THE NEW LITURGY
We can sum up what happened once Rome decided to give more or less free rein to the techniciens, under three headings:What the Council asked for; What the Consilium or commission to implement it did; How all this was understood and applied at national and diocesan level.
What the Council asked for
"The reform of the liturgy in the spirit of the liturgical movement was not," Ratzinger tells us, "a priority for the majority of the Fathers," and he includes Pope Paul among them. For many, he goes on, it was "not even a consideration...The liturgy and its reform had, since the end of World War I become a pressing question only in France and Germany." Neither was the fact that the liturgy "became the first subject for the Council's discussions," due to the Council Fathers' being particularly interested in it. It was a tactical move by the reform party to keep other topics from being discussed until the draft documents of those other topics had been rewritten. None of the Fathers, Ratzinger continues, would have seen the text they eventually approved as "a 'revolution' signifying the 'end of the Middle Ages' as some theologians felt they should interpret it subsequently." 255
Because of this, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the decree on the liturgy, was a relatively moderate document. As we have seen, it only laid down general principles, and to the majority of the Council Fathers who voted for those principles, nothing, surely, could have sounded more reasonable than increased lay participation, simplifying the rites a bit so as to make their meaning plainer; and allowing a degree of the vernacular. They must have assumed that all this could be relatively easily realised with some tidying up of the existing texts and the introduction of things like "bidding prayers," offertory processions, lay readers for the non-Gospel scripture texts, and occasional acclamations from the congregation. However, these general principles were all of them susceptible to degrees of interpretation.
The first weakness for example lies in the meaning of the words "noble simplicity' What is simple to one liturgist may still be too complicated for another, and "nobility" is a quality to which not a few people are blind or deaf. "Noble simplicity" then easily becomes just "simplicity." What too do we mean by "intelligible"? How does one make supernatural mysteries "intelligible"? 256 By cutting down on ceremony, beauty, ornament, ritual? By diminishing expressions of reverence and awe? By encouraging an atmosphere of cheerful bonhomie? By exposing everything to view so that the people can see "exactly what's going on"? Or do you in this way make the mystery less intelligible, even if you do not actually mislead people about it? It is the same with "active participation?' How much of it? And what sort of activity? Are contemplation or adoration activities? Or does "activity" have to be continually bodily or vocal?
As for the vernacular, given that the Church is a universal Church, and Latin has been the official language of a large part of it for something like 1700 years, the case for keeping a degree of Latin in the Roman Rite is very strong. Latin has been the bond of unity linking ages and nations together throughout the West since the late third century. One only has to attend an all-vernacular liturgy in a foreign country to appreciate how its almost total abandonment has weakened that bond.
The "open-endedness" of the principles laid down in Sacrosanctum Concilium and the wide powers the document gives to local bishops' conferences to adapt or reinterpret its more specific instructions, can, I believe, be seen as the second weak spot. Not only did it give the technicians scope to carry out a more widespread revision of the texts than would seem to have been necessary, it unlocked the sluice gates for the heterodox currents hitherto held in check by Mediator Dei to flood into the Church more or less unchecked. Attempts to push the liturgical "car" closer and closer to the cliff of heterodoxy have not been the only factor disorienting the use of the new liturgy; but throughout the rest of this chapter it should be kept in mind as a significant factor.
What the Consilium did
The third weak spot was the speed with which the new liturgy was put together. In 1964, soon after the Council's decree on the liturgy had been passed and while the Council was still in session, Pope Paul deputed Cardinal Lercaro, the Archbishop of Bologna, to set up the commission (the Consilium) to implement it. "The projects had to be completed as quickly as possible, consonant with scholarly and pastoral professionalism, lest the momentum created by the Council be lost." The Consilium was composed of prelates, with the techniciens as their advisers, and Msgr Annibale Bugnini as secretary. It was at this point that the techniciens came into their own. Msgr Bugnini orchestrated and directed their work. "More than any other single person," it has been said, Msgr Bugnini "may be called the chief architect of the liturgical reform ... he occupied the critical position on the successive bodies of the official liturgical revision." 257 In 1969, when Pope Paul suppressed the old Congregation of Rites and merged the Consilium in the new Congregation for Divine Worship, Msgr Bugnini remained on as secretary, eventually being made an Archbishop. Before Pope Paul abruptly dismissed him in 1975,258 he only suffered one setback: he was not appointed secretary of the conciliar commission on the liturgy; he was only a peritus. But the setback only lasted a year.
How did this relatively minor official come to wield such extraordinary power in a field that would deeply affect the life of Catholics everywhere for generations? The fact that he was the principal intermediary between Pope Paul and the Consilium during the work of revision is a partial explanation. For the rest, the situation is not all that unprecedented. The Monsignor, whatever one thinks of his views, clearly had those qualities which throughout history have commended subordinates to men in high stations: industry, dedication, single-mindedness, the capacity to organise, handle people, get them working together, all of which in the end make them seem indispensable. One thinks of Thomas Cromwell, Richelieu's Père Joseph, or Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins.
Together with Msgr Bugnini, the techniciens' chief failing seems to have been their unwillingness to leave anything to time and God, and their determination to push the reforms through, not only as quickly as possible, but with as little consultation as possible. There was no systematic sounding out of episcopal conferences, as collegiality surely required; and when an experimental model Mass was enacted for the benefit of the bishops attending the first Episcopal Synod in 1967, although it had a mostly unfavourable reception, it was implemented regardless. The changes were also much more far-reaching than had been generally expected.
"It was reasonable and right of the Council," Cardinal Ratzinger writes, "to order a revision of the missal such as had often taken place before and which this time had to be more thorough than before ... but more than this now happened: the old building was demolished and another was built" even if largely "using materials from the previous one and even using the old building plans." This "did enormous harm." 259
Finally, when after a period of introductory modifications the new liturgy of the Mass became the official worship of the Latin Church in 1970, the old liturgy was in effect suppressed.
This too Cardinal Ratzinger regards as a serious error of judgement. He describes the dismay he felt at the "almost total prohibition" of the old liturgy "after a transitional phase of only half a year ... nothing of the sort had ever happened in the entire history of the liturgy" Not only were the faithful deprived of a rite to which the majority were deeply attached and which had hitherto been obligatory; they were now expected to shun and abhor what they had hitherto been taught to venerate. Never before had anyone thought of "setting one missal against another?' Fr Congar seems to have been of the same opinion as the Cardinal. "I can't understand," he says in his 30 Days interview with Stefano Paci [30 Days, no. 3, 1993],"why no authorisation was forthcoming to safeguard the Mass (the old liturgy) ... I personally intervened with the Archbishop of Paris; and in the Vatican ... 1 lodged repeated requests that the two rites be allowed to stand but without success."
Not without reason does Fr Aidan Nichols speak of Pope Paul having been poorly advised.
Traditionalists, too, have a strong case in regard to not a few of the changes, and still more to the way they were introduced. But they do not, normally, pay enough attention to the history of the reform movement and the mixed nature of its membership. The aims and intentions of the men like Romano Guardini, Parsch, Jungmann and Bouyer seem mostly to be unknown or ignored.
It is impossible here to go in detail into the merits and weaknesses of the Consilium's work. Among other things it was the product of men who, while agreed on fundamentals, had different focuses of interest. "Many compromises were needed to satisfy the diverse elements." 260 I shall also speak mainly about the liturgy of the Mass since that is what has affected people most.
The first and most noticeable feature is, of course, the number of opportunities provided for the laity to be audibly and visibly part of the celebration. In this way, one of the two main goals of the reform movement was achieved. The excessive separation of priest and people at Mass is overcome. Fr Rosmini would have rejoiced.
The increased number of Scripture readings can be seen as the second greatest gain. The use of the vernacular, I believe, would have been an unmixed blessing if it had not been so total.
A third striking feature is the quantity of additional or alternative prayers and Scripture readings: three new eucharistic prayers or canons, several variant Kyries, numbers of new prefaces with many culled from earlier liturgies. Rubrics (liturgical rules and regulations) are fewer and looser. The intention underlying the large range of choices seems to have been to forestall routine and make the liturgy more adaptable to local conditions.
Less obviously beneficial are the many small changes apparently introduced to suit the supposed psychology of "modern man." Liturgists with "modern man" in mind appear to have had an aversion to repetition. Triple invocations are cut down to two, as in the English translation of the Gloria, and doxologies and prayer-endings which invoke the Trinity are frequently omitted. Where prayers from the old liturgy have been preserved, they are often needlessly truncated: for example, the beautiful offertory prayer beginning Deus, qui humanae substantiae which Etienne Gilson loved to recite. Also removed are ways of addressing God that might seem too "obsequious." To give another example, in the prayer before communion "May the receiving of your Body" (Perceptio Corporis tui), the words "which I though unworthy presume to receive" have been left out. The adjectives "sacred" and "holy" are as much as possible eschewed. This tendency is particularly noticeable in the English translations, where God is often instructed or commanded, rather than entreated to grant favours. Modern man, it is assumed, is practical and down-to-earth. Having come of age, he talks to God as one grown-up to another, he can only talks a minimum of ceremony, and his attention span for anything except concrete facts is limited. He is in a hurry as well. He wants to get to the golf-course or the beach on Sunday. Brevity has been added to simplicity and intelligibility as a guiding principle of reform." 261
Ecumenical considerations played an even larger part in the work of reconstruction. "The Rite of Paul VI contains more features of Oriental provenance than the Roman rite has ever known historically ...and notably in the new aaphoras" — another name for the central Eucharistic Prayer or Canon [Nichols, op. cit. p. 121). But there are many more changes with Protestants in view. The short Second Eucharistic Prayer or Anaphora, for instance, is capable of a Protestant or a Catholic interpretation. and has been lauded for it by a prominent evangelical. These were the changes that attracted most criticism. 262
The principal charge was that the new liturgy, particularly that of the Mass, did not protect Catholic eucharistic and sacramental doctrine adequately. And the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, the document introducing it, met with even stronger objections. The General Instruction is a statement of theological principles about the Mass as well as of rules for celebrating it, and most of its descriptions and explanations of what the Mass is so carefully avoided traditional Catholic terminology that it gave the impression of trying to promote a Protestant theology of the Eucharist. Article 7, for instance, stated that "the Lord's Supper or Mass is the sacred assembly or congregation of the people of God gathering together with a priest presiding to celebrate the memorial of the Lord."
Because of this, the new Missal's publication had to be postponed for six months. In September 1969, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, both prominent figures at the Council, sent a letter to Pope Paul with a document strongly criticising both the new Order of the Mass and the accompanying General Instruction. As a result the Pope had the General Instruction revised and added an eight-page foreword defending its orthodoxy. There were sixteen pages of emendations, but critics continued to maintain that the corrections were more verbal than substantial. The corrections, they claimed, did not alter the document's underlying ethos. 263
In fact, there had been anxieties about the way the liturgical reform was going from the time of the Council if not earlier. The anxieties had been generated partly by rumours of what was being planned, partly by an explosion of liturgical experiments by individual priests, who had been disoriented by the propaganda in favour of change. The explosions ranged from well-meant if mostly misguided attempts to carry out what it was thought the Church wanted, to straight heresy and vandalism. The Blessed Sacrament having been banished to a cupboard in a side wall or a remote "prayer room," sanctuaries were stripped, altar rails removed, statues and stations of the cross chucked out, silver or silver gilt vessels replaced with pottery cups and plates. Confession was abandoned, along with Benediction. the rosary, and Corpus Christi and May processions. Priests started referring to themselves as "presidents" or "animators" of the assembly, and in the worst cases even said Mass dressed as clowns, as Father Christmas or even as the Easter Bunny (either because St Paul had referred to the "foolishness of the cross" or to keep the kids happy). Liturgical dancing was also tried.
The immediate consequence was the appearance of various "traditionalist" movements, dedicated to preserving the old liturgy, not only for its own sake but as a bulwark against heresy. The best known of these movements is Archbishop Lefebvre's Society of St Pius X, whose leaders were automatically excommunicated when, in 1988, the Archbishop, against the instructions of Pope John Paul consecrated four bishops to perpetuate his work and organisation after his death.
However, John Paul Il has been more sympathetic than Paul VI to traditionalist aspirations. In 1988 the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter was established, under a commission in Rome, the Ecclesia Dei Commission, to train and provide priests to minister to Catholics who found the new rite too unsettling, and to provide a refuge for Lefebvrist priests who, though still attached to the old liturgy, want to be reunited to the Holy See. The Fraternity of St Peter, which has its own seminaries, is in communion with the Holy See and runs extra-territorial old liturgy parishes where the local bishop allows it. The Holy Father has asked bishops to be generous in allowing for the celebration of the old liturgy where there is a demand for it. Some bishops have been generous.
The main points to keep in mind about the new liturgy, it seems to me, are: that it is now the main authorised liturgy of the Latin Church (even if the use of Latin has temporarily all but vanished); that it is clearly valid in the sense that Mass and the sacraments can be effectively celebrated with it (the majority of traditionalists now accept this); that the Church is not going to abolish it and return entirely to a silent all-Latin liturgy for the whole Latin Church or to the 1962 Roman rite for everybody — it would scarcely be possible even if a Pope wanted to make such an about-face; that it has many virtues as well as defects; that the latter can be eliminated; and that, properly executed, it is capable of achieving the legitimate goals of the reform movement.
The key phrase is "properly executed." In a sense one could apply to the Pauline liturgy Chesterton's quip about Christianity as a whole: it has not been tried and found wanting; it has never been tried. That's not quite true: there are cathedrals, parishes and religious houses where the new liturgy is celebrated fully and with dignity. But there is a good dash of truth in this generalisation. Enough at any rate so that, not long after the Council, Fr Bouyer could write: "There is practically no liturgy worthy of the name today in the Catholic Church ... perhaps in no other area is there a greater distance and even formal opposition between what the Council worked out and what we actually have ... I now have the impression, and I am not alone, that those who took it upon themselves to apply the Council's directives ... have turned their backs deliberately on what Beauduin, Casel and Pius Parsch had set out to do." 264
Since then, Benedict XVI, when he was a cardinal, has spoken of the "disintegration of the liturgy." 265 "One shudders," he says, "at the lacklustre face of the post-conciliar liturgy as it has become." He has also said that there is less difference between the old and new liturgies than there is between the new liturgy properly celebrated and the way it is normally celebrated.
How the New liturgy Has Been Applied
What then has gone wrong? Why are so many celebrations of the new liturgy "lacklustre," or as others have put it, "banal," "secucularised," or lacking a "sense of the sacred," to such an extent indeed that criticisms are no longer coming from traditionalists but from Catholics of distinction who accept the new liturgy and see in it potentialities for good?
We can attribute some of the trouble to the influence of the surrounding culture. Western society as a whole has less and less time for, and understanding of, ceremony, symbolism and the idea of sacredness. There is nothing to symbolise. There is only what you can touch and see, objects and physical forces — and how many of us can say we are wholly unaffected by this ethos? But this is only the tip of an explanation. The Church has often had to resist cultural influences of this kind.
To get to the root of the trouble, we have to start with the way the liturgical establishment began to change during the Council and how it has developed since. It no longer consists of a relatively small number of European scholars. It is now an international affair. Each national bishops' conference and each diocese has a liturgical commission, whose leaders have become the official teachers and judges of "politically correct" liturgical thinking and acting.
The original basis of this thinking, as we have seen, had been the liturgical purism of the older generation. The Roman liturgy of the 4th and 5th centuries was the ideal; only liturgical prayer has real value; popular devotions should be discouraged if not abolished; popular participation should be the first consideration in any liturgical theory or practice. Men of this type saw the liturgy of Paul VI as the apex of liturgical perfection; the liturgy of Paul VI should be treated as sacrosanct.
The liturgy of the 4th and 5th centuries has been the ideal of liturgical reformers of this type since the 18th century, because after the 5th century visible participation by the people diminished, and with the invasion of the barbarians, Latin ceased to be a language understood by the majority of the faithful. At the same time we should remember that in some respects the later liturgy, especially the Mass, developed in a way that showed an understanding of what is happening in the Mass which was less well expressed in the earlier Latin liturgy. A "return to the sources" that excluded development would be against the mind of the Church." 266
However the Pauline liturgy was hardly in place before it was being regarded as merely a door to further developments.
Latin was already being abandoned before the Council was over, and Mass facing the people became all but universal shortly after. Then a succession of further changes were introduced at national level, sometimes with, sometimes without, encouragement from the local bishop, against the wishes of Rome; for example, Communion received standing and Communion in the hand. When these practices became sufficiently widespread, Rome would be petitioned to authorise the innovations on the grounds that they had become an established tradition or local custom. The motives behind these and other measures, which we shall come across shortly, varied. But their general tendency has been to weaken understanding of and reverence for the Real Presence, and the Mass as a Sacrifice.
The trend continues. In A Rereading of the Renewed liturgy, published in 1994, the late Dom Adrien Nocent, one of the co-founders of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome, proposed further abbreviations of the Missal including the elimination of the penitential rite at the beginning, the washing of the priest's hands at the offertory and the elevation of the sacred species at the consecration, all so that there would be more time for Scripture readings and the sermon. He also wanted each language group to write its own collects on the grounds that Latin concision cannot be replicated in other languages. Even if the author's proposals are never taken up, they represent a well entrenched outlook. 267
Meanwhile, liturgical thinking was being increasingly transformed not only by Protestant theories about the Church and the Eucharist, but by the other ideas and ideologies we have been examining in this book: the doctrines of the Enlightenment, philosophical subjectivism, Teilhardian evolutionism, Bubcr's communitarianism. 268
So as not to get lost in too much detail, I will single out the four dominant ideas in current liturgical thinking which, it seems to me, have been chiefly responsible for debasing the celebration of the Pauline liturgy.
In the first, exemplified by Dom Nocent's proposals, we see the influence of Enlightenment rationalism. According to this mind-set the primary purpose of the liturgy is to instruct. No one explicitly says that the worship of God is not the liturgy's primary object; but where this mind-set prevails, worship tends to become a junior partner. Of course, the liturgy has a place for "instruction" — the Scripture readings and the sermon. But the sermon is the only part of the Mass for which the word "instruction" is really appropriate. We do not learn from the Scripture readings and the rest of the liturgy in the way that we learn in catechism class or by studying books about the faith, where things are set out in a logical order. In the liturgy, divine truth is conveyed into our souls differently. When the liturgy is used primarily as a teaching tool, it can cease to teach.
The second dominant idea is that the liturgy should be used to generate social cohesion. The people at Mass should feel themselves to be, and be noticeably seen to be, a strongly united community. The influence of Buber in this area has been overwhelming. Of course, Christians should be recognisable by their love for one another; but that should be apparent from their lives as a whole. There should be no need to show it off in church. The spirit of worship suffers from the focus of attention being directed away from God to the congregation.
Here I cannot do better than quote Fr Nichols again. "A community sense that does not arise from the ritual celebration of worship but is aimed at, in and for itself, soon appears evanescent or superficial or both?' The best it can do is produce a "transiently benevolent atmosphere" which is ultimately "frustrating?' And he adds, still more pertinently, "like happiness, community is not produced by aiming at it directly; rather it is a vital, indirect consequence of immersion in other things." 269
Much the same point had been made long before this by Guardini. In The Spirit of the Liturgy he explains why the liturgy has to be detached, objective and well regulated, why it does not and should not provide room for the expression of personal feeling. The universal Church, he points out, embraces men and women of every kind of temperament. For them to be united in worship, the liturgy must be above the level of their emotional differences. Expressions of personal feeling and enthusiasm in public worship, he points out, are a characteristic of religious sects.
These first two dominant ideas in current liturgical thinking, that the primary purposes of the liturgy are (a) to instruct and (b) to generate community feeling, established themselves early on in international liturgical thinking as sacred precepts. The third and fourth took longer to make headway but are now widespread too.
In the third we see the influence of philosophical subjectivism combined with democratic political ideas. The liturgy is not something we receive from God working through the Church; the liturgy should be an expression of popular experience and human creativity. Each parish or community should therefore make up its own liturgy. Cardinal Ratzinger had already foreseen this as one of the consequences of a reform conducted mainly by experts. By introducing "a breach into the history of the liturgy," the impression was created that the liturgy is not "something given in advance," but "something 'made' and consequently lying within our own powers of decision." From this it follows that "in the end each and every 'community' must provide itself with its own liturgy." 270
The fourth idea expresses the prevailing evolutionism. The liturgy must be constantly changing because the people's situation is constantly changing.
It is difficult to think of a kind of worship better calculated to drive normal men and women with a longing for God away from church than a liturgy celebrated according to these principles. A liturgy that is too "instructive" is like a conversation with a king constantly interrupted by courtiers and secretaries. A liturgy designed to generate community feeling instead of lifting us momentarily out of the everyday and commonplace leaves us firmly planted in it. A liturgy "created" by the local community means a liturgy concocted by the dominant figures in the parish group. And a constantly changing liturgy violates the fundamental sociological and anthropological principle that what people want and need in worship above all is permanence and stability.
If these views were to persist for any length of time it would be the end not only of the Latin rite but of any rites at all. I do not believe they will persist, because wherever they prevail Mass attendance and vocations to the priesthood continue to plummet. They will die eventually, even if they have a protracted old age.
In the meantime we cannot assume that even orthodox parishes remain immune to them. The faithful absorb them unconsciously, from books, from the Catholic media, from the odd remark overheard after Mass, at diocesan get-togethers, or in a sermon in a strange parish, along with a host of other ideas which have the effect of undermining the dignity and nobility of Catholic worship. They read or hear, for example, that "the Church is not the house of God but the house of the People of God." meaning that God wants you to "socialise" in church as you would at a parish get-together. Or they pick up a little book on the Eucharist by Fr Bernard Haering where they discover that Teilhard de Chardin "liked to cry out joyously 'Everything is sacred!' " But if everything is sacred, the sanctuary is no more sacred than the body of the church, and the church no more sacred than the street outside. So one can behave in the same casual way in both. The consecration of churches also becomes meaningless. Why would the bishop do it? Presumably it's just a symbolic hang-over from the past.
The second reason, I believe, why so many celebrations of the new liturgy are "lacklustre" or "banal" lies in the difficulties inherent in the fundamental conciliar enterprise. In the chaotic situation after the Council how was the average parish priest and congregation to understand and carry out the required shifts of emphasis without pushing them too far and thereby endangering both doctrine and the dignity of the celebration?
Let us take the four main aspects of Catholic worship which the Church has been trying to re-appropriate or bring back into prominence.
The social dimension.
The Church did unquestionably want the faithful to be more explicitly aware of being a priestly people, or, to use Dom Guéranger's beautiful phrase, "the society of divine praise." but not that the liturgy should be turned into a social event. The principal message the liturgy of the Eucharist should convey is that what is taking place at the altar is something wonderful, awe-inspiring, glorious and different, even remote, from everyday life and things. The wrong means have produced the wrong result.
The unity of priest and people at Mass.
Following Rosmini and others, the Church just as certainly wanted the roles of priest and people at Mass to be more fully integrated and the people's role more fully expressed. Priest and people should be seen to be, and be aware of being, engaged in the same work, even if the priest is identified with Christ and more necessary for the celebration in a way the people are not. There are changes in the new Missal which traditionalists, I believe mistakenly, assume to have had a heterodox intention, that in fact had the above purpose in mind. The rearrangement of the prayers before Communion is an example. But many innovations introduced since the new Missal was promulgated stress lay participation to such an extent that they too tend to introduce a note of the commonplace, as well as obscuring the distinction of roles, even where no heterodox intention is at work. The chief example is the introduction of lay ministers of the Eucharist.
At the Synod in Rome on the Laity in 1987, concern was expressed about "the laicisation of the clergy and the clericalisation of the laity" (the clergy concerning themselves overmuch with political and social affairs, and the laity being used unnecessarily for what had hitherto been regarded as specifically clerical tasks). In spite of this, the Holy See soon afterwards authorised what had already been going on since the mid-I 970s, if not earlier: lay people conducting communion services in countries where few people have cars and there are no resident priests for long distances. According to the new regulations, they were to be called "extraordinary ministers" of the Eucharist and only used where the circumstances genuinely called for them. However, at national and diocesan level they were rapidly introduced everywhere whether needed or not, re-named "eucharistic ministers" and employed on a regular basis, so that the faithful have become accustomed to seeing numbers of lay people in ordinary clothes moving about the sanctuary in an unceremonious matter-of-fact way, doing things like opening the tabernacle — which only the priest formerly did — and handling the hosts without first having to purify their fingers as the priest still has to.
Thanksgiving and joy.
There were, no doubt, many Catholics before the Council who needed to be reminded that eucharistia means, in the first place,"thanksgiving." Fr Jungmann was particularly insistent on this point. But what we are chiefly giving thanks for at Mass is our redemption, for which the price was Christ's passion and death. Our thanksgiving therefore has to be different in style from the kind of gratitude we feel on receiving a large sum of money or an extra-generous Christmas present.
It is the same with Christian joy. Christian joy is not the same as natural or worldly joy. We rejoice in the prospect of eternal happiness. But we know at the same time that it is only reached through the narrow gate. Nothing has debased the celebration of the Pauline liturgy as much as confusion about the meaning of the word "celebration": the idea that a party atmosphere should be the key note of Christian worship — even for funerals and Lent. The loss of the "sense of the sacred" seems to be closely related to the loss of the "sense of sin," which the assembled fathers at the 1983 Synod on penance deplored.
Recovering the "meal" aspect of the Mass.
In Catholic belief the sacrifice or self-offering to the Father which Christ made once on Calvary for our sins, and which He continues to offer eternally in heaven, is made present again in time, though bloodlessly, by the words of the consecrating priest. This has always been the focal point of the Mass. For a short while, eternity and time intersect. To this self-offering of Christ, with which the people spiritually unite themselves, the "sacred banquet" at the end of Mass is the complement or fulfilment, without being something additional or accidental. In the past this relationship between the two components was understood well enough. But it was perhaps inevitable that once the Church started to encourage frequent Communion, the Communion rite would attract greater attention.
However, not only is the use of the word "meal" in this context ambiguous, throughout most of the West it has been so over-stressed that many of the faithful now think the people's Communion is the single high point of the celebration. Even when they continue to believe in the Real Presence — and polls in thc United States and elsewhere have shown that something like 75% of Catholics no longer do — many appear to see the consecration as simply a way of making our Lord present so that they can receive him in Holy Communion. 271
In the average parish, diminished awareness of what is fundamentally taking place at Mass, due to faulty catechetics and the misplaced emphases we have been looking at, seems to be the main reason why there are so many uninspiring celebrations. Far from the potentialities of the new liturgy being exploited, they are mostly ignored or scanted. The dominant guiding principle is only too often "brevity." Of the four eucharistic prayers available, the two shortest are the most commonly used. Ceremonies like the blessing of ashes, or the Palm Sunday and Easter Vigil liturgies are usually carried out in their briefest form. Incense, a powerfully symbolic way of honouring God and sacred things and representing the faithful's prayers, is in many places all but unlcnown. The reformers' hope that Morning and Evening prayer from the breviary (Lauds and Vespers) would become part of the laity's prayer life has not been realised. Only a handful of parishes have Morning Prayer as a preparation for Mass or Vespers on Sunday evenings. And so that modem man's attention span will not be over-stretched, even the new Sunday Scripture readings seem to be in danger. In France and Germany, the first of the three is often omitted, showing once again that where an alternative is permitted, the least time-consuming is the most likely to be chosen. 272
A Glance Ahead
The situation just described would presumably be one of the reasons why, in October 1998, John Paul II, after speaking of liturgical "abuses" and "grave scandals," told a group of US bishops that, while active participation of the laity should be encouraged, their fundamental disposition "must be, reverence and adoration." It would also explain why Joseph Ratzinger asked for "a new Liturgical Movement which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council. 273 Indeed, inspired by this, there is already a movement for the "reform of the reform." This does not mean a restoration ot the traditional rite, which will continue as an alternative (following John Paul II's motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei adflicta). The aim is to adjust texts, tighten some of the rubrics, and above all recover the lost or diminished "sense of the sacred." It will doubtless take time. But that is the traditional way in which the liturgy has changed.
The chief problem areas ahead would seem to be communion services conducted by lay people, and radical feminists pushing for inclusive language and women priests.
Lay-conducted communion services with hosts that have been consecrated by a priest, as we have seen, were originally intended for mission countries. In the West, where they are now common too, many of the faithful are beginning to see them as a handy substitute for Mass, if indeed they are still aware there is any difference.
Radical feminism represents a much bigger challenge since it is aiming for something unallowable in itself. The problems here began with the decision to permit lay eucharistic ministers. Restricting the privilege to men would have looked like treating women as inferior. But women giving communion makes it much more difficult for the faithful to see why they cannot say Mass as well. Certainly the radical feminists see women eucharistic ministers as a step towards their goal, and during the 1980s and '90s there were signs that numbers of priests and even bishops were beginning to side with them. Few if any ask for the ordination of women outright. The plea is made for the question to be left open for further discussion. But if the question is susceptible to discussion, it is not settled — women priests become a possibility. This is why in 1996, John Paul II finally put his foot down. In his Apostolic. Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he solemnly re-affirmed what had always been believed: the Church's inability to ordain women. In Catholic belief, 500 bishops could lay their hands on a woman while invoking the Holy Spirit and she would still not be a priest.
The main reason for this is that, in fundamental things, the Church holds that what she has always done or not done was either instituted by Christ or inspired by the Holy Spirit.
How do the advocates of women priests surmount such a major obstacle? In the main they put forward two arguments: either that, in not ordaining women, Christ was limited by the mentality and customs of his time, or that he was making a temporary concession to them. However, only a little reflection shows the inadequacy of both positions.
If the former were true, if Christ's understanding and will were limited in the way suggested, then he could no longer be the universal Saviour. It would imply that his divinity was submerged in his humanity to the point of being inoperative, while at the same time making the Gospel no longer a universal message, the same for all times and places.
On the other hand, the argument that Our Lord was making a concession to the prejudices or spirit of his times until men's minds were better prepared to receive what he really wanted to teach is contradicted by the most obvious historical facts. The pagans were quite accustomed to the idea of women priests; women priests would have been no obstacle to their conversion. As for Our Lord's own people, the Jews, he was prepared to challenge their ideas about divorce, the necessity of circumcision, and their rules about the Sabbath. His attitude to women, as we see from the Gospels, was also in conflict with Jewish custom. If he had wanted women to be ordained, then, why did he stop short of doing so himself?
The demand for women priests shows how deeply the doctrines of the Enlightenment are embedded in Western Catholic thinking. It has the same origin as the demand by homosexual men to be surgically altered so that they can have babies. Equality demands that what one sex can do, the other must be able to.
However, a Christian who wants to know the mind of God on some subject does not take a secular thinker like Jean-Jacques Rousseau as his starting point or guide. If he cannot accept the authority of the Catholic Church, he will at least begin with Holy Scripture, and it is there above all that we can discover the reasons why Our Lord instituted an all-male priesthood. Those reasons will not of course be understood by people who fail to recognise that God's ways are not always our ways, that we are dealing with a supernatural mystery, or appreciate the importance, in conveying it, of religious symbolism.
Basically, these reasons boil down to the teaching of Holy Scripture on God's relationship to the human race. Throughout both Testaments it is cast in the mould of human marriage. God is the husband, the human race the wife. Christ is the bridegroom, his people are the Bride. Having women as priests would make the message unintelligible. We may not understand or like this way that God has chosen of explaining our relationship to Him But that He attaches importance to it is indisputable. 274
Shortly after Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, John Paul II finally gave permission for women to be altar servers, a decision that would seem to have been intended to make it easier for disappointed lay women and nuns to accept the fact that they could not be ordained. Up to this point he had resolutely resisted the pressure for female altar servers since the beginning of his pontificate. 275
The pressure for inclusive language (the substitution of the word "person" or "people" for "man" or "he" when used collectively for both sexes) is another item on the feminist agenda, already causing headaches. After a tussle with the US bishops' conference bureaucracy, Rome managed to get inclusive language excluded from the English translation of the new Catechism, but it is common in convents and is encouraged in some parishes, the ultimate feminist objective being to get the pronoun "He" for God banned, or to substitute "Creator," "Redeemer" and "Sanctifier" for "Father," "Son" and "Holy Spirit." 295
However, the lay-run Communion service is proving radical feminism's most effective tactical weapon. A woman eucharistic minister, dressed in some kind of ecclesiastical robe, who recites the entire Mass liturgy before giving Communion, already seems to be a practice in some North American parishes. She then only has to include the words of consecration and elevate the host and chalice and the main feminist goal will appear to have been achieved. When this has become "a local custom," all that will then apparently be needed is the local bishop's blessing and the laying on of hands.
The Church will come through in the end. But it looks as if the battle with those who seek to deny the innate differences between the sexes is going to be as tough as the battle with the early great heresies.
255. Ratzinger, Milestones, Ignatius, 1998, pp. 122-3. All the observations about the liturgy and liturgical reform in this book will be found on pp. 122-4 and pp. 146-9. His other easily accessible views on the subject are to be found in Feast of Faith, a short book entirely devoted to the liturgy (original 1981; Engl. trans., Ignatius, 1986), and in his two interview-books The Ratzinger Report, ch. 8 (Ignatius, 1985), and Salt of the Earth, pp. 50 & 174-6 (Ignatius, 1997).
256. A German missionary bishop from the Philippines called for a Mass liturgy in which everyone present "even if they happen to be attending for the first time can readily understand without involved explanations. "This, of course, was the aim of the 16th century reformers, and the result was a change of understanding. You cannot understand the Mass without first knowing the doctrine of the Mass, which the ceremonies and rites reinforce (Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 38).
258. In 1975, Pope Paul abruptly removed the Archbishop and sent him into diplomatic exile in Iran, where he remained until his death in 1982. and where, in answer to his many opponents he wrote his own account of the liturgical reforms. La Reforma liturgica (1948-1975), a work of nearly 1000 pages. It was published posthumously.
259. Ratzinger, op. cit., p. 148. The criticisms by the late Cardinal Antonelli are more detailed and stringent. A liturgical reformer and member of the Consilium himself, he speaks of its negative, unjust and destructive spirit; its critical and intolerant attitude to the Holy See; the lack of "true theologians" — it was "as though they had all been excluded," the absence of "any sense of the sacred" and "concern for real piety;" the rambling disorganised way the discussions were conducted; and the failure to provide a proper voting system. "Normally we proceed by a show of hands, but nobody declares how many participants approve or disapprove. A real disgrace!" Inside the Vatican, August-September, 1999, reviewing a doctoral thesis by Fr Nicola Giampietro, published in Rome in June 1998.
260. New Catholic Encyclopedia, art "Liturgical Reform. "There are devout people who set criticism of the new liturgy as criticism of the Holy Spirit. This is clearly not the view of the present Pope. As early as 1975, he was writing: "For the present, we cannot go into the question of how far specific steps taken by the liturgical reform were real improvements or actual trivialisations ... how far they were wise or foolish from a pastoral point of view.." (Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, cited in Ratzinger Report, pp. 119- 120). Before the Council, Jungmann had opposed the view that the old liturgy was to be attributed in its entirety to the Holy Spirit. Unless he had taken this position there could have been no liturgical reform movement.
263. Unfortunately the initial General Instruction of the Roman Missal left the way open for the very errors which Pope Paul's encyclical Mysterium Fidei of five years before was designed to check or refute.
266. It is also well to remember that our knowledge of the earliest Latin liturgy is "a hypothetical reconstruction," and, for that of the 4th and 5th centuries, is dependent mainly on sources "for the most part from the 6th and 7th centuries" Jungmann, op. cit., p. 288).
267. Nichols, Looking at the liturgy, Ignatius, 1996, p. 116. The opposite argument has been advanced by the initial English translators of the liturgy. They cannot follow the Latin faithfully, they claimed, because Latin is so florid and modern English so concise.
268. Even Marxism left its traces! In 1983 the French Missel des Dimanches mentioned the centenary of the death of Karl Marx. And I recall a statement by a member of the US bishops' commission for the laity two or three years later: "The action of the Mass leads to the action of the street."
271. The 1920s and '30s, Ratzinger tells us, saw a learned debate in Germany about the basic "structure" of the Mass, in contrast to its dogmatically defined "content." Was the basic structure a "meal"? Ratzinger, following Jungmann, shows decisively that it is not. According to Jungmann, there is only one reference in the New Testament to the Eucharist as a "supper" (1 Cor 11:20). After that the word is unheard of until the Reformation. Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, original 1981, English trans., Ignatius, 1985.
272. See the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, art. 318. For the appropriate way to celebrate the Pauline liturgy see Ceremonies of the Modem Roman Rite, The Eucharist and the Liturgy of Hours. by Mgr Peter Elliott, Ignatius, 1995, and his more popular Liturgical Question Box from the same publishers. If every parish conformed to the requirements and suggestions of these two admirable manuals, liturgical chaos would cease.
274. It is difficult not to see a close connection between the movement for women priests and the depreciation of motherhood. But the latter should be impossible once we look at motherhood from a truly Christian standpoint. What is a child for a Christian? A potential brother or sister of Christ and a future citizen of heaven. That normally the mother plays by far the greater role both in bringing the child into existence and in preparing him for this destiny is obvious. Why then should women be discontented at not being able to be priests as well? Is there not a kind of spiritual gluttony in all this?
275. There are several good reasons against female altar servers. They have nothing to do with women being thought inferior. The first is a common-sense reason. Normal men, which most priests are. are going to find a beautiful girl or woman serving at the altar distracting. They would hardly be normal if they did not. Secondly, service on the altar has long been recognised as a seed bed for priestly vocations. But equally well recognised is the fact that at a certain stage in their development, boys dislike doing what could be seen as girlish things. This is all the more likely to happen where an activity involves both sexes wearing robes that could look like dresses. Having girls as altar servers is therefore likely to lead to a decrease in the number of genuine vocations among boys and an increase of imaginary "calls to the priesthood" among girls and young women. A third and final reason against female altar servers has to do with the theological symbolism mentioned above. The Mass under one aspect is the nuptial banquet of Christ with the Church. Since the priest represents Christ the Bridegoom, it is fitting that he should be surrounded by male attendants. This is how bridegrooms have always come to their weddings. not with bridesmaids. Women altar servers, like women priests, send the wrong theological message.
Copyright © Philip Trower 2006, 2011, 2018