Why the Reform of the Reform is Not the Solution
Discussions these days about the much needed Reform of the Reform of the Roman Rite seldom go well. While opinions abound, formation is often lacking. Preference confronts continuity and battle lines are drawn between those entrenched in post-conciliar innovation and those seeking restoration.
We need look no further than Rome to see that discussions of liturgical renewal are about as welcomed today as a drunk uncle at Christmas. Pope Francis recently said that any talk of a needed reform of the reform of the Mass is a “mistake.” Just the mere recommendation by Cardinal Sarah that priests consider offering the Mass ad orientem brought quick rebukes from the Vatican Press office, from close papal confidant Fr. Antonio Spadaro, and even an immediate summons to meet with Pope Francis. Everyone got the message.
At the diocesan level the story is similar. For every diocese like a Lincoln, NE or Madison, WI which has seen episcopal support for liturgical renewal and (specifically) ad orientem masses, there are the heavy-handed tactics of those bishops opposed to renewal as demonstrated in Little Rock (AR), Davenport (IA), and most recently Manchester (NH).
This brings us to the important matter of defining our objective, particularly as it relates to the Reform of the Reform, even if Pope Francis appears to reject its very need. We need to ask this simple question: what is the end game? In other words, what are we seeking to accomplish?
Some argue that a more reverent Novus Ordo Mass is the objective. Make no mistake about it, this is commendable. It is the idealism of many well intentioned clergy and laity.
However, let’s also be realists. The Novus Ordo both by design, as well as by its own post-conciliar development, is a liturgy of options. The most liturgically impoverished Sunday Mass might be irreverent and profane, but rarely is it guilty of any actual liturgical abuse.
Those who most vociferously argue for the Reform of the Reform need to remember that any parish currently embracing liturgical renewal is only one pastoral change away from a return to banality. That’s the freedom granted, both in form and in practice, of the Novus Ordo. It’s also the reason why the Reform of the Reform cannot be the solution, but rather only a temporary fix.
This is where the argument for restoration comes in. The traditional idealist says that the temporary fix is also the solution: the Traditional Latin Mass, also called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
The argument in favor of restoration of the old vs. reforming of the new is simple: there is a structure, a “rigidity” shall we say, to the traditional liturgy which permits little innovation and improvisation. Options and personality, so often the trademarks of the reformed liturgy, are largely avoided within the Traditional Latin Mass.
Additionally, innovations like extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, communion in the hand, lay lectors, and altar girls are completely absent from the traditional liturgy. In other words, those areas which can often cause the most contentious debates in a parish setting are all non-factors at the Latin Mass.
Offering the Traditional Mass also avoids quarrels over liturgical practices which have existed since the earliest centuries of the Church, but are now considered at times to be controversial:
- the very use of Latin in the Mass
- offering the Mass ad orientem
- singing the Propers of the Mass instead of popular hymns
- the use of Chant for the Ordinary of the Mass
- kneeling to receive Holy Communion
- the exclusive use of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1)
In so far as the Novus Ordo is offered with as much possible deference to these traditional practices, renewal is realized. But that’s the point as well: the new liturgy achieves this renewal only when it rediscovers its past. However, the very fact that the new rite permits the jettisoning of all of these practices at the mere preference of a pastor or community, shows why it can never be the solution.
For those modern proponents who like that the Mass can be molded and shaped to reflect personal preferences, thereby losing the constancy and universality that a particular rite should have regardless of time and place, the Novus Ordo Mass accommodates.
For those “conservative” priests and parishes who have worked to Reform the Reform through the return of traditional elements and more reverence, they are doing a service to God and man, however much the foundation is built on sand and not stone. But make no mistake about it, the foundation on which the reform of the reform is built on is sand.
I will continue to join with others to promote the necessary liturgical renewal needed in the Roman Rite. It is the right thing to do. However, it is my belief that this renewal will only be realized through restoration and not through reform.