True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium
by Massimo Faggioli
Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2012
Reviewed by Timothy O’Malley, reprinted with permission from the Fall 2012 issue of Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization, pp. 94-96.
In the subsequent years since the Second Vatican Council, interpretations of the four major constitutionshave tended to isolate theological treatments of the Church to either Lumen gentium (the Constitutuion on the Church) or Gaudium et spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). Such an approach, as Massimo Faggioli (an assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul) ably argues, fails to acknowledge the centrality of ecclesiology in the liturgical document Sacrosanctum Concilium. Faggioli writes, “only a hermeneutic based on the liturgy and the Eucharist, as developed in the liturgical constitution, can preserve the riches of the overall ecclesiology of Vatican II without getting lost in the technicalities of a ‘theological jurisprudence’” (16). Sacrosanctum Concilium makes available to the Church a Eucharistic ecclesiology, one that manifests the true genius of the Second Vatican Council.
Faggioli’s unfolding of this argument is a work of solid scholarship, attentive to a vast array of Italian, English, German, and French literature. According to Faggioli, the liturgical reforms enacted by the Council are not simply aesthetic but rather a return to liturgical sources intended “to reset the cultural and ideological garment of Catholicism in the modern world in order to start over from the core essence of Christianity, closer to the ancient liturgical traditions of the Eastern Churches and of the Roman Church” (57). Sacrosanctum Concilium was fundamentally a “conservative” document, restoring “the simplicity and the splendor of the rites on the basis of a more biblical set of readings and a patristic concept of celebration” (47). The reforms are not antiquarian but instead are an exercise in listening to the Fathers, one that influences the present work of liturgical renewal.
The liturgical reforms enacted by the liturgical constitution also offered a specific theology of the Church. Faggioli comments:
It is therefore clear that the ecclesiology of Sacrosanctum Concilium does not contradict but ushers in and anticipates the communion ecclesiology of Vatican II as a pillar of the liturgical reform: the Church as a communion of life thanks to the grace, the expression of the communion in the life of the Trinity; the power of the grace, received in faith and through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, that unifies Christians as the people of God and Mystical Body of Christ; a people of God, walking toward the kingdom of God, but also active witnesses of Christ in the world, visible in its ecclesial institutions and led by the bishops in the local churches and the pope (84-85).
Importantly, Sacrosanctum Concilium does not succumb to a stark differentiation between a “people of God” and “mystical Body” ecclesiology, but rather presents a vision of the Church as a sacrament of Christ’s own Eucharistic love for the life of the world, especially within the context of the local Church. Such a liturgical ecclesiology affects the Church’s own understanding of her relationship to the world, ecumenism, and Judaism itself (chapter 3).
Therefore (as Faggioli concludes) the recent arguments against the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council are not simply aesthetic in structure but an implicit dismissal of the ecclesiology enacted by the Council (chapters 4 and 5 in particular). In some sense, Faggioli is correct. The liturgical rites renewed by the Second Vatican Council offer a performed vision of the Church’s ecclesiology, including “a new life for lay ministers in the Church, a new discovery of the liturgical assembly, concelebration as a sign of unity in the priesthood, the new role for the Word of God in the eucharistic celebration” (143). Those that argue for a reform of the reform, understood as an exclusive restoration of the 1963 Missal of John XXIII at the expense of the Missal of Paul VI, are inattentive to the ecclesiology implicit in the reformed rites. Revisionist narratives of the Council (such as found in Nicola Bux’s Benedict XVI’s Reform: The Liturgy Between Innovation and Tradition) ignore the rites promulgated through the Second Vatican Council. And such revisionists often employ a naïve use of history itself, whereby the purpose of liturgical reform is to “re-enact” what has occurred in the past, rather than to think with the Fathers about how liturgical prayer can function in the present (see John Baldovin, Reforming the Liturg y: A Response to the Critics, 135).
Yet, is it really the case that many of those attracted to the 1963 Missal of John XVIII (the extraordinary form) are dismissive of the ecclesiology brought about by the Second Vatican Council? Or is it not often true that those fascinated by “the reform of the reform” are disenchanted with certain features of the implementation of the reform itself? Liturgical rites and music, which focus almost exclusively upon the community gathered in a particular space but are blind to the interrupting and transcendent presence of the Triune God. Liturgical spaces that look more like gymnasiums than places of worship. A desperate fear of silence in liturgy, in addition to preaching that focuses almost exclusively upon the priest’s own narrative at the expense of the Gospel. A wide swath of undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame (whose liturgical sensibilities ranged from the now classical repertoire of folk music to Renaissance polyphony) recently expressed to me the fear that Eucharistic celebrations in the dorm are so centered upon the community, upon entertaining music, upon the charism of the priest, upon a sign of peace that lasts ten minutes, that students have grown forgetful about the remarkable encounter with Christ that takes place in receiving the Eucharist itself. Remarking upon this phenomenon, Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) notes:
True liturgical education cannot consist in learning and experimenting with external activities. Instead one must be led toward the essential actio that makes the liturgy what it is, toward the transforming power of God, who wants, through what happens in the liturgy, to transform us and the world” (The Spirit of the Liturg y, 175).
I have found that undergraduates in particular, who begin to attend the extraordinary form of the Eucharist, do not do so out of a disdain for local councils of bishops, for lay forms of ministry, but rather because they experience within the extraordinary form “the transforming power of God”. Is not such diversity of liturgical rites itself a consequence of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council? If the extraordinary form of the Eucharist is practiced in a different theological and cultural environment, will it necessarily communicate the same theological vision to the participant as it once did? These are questions which are not treated by Faggioli.
Thus, Faggioli’s work is important for discerning the subtle and theologically pivotal function of the Church in Sacrosanctum Concilium, as well as the manner in which the ecclesiology of this document comes to inform later conciliar developments. Simultaneously, it is an articulate, clear response to those that seek to reject the liturgical renewal of the Council as inauthentic, antiquarian, and modernist. Nonetheless, the work is not always attentive to the various gradations of liturgical critique, and the ecclesiological consequences of these concerns. Despite this gap, Faggioli’s text is a must read for all those seeking a deeper understanding of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical renewal of the Church.
Timothy P. O’Malley is director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy. His doctoral dissertation, presently being revised for publication, is titled “Practicing Worshipful Wisdom: An Augustinian Approach to Mystagogical Formation.” He is founding editor of the journal Church Life: a Journal for the New Evangelization.