does the text merely recognize that sometimes liturgies are beautiful in terms of how they move the human heart, and thus have power to proclaim Good News.  The two ideas need not be mutually exclusive. But given the text’s seeming relegation of the liturgy and sacramental economy to a secondary place in the effects of evangelization, it would seem that a consideration of the beauty of the liturgy flows less from the Mysterium Pulchritudinis that is the Christ of the Liturgy and more of the effects beauty, that can sometimes be seen at celebrations of the liturgy, has in inciting a deeper personal relationship with God.

Also, it is unclear whether the phrase “which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving” refers to the liturgy considered in se or to the beauty of the liturgy.  Either way, the question becomes: in what way does the liturgy celebrate the task of evangelization?  This is an important question, because it involves the notion of active participation.  Can one actively participate in the liturgy if one has not been evangelized?  Does our active participation depend in some way on the extent to which we are evangelized?  Is participation in the liturgy not in some way an act and a deepening of the Mystagogia of the initiation rites?  The assertion that the liturgy is the source of the Church’s renewed self-giving is certainly true.  But to whom does the Church give herself?  Is it self-referential, as the Church gives herself to herself?  Is it a manifestation of a personal relationship, as I “give my heart to Jesus”?  Or is it merely indicative of the Church giving herself in love to the world, an interpretation plausible given the context of paragraph 24?  Where is the connection between this and the Eucharistic Sacrifice?

Ostentatious Preoccupation for the Liturgy

In paragraph 95, we read, “In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. This can be read after the previous paragraph, which condemns as worldliness “the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.”  Francis names it as one manifestation of “anthropocentric immanentism.”  

Some commentators will seize upon this as a condemnation of traditionalist elements in the Church who seek to preserve the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  But it can just as easily be applied to those today who pine after the heady days after Vatican II when self-styled experts invented their own rites and ceremonies because they were “truly liturgical” and putative restorations of practices in Christian antiquity.  The fact that the quote can be used as a weapon by two groups within the Church diametrically opposed to each other’s visions of Church reform means that this section of EG is hardly poised to fulfill Francis’ vision in paragraph 165: “All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.”     


It is difficult to understand how a document which radiates a desire for warmth and dialogue can also make such a sweeping judgment.  This is especially so when EG 171 declares, “Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others . . . We need to practice the art of listening . . . Our personal experience  . . . will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow.”

There are many people in the Church now, who were not only not listened to as they struggled with their faith in the face of the ideological manipulation of everything they were taught was good and holy, but ridiculed.  To the extent that self-absorbed promothean neopelagianism (which as a label begs to be defined explicitly if it is to be remotely helpful in diagnosing a spiritual disease) exists, it is hardly the kind of illness that can be cured by throwing fuel onto fire, and one which, like all spiritual malaise, can only be cured by the grace of Christ and cooperative witnesses of meekness and humility.  Many of the same people who are so attacked, and often react by attacking others, have a genuine concern for the liturgy, doctrine and the Church.

In this paragraph there is no indication of what a healthy concern for liturgy, doctrine and the Church might look like.  Would it not be more pastorally sensitive to suggest how the New Evangelization should approach these things?  If not, true ideologues can easily coopt this phrase to sow more disunity among Christians by over-interpreting any expression of doubt, consternation or anxiety as evidence of a psychopathological heresy.  Also, as far as anthropocentric immanentism is concerned, is one of its manifestations not that radical ideal of liturgical reform which banished the transcendent from the liturgy, the experience of which has produced such a bitter reaction in some of the faithful?  Should the Church not be concerned with all forms of anthropocentric immanentism, and not merely those which influence Catholics who are just trying to make their way through the day with their faith intact?

Preaching and the Liturgy

In paragraphs 135-144, EG discusses the homily.  The section starts out with the words “let us now look at preaching within the liturgy.”  This implies that there are forms of preaching that are not intraliturgical.  The experience of many contemporary Catholics is that preaching, such as it is, takes place almost exclusively within the Mass.  The New Evangelization can benefit from the liberation of preaching from Mass-only occasions.  But EG also points out the special place of preaching at Mass, “When preaching takes place within the context of the liturgy, it is part of the offering made to the Father and a mediation of the grace which Christ pours out during the celebration.” (138) In fact, “the homily has special importance due to its Eucharistic context.” (137)  This is where EG most strongly makes the essential connection between the Eucharistic liturgy and the Sacrificial Oblation.  But it is unclear who is doing the offering here.  Preaching is “part of the offering made to the Father.”  A sacrificial understanding of the Mass posits that Christ is the One who makes the offering, and that we participate in it, as co-offerers of that sacrifice.  The text goes on to say that preaching is a mediation of the grace of Christ.

The question rises: How?  Is preaching in and of itself a mediation of the grace of Christ, or only insofar as the Word is communicated to the faithful?  Does that mean that all who hear the homily are graced?  What extent does one have to enter into the homily to receive grace?  Also, does the mediation of grace depend on the quality of the preacher, of his “closeness and ability to communicate to his people”? (135)  We read that “preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist.” (138)  Does that mean that, if the preacher’s message is not received as it should be by the faithful in such a way as to change their lives, does that have any effect on the mediation of the grace of Christ that preaching is, according to 138?  Is Christ’s grace somehow compromised or attenuated by bad preaching?


If the word liturgy appears five times in EG, so does the word devotion.  Two of those are in the same footnote (41) and one (285) concerns Jesus’ devotion to His Mother, in terms of His love and care for her.  There other two uses of the word in the text, however, are illuminative in terms of assessing EG’s take on the liturgy.

1.    There is a kind of Christianity made up of devotions reflecting an individual and sentimental faith life which does not in fact correspond to authentic “popular piety”. Some people promote these expressions while not being in the least concerned with the advancement of society or the formation of the laity, and in certain cases they do so in order to obtain economic benefits or some power over others. (70)

2.    Genuine forms of popular religiosity are incarnate, since they are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture. For this reason they entail a personal relationship, not with vague spiritual energies or powers, but with God, with Christ, with Mary, with the saints. These devotions are fleshy, they have a face. They are capable of fostering relationships and not just enabling escapism. (90)

These two quotes indicate that there is a true and a false devotion.  While EG does not define devotion, it seems here to be identified with popular piety, which often expresses itself in devotions, plural.  Francis declares as one of the characteristics of false devotion its individualistic lack of concern with others and their needs.  This is interesting. The above quotes on the liturgy seem to indicate a subordination of the public prayer of the Church, described only in terms of beauty and not in its connection to sacraments or rites and ceremonies, to a personal relationship with Christ.  Here we have almost a reversion of the public prayer of the Church to its individual appreciation in personal faith, and the exaltation of devotions, which by their nature are private and not public, when they are expressions of genuine community.

No mention is made of the clear stipulation of Sacrosanctum concilium 13 that “devotions should . . . accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.” 

In paragraph 90 we see that devotions are valued essentially because of their private nature, their connection with popular culture, “they entail a personal relationship . . . they are capable of fostering relationships.”  Devotions, we read, “are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture.”

Here we have a reversal of the worldview of SC 13.  According to the conciliar constitution, the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian faith, the public prayer of the Church, and hence accorded pride of place.  All popular forms of piety are secondary, and must be ordered from and towards the liturgy, to be considered authentically Catholic, ecclesial.  The perspective of EG is different.  The liturgy is a means to an end of personal relationship with Christ, and it is unclear how it is related to the sacramental economy and ecclesial life.  Its chief value is in the fact that its beauty can bring one to God.  Devotions are prized precisely because they are expressions of peoples.  Any ordering of them is not towards the liturgy, but towards other people so they do not become individualistic exercises for escapism.    


In the last chapter of EG, Pope Francis writes, “”I do not intend to offer a synthesis of Christian spirituality, or to explore great themes like prayer, Eucharistic adoration or the liturgical celebration of the faith.  For all these we already have valuable texts of the magisterium and celebrated writings by great authors.  I do not claim to replace or improve upon these treasures.” (260)  This statement is a powerful affirmation of all of the good liturgical theology that has been done.  Detailing which texts he felt were treasures might help us understand better the matrix from which EG does its liturgical theology.  It is also a buffer against those who might want to use EG as a pretext for rupture with the work done by Benedict XVI.

Evangelii gaudium is one of those documents that I am sure will be studied and picked apart for years to come.  As it gathers together many of the fragments of Francis’ personal approach to ministry into a vision for the New Evangelization, it will be closely identified with him as much as, or even more than, the Bishops who participated in the Synod.  There are many theological and practical insights for the life of the Church, which will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the future of Catholicism.

The Sacred Liturgy, however, never appears to have any pride of place in the New Evangelization as described here.  Even though it is recognized as the public prayer of the Church and as having the attractive power of beauty, it is secondary to that popular piety which manifests the particular genius of various peoples, as well as the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Although I doubt that a Church made in the image and likeness of Evangelii gaudium would ever dispense with the Sacred Liturgy, it is clear that the perspective of the document indicates a different one than that outlined in Sacrosanctum concilium.  It is also hard to see how EG’s liturgical thought is in continuity with the broader aims of the classical or the new liturgical movements, or the liturgical theology of Pope Benedict XVI, even if EG, in many other areas, is most definitely in continuity with many insights of Ratzinger and the broader theological movements of the last century and today.  In some way, EG’s liturgical theology could be said to be the triumph of an unintended by-product of the Catholic Reformation: an ecclesial culture where liturgy is merely what one has to go through to confect the Eucharistic species, and what is often set aside so people can go about the devotions of their own devising.  Liturgy in EG appears far from being fons et culmen.  Pope Benedict XVI’s assertion that the liturgy is a powerful element of the New Evangelization has been only weakly, if at all, carried over into the charter of that New Evangelization for our time.  But that it has not, does not negate the truth of what the liturgy is in itself and its power to evangelize and equip disciples.  



Preparing for Advent and Christmas

One of the greatest challenges in pastoral ministry is how to explain as much of the riches of the sacred liturgy as we can to the faithful.  Here in my parish, we are putting together a series of guides for our school and RE families to introduce…

Does the New Liturgical Movement Fit in the Reform?

I have
avoided falling into the trap of writing an article about What did Pope Francis Really Say? 
That doesn’t mean that I haven’t read article after article trying
to propose the authentic interpretation of the Holy Father’s words or his
intentions.  In these pages I have always
argued against a papal maximalism based on a new ultramontanism, even as I
often wrote glowingly of Pope Benedict’s liturgical theology.  I focused on that theology, not because the
man who wrote them was the Bishop of Rome, but because there is something perennially
valid, relevant and beautiful in his writings. 
The New Liturgical Movement will continue, regardless of who occupies
the Throne of the Fisherman.  Having a
Pope who understood the Movement, and was a mighty contributor to it, was a
great boon, and we are all the better for it. 
Now is the time to boldly proclaim and work for that vision, not because
a Pope likes it, but because it is beautiful!

It is an
interesting time for us to be working towards that vision within the
Church.  There are calls for Reform on
every side, and I must say that this increasing clamor for it leaves me
cold.  I have on the same bookshelf books
by Kung, Lefebvre and Weigel, people who arguably would not want to have been associated
with each other, but who for me represent human attempts to diagnose problems
and come up with solutions.  Lots of
people are putting their hope in Pope Francis and Co. to reform the Church
according to the way they think the Church should be run.  They assure us that if these structural
reforms are carried out, the Church would look a lot more like Jesus, and that
would be a good thing.

Of course,
nobody who is actually involved in these discussions cares one jot or tittle
what a parish priest from Carolina has to say about the subject, but I keep
coming back to the same thought: Shouldn’t we start from Jesus, and then these
things would take care of themselves?  If
as individuals and as a Church we came alive in Christ in holiness, then it
seems to me that the support structure of the Church’s work would be renewed by
that very fact.  To do it the other way
around seems to be putting the cart before the horse.  But then again, that is all above my

There is a
lot of optimism that Church reform would be successful if just X, Y, or Z
happened.  There are loud voices that
assure us that if the Church had a more democratic operating system, then all
would be well.  But as I look at what is
happening in the American Republic today, I have few reasons to hope that will
go well.  People seem to think that the
Church either has to be a totalitarian dictatorship swathed in the trappings of
monarchy or a well-oiled business-like representative democracy.  Political categories seem to be driving the
discussion.  But theology teaches us that
the Church is unlike any other kind of organization.  She is a communion, and so the way she looks,
functions and governs is entirely different than any other kind of model.  Shoehorning reform proposals into political
categories risks forgetting that it is not democracy or monarchy that shape the
Church, but communion.  And that does not
look like any political model.

There is a
lot of talk against clericalism, careerism and triumphalism, but there are as
many conceptions of what all that means as there are people who assure us that
they are all evils.  There is a lot of
talk about people who are reactionaries, nostalgic and Pelagians, but these are fast becoming convenient labels people
are using against their adversaries, no matter what they actually believe.

And then
there is a lot of talk about externals. 
What should the Church look like? 
There is an obsessive concern with the image of the Body of Christ.  If we do X, Y, and Z, then maybe people will
view the Church in a different light. 
And so yet again Catholics become divided over what we should look
like.  Laypeople and clerics who are
usually mild-mannered, law-abiding citizens of Church and State see a picture
of a cardinal in lace and silk and start frothing at the mouth like it’s the
end of the world, and launch hateful attacks against people they have never met
from the safety of their computer screens. 
Other laypeople and clerics watch a video of a cardinal in chasalb and
peace signs and the same dynamic ensues. 
We are told bowing and scraping to priests and bishops is medieval, but in
order to be modern we must bow and scrape to the opinion of the world.

there is a lot of talk about freedom. 
Everyone thinks they have a right to be heard, and everyone is entirely
sure they are the ones with all the answers. 
But at the same time, they insist on excluding those with whom they
disagree from the discussion.  The more
people clamor for dialogue, the less they seem to actually want to listen and engage,
the less they want to go down the arduous path of working together towards a

I do not
claim the charism of infallibility, but I am confident that these are all adventures
in missing the point.  Clericalism,
careerism and triumphalism do not exist because there also exist certain
titles, privileges or vesture.  They
exist because original sin has wounded human nature and we are not fully
converted to Christ.  Men do not become
monsters because they are named monsignors, and sinners do not become saints
because they are simpletons.  A new
iconoclasm may succeed in replacing all of the vestigial Baroque panoply of the Counter
Reformation Papal Court we are told is evil with modernist minimalism, but we
will have just exchanged one form of externalism, formalism, for another.  We will have gone from a war over image and
externals to the dictatorship of polyester, and we will wake up after the smoke
clears and realize that nothing has really changed, because men will always
find a way to sin.

There is no
doubt in my mind that there are sincere people who are intent on razing the
bastions to end the Church as we know it because they are confident that a
kindler, gentler Church will rise from its ashes.  One of the fascinating things is that
everyone from sedevacantists to secularists think Francis will be the catalyst
for this.  Will he do this at all?  Will he do this by sanitizing conciliarism by
collegiality, ignoring Ottaviani’s warning that the first collegial act of the
Apostles was to abandon their Savior? 
Will he do this by imposing it by papal fiat?  These are the questions that are turning in
people’s minds today.  I confess that I
have stopped looking for answers to those questions, and sought refuge in
Jesus, in prayer and hope. 

I do know
that there are young people out there, clergy, seminarians and lay faithful,
who have bought into Pope Benedict’s vision for a New Liturgical Movement and
the admirable exchange that can happen between the Ordinary and Extraordinary
Forms of the one Roman Rite.  Those same
people also have the same desire to reach out to the “existential peripheries”,
get the Church out of the sacristies into the streets, and proclaim the Mercy
of God to the world.  Pope Francis’
actions resound in their hearts as Pope Benedict’s resound in their intellect.  They don’t want to have to choose between the

But if the
Reform of the Church starts from exchanging one set of externals for another, and
not from Jesus, then they will feel themselves as orphans.  Any new found freedom in the Church will
exclude their voice, and thus compromise any contention that all are truly
welcome in the Church.  Not that there
are not other visions within the Church that are good and noble and holy, but
to eviscerate by words or deeds what has gone before, is to risk alienating
from the center, from the heart of the Church, a great source of energy and
life these young people bring to the world. 

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