Friday, 11 February 2011

Proposing vs imposing changes to the liturgy: where does the balance lie and how do you go about it?

One of the most vexed questions at the moment for all camps is when and how to go about changing the liturgy.

Regardless of your views on the merits or otherwise of the 1960s and 70s changes, we all agree, I suspect that that is not how to do it!

But how to best manage the changes to the new missal?  How can some fire be put into the reform of the reform process?  And for those using the 1962 books, how can we resolve some of the obvious problems with them, and get rid of those changes in them that really do not work or are at least less than optimal?

When to impose?

And on this subject, there is an interesting blog piece from Monsignor Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington lauding the Pope's approach of  'proposing rather than imposing'.  Hmm, though he is admittedly talking mainly about the EF mass, I doubt the opponents of the new missal see it that way!

Moreover, coming at it from the other side, proposing rather than imposing is fine for those things that might be viewed as optional extras (though one could debate what might be in that category).  But most of us still run across things that are technically abuses more often then not when we go to a Novus Ordo Mass.  And if we luck out, we will still almost certainly strike an inappropriate casualness and sense of irreverence.  Frankly, a little more proposing (leading by example) and imposing by diocesan bishops seems badly needed.

At the moment of course, the main subject of the imposing debate is the missal.  And on that, while I strongly support the changes and want the implementation process to succeed, I do have some sympathy for those opposed to it.

Do we need to change at all?

The first issue to be addressed is do we really need to change at all?  While many traditionalists view the reaction of liberals to the missal changes with some glee, a case of  'now the shoes on the other foot' see how you like it, I do think it is a fair question to ask.

Liturgy should above all seek to be stable. 

A lot of the focus in recent years has been on the effects of the big bang changes of the 1960s and 70s.  One monastery, for example, described the Vatican II changes as like "leaving a tent to which one is happily accustomed, and seeking a new abode". 

That the 'new abode' is now found even more deficient than those alleged of the original starting point doesn't change the fact that the new missal and other reform of the measures are just as deliberate an attempt to undermine the liberal reinterpretation of catholicism as the original changes were to undermine the Catholic culture that existed prior to Vatican II.  We should expect angst.

Mind you, the liberals are being a tad inconsistent - instability, after all, is going to be the state of the liturgy by definition if one insists on using vernacular that is not hieratic in tone.  Language, after all, changes over time.

But is Latin actually the answer?

Some have suggested somewhat facetiously that the solution for those who don't like the new missal is to just use Latin.

It is a rather less understood point though, that there has been a quiet process of subversion of the stability of the Latin of the texts of the Mass and Office as well over the last several decades.

The significant changes to the structure of the Mass and Office made in the 50s and early 60s aside, I would suggest the small but constant changes made to the Office have been just as destructive for priests and religious of a conservative bent.  Fr Hunswick wrote a nice post earlier this week on the effects of the changes made to the psalter (Pius XII and the Bea translation, then Neo-Vulgate under Pope John Paul II) in undermining the memorization of the psalms.  In monasteries where the Office is sung the problem was more acute: older monks and nuns often thought they were singing the new version - but actually sang the old, creating constant clashes. A similar point presumably arises in the lectionary with the neo-Vulgate.

And then there are the effects of the constant relearning process demanded.  Amendments to the Graduale.  For Benedictines, the new versions of the hymns put out by Solesmes, and then (extremely belatedly) the chants contained in the several volumes of the new Antiphonale Monasticum, which even changes the basic chant tones!  I imagine there are similar stories in other orders.  It may all be academically better (although that is contestable) - but is that really the right criterion when it comes to what is best for the liturgy?

But the case for the missal...

All that said, the case for the missal changes is I think overwhelming: poor translations have clearly subverted the understanding of the faith.

And maybe the changes will give some momentum to ideas proposed at least in writing, or being modelled by the Holy Father.  He has, for example, moved from giving communion on the tongue to those he communicates at papal masses, to imposing it for all attending these masses.

The missal is necessary, but not sufficient

Personally, I'd like to see a bigger push on some of the things that serve to undermine the congregation's proper understanding of what the mass is about: Mass facing the people, which encourages congregationalism and irreverent engagement with the 'audience'; reception in the hand, which discourages a proper sense of awe at the gift of the Eucharist (already undermined by over-frequent communion for most people, or looked at from the other side, reception in the absence of regular confession); and the disruptive sign of peace, that breaks the flow of the Mass.

Change is needed, and better that we get it done sooner rather than later so that people can get used to it.

So it is good news I think that some reorganization of the Vatican bureaucracy is on the cards rumoured to be with a view to giving the reform of the reform a bit of a push.  As ever though, if it happens at all, it looks to be a softly softly push. VIS news reports:

"It is true that a motu proprio has long been under study to lay down the transferral of a technical legal competence - as, for instance, that of the dispensation for the 'ratum sed non consummatum' matrimony from the Congregation for Divine Worship to the tribunal of the Sacred [Roman] Rota. But there are no grounds nor reason to see in this an intent to promote a control, of a 'restrictive' kind, by the Congregation, of the fostering of the liturgical renewal willed by the Second Vatican Council."

All in all though, it seems to me very unfortunate that the change process on the Novus Ordo looks set to continue over some years, with future promised changes to the lectionary.  Because we do also need stability.

But then again, what about some judicious reform of the NO calendar (put a few feasts back on their correct date, reintroduce Septuagint and the Pentecost octave) to align it a little more closely with the 1962 version..?!

1 comment:

PM said...

Isn't there also a question about whether the 1962 Missal should be the benchmark for the EF? One of the perceived deficiences Vatican II sought to remedy was the skimpiness of he Scripture readings - which as I understand it had been pruned drastically less than a century before.