Cardinal Ratzinger believes that bad liturgy is undermining the achievements of Vatican II. Anthony Symondson SJ agrees
The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, £13.95 The Liturgy Betrayed by Denis Crouan, Ignatius Press, £9.50
F,11.1 THINKINCI people will deny that in parts of the Church there is a liturgical crisis. Not many subjects are more divisive, generate more emotive reaetions, or lead to such polarised, obstinate and embattled positions. The form of the Mass was changed 35 years ago and clumsily applied, often to the confusion of the laity. Banality took hold. The destructive re-orderings of churches in the name of reform — the first signs of which reach back to the 1920s — eliminated much kitsch and bad art, but ultimately left behind a void, the wretchedness of which we are now experiencing in a truly acute way.
Yet some would zealously defend them. The origins of these effects were good, desirable and potentially fruitful and it is well to be reminded of them. They lie in the early 20th century liturgical movement which encouraged the restoration of the active participation of the people in the official worship of the Church. It received its chief impetus from the directions of Pope St Pius X relating to Church music, the promotion of Eucharistic piety and frequent communion and was fostered especially by the Benedictines in France. Belgium and Germany. At the time of the Second World War in France, and soon after in Germany, the impetus of the movement spread beyond the monastic centres into the parochial and missionary spheres, and from then on took a more pastoral direction.
Pressure for the reform of the Roman rite grew in order to bring it into line with a much mullet liturgical understanding and praetice. The results were applied to the pastoral and evangelistic needs of the post-war era.
Pope Pius XII gave considerable. encouragement to it and the need for the participation of the people, while stressing the prerequisite for proper order. The Holy Week rites were reformed in 1951 and 1955, but it was not until the Second Vatican Council, in The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated in 1964, that the aims of the movement were endorsed and legislation for the use of the vernacular and the reform of the rites was passed. But the Church was unprepared for them and in recent years further consideration has been given to the possibility of adapting liturgies for use in different parts of the world where diverse cultures prevail.
It was not only in externals that emptiness was created. Cardinal Ratzinger sets out in this timely study the losses created by a communitarian, man-centred understanding of the Mass in which the sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic offering was made subordinate to a meeting for a meal. In some extreme cases, this even led to the abandonment of the Roman rite.
Transcendence was eliminated, and this resulted in the obscuring of an unbroken tradition of worship that combined the cosmos with history. The roots of this tradition lay in the Temple and synagogue worship of the Old Testament and evolved, from apostolic origins, through history within a sacral practice of worship. The moves to a vernacular liturgy, and the priest's facing the people rather than to the east, were revolutionary in their implications for our imagining of God.
IT IS THE PRESENT quandary, created by a free implementation of the Constitudon since 1964, that Ratzinger addresses. The initial extremes of reaction against what had prevailed before are themselves made reactionary by the passitig a the old, and the time is ripe for the re-establishment of first principles. Ratzinger returns to them by founding his investigation on Roano Guardini's book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, published in 1918. This small volume inaugurated the liturgical movement in Germany and he read it at the start of his own theological studies in 1946. "Its contribution", he recalls, "was decisive. It helped us to rediscover the liturgy in all its beauty, hidden wealth, and time-transcending grandeur, to see it as the animating centre of the
Church, the very centre of Christian life."
At that time the liturgy was like a fresco that had been preserved from damage. but had been overlaid with whitewash by later generations. The fresco was laid bare by the liturgical movement and, in a definitive way, by Vatican II. "For a moment its colours and figures fascinated us. But since then the fresco has been endangered by climatic conditions as well as by various restorations and reconstructions." Ratzinger believes that it is tIneatened with destruction if the necessary steps are not taken to stop these damaging influences.
The reapplication of whitewash, in the form of a restoration of the Tridentine Mass, is firmly rejected and replaced by an imperative demand for reverence in the way we treat the liturgy, a fresh understanding of its message and reality. He argues for a liturgical movement which would result in the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly, and thus return to the high ideals that failed to emerge, except in notable but limited instances, after the Council.
Ratzinger places the liturgy in the concrete reality of life; the fusion of cosmos and history is set forth; the biblical roots and practice examined. He argues philosophically for the relationship of the liturgy to time and space; he proffers the significance of sacred places and church building: he persuasively debates the historic orientation of liturgical prayer (the departure from which he deplores), the sacredness of the altar, the spiritual deepening effected by the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and the consecration of time.
The value of art and liturgy, images and music is elaborated, and a final section is devoted to liturgical form, the necessity of rite, the place of the body, and sacramentals. What is missing is a concluding chapter that brings these themes into a synthesis suitable for application, and an index would have been useful. But Ratzinger had no intention of writing a manual of directions; instead he gives a compelling (if at times densely-written) presentation of time-honoured dicta that are applicable to our age and to the Universal Church.
THE SPutrr of the Liturgy is a powerful work of liturgical theory. The Liturgy Betrayed describes the harsh reality of the liturgical
collapse which inspired Cardi
nal Ratzinger's treatise. France wa.s once at the cutting edge of
the liturgical movement and set a standard for Northern Europe. That time is long over
Denis Crouan clearly and painfully .demonstrates the
present staleness, loss and confusion that has developed there since Vatican II. He argues for the reinstatement of the early principles of litue gical renewal desired by the Council, the abiding place of tradition, mid shows how this is embodied in the missal of Pope Paul VI.
Crouan analyses the weight and validity of the arguments of different factions of the Church and, while he confirms the weakness of the Tridentine position, he describes how this development arose as a response to the need for emotional secu rity in the wake of the crude and inhuman ideological destruction by radicals of the new rituals and their mutilation of authentic liturgy.
The solution of the crisis. he maintains, lies with the bishops, and there is much truth in that as far as it affects these islands. The liturgists and priests who implemented the changes are growing old; their time is over. A new generation has arisen which is impatient with their legacy, has been warned against their aims, places store on credibility and desires to bring to fulfilment what was actually intended by the Council.
It is crucial for the future of the Church to restore reverence and transcendence in worship. In places this has begun. The Liturgy Betrayed offers a stark warning of the failure to do so and a remedy. These books will help to cure these ills before it becomes sociologically impossible to do so. But they should be read in conjunction with Looking at the Liturgy: a Critical View of its Contemporary Form, by Aidan Nichols OP (Ignatius Press), in which a practical conclusion is presented which points to a way out of the void.