HILE the USCCB Liturgy Committee rhapsodizes about the success of the liturgical reform, it is always gratifying to read a sober analysis that reflects the real experience of countless “people in the pews,” the ones who were hardest hit by the chaos that began to ensue in Catholic worship in the mid-sixties, culminating in the unprecedented change of the rite of Mass in 1970 and its long afterglow of abuse and banality. Here is how Kenneth Woodward, religion editor of Newsweek from 1964 to 2002, puts it with refreshing candor:
ND THEN THERE WAS the new rite of the Mass. At its inception it was better described, as one forgotten wit put it, as “the participation of the laity in the confusion of the clergy.” Compared to the old Latin liturgy, I found the new version about as moving as a freight train. Silence was now a liturgical vice, conscripted congregational responses the new regimen of worship. In a pale imitation of the early Christians’ kiss of peace, there was now a scripted pause. …
In place of my much-loved Latin hymns and chants, the new liturgists bade us sing old Reformation anthems like Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” I could not bring myself to join in when the chosen hymn was “Amazing Grace”—in fact, I still refuse to do so. It’s a lovely piece, all about getting one’s self individually saved, Evangelical-style, but theologically it has no place in the corporate worship of the Catholic Church.
What the liturgists didn’t borrow from Protestant hymnals, they conjured up by themselves. Mostly, it was folk music sung to plucked guitars with relentlessly upbeat lyrics about how much a nice God loves us and aren’t we fortunate to be his chosen people. There was no awe, no hint of the biblical fear of the Lord in this music, only the mild diuretic of self-congratulation. … The Church’s failure to pass on the faith, through the liturgy or through the classroom, would eventually snip two generations of young Catholics from their own religious roots.
From Kenneth L. Woodward, “Reflections on the Revolution in Rome,” First Things, February 2013, 25–31 (here, 30).