One of the blogs I enjoy following (more than many others), "The New Liturgical Movement", has published in their own English translation a French language interview with Fr. Claude Barthe. In the interview, Father Barthe gives the “rules” or the recipe, if you will, for the liturgical reform according to his understanding of the mind of the present Holy Father and expresses a fervent wish as to how the thing should go:
“The reform of the reform already exists in many parishes. It suffices to encourage, expand and especially raise it to diocesan level. It would be more fitting, that instead of it being done by priests at the bottom and the Pope at the top, for it to be the work of the bishops. Imagine the wonderful effect of restoration, not only liturgical but everything that goes with liturgy: vocations, doctrine, catechism, revival of practice, produced by a bishop, then two, then three, etc., turning the altar of their cathedral back, restoring communion kneeling, reintroducing Latin and Gregorian chant, having the traditional Mass regularly celebrated. I emphasize: this reform of the reform cannot be achieved without the widest celebration of Mass according to the traditional Missal. And, inversely, the traditional liturgy, to exist in ordinary parishes, needs a spirit of retuning to traditional sources represented by the reform of the reform.”
I think his description of the scenario is more than fair. It demonstrates his good sense, springing from wisdom and a lot of other virtues. Father obviously hungers for worship in spirit and in truth. Nonetheless, I am obliged to distance myself from him just a little bit. Those who know me will also know that I doubt whether the traditional liturgy part of the plan is a universal and a sine qua non for the reform. If we could get bishops and priests everywhere to adhere to the rubrics, opt for ad Orientem worship (even over the so-called Benedictine arrangement) wherever possible and face squarely the issue of sacred music as opposed to anything goes, our world would change and we could face many other liturgical matters in need of reform with relative ease.
The changes in liturgical expression over the course of the last 40 years have been brought about quite often by violence (by fiat from on high). Most of the changes good and bad which took place over these years took place at the instance of parish priests or with their cooperation. The approach was often heavy handed and not infrequently also high handed. People have been hurt more often than we would like to admit.
This explains the reactions which a zealous young priest may encounter from parishioners in his attempts to restore in his parish worship according to the 1962 Missal. It can happen that nobody understands what he is driving at or why they should trust his judgment. It wouldn’t be the first time that caprice has reigned in their parishes. This also explains how and why parishioners have risen up (rarely, but I know of cases) to oppose “Johnny-come-lately” iconoclasts with plans to dismantle an “unused” high altar or tear out a Communion rail which survived the 1970’s first wave of destruction. Confidence in their priest or trust is the name of the game and one cannot blame people for wanting to defend themselves from caprice. The people’s trust is to priestly pastoring what knowing how to be a “pack leader” is to the “Dog Whisperer” (no offence intended by the comparison).
When on August 1, 2009 I started celebrating ad Orientem it was easy: the chapel of the Nunciature lent itself to that kind of celebration; it was my chapel where I am the ordinary named in the Eucharistic prayer; it is nobody’s parish. More than a year later I am continually (daily!) affirmed personally in my choice; I think the experience has also been enabling in terms of my understanding of the proper role of liturgical music; it has certainly been enriching in terms of my own understanding of the importance of silence in the liturgy. Furthermore, I think it has been a blessing in the lives of the lay people who join us for Mass on weekdays in the chapel. At those three times when I turn to address the congregation, I now see unguarded looks which the old confrontational (across the table) stance tended to repress! People are freed up for that which is their work (Origin: Fr liturgie < ML (Ec) liturgia < Gr leitourgia, public service to the gods (in LXX & N.T., ministry of priests), ult. < leōs, laos, people + ergon, work).
What I am poking at really is Father Barthe’s scenario with the bishops, rather than priests and pope, spearheading the reform. Father, I think reform is rightly happening where priests and people together move in this direction; I think it is rightly happening at monasteries like Clear Creek, Oklahoma, that the laity can seek out for refreshment; I think it is rightly happening where groups like the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius blossom and flourish. It has to be in order; it has to be proper; it has to be good for everyone involved; it has to fit like a glove and it can.
I’d like to see bishops renovate their private chapels before they start “…turning the altar of their cathedral back, restoring communion kneeling, reintroducing Latin and Gregorian chant, having the traditional Mass regularly celebrated.” Father, it is not a matter of intervention from on high or house cleaning, but of each priest recognizing to what greater or lesser degree he has been caught up in the spirit of the times, which is not the spirit of the Council and not the mind of Christ. The bishop’s witness has to be integral if it is going to be accessible to his priests who join him for the Chrism Mass and Ordination Liturgies in the Cathedral.
Cathedral liturgy, just like Papal liturgy, has always enriched our tradition and led the way. Once a bishop realizes in his own person what the sense of celebration ad Orientem and with full respect for the rubrics which are on the book, I think his step will be lighter as he moves up to the altar to prepare the gifts and pray the Eucharistic Prayer together with the people before the Lord. He can insist his priests respect the rubrics, but I think he has to win them for everything else, including good sacred music.
There is a real urgency for the sake of the young not to lose any more time. Even so, young and old are all too convinced that this business is arbitrary. If we would not be discredited again, the scenario must run a bit like that in the Old Testament during the period of the kings of Israel when the book of the law was discovered in the Temple. It was shared with the people and explained to them. People were shocked to discover that their covenant relationship with God had been neglected, but as the discovery was shared with them, not only were tears shed but a feast celebrated for joy at having overcome their ignorance. Would that it were to be so in our lives as well!
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI