Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Some Thoughts About "Turning Back the Clock"

I've done a lot of reading (mostly blog discussions) about liturgical reform lately. This is the big topic right now. I mean, it's always been something of a hot topic, but it is now in the forefront in a way that it hasn't been before. Beginning with Summorum Pontificum and continuing with changes to the Papal Liturgies including ad orientem celebrations, Gregorian chant, communion kneeling and on the tongue many Bishops following suit...and then the new translation of the Roman Missal coming to us soon, it has become apparent that the "reform of the reform" is no longer a hypothetical thing, but is now a reality.

Just last week, the Pontical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini addressed the Priests of the International Conference of Clergy in Rome. The topic was the "reform of the reform"... a well organized presentation on 5 points central to liturgical reform:

The Sacred Liturgy, God’s great gift to the Church

The orientation of liturgical prayer

Adoration and union with God

Active Participation

Sacred or liturgical music

However, the presentation was less an academic examination than an instruction, laying out an interpretation of the post-conciliar liturgy that is decidedly orthodox, drawing together many of the issues that have been addressed seperately up to now and creating a coherent foundation for liturgical development going forwards.

And that is what I see as the most important point: This is a forward looking vision for the liturgy, an interpretive foundation for the Missal of Paul VI which brings it out of the morass of inculturating adaptations, innovations and experiments and seeks instead to set it within the liturgical traditions of the Church. This has been the point of Pope Benedicts reforms up to this set the Missal of Paul VI within the context of the Church's liturgical tradition.

And yet, the reactions to Msgr. Marini's address and to Pope Benedict's initiatives all too often appeal to the well-worn cliche: "Let's not turn back the clock".

This is usually followed by noting that things were far from perfect "back in the day" - and the criticism is most often that Priests rushed through Mass and that the people in the pews just sat and watched, oblivious to what was going on until it was time to receive communion, after which they left. And that may have been true in many instances "back in the day".

But I know a great many Catholics who consider themselves Traditionalists, and I attend Mass in the EF on Sundays (8:30AM Low Mass) and have yet to find a single person who wants to return to that way of celebrating the EF Mass. And I have yet to attend an EF Mass in which the Priest desires to rush through as quickly as possible. The Mass this past Sunday was a Low Mass and it took about 55 minutes, including an excellent homily. The faithful followed carefully in their Latin-English Missals (including the children who make up perhaps 1/4 of the assembly), very much engaged in the liturgy. This is the state of the Extraordinary Form in 2010. It has nothing to do with "turning back the clock" and everything to do with moving forwards. There are new churches, new religious orders, new Priests and new faithful, young and old celebrating in the Extraordinary Form.

And so, if the current celebration of the EF isn't "turning back the clock", then how could celebrating the Ordinary Form liturgy, even in the most orthodox of settings, be "turning back the clock"? I have seen Masses celebrated in the Ordinary Form where one gets the impression that the Priest is trying to "move things along", and the now ubiquitous use of an army of EMC's at most Masses can only be explained by a desire to finish communion as quickly as possible- despite all of the rhetoric that it is the "center of our faith journey". There is the frequent ommission of the Gloria and Creed, homilies without substance or relevance and arbitrary limitations on the number of verses in the hymns...all in order to "get out on time". If there is anything today that is similar to "turning back the clock", it would be this.

This is what Msgr. Marini and certainly Pope Benedict are urging us to move away from...that is, celebrations in the Ordinary Form ought to move forward towards a more reverent and orthodox norm as has been done in the Extraordinary Form celebrations. This is what Pope Benedict meant by mutual enrichment - taking those things from each liturgical form that lead towards a greater reverence and sanctification of the faithful and applying them to both forms.

Such progress could be described in a variety of ways, but I fail to see how it is "turning back the clock". May I suggest that it is actually a case of "winding up a clock" that was long ago allowed to run out, hurriedly replaced by a new improved LED timpepiece whose red-against-black square numbers are beginning to look rather dated themselves.

No comments: