Unsurprisingly, my comments on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker generated a bit of disagreement, both on this blog and other social-media outlets. Fine. Reasonable persons can disagree. What continues to baffle me, however, is what I call the Domino-effect Thesis where a moment of legitimate liturgical change — prudent or not — sets off a causal chain “culminating” in the Novus Ordo Missae and its subsequent fallout. The problem with this thesis is that nobody seems to agree when the first domino fell. Was it in 1960/62 with Pope John XXIII’s simplification/abbreviation of the Breviarium Romanum and certain rubrics for Mass? Was it the mid-1950s top-down revision of Holy Week and the reduction of Octaves on the Roman Calendar? Was it the “Bea Psalter”? Or was it Pope St. Pius X’s radical reorganization of the breviary Psalter in 1911? There are even those who posit that the re-codification of the Mass and Divine Office at Trent planted the seeds of today’s liturgical crisis in the Latin Church. That position, as far as I understand it, is rooted in the belief that liturgical development (change) should always be, on some level, “organic” and that the “imposition” of liturgical changes from the papal office onto the Church as a whole represented a revolution which continues on to the present day.
Top-down liturgical reform is nothing new to the Church of Christ, East or West. What is new is the modern capacity to track these changes and critically evaluated them using a deep toolbox of historical, theological, and liturgical learning. This strikes me as a far sturdier approach to addressing contemporary liturgical problems in the Church rather than relying on some meta-narrative of historically inevitable decline which claims to pinpoint accurately the absolute moment when things liturgical started to roll downhill. It also relieves those concerned about liturgy from the psychic-emotional burden of buying into any number of conspiracy theories about the thoughts and intentions behind the various liturgical reforms instituted over the last century. This is not to say that certain reformers didn’t bring highly questionable ideological agendas to the table when they proposed this-or-that change to the Roman Rite. But many of the reforms, imprudent and clumsy as they were, emerged from legitimate pastoral concerns that shouldn’t be passed over lightly. Whether or not those inclined toward hysteria over the “1962 books” will ever bother to take this into account remains to be seen.