Restore or Reform

In this week’s Gospel Jesus addresses a common occurrence in the Christian community: a dispute between two members of the Church. Jesus outlines a procedure for settling such matters fairly. It is interesting that Jesus does not discourage disagreement within the community of the Church; he acknowledges the reality of conflict and error and offers his disciples a means for addressing such matters. Disputes happen in the life of the Church too. All down through the centuries numerous disagreements have taken place, going right back to Peter and Paul! Disagreements are part of the life of the Church today. One example is in the area of the liturgy. With the liturgical changes introduced after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), e.g. the introduction of the priest saying mass facing the people and the use of the local vernacular, some have argued that the Church’s liturgy lost its beauty and mystery. Others point out that the reforms have emphasised the “full, conscious and active” participation of the people. On the 24th of August, Pope Francis, in an address to Italian liturgists outlined his thoughts on the matter. In his address, he highlighted some of the cornerstones of the liturgical movement of the 20th Century, a reminder that the ongoing reform is rooted in tradition and was actually started by two popes often seen as “conservative”; Pius X, who created a commission for renewal in 1913 and Pius XII, with his encyclical Mediator Dei and the changes to the liturgy of Holy Week. Pope Francis emphasised that these reforms came to fruition in the Second Vatican Council’s document, Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963). He went on to emphasise that “after this long journey, we can assert with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.” This clear pronouncement by the Supreme Pontiff has been interpreted as a “blow” to those who would like to see the restoration of the liturgy to the pre-Vatican II form of celebration. This is what tends to get the most coverage in media circles. However, it is very important to note that the Pope went on to emphasise that in relation to the reforms in the liturgy, “there is still work to do in this direction, in particular rediscovering the reasons for the decisions made with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions, and practices that disfigure it.” He said that this is not a question “of rethinking the reform by reviewing its choices, but of knowing better the underlying reasons for it and of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it.”