Monday 1 April 2013

Lest Liturgical Innovators Forget... Updated

Before Vatican II it mattered little who was elected Pope, for the man who took up the Petrine Office knew he was there to guard what his predecessors handed on. He might develop it, but not alter it or innovate within it. Sadly, liturgical alteration and innovation began when Pope Paul VI established a committee to demolish and rebuild in loose fashion a liturgy that had developed and been secured over centuries of lived Faith. His committee, headed by Annibale Bugnini, developed a liturgy that is impossible to manage because it has an in-built loop-hole for liturgical abuses by virtue of its options. This allows for any presbyter, bishop or pope to stamp his own image on the liturgy; quite the opposite to John the Baptist’s declaration that Christ must increase while he must decrease.

John-Paul II attempted to tie the liturgy down when he issued Dominicae Caene (1980), in which document he made the following –shocking- apology regarding the 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 application 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.

The CDWDS followed Dominicae Caene that same year with Ineastimabile Donum, in which Innovations in the liturgy, uncorrected by pastors, were recognised as abuses. In 2004 JP II tried again to correct abuses by calling the CDWDS and the CDF to compile an authentic Liturgical Instruction based on authoritative doctrine. The result was Redemptionis Sacramentum (19/3/2004) which has yet to be obediently implemented in most places.

In the decades following Vatican II liturgical innovation was presented by many as indicating a living liturgy yet innovation is, of its nature, a deviation, no matter who perpetrates or permits such deviation. Popes have exhorted us to by word (JP II) and example (Benedict XVI) to compliance with the norms of the Missal given us by Paul VI, but put no teeth behind their words and actions, and as such innovations/abuses have gobe uncorrected in most places. It is interesting that no Pope since Vatican II –including Benedict XVI- has taken the Papal Oath which begins:

I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition,
and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors
to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein...

The issue of liturgical innovation (correctly called ‘abuse’) is not a minor issue but directly affects the people of God since we pray as we believe and believe as we pray. Sadly the liturgy has become the private property of the celebrant and/or community, who do as they please with the liturgical heritage of the People of God. We should remember that the liturgy belongs to all people of all generations, not only to those living now or to those in any given locale. And if alteration is such that our liturgy is unrecognisable to earlier generations -or worse, appears to them the antithesis of their liturgy- then we have strayed from authentic Catholic worship. This can apply even to Popes, as Cardinal Ratzinger reminded us:

The pope’s authority is bound to the tradition of faith and that also applies to the liturgy.  It is not “manufactured” by the authorities.  Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity... the authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of sacred tradition.  Still less is any kind of general “freedom” of manufacturing, degenerating into spontaneous improvisation, compatible with the essence of faith and liturgy.  The greatness of a liturgy depends- we shall have to repeat this frequently- on its unspontaneity.  (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p166).

All celebrants of the liturgy, from deacons and assistant pastors to popes, must remember that since the Church belongs to Christ, the man belongs to his office, not the office to the man. This is especially true of Popes whose role it is to guard and protect the Deposit of Faith and authentic Catholic worship developed over centuries and secured by custom, but it applies to us all. Deviation from rubrics in a superior is not a green light for deviation by inferiors, since deviations stamp one’s own personality onto a liturgy, which is to be avoided at all costs in order that the People of God receive the liturgy the Church has handed down to them. It also safeguards one’s humility as servant of Divine Worship rather than its master.

Post Script: 
I have just read Fr Cantalamessa's Good Friday words courtesy of Rorate Caeli. I venture to say again that what has been built and secured over the centuries cannot be simply or easily (or rightfully?) knocked down at the whim of anyone. Perhaps Fr Cantalamessa might stop to remind himself that the role of a Pope is to be Guardian of the Church's heritage, and thus refrain from writing an agenda for Pope Francis.


  1. Surely these, eminently wise, comments about innovation must also apply to Msgr. Bugnini and the 1948 Commission he was Secretary to and, for that matter, to the Commission in 1911 which radically altered the Roman Office?

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I can only say that to my mind, all innovation, since it is not authentic development, can never be helpful; that innovation is not development but damaging deviation.

  2. Very good observations.

    A couple minor corrections: Dominicae Cenae and Inaestimabile Donum.

    1. many thanks for your comment. Thanks too for the corrections. Actually, we were not taught any Latin at all in the seminary I attended (quite contrary to Canon Law)and to make myself idoneus for the Extraordinary Form found it necessary to attend a one year, basic course in Latin with Andrew, who is not only the 'tie' of this blog but our parish MC.

  3. Cantalamessa, wasn't he priest who compared the media reaction to child abuse, to Nazi anti-Semitism a few years ago?

    1. Thanks for your comment, but I don't know the answer.

  4. Thanks for the comment. We share for reasons of being transparent and to encourage reflection.


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