A (Minor) Followup on St. Joseph the Worker

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.

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12 Comments

  1. Novian
    May 6, 2016

    “The problem with this thesis is that nobody seems to agree when the first domino fell.”

    They don’t? Isn’t the obvious answer 1948, when Pius XII created the Commission for Liturgical Reform which led directly (yes) to the 1969 rites?

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      May 6, 2016

      That still doesn’t work because it wasn’t inevitable that the commission’s work would lead to what happened in 1969. A lot of other factors had to enter into play. Moreover, prior popes have used “commissions” (experts) to inform their liturgical decisions.

      Reply
  2. Brian M
    May 6, 2016

    I think you are making too much of one or two (or three) bloggers with personality deficits. A number of folks have done the work of figuring out “best practices” from pre-55 without entirely demonizing the ’62 books. I am thinking of Dom Alcuin Reid in The Organic Development of the Liturgy, Fr. Cekada to a lesser extent in Work of Human Hands, and the grassroots efforts of the monks of Silverstream Abbey in the UK, Le Barroux in France. I would particularly commend the MCs at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, who have patiently restored the full pre-’55 Roman Rite over the course of many years, in the midst of criticism from traditional Roman Catholics and their own Episcopal brethren.

    Reply
    1. jhf884
      May 6, 2016

      The work of such pious and sober-minded people is indeed praiseworty. (I’d add Father Hunwicke to your list as well. His recent posts on St. Joseph the Worker, for instance, were highly critical, but remained well-balanced.) Part of the problem with the more hysterical types is that they threaten to undo (or at least hinder) the work of the people you named.

      Reply
  3. matthewgaul
    May 6, 2016

    Count me in the Trent-started-it camp.

    The papacy has *enormous* prestige in the West that the hierarchs of the East simply don’t have. So once the pope was viewed as the ordinary chief liturgist, “tradition” became little more than the whim of the lawgiver. Pio Nono was, unfortinately, right – nowadays, in some ways the pope *is* western tradition.

    The West could really use intermediary liturgiarchs like the East is blessed with. The ordinariate is a good start.

    But even though these days many folks are being hoisted on their own ultramontane petards, most of them won’t learn.

    Reply
    1. matthewgaul
      May 6, 2016

      Forgive my spelling error. 🙂

      Reply
    2. Gabriel Sanchez
      May 6, 2016

      Granted, no single patriarch could reform the liturgy for the entire Eastern Church, but Patriarch Nikon instituted top-down, sweeping reforms in the mid-17th Century which are still normative for a majority of Eastern Orthodox (and, by strange extension, Greek Catholics) to this very day. While some have defended the Nikonian reforms as “minor,” any close study of the pre-Nikonian Russia ritual reveals numerous substance differences, not to mention a different recension of Church Slavonic altogether.

      Reply
      1. Brian M
        May 6, 2016

        So, just to raise the temp, why not focus on that, since that is where your treasure is, and leave us crazy Western Riters alone?

        Reply
        1. Gabriel Sanchez
          May 6, 2016

          But I love everyone.

          Reply
  4. Dale
    May 6, 2016

    I do not think the issue is liturgical change or reform, of which there has always been a moderate position of acceptance in the Church, but wholesale liturgical revolution which was what happened in both the Protestant Reformation and with the novus ordo; such liturgical revolutions are usually associated with changed doctrines. The novus ordo does reflect a theology which is vastly different from the previous faith of the Catholic west, and east for that matter.

    Reply
  5. Shane
    May 6, 2016

    One doesn’t have to pinpoint, or even be able to pinpoint, the beginning of a thing to know that the thing actually exists.

    Reply
  6. Gil Garza
    May 6, 2016

    Wait. Is nitpicking over when the Liturgical Reform began a fetish or fretting?

    Reply

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