Some Thoughts on Intractability in Liturgical Debates

The debates between advocates of the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council and advocates of the unreformed rites seem pretty intractable. Why is this so? In part, I think, it is because on both sides people see something they value threatened, and when this happens people tend to dig in their heels and positions grow more extreme. While I realize the People Making Lots of Noise on the Internet are not a representative sample of people in real life, the more extreme voices among them seem to be going all in on intractability.

On the one side this might take the form of claims that the liturgy before the conciliar reforms was, well, bad. And I don’t mean “bad” in the sense of often being poorly done, in a rushed manner, with ugly vestments and terrible music, but rather theologically defective and spiritually malforming. The Council, on this view, was not calling for a simple clarification or renewal of the traditional rites, so as to better express the faith of the Church, but for a fundamental change in them. And, seemingly, this reform was carried out with such penetrating insight and wisdom that no missteps were made, no babies were thrown out with any bathwater, nothing might warrant rethinking. And any desire to let the unreformed rites continue to have any place at all in the life of the Church is a rejection of the Council and its teachings. At best, one might, in Christian charity, let a few old people have unreformed Requiem Masses when they die, but these have a definite sell-by date, after which such sentimental nonsense must stop.

On the other side, intractability might take the form of a complete rejection of the reforms—not simply the reforms carried out by the Consilium, but more and more the reforms called for explicitly by the Council itself (e.g. some degree of use of the vernacular, the inclusion of a “prayer of the faithful,” the creation of a multi-year lectionary). The growing edge of intractability on this side seems to be a desire to go back before the 1962 Missal and Holy Week reforms of the 1950s, which are proleptically tainted by the reforms that followed. Perhaps Pius X’s call for more frequent communion is next (there are clouds on the horizon). In some ways, this side is the mirror image of the other, agreeing that what followed the reforms was fundamentally different than what came before, but seeing this as a Bad Thing rather than a Good Thing. For this extreme of intractability, the only real solution is to put things back to where they stood in 1962…or maybe 1951…or maybe 1570.

Another thing both sides seems to agree on is that the other side is not worth talking with—maybe talking at, but not talking with. And perhaps they are right, But while I am generally on the side that favors the reformed liturgy (it’s really the only one I have ever known), I do think that something might be gained by talking with those who generally favor the unreformed liturgy, or at least think that it has something to offer that might have been lost in the liturgical reforms. But in order for such conversations to go anywhere, certain things need to be agreed on.

  1. The liturgy prior to and after the reform both express the same faith of the Church. The liturgical reforms after the Council were intended to highlight certain aspects of the Church’s faith that had been particularly important at the Council (e.g. the universal call to holiness and the Church as the People of God), but the liturgy of the Church prior to the Council was not incompatible with these emphases. Likewise, the traditional teachings of the Church regarding Eucharistic sacrifice and Christ’s presence are adequately expressed in the reformed liturgy.
  2. The liturgy prior to the reform was not perfect and incapable of being improved. The desire for reform was not simply a capitulation to modernity, but grew from a genuine desire to better align the lex orandi of the Church with her lex credendi. The reform was not a Masonic or Protestant plot and it cannot be undone wholesale.
  3. The liturgical reforms carried out after the Council are not perfect and incapable of being improved. The Consilium was not infallible and it is possible that now having lived for fifty-some years with some of the decisions made in the reforms, we might revisit them and maybe even reverse some of them. Just as the urban planning decisions made in the 1960s and 70s have not proved to be all that their authors might have hoped for, and have in some cases been undone, so too some of the liturgical changes of the 1960s and 70s should be assessed with a critical eye.
  4. Liturgical stability is not nothing and the desire for liturgical change can succumb to utopian delusions. Oddly enough, it is often the advocates of “tradition” who today are calling for more tinkering with (or wholesale replacement of) the liturgy and who fail to see that the reformed liturgy is for most people simply “the Mass” and, like Catholics throughout the ages, they love it and get upset when it is changed. On all sides it should be agreed that the changes of the 60s and 70s were often carried out in a ham-handed and authoritarian way, and we should be extremely cautious about repeating this, even in the name of tradition or restoration.

I am philosophically committed to the view that it is possible to talk across differences, provided that there is some thin spit of common ground on which to stand. What I suggest above is intended to be such common ground.


  1. Excellent, Fritz. Thanks for this. It provides much for people on all sides, and everywhere in between to think seriously about.
    Anthony, OSB

  2. Fritz is one of the major reasons I like to read this blog, and I agree on all the things in the list. If I might add one point – We need to stop assuming people with different views have something wrong with them or are not of good will. Over the years participating here, there seems to be a lot of effort to try and state what *must* be wrong with anyone who would want to attend the old Mass (is it just that we’re too ignorant to really understand? Nostalgic for a past that never was? Afraid to fully participate? Closeted homosexuals? Mentally ill?). Meanwhile in more traditionalist quarters, the assumption seems to be the same of those who promote the liturgical reform – that those people must have something wrong with them (Ignorant. Desperate to defend the failing reform after devoting a lifetime to it. Afraid of facing what Catholicism really teaches, Secret Freemasons, etc).

  3. I also wonder whether in the disagreements of the liturgy, the use of the 1962 Missal becomes somewhat symbolic for underlying conflicts.

    As a risk of being viewed as traitor by both sides, the current Missal would allow for worship entirely in Latin (including presumably the readings), ad orientem posture, use of slightly modified Roman Canon, use of the Gradual instead of a responsorial psalm, and Gregorian chant throughout. Admittedly there are things which would differentiate the two forms of the mass. However, given the options, the options could make large chunks of a mass celebrated to the letter of the GIRM and other liturgical law rather indistinguishable from that of a mass said according to the missal of 1962.

    The traditionalists would get their Latin, ad orientem and Gregorian Chant. The modernists would get a liturgy completely in keeping with the dictates of the reform. Yet, I fear that some on both sides would reject this. And I think the reasons for the rejection would actually reveal what the real dispute may be.

    1. To a fair degree, yes, though not entirely, of course.

      And this doesn’t even address how those of us who champion the conciliar liturgical reforms in broad address how well parts of the reforms effectuated the goals of the reform on the ground – and how to measure that, as it were, and, more importantly perhaps, *by whom* (that is, from whose perspective) – and if there are parts the merit reconsideration for either further development or removal.

  4. I agree with Jack – Fritz, thank you!

    Time, space and COVID seem to limit us to the Internet in carrying on the conversation. But the Internet seems to foster condescension on all sides, and heavy use of polemic, sarcasm, and extreme statement. Some “progressives” accuse the “traditionalists” of being out of sync with the mind of the Church. Some “traditionalists” accuse the “progressives” of sinning against the Holy Spirit. One side shouts, “Nostalgia!”; the other goes on about “libs” and “Susan from the parish council.” We all have our tu quoque lists.

    I’d suggest a few more criteria for an ongoing conversation.

    The first would be the rigorous avoidance of sarcasm – in fact, I would go so far as to say we might try to avoid humor altogether, at least at the start. Jokes don’t cross cultural barriers easily. A German listener can easily experience British humor as caustic, when that isn’t remotely the speaker’s intent.

    The second would be an attempt to step into the other speakers’ perspectives. For those of us who regularly worship using the reformed liturgy, this would mean attending the older Mass. Most “traditionalists” will have experienced the reformed rites, but I would hope that they would seek out the very best expressions of the Mass of Paul VI. And I would hope that this could be done live, rather than on video.

    And the third would be to adopt a posture of epistemological humility. At least for a while, we could all stop giving lessons to the other side, whether about Latin or theology or history. Some of the much-debated questions – for example, whether Pope Paul VI did or did not intend to abrogate the older rite – are not going to be settled simply by ever louder assertions.

    This isn’t an invitation to relativism or to “alternative facts”. It is foster “a strong view, lightly held”: assertions that invite questioning or nuancing or the provision of new evidence.

    1. “…but I would hope that they would seek out the very best expressions of the Mass of Paul VI.”
      While I agree with this sentiment, I think it is important to understand what one means when they say “the very best expressions” of the Mass of Paul VI. Does that mean the same thing for everyone? Is there a base line established for quality that sits apart from aesthetic preferences?

      I majored in fine art. There are art movements I do not like, but I can largely judge a piece of individual art within a movement as a good expression of it since I am aware of the underlying assumptions that went into its creation. Most people will look at an art style they don’t like and judge all examples as poor. How do we not do that when talking about liturgy?

      1. @Jack,

        That is the best explanation I have ever heard of “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like!” Despite current thinking, it is possible to comment objectively on the aesthetics of an item based on the contextual criteria within which it was created and/or implemented. Aesthetics is not solely or automatically subjective. This is hard to explain to someone who has little to no exposure to the humanities, and is yet another reason not to remove art, music, etc. from the schools (I won’t digress into that here).

        From comments others have made to me over time, I agree that a version of this also exists if you replace “art” with “liturgy”. People in the pews may not understand the liturgical or theological underpinnings of what’s happening, but they “know what they like” with regards to how the Mass looks, feels, sounds, smells, etc. Without an established frame of reference regarding the context (e.g. aesthetic / theological criteria), the congregation is poorly equipped to make informed judgments. Just as with art, music, etc., education is the key–it must begin early and at least be maintained if not developed over time.

      2. Jack, I struggle to answer the fine question you’ve posed, simply because my philosophy is rusty after many years.

        I certainly don’t mean either that the Mass of Paul VI or the church in which it is celebrated should be “tradded up” with lace, priest facing the apse, chanted propers rather than hymns, etc. – or, equally, “modernized”. As in music or art, older and newer forms can bring beauty and fullness of experience to the liturgy. I love a Mass in Latin, but a well-celebrated Mass in English can also be wonderful.

        I would hope for a degree of integrity, of cohesion between the different parts of the celebration, whether older or newer in style; as Aidan Kavanagh put it,

        A liturgical event is not a series of separate tableaux but a symphony of sights, sounds, gestures, and movements whose hole is greater than its parts. The parts must therefore be intimately articulated and the whole well calibrated toward its main purpose. [Elements of Rite, p. 29]

        This integrity includes the homily, in my view.

        Some local stability is also important; by that I mean that the rite doesn’t suddenly change from Sunday to Sunday, or at the whim of the celebrant, so that the congregation knows what to expect and how to participate. A great celebration comes across as “organic”, with no element of theater; priest and people simply do what they are there to do. I have been at very modern Masses and Latin Masses with old music that both feel this way; equally, at Masses in both styles that come across as fussy, showy events – spectacles, not liturgies.

        Kavanagh again:

        Pontificalism is always swollen, overblown and fussy; minimalism is always shrunken, desiccated and perfunctory … It is pontificalism which breeds the rumor that solemnity is synonymous with complexity, heavy-handedness, and boredom in the assembly; minimalism which breeds the rumor that being solemn about solemn things is a vice. [p. 80]

        There’s far more that could be said, but I hope that this is a start.

  5. I actually think it’s the first point, both forms expressing the same faith, generating much of the intractability.

    Traditionalist anxiety toward the new mass is from its susceptibility to being celebrated such that it does not clearly convey the same faith in continuity with tradition. They wish that it did and would collaborate to make it so. Only the fringes of sedevacantism claim the new mass intrinsically presents a different faith. Even the irregular SSPX have always held the new mass, properly celebrated with the right intention, confects a valid sacrament. While some call for replacing the new mass, most are only asking for its reverent celebration or at most moderate reform. It would be tough to find anyone mainstream calling for juridical suppression.

    Unfortunately, it seems many reformed liturgy partisans do not do not tread on this proposed common ground. They agree with sedevacantists that the new mass expresses a different theology and ecclesiology, incompatible with the preconciliar Church. This is not a problem for them but instead the very reason they fight so hard in its name. They do not want a Church professing a preconciliar faith and they have already opposed efforts to reform the new mass to more clearly express its continuity with tradition. Unlike sedevacantists, this is not a schismatic fringe but includes theologians at the highest echelons of Catholic academia and the loudest voices in liberal Catholic media. Unlike the traditionalist camp, they openly called for the old rite’s suppression under Traditionis Custodes, which they welcomed with celebration.

    While I’m sure many of us can foster more fruitful discussions with these principles in mind (it’s why I come to Pray Tell for articles like this), a significant wing of the reformed side does not share these values and would be offended at you for attributing this to them. Purely from a statistical standpoint, it is much more the new mass, not the old, being fashioned into a weapon of division. A different motu proprio…

    1. Yeah, I think “same” doesn’t work. There is obviously continuity as well as innovation between the two rites. The ecclesiologies, the theology of assembly, the sacramentally theology are both the same and different. The faith is both the same and also evolved to be different. That seems obvious to me. Otherwise the statements of Vatican II and the existence of the 1970 missal are pretty well meaningless.

      History shows there has been much development in both rites and doctrines across the centuries. Much of the natural evolution got frozen and shutdown after Trent, so that Vatican II’s 500-year catch-up meant a lot of sudden change. That’s the central problem.


    2. Michael, I can think of more than one traditionalist blog that, while not denying the validity of the reformed liturgy, treats it more or less as a dead end, best left in the dustbin of history (even if it must be tolerated in the near term). I see this as more or less parallel to the intransigence one finds on the progressive side, in which the validity of the 1962 Missal is not questioned, but it is also seen as something that has nothing to offer going forward. So I think I am more inclined than you seem to be to see fault on both ends of the spectrum.

  6. Fritz skilfully articulates two of the three poles that undergird the differences we are discussing:

    The first is the way in which the rite is?was carried out, regardless of its form. He doesn’t seem to think that this is very important, unless I have misunderstood.

    Secondly, there are the differences in actual liturgical form. It is here that Fritz’s principles for aiding dialogue will surely be very useful.

    The third pole which I believe may be at least as important if not more important than the other two is the anthropology of the liturgy. I’m thinking especially about semiotics, the science of perceptions. It seems to me that the different ways in which different individuals perceive the same liturgical phenomena could be a key to unlocking the rigidity of fixed positions.

    We’ve all heard the stories of people misunderstanding the “smoking handbag”, or the little boy who wondered whether, when the priest whispered to the host, it heard what he said. For some, a preconciliar celebration can come across like insincere play-acting, “going through the motions”, while for others it is the precision of the liturgical signs and gestures, the manual acts if you like, that add reverence to what is going on. For some, a postconciliar celebration can come across as casual, too informal, irreverent, while to others it may appear as accessible, human, nourishing.

    I think my point is that all of these perceptions can be right and all of them can be wrong, and on different occasions in differing circumstances the answers can be different. A good example is whether or not the dialogues between presider and assembly should be chanted. Does singing “The Lord be with you” erect a kind of barrier between presider and assembly, a less natural and human form of communication than speaking those words would be, or does it add a certain heightening of tone, create a ritual atmosphere that worship demands? These are real questions, with no easy answers.

    The problem is that we are not discussing these basic questions. Instead, we squabble over whether the Vatican II Mass was a break with tradition (Pecklers and many others have demonstrated that it wasn’t) or whether a contemporary vernacular is appropriate for celebration.

    My prayer is that the huge amount of work that has not yet been done in the field of how the liturgy is perceived will be undertaken. The great and late-lamented Mark Searle spent a sabbatical at Tilburg studying semiotics. Alas, on his return to the US he did not live long enough to give us the benefits of those studies, The torch is awaiting a new bearer.

    1. Paul, you raise some interesting points. I am particularly struck by your example of sung dialogues. We recently introduced these (along with sung orations and preface) at the Cathedral here. They were generally well received at our Masses with more traditional music, but not so much at the Mass with Praise and Worship music, where they were seen as running counter to the general “style” of the Mass (we’ve since dropped them at that Mass). I’m not so sure I think sung dialogues etc. are per se incompatible with P&W music, but people’s subjective impressions are at least one important data point when it comes to liturgy (I realize that in some people’s minds this marks me as a liturgical Modernist).

      1. FWIW, over the decades of practice and experience, I’ve been leaning more towards believing that singing the dialogues and having largely chanted (vernacular or Latin) settings of the Ordinary and responsorial Psalm becoming typical (rather than unusual) Sunday practice would go an immense way to allow more locally ruddered variation for what occurs at the Entrance, Offertory, Communion and, if sung, after the Dismissal with less indigestion in the pews. Effectively, not singing the dialogues/preface puts a lot more pressure on those musical points in the Mass.

      2. I am curious of the style of P & W happening at your Cathedral. I have attended eucharistic adoration services that were candlelit, used plenty of incense, and were led by a guitar with Praise and Worship. These services were meditative and sung dialogues would not have felt out of place. The music adds to a transcendent atmosphere.

        I have also attended Praise and Worship Masses where there is a cacophony of instruments where not only is the sung dialogue out of place but sometimes even the translation itself seem to bump against the “style” of music.

        I semi-agree w/ Paul Inwood. Chanting of the dialogue might create discordance if nothing else is really chanted in a similar way during the service. And also it takes a bit of time for sung dialogues to feel natural.

      3. I wonder whether my comment about chanted dialogues was misunderstood. It was nothing to do with whether or not it fitted in with a particular musical style elsewhere in the service. Rather, the question is whether chanting the dialogues is actually a good thing at all.

        When a presider says “The Lord be with you”, it’s fairly easy to determine whether he actually means it. Similarly, one can tell whether the accompanying gesture of opening the arms in welcome is something that he has made his own, or whether he is merely following the instruction to extend his hands. With singing, it is far more difficult to judge sincerity on the part of the presider. Our Anglican brothers and sisters have long had this problem, whereby a parsonic tone lends a semi-robotic quality to the ritual utterance and is easily parodied.

        Given that the original purpose of chanting these dialogues was for increased audibility in large church buildings, it is legitimate to wonder whether, now that this function has been rendered unnecessary because of today’s PA systems, there is any need to continue it. In other words, the chanting was once functional in nature but has now reached a point where some consider it as ritual in nature.

        So, the question remains: is it desirable to chant what in normal human life would ordinarily be spoken? If we do chant it, does it run the risk of coming across as artificial?

        I understand that these questions can be very threatening to people who have never considered them, perhaps undermining cherished beliefs and attitudes. But liturgical anthropology aims at digging below the veneer of “what we have always done” in order to find out how things come over to those on the receiving end.

      4. For those for whom the word “artificial” may be too strong, how about “Does chanting the dialogues run the risk of distancing the presider from the people?” ?

      5. Paul, I take your point. I was, I guess, widening the inquiry to suggest that how sincere the presider seems when saying “The Lord be with you” might be a function of a bunch of other stuff going on in the liturgy—including things like musical styles (and the expectations of the assembly who might be drawn to one style or another).

        I’m not sure celebrants coming across as sincere is a particularly high value for me in any case. But I know it is for others. Still, it doesn’t seem that “The Lord be with you” would hardly ever be spoken in “normal human life,” would it?

        As to the part about chanting being solely for the sake of audibility, I hear this repeated endlessly, but is there any actual documentary evidence that this is so?

      6. “When a presider says “The Lord be with you”, it’s fairly easy to determine whether he actually means it.”

        For what it’s worth, it never occurred to me to determine that (nor whether the presider should be scanning the congregation to determine how sincere each person’s response actually is in the moment), and I can’t affirm that it’s fairly easy to determine. That’s the delight of ritual, why we have so many rituals as humans, so that we’re not having to assess subjective states of mind by the moment. Ritual is percolative; focus on the movie, not the photo.

      7. “So, the question remains: is it desirable to chant what in normal human life would ordinarily be spoken?”

        This is an interesting question, but could not the same be said of the other liturgical acclamations? That is, the Gloria, Sanctus, etc. would not be considered hymns in normal human life, so would they ideally also be spoken if this perspective is accepted?

      8. This is an interesting question, but could not the same be said of the other liturgical acclamations? That is, the Gloria, Sanctus, etc. would not be considered hymns in normal human life, so would they ideally also be spoken if this perspective is accepted?

        The difference here is that the Gloria is in fact a hymn, and the Sanctus is a sung acclamation — both addressed to God, and both very different ritual animals from dialogues and greetings between ministers and assembly.

        We sing hymns and acclamations in real life — national anthems, football songs and chants, “Happy Birthday to you”, and many others. But we don’t normally chant the real-life equivalent of a greeting, whether it’s “Good Morning” or “How are you?”

        It’s in this respect that I would respond to Fritz’s point about people not saying “The Lord be with you” in real life. No, they don’t, but they do say things like “I’m really glad you’re here” (or even “Live long and prosper” !!), which would sound bizarre if chanted.

  7. This is a well thought-out and charitable response to the issue. This is close to what I have been advocating. Although I admit that I prefer the old rite I, like many other traditionalists, could accept the new rite if only we were allowed to celebrate it in a traditional manner as is provided in the rite itself. But while those opposed to the old rite will point to the ability to do so, in practice this has been forbidden. Indeed, I have received more grief for trying to celebrate the new Mass in a semi-traditional form than from celebrating the old Mass itself. It is this rejection and suppression of this legitimate option that is driving people to the old Mass.

    There needs to be an acknowledgment that the reformed Mass does indeed allow for such a traditional form and that such—as a legitimate option in the new Mass—is in complete compliance with Vatican II. This traditional form of the new Mass needs to be routinely and widely available to the faithful, not just as an occasional token Mass for special occasions. Note that I am not advocating that this form should replace what is now the status quo, only as a freely and widely available addition.

    Finally, we should end the charge that those who think that the Consilium overshot the mark with the new Mass reject Vatican II. The Council laid down some very broad guidelines. Their executive implementation will always be a matter of prudential judgment. One can honestly accept Vatican II and still question the prudence of its implementation. I for one think that the reforms of 1965, other than the need for an expanded Lectionary, fulfilled the reforms called for by the Council. But as I said above, I would still accept the new Mass as long as it could be celebrated in a traditional manner as is already authorized by the Missal. This is the road to unity and reconciliation within the Church.

    1. I would be interested to hear the form that the prohibition on celebrating the reformed liturgy in a more traditional manner takes. Is it pushback from the congregation? the bishop? Why would people be more resistant to this than the 1962 Missal? Is it a matter of expectations?

      1. The problem was not with the people—indeed in my diocese the people were often more conservative/traditional than the priests—but with the pastors and bishops. The full range of options that would allow for a traditional form of the new Mass, and thus would have prevented the drive for the old Mass, has never been tolerated. To paraphrase Animal Farm, some options are more optional than others. How many dioceses would allow for a wide celebration of the new Mass in a fully traditional form? How many here at Pray Tell would tolerate it? Again, I have never sought to impose this on all the Masses, but only to have it as an accepted addition to what is now the norm.

      2. I think there is a lot of architecture that suits a “traditional manner,” whatever that means. Fewer parishes keep their pipe organs in good working order, and besides, there are far fewer good organists around to play them. So that can be a problem for beancounters on staff, whoever they may be. A cappella singing is done well with extremely competent leadership. Otherwise not so much with good tempo and pitch.

        I think there are elements to “traditional” manner interpreted as fairly insulting to a wide swath of today’s Catholics: male-only liturgical ministers seems foremost in my thoughts at the moment.

        Let me offer a counter thought perhaps a bit troubling for its commonality. In the mid90s, we had a fine Psalter translation from ICEL. The USCCB eventually approved it, albeit with some tinkering from the bishops. Rome killed it, presumably not for scholarly inaccuracy, but because it omitted (cue “Jaws” theme) sexist language. It wasn’t at all inaccurate. It just bothered some “hims.”

        Ben gave me some pushback earlier this week for the phrase, “Take a number,” but with some traditionalist complaints like yours, I’d want to offer the same thought, but for today’s cause of scotching intractability.

  8. Thank you. Wonderful article. I agree with everything. I would classify myself as reform of the reform “light. And one of the things that keeps me there is your point 4. The current missal has nourished the faith of quite a few saints now and the “middle class faith” of countless others. How any future alteration of the missal occurs (whether from the a traditionalist or progressive perspective) has to be done so not as to disturb the prayer life the people in the pews.

  9. I might be considered by some to be one of the “intractables”, but in fact I am in general agreement with the notion that discussion, debate and (genuine!) dialogue is a good thing. I would, however, tweak a couple of the starting axioms above:

    (1) “The liturgy prior to and after the reform both express the same faith of the Church” – on a macro level, yes; but on a micro level, this would seem more difficult to agree with. The stripping out, for example, of mentions of the intercessory prayers of the saints from many of the Missal’s orations (without any text-critical basis much of the time) does, at the very least, have an effect on how part of the Church’s lex credendi is expressed in the reformed liturgy.

    (3) “The Consilium was not infallible”, but neither was the Concilium in its prudential decisions about liturgical reform. I am not sure that a multi-year lectionary, for example, has had the effects that the Council Fathers desired, and I see no reason to treat it (or any of the other reforms specifically asked for in SC) as non-negotiable or unchangeable just because it is mentioned in SC. IMO, if we really are going to assess the liturgical changes in the 1960s/70s with a critical eye, that has to include the particular provisions in the Constitution on the Liturgy, along with a detailed examination of the conciliar Acta in order to grasp what the intentions of the Council Fathers themselves actually were.

    (Of course, Traditionis custodes has just made the debate even more intractable, so lamentably the “common ground” suggestions above are largely moot anyway…)

    1. Matthew, I would think that the revision of the orations might be one thing that could be revisited. It does seem to be an area where the reformers had a particularly heavy hand. But I don’t think it could be said that the reformed liturgy in any way denies the intercession of the saints, even if it gives it less emphasis. I guess your point is that even if the two affirm the same doctrines, the “feel” can be quite different due to differences in emphasis.

      1. I guess your point is that even if the two affirm the same doctrines, the “feel” can be quite different due to differences in emphasis.

        Yes – that’s not a bad way of putting it, and the sort of thing I was trying to get at (albeit clumsily) with the macro/micro distinction.

    2. Per your example, “I am not sure that a multi-year lectionary, for example, has had the effects that the Council Fathers desired …”

      I think at least in North America the spread of bible studies and contemporary music based on Scripture is a likely consequence of it. A question for traditional Catholics: how much do you find connections with the Bible in your spiritual reading and devotions outside of Mass? If not too much, then perhaps some catechetical reform there is indicated.

      ” … if we really are going to assess the liturgical changes in the 1960s/70s with a critical eye, that has to include the particular provisions in the Constitution on the Liturgy, along with a detailed examination of the conciliar Acta in order to grasp what the intentions of the Council Fathers themselves actually were.”

      Well, sure. But I think we’d also have to look at post-conciliar documents as well. The thing about Vatican II: it wasn’t intended as a final word, but a first step. I’m far more concerned about what the people of the Church need today, a bit less of what some white male prelate thought three generations ago. Liturgy, important as it is, is on this plane, a means to an end.

  10. I think this is a helpful piece. I might quibble with the caricatures of the one side/other side. I don’t find these accurate or helpful, though they may be what one side thinks of the other. Often enough I don’t find people in the sides listening to one another. I came along in the 80s with my own criticisms of the 70s, and I certainly didn’t find some of the “first generation” of reformers ready to listen to me.

    “The liturgy prior to and after the reform both express the same faith of the Church.”

    Agreed. Liturgy and various devotions always express faith. Liturgy and devotions do not always express theology. That is the tripping point.

    “The liturgical reforms carried out after the Council are not perfect and incapable of being improved.”

    Agreed. And I think we need to look at the state of sacramental practice, and the spiritual life of the laity, and assess if reforms need to be revisited in the light of fruitfulness. Reversal, perhaps. But some may well need to be taken further forward. The sacraments and their rites need to address current need.

    “Liturgical stability is not nothing …”

    When is stability a particular virtue in the spiritual life? My own sense is that the monastic and mystical traditions of the Church give us better insight than canon law and history-for-its-own-sake. What do the lives of the saints tell us about conversion, rupture, pilgrimage, and such? When is it time for the pilgrim to stop for the night, eat a meal, have a beer, share the enjoyment of companions? And when is it time to roll out of bed, shoulder one’s pack, lace up one’s boots, and forge ahead? What was so extraordinary about the 20th century that led to John XXIII’s inspiration to call a council?

    It’s not at all about change for the sake of gazing at and traipsing through new scenery. It’s about going to where we are called to follow the Lord.

  11. As a lay person with no formal education in liturgy, I think the liturgical divide is a burning platform that is scorching the mass and singeing the Church. The good news is that the fierceness reflects how much people care. The bad news there is no way to win. We must make peace. Some thoughts:
    1) Focus on praise not scorn: People who discuss liturgy should freely describe what they prefer but stop denigrating what they don’t. I know some music is of objectively higher quality, but popular music has always been part of the Church. (If I remember right, St. Augustine’s son used to horrify his grandmother singing religious music in the bathroom.)
    2) Respect that people have the dignity of their own taste and opinions: Nothing is more irritating than being told, “Oh you say you don’t like this, but my way really is much better and if you tried harder or prayed more you would find you do like it.”
    3) Stability is not only “not nothing” it is critical especially in parishes: The arrival of a new priest or choir director can mean that everything changes and the people making the changes always feel they are fixing what is broken. A nearby church dramatically changed liturgical/musical style in a few months. I wonder how many people switched parishes, in and out (I wish we knew that), and how many left the Church along the way. Make changes very slowly and perhaps try them out at one mass at first and discuss.
    4) Ask (even survey) the people: The Church is not a democracy, but it’s no sin to find out which liturgical practices and music engage them and which push them away. There actually may be common ground.
    5) Use the whole musical history of the Church: A healthy tradition takes the best of its entire past. To me, a mass with some chant, a motet, a 1800s hymn, a Glory & Praise song, and something new is traditional in the best sense.
    6) Replace “reverent” with a description: “Irreverent” is a serious insult and worse unclear. Is it a long sign of peace, too much socializing,…

    1. A thought about Renée’s mention of surveys.

      Bald questions never produce reliable results. I think back to the Notre Dame Survey of Catholic Parish Life (1981-88) which produced a large amount of data but did not dig deeply enough. The Study never examined the reasons for people’s opinions; it did not ask them why they thought the way they did.

      The same is true of the recent much-criticised 2019 Pew Research Center Study on what Catholics believe about the Eucharist. The actual questions asked were unsatisfactory and not calculated to give accurate answers; and once again, those polled were not asked the reasons for their beliefs.

      It seems to me that we can learn far more from the “Why” than from the “What”. Why don’t all surveys do this as a matter of course?

      1. You are right that in some cases bad surveys can be almost as bad as no surveys. I also agree we need to know more about the why, and some surveys may only be a first step to find problems. Other more, more qualitative tools, may be needed to follow up.

        There are a lot of survey techniques, however, that could help highlight areas where there are concerns or strong views. That doesn’t mean the Church needs to change its practices or beliefs, but it may need to wrestle with why those views exist.

        I just wish the Church put more effort into this and into finding out why people switch parishes.

      2. Renee

        It seems to be common in American Catholic parishes for the disappearance of regulars from the pews for reasons other than death or relocation largely goes unremarked and uninvestigated.

        But, if you ever “registered”, you will be sure to still get fund-raising appeals.

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