“Reform of the Reform” Priest Admits: We CAN’T Fix It!

[ Barkeep, a round for my friends, please. WE TOLD YA SO! ]

(The money quote is paragraph #5, below)


Sunday, February 09, 2014

Reforming the Irreformable?
by Fr. Thomas Kocik

IT COULD BE evidence of exemplary patience on the part of NLM editor Jeffrey Tucker that I am still counted among the contributors to this blog. More than two years have passed since I posted anything relative to the ‘reform of the reform’. Although I consider myself a capable writer, I am not a fast one, which impairment makes the demands of parish ministry even less favorable to the task of unpacking my liturgical ruminations for those who might care to know them. But that only partly explains the hiatus.

I have the impression that whatever can be said in general terms about the ‘reform of the reform’—its origin and aims, its scope and methodology, the various proposals advanced in its interest (if not in its name), its proponents and critics—has pretty much already been said.1 Although the movement is difficult to define (Is it synonymous with the ‘new liturgical movement’ or but one stage of it?),2 its overall aim was nicely summed a few years ago by the Ceylonese prelate who stated that the time has come when we must “identify and correct the erroneous orientations and decisions made, appreciate the liturgical tradition of the past courageously, and ensure that the Church is made to rediscover the true roots of its spiritual wealth and grandeur even if that means reforming the reform itself…”3

Long before Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he was critically evaluating the reform of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council, identifying those aspects of the reform which have little or no justification in the Council’s liturgical Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) and which undermine the true spirit of the liturgy.4 As pope it was in his power to remedy the deficiencies—the “erroneous orientations and decisions”—of the reform on a universal scale not only by his teaching and personal liturgical example but also by legislation. He accentuated the liturgy’s beauty, promoted the liturgical and musical treasures of the Western Church (including of course the usus antiquior of the Roman rite), and introduced more tangible continuity with tradition in the manner of papal celebrations (e.g., the ‘Benedictine’ altar arrangement, offering Mass ad orientem in the Sistine and other papal chapels, administering Holy Communion to the faithful on their tongues as they knelt). His successor, Pope Francis, is a different man with a different personality and style, and his priorities clearly lie with other aspects of the Church’s life. I am not holding my breath in anticipation of further official progress along the lines marked out by Pope Benedict, who has deservedly been dubbed the “Father of the new liturgical movement.”5

But let us suppose, practically speaking and perhaps per impossibile, that the ‘reform of the reform’ were to receive substantive institutional support. Even so, I doubt the endeavor would be feasible—if we take that term to mean the reform of the present order of liturgy so as to bring it substantially back into line with the slowly developed tradition it widely displaced. It is not sour grapes about last year’s papal abdication that prompts my saying so. Like any movement, the ‘reform of the reform’ stands or falls on its own principles, not on any one pope or partisan.

No: the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined.

In the decade that has elapsed since the publication of my book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate (Ignatius Press, 2003), which concerns almost exclusively the rite of Mass, a number of important scholarly studies, most notably those of László Dobszay (†2011)6 and Lauren Pristas,7 have opened my eyes to the hack-job inflicted by Pope Paul VI’s Consilium on the whole liturgical edifice of the Latin Church: the Mass; the Divine Office; the rites of the sacraments, sacramentals, blessings and other services of the Roman Ritual; and so forth.8 Whatever else might be said of the reformed liturgy—its pastoral benefits, its legitimacy, its rootedness in theological ressourcement, its hegemonic status, etc.—the fact remains: it does not represent an organic development of the liturgy which Vatican II (and, four centuries earlier, the Council of Trent) inherited.

There are significant ruptures in content and form that cannot be remedied simply by restoring Gregorian chant to primacy of place as the music of the Roman rite, expanding the use of Latin and improving vernacular translations of the Latin liturgical texts, using the Roman Canon more frequently (if not exclusively),9 reorienting the altar, and rescinding certain permissions. As important as it is to celebrate the reformed rites correctly, reverently, and in ways that make the continuity with tradition more obvious, such measures leave untouched the essential content of the rites. Any future attempt at liturgical reconciliation, or renewal in continuity with tradition, would have to take into account the complete overhaul of the propers of the Mass;10 the replacement of the Offertory prayers with modern compositions; the abandonment of the very ancient annual Roman cycle of Sunday Epistles and Gospels; the radical recasting of the calendar of saints; the abolition of the ancient Octave of Pentecost, the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima and the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost; the dissolution of the centuries-old structure of the Hours; and so much more. To draw the older and newer forms of the liturgy closer to each other would require much more movement on the part of the latter form, so much so that it seems more honest to speak of a gradual reversal of the reform (to the point where it once again connects with the liturgical tradition received by the Council) rather than a reform of it.

The twofold desire of the Council fathers, namely, to permit innovations that “are genuinely and certainly required for the good of the Church” and to “adopt new forms which in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23) could indeed be fulfilled, but not by taking the rites promulgated by Paul VI as the point of departure for arriving at a single, organically reformed version of the ancient Roman rite: that would be like trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. What is needed is not a ‘reform of the reform’ but rather a cautious adaptation of the Tridentine liturgy in accordance with the principles laid down by Sacrosanctum Concilium (as happened in the immediate aftermath of that document’s promulgation in 1963), using what we have learned from the experience of the past fifty years.11 In the meantime, improvements can be made here and there in the ars celebrandi of the Ordinary Form. But the road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite12—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC 14).

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12 comments on ““Reform of the Reform” Priest Admits: We CAN’T Fix It!

  1. Schadenfreude does have it moments, doesn’t it? Heh heh heh!

    Anyway, a literate fourth grader could have told them as much from the get-go.

    While I understand what they were attempting to do, and it was “nice” and all of that, it had the same effect as anything and everything else indultine – it was just the dog that would not hunt.

  2. The moral of the story is: if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it. But the egos of those formulating the changes would not allow them to give up their plans. And so, we are left with the devastated vineyard and widespread confusion among many on what the Church teaches and stands for. Beyond that Pope St. Pius V told them in 1570 to leave the Mass alone. What fools these mortals be!

    • I wonder whether the moral of “reform of the reform” would most fittingly be something along the lines of “if it ain’t fixed, you can’t break it.”

      One can still see the wishful thinking throughout that article, as though there was a genuine need being addressed in Sancrosanctum Concillium which fell foul of some ‘spirit’ which just needs to be corrected for now. It’s going to take a lot more work to get these people – that is, the ones who are genuinely open minded and trying to address the problems – to finally accept that the whole VII shebang was a set-up from the get go and that the best thing is just to dump it wholesale.

      Brick by brick, as one writer likes to put it.

      • ^ Roger that, RI.

        Misplaced “chawity” from good folks schooled only in the Church of Nice is a real bear from which to try to help folks recover.

        Liberalism is a sin. Heresy is the most grievous form of sin, according to Aquinas.

        But just try to convince some feller who’s known nothing but the nervous ordeal his whole life that the liberals and heretics who perpetrated this mess wear white, red or purple.

        • RI, not anymore, mon ami. Not anymore!

          PS: In your charity, ask your Dominican Friars to pray for an old Third Order member (moi). I still miss my Chapter but was forced out by the mod/feminists that took it over.


  3. One can still see the wishful thinking … Bingo. Just looking at the final paragraph you see his real mind come out, actually, he’s drooling at the chance to chew up the liturgy, like me seeing that BBQ place that ECS posted on the Vermont thread. Father is an evolutionist, and like his ilk, he longs for “genuine” and “organic” reforms, and imagines that he (or some eminently wise and holy bureau) can gin it up! Makes me want to barf.

    The real destroyers can just sit back and chuckle as “useful Idiots” like Father keep them in business. Since some idiots get reconverted, maybe there’s hope for him. Right, RI?

    • There’s hope for all of us. Even someone who can seriously quote a line like “adopt new forms which in some way grow organically from forms already existing” without punching himself in the face (clown nose optional) at the stupidity of such a sentence.
      I’m trying, but how one can “adopt new forms”…which “Grow organically from those previously existing”? Seems like trying to stick two south-facing magnetic poles together: they just slide past each other in mid-air.
      Typical blather more suited to post-modernism than something one would expect of an institution with such a rich history of rigorous philosophy to draw from.
      The only interesting thing about such phrases is just how hard it is to actually concoct such waffle: we must adopt a univocity of equivocal conceptual paradigms in which a hot-cold temperature can truly be said to have arisen under an exclusion of lukewarmness. (How am I doing?)

      • Then-Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote that if one can’t get the basic metaphysics right, then nothing else will be right, either.

        The crisis of faith and true worship has a deep philosophical component, about which St. Pius X warned us.

  4. Yeah, interesting thing:
    dunno how but I came across Pascendi and Lamentabili very early on in my re-acclimatisation. Because of the Marxist-Hegelian reading of Christianity I had been steeped in prior to reconverting I recognized a load of what I was encountering in those documents. When I eventually came to The Oath Against Modernism I decided to affirm it privately as it were, as it worked as a perfect antidote to what I had been filling my head with for the previous however many years.

    I’ve since re-read Pascendi several times, and it continues to strike me what an awesome piece of philosophical it actually is. I asked St Pius X to be a patron to me, along with St Chad my patron of confirmation. Pretty weird, well not really – if you catch my drift – how my journey of discovery has proceeded since then.

    • “dunno how but I came across Pascendi and Lamentabili very early on in my re-acclimatisation.”

      Sounds like the grace that has been given to us all, in one way or another, for the salvation of our souls.
      You have come to a very helpful place!

    • Awesome is a good word to describe Pascendi. If there is a single document that could be recognized for saving the Church over the past century, that is it. St. Pius reinforced the bulwark so that even an evil council and five evil popes couldn’t destroy it. He will one day be granted the title of “Great,” so I don’t mind starting early. St. Pius the Great, pray for us!

  5. You cannot fix something that is not broken-It is a new relegion. However you can easily make it to look more catholic . EAMPLE -EWTN version. Come to my NO. parrish it looks like a commuity get together endless chat, music on the cheap,women running around doing thing the lazy pastor will not do. Only time I go now adays is to viewing of neighbor who have pass on and belive me they all go to glory. I leave before the dog and pony show start.. I got away from mass there in early 70s. After one modernist pastor.There was a breif rest. When FR. G was our pastor he was too catholic and they ran him out. To many complains the lay women wanted to run the parrish. He remined them he was in charge.
    That why I go only to the TLM.

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