“IRREVERSIBLE”? UPDATED

By Fr. John Hunwicke, 24 August 2017

“After this Magisterium, after this long journey, we can affirm with certainty and with Magisterial authority that the Liturgical Reform is irreversible”.

This sort of thing has the capacity to upset people; even to make them panic. And, true, there is a dash of “I’m the Big Magisterial Boy in the Playground and I can make facts happen just with one little word” in the way this rather unappealing man expresses himself. But I think panic is quite unnecessary, and is even an unfair overreaction to what he has actually said.

“Irreversible”. Pope Pius XII rightly condemned ‘liturgical archaeologism’. Of course you cannot reverse liturgical development. Nobody has ever done that, in the course of these two millennia. But the liturgical texts and practices established after the Council are themselves not immutable. If a papal instruction, such as that of S Pius V in Quo primum, was in itself subject to change … and Bergoglio seems to assume that it was changeable … then clearly what Blessed Paul VI did, and what the current occupant of the Roman See now says … are themselves changeable; they cannot be set in stone for ever.

Pope Francis has exactly as much papal authority as S Pius V. He does not have a milligram less.

And he does not have a milligram more.

And if it was acceptable (the Holy Father seems to assume that it was) for ‘experts’, in the decades before the Council, to explain at great length what (in their view) was wrong with the Liturgy as it then existed …

… then it acceptable now for us to explain, at any length we like, what (in our view) is wrong with the Liturgy as it is done now in so many places.

Geese and ganders.

Pope Bergoglio is absolutely right. Liturgy is not reversible. Nobody can magic the Catholic Church back to how it was in 1962. Or in 1939. Or any other time. Liturgy will go on. Two of the ways in which it seems to be going on are the continuing reappropriation of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. And an increasing tendency to do the Ordinary Form with more reverence for Tradition.

Exemplum: When Vincent Nichols became Archbishop of Westminster, there was an instantaneous change. The unworthy little table on wheels, which had stood in the middle of the Sanctuary of his Cathedral Church, was wheeled right away, and the original, central, noble High Altar, symbol of Christ, was restored to use. Apparently Archbishop Nichols did not regard the 1970s ‘coffee table’ fad as “irreversible”. [In fact, Pope Francis has celebrated versus Orientem in the Sixtine Chapel.]

All over the world, cathedral and church sanctuaries are being freed from the worst of the mistakes of the 1970s. And Pope Francis, in his latest address, includes a fine section explaining the importance of this instinctive respect for the Altar. (Might it perhaps have been written for him by Cardinal Sarah?) And, while I am on this subject, I will remind you of the Holy Father’s Address at the general audience of August 2, when he spoke about the liturgical significance of facing East. He lamented that “in modern times, the fascination of this rite [facing East in Baptism] has been partially lost: we have lost sensitivity to the language of the cosmos”. (Might he perhaps have listened to Cardinal Sarah?) Traddies should not always too readily assume that everything Jorge says is the blackest villainy.

And the Extraordinary Form is in cultural (rather than rubrical) ways rather different now from how it was before the Council (in the 1950s, I was in my teens). It is no longer performed in a hurried, perfunctory, slipshod way. The congregation no longer packs the back of the church because it is in such a hurry to escape at the very earliest possible moment. Among both celebrants and congregations, at the Extraordinary Form there is a wonderful sense of freshness and of wonder, which is certainly lacking in many of the ‘mainstream’ churches, with their sluggish and infantilised congregations, their frightful music, their unworthy homilies.

Are the 1962 liturgical books immutable? They are certainly not so regarded by many who most enthusiastically attend them. Over the last couple of decades, increasing numbers of groups have restored the pre-Pius XII Holy Week ceremonies. Just as the Novus Ordo recovered euchological texts drawn from early sacramentaries and brought them back into use, so the Vetus Ordo will naturally do something similar. It will not, because it cannot, remain static.

There is, indeed, nothing sacrosanct about ‘1962’; Benedict XVI appears to have selected that particular edition and recension of the Roman Rite mainly because it was what Archbishop Lefebvre had done earlier. I would like to see, not a wholesale and block and doctrinaire restoration of the texts or practices of any particular year in the past, but the further sensitive and unhurried and judicious evolution of the Old Rite.

I have already mentioned Holy Week. I will add: the restoration of more vigils and octaves; and (at least for doubles of the Second Class) the restoration of First Vespers.

I also think we should follow the SSPX French Ordo in providing for the use of the so-called ‘Gallican’ Prefaces. And  we could borrow from the Novus Ordo the permission, on lots of ordinary weekdays, either to commemorate a Saint or to observe the Feria.

If I am making a general point, it is this: rather than digging our heels in and nervously crying “Not an inch”, we should let the classical Roman Rite shine ever more gloriously, attracting yet more people (not least, the young) to it by its eternal youth and its irrepressible virility and vigour.

And we should take up the powerful hint which our Holy Father is surely giving us: that Summorum Pontificum is “irreversible”.

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Fr John Hunwicke  was for nearly three decades at Lancing College; where he taught Latin and Greek language and literature, was Head of Theology, and Assistant Chaplain. He has served three curacies, been a Parish Priest, and Senior Research Fellow at Pusey House in Oxford. He is now incardinated into the Personal Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. The opinions expressed on this Blog are not asserted as being those of the Magisterium of the Church, but as the writer’s opinions as a private individual. Nevertheless, the writer strives, hopes, and prays that the views he expresses are conformable with and supportive of the Magisterium. Nothing on this site is to be taken as representing the views of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham, of its Ordinary, or of any part of it.

 

http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/irreversible.html