His Holiness of our Lord gave a speech to participants at a national assembly of Italian liturgists. HERE
Given what I have seen and heard in Italy, my mind reels in dread at the very notion of a room full of Italian liturgists.
I’m am not sure who wrote this for the Pope, but I suspect it was not prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship. I have my strong suspicions, however.
It opens with a rehashing of various steps in reform of the Church’s liturgical worship in the 20th century. There follows an encomium of Vatican II and Sacrosanctum Concilium. And then a panegyic of Bl. Paul VI who set in motion all sorts of changes (which, I must observe, went way beyond what Vatican II asked for, but I digress).
Then he says (my emphases):
Today there is still much work to do in this direction, especially in rediscovering the motives of the decisions taken with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions and practices that disfigure it. One isn’t dealing here with rethinking the reform, reconsidering the choices, as much as to recognize better the underlying (sottese) reasons, also through the historical documentation, as if to interiorize the inspiring principles and to observe the discipline (disciplina) as well as the norm (regola). After this teaching (magistero), after this long journey we can affirm with surety and with magisterial authority that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.
There is a lot packed in there. Let’s pull some of it apart.
It first talks about errors that were made which made the Vatican II reforms go astray. We could spend months listing those. It mentions the underlying principles of the legislated changes to the liturgy, and it says that we have to figure out what they were (because, I guess, from the way the Vatican II documents were implemented, you would have thought that they had never been read in the first place). It states that we have to read the documents: hurray! It is an over statement to say that we have had a “long journey”: not in terms of the Church as view through the centuries before Vatican II and before the 20th century’s liturgical movement. This is all in living memory: so it isn’t really much of a long journey… though it might seem long. However, he also suggests that the liturgical documentation to which he refers is “magisterial” (we can agree) and he seems to invoke the Magisterium is saying that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.
In a sense, this is not out of keeping with what Benedict XVI said in his letter to bishops explaining Summorum Pontificum… which is also magisterial. Understood correctly, Benedict wanted none of the things that this Pope distances himself from. In fact, Benedict’s view is that, yes, liturgy is living, growing changing, etc. Verrrry slooooowly. However, what happened with the way that Sacrosanctum Concilium was implemented resulted in an artificial form which stifled the natural organic evolution of liturgical worship. Summorum Pontificum is about the future, not about turning the clock back. It is a way to bring what happened (e.g., the deformities mentioned above) back into continuity (which is what SC demanded).
However, read another way, in a cynical way, this seems to be a shot at suggestions about a “reform of the reform”. Mind you, I think that is what the ghost writer intended.
He goes on to the next section about a “Living liturgy for a living Church”. This is where things get a little odd.
First, His Holiness of our Lord makes an analogy with a heartbeat.
“Just as there is no human life without a heartbeat, so too without the beating Heart of Christ there is no liturgical action.”
Ummm… well… yeah. Okay.
I would only point out that we have a resting heartbeat. Our heart rates speed up and slow down according to activity, etc. The resting heartbeat is a baseline which is consistent, even, continuous. When our heartbeat is erratic there are problems. An arrhythmia can result in cardiac death. This is probably what happened with the artificial imposition of many liturgical changes after the Council (not actually called for by the Council Fathers in SC): liturgical arrhythmias. Think of ventricular fibrillation or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia: when the heart or part of the heart gets out of sequence and starts doing its own thing… not good. Another heartbeat problem is congestive heart failure: fluids build up around the heart such that it can’t beat properly, blood starts backing up into the wrong places, nasty things result. I suppose that might be like the oppressive constriction imposed by bishops and priests who, for example, failed to implement St. John Paul II’s norms (issued explicitly… without hints or suggestions or cryptic meanings… by his Apostolic Authority (which sounds magisterial) that respect should be shown to those who have the legitimate aspiration to participate in the Church’s traditional liturgical worship and when he called for – by his Apostolic Authority – that the norms should be applied generously. “Pastors of souls” clamped down hard on the beating hearts of the faithful who desired traditional forms, such that they nearly died of broken hearts. Another problem with a heartbeat can come from cardiomyopathy, when the heart is too weak to beat well. I suppose that results liturgically when we, for example, slam shut the treasury of the Church’s sacred music or when we refuse to implement the actual mandates (rather than the imagined mandates) of Sacrosanctum Concilium in regard to the use of Latin, Gregorian chant, polyphony, pipe organ etc. Hearts can have beat problems because of weak valves, when there is leakage between the chambers and a low ejection fraction. I suppose that could be like being minimalists in our approach to worship, stingy, avoiding the beautiful and richly noble out of a perhaps pretentious disdain for “triumphalism”. Cardiogenic shock is a really bad one for heartbeats. This is when the heart is damaged. Liturgical abuses can cause cardiogenic shock in the Body of Christ, the Church, like a gunshot or a knife slash. There is a weakening of the heartbeat caused by lack of potassium called hypokalemia. This might be likened to culpable ignorance about matters liturgical which could benefit the everyone by making liturgical worship stronger and more regular, after all, regular is the key to ritual which is the essence of worship.
Screw around with the Church’s liturgical heartbeat, and you wind up with what we have seen in the Church for the last 50 years, as virtually every aspect of Catholic life has become enervated, weak, lethargic and even necrotic.
So, I’m all for a strong, healthy, consistent liturgical heartbeat. Aren’t you?
Next, His Holiness of our Lord says:
Liturgy is the life of the whole people the Church. By its nature liturgy is, in fact, “popular” and not clerical, being – as etymology teaches – an action for the people (per il popolo), but also of the people.
Well, that’s great, isn’t it? I would only observe that you won’t get very far liturgically without the clergy, especially priests who share in Christ’s priesthood in a qualitatively different way than the “people”. That distinction of “people” and “clergy” seems to create a dichotomy. Clergy are ALSO the people of God! The two are complimentary. Children and parents are complimentary too, but they are not interchangeable and they are not, in all aspects of family life, equals. They are in some, but they aren’t in others.
The liturgy is life and not an idea to understand. It brings us to live an initiatory experience, or rather and (experience) that transforms how we think and act and not to enrich one’s own baggage of ideas about God. … The rites and prayers… for what they are and not for the explanations we give them, become indeed a school of Christian life, open to those who have ears, eyes and hearts opened up to assimilate the vocation and the mission of the disciples of Jesus. This is in line with the mystogogical catechism of the Fathers….
While I get the main idea (we are to be receptive to what is offered in the liturgical action, not as dissectors or mere students of texts and bring what we receive into daily living), this seems confused. We have to have explanations of the texts. The texts are not exactly easy. Without some explanation, how can participation be full and conscious? This seems to be saying that we shouldn’t drill into them. But then His Holiness of our Lord invokes the memory of the mystogogical catechism in the time of the Fathers of the Church… when great bishops such as Augustine and Ambrose explained to the newly initiated the meaning of new things they were being taught as Christians.
The rest is the usual sort of thing that these speeches have toward their conclusions.
So, what to say about this?
I need a little more time to think about it. One thing I can say, however, is that those of us who have taken the Church’s liturgical reforms seriously, and who have availed ourselves also of what Summorum Pontificum opened up as part of Benedict XVI’s “Marshall Plan” for the revitalization of our liturgical lives, can hear in this speech what we have already been doing and seeing for a long time. That is, people who are attending Holy Mass also in the Extraordinary Form are participating with that full, conscious and active mode of participation which the Council Fathers actually mandated. Furthermore, they are using the Gregorian chant and Latin that the Council Fathers actually mandated. In addition, they are learning to sing and to respond in Latin those parts that pertain to them, as Sacrosanctum Concilium required. They are not doing anything out of harmony with the Church’s tradition, which was specifically commanded in the same Sacrosanctum Concilium. Moreover, priests who learn the older form, are enriching their ars celebrandi in the Novus Ordo, and the laity who attend the older form begin to understand the newer form better as well.
This is all part of a living process which is strengthened and kept on a healthy course by attending carefully to the mandate of the Council Fathers for full, conscious and actual/active participation.
Finally, I note that Francis’ speech does not cite Benedict XVI a single time, though he had a lot to say about liturgy. Hence, I assume that his ghost writer left him out on purpose (a hint as to who helped to write it).
Moreover, in the footnotes, His Holiness cites a daily homily he gave at Santa Marta. That, to me, suggests that this document has perhaps less weight than some might want to think. Otherwise, the conclusion is that each and every daily sermon he gives are, in some way, weighty contributions to the ordinary papal magisterium. I wonder if His Holiness of Our Lord intends those to be at the same magisterial level as, for example, a sermon for the Vigil of Easter or the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul.
I’m turning the moderation queue ON for obvious reasons.