The Unfinished Liturgical Work of Benedict XVI

One of the things that I
hoped against hope for during the pontificate of Benedict XVI was an encyclical
on the liturgy marking the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum concilium. 
That will now never come to pass. 
Only the future can tell how much the liturgical theology of Joseph
Ratzinger will continue to enter into the life of the Church via the Roman
Magisterium.  That liturgical
theology, of course, is itself the heir of the classical Liturgical Movement, applied
to the problems of today in such a way as to herald a New Liturgical Movement.  This renewal movement, like its early
20th century predecessor, has not been a uniform one by any stretch
of the imagination.  But it clearly
reflects the thought of Joseph Ratzinger.
But there are also some
significant lacunae that present themselves at the end of this papacy as well,
that his successor will have to in some way address.  There is much in Ratzinger’s theology, which never saw
itself translated into anything concrete via the munus regendi of the Roman Pontiff and the Curia.  There are other things which found
their counterpart in things the Pope did by way of example, but were never
enshrined in any other way.  A
question burning in the hearts of many a disciple of the Pope of the Liturgy is
whether any of those things will find their way into the next pontificate.  Or will they remain as they were in the
papacy of Benedict XVI: quiet provocations to thoughtful people to integrate
them into the ars celebrandi, not by
force but by their intrinsic worth becoming more visible (or not) with
time?  It can also be asked, and
must be, whether the Reform of the Reform was a “quixotic movement doomed to
extinction” as a priest friend once said of the Traditionalist Movement, a
force which will lose its guiding star, fading before the burning sun of
secularist might?  Or is now the
moment of its greatest epiphany, as Pope Benedict leaves to his followers the
shadow of a blueprint for how to go about it all?
I don’t think anyone can
adequately answer these questions. 
But we can look at the work that has been done in the years of Pope
Benedict’s papacy and then surmise what is left to accomplish if we are to
advance the goals of the New Liturgical Movement.       
Reorientation of the Liturgy
If I had to say what I
thought is the single most important accomplishment of Pope Benedict’s
liturgical magisterium, I would have to say the reorientation of the
liturgy.  That might surprise you.  After all, the only public papal ad orientem celebrations were on the
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, in the context of what otherwise might have
been an ordinary Italian Novus Ordo parish Mass.  No edict issued forth from Rome encouraging the type of celebration
that Klaus Gamber and Joseph Ratzinger argued had an inherent and irreducible
liturgical symbolic weight.  What
has come to be called the Benedictine
, which in reality is just the post-Tridentine arrangment of
cross and candles on altars in Roman Basilicas where a confessio precluded celebration of the Mass in front of the altar,
appeared in the papal liturgy and was imitated all over the world.  It had no legal force behind it.
But Ratzinger/Benedict was
very clear on the christological orientation of the Sacred Liturgy.  The Mass had to be oriented towards the
Christ of the Paschal Mystery.  His
insistence on this principal was a needed corrective to a one-sided emphasis on
self-celebrating community and the meal aspect of the Mass.  It serves to reduce the temptation of
clerical presiders to be protagonists in creating the liturgy, and puts priests
and liturgy commissariat apparatchniks in their place, which is not in the
center of the celebration, but in its service.
Yet how is this principle
translated into action?  It is
foremost a spiritual principle which can be made visible in liturgical
celebration in various ways.  The
challenge for the future is that, now that more and more celebrants are
choosing to celebrate the Mass facing what is now described as liturgical East, will it remain an
eccentric option able to be marginalized, and hence manipulable by those who
claim it causes division?  Will it
grow unencumbered by discriminatory retributions on the part of those who despise
it in principle and in action?  Or
will a future edict of the Pope, the Congregation for Divine Worship, or
Bishops’ Conferences mandate or proscribe it?
Leadership from on high will
be needed if the movement towards ad
worship is going to contribute to the unity of the Church and not
detract from it.  And that
leadership cannot ignore the fundamental Christ-centered liturgical action of
Benedict’s teaching.
Two Forms of the Roman Rite
The 2007 document Summorum pontificum and its 2011
follow-up Universae ecclesiae introduced
a radically new notion into the life, and the law, of the Church.  The Roman Rite was henceforth to
consist of two forms, an ordinary one (the 1970 Missal of Paul VI) and an
extraordinary one (the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII).  This declaration is unparalleled in the
history of the Church.
But what has it actually
done?  First of all, it has removed
the stigma that ambiguously marked millions of Catholics who were attracted to
the classical form of the Roman Rite. 
No longer second-class citizens, traditionalist-minded faithful all of a
sudden found themselves (at least most of them) no longer questioned for their
loyalty to the Church.  What’s
more, the traditionalist critique of men such as Lefebvre and Siri and their
heirs has once more began to be heard in the open, and no longer in secret
enclaves.  Whether this should be
the case or not, it is, and a newer generation of clergy and young people are
asking questions that were stifled only a decade ago.
Second, it has enshrined the
principle that there is such a thing as legitimate liturgical diversity even
within the one Roman Rite.  This
has been used to free other ancient uses as well, such as the rites of the
religious orders, and can be applied also to other historic uses. 
Third, it puts the Missal of
Blessed John XXIII, and the pre-reformed rites, front and center in the
Church’s life again. It is no longer marginalized, and cannot be.  The steady increase of the older
missal’s adoption marks a new stage in the faithful’s expectations of liturgy. 
Yet, since the proclamation
has done all these things, it also brings up numerous unresolved issues.  Will the Church revisit Vatican II and
seek out its authentic interpretation? 
How will the Church do this? 
By another council, by the Synod of Bishops, by theologians laboring to
bring it forth, by Roman decree? 
How can the traditionalist critique that the liturgical reform was a
rupture be integrated into a Church which has been oriented by Benedict XVI to
seek out a hermenutic of continuity?  
The diversity of the Roman
Rite also presents its own challenges. 
Does that diversity only apply to preconciliar expressions of worship,
or can it also apply to things like the Zairian Rite, the newer liturgical
customs of individual monasteries, LifeTeen Masses and the Neocatechumenal
Way?  In what does the Roman Rite
consist now?
Greater access to the Missal
of Blessed John XXIII also has had the effect of raising some searching
questions about the preconciliar liturgical reform.  How will the Church address the growing momentum to
reconsider the reforms of the Pontifical and Holy Week before Vatican II, and
liberate the usage of previous forms of them?  Likewise, how will the Church address the ways in which Liturgiam authenticam inspired
translations of the Ordinary Form which have not always been received well by liturgists and pewsitters alike and through processes which
have not always been accepted by them either?  Will any of the indications of Sacrosanctum concilium, such as the use of the vernacular, be
brought to bear on the Extraordinary Form?
Pastors, theologians and
liturgists have a weighty task now in evaluating how the christological
reorientation of the liturgy in this papacy, and its accompanying
recontextualizing of the Roman Rite, looks in practice. 
Reform of the Reform
Ratzinger had indicated that
the time was propitious for there to be a Reform of the Reform.  But in what does that consist?  For all of the rumoring of various
propositions that were supposed to be coming out of the Vatican which would
give flesh to a Reform of the Reform, nothing has ever seen the light of
day.  Did Pope Benedict have a
Marshall Plan for the reform of the liturgy, or was that a fanciful notion
driven by wishful thinking and some inside knowledge?  Regardless, the motor which drove forward the whole project,
the person of Pope Benedict XVI, has now been removed from the vehicle of the
liturgy.  Can that motor be
replaced by another charismatic person who understands what must be done, or by
a series of liturgical and legal proposals to bring the liturgy to a state of
what would make its Christocentric nature more apparent?
“Something must be done” has
been on the lips of many Catholics about the liturgy for a very long time.  But the question now becomes what that
something is, and how it can be done in a way so as to not compromise the unity
of a Church which finds itself pressured from inside and out by dividing
Can the proposals for how
the liturgy should be reformed enter into a dialogue with the whole Church,
with theologians, liturgists, pastors or lay faithful?  Or will they be imposed by the
hierarchy?  Will their imposition
by the hierarchy yield long-time benefits despite short-term discomfiture?  When do the Pope, the Curia, Bishops
and pastors know the time is right to advance the Reform of the Reform, and in
what does it consist?
Mutual Enrichment
The placement side by side
of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Missal was done with a
hopeful view to mutual enrichment. 
Some people have claimed that such enrichment has been too
one-sided.  How are the two Missals
supposed to enrich each other?  How
can they do so if the mixing of the two forms is forbidden?  Is there a tertium quid which will recognize the merits of both and combine
them in some fashion into a once again unified Roman rite?
Sacred Art and Music
The Liturgical Art and
Sacred Music Commission of the Congregation for Divine Worship has been formed
under the leadership of the Pope.  But
what is its competency?  What is it
supposed to do and how can it be used as a tool for the Reform of the
Reform?  Will black lists of music
and art be published, or will general guidelines for the arts in church be
crafted?  How can they take into
account what actually exists in the Church and the many different situations in
which the Church’s worship is celebrated throughout the world?  Will the Congregation for Divine
Worship oversee the Reform of the Reform as Consilium did the original
reform?  How will the new
commission be integrated into that project, if it ever sees the light of day?
Theologians and liturgists
continue to puzzle over the guiding principles of inculturation in various
spheres of the Church’s life: theology, liturgy, discipline, clerical
formation, and more.  They also
continue to puzzle over what that looks like in the concrete.  Where are the boundaries of such
inculturation?  What limits do
Revelation, canon law, or common sense impose on the experimentation which
drives inculturation?  Will
inculturation increase the diversity of the Roman Rite, or will there cease to
be a recognizable Roman Rite?  Does
inculturation apply only to mission countries in the developing world, or is
there a sense in which the nations of Old Christendom need their own
inculturation of the Gospel as well?
The Pope, in all of his
thought on the liturgy, avoids discussion of minute details of how the liturgy
should be celebrated.  An
exaggerated rubricism seems hardly amenable to the spirit of the times, but how
does the papal vision look when it is celebrated according to the principles
which guide it?  If it is up to
individual interpretation, it is hard to see how the liturgy can remain a
unifying factor in the Church’s life. 
The Reform of the Reform advanced in an individualistic way can risk the
same type of protagonism alien to Benedict’s conception of the ars celebrandi.  Greater guidance is needed from the Roman Curia on how
to craft a workable ceremonial which incarnates the principles.  Greater guidance is needed to see how
such a ceremonial may be adapted to the different situations in which the
Church worships.  Is it too much to
hope that a new General Instruction of
the Roman Missal
and an accompanying Ceremoniale
, rich in catechetical and theological depth alongside the
necessary rubrics, may end the stop-and-go gradual transformation of the
liturgy according to Benedictine principles and create a harmonious whole for
the Ordinary Form just as the old books did for the Tridentine liturgy?
Reception of Holy Communion
The various indults allowing
Communion in the hand have continued to exist and be granted, even in the
papacy of Pope Benedict.  The norms
for the reception and distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds remain
what they are according to the third typical edition of the Roman Missal.  The norms for standing and kneeling
remain what they are.  Yet, Pope
Benedict himself chose to distribute Holy Communion to communicants who knelt at
a prie-Dieu and received under the
form of bread alone and directly on the tongue.  This mode of reception of Holy Communion, so closely
associated with preconciliar practice and the rubrics of the Extraordinary
Form, was clearly preferred by Pope Benedict XVI.  Books like that Athanasius Schneider’s Dominus est! provide a loud call for a return to that mode of
In what sense can that mode
be called traditional and preferred when there are many counterindications to
its perduring historical presence? 
What does it mean when the Roman Pontiff mandates it at his Masses, does
not allow those receiving at his Masses to exercise all of the options allowed
to them by liturgical law and at the hands of every other celebrant in the
Roman Church, and clearly prefers it? 
Do other modes merely indicate greater diversity in liturgical practice,
and are they helpful for unity in worship?
The way in which Pope
Benedict XVI distributed Holy Communion at his Masses reflects much of the
thought in traditionalist and Reform of the Reform quarters, and goes against
everything the Liturgical Establishment has said for 50 years should be the
norm.  Perhaps during this Year of
Faith there can be a reflection on how modes of distribution of Holy Communion
should be located in the context of what it means to be properly disposed to
receive, and how they have positively or negatively affected faith in the Real
Presence.  It is time to address
whether, and to what extent, Communion in the hand, Communion under both species,
and Extraordinary Ministers have contributed to the growing crisis of
faith.  It is also time to address
whether aspects of the liturgical celebration, such as the mode of reception,
should be conformed to the practice of the early Church, to pre-Vatican II
practice, or to current needs, especially in light of confusion as to
sacramental theology.  For decades
now the Roman Magisterium has urged proper catechesis to go along with what has
become accepted practice in many places for the current modes, but can a case
be made for the modes themselves obviating or obscuring what is done in the
Also, given that we have
this struggle between norms in liturgical books and indults, local exceptions
and eccentric practices, is it too much to ask that the Roman Magisterium
clarify or mandate one form of reception for Holy Communion for the Roman
Rite?  If Holy Communion is
supposed to be a sign par excellence of
the unity of the Body of Christ, can this bewildering diversity of practices in
the modes of reception of Holy Communion really manifest and help preserve that
Papal Liturgy and the Roman Tradition
People for centuries have
looked to Rome for how to celebrate liturgy (or how not to, as well).  Modern media have made it possible for
everyone to analyze and imitate (or react against) what they see, particularly
at papal liturgies.  The aesthetic
cultivated under Pope Paul VI and Virgilio Noë became a standard for what the
post-conciliar liturgy should look like, and how it should be celebrated.  Continuing under Bl. John Paul II and
Piero Marini, this aesthetic formed opinions about how the reformed rites
should be celebrated.
Under Pope Benedict XVI,
however, something different has happened.  While the Noë look continues to a certain extent in the
Vatican Basilica liturgies and in international celebrations, there has been a
progressive adoption, at least in papal liturgies at the Roman Basilicas, of an
ars celebrandi, from vesture and
vestments to interpretation of rites, which to many recalls the papal liturgy
before the Second Vatican Council. 
To those who live outside the clerical culture of Italy, this has become
a source of concern.  Many have
interpreted it as a symbolic repudiation of the ecclesiology and liturgical
reform of Vatican II.  Some have
charged that it is a return to triumphalism, mediated by the restoration of a
style associated with the now-abolished Papal Court and too tied to Baroque
ceremonial traditions.  While many
of those who make these comments are of a reformist, self-identifying liberal
bent, this is not the case of all of the detractors.
Even conservative columnist
George Weigel in his recent book Evangelical
identifies this trend with what he sees as “Counter-Reformation
Catholicism” whose time has come and gone, and is no longer applicable to
today’s needs.  As more and more
younger clergy reproduce this new/old style in their own spheres, he intimates
that it is “precious” and “prissy” and must be rejected as an unwelcome
effeminate accretion to the liturgy.
It can be easy for critics
of this Benedictine style to charge that these elements are all exercises in
“retro-liturgy.”  Because many
people associate so-called fiddleback chasubles, lace albs and surplices and
birettas with the pre-Noë aesthetic, they also surmise that their use is
evidence, at best, of nostalgia, and at worst, of moral degeneracy. 
Yet, outside of the Vatican,
these same things are not interpreted, at least in Italian clerical circles,
the same way.  The dichotomy applied
to them is not liberal/traditionalist, but antico/moderno.  The choice for their use depends on a
complicated calculus which includes the aesthetic of the church building (are
you in a Baroque building, a Bauhaus church, or a Neo-Gothic chapel), the degree
of solemnity (is it a feria of Lent or is it Easter Sunday), and the rank of
the celebrant (is it a permanent deacon doing a Baptism or the Pope at a
canonization).  While to outsiders,
it may seem entirely too much falderol, it does represent a certain continuity
with what came before.  It is a
cultural thing which is peculiarly Roman, and has little to do with
ecclesiology and liturgical questions in
The Roman basilica aesthetic
and ars celebrandi is a tradition
which has been handed down.  Gromier
and Dante’s cultivation of it had its successor in Franck Quoëx’s application
of it to the Extraordinary Form in our time and in Guido Marini’s reapplication
of it, d’après la scuola liturgica
to the papal liturgy.
But is the cultivation of
this style in the Benedictine papacy a secret attempt to force effete nostalgia
via Counter Reformation frocks upon an unwilling Pilgrim Church?  Is it an exercise in the hermeneutic of
continuity, by stressing that the post-Vatican II papacy is in communion with
that, both of Paul VI and Pius XII, at least in some visible way?  Is it simply bringing forth things new
and old from the Church’s storehouse? 
Or is it just a sign that polyester is out and brocade is back in?  And why have many younger people,
particularly clergy, responded so enthusiastically to it?
Part of this question also
involves concrete actions which have a symbolic weight.  Until recently, the Pope in the
reformed liturgy was the only person who did not wear a Eucharistic vestment
proper to his rank.  The restoration
of the fanon brought back an important liturgical principle.  That action was rejected by many,
because they depart from an esentially conciliarist principle that the Pope is
really primus inter pares, and if
anything should dress like any other Bishop, or any other Christian.  Difference is interpreted as a sign of
willful clericalist discrimination. 
Or the fanon is seen as an incomprehensible piece of nostalgia for
people who like dressing up.
In reality, the fanon is the
liturgical complement to the nota previa to
Lumen gentium.  Just as the conciliar constitution on the Church had to
have an appendage to salvage a proper understanding of the Roman papacy against
the just clarification of the episcopal office by Vatican II, the fanon
underscores the papal office against the anti-papal court style of the reformed
Even though the Holy Father
himself neverly celebrated the Extraordinary Form publicly, his unleashing of Summorum pontificum has led to a renewal
of interest in both the papal and pontifical forms of that liturgy.  But that has led to some thorny
issues.  Are celebrations of
Bishops and the Pope in the Extraordinary Form to be brought in line with Pontificalis Domus of 1968, for
example?  Are they subject to the
1983 Code of Canon Law (forbidding Mass coram
)?  Or are they carried
out according to the terms of the old liturgical books without reference to
current legislation?  The fact that
these are happening is already leading to calls for a revision of the austere
pruning of Pontificalis Domus and the
gutting of the Pontifical and Ceremonial in the revised rites.
In short, is the
reappropriation of certain elements of Roman Basilica style in this reign a
blip on the screen?  Were they just
pushed by the private taste of Marini II and Gänswein?  Or are they part and parcel of a Reform
of the Reform which will continue on into the next pontificate?
Nobody doubts that
Ratzinger’s rich teaching and Benedict’s beautiful practice of the liturgy has
been tremendously influential in a brief space of time.  But has it had time to take root, and
will it be appreciated and advanced in the next pontificate?  The liturgy in our time is in a delicate
situation, in a time of transition. 
Only the Spirit can say how the next generation will engage the Sacred
Liturgy, and whether Benedict’s unfinished work will morph into an enduring


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Revd Fr Christopher Smith (26 Posts)

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