Must there be organic continuity in liturgical reform?

Yes, one hears with great emphasis. There can be no disruption in the liturgical life of the church, no “before” and “after” the Council. Liturgies and rituals evolve slowly, like living organisms. Liturgy can’t be “engineered” de novo by experts sitting at their workdesks. “Hermeneutic of continuity” is the slogan of the day.

“Says who?”

one hears God saying.

“My spirit blows where it will, and I want to keep my options open. Sometimes I move slowly, sometimes quickly. I once inspired nineteenth-century Cecilians to throw out overnight all the orchestral Masses and vernacular hymns and revive Latin chant, and then a couple decades later I inspired Pius X to throw out the Cecilian chant and replace it with Solesmes melodies. Nothing organic about any of this. But it took me longer to inspire architectural development from Romanesque to Gothic to Baroque, and it took me a really long time to inspire Carolingian organum to develop into Palestrina.”

Not only God feels this way.


I recall Fr. Robert Taft saying to me in a taxi in Rome some time ago.

“Of course we engineered a liturgical reform like twentieth century technicians. We’re the same people who put a man on the moon. Do they expect us [and our liturgy] to behave as in 7th century Byzantine Christendom?”

You will have heard by now that Msgr. Guido Marini, Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, gave an address [thanks to NLM for this version with their emphasis] at a clergy conference in Rome. Guess which side he comes down on? The Front Office is pushing the “hermeneutic of continuity” pretty strongly. Get used to it, I guess. But raise some questions too.







25 responses to “Must there be organic continuity in liturgical reform?”

  1. Dr. Christoph Berchtold Avatar
    Dr. Christoph Berchtold

    I guess I will enjoy your blog in general. Teaching liturgy to students of Church music for more than a decade in our peculiar German situation I would wish you don’t take things too flippantly and totally lighthearted. “”Organic development ” and “hermeneutical continuity” in itself are very wholesome concepts. In my humble opinion we have to try to discover the “organic” within the various (and often quite divergent) developments. There are no different “churches” “pre-Vatican” and “post-Vatican”. If that would be the case, we would be totally lost. So, as usual, there are questions to be raised to either side…

  2. Ioannes Andreades Avatar
    Ioannes Andreades

    It often happens that books recommended to me don’t quite live up to the expectations that lead me to read them. That was true with Alcuin Ried’s book on Organic Development. In the book he looked at liturgical reform, both of the mass and office, throughout the centuries concluded that the reforms that failed did not follow organic development. His understanding of organic development made sense to me, but at the end, I didn’t feel that his conslusion was the only possible conclusion to draw based on the evidence he adduced. Another possible reason that the reforms failed was that they were either rejected by the people in favor of what came before or so disliked that a new reform followed close on the heels of the recent one. In other words, the failure can be attributed to popular likes and dislikes of the clergy and laity. Ried never showed evidence that God’s people disliked the reforms BECAUSE they were not organic.

    I don’t know if all liturgical reform needs to be organic, but those following Vatican II needed to be because Sacrosanctum Concilium said so. In one of his writings on the sacred liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger said that liturgical development at this point has to be slow because people have a right not to have their liturgy reformed constantly. To the extent that he has real issues with the current Novus Ordo, simply allowing the Traditional Latin Mass more freely was an act of pastoral charity as much toward those attached to the N.O. as it was to those attached to the T.L.M. I think that he was hoping that priests and laity who had never experienced a T.L.M. might give it a try and begin to reapply, on a grass-roots level, some of what they appreciated in the T.L.M. into the N.O.–chant, more Latin, and above all else, an increased sense of solemnity, mystery, and humility, none of which were intended casualties of Vatican II.

  3. Vincent Avatar

    I would point out that for Reid and others pushing “organic development” the Mass of Paul VI is not the only liturgical change under the microscope. Reid himself comes down very hard against St. Pius X’s breviary changes.

    Also important here is that abruptly throwing people back to something from the history of the Roman Rite (the Solesmes reforms) is categorically different than abruptly forcing people into something entirely novel to the Roman Rite (much of the changes in the new missal).

  4. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    “(T)hose following Vatican II needed to be because Sacrosanctum Concilium said so”

    Did they really? SC prescribed some specifics, and they also explicitly said rituals that were repetitive or difficult to comprehend should be eliminated. One relatively small mention in SC 23 does not a major conciliar principle make.

    Gradual change in liturgy is a pastoral value, not a theological one.

    Regarding “an increased sense of solemnity, mystery, and humility, none of which were intended casualties of Vatican II,” I’d say that point is more due to the “organic” changes in parishes, namely the changes in pastors and music directors.

    There was much in the pre-conciliar liturgy, especially the Low Mass that wasn’t terribly artistic, solemn, mysterious, and given the vestments, humble.

    If organic continuity was a real pastoral or theological issue, wouldn’t it be taught in seminaries and applied when clergy and bishops change assignments?

  5. Robert Bruce Avatar
    Robert Bruce

    Yes, as Iohannes Andreas points out, the fact that liturgical reform hasn’t always been organic historically does not mean that the reform following the Second Vatican Council need not be, since this is one of the Council’s own criteria for authentic reform:

    “…there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” (CSL para. 23)

    Was the reform that has followed the Council always faithful to this principle? I think that it would be very difficult to deny that often it was not.

    Edit: in response to Todd Flowerday, can it seriously be maintained that this is not a real principle, but instead obiter dicta, given that it comes under the subsection titled “General Norms” in the larger section “The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy,” which spells out the program for reform?

  6. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

    The Front Office is pushing the “hermeneutic of continuity” pretty strongly

    “Front Office”? By that I assume you mean the Holy See. And I didn’t have to guess “which side” Msgr. Marini would come down on…he has consistently been on the side of the Church. Which other “side” is there?

  7. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    Two things: what happens if principles are in conflict? What if the spiritual or pastoral need requires a significant change? Aren’t the needs of the Church, the sanctification of the faithful, a higher priority than a gradual phasing in of a development?

    Also, I might just as well say “I’ve consistently come down on the side of the Church.” Are we getting into a p***ing match about who is more faithful, loyal, orthodox, etc., or is the discussion about the application of *all* the conciliar principles to concrete liturgical situations.

    I might suggest, as an example, that since the nine new Eucharistic Prayers all follow the same format, structure, and liturgical style as the Roman Canon, they’re all organic developments. Yet I know some would vehemently disagree.

  8. William Henry Avatar
    William Henry

    T. Flowerday asks “Aren’t the needs of the Church, the sanctification of the faithful, a higher priority than a gradual phasing in of a development?”

    The answer is an obvious “yes.” Now, haven’t we faithful come a long way towards sanctification, lo these past forty years! Change for change sake is mindless and we’ve paid dearly for it. Should we live to see our grand children and great grand children, how shall we answer them when they ask us where we were during the war–the war against abortion on demand? Our present miseries can be traced to lack of sanctification. As we pray, so we believe; and church liberals have had a lock-tight grip on how and what we Catholics pray…and how we behave….and how we vote.

    1. Ioannes Andreades Avatar
      Ioannes Andreades

      Cardinal Ottaviani said it best in 1969:
      “From the outset, therefore, the new rite was pluralistic and experimental, bound to time and place. Since unity of worship has been shattered once and for all, what basis will exist for the unity of the faith which accompanied it and which, we were told, was always to be defended without compromise?”

  9. Gideon Ertner Avatar

    Fr. Ruff, your argumentation is specious. Who says that what the Cecilians or Pius X did was the express will of God anyway?

    I personally am absolutely supportive of Pius X’s liturgical vision, but I think his reform of the breviary went way too far and was much too quickly and forcefully implemented.

  10. Gideon Ertner Avatar

    I think it is the height of arrogance when human beings decide that they can manipulate with sacred things like that rapper rearranges cars on MTV’s ‘Pimp My Ride.’

    This blog’s name should have been ‘Pimp My Liturgy.’ I think I’ll refer to it as such in the future.

    On a more serious note: I see an obvious parallel between liturgical engineering and the cloning and stem cell-research experiments conducted by scientists on human beings – “because they can!” Like human life, we are not free to do whatever we like with the liturgy, which is something given to us by God to treasure, keep and preserve for future generations.

  11. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    It seems something of idol worship to place the particulars of liturgy on a par with Scripture and tradition. The earthly experience of liturgy is derived from these, and because the liturgy exists in part (SC 7) for the sanctification of the faithful, is a servant of that principle.

    Given the momentous changes in society in the past century, not to mention the erosion of faith in Europe because of 19th and 20th century warfare and the accompanying disillusionment, the thought that liturgy is properly static or slow-to-change is just pastorally non-sensical.

    That said, given the amount of anger still floating out there from people who want to be seriously engaged by liturgy and are not finding it, this too must be addressed, but as a pastoral problem, not a liturgical one. The reality is that if the clergy are insensitive enough to implement reform hamfistedly, or to botch the liturgy with inventions of their own making, they are not likely to pay attention if or when Rome decides to tidy up the mess from afar.

    Cardinal Ottoviani, from the statement above, shows himself to be a man of the hermenteutic of obstruction.

  12. Ian Williams Avatar
    Ian Williams

    I am astonished that the question should be asked by a Religious. As the Church’s belief has developed organically, so has her liturgy. This is not merely an analogy, in which we gain insight into a system by observing its similarities with another (though it certainly is that). Nor is the observation true because the two systems are to a considerable degree founded on the same principals (though they are). Rather, belief and liturgy are closely interacting elements of the one complex whole, separable only at the peril of both: lex orandi, lex credendi. If an attempt to change either goes beyond an organic development that maintains the identity of Tradition, then the other will inevitably suffer in the same way.

    This is no theological niceity. It goes to the heart of our ordinary experince of God, which is formed by the Tradition that has been handed down to us, and which it is our duty to pass on in faithful continuity.

  13. Gideon Ertner Avatar

    “It seems something of idol worship to place the particulars of liturgy on a par with Scripture and tradition.”

    Er… have you ever heard of the principle Legem credendi lex statuit supplicandi? – i.e. “the rule of praying determines the rule of belief”? This is in fact an axiom which has dogmatic value in the Church.

    Numerous times when the Faith has been under attack, the Magisterium has looked towards it sacred rites for guidance, since these were handed down from the Apostles and were the most conservative feature of Christian life. This was especially vital in times where there was little written theological scholarship besides the sacred rites.

    When one bears this in mind, even the most arcane prayers of the liturgy (and arguably many of the rubrics as well) are of vital importance to the Catholic memory. If they change, the Faith may itself change, and perhaps not merely in subtle and insubstantial ways.

    Surely something has gone wrong when we are now analyzing our new liturgy to see whether it is orthodox, wheras our forefathers learnt from their liturgy what was orthodox.

  14. Michelle Kate Weber Avatar

    Anthony, it’s nice to see a bit of humor as a tool for making a valuable point. Continuity is a nice idea, but liturgical history shows us something much more interesting.

    As a side note, I am amazed at how many of the comments posted in response to this blog seem oblivious to any interest ecumenical dialogue. It will be interesting to see where this blog goes, especially when those who are my own usual conversation partners pipe up. Thanks for doing this!

  15. Tony Miller Avatar

    We’re the same people who put a man on the moon. Do they expect us [and our liturgy] to behave as in 7th century Byzantine Christendom?”

    “Our liturgy”? This, in my opinion is one of the huge problems that the [“spitir of”] Vatican II wrought. It is the impression that it’s our liturgy, when it’s in fact God’s liturgy. We, in our arrogance, are taking ownership of God’s Holy Mass, and rather than listen prayerfully to the urging of the Holy Spirit, we are deciding for ourselves what is “pastoral” (generally giving in to the preferences of falen humans) at the expense of the “theological” (what God actually wants).

    In the Garden of Eden, what was the name of the tree that caused the fall?

    In the past week, I read through SC (which makes me a babe in the woods compared to many learned theologians here both blog contributors or commenters), but this is my take, as I see it. And my anecdotal evidence has borne it out.

    Now I have to do my assigned SC homework.

  16. F C Bauerschmidt Avatar

    I have long been suspicious of the whole notion of “organic development.” Reid’s book gathers together lots of interesting bits, but n the end it is profoundly unsatisfying because he never really clarifies what counts as “organic.” As the term gets used these days in connection with liturgy, it seems like developments that one likes get called “organic,” and those that one does not like get called “liturgical abuse.”

    So when celebrants 1000-some-odd years ago began going ahead with the canon of the Mass while the choir was singing the Sanctus, this was “organic development.” But when pastors began allowing girls as well as boys to serve at the altar, this was “liturgical abuse.” When priests withdrew the chalice from the laity, this was “organic development,” but when they began once again offering the chalice on a regular basis, this was “liturgical abuse.”

    I would find it interesting to attempt to have a discussion of liturgical change without using the words “organic” or “abuse.” Then we might be able to evaluate that change on its merits.

    1. Ioannes Andreades Avatar
      Ioannes Andreades

      I know that things seem that way, though the best liturgists can make a good argument as to when something is organic or not. I actually thought that Reid did a fairly good job using his “organism” model. What is best for the organism as a whole is an organic development. What impedes the proper workings of the organism isn’t. Old Testament readings have beeen used at some masses in the past, especially vigils; including them at all Sunday masses seems like a reasonable extension, especially if it helps us to understand the gospel in a new way. This is especially true when the Old Testament reading is also to be found for the day in Mattins, and the Church has been pointing at the connection for centuries.

      Having just witnessed a horrific spilling of the precious Blood at midnight mass a few weeks ago, I’m still not too sure about the way we have gone back to administering the cup. Maybe the easterners have it right.

      1. F C Bauerschmidt Avatar

        >>What is best for the organism as a whole is an organic development. What impedes the proper workings of the organism isn’t.<<

        This is a pretty good criterion, but I'm not sure it's the one Reid uses. At least in places he seems to use "organic" to mean that which happens without human planning or agency. But in that case, cancer is "organic." My point is that liturgy "naturally" changes and grows in all sorts of ways, some of it good and some of it bad. What you suggest would certainly be an important part of assessing that development, but I'm not sure that it is what Reid or many others mean by "organic."

    2. Ian Williams Avatar
      Ian Williams

      Organic development of liturgy is no more or less difficult to recognise than organic development of doctrine. Indeed, many of the objections now voiced to the former are remarkably like those raised against Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine in the 19th century. The difficulty is often one of perspective, which will be resolved with time and the formation of the mind of the Church. This is fundamentally the Holy Father’s approach when he denies the Papacy’s right to arbitrary control over the liturgy, and instead likens the relationship as one of gardener to plant, with a duty to tend the growth proper to the species.

      Development of doctrine and liturgy are, therefore, processes of growth in continuity. One of the Church’s major problems in the 20th century was a frequent failure to recognise this amongst those involved in theology and liturgy. We see its results in too many of our parishes.

  17. Ted Krasnicki Avatar
    Ted Krasnicki

    This blog illustrates how deeply divided the Church is. It is also a reminder of the deep divisions that were present in the council itself, having produced the “tensions” in the conciliar documents as manifested by the ambiguities, which today allow people a manifold of interpretations.

    A “hermeneutic of continuity” expresses the idea that if changes could produce spiritual gains, they are welcomed only if they are a natural flow or outcome from the past, such as through modifications and extensions of tradition but in no way as contradictions of the past. The point is that such changes must maintain the traditions that are divinely inspired.

    Rupture speaks of something radically new, different or arbitrarily related to the past. An example is the MacDonald restaurant style of worship that were justified by the “spirit” of the council where the presider faces the people at a meal-counter styled altar instead of facing God like everyone else. Facing East has always been the Christian direction for prayer, and it has been so because it is of Apostolic origin. It has significance on the symbolic level which speaks to the soul more directly than through reason. Surely, everyone understands that everything in life affords an occasional exception; but making the rule out of the exception is rupture. It ruptures the very harmony of the soul of the faithful.

    Of course what is “continuity” to some may seem like “rupture” to others, and vice versa, so I sometimes wonder if so many of the deep divisions in the Church today as in the past, especially concerning the liturgy, are not the result of paying too much attention to this world while not being sufficiently apart from this world. Perhaps it would be beneficial for some, despite Fr. Taft’s observation of the modern world, to attend a Byzantium liturgy once in a while just to see how far the West has in many places strayed from the Apostolic tradition of encountering God in His sanctuaries here on earth, the Holy of Holies that the faithful are allowed a glimpse of. An encounter with God is not merely on the rational level, where once everything is understood, presto, there is God for us to meet; that is why a liturgy fabricated by liturgical experts in the ivory towers may leave a lot to be desired. The liturgy is a gift of God, not a human fabrication.

  18. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar
    Jeffrey Herbert

    Also, I might just as well say “I’ve consistently come down on the side of the Church.” Are we getting into a p***ing match about who is more faithful, loyal, orthodox, etc., or is the discussion about the application of *all* the conciliar principles to concrete liturgical situations.

    I’m not getting into any such match, but suit yourself.

    The comment poses a question though: How can we discuss the application of “all” conciliar principles without an agreement on what those principles are? And the use of the term “principles” is even troubling…it seems to imply a flexibility that I and many do not see. There are conciliar documents which say some very specific things…are those the “principles” you speak of? Or are you appealing to some kind of “Spirit of the Council” here that goes beyond the actual words?

  19. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    “There are conciliar documents which say some very specific things…are those the ‘principles’ you speak of?”

    If I did, and if I were to take a dogmatic approach, I could spend a lion’s share of time pointing out the liturgical disobedience inherent in an unreformed 1962 rite.

    As for the council’s principles, directives, mandates, and delegations, I can only suggest starting at SC 1 and going from there.

  20. Randall Sensmeier Avatar
    Randall Sensmeier

    Pardon me for weighing in on this issue, as I am a humble (albeit fiercely liturgical) Lutheran. In my some 40 years of ministry in the worship of the church, it has been my experience that bringing worshippers into the presence of the mysteries of God has less to do with the vagaries of our ever-changing language and culture than with the conveyance of the mystery of what we are about. The spirituality and pastoral approach of the worship leaders, the catechesis of the people, and the sincere belief that God is in the midst of the worshipping assembly are all more crucial than our “tinkering” with the rite. How this mystery is achieved is elusive but worth aspiring to.

  21. Brian Garland Avatar
    Brian Garland

    I can’t help but think that this is one of those “devil-is-in-the-details” scenarios. I was born in 1972, so I have no inclination toward that liturgy, and quite frankly, fail to understand those in my generation who long for such. I can’t help but think that we’ve taken to the practice of romanticizing the church, that we forget what we are to be about. We worship words, we define reverence, we arrogantly claim to know that mind of God, and in the meantime, the world is falling apart.

    Today in our Diocese, we installed Bishop Rhoades as the Ordinary of Fort Wayne-South Bend. We had to have tickets to gain entrance in the Cathedral. Each parish was given three tickets and it was suggested that they given to “leaders” in the parish. Those without tickets could “watch” the Mass from a Ballroom across the street. While I was swept up in all of the pomp and circumstance, I couldn’t help but think how Jesus would have seen this. He probably would have been sent across the street. What drove the people to the point of committing him to death was his challenge to forget about the laws, love me and love your neighbor. This debate is not the work of God, for the fruits have not been love.

    “Let the dead bury their dead,” The past has already done it’s work. It has formed us and nurtured us, but it has no authority over us. It can no longer speak to us because are no longer who we were. It will never be here again. Let’s move ahead to the future, honoring each other’s gifts and voice, knowing that it is in our diversity that we are one.

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