Thursday, 12 May 2011

Tradition and progress

The Holy Father gave a very helpful address a few days ago in Rome to the St Anslem Liturgical Insititute concerning the reform of the Liturgy. The text, published on Zenit, caught my eye when I read the Pope saying that the Liturgy needs both tradition and progress. He spoke of how today, these two concepts are often seen as "clumsily opposed", when "in reality, [they] are integrated: tradition is a living reality, which because of this includes in itself the principle of development, of progress." How important it is for us to really appreciate this in an era when the new and the old form of the Mass are contrasted by many as opposites, and when the tradition is regarded by many as little more than a bad memory.

However, the kernel of this address is the way in which the Holy Father describes the the intention of the reform of the Liturgy, and the way in which that reform is wrongly understood by some today. He says that the objective of the conciliar reform "was not primarily to change the rites and gestures, but rather to renew mentalities and to put at the centre of Christian life and ministry the celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ. Unfortunately, perhaps, also for us pastors and experts, the liturgy was taken more as an object to be reformed rather than as a subject capable of renewing Christian life".

These words really speak to my experience of the liturgical changes; that the reform became primarily a matter of mere change for the sake of change, and even change at the level of experimentation, as though the Liturgy was something that we could take and bend to our purposes. And that the desire to renew the lives of the faithful by placing the Paschal Mystery more truely at the centre of their lives, was undertaken in an inadequate fashion. This task seems now, at last, to be underway (at least in some quarters) in the whole project of the 'reform of the reform'.

Moreover, the Holy Father at the beginning of his address describes the basic outlines of the current liturgical settlement - the two main camps or liturgical positions within the Church today. He says that the reform needed to have been accompanied by a profound study of the Liturgy, so that it did not fall "into ritualism or subjectivism". The truth of this statement is seen today in that the old form of the Liturgy is seen as over-ritualised, whereas the new form has the tendency to be too horizontal, a tendency that allows both celebrant and people to make themselves the focus of the Liturgy. Yet the Holy father declares that the focus of the Liturgy is "the active presence of Christ". The true reform is the reform of ourselves and of the entire Church, which takes place when we come to Christ in order to draw life from Him.

We are still very close to the conciliar reform and clearly, it will take time for the true nature of the Liturgy and the purpose of its reform to be better grasped by the whole Church, and for us to learn again that the Liturgy is our greatest way to Christ; that the bond which links the renewal of the Liturgy and the renewal of the Christian life might become more evident. Let us thank God that he has given us such a great leader in Benedict XVI.

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