This position avoids the extremism of both the radical Traditionalists like the Society of St. Pius X, and the radical Catholic liberals who risk turning the Mass into something unrecognizable as Catholic, or as Liturgy, or as God-centric. As you might have guessed, it's a position I'm partial to, and as the review shows, it's a position which the Pope supports. The reason I think that this approach is the best isn't simply that it's the most moderate: on certain positions, it's better to be an absolutist than a moderate.I just finished reading a book entitled The Reform of the Reform by Fr. Thomas M. Kocik (Ignatius Press), which assesses the liturgical situation within the Church after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Kocik presents a fictional debate between a “traditionalist” (who would like to see a return to the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass) and a “reformist” (a tradition-minded Catholic who accepts the changes instituted by the Council but recognizes the need for improvement within a workable framework). Also included are a few essays from various thinkers within the current reform movement who mull over ideas for effective liturgical reform, and a point-by-point comparison between the old and new rite of Mass.
This book was published in 2003 – before Benedict XVI was installed as pope. What is amazing, besides the spot-on analysis of our current liturgical troubles, is the direct correlation between what the reformists suggest (ten years ago) and what has actually happened under the current pontificate of Benedict XVI. For example, the author wrote that he believed more freedom should be given to individual priests to celebrate unhindered the Tridentine Latin Mass (though he doubts this would ever happen)…yet, here we are under Pope Benedict, with full freedom to celebrate the Latin without special permission from the local bishop. Also it is mentioned that a new English translation of the Mass, one that is more faithful to the Latin, would be a tremendous help…and again, here we are preparing for just that.
This makes one wonder what else that is mentioned in this book might be in store for the Church with regard to liturgical renewal. The book also suggests encouraging priests to face in the same direction as the people (to the “liturgical East” – that is, with his back to the people), an increased use of Latin chant, and a renewed emphasis on symbolic gestures. Is Pope Benedict moving the Church toward a more traditional style of liturgical worship? It certainly seems so…and I pray it continues.
Rather it's that this position, which Benedict calls "the hermeneutic of continuity," views the Holy Spirit as active in guiding the Church before the Council, at the Council, and after the Council. Now, surely He guides in such a way that reforms and changes are necessary. That's why Vatican II was needed, and it's why we need to reform some of the ways Vatican II's been implemented. But to simply chuck everything before or after the Council suggests an attitude that we know better than He does. He permitted the Second Vatican Council for a reason, just as He permitted every other Ecumenical Council for a reason. Our task is to discern, to the best of our ability, what He wills, and obey, not to simply impose our liturgical wills upon the world.
I should mention that in addition to being, in my opinion, the most faithful interpretation, and the interpretation which the pope takes, this "reform of the reform" interpretation has been implemented quite successfully in many parts of the U.S., including the diocese of Arlington where I live. Faith and Reason mentioned Fr. Kocik's four proposed "reforms of the reform":
- Freedom for priests to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass without needing special permission;
- A new translation of the Mass, more faithful to the Latin;
- Prayer "ad orientum," where the priest offers the Eucharist facing the tabernacle, rather than the people; and
- increased use of Latin chant.
Of these four things, the first two have been implemented on a broad scale. The pope clarified that priests have the right to celebrate the Latin Mass without needing special permission, and the English-speaking world is moving to a new, and more accurate, translation this Advent, as I mentioned here and here. But in addition, Bishop Loverde already permits his priests to celebrate Mass ad orientum, and while he was with us at St. Mary's, Fr. De Celles would celebrate one morning Mass this way each Sunday (he also celebrated the Latin Mass from time to time). Beyond this, many of the parishes (including St. Mary's) continue to pray specific prayers in the traditional language, from the Kyrie (in Greek) to the Agnus Dei (in Latin). Because these prayers are easily recognizable, people are praying in Greek or Latin, but they know what they're saying. So it keeps the beauty of a Latin or Greek portion of the Mass without the common downsides.
Don't get me wrong: I think that the traditional Latin Mass is beautiful, and I think that the English-only Novus Ordo Mass is beautiful, too -- in both cases, when they're prayed reverently. What isn't beautiful are those factions within the Church who tear one another down for having different liturgical preferences, and hopefully, incorporating the best of both the old and new into the Ordinary Form of the Mass will help heal this particular wound in the Body of Christ, as well as creating a Liturgy which is at once beautiful and accessible.