Thursday 2 August 2012

Reform of the Reform in England & Wales

The ‘Reform of the Reform’ is a goal for an increasing number of Bishops, priests and people throughout the Church, though it is not so much a ‘Reform’ as a Recovery, the Church having fallen into doctrinal and liturgical disorder in the turbulent period immediately following Vatican II. Thus:

On Doctrine:

“although great fruits have been obtained from the council, we have at the same time recognized, with great sincerity, deficiencies and difficulties in the acceptance of the Council. In truth, there certainly have also been shadows in the post-council period, in part due to an incomplete understanding and application of the Council, in part to other causes...
Among the internal causes, there must be noted a partial and selective reading of the Council, as well as a superficial interpretation of its doctrine in one sense or another.
(Final report, Extraordinary Synod of Bishops 1985) [Emphasis added]

On Liturgy:

I would like to ask forgiveness in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate, for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous applications of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great Sacrament.
(John Paul II, Dominicae cenae 1980) [Emphasis added]

In the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we began a recovery of Doctrine; with the new translation of the 1970 (Reformed) Missal we are beginning a recovery of the liturgy, though there is still a long way to go. This is particularly true in regard to the use of Latin, which remains all but absent in the UK. The English and Welsh Bishops affirmed what is desired by the Universal Church in their booklet ‘Celebrating the Mass’ published in 2005:

All other things being equal, Gregorian Chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy, has pride of place in the musical patrimony of the Church. It is therefore desirable that the faithful should know how to sing together in Latin some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass set to simpler Gregorian Melodies.
(CTM 81) [Emphasis added]

However, they appear to be holding back on implementing their statement. After all, how often have we had reminders to make use of Latin for the Ordinary of the Mass? How often do we see the Bishops use Latin in their own public celebrations? They need to find the will (or courage) to implement their statement or they risk being aligned with those who are seen as waiting for Pope Benedict to die so as to forget about Latin and the Reform of the Reform. Yet the recovery of Latin is not a personal project of Pope Benedict. Its use was decreed by Vatican II in a manner that is all but law:

...steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.
(Sacrosanctum Concilium 54).

Use of Latin was also willed by Pope Paul VI, the Pope of the Council, as demonstrated by Rome when issuing Jubilate Deo which was sent to all the Bishops of the world in 1974:

Our congregation has prepared a booklet entitled, "Jubilate Deo," which contains a minimum selection of sacred chants. This was done in response to a desire which the Holy Father had frequently expressed, that all the faithful should know at least some Latin Gregorian chants, such as, for example, the "Gloria," the "Credo," the "Sanctus," and the "Agnus Dei."

It gives me great pleasure to send you a copy of it, as a personal gift from His Holiness, Pope Paul VI. May I take this opportunity of recommending to your pastoral solicitude this new initiative, whose purpose is to facilitate the observance of the recommendation of the Second Vatican Council" [that] "...steps must be taken to ensure that the faithful are able to chant together in Latin those parts of the ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

Those who are charged with responsibility for the liturgical reform are particularly anxious to achieve this difficult objective. To that end, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship appeals once again, as they have often done in the past, for the proper development of singing by the faithful. [Emphasis added]

Pope Paul’s successor, Pope John Paul II, also endorsed the use of Latin (cf. Chirograph to the Roman Curia for the Centenary of the Motu Proprio Tra Le Sollecitudini, 22/11/2003):

Among the musical expressions that correspond best with the qualities demanded by the notion of sacred music, especially liturgical music, Gregorian chant has a special place. The Second Vatican Council recognized that "being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy" it should be given, other things being equal, pride of place in liturgical services sung in Latin. St Pius X pointed out that the Church had "inherited it from the Fathers of the Church", that she has "jealously guarded [it] for centuries in her liturgical codices" and still "proposes it to the faithful" as her own, considering it "the supreme model of sacred music". Thus, Gregorian chant continues also today to be an element of unity in the Roman Liturgy. [Emphasis added]

Thus Pope Benedict is simply restating the decree of Vatican II, confirming the desire of Pope Paul VI and underscoring the mind of Pope John Paul II. If our Bishops are going to keep us faithful to Vatican II, Paul VI and John Paul II they need to act on their words in CTM, otherwise they will stand in contradiction to themselves, to Vatican II, to the post-Conciliar Popes and to their own English predecessors who attended Vatican II and who stated in 1969:

There is no indication, either in the decrees of Vatican Council II or in subsequent documents, that the Church has any intention of abandoning the Latin liturgy –indeed the contrary is evident. It has already been laid down in this country [in 1966] that ‘The Sung Latin Mass should be preserved in order that Western Catholics of all nations and generations may continue to share a common heritage of liturgy and music’ ”.
(Music in the Mass, 1969) [Emphasis added]

Implementing the Reform of the Reform does not need to come with loss of face; just an honest explanation that use of the vernacular went beyond the mind of the Council simply because it made vocal participation by the singing of Introits and Communion antiphons easier in that these can -as a final resort- be replaced by hymns. There needs to be an honest admission that world-wide, Bishops (and parish pastors in particular) succumbed to this ease without referring back to the Council and without recognising the right of future generations to have access to their heritage. Indeed, we all need to remember that it is not for one generation to deny to those who follow us their liturgical patrimony; we all need to remember that Latin chant in particular is “the supreme model of sacred music” and “an element of unity in the Roman liturgy” (John Paul II) –unity not only with those who walk the earth today but with our own family ancestors, our holy saints and our glorious martyrs.

Our Bishops over the last forty years have not preserved the sung Latin for today’s generation as the Bishops of 1969 decreed. We must find ways of encouraging our current crop to give their full support to our Latin heritage and to Vatican II so that we may recover this central aspect of our Catholic identity; an identity which is weak if not absent in the Western Church today. People may be unhappy with the use of Latin at first, but I believe they want to be faithful to Vatican II and that if it is honestly and humbly explained to them that we implemented the Council incorrectly, most of them will be humble enough and loyal enough to get on board with the Reform. But the lead has to come from the Bishops; they must encourage the priests to restore the Latin chant in faithfulness to Vatican II and they must use it frequently themselves. After all, it was decreed by the very Council we all claim to support.


  1. Excellent post, thank you Father. But the lead, while it should come from the Bishops, is not going to. At least, not in time to save the many souls who may be lost in the interim.
    It would be good to have some initiatives aimed at accelerating the process.

  2. I appreciate the way you frame the primacy of Gregorian Chant in the context of remaining faithful to the written intent of the 2nd Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI. The moment we call for the re-introduction of any Latin material, we are automatically accused of rejecting the Council. Thank you for providing well-documented quotes in defense of Chant. (from Michael Elohim)


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