I recently made a reference to “The Reform of the Reform” and some readers inquired as to what I meant. I first heard of the term myself in an article by Monsignor M. Francis Manion in America Magazine some twenty years ago. Monsignor Manion was at the time the Rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City and he outlined five different approaches to liturgical renewal that were prevalent at the time. To the far right were the restorationists who were campaigning for the full restoration of the pre-conciliar liturgy, the so-called Tridentine Mass or Mass of Pius V. Right of center, but not to the extreme of the restorationists, is “The Reform of the Reform.” At the time it was a somewhat marginal movement but with the election of Benedict XVI it has moved into an undeclared but papally preferred first place guiding philosophy for reshaping the Church's Liturgy.
“Back in the day” of Msgr. Manion’s article, the Reform of the Reform was represented in the United States by a group of neo-traditionalist (as opposed to traditionalist, i.e. restoratinist) clergy under the leadership of Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. Fessio did his doctoral studies at the University of Regensburg where then professor Josef Ratzinger (yes, that Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI) directed his dissertation.
Father Fessio has had a rather volatile career. In 1976 he founded the Saint Ignatius Institute at the University of San Franciso. The Saint Ignatius Institute became somewhat of a university within the university and generated much controversy over the years but even though I tend to the liberal side of things, it seems that the Institute (and Fessio) were treated rather heavy-handedly for their conservative approaches. It may have been Fessio’s personality, or even lack of a sound ethical (I hesitate to use the word “moral” as that might imply wrongly) compass, that caused this. Fessio eventually resigned from the Institute to devote his time to Ignatius Press, another endeavor which he founded and which has provided somewhat of a balance to the more liberal Paulist Press as a Catholic publishing house. Again, while I tend to the liberal, Ignatius Press continues to provide valuable service to the Catholic and intellectual world and I am a frequent purchaser of their books for a library with which I am involved. Father Fessio went on to a number of academic posts and was connected with Ave Maria University where his involvement in several controversies led to his being fired as provost and then two years after fired from the faculty.
One story about Father Fessio that was related to me while I was living in Rome was that shortly after the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict, Father Fessio had a group of benefactors of Ave Maria University with him in Rome and was going to present them to the Holy Father after the weekly papal audience. Fessio was so presumptuous as to introduce “my friend, Pope Benedict.” Now one thing about the Holy Father is that he is very sensitive to any lèse-majesté against the papacy. Consequently Benedict is not one to champion undue familiarity. He deeply resented Gamarelli’s (Rome’s premier ecclesiastical tailors) presumption to exploit their relationship is previous popes and it wanted it to be known that Prada did not in fact make his famous red shoes. When Father Fessio referred to His Holiness as “my friend,” the Pope reportedly immediately and publicly corrected him reminding Fessio that he (the Pope) had been his (Fessio’s) professor, not his “friend.”
Fessio is a bit of a slippery character, but then he is a Jesuit. I remember a business dealing a project with which I was involved had with him at Ignatius about ten years ago. The kindest word that I could attribute to him would be “duplicitous.” He definitely has an agenda and one of the ways he has furthered that agenda is in an organization for the “renewal” of the liturgy called Adoremus.
Fessio and other advocates of the Reform of the Reform draw their ideas from the work of Monsignor Klaus Gamber and in particular from his book Die Reform der römischen Liturgie, (in English: The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, Una Voce Press, 1993). Being a historian myself, I find Gamber’s work skewed by his vehement bias against and opposition to the liturgical reforms of Paul VI. Far more reliable histories of the liturgy are Gregory Dix’s and Josef Jungmann’s classic works. But the problem is that then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger wrote the introduction to Gamber’s book. I find this troubling as it indicates that the current Pope has reservations about the liturgical reforms of Paul VI and I hate to see any turning back. But for the purposes of this entry let’s just say that Fessio’s Reform of the Reform ideas which are embraced by a significant number of the Arlington clergy—and indeed the “biretta brigade” elsewhere—are derived from Gamber’s uneven work.
Let me just make one final clarification. If the Holy Father has theological reservations about the Liturgical reforms of Paul VI, or indeed if anyone with a competency in theology, has theological reservations about the “new Mass” that is worthy of further investigation and discussion. I am not a theologian and not qualified to judge the theological issues regarding the post-conciliar liturgy. My critique and negative evaluation of Gamber’s work is not theological—and Gamber’s work is not a theological book—it is historical. There I do have some competency. I don’t fault the Pope theologically and his claims to infallibility do not mean that he is not above criticism for a lack of historical competency displayed in his endorsement of Gamber’s work. Of course most of the Reform of the Reform advocates have expertise neither in theology or history. And frankly, when you see the liturgies they construct in their nostalgia for the good old days of Father Chuck O’Malley the Bells of Saint Mary’s, it shows.
This brings us back to the question about Vatican II and is it being undone. More on that soon.