Cardinal Sarah's recent suggestion of a "liturgical reconciliation" between the Pauline Mass and the Pacellian-Johannine Missal has set the Tradosphere blogosphere on fire. There are the Ordinariate-like ideas of inserting elements from the 1962 Missal pertaining to the priest's piety (Introibo ad altare Dei, a real offertory, and the Last Gospel), but also the obligatory lip service to the new liturgy's more of a good thing is better: more disorganized Scripture, more green Sundays. Anyone who thinks more of a good thing must be a good thing should try drinking Chartreuse every night; he will first be drunk and broke, and then in withdrawal and homeless.
Here are three calm thoughts, after the storm, about Cardinal Sarah's idea.
I: A Useful Reminder
Cardinal Sarah's proposal is a useful reminder to proponent of pre-Conciliar liturgical forms that "conservatives" may be helpful allies, but they will never truly be their friends. Benedict XVI Ratzinger was a bona fide liberal to the core. He lamented the mediocre outcome of the liturgical reform while defending its purpose to the end, whilst some fight over whether or not he ever celebrated the 1962 Mass privately as Pope of Rome. After Summorum Pontificum we heard that the liberation of Pacellian-Johannine Missal was not primarily an overture to the Fraternity of St. Pius X; of course it was, while also running a part-time job in Benedict's desire to jump-start discussion of organic "reform of the reform" in the modern liturgy.
Just as Ratzinger is no conservative, the conservatives are neither traditionalists nor Traditionalists. Their interest in the 1962 Missal is not primarily an overture to the Fraternity, but as a template to make the Pauline Mass more acceptable. Ratzinger, aside from any lingering guilt over the botched negotiations with Archbishop Lefebvre, also had a pastoral interest in those who may have been left behind in the liturgical changes of the 1960s, then an older crowd. Modern prelatial celebrants of the old rite share this interest in pastoral welfare, doubtlessly, but also have other interests. They were not ordained in the old rite for the old rite and are too young to have been caught up in the post-Summorum traditionalist movement; instead, these good spirited men are dedicated to making the most out of what they were given and refuse to believe what they were given was so thoroughly bad that it was not in some way a substantial renewal of what preceded it. One must not forget that a conservative conserves what was given to him, while a traditionalists, colloquially speaking, lives within a tradition given to him.
II: An Academic Idea If Ever There Was One
Anyone who has spent more than a minute within a university seminar perceives that the seminar leader thinks other people should think his ideas are relevant to the world at large. More commonly, they are not. While doing something about the Mass nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand Roman Catholics attend is relevant, expending an equal quantity of effort on the Mass the other fellow attends is merely wasteful. Could this be a nod to the history books, which would show reform of one Mass and not the other as an acknowledgement of one's unique lacking? The term "reconciliation" offers some insight, since a reconciliation, in the spoken understanding of the word, means a coming together at a mid-point. Raymond Cardinal Burke pushed the hybrid Mass four years after Summorum and gained little for it. While one can fathom putting effort into making a "hybrid" Mass for general use with the Novus Ordo as a template, it would be far more difficult to make the old Mass (1962 or the real thing) into something consonant with the average parish liturgy and not make a shambles of it.
On an academic level, the things the "Reformers of the Reform" would insert into the new Mass are the newest features of the old Mass (Introibo ad altare, the Tridentine offertory, the Last Gospel) while the very features Cardinal Sarah would like to impose on the old liturgy are the more ancient features of the Roman rite so unceremoniously tossed to the curb by what Louis Bouyer aptly called "three idiots" (the kalendar and the lectionary upon which it is based, as well as the matching Vespers and Lauds antiphons). Priests might benefit from the piety of the old Mass, but the laity would also benefit from its liturgical stability in the propers, which predate the separate sacerdotal elements.
On a practical level, the parts of the new liturgy worthy of imposition into the "extraordinary form" simply do not fit with the proper chants, orations, or kalendar. There is no Pentecost octave, Septuagesima, or series of Ember Days in the Pauline lectionary; there is no feast of "Saint John Paul the Great" in the old liturgy, or Ascension Thursday Sunday. To revise the Ordo of the Pauline liturgy could be done with a small committee (it's the Vatican, folks) of translators after a year of internal deliberations. To ensure that a similar, countervailing force hit the propers in the old liturgy would take a team of "scholars", researchers, translators, "liturgists", and bureaucrats unseen since the original Consilium and likely involve several years of work.
Would it be worth three years of work by eighty men to ensure 0.1% of the Latin Church is met with the same effect as ten men in one year could assert on the other 99.9%?
III: A Minority Opinion
The last thing worthy of consideration, and perhaps most important, is that the "conservative" liturgist is among the rarest creatures in the Church. Many who we, in imitation of American political divisions, we call "conservatives" are pro-life, JP2 generation Catholics who frankly do not give a hoot about the Mass as long as it is valid. We know where liberals stand. We know where Traditionalists stand. As state in section I above, the conservative liturgist is often of an older generation that feels fidelity to the reformed liturgy and at the same time wishes for something more vivacious and reverent for the Church. This is a noble idea, but it was never popular and is fading with the priests ordained in the '70s ad '80s, In many Western dioceses now, outside of Latin America, one can find a few old rite Masses, the odd outrageous liberal Mass, and a ubiquitously mediocre parish Mass; what one almost never finds is the idealized "Reform of the Reform" new rite Mass, which few priests have the courage or interest to practice and even fewer bishop wish to permit. In America and England these are limited to a select few parishes in a select few metropolitan cities. On continental Europe they seem even rarer, aside from pilgrimage sights like St. Peter's in Rome.
A Closing Recommendation
Reread the previous article The Future of the Roman Liturgy & the Ordinariate Option. It touches on the phenomena behind Cardinal Sarah's remarks within the perspective of recent trends and an eye towards the future. I believe it is the most worthwhile thing I have written this year.
A blessed feast of Saint Pantaleon to all.