by Fergus Ryan
The recent move to discontinue individual celebration at Saint Peter’s Basilica on weekdays especially, and to schedule a series of “animated” concelebrations, has attracted some controversy as well as some praise. The various commentaries have not been without ideological colouring, among those who supported and those who lamented the note affixed to the basilica’s sacristy door.
The sensitive question is but a hint at the bigger picture of the liturgy in the Roman Church and the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The liturgical question was experienced initially as the biggest coming from the Council, we know from those we lived through it, and that question has courted more controversy in the last twenty years or so with greater access to what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Mass.
The Council fathers rightly tried to recall the centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church, and liturgical celebrations which took the, dare we say “original”, community forms, with symbolic language more evident, the texts more readily understood by the lay faithful, a certain simplification, and so on. The changes introduced on paper at least, changes which should not be protected against serious examination and criticism, came about following decades of renewed biblical, patristic, liturgical, historical and archaeological study in parallel with pastoral initiatives in some parts of the world at least trying to respond to increasing alienation of the lay faithful from liturgical practice.
After all the efforts in the liturgical changes through the 1960s, 1970s and beyond, the level of ignorance of the liturgy of very many clerics and religious is shockingly high. As I write this within hours of entering the Easter Triduum, many who celebrate it with enthusiasm are oblivious to the change in the liturgical calendar in 1970 which invented the Paschal Triduum, and they seek to celebrate the (suppressed) offices of Tenebrae, even beginning on Spy Wednesday (discontinued in 1956) outside cathedral churches, while overlooking the articulated liturgies of the third day – Sunday – and its presentation of the gradual initiation of the apostles into the truth that Christ has truly risen from the dead, more relevant to our own day, perhaps, than any before.
The fathers of the Council asked that liturgy be a major subject in the study of theology especially in the preparation of men for priestly ordination (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium n.16). The regulations for ecclesiastical faculties, Veritatis Gaudium and its predecessor Sapientia Christiana, consider the chair of liturgy to be a fulltime one, as do the documents published shortly before last Christmas for affiliating, aggregating and incorporating faculties.
Am I correct in saying most ecclesiastical faculties of theology do not have even a part time lecturer or professor with the specialised Doctorate in Sacred Liturgy? Would I be correct in saying most also lack a full time, perhaps not even part time, Doctor in Patristic Sciences from the Patristicum or Orientalium, or Doctor of Biblical Sciences from the Pontifical Biblical Commission?
The teaching of specialised topics by lecturers unqualified to do so, has, without any doubt, led to ideological controversies and is continuing to feed them. My own observations suggest theological studies done in an environment lacking what the Apostolic See considers to be qualified university lecturers who engage on a full time basis in scientific research and publishing in their area has brought about in some cases the rejection of what they label “spirit of Vatican II” ideologies and slogan theology, and rejection of progressives’ contempt for the traditional Western artistic heritage, but also an unfortunate growth in individualistic and blinkered views of the liturgy especially. Conversely, those, perhaps few, places where the more specialised topics are treated as intended by the Apostolic See seem, in my direct experience, places of relative ecclesiastical peace, much less ideology and greater theological culture.
The hiring of suitably qualified lecturers where they are lacking, while making chairs of liturgy, patristics, scripture, etc. closer to the typical university model which the Apostolic See has rightly requested, would be an important step away from ideology and division.
Fr. Fergus Ryan, OP is a Dominican friar from Ireland. He is a Doctor in Sacred Liturgy.