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To prevent a liturgical tug of war, bishop urges, 'teach, teach, teach'

NCR Staff

When Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., recently addressed the Notre Dame Pastoral Liturgy Conference, he used his platform to issue a strong warning. Catholic liturgists, he said, will have to "teach, teach, teach" if they hope to counter a growing conservative movement striking at the very heart of the liturgical renewal rooted in the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s.

In a mid-June talk that captured attention around the country, Trautman decried the "reform the reform" movement led by powerful U.S. conservatives as "a sophisticated applying of the brakes to liturgical renewal and an attempt to return to a liturgy that looks more like that before the council."

The liturgy conference, held at the University of Notre Dame, is an important annual gathering for U.S. Catholic liturgists.

In the background of this year's meeting was a national mailing from Adoremus, a primary exponent of "reform the reform." (Adoremus is Latin for we adore.) In a letter dated April 25, the organization announced plans to set up a policing system for "liturgical abuses" -- that is, a plan to "document and report abuses to the proper authorities" when priests or parishes deviate from official rubrics.

Bishop Trautman is deeply concerned about such efforts. "Do we hear important voices in the church calling us back to a liturgical theology and practice" that predates the Second Vatican Council, he asked. "Serious articles and books have recently appeared challenging the reform and restoration of the liturgy realized at Vatican II."

If unchecked, Trautman said, conservatives could transform the liturgical renewal of the past three decades into "a dinosaur."

The full name of the "reform the reform" group is Adoremus: Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. (The lingo gets confusing because "renewal" has been the word in use for more than 30 years by liturgists implementing the official Vatican II reform.)

Among "abuses" the group is seeking to correct is priests and readers ad-libbing, and such deviations from standard U.S. norms as standing rather than kneeling during the eucharistic prayer. For example, in some parishes, priests and readers substitute gender-neutral language for official language in lectionaries and sacramentaries, and some liturgists strongly prefer having the assembly stand rather than kneel during the eucharistic prayer, feeling that it better reflects the Second Vatican Council's call for the "full, conscious, active participation" of the worshiping assembly in the liturgy (which derives from Greek leitourgous, "act of the people").

In an interview with NCR, Trautman denounced Adoremus' plan to report alleged abuses. "I would think their own report would call them into question. Look at the televised Mass of Mother Angelica," he said, referring to the Eternal Word Television Network, where "reform the reformers" find a sympathetic forum. Trautman said violations of official rubrics on the network include nuns prostrating themselves during the eucharistic prayer, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament "covered only by a veil" during televised Masses and "a hybrid Mass with English and Latin."

Adoremus is based in Arlington, Va. Members of its executive committee are Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio of San Francisco, Helen Hull Hitchcock of St. Louis and Fr. Jerry Pokorsky, founder of CREDO, an organization of priests interested in translations of liturgical texts. Fessio is said to have the ear of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger has recently shown strong interest in the liturgy, criticizing the form it has taken since the Second Vatican Council.

Among proposals advanced by "reform the reform" advocates -- proposals Trautman described as "alarming" -- are six listed by Fr. Brian Harrison in a series of articles that appeared in the Adoremus bulletin in 1995 and early 1996, all representing a partial return to pre-Vatican II styles:

  • Reciting the eucharistic prayer in Latin rather than in English.
  • Eliminating the optional forms of the eucharistic prayers in the official lectionary and allowing only the first choice, the preconciliar form, also known as the Roman canon.
  • Restricting communion to one species (for example, the host and not the cup).
  • Having the priest and people face the same direction during the eucharistic liturgy.
  • Using two scripture readings instead of three.
  • Barring women from liturgical ministries.

For the moment, though, Adoremus' goals are simpler. In the April letter announcing the policing plan, the organization said it wanted to help bishops "fulfill their solemn obligation" under Canon 392.2 in the church's code of canon law "to be watchful lest abuses creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the saints."

Five groups

While they vary widely in the liturgical changes they seek, conservatives, along with many liberal Catholics, are united in being dissatisfied to a greater or lesser degree with Catholic liturgy as presently celebrated in many parishes. Trautman said that unless liturgists stop talking to one another in professional journals and books and begin getting their message to the people, that dissatisfaction could feed the conservative movement. He warned against "simplistic approaches that call us back to an era that has passed.

"We must become more proactive, more aggressive, writing articles and speaking out in public forums, so that liturgical reform may be properly understood," he said. "The people in the pews are not getting an accurate message" but are "being alarmed by extremist voices which continue to blame all the ills of the contemporary church on the changes in the liturgy."

Although the movement Trautman decries is less conservative and considerably newer on the scene than the more extreme group that favors a return to the Tridentine Mass, it is generally conceded to be more powerful. In an article in America magazine's Nov. 30 issue last year, Msgr. M. Francis Mannion listed "reform the reform" among five groups promoting an agenda for Catholic worship.

The mainstream group is the one advancing what Mannion called the "official reform." It consists of the U.S. bishops' Committee on the Liturgy and professional liturgists from the staffs of bishops' conferences, as well as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy -- ICEL -- which oversees translation in English-speaking countries. Professional liturgists and scholars affiliated with this movement have been working for the past three decades to implement the Second Vatican Council's "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy."

At the two extremes of the conflict are traditionalists, to the right of "reform the reform," who want a return to the Tridentine Mass -- the Latin Mass based on the 16th century Council of Trent. On the left are progressives, including some feminists, who want a less centralized liturgy -- a plurality of "inculturated" celebrations reflecting diverse ethnic and cultural styles.

Mannion himself represents a fifth group, the Society of Catholic Liturgy, which favors a process of "recatholicizing worship": accepting the present "official reform," calling a halt for the time being to any further structural changes, and focusing on plumbing the liturgy's spiritual depths with better music, architecture and art.

Driving the "reform the reform" movement, along with leaders of Adoremus and some speakers on Mother Angelica's EWTN, are Msgr. Klaus Gamber's book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy (English translation by Una Voce Press, 1993) and Helen Hitchcock's Politics of Prayer (Ignatius Press, 1992). Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press in San Francisco, has spoken on liturgical matters at gatherings of conservative Catholics, such as the Call to Holiness conference in Lincoln, Neb., in mid-May (NCR, May 30).

Cardinal Ratzinger has given official impetus, arguing in recent writings that the post-Vatican II liturgy is a mutation rather than an "organic" evolution of the preconciliar Mass. In a book published in German in 1995, Ratzinger said that while Vatican II's constitution on the liturgy had "laid the foundations" for reform, the way the liturgy developed in its "concrete details" was open to a variety of interpretations. "That sacred synod was an open beginning whose broad parameters permitted a number of concrete realizations," he wrote.

The translated title of Ratzinger's book is A New Life in the Lord: Christian Life and Liturgy Today. A chapter was published in the Adoremus bulletin late last year.

St. Joseph Sr. Eleanor Burnstein, director of the Notre Dame Center of Pastoral Liturgy, which sponsors the conference where Trautman spoke, strongly seconded the bishop's concerns about "reform the reform."

"We are in the middle of real change," Burnstein said. "It's never an easy, seamless thing. That new vision of church which is expressed in the [post-Vatican II] liturgy is frightening to many people, but there are many, I hope, in the majority who find this new church life-giving and energizing."

Gabe Huck, director of Liturgy Training Publications, which publishes liturgical texts and other liturgy-related materials, acknowledges that many lack enthusiasm for the official liturgy as celebrated in many parishes but disagrees with conservatives over proposed solutions. Like many involved in the ongoing liturgical renewal, Huck says the problem is not that it's gone too far, but that it hasn't gone far enough.

It's too soon to say the liturgical renewal since Vatican II is inadequate, he said, "because we have not created places where it is happening habitually. We have stopped in this country at a point where people are left an audience" -- a different kind of audience than before Vatican II, he said, but an audience nevertheless.

"We're still groping" when it comes to liturgical renewal, Huck said. "If it's taking root at all, it's happening very slowly. When people say liturgy in some parishes is 'shallow,' I say they're absolutely right. But we're not going to fix it with Latin hymns. It's always a temptation to get caught up in reacting," when what's needed, he said, is "the hard, hard task of being faithful to the council."

Trautman echoed those views. "We do not need to reform the reform," Trautman said at Notre Dame. "We need to revitalize the reform." He added, "Those advocating a reform of the reform have prevailed in high places. Liturgists have been too complacent. Liturgists need to retake the high ground."

Trautman told NCR, "I think liturgists have to be more courageous in their teaching. I'm concerned that we're losing ground. We need a concerted effort to get back to the movement of the Holy Spirit at Vatican II that breathed new life into the church. It's a question of accepting the legitimacy of Vatican II and taking it into the millennium."

Issues go deeper

So far, the most publicized part of the battle over the liturgy has been over the language of liturgical texts -- the lectionary, which contains the biblical readings, and the sacramentary, which contains the prayers. Trautman has been an outspoken leader of U.S. bishops who favor eliminating or changing what some women regard as sexist language in biblical readings and prayers (NCR, July 4). The "reform the reform" group strongly opposes such changes, and Fessio has been instrumental in getting Rome to reject many of the changes U.S. bishops had approved.

But the issues in the battle go deeper than gender-neutral language, reaching, liturgists say, into the very theology that underlies liturgical change. Few Catholics under 40 today can remember the elaborate rituals of preconciliar worship, to which the most extreme of conservative groups would like to return, if not in whole then in part.

After the council, altar rails, where people knelt to receive the consecrated host on their tongues, were removed. The altar table was lowered and turned around so priests could face worshipers and engage their attention in the ritual. Vernacular language replaced Latin, and worshipers long accustomed to praying privately, reciting rosaries or reading missals as the priest inaudibly recited the canon, or central part, of the Mass, were now encouraged to participate fully in the English prayers and songs. Eucharistic ministers and people were allowed to touch the consecrated hosts, a privilege once reserved for the ordained.

Women, formerly barred from going behind the altar rails except to clean, were invited to become readers and eucharistic ministers. The tabernacle, where consecrated hosts are stored, was moved from its once-central position on the altar. Former distinctions between more elaborate or simple forms of worship -- Solemn High Mass, High Mass and Low Mass -- disappeared, and once-ubiquitous use of incense and Gregorian chant became rare. Benediction, where the consecrated host was displayed in silver or gold monstrances and adored by worshipers on their knees, became virtually obsolete.

The underlying theology of worship shifted the focus from a transcendent God far above unworthy humans to the immanence of God present within an assembly of believers already made worthy through their baptism to share, not only in the sacred meal, but in God's very life and work. Rigorous precommunion fasts were simplified, enabling people to receive communion -- to participate in the sacred community meal -- virtually every time they attended Mass.

Like Trautman, Sr. Eleanor Burnstein thinks much of the "unrest" among Catholics over the liturgy is due to a lack of education to "solidly ground the renewal" theologically. This leaves some nostalgia-minded Catholics receptive to proposals for retrenchment.

"It's unfortunate that we often identify liturgy with renewal of externals," Burnstein said, when those externals really reflect "a deeper theology ... a renewal of hearts, of spirits."

"There are so many very positive signs of new growth" as a result of the theology of Vatican II, she said -- "the engagement of more and more people in the life of the church, the understanding of church as a servant community, the focus on social outreach, the relationship of how we pray to the call of justice, the retrieving of that original vocation of baptism that belongs to all of us."

Burnstein said some Catholics wrongly identify the pre-Vatican II liturgy as traditional when, in fact, it was the result of many accretions over centuries. The current liturgy is actually much closer to the liturgy of the early church, she said. "We have to say we have failed in not doing more to educate, in not being more resourceful and energetic about the teaching that's needed."

Static period

"The salad days are over," said Dominican Fr. Frank Quinn, who teaches sacramental theology at Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, referring to the past three decades of experimentation and change. "We're in a static period. Some want this, some want that, and bishops are caught in the middle."

Quinn said he senses a "dreadful frustration" among liturgists who are subject to "totally unwarranted attacks from conservatives, feel a lack of support from many bishops and are dealing with setbacks," such as the Vatican's recent rejection of inclusive language that U.S. bishops had long ago approved. Also, he said, a growing shortage of priests has had a negative effect on liturgical renewal. "It's very hard to keep a sense of joy in what you're doing."

Fr. Richard Albarano, who heads the Office for Worship in the Los Angeles archdiocese, said his office supports the official reform but isn't about to become "liturgical police" to determine whether parishes conform.

"The approach of this office is that we're a catechetical branch of liturgy," he said. "We're trying to teach the people of God what Vatican II has given us as gift in the liturgical documents. We're not about to go around pointing the finger at bad liturgy, good liturgy, but to teach people what Vatican II is, why we have made these so-called changes, what it means to change the liturgy.

"My concern is that some of us feel that the tradition of our youth is the tradition of the church for 2,000 years, that the way we worshiped when we were kids or young adults before Vatican II was the way Jesus did it, and that's not true. The essences were always there, but things changed, and Pope John XXIII prayed that we might move into a new age of the spirit. That's what Vatican II did. It moved us into a new age of openness to the spirit.

"I'm so uncomfortable with liturgy as a bone of contention," Albarano said. "This is worship of the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit. This is the last thing in the world we should fight over."

Enforcing norms

Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, in a recent memo to area priests, mandated close observance of 13 liturgical norms. Rigali said the directives are to be implemented in all parishes by Nov. 23, the feast of Christ the King.

Among them:

  • The congregation is to kneel during the eucharistic prayer, from the end of the Sanctus through the Amen.
  • Priests and ministers are to refer to communion elements as "Body of Christ" and "Blood of Christ" rather than bread and wine.
  • Lay eucharistic ministers are to be used only when enough priests or deacons are unavailable.
  • Only priests or deacons may distribute hosts to smaller vessels or pour the wine
  • The priest is to give communion to himself, the deacon and then to extraordinary ministers. Only the priest may take the cup from the altar.

Other points deal with reverential methods of purifying communion vessels.

The directive appeared in the most recent issue of Clergy Online, Rigali's regular written communication with priests. In a letter to priests dated June 3, Rigali insisted that "any innovations introduced into the prescribed texts and ceremonies of our Roman Rite be avoided and, where introduced, be removed."

National Catholic Reporter, August 1, 1997