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Shawn Tribe: “I am Ultimately a Restorationist.”

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The following reflection was recently shared by Mr. Shawn Tribe, Founder and former Editor of the must-read website New Liturgical Movement. Weighing into the current debate over liturgical reform versus restoration in the Roman Rite, Mr. Tribe is always insightful while never resorting to polemics. His is a much needed voice in this discussion. The following is presented with his permission.

The recent essay by Martin Mosebach in First Things reminds me of how I was often asked whether I am, at heart, a liturgical “restorationist” or “reformist” (i.e. reform of the reform). Of course, for over 8 years on NLM, I promoted both movements because I see no conflict between them.

But to answer the question, I have no qualms about stating that I am ultimately a restorationist. There are a few reasons for this.

For one, what we are talking about here is an immemorial liturgical rite (rites actually since I would include in my thoughts the other Western rites/uses as well) that shaped Western civilization, and another which is essentially a modern fabrication by committee. To ask me which is liturgically superior then is a bit like asking whether one ought prefer high culture to pop culture, literary classics to pulp fiction.

Aside from the inherent strength and value of the ancient liturgical traditions, my position here is also driven by the fact that, by contrast, the modern liturgical books are fraught with problems. These problems are not simply manifest in the externals of the liturgy as often celebrated, nor simply in how that liturgy was produced (which itself is no small thing), but are inherent to the substance of the missal itself. One need only think of how the collects were redacted, the calendar modified, the over-abundance of options that destabilize the rite, etc.

This might all seem strange coming from someone who also promoted (and promotes) the reform of the reform, but whether it is strange depends upon how you perceive the reform of the reform I think.

For me, the reform of the reform is a phase leading toward the re-establishment of the ancient liturgical tradition — rather than being an end unto itself. I believe this phase is necessary both as a short term stop gap and also as a gradualistic means of leading people back toward the ancient liturgical forms — working hand in hand with the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, in this same regard.

Of course, I should qualify here that when I say I am a “restorationist” this shouldn’t be confused with being an immobilist. The goal, as I see it, is to restore the ancient liturgical forms and allow the natural course of organic liturgical development to resume, not rather to freeze liturgical time so to speak.

In that regard a restoration of the ancient liturgical rites and uses could include, in my estimation at least, the introduction of some moderate measure of (hieratic) vernacular for example — e.g. the readings or propers. For that matter, it could also re-evaluate certain mid-20th century reforms under Pius XII.

Likewise, this recovery should seek to avoid past mistakes that did not serve the ancient rites well, encouraging good ars celebrandi, the promotion of the Divine Office in the parish and domestic setting, and the recovery of the higher liturgical forms (the Missa Cantata and Missa Solemnis).

All of this might seem unattainable and ivory tower thinking to some I suppose, but I think it important to set such goals. But for those who imagine this is just a dream which cannot possibly come to pass, I’d remind you that the liturgical rupturists and innovators likely felt similarly about their own goals and initiatives — and yet look at what happened.

Think big and work accordingly.

(Follow Shawn Tribe on Facebook for more of his liturgical insights).

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