Why Cardinal Sarah’s liturgical ‘reconciliation’ plan won’t work
As Fr Raymond de Souza reports, Cardinal Sarah has called for the two ‘Forms’ of the Roman Rite, the 1970 ‘Ordinary’ Form (OF) and the more ancient Extraordinary Form (EF), to be ‘reconciled’. His reasons are confusing, but his proposals are unworkable.
Writing in a French publication, La Nef, Cardinal Sarah explains: ‘ “Reform of the reform” has become synonymous with dominance of one clan over the other.’ He prefers the phrase ‘liturgical reconciliation’.
The ‘Reform of the Reform’ is a movement among practitioners of the Ordinary Form, who argue over Latin, chant, the direction of worship, altar girls, and so on. It is one of the advantages of the Extraordinary Form that we don’t have to get into these battles. Cardinal Sarah, however, seems to want to solve the endless squabbling by bringing the older Mass into the equation as well.
First, he would like to impose some reform of the reform himself (according to The Tablet, reception of Communion kneeling and on the tongue, the ‘Prayers at the Foot of the Altar’, and the ‘canonical fingers’). Secondly, he wants concessions from the other side: but it turns out these are not concessions from advocates of the Reform of the Reform, but changes to the EF. It should adopt the Lectionary of the OF, and its calendar should align more closely with that of the OF.
The new lectionary is sometimes held up as obviously superior to the old, but not everyone committed to the reformed Mass agrees. The Toronto Oratorian Fr Jonathan Robinson wrote (The Mass and Modernity, 2005, p332):
I think the diversity, rather than enriching people, tends to confuse them… This may be because the selections, as has been noted by others, were drawn up more to satisfy the sensibilities of liturgical scholars than on traditional liturgical principles.
However, another question is raised by Cardinal Sarah’s proposal: can the lectionaries of the two Forms simply by swapped over?
The short answer is ‘no’. To take the most obvious problem, the 1969 Lectionary has no readings for the season of Septuagesima, because that season does not exist in the 1969 calendar. Were the ‘Ordinary Time’ cycle simply extended to this period of three Sundays before Lent, its penitential orations would conflict with readings which can be used after Pentecost as well as before Lent.
Variations on this problem arise throughout the Church’s year. Many of the EF’s proper texts of feast days, and a good many Sundays, refer to the readings. The choice of readings in the Ordinary Form is so different from those in the Extraordinary Form that the discordance would be particularly jarring.
Thus, on Corpus Christi, the ancient Mass gives us a reading from on the danger of the unworthy reception of Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-9). St Paul’s message was excluded completely from the new Lectionary: it is not found even on a weekday. It was felt to be so important by the liturgical tradition, by contrast, that it is repeated emphatically by the wonderful Corpus Christi Sequence Lauda Sion, and again in the Communion antiphon.
A similar story could be told of all days of a penitential character, and to a greater or lesser extent of many other feasts and Sundays. It would be fair to say that a Mass with the new lectionary and the old prayers and chants would fulfil the intentions of neither the reformers nor of the liturgical tradition. This would have implications also for the Office, where the readings of Sunday Matins, for example, comment on the readings of the Sunday Mass.
It seems unlikely that Cardinal Sarah’s advisors have thought these issues through. Something else they might like to consider is the very different role of feastdays in the Extraordinary Form. Moving some to the same date as the OF might sound innocuous enough, but a wholesale revision would endanger the distinctive character of this Form, whose weekday celebrations are not distinguished by a daily Scripture-reading cycle, but by large numbers of often very ancient feast days. Many of the saints commemorated are invoked in the liturgy itself, in the Canon or in the Litany of the Saints. Removing them from the calendar, but not from the liturgical texts, would not strengthen the Extraordinary Form, but simply make its message—about the communion of saints, intercession, and continuity—harder to discern.
Above all I would like to suggest that the Church has nothing to fear from a varied liturgical landscape: a landscape becoming more varied as Eastern Rite Catholics flee to the West. Vatican II reassured us on this point (Unitatis redintegratio 17):
…from time to time one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed it to better advantage. In such cases, these various theological expressions are to be considered often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting.
This, surely, is the direction from which ‘liturgical reconciliation’ should come.