New Regulations Sicken Liturgical Reform

Ever wonder what happened to all those struggles a few years back around questions of whither the liturgical reform? Turns out it wasn't whither, it was whether. When the dust settles from the recent scandals, those who have stuck around will probably notice they're hearing male pronouns a lot more often than they used to. They'll notice the assembly (perhaps now called the congregation again or even more honestly the audience) going down on their knees now more often as befits their modest place in the institution.

We're told that when all the repairs have been made, no Martian visitor will have any trouble concluding that in this church we all know who's ordained and who isn't, and we all have it straight that the whole business on Sunday morning is about getting frail white hosts turned into the Blessed Sacrament. The barbarians who rampaged through our services beginning in the wake of Vatican II will have been sown the exit door.

In many dioceses this fall, parishes will implement the new regulations (GIRM, The General Instruction on the Roman Missal). This is Rome's gift to those who could never get it straight that the reforms of Vatican II would take some time, would go through difficult periods, but would ultimately be a grace to shape Christian life. Those who saw the reform itself as flawed and who ran endlessly to Rome to complain about the "abuses" have been heard by willing Roman ears. The toothpaste is being put back in the tube.

The International Committee on English (ICEL), for all good purposes, is no more. The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy now enjoys doing whatever it is told to do. Some of us in the publishing business who thought we were being of assistance to the Vatican renewal have been fired. Books have been taken from the shelves.

These new GIRM regulations are not a total return to the days of Trent except in this sense: The liturgy which Vatican II said was to be done by the people : though very few parishes arrived at that point : is now clearly to be done in front of the people. The two all-important separations mentioned earlier (ordained/non-ordained, bread/Blessed Sacrament) are the driving force of this regression. Somebody got the idea that Catholics couldn't distinguish any more; that is not my experience, but as a campaign to cast fear into episcopal hearts, it worked. God knows it was easier than solving a few of the real problems.

Here's part of the sadness. Through much of the 1990s, The International Committee on English (ICEL) : and remember this has always been an organization of the English-speaking countries : was working out the revisions of the sacramentary (now called the Roman Missal again). Their efforts were based upon thirty-plus years of experience in the world's parishes and a great growth in scholarship. The consultation was extensive, and the bishops themselves had ample opportunity to participate in the process. All that work now seems lost. Perhaps in 10 or 20 or 100 years the archives will be opened; then this work will be used as the basis to pick up the renewal that ended in 2000-2003.

But what to do in the meanwhile? Why should those parishes where long and hard work has been done to bring life to liturgy and liturgy to life now turn back? These parishes have discovered how baptized people do hunger and thirst for a liturgy that they have made their own : a liturgy that sustains both individuals and the whole community in striving for Gospel living. If a parish has come to live from its liturgy, then that liturgy should continue.

When this mean and sad phase in the institution has passed, we will need those parishes to remind us what Vatican II was really all about.

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