A Note from the New Moderators

Pray Tell didn’t simply begin on January 1, 2010. With its first post by Anthony Ruff, OSB, Pray Tell took up the work begun at Saint John’s in 1926 with the first issue of Orate Fratres (now Worship), a liturgical review dedicated to advancing what was increasingly being named “the liturgical movement.”

In its own time, Orate Fratres was part of a larger movement across the world, across language groups, across cultures, and across churches that sought the revitalization of the church and her liturgy:

Continue reading “A Note from the New Moderators”

Vernacular liturgy and Pope Francis’ “hermeneutic of continuity”

Here is the liturgy booklet for Pope Francis’ Mass this Sunday at St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, at which he will take possession of his chair (“cathedra,” from which we get “cathedral”) as bishop of the diocese.

This is significant: the liturgy is all in vernacular, except for the Gregorian Chant Latin Mass ordinary and propers, and all the vernacular is Italian. This isn’t an international event that calls for Spanish and English and Vietnamese and so forth, though people from all over will be there. This is a celebration of the diocese of Rome, and they speak Italian there.

To be sure, eight years ago when Benedict took possession of the cathedral, the liturgy didn’t look that much different from this. Benedict began his administration in continuity with what went before. But gradually over the course of Benedict’s eight-year papacy, at the behest of Benedict or his MC Guido Marini, papal liturgies increasingly shifted to Latin. Near the end, in Rome or elsewhere, Benedict was pretty much always doing the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin. But now with Pope Francis it’s in Italian.

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In his first year as pope, on December 22, 2005, Benedict gave a very famous speech to the Roman curia. He criticized ways of interpreting Vatican II which he called “hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture.” The problem here is that the church after Vatican II is treated as something entirely new, a complete break with the preconciliar church. In contrast to this, he proposed a “hermeneutic of reform” which emphasizes continuity between the church before and after the council. He has also called this way of interpretation a “hermeneutic of continuity,” and it is this phrase which became most identified with his viewpoint.

Benedict is certainly correct that the Catholic Church after Vatican II is the same church as the one before. We don’t create a new church. We respond to the promptings of the Spirit who ever renews and reforms – sometimes markedly – the one church of Christ. But Benedict also took a sour, pessimistic view of liturgical renewal since Vatican II, including a pretty sharp critique of the supposed invention of a new liturgy under Pope Paul VI. He couldn’t bring himself to accept the “new thing” (cf. Isaiah 43:19) the Spirit was doing.

Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity” was never about continuity with the past fifty years of Catholic liturgical renewal. It wasn’t about the sensitivities of current-day worshipers or continuity with current liturgical practices. It was about establishing continuity with practices lost fifty years ago. It was about re-doing the liturgical reform as it supposedly should have been done. Ironically, Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity” meant a rupture with present practices and became a pretext to introduce liturgical changes, sometimes great changes, of a traditional sort. (Think wall of candles between celebrant and congregation, or two forms of the Roman rite.)

It was always a rather small group which supported Pope Benedict’s liturgical thing, albeit a very vocal and enthusiastic group. Most of those by far in liturgical and musical ministry saw their life’s work being called into question by the new direction under Benedict, and they had reason to feel confused or worried or demoralized. (Think new English missal.)

Most of the Catholic church, most of the PIPs (“people in the pews”), wouldn’t have been tracking all this. They don’t read Pray Tell or Worship magazine. They go to Mass on Sunday and Father does it in their language, and they would wonder what all the fuss is about around here. They would have little reason to know that Pope Benedict had packed the Congregation for Divine Worship with advisors sympathetic to the 1962 missal, or that there was talk of re-writing all the introductions to the reformed liturgical rites. For these people, it is entirely unremarkable that Pope Francis celebrates Mass this Sunday in vernacular, facing the people, with simple but attractive vestments: he’s doing what most all the Catholic Church does.

But for those of us who track what’s going on behind the scenes and what it means for the future of Catholic liturgical renewal, Pope Francis’ Mass this Sunday at the Cathedral of John Lateran is one more indication of the direction of his papacy. It is part of Francis’ “hermeneutic of continuity” – with Vatican II, with Pope Paul’s reform of the rites, and with the rest of the Catholic Church.


Pope Francis, Liturgist

There is an old joke that teases the Jesuits—that otherwise smart and nimble company—for their allegedly low standards when it comes to liturgy: “A good Jesuit liturgy is one in which nobody gets hurt.” The joke arises from the fact that traditional Jesuit training never placed great emphasis on liturgy in the way that, say, the Benedictines had. There were, to be sure, some hugely influential Jesuits active in liturgy at the time of the Council (e.g. Josef Jungmann and Joseph Gelineau) but they were the exceptions. Most Jesuits took a practical approach.

The liturgical renewal sparked by the Second Vatican Council raised the priority given to liturgy for everyone, Jesuits no less than others. They embraced the renewal. Today there are many renowned liturgists and liturgical scholars among the Jesuits, including North Americans such as Robert Taft, John Baldovin, Keith Pecklers, Bruce Morrill, and others. The contribution of Jesuits to liturgical education in the United States is significant: the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley participates in one of the largest graduate programs in liturgy in the country (at GTU). There is also a thriving international Jesuit organization of those with expertise in liturgy, The Jungmann Society, founded in 2003. More and more, the old joke about “a good Jesuit liturgy” grows whiskers and seems unfair.

Still, as we welcome a new pope who also happens to be a Jesuit, many are wondering what his approach to liturgy will be. Will it be practical or ideological? Will “creativity” be, as it was under Benedict, a negative word, or will it be a positive one? Pope Francis trained as a chemist. He spent most of his career in pastoral and administrative roles, engaging in worship not as a scholarly observer, a critic, or a theoretician, but rather as a pastor whose most passionate concern has been for the poor. What sort of liturgist will Pope Francis be?

As I’ve watched the details of Francis’s first week unfold, and read the reporting concerning his track record as the chief liturgist of the diocese of Buenos Aires, some clues have emerged. Admittedly, it’s early days, but I would say that Francis will stand in the tradition of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, more than he will resemble his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Paul VI promulgated Sacrosanctum Concilium and carried out the liturgical reforms of Vatican II with a generous pastoral vision. He seems to have attended to the details, yet fearlessly kept the big picture always before him: active participation, noble simplicity, the need for responsiveness to the local churches, as well as the legitimacy of adaptation and diversity. Paul VI refused to wear the papal tiara, that jewel-encrusted symbol of the temporal power of the papacy. He sold it and gave the money to the poor. This way of using symbol, not to lower the prestige of the papacy but to raise it by drilling down to the mission of the Church at its most fundamental level, is just the sort of thing Pope Francis seems keen to do. It’s a very “Vatican II” thing to do. Getting down to basics (ressourcement) was key to the Council.

It is also worth remembering that Argentina is one of the direct beneficiaries of the Vatican II vision of the importance of the local church and regional diversity. Argentina has its own liturgical translation; indeed the Spanish-speaking Conferences of Catholic Bishops have never bowed to the pressure to have a single Spanish translation, as the English-speaking ones have recently done. Although they were persuaded by Rome to adopt a single order of Mass in recent years, there are four different Spanish translations of the rest of the prayers: Spain, Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina.

Like Paul VI, Pope John Paul II also fully affirmed the liturgical reforms of the Council. Before he became pope, he had served on the Congregation for Divine Worship which approved those reforms. He remained supportive of them until his death. John Paul II took a lively interest in the indigenization of the liturgy, which he encountered in his travels and in the regional synods hosted in Rome. He reveled in the dancing of Africans and the music of Latin Americans and more.

Under his leadership, more centralized control of liturgical decision-making was indeed pursued, especially in the last two, very late instructions on the right implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium: on inculturation and on the translation of liturgical texts. Yet the overall liturgical thrust of John Paul II’s pontificate was toward implementation and realizing the implications of the liturgical reform rather than changing its direction. Toward the end of his life John Paul II grieved over “liturgical abuses,” yet the remedy he advocated was a deeper theological and biblical formation of the people of God. In other words, the problems as he saw them arose from human faults, not liturgical flaws.

As I’ve watched video clips of Cardinal Bergoglio washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday (a practice some US bishops have forbidden, out of a strict reading of the rubrics), presiding over a youth liturgy complete with puppets, a children’s mass with dance and clapping, a charismatic gathering at his cathedral, and so on, I am reminded of John Paul II. Like Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis appears to be concerned more about the human and faith dimensions of those celebrating than about critiquing forms or correcting the aesthetics of the liturgy.

Pope Benedict XVI came to the papacy already well known as a critic of the liturgical reforms coming from the Council. Whether one agreed with his criticisms or not, it was clear that he was a critic. In many ways, he did moderate his criticisms somewhat when he became pope. Nevertheless, his pontificate accelerated a dynamic of divisiveness around liturgical subjects. Whether referred to under the rubric of the “reform of the reform” or “liturgical restoration” or “revisionist history” with respect to the effects of Vatican II, Pope Benedict’s pontificate was known for his agenda of change in light of his critical appraisal of Vatican II. Perhaps his greatest change was the announcement, in his motu proprio, Summorum pontificum, that there are “two forms” of the Roman Rite, the ordinary and the extraordinary form—something never before heard of.

Liturgical forms mattered a great deal to Pope Benedict as material signs of continuity or discontinuity with the great tradition of the Catholic Church. I do not think it is an exaggeration to state that he held that the newer liturgical forms, at least in the way they have been implemented, are responsible for a spiritual weakening of the Church in our time. Quite understandably, he therefore sought to change them by act and example. Yet by so doing, he caused a great division between those who shared his view of what was wrong, and those who did not: raising great expectations in the former and great dismay in the latter.

I do not see Pope Francis continuing in the tradition of Pope Benedict with respect to this line of criticism. I anticipate, rather, a return to the human subject and the qualities of the ecclesial community (justice, charity) as the focus, with an acceptance of the Vatican II liturgical forms as a given, and as a gift, rather than as an arena of struggle.

Much has been made of the immediate contrast in apparel between Benedict and Francis. This is perhaps because the sartorial choices and fondness for antique vestments Pope Benedict evinced were widely hailed as indicative of a restorationist agenda. However, I would not put too much emphasis on clothing. Pope Francis could don antique vestments tomorrow, and if his relationship with the liturgy of Vatican II is not one of a critic, it will not make him another Benedict.

Pope Francis inherits a church deeply divided on matters of liturgy. Rather than bringing an end to “the liturgy wars,” the pontificate of Benedict XVI created new and painful divisions, disappointments and displacements for some, with expectations of a great revival among others. What will Pope Francis do in this context? A practical and pastoral approach along the lines of Paul VI and John Paul II seems the one most likely to succeed. Oddly enough, I find myself returning to that old adage about Jesuits with new fondness. Perhaps, if all goes well, no one will get hurt.

Evelyn Waugh, Cardinal Heenan and Bitter Trials

Ignatius Press has just published a third (!) edition of A Bitter Trial, correspondence between Evelyn Waugh and Cardinal Heenan in the years from 1962 till Waugh’s death in 1966—supplemented by some other letters and diary entries of Waugh’s, an article in The Tablet, and some of Heenan’s pastoral letters about Vatican II and liturgical renewal. The introduction, by Alcuin Reid, may be read here, and it is not too expensive to download the ebook.

Waugh is of course a brilliant stylist and good read, even for those of us who find his personality and religious opinions repellent. His pain at the impending changes is expressed sharply, angrily, trenchantly. In a diary entry he eventually accuses Heenan of being ‘double faced’—perhaps fairly, but perhaps also without due sympathy for Heenan’s position, trapped as he was between his own conservative instincts, dictates from above over which he had no real influence, and the conflicts among those whom he had to serve. At any rate, the interplay anticipates only too well the pain and conflict surrounding the new translationese and its high-handed imposition.

I suspect that Waugh was attached so deeply to the emotional symbolisms of the old liturgy because they contained the conflicts in his personality, and enabled him psychically to survive—just as Brideshead’s exotic, arbitrary Catholicism somehow stabilizes the Marchmain family and helps them cope with their turmoils. Waugh compares the Mass to ‘a hunting-field, with the priest as the huntsman, paid to find and kill the fox’, while others tag along at whatever level of closeness they can cope with. As a new convert, Waugh was drawn not by ‘splendid ceremonies’ but by ‘the spectacle of the priest and his server at low Mass, stumping up to the altar … a craftsman and his apprentice; a man with a job which he alone was qualified to do’. They set to work ‘without a glance to those behind them, still less with any intention to make a personal impression on them’.

The separation of the Mass’s ritual from how the faithful happened to be feeling or believing, the idea of ex opere operato, was something Waugh deeply needed.  Ironically, the thought-pattern here resembles Luther’s idea of a righteousness that is aliena—otherish: precisely not dependent on moral or spiritual performance. Vatican II’s changes, for better or worse, were far closer to a Tridentine understanding of grace: an insistence that it is we ourselves, in all our unattractiveness, who are intrinsically transformed. For Waugh this shift of emphasis (though he died before he could experience the full reform) was deeply threatening: an affliction wished on the unsuspecting English by ex-Nazi Germans.

Nevertheless, though Waugh was viscerally opposed to the liturgical movement, he was not blindly authoritarian. He recognised the need for some reform in the Church. His 1962 Tablet article raised questions about the Index of Forbidden Books, as well as calling for a reform of Church courts (was his own experience of the annulment procedures coming through?), and—most strikingly—requesting a clarification of the limits of episcopal authority over the consciences of ordinary Catholics. In many parts of the world,

… it is common to see a proclamation enjoining the faithful “on pain of mortal sin” to vote in a parliamentary election or abstain from certain entertainments. Have our bishops in fact the right to bandy threats of eternal damnation in this way?

Waugh’s plea here, for differentiation in the way official directives are received, is surely well made. Whatever was said about the Church as communio in Lumen gentium, we remain without effective checks and balances, at least of a procedural kind, on hierarchical authority. There is much good will and commitment in the Church, obviously—but the structures enabling and requiring us to learn from the resultant wisdom and experience, in all its diversity, are lacking. Given that absence, the Church’s government, in our own time just as in Waugh’s, cannot easily make executive acts without appearing dictatorial and high-handed. In particular, it is hard for liturgical change—at least beyond small intentional communities—to be organic and peaceful. Real spiritual harm is done to those who need liturgy to take a particular symbolic shape. The point applies to reactionaries and progressives alike.