Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ratzinger Book Review Offers Keen Insights Into Liturgical Reform

"Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age."

From :

It is important, in this connection, to interpret the "substantial continuity" correctly. The author expressly warns us against the wrong path up which we might be led by a neo-scholastic sacramental theology which is disconnected from the living form of the Liturgy. On that basis, people might reduce the "substance" to the matter and form of the sacrament, and say: Bread and wine are the matter of the sacrament, the words of institution are its form. Only these two things are really necessary, everything else is changeable. At this point Modernists and Traditionalists are in agreement: As long as the material gifts are there, and the words of institution are spoken, then everything else is freely disposable. Many priests today, unfortunately, act in accordance with this motto; and the theories of many liturgists are unfortunately moving in the same direction. They want to overcome the limits of the rite, as being something fixed and immovable, and construct the products of their fantasy, which are supposedly 'pastoral,' around this remnant, this core which has been spared, and which is thus either relegated to the realm of magic, or loses any meaning whatever. The Liturgical Movement had in fact been attempting to overcome this reductionism, the product of an abstract sacramental theology, and to teach us to understand the Liturgy as a living network of tradition which had taken concrete form, which cannot be torn apart into little pieces, but has to be seen and experienced as a living whole. Anyone like myself, who was moved by this perception in the time of the Liturgical Movement on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, can only stand, deeply sorrowing, before the ruins of the very things they were concerned for.

I should like just briefly to comment on two more perceptions which appear in Dom Alcuin Reid's book. Archaeological enthusiasm and pastoral pragmatism -- which is in any case often a pastoral form of rationalism -- are both equally wrong. These two might be described as unholy twins. The first generation of liturgists were for the most part historians. Thus they were inclined to archaeological enthusiasm: They were trying to unearth the oldest form in its original purity; they regarded the liturgical books in current use, with the rites they offered, as the expression of the rampant proliferation through history of secondary growths which were the product of misunderstandings and of ignorance of the past. People were trying to reconstruct the oldest Roman Liturgy, and to cleanse it of all later additions. A great deal of this was right, and yet liturgical reform is something different from archaeological excavation, and not all the developments of a living thing have to be logical in accordance with a rationalistic or historical standard. This is also the reason why -- as the author quite rightly remarks -- the experts ought not to be allowed to have the last word in liturgical reform. Experts and pastors each have their own part to play (just as, in politics, specialists and decision-makers represent two different planes). The knowledge of the scholars is important, yet it cannot be directly transmuted into the decisions of the pastors, for pastors still have their own responsibilities in listening to the faithful, in accompanying with understanding those who perform the things that help us to celebrate the sacrament with faith today, and the things that do not. It was one of the weaknesses of the first phase of reform after the Council that to a great extent the specialists were listened to almost exclusively. A greater independence on the part of the pastors would have been desirable.

Because it is often all too obvious that historical knowledge cannot be elevated straight into the status of a new liturgical norm, this archaeological enthusiasm was very easily combined with pastoral pragmatism: People first of all decided to eliminate everything that was not recognised as original, and was thus not part of the "substance", and then supplemented the "archaeological remains," if these still seemed insufficient, in accordance with "pastoral insights." But what is "pastoral"? The judgements made about these questions by intellectual professors were often influenced by their rationalist presuppositions, and not infrequently missed the point of what really supports the life of the faithful. Thus it is that nowadays, after the Liturgy was extensively rationalised during the early phase of reform, people are eagerly seeking after forms of solemnity, looking for "mystical" atmosphere and for something of the sacred. Yet because -- necessarily, and more and more clearly -- people's judgements as to what is pastorally effective are widely divergent, the "pastoral" aspect has become the point at which "creativity" breaks in, destroying the unity of the Liturgy and very often confronting us with something deplorably banal. That is not to deny that the eucharistic Liturgy, and likewise the liturgy of the Word, is often celebrated reverently, and "beautifully" in the best sense, on the basis of people's faith. Yet since we are looking for the criteria of reform, we do also have to mention the dangers, which unfortunately in the last few decades have by no means remained just the imaginings of those traditionalists opposed to reform.

I should like to come back to the way that worship was presented, in a liturgical compendium, as a "project for reform," and thus as a workshop in which people are always busy at something. Different again, and yet related to this, is the suggestion by some Catholic liturgists that we should finally adapt the liturgical reform to the "anthropological turn" of modern times, and construct it in an anthropocentric style. If the Liturgy appears first of all as the workshop for our activity, then what is essential is being forgotten: God. For the Liturgy is not about us, but about God. Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age. As against this, the Liturgy should be setting up a sign of God's presence. Yet what is happening, if the habit of forgetting about God makes itself at home in the Liturgy itself, and if in the Liturgy we are only thinking of ourselves? In any and every liturgical reform, and every liturgical celebration, the primacy of God should be kept in view first and foremost.