Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Conservative Approach to the Reform of the Reform

There's been recurrent talk at The New Liturgical Movement over the last few weeks about the difference between (if any) "the reform of the the reform" and "do the red, say the black".

The "reform of the reform" seems to be used to refer to a desire to see changes in the current missal to bring it more into line with the 1962 missal -- or more properly, into line with what might have been the result had the post-conciliar liturgical committees stuck to a faithful and straightforward implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium in making changes to the 1962 missal.

"Do the red, say the black", or DTRSTB, is used to cover the range of things under general heading of celebrating the current missal without informal additions, without abuses, and as much in tune with the traditional manner of Roman liturgy as possible (due place to Latin, chant where appropriate, incense at high masses, etc.)

One of the things that has struck me in watching these debates is that in many ways I find myself in the peculiar position of defending the new missal because of conservative liturgical principles.

Not to say that the new missal is itself conservative. Though I'm certainly not as educated in such things as some, it's pretty clear to anyone reading the two side-by-side that a great deal was changed in the 1970 missal -- rather more I think than was really called for by Vatican II. And making all these changes to the text of the missal, while at the same time making available a bunch of options left entirely to the celebrant (whereas in the past differences in form were usually determined by season and occasion) and also allowing for the mass to be celebrated fully in the vernacular, and doing all three of these at time of great cultural change (indeed, cultural iconoclasm), certainly gave people the impression that "everything is changing" and often "everything is up for grabs".

However, the new missal has been in place for nearly forty years, and as such it is the only missal that the majority of the world's Catholics have ever known. It's all very well to point out that the old missal was the same in most essentials for over a thousand years, but if the people you're telling this to didn't experience any of those years, the point is in some ways rather academic. Suggesting (as some have in the flush of excitement since the recent motu proprio liberating the old missal) that hopefully within a decade or two the new missal will be gone and only the old one will be used amounts to a massive liturgical change for most Catholics. If one imagines a fully realized reform of the reform world, in which a new missal is put out which represents going back to the '62 and then setting out on the process of reform all over again -- we'd not only be changing everyone's liturgy but changing it to someone no one, not even the traditionalist communities, has experienced before.

Certainly, from the point of view of those of us used to the news cycle, and those of us excited enough about liturgy to want to see positive things happening at a discernible pace, the "do the red, say the black" approach may seem boringly slow. But I think stability is something we desperately need in liturgy. And indeed, in a world where many priests still free to ad lib -- or at least add comments -- fairly often, making changes in the missal would achieve relatively little. In this sense, if we spend the next forty years working to get the vast majority of our priests (and congregations) used to simply performing the liturgy in a stable, reverent manner, that would be great progress. And that, it seems to me, is what the conservative must wish for: stability, not change. Getting rid of irregularities, inventions and inconsistencies will be good for our liturgy, but this does not seem like the time to be contemplating revisions. And if during that time the number of masses according to the old missal gradually grows, that will serve to acclimate people to where our liturgical tradition lies.

Of course, "do the red, say the black" holds little appeal to those who consider the new missal seriously deficient. For those people, I think there are two key points:
1) Be thankful that Pope Benedict XVI has provided us with the motu proprio, making it much easier for you to attend masses according to the old missal.
2) Try to chill out about it all. I think many would agree that the way the post-conciliar committees went about their work is regrettable, but at the same time, what they produced is not necessarily in itself bad.

That latter point is something, I think, that those who read too much about liturgy should make sure to keep in mind. At one point I had (with much reading) worked myself up to a point of indignation over the three new "invented" Eucharistic Prayers that were added to the mass. Then that week as part of a digression at bible study, our assistant pastor started reading aloud and discussing Eucharistic Prayer III. And having been impressed by that, I went back and read all three in a a literal translation.

And honestly? If one can get out of one's head the self-inflicted indignation over "the prayer Bugnini's committee invented", they're all very beautiful prayers -- none of them theologically deficient. Sure, maybe it was a bad situation that gave them to us, but we have them now, and in and of themselves they are very worthy prayers. Why get mad over them? Perhaps sometimes conservatism needs to be more a matter of holding to what you have instead of looking at how it got there.

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