The Reformed Rites: Discerning the Lex Orandi

I’ve been intrigued by the notion embedded in Pope Francis’s motu proprio, Traditionis custodes, that the reformed rites provide the unique lex orandi for our time. For a variety of reasons, it seems to me that many of the issues surrounding that assertion have been confused. Many Catholics really do not, as a result, have a clear idea of what the lex orandi of the reformed rites actually is, nor how it differs from the rites that preceded it.

Clearing up this confusion is essential for understanding the liturgical reform. A recent comment from Austen Ivereigh about development of doctrine helped me to crystalize my own perspective on liturgical change: “The absurdity here is to fail to recognise what development of doctrine means: what comes before is subsumed in, and is absorbed and replaced by, what succeeds it. It was good then, for that time; but it has been superseded.” Liturgical development via a reform of the Church, mutatis mutandis, proceeds in a similar fashion.

In other words, liturgical development does not mean that the essential truths which the Church professed in its liturgies of the past are denied. They are retained in the present, but they are reformulated in new ways that are better suited to the times in which we live. I am convinced that the reformed liturgy does this, and does it well. The resulting synthesis thus becomes the starting point for fresh insights into the timeless truths that the liturgy celebrates and proclaims.

This is the reason why I think it’s important to unpack the lex orandi of the reformed rites: so that we may appropriately cherish and defend them — and also so that we may be led to new insights and understandings of the mystery of God in Christ. The reform was not about ephemera. It was about essential things. Therefore the lex orandi of the reformed liturgy has a given shape that is specific and valuable. Along with Pope Francis, I believe the reform is wholly oriented toward the deepening of the faith of the Church in the present time. We have not realized all of it of course, because the reform is both wide and subtle. But it is not spent. The reformed liturgy is part of the rich patrimony of the Second Vatican Council, understood not as a mere institutional clean-up or superficial reordering but as a work of renewal undertaken in response to the Holy Spirit.

In an article for Sapientia, the online journal of Fordham’s Center for Religion and Culture, I discuss this and propose four “starting points for reflection” on the lex orandi of the reformed liturgy. You can read the whole thing here.