Tuesday, March 13


The Exhortation: Full Steam Ahead

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed."
- 1 Peter 5:1*

Like a good Catholic nerd, I read the Exhortation this morning before Mass at my parish. (Today's Mass count: approx. 75 people in a town of 2,000, 1/3 of which is Catholic; cf. previous reflections on how get a lot of your parish to daily Mass.)

As you know, the Exhortation for the most part has not taken upon itself to decree changes to the Missal or the General Instruction. Does this mean the document is of no consequence to the "reform of the reform?" The answer to this must be a resounding "No": Cardinal Ratzinger, in his books on the liturgy, gave much of the intellectual foundation of the "reform to the reform" simply by pointing out the problem, offering an alternative vision, and letting this vision grab the attention of Catholic intellectuals and youth. The reform of the reform is impressive for its success thus far given that it has not, for the most part, been promoted by sanction or decree, and yet it not only exists but grows. Indeed, the weakness of the original liturgical reform was that it was done by decree, and in light of this the strength of the reform of the liturgical reform is that it has, among the laity, people who are actively concerned, committed, and, er, participating in promoting it.

The Exhortation plays an important role in this movement, then, by codifying Ratzinger's ideas on liturgy into the written magisterium of the Church. He gave the reform of the reform much of its steam by expressing these ideas in popular books; it can only continue to pick up steam now that these ideas are more fully incorporated into the magisterium. The momentum of liturgy seems, from my vantage, to be clearly swinging in favor of a this reforming of the reform: by this exhortation, will it not continue to pick up speed, and continue to be desired by the people and priests themselves? Certainly, creating an environment in which the Church wants the "reform of the reform," though this takes longer than reform by fiat, is more effective in the long run. It may be less satisfying than a glorious smack-over-the-head delivered to those with whom one disagrees, but glorious smacks-over-the-head are not effective in the long term. How many people, pining for a liturgical smack down akin to Pius X's smack-down against "Modernism," are willing to concede that Modernism dissapeared consequent to being "smacked down?"

I did have some questions about the exhortation. The Pope, on the day he signed it, told the Roman clergy:

"It will help in personal as well as liturgical meditation," said the Pope, "as well as in the preparation of homilies and celebrating the Holy Mass, but it will also guide, illuminate and help revitalize popular piety."

By "preparation of homilies," I took him to be referring to a the creation of a collection of patristic commentaries on preaching, which I remember being mentioned at the time of the Synod. I did not find any reference to such a thing in the Exhortation. Perhaps I was wrong?

Also, the Pope spoke of "revitalizing popular piety," but in reading the document there is only reference to Eucharistic devotions like Corpus Christi and the 40 Hours.

The question then remains: is this document the final document in Pope Benedict's liturgical project of reforming the reform--to wit, will Benedict issue textual or rubrical changes to the Missal? It does not seem that he broadened the scope of the post-Synodal exhortation beyond what post-Synodal exhortations do: presenting the Synodal recommendations of which he approved--and providing golden theological teaching on why he exhorts us to follow these recommendations of the Synodal Fathers. Amy is doing an excellent job unpacking many nuances in the document: will these hints provide the foundation for further work in reforming the Reform by means of forth-coming authoritative decrees or actual adaptations to the Missal? By suggesting that he may change the location of the sign of Peace, perhaps Benedict exposes the intention to issue exactly such a textual and rubrical reform--but, perhaps not. It simply remains to be seen.

After Mass today, I met one of the seminarians for my diocese--a reverent guy my age, also in love with the Church. These future leaders of the Church have had their hearts moved and formed by the exhortations of Cardinal Ratzinger and Benedict XVI, and it is precisely to loving and willing hearts that exhortations are recieved and by them are enacted. This exhortation, then, is a seed planted in the heart of those who want to reform the liturgy and the Church, and it is precisely the desire to reform the Church, it seems to me, which is the way to effect a reform of the Church that is sincere and lasting. Reform of the Church, then, begins in the reform of the heart--and in exhorting the willing heart. It is easy to call such Christian exhortation "ineffective" because the effects take time to come to fruition: but is that ineffective governance, or is it good psychology? Reform by fiat, which is not also reform of the hearts of Christians, waits only until the cat is away to quickly decay.

*The First Papal "Exhortation"!

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