By William Bornhoft
According to veteran Vatican reporter John L. Allen Jr., two-thirds of the world’s Catholics now live outside the West. By 2050, Allen notes, that share will grow to three-quarters. These numbers are crucial to understanding the future of the Catholic Church. They are also necessary to understanding the continued importance of liturgical reform, as well as the extent of how out of touch the ongoing resistance to reform is.
I regret not referencing the above statistics in an article I penned for the Millennial Journal, “The Latin Mass is not the Key to the New Evangelization.” The piece was critical of young Catholics who have turned against the liturgical reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council and fail to understand its historical significance and theological roots. It is common for Western Catholics to forget how truly global the Catholic faith is, but the reality of the Church’s growth in Africa and South America, and the declining role of Europe, helps highlight the ongoing necessity of liturgical reform.
In my piece, I explicitly praised Summorum Pontificum, the letter issued by Pope Benedict relaxing the restrictions placed on the Tridentine form, but I also noted some unfortunate byproducts of the decision. I wrote that Benedict’s Motu Proprio
created – unfortunately and unintentionally – a subculture of young Catholics skeptical of contemporary Catholicism and the reforms of Vatican II. They’ve grown to appreciate the Latin Mass and traditional Catholicism, and now feel as though it is the only way mass should be celebrated.
I continued on to say that
Whether they realize it or not, TLM Millennials are not on the side of orthodox Catholicism. They are at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The reactions among traditional Catholics to these points were unsurprisingly negative, though far from consistent.Some argued that the council was flawed and the Extraordinary Form really is superior to the Ordinary Form. Others claimed that what actually came out of Vatican II does not truly reflect the reforms of the council, and that traditionalists are better adherents to the council than most Catholics.
Though the criticisms were diverse and often incompatible, I did notice a recurring topic among the responses from traditionalists. After reading the dozens of emails I received from traditional Catholics, I am confident that the strongest force driving skepticism of liturgical reform is the “lack of reverence” some experience at the Ordinary Form. Most Catholics who now find themselves regularly attending the Extraordinary Form were dissatisfied with the level of reverence and solemnity of the Masses they attended in the Ordinary Form.
The concern for the Mass being holy and beautiful is significant and should be shared by Catholics of all stripes. After all, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and also “the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium), so it’s important that the Mass remain reverent and glorifies God. Many times it isn’t particularly reverent. Everyone, it seems, has anecdotes of liturgical abuse.
However, anecdotes and bad experiences cannot override the important fact that the liturgical reform movement has deep theological roots, which in part explains the broad, nearly unanimous support for reform during the Second Vatican Council. Reform did not take place because the council fathers wanted to update or liberalize the liturgy, but rather to restore it after being unnecessarily changed and added to over time.
As Professor Massimo Faggioli has explained, Sacrosanctum Concilium must be understood as a movement of ressourcement. Ressourcement is a term coined by the French poet Charles Péguy to mean “from a less perfect tradition to a more perfect tradition, a call from a shallower tradition to a deeper tradition, a backing up of tradition, an overtaking of depth, an investigation into deeper sources; a return to the source in the literal sense of the word.” We see ressourcement taking place throughout the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium;
For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance; elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary. The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.
Indeed, liturgical reform dug deep into Church tradition, and it should be understood as a conservative movement to preserve the substance of the liturgy. But it has been misunderstand as a revolutionary movement. Traditionalists argue that the Extraordinary Form does a better job than the Ordinary Form of communicating what the Church is and what it stands for. But the things that distinguish the Extraordinary form – the chants, the Latin, the complex gestures – don’t really say much about the Church, but rather a particular time period in Church history. The Extraordinary form does not give one a distinctively Catholic perspective, anymore so than the Ordinary form, but rather a distinctly Catholic European Baroque look at things.
The difference is important. To borrow a phrase from Faggioli, Western Catholics make the mistake of exchanging “beauty with Baroque.” Liturgical reform, through ressourcement, prevented the Roman Rite from being entirely bound to its European past. Those of us who are partial to European music and aesthetics must realize that those things, though beauty, are not required to be a Catholic. As the Church experiences a shift in its center of gravity, liturgical reform is perhaps more important now than ever before.
William Bornhoft writes for Millennial, an online journal and blog that provides Catholic opinion and analysis from the younger generation. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @WilliamStPaul .