Leithart Looks East

I am not sure what inspired Peter J. Leithart to take an interest in Catholic liturgical reform, but over at First Things he has an post up on it entitled “Liturgical Orientalism.” For the most part, Leithart leans on an earlier academic presentation, “Eastern Presuppositions and Western Liturgical Reform,” by Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. For those familiar with Taft’s previous work, much of what he says (and what Leithart summarizes) is old news: “everyone” agreed that liturgical reform was needed at Vatican II; Latin liturgists took a shine (perhaps too much of a shine) to Eastern liturgy; the post-Vatican II reforms are a mixed bag (at least as far as the Liturgiae Horarum is concerned); and so forth. Unfortunately, Leithart doesn’t have much to add to the conversation, preferring instead to defer to Taft whose conclusions are, at points, contestable.

There can be little doubt now that Latin liturgical reformers “looked East” for inspiration (or perhaps just ex post facto justification) during the tumultuous decades of the 1950s and 60s, though subsequent scholarship has poured cold water on the idea that all of the reforms undertaken were truly “Eastern” and/or “ancient.” And while neither Taft nor Leithart make mention of it, some of the Latin liturgical reforms undertaken during the last century actually had the effect of driving contemporary Roman Rite praxis further away from widespread Eastern praxis as exemplified by the Byzantine Rite. For instance, the Latin reform of Holy Week, which ushered out the possibility of anticipating services like Tenebrae and the Easter Vigil, stands in contrast Eastern Christians anticipating the services (e.g., Holy Friday Matins on Thursday evening, Holy Saturday Vigil Liturgy in the morning, etc.). Other, more noticeable, reforms, such as the three-year lectionary, priests commonly serving Mass versus populum, “Extraordinary Ministers,” and such find no legitimate basis in the Christian East.

2 comments

  1. Very curious after reading the Taft article and skimming the Leithart one, how much of the NO would you say is inspired by the Christian East rather than organic Latin rite traditions? Also, do you know of any good books on Western liturgical history? I am a Latin rite Catholic, only just getting interested in the liturgy.

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