|Low Mass in the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham, England
Professor Mary Healy, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, recently wrote a piece for the Homiletic and Pastoral Review on the 50th Anniversary of the Novus Ordo Missae: the 'Ordinary Form'. She wrote:
It has become common to blame today’s lack of Eucharistic faith and fervor on the revised rite. Critics rightly point to certain weaknesses such as collects that are less expressive of God’s majesty, and the omission of important biblical texts from the lectionary. Another unfortunate change is the elimination of the Octave of Pentecost, giving the impression of downgrading the great solemnity that culminates the Easter season. The primary problem, however, is not the reformed rite itself but its flawed implementation, due to poor — and, in some cases, catastrophically defective — theological and spiritual preparation among clergy and laity alike. Too often, the liturgical changes were accompanied by a downplaying of the notion of sacredness. A casual attitude toward the liturgy was fostered, and beautiful churches were “wreckovated.” Lukewarm liturgy has, tragically, obscured the authentic renewal called for by the Council itself.
I found this very encouraging, in the sense that it represents a big advance on the anti-Old Mass polemic one might have expected in a mainstream organ like the Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Official and establishment publications would until recently have thought unstinting praise for the reform would be compulsory, with just a nod towards the problem of liturgical abuses. Prof Healy agrees that criticisms of core aspects of the reform such as the collects are actually justified, and though this is not made explicit, the implication is that she also accepts that the liturgical reform has played a role in 'today's lack of Eucharistic faith and fervor', even if the 'primary' driver is the issue of implementation and abuses.
It is admittedly difficult to quantify the effect of different factors, but it seems to me that this is a defensible claim: that the abuses/ 'implementation' issues of ad-libbing, invalid matter, female altar servers, communion in the hand, the complete elimination of Latin and traditional sacred music, terrible English translations, and the wrecking of churches to make 'versus populum' celebration possible, had at least slightly more negative effect on the eucharistic faith of the people than the changes to the collects, lectionary, signs of reverence, and the loss of so many beautiful and expressive ceremonies.
Even if we disagree, this is a pretty interesting discussion to be having 50 years after Pope Paul VI promulgated the reformed missal. We have truly come a long way.
Healy goes on, nevertheless, to assert the superiority of the Ordinary Form in a number of respects, and I have responded to her points in a piece now also published in the Homelitic and Pastoral Review. I am delighted that they given house-room to a debate such as this, and I hope readers find it interesting.
You can read my article here.
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