HE IMPLEMENTATION of Vatican II reforms—and their interpretation—is a longstanding topic of debate. There is nothing new there.
The highly respected Rev. John F. Baldovin, S.J., professor of liturgy and sacraments at Boston College, recently wrote an article well worth reading: Five reasons Pope Francis embraces the Vatican II liturgy. Fr. Baldovin succinctly describes his understanding of Pope Francis’ view with regard to liturgical reform.
While he paints a picture of opposing and extreme sides, (e.g., the opposition to Vatican II as embodied by restorationists in the “Reform of the Reform”) liturgical battles are often fought in more nuanced terms, (which I believe Fr. Baldovin certainly understands). Those who advocate more reverent liturgy are certainly within the intentions of Vatican II and may not at all be looking for Pre-Vatican II restoration. Likewise, those who advocate innovation and more casual worship may be out of step with Pope Francis himself. Fr. Baldovin writes:
“Certainly Pope Francis is no fan of irresponsible experimentation or sloppy adaptation of the liturgy (as he witnesses strongly in his sober and simple celebrational style and choice of vestments), and there is nothing that is really new in this talk.”
Fr. Baldovin also weighs in on Pope Francis’ feeling about celebrating Mass ad orientem in the Vatican II Mass (Novus Ordo):
“Francis’ emphasis on the multiple modes of the presence of Christ in the liturgy is particularly important because it leads him to say that the altar is “the center toward which our attention converges…the gaze of the praying people, priest and faithful, is oriented to the altar, convoked for the assembly around it.” I doubt very much that the pope was speaking loosely when he said “around” the altar. In other words I think it was a comment, albeit oblique, on those who want the priest to face “east.”
This can be debated and interpreted endlessly, as Pope Francis has celebrated Mass ad orientem. But ultimately, this is not important. While I have a personal appreciation for the Novus Ordo celebrated ad orientem, it is not near the top of my list of liturgical priorities, as Mass may be reverent facing East or West. The Church today has much bigger fish to fry.
HE DEBATE and drama surrounding ad orientem has been overblown. Few understand what it is and what it is not in the Vatican II Mass. Such lack of catechesis is a dereliction of duty on the part of the Church. (In short, the priest faces East for perhaps 7-10 minutes at most.) Like it or not, it is part of the Vatican II reform. It is assumed by the 2012 GIRM that the priest will face East for part of the Mass as indicated by rubrics that are part of the current Roman Missal and have been in place for over fifty years.
• Three False Ideas about “Ad Orientem” Celebration by Andrew Leung
However, I would submit that the liturgical battle over celebrating Mass ad orientem is insignificant at this time. Far more important is reverent liturgy. Far more important is catechesis and education to properly implement Vatican II. The Church has failed in various ways in this regard for the last fifty years. Hence, the retreat into restoration, which is arguably far healthier than the current state of affairs in a number of parishes.
POINT OF PERFECT AGREEMENT: Fr. Boldavin highlights words by Pope Francis in his address to participants in National Italian Liturgical Week. Pope Francis points out the necessity to understand the underlying reasons for Vatican II’s liturgical reform:
“And there is still work to do today in this direction [the reform begun by Pope Paul VI], in particular, rediscovering the reasons for the decisions taken with the liturgical reform, surmounting unfounded and superficial readings, partial reception and practices that disfigure it. It’s not about rethinking the reform by looking again at the choices, but of knowing better the underlying reasons, also through historical documentation, as well as to internalize the inspirational principles and observing the discipline that regulate it” [emphasis added].
He also notably declared, “We can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”
While the invocation of “magisterial authority” is not to be ignored, this statement is also not saying anything particularly new. Certainly, the Pope felt it necessary to affirm the irreversibility of Vatican II given the politics that often surround liturgy. But taking politics out of it, we should certainly hope so that Vatican II is irreversible! This statement by Pope Francis is both important news and not. But in no uncertain terms, Pope Francis has made himself clear.
UCH OF THE MOVEMENT TOWARDS more reverent liturgy (the extreme of rejecting the Novus Ordo is espoused by only very few) is an understandable reaction against careless liturgical experimentation, obstinate abuse, and overly casual worship in the presence of the sacred. The easy (and understandable) answer is often to retreat to the Extraordinary Form (Pre-Vatican II Mass). This is a topic I will not address here, as I have found great spiritual nourishment in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
But there is a bigger picture. Many are longing for more transcendent prayer and real spiritual food readily available in the Novus Ordo. (Of course it is!) Many wish to reclaim the traditions that were emphasized by Vatican II, such as the primacy of Gregorian Chant and the pipe organ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy §116 & 122).
We need to look no further than the 2007 US Bishops’ document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (SttL) to observe what the liturgical priorities are for what we should sing at Mass. Dialogues and Acclamations are placed as the highest priority. The Antiphons and their psalm verses are next. Surprise! Hymns and songs are last. This is Vatican II. This is a shock and surprise to many, and does not even begin to approach opposition “restorationist movement.”
Fr. Boldavin indicates that it is the younger generation that has embraced greater reverence in the liturgy.
“These opposition movements also found support among some younger Catholics searching for a more transcendent experience of liturgy than they customarily experienced.” [emphasis added]
This begs the question: Why do our youth generally experience liturgy that is less transcendent or reverent than many of them seek?
Reverent, sacred, and beautiful liturgy is universal. We are the Catholic Church. It is the Church’s responsibility (our responsibility) to understand and teach the underlying reasons for the Vatican II reforms. And it is our responsibility—as the Church—to implement them.
Soli Deo gloria