US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A papal roadblock to the "reform of the reform"?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Among the unhappy commenters on the papal shift since the election of Pope Francis are proponents of the so-called "reform of the reform" of the liturgy. These folks by and large have been driving what others (and I count myself among them) see as the reversal of Vatican II's liturgical reform. They began to gain major traction in the 1990s with minor victories on issues such as inclusive language, which they oppose. (My first task as an editor at Chicago's Liturgy Training Publications was a painstaking and painful removal of inclusive language from the translation of the Revised New American Bible, used in the lectionary, after it was deemed too inclusive just before its publication.)

Fueled by a vocal minority, the reform-the-reformers reached the zenith of their influence with the release of the disastrous Liturgiam authenticam, which abandoned previous, more flexible translation principles for a stultifying word-for-word approach. That document yielded the clunky English translations that Catholic assemblies and presiders continue to struggle with--with good reason, since some of its sentences are hardly recognizable as English. The other great victory of the reform-the-reform crowd was Pope Benedict XVI's sweeping restoration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy (the so-called extraordinary form), which, blessedly, has not gained major traction, largely because the vast majority of Catholics have little interest in what it now a museum piece for most.

This kind of effort requires infrastructure, and there are a surprising number of journals and interest groups that have succeeded in foisting on Catholics a particular (and particularly clerical) vision of liturgy. And they had well-placed allies, including the current papal master of ceremonies, Guido Marini, who replaced the more reform-minded Piero Marini, who served for the bulk of Pope John Paul II's pontificate. The latter Marini steered papal liturgies in the reform-the-reformers direction, which included regular use of Latin.

But there seem to be a change in the air: Pope Francis--who to my knowledge has yet to use anything other than the vernacular in the liturgy--has appointed six new priests to advise the current Marini, all of them with ties to the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at San'Anselmo, a school that has by and large remained centered in the vision of renewal begun at Vatican II and pursued by its main architect, Annibale Bugnini. Piero Marini, now an archbishop and a disciple of Bugnini, is said to be in the running to become the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship--the first actual liturgist to hold the post in decades, which would certainly mark a shift away from Benedict XVI's regime, a possibility now being greeted with concern by the reform-of-the-reformers.

Yet Vatican II holdouts like me probably ought not get our hopes up: I doubt there will be a change, for example, to the English translations of the liturgy. While Francis has shown absolutely no interest in the trappings of the old liturgy--you won't find Francis wearing a cappa magna, I'll wager--his shift toward more collegiality will likely mean he will restore to local conferences of bishops the authority they once had regarding liturgical translations and practices. Given the make up of the current U.S. episcopate--with notable reform-the-reformers among them--liturgical flexibility, the resurrection of the superior 1998 English sacramentary and its more generous variety of texts and rubrics, or a less rigid approach to liturgy in general are not likely to reappear.

Yet I think there is reason to hope that Catholics in general won't be asked to go any further down the road toward the liturgies of the 1950s. Those who want that already have it, and that's fine with me. The majority of us want what the council promised: the "full, conscious, and active participation" that is our right as baptized people.