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Catholic Voice
  November 21, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

It’s here — the New Roman Missal
Where do we go from here?

By Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

The question, “Where do we go from here,” is one I have found to be part of the title of the last talk in many conferences of different types I have attended over the years.

In examining a topic from a number of different perspectives, especially historical, it is logical to end on a note that looks to the future. All the more appropriate here, for the new English translation of the Roman Missal is hardly a full stop to the liturgical renewal the Church has been witnessing for more than 100 years now. This is, however, a critical moment in this movement in the English-speaking world, and a time for reassessment.

This point, in fact, was insightfully made at the Priests’ Study Day last May, where we heard about the topic of preaching from Msgr. James Moroney, former executive director of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops Secretariat of Divine Worship.

He spoke about how we are now 40-some years since the ordering of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Forty-something is middle age, and middle age, he told us, is a moment in life for reassessment: one has lived long enough to reflect back on successes and failures, what has gone right and born fruit and what stands in need of correction or improvement.

The first eucharistic prayer is seen on a page from a copy of the new Roman Missal in English published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec
More information



Also see Reviewing changes in the new Roman Missal by Father Jeffrey Keyes, CPPS

Msgr. Moroney’s comments reflect well the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI who, for quite some time now, has written much to give a perspective on such a reassessment, and not just with the liturgy, but rather beginning there and then looking to what that means for the whole life of the Church in all its aspects. We can take as a signal of the direction he sees the Church needing to take a remark he made in the first address he gave after being elected to the Papacy, on April 20, 2005:

With the Great Jubilee the Church was introduced into the new millennium carrying in her hands the Gospel, applied to the world through the authoritative re-reading of Vatican Council II. Pope John Paul II justly indicated the Council as a ‘compass’ with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium. Also in his spiritual testament he noted: ‘I am convinced that for a very long time the new generations will draw upon the riches that this Council of the 20th century gave us.’

I too, as I begin the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue the commitment to implement Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the two thousand year old tradition of the Church.

The vision of a reform of the Church which sees Vatican II as standing in continuity with the Church’s unbroken tradition is a theme that has permeated the writings and thinking of Joseph Ratzinger for very many years, indeed, decades. He laid out this vision quite clearly in an address offering Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia on Dec. 22, 2005 — an address that is now becoming a point of reference in the self-assessment the Church needs to take at this moment of history, nearly 50 years after the council:

The problems in [the Second Vatican Council’s] implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call ‘a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the ‘hermeneutic of reform,’ of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council’s deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood.

These are very serious words we need to ponder deeply and take to heart. They challenge some of the popular jargon to which we have become accustomed over these last 40 years. There is no “pre-Vatican II Church” and “post-Vatican II Church;” there is no “Vatican II Catholic” and “Tridentine Catholic.” It is one Catholic Church that transcends history and yet develops throughout history. We are all Catholics of Vatican II and Trent, just as we are all Catholics of every Ecumenical Council reaching back to Nicea in 325, and, indeed, the Council of the original Apostles in Jerusalem that we read about in the Acts of the Apostles (15:1-21).

At the heart of the Church’s life and, indeed, her very identity, is her liturgy. The worship of God is the foundation upon which is built Christians’ understanding of God’s self-revelation to the human race and of their self-understanding as God’s people. It is no surprise, then, that equally pivotal in Pope Benedict’s thinking on Church reform is the principle of the authentic renewal of the liturgy being the key to such a fruitful reform. In the publication of his memoirs, “Milestones,” in 1997, he states:

A renewal of liturgical awareness, a liturgical reconciliation that again recognizes the unity of the history of the liturgy and that understands Vatican II not as a breach, but as a stage of development: these things are urgently needed for the life of the Church. I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy. . . . This is why we need a new Liturgical Movement, which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council [pp. 148-149].

While he speaks here of a “crisis in the Church” and “the disintegration of the liturgy,” he does not see all as doom and gloom, for he does recognize positive developments in the wake of the council. For example, in his book treating the theology of the liturgy, Feast of Faith, he says: “I am very grateful for the new Missal, for the way it has enriched the treasury of prayers and prefaces, for the new Eucharistic prayers and the increased number of texts for use on weekdays, etc., quite apart from the availability of the vernacular” (p. 87).

Pope Benedict, then, is pointing us in the direction of an integration of things both old and new. He speaks about this quite explicitly in his letter on the occasion of the publication of the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970.

While he warns there of “exaggerations and at times social aspects unduly linked to the attitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition,” he also affirms that “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.” He is picking up here on an insight he had already articulated at a liturgical conference at the monastery of Fontgombault in France in 2001, where he spoke of the pre-Conciliar form of the Mass as a necessary “point of reference, a criterion … in order to emphasize that there is no essential break, that there is continuity in the Church, which retains her identity.”

The Second Vatican Council — building on the momentum of the liturgical renewal movement reaching back as far as the prior century — urged us to “go back to the sources,” to retrieve and renew treasures from the Church’s tradition that have been lost or obscured over history. Pope Benedict is urging us to do the same, to rediscover these treasures from every era of the Church’s history and to re-appropriate them with a renewed appreciation for the impetus they offer for the enrichment and renewal of the entire life of the Church. As such, he is proving himself to be that wise “head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Mt 13:52).

Where do we go from here? As Catholics, we must keep uppermost in mind what we have always known: the power of symbol. Our religion expresses itself much more through symbol than words; symbol has the capacity to express identity and faith far more powerfully than words.

That is why liturgy is always such a lively and sometimes sensitive topic in our Church. Where we go from here must always be guided by this basic human, sacramental reality. This process will also undoubtedly involve an ongoing rediscovery and integration of the many gems accumulated in the Church’s treasure chest of traditions over these 2,000 years, and an inculturation of these treasures so that they may more effectively communicate the unchanging, saving truth of Christ in ways that people of every place in our own time can understand.

At the same time, we must recognize that no reform will ever be complete, no renewal of worship ever perfectly realized, until we are joined with the angels and saints in the heavenly liturgy, adoring God face-to-face in His heavenly Kingdom: “a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace.” (Preface for the Solemnity of Christ the King).

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