“Of course, you know, this means war!”
– Groucho Marx, Duck Soup (1933)
– Bugs Bunny, Porky’s Hare Hunt (1938)
– Tom Roberts, National Catholic Reporter “Battle lines in the Liturgy Wars” (2010)
Well, he’s in good company anyway. HT to Christine for alerting me to this one. What to say? Well, up to the end of the sixth paragraph, I have no argument with Mr Roberts. He says:
Liturgy, the central act of worship, embodies the genetic code of the community. It holds the key to what we think about God; about Christ’s action in human history; about our relationship to the Trinity; about our relationship to each other; about the relationship between ordained and lay, between the community and the wider world. In the big picture, a lot hinges on the way we approach liturgy.
The council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is so important, said Jesuit historian Fr. John O’Malley, because liturgy “is at the heart of what we do.” He considers the recent attempts to change the sense of the liturgical renewal from the top down a serious matter. “In 1985,” he said in a phone interview with NCR, “the synod of bishops said of those four constitutions [of the Second Vatican Council], those are the standards against which all the other documents are to be interpreted. Once you start to play with one of those, you’re playing with everything.”
The state of the liturgy debate can also be a leading indicator of which view is prevailing in the equally long and divisive battle over how to interpret Vatican II a half century after Pope John XXIII first conceived the idea of the council and 45 years after it ended.
He is absolutely correct, of course. But “playing with those four constitutions” is what certain theologians and liturgical experts have been doing since 1968. They have indeed been “playing eith everything”, and it is a very “serious matter” indeed. It is because the language of the liturgy “holds the key to what we think about God”, especially about Christology and Trinitarian theology, not to mention all those other issues, that the Holy Father has said “Enough is enough – no more mucking about.”
Roberts goes on to say:
How the changes in liturgy were arrived at in the four decades since the council is significant, because the process speaks a great deal about whose articulation of the elusive “spirit of the council” is in ascendancy.
Well, that isn’t quite correct, is it? Because only one bunch ever talks about “the spirit of the council”, while the other bunch bother to read what the Council actually said. This very article gives a perfect example of this perennial error:
When the assembled bishops of the world ratified the first document of the Second Vatican Council on Nov. 22, 1963, the groundbreaking Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the tone and direction of the rest of the council’s session was irrevocably set. It is not overstatement to say that with that document, the church as the modern world knew it was changed forever.
For even with the “reform of the reform” in motion, history has amply recorded what followed the council:
• Altars were turned so the priest faces the people;
• Communion rails disappeared;
• The Eucharist was distributed to standing, rather than kneeling, communicants;
• Latin was replaced the world over by languages spoken by the people;
• The liturgy was seen as intimately connected to what takes place outside the sanctuary walls, particularly regarding issues of social justice;
• In a deeper change, an understanding of Christ’s humanity took its place in a profound way in the Mass alongside reverence for the divinity of Christ, and there was a shift in emphasis from a vertical relationship with God to a more horizontal relationship to God in the community;
• Perhaps most important for average churchgoers, everyone became participants, and not simply passive observers, in the eucharistic celebration.
As described by the late Benedictine Fr. Godfrey Diekmann of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., one of 55 international liturgists who helped write the document, “It was a Magna Carta of the laity.”
“But sir, please sir!”
Yes, I know, Johnny. The Constitution on the Sacred liturgy says diddly squat on any of those issues. At least the first four are completely absent from the document, the next two are a question of gross misinterpretation, and the last is a misunderstanding of what the Council meant by “participation”, but we will let that pass. As for Sacrosanctum Concilium being the “magna carta of the laity”, there is this comment in Fred McManus’ foreword to the Kathleen Hughes’ biography of Deikman “A Monk’s Tale”:
As soon as the Constitution on the Liturgy was published in 1963, Godfrey (and I) regretted how few were its direct references to the total mission of the Church in its context of Christian communal holiness and worship. In a way, Sacrosanctum Concilium is a “churchy” document, perhaps inevitably so because of its explicity goal of Roman liturgical reform within the life of the Catholic people. It is necessary to hunt down the few mentions of the apostolic and social dimension of the celebration of the mysteries as these are part of the total life of the church, part of the liturgical committment of faith that is made in text and rite. (A Monk’s tale, page xii)
What he is saying is, effectively, that the Constitution on the Liturgy was not quite the radical document Tom Roberts wants you to believe it was.
Roberts pounces on a comment made by the the Fr Ratzinger, to the effect that the “fundamental innovation” of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was that “for the first time…the conferences of bishops [were assigned] their own canonical ahority”, a fact which “has more significance for the theology of the episcopacy and for the long-desired strengthening of episcopal power than anything in the Constitution on the Church itself”. So the argument now turns to one of Vatican centralisation vs. national conferences, where Roberts portrays Liturgiam Authenticam and the dissolution of ICEL as an attack upon American Sovereignty akin to 9/11. Poor Roberts doesn’t seem to realise or care that other people in the world speak English too – and that English speaking lay Catholics the world over have the right to have an accurate and beautiful translation of the liturgy of the Latin Rite.
But upsetting some old Yankee bishops isn’t the worst sin of “the liturgy wars”. Next, Roberts asks us to give some thought for the “the accumulated anger and disappointment among many liturgical experts”. My heart bleeds. Roberts also reports that Georgetown University professor John O’Malley complains that “they don’t listen to liturgists” and “the professional liturgists have been elbowed out”. Someone call the Church police…
Roberts says the “new translations being imposed on the English-speaking Catholic”. “Imposed”? Well, yes, I guess they are. Just as the rites and texts of the liturgy are always “imposed” upon the Church – or rather, given as a gift by the Church to the Church. And as for translations, are you telling me the 1970 translation wasn’t “imposed on the English-speaking Catholic”? Come on. Even some of us who can’t remember what happened then are still able to read the history books and hear from people who did experience the imposition. But Roberts wants you to believe that the 1970 translations were the result of “a widely consultative process that went on under the guidance of English-speaking bishops from around the world and liturgical and scriptural experts for more than 30 years” whereas “the reform of the reform” resulted from “a secret Vatican meeting in 1997”. Purrleeease. Between the end of the Council and the imposition of the 1970 translation was only five years – seven if you count from the date of the publication of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Even if we take the “Reform of the Reform” to have started in 1997 (and I think it was actually started a bit before that, but lets not quibble), that makes 14 years of consultation and scholarship, built upon 40 years of experience of vernacular liturgy (both its triumphs and its failures). And this time the translations were directly prepared and scrutinised by the all the Bishops Conferences of the English speaking world, as opposed to a handful of “experts” in a US dominated ivory tower committee.
Just as the article began with a half dozen paragraphs to which I can wholly assent, so they end with a paragraph to which we can all agree:
Can the factions that fought, sometimes bitterly, come together in the future in the kind of unity the liturgy begs? Benedictine Sr. Mary Collins, a liturgist and professor emeritus at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said, “I do think there needs to be a change of heart running through the whole ecclesial body.” A reality in the church today, she said, “is that we are still in the winners-and-losers game. I think unless the church can get beyond that, we can’t tell ourselves we’re responding to the call of the Holy Spirit.”
Yes, a change of heart is exactly what we need if “war” is to be averted.