Klaus Gamber: Mainstream, Fringe, Or In Between?

If nothing else, Liam has convinced me to read Gamber at the source, not through the lens of NLM or other commentator. In suggesting the scholar is not a mainstream liturgist, I have to confess I was reading him through the eyes of his most loyal supporters. Quotes like this strike me as being way over the top:

(T)he liturgical reform welcomed with so much idealism and hope by many priest and lay people alike has turned out to be a liturgical destruction of startling proportions–a debacle worsening with each passing year

I think it’s a sound assessment to state that post-conciliar liturgical reform has disappointed many Catholics. On the most basic level, we should expect that some would feel it went too far. Others believe it was too timid.

Most insightful liturgy people would say the implementation (aside from being too hot, too cold, or just right) was occasionally to often mishandled and misunderstood by reformers on the local level.

I don’t know Msgr. Gamber, so I can’t say if his frustration with conciliar reform is colored by mourning for losses in Europe. I might suspect it is so–that seems to be the pope’s sense. Would a more finely-tuned reform have offset European indifference to religiosity? If one were ready to blame the liturgy for all of the social sins of the hierarchy and laity, I suppose one could accept it. As a liturgist, I might feel that the liturgy has the same power over other lay people as it does for me. Maybe Gamber feels the same way as he looks at the bumbling liturgical presidency of his European brother priests. When I consider 60-70% Sunday truancy, and the occasional glassy stare, I get the same hot feelings on occasion.

Failing to live up to expectations, be they one’s own or of the Church, can be supremely frustrating. It is more of a test to temper such attitudes and continue in the labors one is called to do. This is why I think “destruction” and “debacle” are extreme words, not to mention false ones.

I’ve read of Gamber’s interest in ancient liturgy, and I can respect his immersion in the world of scholarship. But most of the Church’s best liturgists are not only serving in parishes, but they also maintain the personal connections to the parishioners for whom they facilitate worship and prayer.

My criticism of Gamber is of a kind with liturgical gurus who focus on the publicity tours, the conference circuit, and the workshops to the exclusion of work in the parish trenches. More than that, too many scholars and gurus exclude the pastoral/spiritual side of our Catholic faith expression.

One of my professors impressed me greatly with his knowledge of New Testament Scripture. In his introduction of the various methods of scholarship, he never lost sight of  the point: we were encountering the living, divine Word of God. Theology was faith seeking understanding, not understanding for its own clever sake.

What was even more impressive was the pastoral way he worked with me and so many other students. A friend once shared with me that this same professor volunteered to assist her and her husband in a discernment for their family. This priest, I thought, has the whole package: scholar, authentic teacher, counsellor, spiritual director, friend.

A person such as that would not put pen to paper publicly and make such misjudgements as “destruction” and “debacle.” On the other hand, sometimes our friends do us little favors, so perhaps it is time to read more deeply into his works.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Klaus Gamber: Mainstream, Fringe, Or In Between?

  1. Liam says:


    My comment was intended to convey the difference between opinions and scholarship. Your statement about the fringe was in the context of scholarship. I’ve seen nothing yet that indicates his scholarship about liturgical development as such is at the fringe. I don’t agree with a good deal of his opinions and rhetorical style as summarized by his users, as it were.

    I just try to be careful about marginalizing actual scholars. Or is he a polemicist masquerading as a scholar (for an example of this on the left, consider Shelby Spong and James Carroll)? If the latter, marginalize away. I’ve not read to be able to determine, only to question.

  2. Gavin says:

    “(T)he liturgical reform… turned out to be a liturgical destruction of startling proportions–a debacle worsening with each passing year”

    I strongly disagree, and I also part company with my fellow NLMers here. I think that, taken as a whole, the liturgical reform has been successful. We have comprehension during the liturgy, the congregation is made a part and not spectator of the Mass, and people largely know their respective parts of the Mass, at least in vernacular. Sure, some things were lost, others weren’t implemented as intended, but by and large the Church has a good liturgy now (not they she didn’t before the council!) I suppose I have to ask where the “hermeneutic of continuity” is in an approach to the liturgy of “throw away anything recent, good or bad”?

  3. F. C. Bauerschmidt says:

    I recently got the two works by Gamber that are available in English and I must say that I was very disappointed. I thought, OK, this is the heavy-hitting scholar everyone appeals to. But, at least in what I read, he constantly makes unsubstantiated claims — not to mention the rhetorical overkill. Plus, the books appear to be badly edited collections of opinion pieces, with much repetition. Perhaps the works that have not been translated from German are better.

  4. Todd says:

    Liam, good points, as always. I suppose there’s a time and place for an opinion piece. Heaven knows I hold strong opinions on things. But there is a need for a scholar, be she or he a theologian, scientist, or whatever, to discipline one’s writing for the intent.

    A theological work or a work touted and promoted as theology shouldn’t contain the “rhetorical overkill” often cited.

  5. Liam says:


    Not having read Gamber, FCB’s comment (and I trust FCB’s judgment, which is always balanced, or at least I’ve found it to be so…) leads me to think that we may have a polemicist in the guise of a scholar, in which case I would have no qualms about marginalisation, as I;ve noted before.

    So, perhaps fringe is aptly applied to Gamber…

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