Tuesday, July 25, 2017

More on 'liturgical reconciliation'

The Prophecies of the Ember Saturday (of Lent, in this case). A feature of the OF lectionary
which I haven't even mentioned.
The debate about the possible development of the 1962 Missal in the direction of the Ordinary Form, raised by Cardinal Sarah, has brought to light some extra points I'd like to highlight.

Fr de Souza, whose Catholic Herald article on an interview given by Cardinal Sarah initiated the discussion, has written a follow-up piece in which he refers to my Catholic Herald blog post, a post on the New Liturgical Movement by Gregory diPippo, and one by Fr John Zuhlsdorf. It is nice to see us presenting a completely united front, which Fr de Souza notes. But he doubles down on his claim that the superiority of the Ordinary Form Lectionary is 'almost unanimous', except, it would seem, among those (like the three of us) who disagree...

It is certainly very widely said that the OF Lectionary is superior, but though I have seen this sentiment expressed countless times, I have not encountered much in the way of reasoned defence of it in light of criticisms. People think it is just obviously better because it is larger, a quite amazingly lazy argument which runs out of steam as soon as anyone points out that 'more is not necessarily better'. Very few supporters of the OF have bothered to read anything about the liturgy written by Traditionally-minded Catholics, but doubts about the new Lectionary have been around for a long time. I recall one of the first things I read on the liturgical reform, Michael Davies Pope Paul's New Mass, in which Davies suggested out that the three lections on a Sunday overloaded the 'Liturgy of the Word' in relation to the 'Liturgy of the Eucharist', and overloaded the listener who could not be expected to take in three different texts, all probably unfamiliar, some rather obscure, and one not thematically related to the other two.

Davies, who was a long-standing prep-school teacher, further pointed to the fact that if you tell children two stories in quick succession, afterwards they can usually only remember the second. That suggests, in fact, a more optimistic assessment than the facts of experience are able to confirm. Just ask the people coming out of a Novus Ordo Mass what the readings were for yourself.

This is hardly the last word on the subject; I mention Michael Davies because he was making these criticisms, which should at least be addressed, back in the 1980s. Few, I fancy, of the OF supporters who glibly say that their lectionary is 'obviously better' have caught up even with these venerable points, let alone the FIUV Position Paper on the subject, or Matthew Hazell's book comparing the two lectionaries, or any of the rest of the stuff which has come out recently.

As Gregory diPippo says:

I also cannot imagine why Fr de Souza writes that “there is wide consensus that the OF lectionary is superior,” when almost every feature of it has been argued against and contested from every point of view. The new lectionary’s creators were thoroughly convinced that they were restoring an ancient custom of the Roman Rite when they introduced the three-reading system for Sundays and solemnities; this is now known to be completely untenable.

On the more general question of co-existence, Fr de Souza appears to concede the point. Fr Z quotes a speech of Pope St John Paul II which I did not know, which is helpful here (26 October 1998) (Fr Z's emphasis):

In order to safeguard the treasure which Jesus has entrusted to her, and resolutely turned towards the future, it is the Church’s duty to reflect constantly on her link with the Tradition that comes to us from the Lord through the Apostles, as it has been built up throughout history. According to the spirit of conversion in the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente (nn. 14, 32, 34, 50), I urge all Catholics to perform acts of unity and to renew their loyalty to the Church, so that their legitimate diversity and different sensitivities, which deserve respect, will not divide them but spur them to proclaim the Gospel together; thus, moved by the Spirit who makes all charisms work towards unity, they can all glorify the Lord, and salvation will be proclaimed to all nations.
Gregory diPippo makes the important distinction between the Temporal and Sanctoral Cycles of the two Forms. Talking about the Lectionary and Feastdays in the same breath obscures this very important distinction. Certainly, saints' days have, of course, changed over the centuries, as new ones are added and so forth.

The Temporal cycle, on the other hand, was one of the stablest parts of the Roman Rite throughout its long and varied history. There are few notable differences between the features of it attested in the oldest Roman lectionaries and sacramentaries in the seventh and eighth centuries, and that of the Missal of St Pius V; those which do exist consist almost entirely of the addition of feasts such as Corpus Christi. It hardly needs repeating that the fathers of Vatican II did not in any way ask for or envision the drastic mutilation of the Temporal perpetrated by the post-Conciliar reformers.

Fr de Souza notes another point of Fr Z's: that adherents of the Traditional Mass have been, to put it mildly, been traumatised by their experiences of recent decades, and any talk of 'reconciliation' needs to take this into account. The obvious thing, in fact, is to let some time pass without any further wrenching changes to the Old Mass: however strong the case may be for tinkering with the New Mass.

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  1. Regarding the lectionary & the repeated assumption of would-be reformers that the Gospel lessons after Trinity are without a rationale, I am not sure if the theory of David Phillips has been given an airing. He wrote a chapter about the BCP (i.e. Sarum) Gospel lessons for Sundays after Trinity in "The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present and Future". I have found this paper on-line which is a digest of his speculation.


  2. "there is wide consensus that the OF lectionary is superior," which could be read that many people can't tell the difference between quantity and quality.

  3. The most obvious inferiority of the new lectionary is that very important bits of scripture were excised by the liturgical deformers. St. Paul's denunciation of sodomy and his warning against receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin are two examples.