We had a lively discussion this week on the target of Pope Benedict’s Criticism of liturgical reform – 117 comments! Thanks, all.
The original post is here; for reference, here is the question as I put it:
Pope Benedict XVI, before and since his election, has shown himself to be a critic of the liturgical reforms in the Catholic Church. What are the main targets of his criticism? To what extent is his criticism directed at local liturgists and clergy who have incorrectly implemented the official reforms? Or at Paul VI who entrusted Consilium with the reform of the official books? Or at the Second Vatican Council itself in Sacrosanctum Concilium?
Fr. Allan McDonald was – surprise, surprise – the first to reply, and he takes a positive view – surprise, surprise – of the Pope’s words and deeds (see comment #1). Then there was a spat – surprise, surprise – that went on in several volleys between AD and Bill DeHaas. We’ve become quite the discussion community at Pray Tell, and we’ve come to know each other quite well. That’s mostly a good thing.
Deacon Bauerschmidt (#2) got the discussion rolling with a claim I would like to challenge. Fritz sees the target of the Pope’s criticism as mostly the liturgical planners at the local level, not at the official level as approved by Paul VI:
Does the Pope think the reformed liturgy could have been better and that in some places it went too far? Probably. Does he dismiss it as “a fabrication, a banal on- the-spot product”? I don’t think so. After all, he celebrates it every day.
Jeffrey Pinyan, our go-to document man, helpfully gave us many passages from the writings of Ratzinger/Benedict which show, I think, that the Pope thinks that much of the liturgical reforms approved by Paul VI were mistaken. (See especially #38.) Those reforms made a rupture with tradition, and give the impression of being a creation of scholars, a man-made construct. The Pope sees some good things in the Pauline reforms, and as a man of obedience he accepts them, but he is critical of them. More about this below.
Of course the discussion had to take up “organic development.” As Brendan McInerny said (#12):
Why are the liturgical reforms prior to Vatican II ‘organic’ while those of the council or perhaps after are ‘fabricated’?
As Todd Flowerdayhas said many times at Pray Tell, “organic development” is hopelessly arbitrary, and all to often seems simply to mean “reforms I approve of.” And as he wrote (#32),
Keep in mind that there are those of us who don’t see organic development as the highest principle of Catholic worship. It is a pastoral principle, to be sure. But SC[Sacrosanctum Concilium] touted a few other more important points.
And as Fr. Ron Krisman (#28) wrote:
Of necessity the reform and renewal of the liturgy after VII had to be “fabricated,” since organic development of the Roman rite had been off limits for a millennium or so. Think of what could have happened had Augustine of Canterbury successfully pleaded for permission to celebrate the divine mysteries in the language(s) of his mission territory! Would a variation of the Roman Rite have developed there just as the Glagolithic Mass (the Roman rite in Old Church Slavonic) developed in the southern Slavic regions?
No, the charge of “fabrication” is an unfair one. The reforms after VII instead were the result of serious study of the sources of our liturgical development. The Church, ever vigilant of the rich store of her tradition, went back to her storehouse and made new some of her ancient treasures.
I was happy that Trent was brought in to the discussion. Karl Liam Saur said (#13, 16):
The problem is that Trent effectively …preserv[ed] the liturgy in amber. (That, btw, was a modern, rationalistic impulse at work in the Tridentine era.)
When you freeze the liturgy pretty much in place, you kill such an ethos. The effect was partly intentional, partly unintended. Once you’ve frozen and centralized decision-making about liturgical change, and decreed that change that does not come from above is not licit, then organic development cannot occur in any meaningful sense of that term. In this way, Trent purchased this problem.
I sometimes wonder to what extent the silly excesses of the 1960s (and since) shouldn’t be laid right at the feet of Trent. If you freeze things that long artificially (with, btw, modernistic centralism and beaurocracy), the thaw is bound to be messy. Or is it meltdown? Following this Blame-Trent-For-The-60s theme, I propose we get in the habit of saying, e.g. “Oh, that potato chip and whisky Mass, isn’t it a shame Trent made that inevitable?” Do ya think?
Of course Summorum pontificorum, the 2007 readmission of the pre-Vatican II Mass by Pope Benedict, had to come up. Jim McKay thinks (#24) thinks SP happened mostly to reconcile the SSPX. I’m not so sure. I think it’s a clever, devious plan to destabilize the postconciliar liturgy and set into force the impulses to undermine it. Or to put it less polemically, to unreform and re-reform it. As Richard Malcolm said (#24),
There’s plenty of evidence that the SSPX was a secondary consideration in his motives for issuing the motu proprio.
Most of the young priests and seminarians that I know – at least in the U.S. – have a serious interest in the traditional mass. I don’t think that the Pope is unaware of that. Or that he didn’t anticipate the development – one which might, in the long run, allow both missals to be, as he put it, “mutually enriching.”
Jordan thinks (#26) SP is both for liturgical reform and bringing back SSPX, but mostly agrees with Jim McKay and thinks it’s about SSPX.
Back to the question at hand: whom is Pope Benedict criticizing? Joack Rakosky writes (#66) of the Pope’s critique,
The critique seems two-pronged. One the one hand, “regulation” by experts is bad because it is not organic. On the other hand, grassroots developments are bad because they are anarchic. It seems as if the idea of organic development is intended to rein in the anarchy without empowering liturgical experts to tinker with the liturgy. I’m not convinced, however, that this gives you anything more than total stasis.
I think Pope Benedict is critical of all three – Vatican II, Paul VI, and local liturgists. His critique is most gentle when Vatican II is at hand, but it’s there. His critique of Paul VI, implicit and explicit, is quite robust. And his rejection of the creativity of local liturgists since Vatican II is thoroughgoing. Elsewhere at Pray Tell, Rita Ferrone has termed “slanderous” the Pope’s charge that the Catholic congregation is sometimes turned in on itself and celebrating only itself.
This is significant, that a Pope is so critical of a predecessor so recent, and that his actions (such as Summorum pontificum) undermine the aims of that predecessor Pope. As Jim McKay said (#23):
There is an old papal saying “What a pope can do, a pope can undo.” Most people do not understand this. In terms of the current discussion, the papacy can fabricate what it likes while Anglicans and Orthodox have to endure an organic process. Fabrication is a neccesary component of papal authority however much it is restrained by tradition and faith. Change can come mor quickly among Roman Catholics because of papal power, and becoming a Roman Catholic entails accepting that capacity for “quick” change in place of the back and forth in less centralized communities.
I’m not sure everything is organic for the Anglicans. But that’s a minor point. This point is more significant: a future Pope can undo Pope Benedict’s liturgical policies. In a highly centralized polity like ours, that’s just the way it is.
As to whether a future Pope will undo Pope Benedict’s liturgical vision, I will note hazard a guess. I simply put out there the possibility. I hope it helps to give some context and perspective to Pope Benedict’s liturgical words and deeds.