This medieval bas-relief on the facade of Lucca
cathedral testifies to the practice of celebrating Mass
versus populum (facing the people) in the medieval
The “Reform of the Reform” school of liturgical renewal believes that Paul VI went far beyond the mandate of the Council Fathers in his restructuring of the Liturgy in the 1970 Roman Missal. They insist that the Council Fathers wanted certain portions of the Mass, mostly those parts which gave the laity a direct participation of listening (the Liturgy of the Word) or singing (the various chants proper to the celebration such as the introit, the gradual, and the offertorium) put in the language of the people, while the core prayers were to stay in Latin. They insisted-and I think they are substantially correct—that the Council Fathers had not called for the radical restructuring of the “offertory” rites, the repositioning of the altar to face the people, the multiplicity of Eucharistic (consecratory) prayers, and what they perceive to have been a deemphasizing of the role of the priest-celebrant in favor of an expanded role of the laity that creates the impression that the non-ordained in any way “celebrate” the Liturgy along with the priest or bishop. Advocates of the “Reform of the Reform” also are quick to point out that the Council never mandated the altar to be turned so that the priest faced the people.
The “Reform of the Reform” has taken its energy from a book written by Monsignor Klaus Gamber (1919-1987), a German liturgical historian who wrote a book known in English as The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background. The book is not without its historical problems and differs in substantial ways from the earlier liturgical histories written by the Jesuit Josef Jungmann and the Anglican Benedictine Dom Gregory Dix. The Jungmann and Dix works have been surpassed by subsequent research which both validates their research and theses and builds on their work. But we can save that for a future entry. As I have written in some earlier entries, my chief problem is with Gamber’s thesis that priest and people have always faced in the same position—facing eastwards—during the liturgy. While the predominance of the ad orientem (eastward positioning for prayer) seems to be true in the East (due to the influence of the synagogue tradition) and in even northern Europe, the archeological evidence is clear that it was never the custom in Rome. Moreover, various paintings, book illustrations, bas-reliefs, and mosaics show that it was not a universal practice in the western Church even outside of Rome. I think in particular of a medieval bas relief on the façade of the Cathedral of Lucca that clearly shows a Eucharistic celebration in which the clergy face the people over the altar. The illustration I used on the previous blog is another example of a medieval liturgical celebration facing the people. But again, I have done entries on the ad orientem vs versus populum debate and don’t want to get side tracked here. (See entries for January 25, February 26, March 3, August 9, and 16, all of this year.)
Joseph Fessio SJ—the somewhat troublesome and seemingly troubled founder of Ignatius Press, and one-time provost of Ave Maria University emerged as the American leader of the “Reform of the Reform movement.” Let me make it clear that Father Fessio is a priest in good standing and impeccable reputation regarding his personal life, but the hills and valleys of his career indicates a troubled soul whose personal agenda often overpowers an ability to work collaboratively or integrate his vision with other members of a team. In other words, he would seem to be a raging megalomaniac. I don’t mean this to be an ad hominem attack but an attempt to put the “Reform of the Reform” into the context of the actual people behind this agenda. Father Fessio established an organization known as Adoremus to further the “Reform of the Reform” through their newsletter, speaking engagements, and various publications including a traditional hymnal. In addition to Father Fessio, the executive committee of Adoremus also includes the traditionalist spokesperson Helen Hull Hitchcock and another, to put it kindly, “highly eccentric” member of the clergy, Father Jerry Pokorsky of the Arlington (Virginia) Diocese. Adoremus has done a noteworthy job of advancing the agenda of the Reform of the Reform, but the success of the movement has depended more on an admirer of Monsignor Gamber’s work, Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger had always been very clear in expressing his opinion that he perceived problems with the Novus Ordo of Paul VI and that he saw the work of Liturgical Renewal as not finished with then current edition but in need of continuing Reform—the exact point of the “Reform of the Reform.” While he was no supporter of the late Marcel Lefebvre, the schismatic archbishop who consecrated his own bishops in defiance of the Holy See, Ratzinger was in constant supportive dialogue with those who continued to celebrate the preconciliar rites. His Eminence was a regular participant in liturgical conferences at the Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault which has been a center for the preservation of the pre-conciliar rites. At the same time, the Cardinal also wrote theological justifications for maintaining the “ad orientem” position with priest and people alike facing eastwards in the liturgy. He also expressed deep concern about the translations of the Words of Consecration of the chalice that declared that Christ died “for all” rather than “for many.” This is a very complex issue both theologically and linguistically and merits a blog entry or two on its own.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a preface to Gamber’s book and this energized Gamber’s disciples in the Reform of the Reform, but it was only with the election of Ratzinger as Benedict XVI in 2005 that the weight of a pope (as opposed to that of a Cardinal) shifted the movement from fringe to mainline. Ironically, since his election, Benedict has backed away from (not renounced) his support for the ideas espoused by the Reform of the Reform. On only one occasion that I know of has the Pope celebrated the liturgy ad apsidem, that is facing the wall. He has never (publicly) celebrated the Tridentine Rite. On the other hand, he has insisted that those receiving communion from him receive kneeling and directly on the tongue and these are two of the cardinal “reforms” of the Reform of the Reform.
The Third Edition of the Roman Missal, issued by Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, in 2000 has been a big disappointment to the “Reform of the Reform” as it has not addressed any of their principal concerns for a genuine “reform” of the Novus Ordo. In as that the Mass of Paul VI remains substantially intact beneath the new translation mandated at the time of the Missal’s promulgation it is no more likely to please the “Reform of the Reform” advocates whose agenda it fails to meet than it will please those who have been happy with the Novus Ordo since it has been in place these last forty years. It was well within Cardinal Ratzinger’s power to insist, as the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that the 2000 missal address the doctrinal concerns of the “Reform of the Reform;” his election as Pope in 2005 empowered him, if he had so chosen, to supersede the 2000 Missal with yet a fourth edition that would have mandated various items of their agenda. Neither as Cardinal Prefect or as Pope has Benedict XVI made substantial changes in the 1970 Rite. While I am less than happy with the new translation, it is to Benedict’s credit that he is not turning the clock back on the post-Conciliar Rite.