Jeremy Driscoll on the Reform of the Liturgy

Father Jeremy Driscoll is featured in a video on the liturgical reform. A few questions occur to me:

  • Is he too irenic? Should he be more willing to draw a line between different camps?
  • Is he right about liturgy being “impressive” rather than “expressive”?
  • At the end of the video he speaks of the possibility of certain “restorations” in future revisions of the liturgy. Given his position in Rome, is he reflecting the thinking of people there?


  1. >Irenic? What is the implication of this word?
    He was, indeed, calm and expressed with sober acumen aspects of liturgy which have been overlooked if not deliberately spurned by many. It is refreshing that he did NOT drawn lines. There is, already, far too much polarisation where there should be earnest and respectful reflection.
    Very noteworthy and challenging was his observation that the mass of Paul VI. did not PRESUME any less solemnity in celebrating the mass. This, in itself, is a truth which should be pondered by many.
    >I do not, personally, see a dichotomy between ‘impressiveness’ and ‘expressiveness’: to me, the impressiveness of liturgy (about which he speaks convincingly) IS expressive of my joy, awe, and gratitude over what the mass is about. A mass which is not impressive is expressive of nothing noteworthy. It is, to me, vacuous.
    >This last question is loaded, isn’t it? What he speaks of as ‘restorations’ might well be understood as developmental adjustments toward a more fitting manner of celebrating mass. Putting the word in quotes rather makes it imply a certain ‘counter-revolutionary’ ‘going back’, which, I think, neither he nor most of us would want. I see this as a move forward. Too, is the mention of Rome and ‘.. the thinking of people there’ pejorative? It seems like it. One should not assume that ‘Rome’ is a monolithic enemy of the revolution out to restore the ancien regime (which none of us would tolerate). It is as much a part of the Church as Ss Cosmos and Damian down the street; and is worthy of more reflective respect than many have for it.
    (I say this as one who shudders at ultra-montanists and the cover ups with which we are all familiar.) I think a more sober and mature attitude would be: ‘how do we assimilate the thinking of Rome into our liturgical praxis?’. Are we saying words without meaning, just paying lip service, when we refer to the Bishop of Rome as ‘Holy Father’? This would make a good topic for discussion here.

    1. MJO: I think you’re reading far more into my questions than I intended to put there. I liked a lot of what Driscoll said. I think “irenic” is good. Driscoll himself dichotomized “impression” and “expression.” I put “restoration” in quotation marks because (I think) that is the term he himself used.

      I just thought it was an interesting video, but also one that PrayTell readers might want to discuss.

      1. FB – I’m really sorry: I meant no denigrance at all of your presentation. Your observations are, I think, correct; and, at the same time, I think that mine are… minus the inadvertant mis-characterisation of yours.

  2. Expressive is more impressive than impressive alone.

    WCLV, here in Cleveland has an annual choir competition which this past year was won by a Catholic Parish choir.

    For the competition, and its concerts, the choir does the classical repertory: Handel, Vivaldi, Caesar Frank, Rachmaninov, Byrd, Rutter, etc. Very, very impressive. By the way none of this repertory is heard at the Weekend liturgies.

    For the finale of its parish Pentecost concert, the music director asked the audience (obviously mostly music lovers) to take out their hymnals and sing the very familiar One Spirit, One Church by Keven Keil who was once the parish Music Director.

    Well the hundreds of voices simply filled the church far beyond what the 80 voices alone of this award winning choir could possibly do. Even the very demanding music director who is a Polish citizen was overwhelmed by the beauty.

    She chose to come to the parish because “the people really sing.” Perhaps not as well as when you get all the music lovers together at one time, plus some friends from surrounding parishes. But at least it was clear what is possible, and that expressive is more far, far more impressive than impressive alone.

    1. It seems a travesty that a choir that can do such repertoire never does it for the Sunday Masses. I think a lot of people downplay and overlook the effect beautiful music can have on someone because listening is percieved as being too passive. To some folks, hearing great music is expressive.

      That isn’t to say robust congregational singing should ever be discouraged (though, in Catholic churches at least, it seems just as rare as beautifully done classical music).

      Catholics should be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. The choirs should be able to freely and frequently sing the treasures of Catholic sacred music when able and the congregational singing of hymns should be robust and inspiring. They compliment each other, IMO, and both have the abilty to reach different people and bring them closer to Christ.

    2. It seems a travesty that a choir that can do such repertoire never does it for the Sunday Masses.

      Actually those were my very thoughts until we came to the last song. Then I thought, “I wish we could have done a few more pieces with the choir for the concert.”

      I think we need what I would like to call Bible Vigils modeled on the BBC Service of Nine Lessons and Carols which always has a few of the favorite Christmas Carols for everyone to sing. some choral repertory pieces for Christmas, and a few unusual ones, usually with a newly commissioned piece. I think such Bible Vigils would be much more worthwhile than concerts. Why should a choir do a concert when it can do a service? That to me seems the great waste? and maybe more services than concerts per year.

      Saint Thomas Episcopal in NY with its choir school does Vespers explicitly as a less participatory and demanding service for visitors. I think Bible Vigils could work that way for parishes, i.e. services to introduce the general public to Catholicism in all its richness that would not require as much knowledge and active participation on the part of the general public.

      This choir does occasionally do a choral piece for the preparation rite. The choir practices in church before Mass the music for the Mass and many people come early to listen to the practice. I would like to see them do some of the repertory pieces as a prelude signaling the approach of the beginning of the Mass.

      This parish has a sung EP at every weekend Mass; everything is really well thought out. I think it is a very good modern example of noble simplicity. Introducing more than a very small amount of the repertory of polyphony would destroy that noble simplicity.

  3. JR –
    Your point is well taken. Perhaps a not too sharp dividing line should be drawn between the two, for each is but a face of the other… though particular ‘expressions’ are not always ‘impressive’; and, I would hasten to add that the fact that none of this fine music, according to your account, is heard at parish liturgies is most unimpressive. Something dreadful is wrong here. At any rate, it doesn’t seem to me that there is much divergence between our views.

  4. From Francis Rocca:

    He repeats something that Msgr Wadsworth stated on an earlier blog topic:

    “The reason for that is that we’re translating ancient texts that carry with precision the faith that unites us around the world,” says Driscoll, who was a consultant to the Vox Clara Commission, an advisory body that reviewed the new translation on behalf of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

    “If you don’t translate (the Latin) closely,” he says, “after decades the English-speaking Roman Catholic world winds up being considerably different from the Spanish-speaking Roman Catholic world and the French-speaking or German-speaking Roman Catholic world. And … that expression of the beautiful unity across many tongues is lost.”

    Back to the unity vs. uniformity and as Wadsworth said – this common language in this new world creates uniformity.

    Not sure that SC would agree with that interpretation? Driscall/Wadsworth seem to posit a new element in the revised liturgy which is a common translation from the *original* latin because, given the diversity in the world, liturgy requires this.

    Not sure I buy this approach or explanation – there seems to be no mention or consideration of enculturation; the method of translation; even the fact of saying – *original latin*.

    1. Bill,

      I think the problem is elsewhere. SC says there are things that can change, and things that cannot change in the Mass. I think what cannot change is God reaching out to us, giving His Son to be our savior. Language is something that can change and has changed.

      The approach you describe is misguided in that it tries to create unity through uniformity of text, instead of through the actions of the Spirit. If we translate Latin because it reflects the religious experience of Rome, the city of the Apostles, that is one thing. If we use it to create uniformity that will be the basis for the owrld, that is something else entirely. Genreally the latter is called imperialism and is not well eceived in most places.

  5. A few days ago, while hospitalized with a viral infection, I was able to read the relevant sections of Congar’s diaries and the Albrigo/Komonchak, History of Vatican II on the then sought for, proposed, liturgical renewal. If I was struck by anything it was the voices of the Bishops from all across the world, as expressed in the vota, and their comments on the schema that became SC, asking for a liturgy that could speak to the people, that could draw them even more into the celebration of the mysteries of the faith. That desire of the Bishops had I suspect as big an influence on how they received SC as any directives from Rome. Fr Jeremy Driscoll glides over too much that went into the work of implementing SC, and certainly seem to reflect more where he now is, teaching at San Anselmo, and working as a consultor for the Vatican. That said his unpacking of the liturgical texts that were serialized in The Tablet over the past couple of years also deserve a wider audience since they provided much food for thought.

  6. In the NCR piece:

    Yet a mistaken sense of separation between God and community can occur, Driscoll warns, if the assembly conceives of worship as self-expression — a tendency he finds especially common in his native land.

    “We Americans,” he says, “have come naturally to think that in the liturgy we want to express ourselves, and if it doesn’t feel like us, then we don’t want to say it. But the whole tradition of liturgy is not primarily expressive of where people are and what they want to say to God. Instead, it is impressive; it forms us, and it is always bigger than any given community that celebrates.”

    He is right up to a point. But if the liturgy does not reflect the community, then it will have no life. This is where inculturation comes in: finding the balance between reflection and expression, so that the liturgy expresses itself but also reflects those celebrating it.

  7. Celebrating the legitimate option of the Tridentine Mass gives priests and communities an opportunity in our current day to critique the reform of this Mass which now is the Ordinary Form, and also the ability to critique the 1962 missal afresh. Fr. Driscoll hits the nail on the head, but now we don’t need him telling us, for now we, the community, can see for ourselves if the reform accomplished what was intended as highlighted in a comment above, “…the voices of the Bishops from all across the world, as expressed in the vota, and their comments on the schema that became SC, asking for a liturgy that could speak to the people, that could draw them even more into the celebration of the mysteries of the faith.”
    Fr. Driscoll highlights much of Cardinal Ratzinger’s critique of the reform having been turned into an “enclosed circle, too horizontal” that active participation has been turned into a babble of words and activities, that some of what was good in the unreformed Mass should not have been tossed out and that the implementers of the reformed Mass attempt to do too much to please superficial emotional needs rather than the deepest spiritual needs of communities.
    Who would have thought ten years ago that someone of his liturgical background would make a strong case for ad orientem without denigrating completely facing the people. Also, the Latin/vernacular mix seems to be back on the table.
    The video itself shows two images as Fr. Driscoll states that certain things might be recovered from the Tridentine Mass apart from ad orientem, although Fr. Driscoll doesn’t name them, but what is shown are the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and the Offertory Prayers.
    Finally, my own perspective, which I humbly submit once again, is simply offer the Tridentine Order of Mass (preferably the 1965 missal’s version and rubrics) as an option for the current reformed missal in Latin or the vernacular. Nothing else would need to change in terms of lectionary and calendar. Of course with this option, I suspect only the Roman Canon would be used or simply keep the reform of additional canons and prayed audibly as an option. The current order would also remain as a normative option. Now isn’t that simple? Of course, for those who celebrate it, the 1962 Missal would still be the Extraordinary Form.

  8. This is one of the most encouraging posts I’ve seen on Pray Tell. I like Fr.’s comment about the placement of the celebrant, facing the people or facing in the same direction with the people, because “we should not be fighting about it …” the missal permits both positions. It is an obvious point but one worth repeating and his comment could be applied toward other issues in the liturgy as celebrated today: e.g. propers vs. hymns, vernacular vs. Latin, sanctus bells, etc….
    Paul’s comment above about the liturgy reflecting the community brings pastoral problems imho, just what or who determines the community identity? Typically, attempts to conform the liturgical celebration to one’s perception of the community identity means only part of the community or certain members of the community who are the most vocal, have the most money, or agree with the appointed parish leaders. In time, they risk becoming a self-selecting community focused on “the way we do it here”. It is especially unworkable over time when parishes are territorial & runs contrary to the concept of liturgical rite – should a Latin rite Catholic ever feel out of the seeming closed circle in any Latin rite parish because of someone’s view as to what a particular parish community identity might be? I see more wisdom in the Fr.’s comment that the liturgy forms the community rather than attempting to reflect where they happen to already be. In this way the parish welcomes all while remaining a part of the whole.

  9. Allow me to make a counter argument to Driscoll and Allan:

    From McBrien’s The Church: “….Vatican II council’s insistence that the Church consists of the whole People of God had its most immediate and pratical impact on the Church’s liturgical and ministerial life, and that is the main reason why the Eucharist has become the flash point of so much conflict within the Roman Catholic Church. The “liturgy wars” are at root “ecclesiology wars.”

    Wether we like it or not, liturgy expresses our ecclesiology. Implications of VII’s ecclesiology fifty years later are ver evident but also more controversial. SC mandated a liturgical reform that reformed the LTM of Pius V whose liturgy was focused upon the priest (alter christus *confecting* the sacrament). The role of the laity was to *attune* their minds to the priest’s actions. But SC restored the original NT and early Church focus that the Eucharist is an action of the whole congregation – laity, clergy. Vatican II is a reform of the preconciliar tendency to identify the Chruch with the hierarchy; thus reducing ecclesiology to a hierarchology. The *liturgy wars* (kneeling for communion; not in hands; latin/vernacular; singing/silence; lay ministers as some examples) has, at the root, been discrete conflicts of ecclesiologies. Most have accepted the changes to some degree and thus the VII ecclesiology. This also impacts the old pre-conciliar ecclesiology that there was clear line between the *teaching – ecclesia docens* and the *learning – ecclesia discens* – a clear line best represented by the Communion rail.

    So many of the *reforms* (sorry, feels like gimmicks) espoused today (fifty years after the council and decades past the liturgical and ecclesiological research, studies and experiments (think worker priests in France; think of the WWII experiences of some of these periti) reveal Catholics for whom the Church is still equivalent to the hiearchy and laity are to faithfully observe their teachings and regulations.

    Some observations:
    – B16’s Motu Propio has moved from an indult for small, limited exceptions for articulated good reasons, to some kind of new *movement* to rewrite a council. Concerns – unlike SC/VII, Consilium, hundreds if not thousands of liturgical requests that came to Paul VI after VII, over a hundred Paul VI’s liturgical letters, talks, instructions, MPs, etc. from 1965-1975 (john francis roberts had posted a comprehensive list at PTB but can’t find it); SC based upon decades of research, experience (there appears to be a new reaction against liturgical experts, research, or historical facts); right up to 11 english speaking conferences overwhelmingly voting in favor of the 1998 translation; many of you seem to be repeating the very criticisms that you level at the 1965-1975 period (characterized by the clown mass, presiders who act like TV MCs, too secular music, prayers; made up EPs; etc.) only now substituting inserting, merging, blending any accretions (even if technically licit via B16’s expanded MP) usually lifted from the Maryknoll 1962 or 1965 Missals. And, in some ways, this *arbitrary* movement is best characterized by the *new* ICEL/Vox Clara which changed VII’s directives on collegiality/subsidiarity in terms of liturgical reforms – basically, a rejection of VII. (Look at *humble* suggestions such as Allan’s, the type of *restoration* espoused by Fr. Z, Driscoll, Vox Clara e.g. ad orientem, foot of the altar prayers, last gospel, all latin, silent canons, sacral vernacular raise serious and significant concerns).

    (Note, Jordan, you had asked me to respect and support those who qualify or fit into the *exception* category. Fine, but realize that it doesn’t stop there. This whole *mutual enrichment* movement ignores or rejects the reality that liturgy expresses/impresses our understanding of *ecclesia*. Some appear to want to *restore* an earlier and reformed ecclesiology without, it appears, a planned, systematic, and careful theological, scriptural, and liturgical study – rather, it happens arbitrarily, haphazardly with resultant specific parish, diocesan, and community discord and polarization. (example – read Allan’s unabashedly clear belief that the hierarchical model of church needs to be restored (talk about dissent))

    – Who makes these decisions? Unlike the VII decisions, directives, Consilium, conferences of bishops, etc. all based upon decades of research, study; voted overwhelmingly by 2400 bishops; it appears fifty years later we have a small minorty (exclusively hierarchical, curial for mixed reasons & intentions. The point that the majority of episcopal conferences begged B16 not to do the SP. Look at the division around whatever happens with SSPX) implementing an unplanned and arbitrary *restoration* that justifies itself via an artificially constructed theological gambit called the *hermeneutic of reform with continuity* which seems to mean whatever one wants it to mean. (Jordan – doubt that you, Allan, Shane, etc. could agree on a consistent definition. Check Shane’s last paragraph above – he means it the other way but, IMO, this clearly describes exactly what a current pastor, Allan, is doing at his parish in Macon. Is that wise?). Any significant reform has risks – unintended consequences. My concern is that this whole B16 movement has more risk and unintended consequences than anything that the minority experienced in the 1970s. Why? Because its foundation rejects VII ecclesiology (despite those who deny this)

    Finally, McBrien’s The Church raises one other challenge to this *new* hermeneutic via examples such as Driscoll. Quoting Rahner: “Vatican II was really the first assembly of the world-episcopate such as had not hitherto existed.” Rahner argues that the Church today needs to look at itself objectively, as an essentially Western export that has made little or no impact on the East, Islam. It is struggling in Latin, South American, Africa. Rahner believes this is so because Western Catholicism has refused to take the risk of *a really new beginning*. But *either the Church sees and recognizes these essential differences of the other cultures, into which it has to enter as a world-Church, ands accepts with a Pauline boldness the necessary consequences of this recognition or it remains a western Church and thus in the last resort betrays the meaning of Vatican II*.

    My concerns as stated before on PTB follow from this. Driscoll, Vox Clara, Allan, etc. seem to only focus on the narrow and limited Western experience of the Roman Rite. Whether we mutually enrich by restoring long past liturgical elements that create ecclesiological tensions & polarizations, this whole B16 movement reflects a distrust or misunderstanding of the reforms and challenges laid out by the council fathers. The question is not which pre-concilar Missal we should borrow from (wrong diagnosis and even more wrongheaded response) but whether we continue the Pauline boldness to move from a Latin Western Church to an enculturated, diverse world-Church.

    (Note – it is interesting that the earlier B15 in 1917 ordered that the church must increase native priests, bishops. By VII, over 10,000 native priests and by 1985 almost all missionary lands had native bishops. This was Pauline boldness).

    1. Any claim that V2’s liturgical reforms changed Catholic ecclesiology are weakened by the fact that SC nowhere claims to have that purpose and because the Catholic Church is more than the Latin rite. Since there were no reforms made to most of the non-Latin Catholic Churches liturgical forms any interpretation that V2’s liturgical constitution changed Catholic ecclesiology is difficult to maintain & seems unpersuasive.

      Re. ecclesiology – it seems to me that LG is the place to look for V2’s teaching on ecclesiology together with orientalium ecclesiarum:
      “The Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government and who, combining together into various groups which are held together by a hierarchy …” (2). This doc. was issued the same day as V2/s LG.

      1. The nature of the true church is made manifest in the liturgy according to SC 2. It seems obvious to me that an ecclesiological renewal, a fundamental transformation, was effect in the way the reformed liturgy expresses the church as a community in which all participate actively. SC also devolves authority to bishops and to bishops’ conferences – eg in its regulation that approval of translations rests with bishops, not the Holy See.

        You’re revising the facts of history and making up a new version – to downplay the real changes Vatican II brought about.


      2. I think the greater danger is to overstate the changes that V2 has wrought in many areas. The Holy Father recently noted this in reference to the Church’s devotional life:
        and the late Cardinal Dulles made the same observation about many areas of the Church’s life in 2003 “Myth & Reality”.
        SC, for example, in #22 continues to see the Apostolic See as the ultimate authority of things liturgical. The unbroken witness of the Church’s eastern liturgies cannot be overlooked if one wants to consider ecclesiology from SC. LG seems to be a better place to discern V2’s understanding of ecclesiology.

      3. Huh? You must have a different version of SC than I. Mine says at SC 22 that regulation of the liturgy belongs to the “Church,” that is, the Holy See, the bishop, and territorial bodies of bishops.

      4. Shane,

        LG could never have come to be if SC had not changed the Church’s ecclesiological mindset. SC paved the way for the entire Council, not just liturgical reform. It showed the world’s bishops just what was possible and fired them up. It was a theological document as well as a practical one.

    2. Wrote about the Dulles’ America Magazine article in one of the recent posts.

      The article, at best, was in his waning years and reflects poorly on his lifetime of theological endeavors.

      Per his own Jesuit colleague: Ladislas Orsy, SJ described the article as neither a careful, structured neo-Thomistic theological argument nor follows the systemic process used by Rahner in his Investigations; rather it is an advocacy piece that over generalizes and picks/chooses in order to make an ideological statement.

      And you only reinforce the points made about the council fathers in resorting to quoting the current pope in a church media organ. Unfortunately, using papal quotes or even one papal talk says little about the church’s liturgy; it only says something about that pope (and popes change; sometimes when we least expect it). Does that mean ecclesiology, liturgy is determined only by a sitting pope – geez, what about Tradition; what about councils; what about dogmas, etc. Seems like an approach that is marked by realitivism, church as institution with little room for scripture, tradition, people of God, sensus fidelium?

    3. Just keep in mind that in Macon, we are not doing anything that isn’t allowed by liturgical law, regulated by the Holy See and our local bishop–our Ordinary Form Mass is all in the vernacular, with active participation, and all the ministries that are allowed to the laity and to both genders. For the EF we follow the rubrics of this form of the Mass which is for an extraordinary group of people and at an extraordinary time once a month on Sunday (2:00 PM) and 5:00 PM each Tuesday. We’re your typical post-Vatican II reform of the reform parish.

      1. Oh yeah – licit; which justifies anything. Why comment here when you really state this:

        “On another blog I read, some comments are so far afield of what the Church teaches that one would presume that those who sponsor it would challenge those comments, most of which are heterodox. Yet the only comments that really get any challenge are those who point out the truth. I’ve found this typical of those in the academic community who cry crocodile tears about the mean old hierarchy of the Church and its demand for obedience yet, are more rigid with those who they perceive as rigid.”

        And, you also state so humbly about Driscoll:

        “Given his position in Rome, is he reflecting the thinking of the Holy Father and the Congregation for Divine Worship? Is he hinting or revealing, in a rather dramatic way,what he knows is in the works for the reform of the reformed Mass? And does he prove that I am clairvoyant about these things? This Benedictine thinks like me; I like this OSB!”


        “….implementers of the reformed Mass attempt to do too much to please superficial emotional needs rather than the deepest spiritual needs of communities.”


        “So commenters, obedience to the Holy Father in the areas of faith and morals and canon law is my mantra. It’s the way to go if we are serious about purifying the Church of post-Christian sentiments which run rampant in many places in the Church, even on blogs!”

        Really, “we’re your typical post-Vatican II reform of the reform parish”.

    4. I can see how a “silent” Low Mass of old would give the impression that the EF was focussed on the priest. However, were I to compare an EF dialogue or High Mass to a typical OF, I don’t know how anyone could think the EF is the more priest centered of the two. In the OF everything hinges on and points towards the priest – his face, his actions, his words, his choices, and his liturgical style. It doesn’t emphasize the alter Christus aspect as much as the EF, but it doesn’t really emphasize the “action of the whole assembly” aspect nearly as much as some people would like to think either. The OF does heavily emphasize that the priest is the liturgy’s primary master, which is why a pastor can come in and go all “reform of the reform” or “happy clappy” on a parish and the rubrics of the OF fully 100% support each approach. The EF’s stricter rubrics, for better or worse, at least somewhat limit the control of the individual priest.

  10. I never got the distinction over “facing in the same direction with the people.” The important thing is to orient oneself to Christ. We already have that without facing liturgical east. It’s a radial geography, not a linear one.

    It would be worth exploring, however, the nature of the Tridentine liturgy as being something of a pilgrimage setting–people maintaining a common orientation outside of themselves, and the post-conciliar as presenting something of a resting place, or heaven, or oasis–people surrounding the center.

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