The Debate about Liturgy Continues

THE HISTORY AND THE FUTURE OF THE ROMAN LITURGY. By Denis Crouan, (Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 1339, Ft. Collins, Colo. 80522, 2005), 324 pp. PB $19.95.

Debates continue about the present state of the liturgy in the Catholic Church and its future. Denis Crouan is President of Pro Liturgia, an organization interested in an authentic reform of the liturgy based upon the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the author of several books on problems in the liturgy. He explains the history and development of the liturgy of the Roman Rite through the centuries for those who are not liturgists. He then raises questions about how the revised liturgy was received by the Church after the Second Vatican Council and deals with the contemporary liturgical crisis and possible solutions.

One particular strength of this volume is its overview of the history of the Mass of the Roman Rite from the earliest period. He emphasizes that one does not invent liturgical rites; rather the rite arises organically from the tradition of the Church. He acknowledges that during the persecutions of the first three centuries of the Church liturgical texts often were not fixed but improvised to some degree. Contemporary progressive liturgists with little real understanding of its history often use this fact to liberate themselves from the text and invent rituals that aim at self-expression. Crouan stresses that this early improvisation actually preserved the traditions that were already received. However, even St. Hippolytus writing in the first half of the third century noted the dangers of improvising long prayers in a dignified style. Soon after the edict of Milan in 313, the Church began to organize and fix its liturgical prayers and rites and the first liturgical books were written during the pontificates of St. Leo the Great and Gelasius I due to certain doctrinal errors that began to creep into various prayers. Crouan then describes the Papal Masses, church architecture, and sacred chant during the pre-Carolingian period. He also notes the interaction between Roman and Frankish traditions in the development of the Roman Rite.

Crouan then deals with medieval and pre-Tridentine liturgical developments. He notes that the liturgy became filled with highly subjective gestures and private prayers and varied greatly from one diocese to another. There were several schools of thought at the time of the Reformation as to how the liturgy should be reformed or restored. Crouan views the reforms of Pope Pius V as beneficial in many ways, but he also sees some deficiencies, some due to conforming the Missal to the Ceremonial so that the most minor details became rigidly fixed. He also points out to contemporary Catholics who object to the validity of anything but the Rite of Pius V that the Pope’s forbidding any modification of the Missal applies only to priests and bishops; in no way did he or can he limit the powers of future Popes to revise the Missal. In fact, there were modifications of the rubrics and the insertion of new feasts until the period immediately prior to the Second Vatican Council.

Crouan’s treatment of liturgical developments between the promulgation of the Missal of Pius V and Vatican II is particularly fascinating. The 17 th and 18 th centuries were a difficult time for the liturgy due to the influence of the Baroque with its sense of the theatrical and the rise of Gallicanism and Josephism. He focuses on the collapse of the Roman Rite as codified by Trent in France due to Gallicanism and Jansenism. The situation in many places was far from ideal. He notes that in 1680 the Archbishop of Paris suppressed many beautiful Marian antiphons and prayers for the Pope in the breviary. Crouan describes some of the liturgical legislation of the Synod of Pistoia in Tuscany held under Austrian influence which attempted to limit powers of the Holy See and suppress certain popular devotions to the Sacred Heart and the saints and introduce various changes into the celebration of the Mass. Eventually, the Holy See had to intervene and condemned a number of the Synod’s propositions.

Crouan devotes considerable attention to the origins of the contemporary liturgical movement with its origins among the Benedictines of Solesmes and later in Belgium and Germany as well as the steps taken by Popes St. Pius X and Pius XII to reform the liturgy. Pius X was especially critical of the theatrical style of music sung in many churches and advocated a return to sacred chant. Pius XII promulgated the great encyclical Mediator Dei which insisted that the liturgy involves more than cult of ceremonies in praise of God but the redemptive work of Christ and entire Church. This was a period of much historical and theological discussion and Crouan discusses the contribution of great liturgists such as Pius Parsch, Romano Guardini, and Dom Odo Casel until the Second Vatican Council. Guardini was critical of pragmatism and dilettantism among some liturgists. Crouan mentions the reservations of Guardini toward a certain type of conservatism which became attached to certain customs of the nineteenth century which he saw as the most sterile religious period. This reviewer sees a need for the author to provide a set of principles for evaluating more objectively what elements of a given historical period should be considered sterile or unacceptable innovations or departures from the authentic spirit of the liturgy and which innovations should be seen in a more positive light. He also describes the cautious reforms of Pius XII which led to a restoration of the Easter Vigil liturgy. Clearly, there was a certain amount of organic development of the liturgy prior to Vatican II. In no way was the liturgy absolutely frozen since the promulgation of the Missal of Pius V . Finally, he describes the concrete celebration of the Mass in various pastoral situations on the eve of the Council. Although there was a basic uniformity of the Roman Rite, the Mass was adapted to different pastoral situations so that the Mass of the small parish was not the same as that of a large urban cathedral.

He then deals with the discussions of liturgical reform at the Second Vatican Council and the document on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. Crouan insists this document should not be interpreted as a radical break with preceding councils and liturgical tradition, but rather interpreted in continuity with that tradition and according to the mind of the Magisterium and the Pope. The various elements of the revised rite of the Mass and the new “General Instruction on the Roman Missal” promulgated by Pope John Paul II are carefully examined. The revised guidelines attempt to address a number of abuses in the celebration of the Mass. Crouan envisions the reforms of Vatican II as a restoration of certain more ancient elements of the Roman Rite and an attempt to enable the liturgical rites to communicate the truths they signify by freeing symbols and liturgical rites from certain historical forms that hindered communication. He also notes certain myths of progressive theologians. The Council did not abolish the use of Latin or Gregorian chant. Unfortunately, a liturgical crisis developed immediately after the Council for various reasons. It is Crouan’s thesis that the revised liturgy of the Roman Rite has yet to be received by the Church and very few parishes and celebrate it according to the vision of the Council.

The Council itself cannot be blamed for many contemporary liturgical abuses and confusion. Crouan is opposed to those groups which advocate as a solution a return to the use of the Missal of Pius V and extensive use of the Indult Mass. Instead, he advocates greater fidelity to the present liturgical norms, more openness to the use the organ, greater use of Latin, and Gregorian chant, and respect for sacred gestures and symbolism. He is probably correct that many faithful who presently prefer the Indult Mass would accept the revised Mass if it were celebrated with due reverence according to the liturgical norms and in continuity with the tradition. However, some Catholics would also remain attached to the Indult Mass for various reasons. It does not seem clear that Crouan is aware of their pastoral needs which the Church at its highest levels has acknowledged. Crouan also fails to deal with the issue of inculturation which is not a major issue in Western Europe or North America but is an important issue in Africa and Asia.

Crouan emphasizes the continuity between the Roman Missal of Pope Paul VI and the traditional Roman Rite. Certainly, he is correct that many of the new prayers are based upon prayers found in early Sacramentaries prior to the Middle Ages. Contrary to the belief of some followers of Archbishop Lefevre, the Tridentine liturgy is not identical to that of the Patristic period in every detail. For example, the prayers at the foot of the altar were a late addition. Consequently, they were not said at a Solemn High Mass. It is clear that there has always been an on-going development in the Church’s liturgy. Thus, this book can be helpful to those who lack a sense of history. Crouan demonstrates that the reforms of Trent were not concerned with the restoration of an earlier tradition but with a unification of the liturgy due to excessive variations from diocese to diocese and religious order. However, one wonders whether all aspects of the present post-Vatican II liturgical reform are adequate. Crouan fails to deal with one major innovation, the new Eucharist Prayers in the Sacramentary itself as well as other canons approved by various Conferences of Bishops. The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is largely based upon the Byzantine Liturgy. Certainly, it is very Scriptural and focused upon the great deeds of God in the history of salvation; however, it does differ radically from the tradition of the Roman Rite. There is also the problem of the abolition of the time after Pentecost, an innovation which simplifies the liturgical cycle but also diminishes the sense of Pentecost.

Crouan rightly sees the present Lectionary very positively. It certainly offers a richer variety of readings. On the other hand, some liturgists have questioned whether some of the Old Testament readings included in the present Lectionary are suitable for the ordinary lay person in the pews. One can also question whether the new Sacramentary is consistent with its own principles. The great variety of prefaces is clearly a return to an earlier tradition and an improvement. On the other hand, why do some Sundays in Lent receive a special preface; whereas most Sundays do not have a preface related to the Gospel? These are some questions which need to be examined by liturgists in the future.

Where does Crouan stand in the debate between traditionalists and reformers? Clearly, he is in favor of most of the official reforms and greater fidelity to the present Roman Missal. His basic thesis is that in all too many places the Eucharist is simply not celebrated according to proper liturgical norms of the revised Roman Rite; in a nutshell, the actual Vatican II liturgical reforms have yet to be fully implemented properly. He is simply calling for fidelity on the part of priests and people to the Sacramentary of Pope Paul VI and the various liturgical norms which already exist. Many Catholics have never experienced the noble simplicity and beauty of the new rite as it ought to be celebrated. Crouan offers a number of suggestions on how to rediscover the sense of the sacred. The funeral rites for Pope John Paul II were marked by a “noble simplicity” of the Roman Rite, a characteristic which clearly differs from the complex beauty of the Baroque, but it is still reverential and impressive; and it preserves the sense of the sacred that is often lost in the sloppy liturgies experienced by most people. On the other hand, other theologians such as Aidan Nichols and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger have cautiously spoke of “the reform of the reform” which would include deeper reforms and a more organic process of development over a longer period of time. Crouan’s latest volume offers Catholic liturgists much food for thought as this debate continues.

Edmund W. Majewski, S.J.
St. Peter’s College, Jersey City

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