HE “Reform of the Reform” (ROTR) has been front and center recently due to a brief but potent article by Rev. Thomas Kocik. 1 But first, a few reminders are in order.
The Mass is a gift beyond imagination, and disparagement 2 of the Mass must be avoided. None of us will ever be worthy to attend a single Mass, even after a lifetime of penance. In fact, if we truly understood the power of the Mass, we would die instantly. Objectively speaking, whether a particular Collect be Gallican or Tridentine is insignificant compared to what happens at Mass. Everything I’ve just said is basic Catholic theology, but it never hurts to make sure we’re on the same page.
When it comes to individual elements of the liturgy, however, it’s not forbidden for Catholics to look critically at this or that aspect. This is different than harboring hatred for the Mass, and it’s precisely where the ROTR makes its entrance.
THE REFORM OF THE REFORM MOVEMENT is an act of love. Its adherents are good people who can’t bear to see flagrant disrespect shown to Christ. Therefore, the ROTR has something to say when it comes to undignified and/or goofy music being used during the Liturgy. 3 It has something to say regarding women in ultra-skimpy shorts marching up to distribute Holy Communion. 4 It has something to say with respect to a casual or even slipshod demeanor displayed by the Sacred ministers. It has something to say about vestments which resemble cheap bed sheets. I could continue, but you get the picture.
Fr. Kocik mentioned scholars (Lauren Pristas, László Dobszay, and others) who have exposed troubling aspects of how the Ordinary Form came into being. Without a doubt, such issues are worrisome, and burying one’s head in the sand is not an option. Nor is concealing the truth. (After all, even if the truth can be temporarily hidden, it will eventually come out.)
On the other hand, several EF priests I know have “issues” with the 1955 Holy Week, yet still celebrate it with great devotion, and the faithful receive tremendous spiritual fruit. Therefore, it seems possible to “carry on” in spite of what has been revealed by scholars about the Consilium’s reforms. That being said, certain aspects are never easy. For example, I cannot bring myself to sing certain songs I hear in Catholic churches when I travel because of information I know about certain post-conciliar composers. 5
WHICH FORM should a priest offer: OF or EF? The answer to that question is another question: Is this really our concern? It seems to me each priest will decide for himself which form(s) he feels calls by God to offer, and I suspect the members of his congregation will have an impact on his decision. The following quote by Fr. Christopher Smith seems apropos:
“What I didn’t expect—but which has been very, very wonderful in our parish—is that a lot of people who swore two years ago they would never darken the doors of the Latin Mass now go every day because it is a Latin Mass at noon and they have grown to respect it, appreciate it, and love it.”
Many priests choose only the traditional “options” when they say the OF. Believe it or not, EF priests do the same exact thing. For example, a 1958 Vatican document allows certain absurd practices like having the entire congregation recite the Introit & Gradual along with the priest. EF priests simply ignore these permissions. Choosing the best options can still be done in spite of the prevalence of “Legal Positivism,” which says 6 all options allowed by the Church are de facto equal to the traditional practices of the Church and must be blindly afforded “equal time.”
Let us be encouraged by the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years! For example, search Google for “ICEL Psalter” and you’ll be amazed at what you find. Briefly stated, the ICEL Psalter was so flawed that Rome declared it “a serious danger to the faithful” and ordered its Imprimatur to be withdrawn. Or, take a stroll down memory lane and consider the 1970s translation by ICEL that lasted four decades:
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Those who have attended a United States military event—for instance, the burial service of a veteran—have observed the decor and seriousness of the military ceremony. We need not explain or defend such things: they’re only natural. In fact, appreciating such things is part of being human. The same goes for how we ought to conduct the liturgy. It’s only human to expect things to be done in a respectful, proper way. Even comedian Jimmy Fallon, who no longer goes to Church, realizes that informality and goofiness have no place at Mass. For this reason, we can say the ROTR will continue as long as people exist who are fully human.
Much progress has been made, but much remains undone. The next stage will be to find bishops open to dialogue. For the most part, most bishops have been unwilling to enter into dialogue with the ROTR folks, perhaps because they fear that (deep down) “ROTR people” are not faithful, obedient Catholics. 7
To demonstrate the “success” of liturgical reforms, many 8 still say, “Well, just look at the success of the vernacular. It’s used everywhere.” However, this proves nothing. The vernacular was imposed everywhere, so its widespread use is no surprise. By analogy, if a doctor amputates your leg, your leg has (by definition) been cut off. There’s no need to take a survey 20-30 years later to “prove” your leg was cut off.
A more appropriate survey would ask:
“Has the use of the vernacular brought people a greater appreciation and love for the liturgy? Can they now instantly call to their lips the Introit for the feast of Pentecost or Ash Wednesday or Easter Sunday? Do people have poignant parts of the Bible memorized, especially the Psalms? Has the vernacular increased people’s love for Jesus Christ? Do people assist with greater understanding, reverence, and devotion, thanks to the vernacular? Are Catholics more likely to go to heaven because of the vernacular?”
Those would be appropriate and meaningful questions. So would these:
“Has the vernacular led to a lack of reverence at Mass, casual informality at Mass, confusion from constantly shifting translations, embarrassment owing to banal (and even vulgar) translations, and/or a general desacralization mentioned by Pope Paul VI?”
I am convinced that, someday, a majority of Catholic bishops will be willing to enter into dialogue with the ROTR people. For the time being, the challenges from Professor Dobszay and others will continue to be ignored. 9
Here is an ROTR quote by Bishop Rudolf Graber (January 1979):
At this point, I must address a comment to all liturgists. Apart from the fact that the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy is taking place too quickly and has almost everywhere brought with it changes which cause one to wonder why such changes were necessary, one omission seems particularly regrettable to me: namely, the failure to state what sources the new collects and prefaces, for example, were taken from. How much annoyance among our loyal Catholics could have been avoided if evidence had been provided that various elements had been taken from old sacramentaries and were not more or less arbitrary innovations. I do not know whether this omission can still be made good.
What the good bishop sought in 1979 still has not come to pass. We have work to do!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Fr. Kocik’s book, Reform of the Reform?, is very well done: an excellent read.
2 The Catholic Church teaches that any person who truly understands the Mass yet hates the Mass is guilty of serious sin. I’ve known people who hate the Novus Ordo Mass. Likewise, I’ve known people who hate the Extraordinary Form. Let’s hope these folks simply don’t understand the Mass, as this would lessen their culpability before God.
3 Composed in a secular style and often effeminate or saccharine, such music literally assaults the ears and mind of each member of the congregation.
4 Have I personally witnessed this? Yes, many times.
5 I could reveal information about several “popular” Catholic composers that would literally make the reader’s skin crawl. However, I choose not to, because I don’t think God wants this. My solution, as mentioned above, is simply to not join in singing songs written by those people.
6 This is no straw man argument. Recently, a priest who helped draft Sing to the Lord (USCCB, 2007) put forth this ludicrous view in an article published by NPM.
7 In essence, the ROTR people have been told, “Be quiet. Be content. The Liturgical Reform was wonderful and perfect. Don’t question anything. Don’t rock the boat, you schismatics.” The bishops do have a point that some have been imprudent with their criticisms.
8 Unfortunately, a recent USCCB document repeats this canard.
9 Here is an example of a challenge by Dobszay: “The enrichment of the repertory by adding some texts from old sacramentaries, or even in some cases by producing new ones, cannot be opposed on principle; but taken as a whole, the collection of prayers and its liturgical arrangement was the result of an arbitrary process or private initiative that produced no proven spiritual fruits.”