Sunday, July 8


Motu Proprio Reflections: Towards the Future

In reflecting on Pope Benedict's motu proprio concerning the now ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass, I note that it is very much in line with my recent argument that the text would be very much about a Ressourcement rather than a restoration. It seems clear to me that Benedict wants to put the Church into a conversation with the 1962 Missal and its attendant liturgical books as a way of putting us in touch with our liturgical roots, and thus allowing the liturgy to develop in more organic ways than it did in the process that led to the publication of the 1970 Missal. This development will lead, I predict, to a third-way kind of Missal, perhaps in fifty years, that would not need to abrogate either of the current Missals because it would adequately respond to the fears and concerns of those attached to either one. Such a Missal would likely preserve the language of "ordinary" and "extraordinary" forms in some way to distinguish between certain legitimate options, but in other ways it would represent more of a synthesis, especially with respect to certain issues such as the calendar of saints and the Lectionary.

In order to reach such a synthesis, however, we need things to happen that prevent such a synthesis from being a laboratory product in the way that the 1970 Missal in some ways was. The Pope indeed, by saying that the Missal is not frozen in 1962, has granted the hopes of many, like myself and the others we heard from during my "Tradition and Traditionalism" posts a few months back, who would like to see developments in the extraordinary use. These things, I believe, could also help ease people into the acceptance of the extraordinary use, as well as help the Church learn what does and doesn't work for future purposes.

The major development, of course, is the possibility of using the three-year lectionary with the Missal of John XXIII. Since this has not been forbidden by the motu proprio, I take it to be permitted, and I would encourage its use in some circumstances (especially university campuses, for example) where its possibilities could be tested out. I think this is important, because the Lectionary is not set in stone in either its 1962 or 1970 form, and presumably some future "hybrid" Missal is not going to come with two Lectionary options. It would behoove us, then, to see exactly how this Lectionary does and doesn't work with the extraordinary use rather than saying, "it doesn't work!" and leaving it at that. Certainly in some cases it would be necessary to use the older one for some reason or another, but what these cases are would play itself out better in a pastoral setting than on a chart, and either way, the readings are Scripture, so they won't give scandal to anyone. I also think that in some parish settings, such an arrangement would make life easier for priests, who wouldn't have to compose two homilies each week in addition to their other duties. This cannot be discounted as something that would make priests significantly more opening to saying this Mass on a regular basis.

For those who would oppose what I'm saying here, I would argue that I'm not opposing anyone's right or ability to have the readings from the 1962 Missal, in Latin or the vernacular. Rather, I am proposing that in certain circumstances it might be efficacious, pastorally and otherwise, to use the 1970 Lectionary with the extraordinary rite. I am also not really sold on the critiques of the current Lectionary translation, which I find to be generally very good for proclamation, much better than the translation it replaced in 1998, and certainly not theologically problematic - it's not perfect, but it's not something one ought to dwell on too much.

As I have suggested repeatedly, neither traditionalism nor progressivism correctly engage the conversation of which the motu proprio is a part, because traditionalism wants to cling to traditional forms without properly recognizing the need for development, and progressivism wants to make development so open-ended and accomodating to the surrounding cultural milieu that it ceases to be grounded in tradition. What we need now is, as the Holy Father suggested, an implementation of this motu proprio which is both deeply traditional and yet always open towards the future. What he has done, I think, especially by encouraging organic development, is tried to jumpstart the liturgical movement once again, to get people thinking about liturgy as did people like Guardini, Casel, and Virgil Michel. To let us reap the fruits of the original liturgical movement in a very different way than the first time. As I said not long ago, it is not often one gets a second chance, a time to revisit major events in one's life. The Church has received one now, and we must make the most of it.

Update: The exact text in the USCCB document that seems to support my contention in favor of the 1970 Lectionary goes as follows:

The vernacular edition of the Lectionary for Mass may be used in the extraordinary form, while the 1962 calendar is to be followed. The Ecclesia Dei Commission will study the eventual integration of new
saints and some prefaces from the ordinary form into the extraordinary

The only book I can find with the name Lectionary for Mass is the 3-year Lectionary.

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