How a recent article on the “gift” of the Liturgical Reform gets so much wrong

A recent online article at Homiletics & Pastoral Review is garnering quite a bit of attention; and for all the wrong reasons. In a January 18th article titled, The Gift of the Liturgical Reform, prominent Catholic professor Dr. Mary Healy extols the merits of Pope Paul’s New Mass, which was promulgated 50 years ago this past Advent.

For those not familiar with Dr. Healy, her resume is impressive. She is a professor of Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Dr. Healy is also the general editor of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture and author of its volume on St. Mark’s gospel. She is also chair of the Doctrinal Commission of Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service (CHARIS) in Rome.

What Dr. Healy’s resume lacks is any specific focus (or expertise) on the liturgy. That is unfortunate because it causes her to make two foundational mistakes in her article which then lead to a multitude of errors throughout the remainder of it.

The first mistake Dr. Healy makes is that she is out of her depth on the subject of the liturgy.

In paragraph after paragraph she writes as one completely unfamiliar with the progression of liturgical discussion over the past fifteen thirty years. It is as if a journalist writing today on foreign affairs published an article referencing the threat posed by the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact. It is that dated. Its arguments and claims already refuted many times over.

As an example, we see in her exuberance for the revised lectionary (a “rich banquet of the word” is her phrase) an apparent ignorance of the many articles written on the traditional lectionary in recent years (here and here). Nowhere does she even entertain the idea that a one year lectionary is a fitting unit of time because it is naturally complete, and losing it might even be detrimental to personal sanctification, which (more than scriptural familiarity) is the ultimate goal for our public worship.

When speaking of the vernacular as liturgical language of the Roman Rite (she calls it the “language of the people”), Dr. Healy argues as one completely unfamiliar with the Traditional Mass or the resurgence of Latin amongst Catholics.

Many of us have already addressed her arguments for the vernacular, and against Latin, in article after article (here and here). The ridiculousness of her case is evident when she asserts:

“A liturgy that is entirely in Latin inevitably distances all but a small percentage of congregants from the liturgical prayers and action.

If we are to accept this claim then we have to believe that all of the canonized saints of the Latin Church who assisted in the Traditional Roman Rite over 16 centuries were “inevitably distanced” by the liturgical language of Holy Mother Church.

This fallacious argument can also be directly refuted by the thousands of faithful Catholics who are rediscovering the traditional Latin Mass each year. It can be refuted by anyone with experiential knowledge of the Traditional Mass. Please note that it isn’t a fluency in Latin that fosters a depth and intimacy with the Mass, but rather a total immersion into it. This experience is evidently something Dr. Healy lacks.

As the entire article needs to be addressed and refuted for its misrepresentations and poor liturgical scholarship (something I hope others will do), I will only mention two more topics she writes about: ad orientem masses and active participation of the faithful.

In both cases the article again fails to acknowledge any recent discussions on either of these, instead resurrecting the tired old arguments from fifty years ago. Regarding ad orientem worship, Healy writes:

“The pastoral effect of ad orientem is also not insignificant. The effect, even if unintended, is to distance the people from the central liturgical action. They cannot see the elements on the altar.

The very nature of her anthropocentric argument is the reason why so many priests, even in the New Mass, are turning back towards the Lord and offering masses ad orientem. In other words, it’s not about you Dr. Healy. And again, she writes as one with little to no experiential knowledge of her subject. Her assertions do not ring true.

As Dr. Peter Kwasniewski wrote a few years back:

“The problem, then, is not merely that the practice of celebrating Mass “towards the people” has no foundation whatsoever in the history of Catholic or Orthodox worship. No, it is much worse than an unfortunate sociological aberration…The use of versus populum erodes and corrupts the faith of the people as to the very essence of the Mass and the adoration of God propter magnam gloriam eius — the absolute primacy of God over man, and the corresponding duty of man to subordinate himself to God…”

Further, the misunderstanding of active participation by Dr. Healy represents yet another disconnect from recent articles and talks on the liturgy. She states that:

“A passive role for the laity in the liturgy in turn fosters a passive notion of their role in the Church.”

This is the tired-old-post Vatican 2 (1970’s) mindset that argued the laity must assume clerical roles in order to fully participate at Mass. Needless to say, it has been refuted many times in recent years (see here). Experiential knowledge of the Traditional Mass immediately enlightens one to the depth of internal participation, as well as the number of external signs and gestures, contained within the old Rite (see here).

The second foundational error of Dr. Healy’s article is that she unquestioningly accepts liturgical rupture as a positive development.

The gift (as Healy calls it) of liturgical Reform is really nothing more than the error of antiquarianism -rebranded as liturgical resourcement.

She sees no problem with the invention of new Eucharistic prayers and making the venerable Roman Canon optional (see my article on this topic here).

Even more telling, Dr. Healy apparently sees no problem with a 1960’s reinvention of the Roman Rite by committee, despite the fact that historical-liturgical development had always been organic: gradual, minimal, and measured in centuries.

She even spends several paragraphs noting the devastation to the faith in the wake of the Council and the promulgation of the New Mass. But, here again, she writes as one out of touch and oblivious to the ongoing-decades old-debate, only finding fault with the implementation of the reforms and tacitly blaming the faithful for failing to appreciate the changes:

“The revised liturgy is the fruit of that renewal...(a) greater appreciation for what the Council did, and why, can help Catholics deepen their love for the gift of the Mass…”

It is a hubris of the moderns to believe that we can improve upon the Mass which formed and fed the saints of nearly 2,000 years.

In the history of the Catholic Church no generation ever had the arrogance or presumption to entirely overhaul the Roman Rite, smashing the tradition to bits rather than safeguarding it. That is until the New Mass was introduced 50 years ago.

That is not a gift to be celebrated.

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