About That Liturgical Tussle

At the Pertinacious Papist blog, the liturgy discussion is about par for the blogosphere. Conservative thesis: the 1970 Missal is an unconscionable break with tradition. I treat that motto not as a centrist thought, but as a position of extreme traditionalism. I did bad-mouth a liturgy scholar, Klaus Gamber, and the comboxes alertly right turned there, mostly bypassing my main argument:

(T)hat (clergy won’t celebrate the 1970 Missal in Latin) is a very telling point. For such clergy, liturgy isn’t about language, beauty, or awe, but it seems to be about politics.

Jordan Potter wrote, “In any case, from a sociological standpoint, it’s hard not to see the liturgical revolution of the 1960s as anything but a colossal mistake, terribly ‘unpastoral’ and bound to cast tremendous stumblingblocks in the paths of many, to cause the shipwreck of the faith of many.”

Interesting thought. And also far outside the experience of all but a relative few Catholics. “Many” Catholics continue to be beset by stumbling blocks and shipwrecks. Is the witness of traditionalists to be dismissed entirely? I wouldn’t say that. Not at all. But in turn, feminists (among others) have asked that the Latin homo be translated accurately and not identically to the way the Latin vir is rendered. That seems far less of a stumbling block for traditionalists, namely the accurate translation of the Latin. So where is it, already? Ah! Wait–feminists don’t count because they aren’t like “us,” some would say. Well, then you have to deal with abuse victims, people whose school or parish has been closed, the person who’s miffed because the pastor forgot a lunch date. What’s Latin for “Take a number?”

Keith Kenney added, “It doesn’t make someone a fringe lunatic for taking an objective look at the reform of the missal and suggest that the changes were not improvements. Lauren Pristas has done that with the collects, Gamber did it with regard to ad orientem among other aspects, Dr. Alcuin Reid has a lot to say on the subject, etc.”

“Lunatic” was his term, not mine. In my estimation, the liturgical fringe (not lunatic!)would include riverboat ordinations and those advocating conspiracy theories of Bugnini’s concilium hoodwinking the CDWDS and all the world’s bishops. This stuff just doesn’t hold water.

I’m not aware of Pristas’s work on collects, but I do know that the effort to harmonize them to a three-year Lectionary cycle seems a valid approach. Today we have the old Roman collects–we’ve always had them, really. Nobody’s denying the first round of translations were rushed. But we also knew that ICEL and the other language groups intended to revise and perfect a process few were satisfied with in the early 70’s. And it all was revised. And what do we get out of it today? The same old missal and a priest with a cottage industry built on his own expertise in Latin.

This is my point. We’re Roman Catholics. We have the Roman Rite. A Council sets a direction, and people take it seriously with regard to liturgical reform. In its sacramental essence, the Mass of 1570 is the same as it is today and vice versa. Christ worships the Father. We participate in that worship. Through God’s grace, the people are sanctified. The Offertory Prayers? Not essential. The Prayer to St Michael. Ditto. The Last Gospel? Same. That’s not to say that well-worded prayers, the intercession of an archangel, or the prologue of John’s gospel are not important. They were judged not essential to the core of the Mass, as a Roman approach of noble simplicity and intelligibility would suggest. Their omission does not mark a new rite, or anything of the sort of a novelty.

What we did experience in the immediate aftermath of the Council and still see today is a hermeneutic of obstruction: the resistance to Vatican II and its teaching on liturgy. Karl Rove cannot rescue fringe traditionalists by redefining the center.

By and large, advocates of the 1570/1962 Missal do not strive for alignment to Sacrosanctum Concilium, but to their beloved Missal. I can appreciate the spirit of that. But theirs is not a centrist position; it is a fringe stance. The Council mandated a new Lectionary. Where is theirs? The Council instructed that accretions be trimmed away from the Mass. What have they trimmed? The Council pushed for Sunday and Holy Day Vespers. Where are theirs? The Council advocated a full participation in the liturgy and numerous specific reforms. Where the heck are they in traditional parishes and chapels? And with those questions, I’m not implying I’ve successfully tackled all those myself. But at the very minimum, can one suggest that forty-three years later, some progress have been made on those fronts? This is what I mean by the fringe: not even an attempt to work toward the stated goals of the Council. Bugnini is long dead. Is he stopping you from going to the Ecclesia Dei commission and start working on a revised Lectionary? Well, somebody is. But who’s preventing adding holy day or Sunday Vespers? Is that an innovation too modern to bear?

This is what I mean by political: if we reform, we’ll look like those grubby Catholics rocking out to Marty Haugen and dressed like clowns.

Most Catholics embrace the particular reforms postdating the Council: vernacular readings, new music, preaching, a new openness, etc.. Could some things be done better? Certainly. But the 1570 Missal is no more of a guarantee of spiritual fruitfulness than the current Roman practice.

Being offended by hamfisted implementation of liturgy, sadly, bears no theological weight in the liturgy discussions. Catholics have been offended by having their knuckles rapped, by being sexually violated by clergy or religious, and by any number of sinners acting in the name of the Church, more or less. Fine. Own the pain. Then be healed of the hurt and move on. But please don’t try to sell yourselves as mainstream Catholicism.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to About That Liturgical Tussle

  1. Liam says:

    I would only caution that I don’t think the hermeneutic of discontinuity is widely embraced by Catholics at large, not even at St. Blog’s. It’s more of an obsession of a small group of people who tease it out at length, for some useful and less-than-useful purposes, depending on the blogger or commenter.

    But, in terms of the daily life of most Catholics, it’s very much a distant sideshow. Most Catholics don’t approach the liturgy with any ideological perspective whatsoever, traditional, progressive or otherwise. Our liturgical discussions are largely irrelevant to them.

  2. Todd says:

    Liam, I would venture to say you’re absolutely correct.

  3. F. C. Bauerschmidt says:

    Lauren Pristas work (some of which is available online at http://faculty.caldwell.edu/lpristas/) is actually pretty interesting, and she makes a fair case that the orations of the Mass were rather more radically transformed than people usually realize (for example, all four opening prayers for the Sundays of Advent were changed) and not always, I would submit, for the better.

    I would also note that the reforms were not done in order to make the collects harmonize with the three-year lectionary. The ICEL English translation from the 1990s did propose such a set of prayers, composed in English, but they were rejected along with the translation as a whole.

    Perhaps a 4th Editio Typica of the Missal could restore all the 1962 orations, at least as options. Likewise, the 1962 offertory prayers might be allowed as options alongside the current ones. I think moves such as this — options that would allow for the celebration of the rite in a form closer to the 1965 interim missal — is a better approach, since it would not indicate a wholesale rejection of the post-conciliar reforms, while at the same time acknowledging that some of those reforms might be re-examined.

  4. Todd says:

    FC, I didn’t see the bulk of the work on Roman Missal II, nor do I have any copy of what I did see. I do know that ICEL composed collects for a three-year cycle. If it wasn’t intended to allude to the Lectionary as a whole, I can’t say for certain. What I saw and heard indicated to me that was the intention, at least to what I did read.

    What would be the ideal situation, in my view, would be if Roman Missal IV would take advantage of prayers of high excellence composed in various vernaculars, preferably by poets and language artists, render them in Latin for an editio typica, and translate from there where and when possible. If the motivation were for beauty and excellence, that would seem a sound approach. My contention is that the liturgical backtracking we’ve seen since the Medina edition of the CDWDS is less about beauty and truth, and more about institutional control. The former will get us great liturgy; the latter less so.

  5. F. C. Bauerschmidt says:


    Sorry, I guess I misunderstood you. I thought you were referring to the original revision of the orations, not the ones proposed by ICEL in the 90s.

  6. Notker Balbulus says:


    Not every Traditionalist is beholden to the 1962 Missal. Many of us perceive that the 1970 Missal has simply gone beyond the mandate in Sacrosanctum Concilium. (Where in SC, just to take a small example, was it recommended to clean out the Offertory prayers and replace them with inadequate phrases that do not fully represent the Church’s teaching on the Mass? It would be far better to have no Offertory prayers than to have the ones we have now.) Some of us want liturgical reform, but reform that is in continuity with tradition.

    And that’s entirely different from the extreme position that rejects SC or insists that the 1962 MR is the be all and end all.

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