Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Benedict XVI's Liturgical Legacy

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Benedict XVI's historic resignation of the Roman pontificate. I remember waking up unusually early that morning and deciding to check the Drudge Report on my iPhone before returning to sleep. When the first item was a picture of Benedict I read the headline "Pope Steps Aside" and jumped out of my bed.

Josef Ratzinger is a case study in Hegelian philosophy: he is the synthesis of many unusual contradictions. He rejects the concept of fabricated liturgy in favor of organic development, and yet always favored the entirely reformed liturgy on the grounds that it contributed to the Church as a whole. He advised Sigrid Spath against conversion, but made an exceptional vehicle for Anglicans to enter the Church with no questions. He insisted that the old liturgy was for the entire Church's use, but called it a pastoral accommodation in his book-length interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the World. He favored a "hermeneutic of continuity" between the "pre-Conciliar" and "Conciliar" Catholic Church, and yet never took any concrete steps to demonstrating this continuity; liberals, traditionalists, and practical people never signed on to this outlook, but many drew the ire of Ultramontanists who enforced it as an orthodoxy. Perhaps oddest is his Assisi gathering—admittedly far more tame than the previous two—after his predecessor's events in St. Francis' town irked him near resignation.

Much like his 1988 counter-part, Marcel Lefebvre, Benedict XVI is a quilt of unusual tiles which form a whole difficult to discern.

Offering the 1962 rite in Weimar.
Much like Lefebvre he revived use of the 1962 Missal, although, again like Lefebvre, he missed an opportunity to resuscitate a liturgy more reflective of the Roman tradition. Many traditionalists fawned over Benedict's acceptance of the FSSPX thesis that the "Traditional Latin Mass" was "never abrogated." As I have stated elsewhere here, it was never abrogated in the strict sense, but 1962 was certainly not usable after 1964. The result of Summorum Pontificum was two competing conservative elements, the "neo-conservative" Ultramontanists and the Traditionalists with some variation of the FSSPX agenda. The first group wanted to make 1969 and 2009 the same thing while the other wanted to banish anything beyond the halcyon year of 1962.

Still Summorum has its benefits. While SP proliferated occasional celebrations of the rite of Econe it also caused some circle to begin a serious re-evaluation of the liturgical trends of the last century. More priests celebrated the pre-Pius XII Holy Week last year than when Summorum came out of Rome in 2007. Gregory diPippo of New Liturgical Movement and Rubricarius of the St. Lawrence Press have contributed to the popular education of many in the liturgical reform process and, more importantly, in what treasures have been lost over the years. In a recent post Fr Richard Cipolla gloats over Fr Thomas Kocik's capitulation from "reform of the reform" to the "Traditional Latin Mass," assuming it must be the starting point of liturgical reform. Cipolla may think Kocik has had a breakthrough while I think he has only scratched the surface.

Years must pass before we can evaluate whether or not Summorum Pontificum was a net sum positive for the Catholic Church, and it may well be, but we could certainly say at this point that it did not succeed in meeting Pope Benedict's expectations. Personally I think Benedict wanted the revival of the 1962 rite to accomplish two objectives:
  1. to create liturgical continuity between the immediately pre-Conciliar praxis and the current praxis
  2. to offer a bridge for the Society of St Pius X to return to canonical standing
The continuity objective, the interest of a very narrow group of theologians heavily invested in the changes of the 1960s, ended the moment Ratzinger resigned. The second flopped when talks broke down in 2011, partly because of Rome's constantly changing criteria for re-integration and partly because the extreme elements of the FSSPX caused internal dissidence.

Pope Benedict looking very shiny.
More relevant to the average Church-goer are Benedict's efforts with the Pauline liturgy. This, more than anything else, illustrates his entire papacy: trying to lead by a few public and inconsistent examples and unwilling to back these efforts with legislation. Early in his papacy there had been some chatter of substantial changes to the Pauline Mass concerning the Offertory, the Sign of Peace, and the number of Eucharistic Prayers. In the end all we got was a new translation in one language. His second Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, found some very shiny old vestments and paired them with enormous baroque mitres. They even put some extra candles on the altar and celebrated ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel once a year.

These gestures, particularly the ad orientem celebrations, garnered international and mainstream interest, but Benedict never took them any further. At his Masses in the Roman basilicas he still sat in a chair in front of the altar, closing it off from the circle of communication for the first half of Mass. He never celebrated ad orientem at World Youth Day or other major events and so people never became accustomed to it. The Sistine Masses encouraged some fellow reformers of the reform, but few else. The Pauline Mass, as practiced in 95% of parishes today, is the same in 2014 and it was in 1984. Even if legislation mandating ad orientem, Communion on the tongue, or the use of the Roman Canon had been ignored, it would still be on the books for a successor to enforce. Benedict made no such moves. Perhaps most maddening is that Benedict's continuity efforts focused on assimilating the 1962 aesthetic with the modern reality, not on assimilating the Roman tradition and the modern reality. Candles and vestments have a point, but would not a choir arrangement during Vespers send a stronger message than a Roman cope? Would not a real Kiss of Peace be more forceful than a fiddleback chasuble?

As the pope of my youth I will always have a soft spot for Benedict XVI. I attended my first papal audience and first Mass in St. Peter's during his pontificate and became familiar with the Roman liturgical tradition as a result of his work. And yet I cannot help but think that, like Marcel Lefebvre, he did some good yet missed the opportunity to do much.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a very good summary of the ups and downs of Benedict's reign. Thank you.