"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, September 28, 2015

Now What? Whither Goest Latin Liturgy? A Post-Script to Bouyer

In three parts this month, I discussed The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, concluding by asking why, once Bouyer had revealed to Pope Paul VI the fact that Bugnini had swindled him and pulled off a giant heist, the pope did not sooner sack Bugnini and, especially, rubbish his proposed "reforms" and start over. Why persist with pushing through the results of a manifestly flawed, if not wicked, process? I shall return to this question, but for now want to consider the much larger and far more troubling ecclesiological and ecumenical question: by what lights did that pope, or any pope, believe himself to have the authority to dismantle an entire liturgical tradition and appoint a commission to jerry-rig a new one? The short answer is that no pope has ever had such authority, and no pope today has it, and no pope until Paul VI would dared to have dream that he did in fact have such authority.

As in many things, this question is not my own, but comes from Joseph Ratzinger, especially in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977. There--but also in other works--he raises an uncomfortable question about how much contemporary Catholicism has over-estimated the power and importance of the pope, resulting in gross distortions not only of his office, but of the entire Church. Having been subjected to a papal celebrity tour only last week here in the US, and having watched for years now how every papal sneeze or Tweet gets acres of coverage, nobody can dispute that we are and have been--for well over four decades at least--in the era of superstar popes, which is a development one should be highly skeptical over.

Ratzinger rightly notes that at no other period in 2000 years of history did anyone--including even such ultramontanist die-hards as Joseph de Maistre--conjure up the bizarre theory that popes had unlimited power to do anything, even abolishing age-old liturgical traditions and replacing them with committee-engineered products. Such a vision of the papacy really is the stuff of Eastern Orthodox nightmares, and rightly so. It deserves to continue to be challenged and dismantled at every opportunity.

Nearly a half-century after the Latin "reforms," and more than half a century after Vatican II's decree on liturgy, where are we? What can we hope for in the coming years? This question deserves a longer answer than I shall attempt here
--though it is one I hope to come back to precisely in longer form elsewhere--but in the meantime some suggestions are clearly to be found in a book to be published in December: Alcuin Reid, ed., T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy (T&T Clark, 2015), 584pp.

About this book we are told:
In the decades following the Second Vatican Council, Catholic liturgy became an area of considerable interest and debate, if not controversy, in the West. Mid-late 20th century liturgical scholarship, upon which the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council were predicated and implemented, no longer stands unquestioned. The liturgical and ecclesial springtime the reforms of Paul VI were expected to facilitate has failed to emerge, leaving many questions as to their wisdom and value.
Quo vadis Catholic liturgy? This Companion brings together a variety of scholars who consider this question at the beginning of the 21st century in the light of advances in liturgical scholarship, decades of post-Vatican II experience and the critical re-examination in the West of the question of the liturgy promoted by Benedict XVI. The contributors, each eminent in their field, have distinct takes on how to answer this question, but each makes a significant contribution to contemporary debate, making this Companion an essential reference for the study of Western Catholic liturgy in history and in the light of contemporary scholarship and debate.

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