fredag 18 maj 2012

It's the Sacrament that really matters

That is what people tell me when I complain about the poor quality of the liturgy. They are right. But you would not serve a meal prepared from the finest ingredients with the greatest of care by the most skilled of chefs - on a paper plate with plastic cutlery.

That, roughly speaking, is where the Catholic church has got to in so many places following the Vatican 2 reforms. Any parish should be able put on a reasonable sung Mass, with the ordinary sung in Latin, on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation. It does not even need the presence of a choir, only the willingness of the priest to make sure that the congregation knows the music. All that is usually necessary to for it to be sung regularly, and even now, there would rarely be a shortage of people who can manage the Missa de Angelis, Credo 3, Pater Noster and responses.

But too often the priest is clearly not willing, so all we get is a wordy vernacular Mass.

What, if anything, does this have to do with Vatican Two? Post-Council documents are explicit that Gregorian Chant and Latin should continue to take pride of place. It is stated that the Mass may be said in the vernacular, which implied that this would be an exception, not a norm.

The model for the liturgy is Graduale Romanum, with a forward by the much-maligned Cardinal Bugnini. The calendar and readings have changed, but most of the Propers in the old Liber Usualis are still there, as are the settings of the Ordinary. If this had become the new norm, there would have been little to complain about.

Something happened. Priests turned their backs on the Lord and faced their congregations. We got, in English, a rotten translation. The musical settings that went with it were of about the same musical standard as TV advertising jingles. The Propers were omitted and replaced by hymns - at best, the traditional fare of the protestant churches, but with the addition of contemporary banalities - poor quality 1970s pop or pseudo-folk. The Gradual was replaced by the Responsorial Psalm, with the response "rhubarb! rhubarb! rhubarb!" Then came communion in the hand, received standing, then came communion under both kinds, then came a proliferation of eucharistic ministers, then came girls as altar servers, which deterred the boys. Then, to make sense of all these variations, parishes set up liturgy committees to decide what to do, when everything was already set out in the books.

Has this really anything to do with Vatican Two? And what is the way back? The ongoing negotiations with SSPX are relevant. It is unlikely that SSPX and the Tridentine Mass would have gathered the support they presently enjoy if the post Vatican Two reforms had followed what was clearly intended ie the liturgy to adhere to Graduale Romanum, the use of the vernacular to be an occasional thing and other practices to remain unchanged. It looks as if SSPX is going to split, with a rump which will suffer the fate of all previous rumps in the history of the church, and a group which will rejoin the main body of the church, and will, one must hope, undo the damage gradually.

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Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

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