During his analysis of the recently published book, 'The Organic Development of the Liturgy' (St Michael's Abbey Press), by Dom Alcuin Reid OSB, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger commented on the current state of the Liturgy emphasising the need to keep its primary focus on God. The following is an edited version of his analysis.
'The Organic Development of the Liturgy' is available from AD Books.
Like a gardener who cares for a living plant as it develops, with due attention to the power of growth and life within the plant, and the rules it obeys, so the Church ought to give reverent care to the liturgy through the ages, distinguishing actions that are helpful and healing from those that are violent and destructive.
If that is how things are, then we must try to ascertain the inner structure of a rite, and the rules by which its life is governed, in order thus to find the right way to preserve its vital force in changing times, to strengthen and renew it.
Dom Alcuin Reid's book, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, takes its place in this current of thought. Running through the history of the Roman Rite (Mass and Breviary), from its beginnings up to the eve of the Second Vatican Council, this book seeks to establish the principles of liturgical development, and thus to draw from history - from its ups and downs - the standards on which every reform must be based.
The author has made a wise decision, in stopping on the threshold of the Second Vatican Council. He thus avoids entering into the controversy associated with the interpretation and the reception of the Council, and can nonetheless show its place in history, and show us the interplay of various tendencies, on which questions as to the standards for reform must be based.
At the end of his book, the author enumerates some principles for proper reform: this should keep being open to development, and continuity with the Tradition, in a proper balance; it includes awareness of an objective liturgical tradition, and therefore takes care to ensure a substantial continuity.
The author then agrees with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in emphasising that "even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily, but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy" (Catechism, 1125). As subsidiary criteria we then encounter the legitimacy of local traditions and the concern for pastoral effectiveness.
It seems to me most important that the Catechism, in mentioning the limitation of the powers of the supreme authority in the Church with regard to reform, recalls to mind what is the essence of the primacy as outlined by the First and Second Vatican Councils: the Pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition, and thereby the premier guarantor of obedience.
He cannot do as he likes, and is thereby able to oppose those people who for their part want to do what has come into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power, but that of obedience in faith.
I should like just briefly to comment on two more perceptions which appear in Dom Alcuin Reid's book.
Archaeological enthusiasm and pastoral pragmatism - which is in any case often a pastoral form of rationalism - are both equally wrong. These two might be described as unholy twins.
The first generation of liturgists were for the most part historians. Thus they were inclined to archaeological enthusiasm: they were trying to unearth the oldest form in its original purity; they regarded the liturgical books in current use, with the rites they offered, as the expression of the rampant proliferation through history of secondary growths which were the product of misunderstandings and of ignorance of the past.
Yet liturgical reform is something different from archaeological excavation, and not all the develop- ments of a living thing have to be logical in accordance with a rationalistic or historical standard.
Because it is often all too obvious that historical knowledge cannot be elevated straight into the status of a new liturgical norm, this archaeological enthusiasm was very easily combined with pastoral pragmatism: people first of all decided to eliminate everything that was not recognised as original, and was thus not part of the "substance", and then supplemented the "archaeological remains," if these still seemed insufficient, in accordance with "pastoral insights."
But what is "pastoral"? The judgements made about these questions by intellectual professors were often influenced by their rationalist presuppositions, and not infrequently missed the point of what really supports the life of the faithful.
Yet because people's judgements as to what is pastorally effective are widely divergent, the "pastoral" aspect has become the point at which "creativity" breaks in, destroying the unity of the Liturgy and very often confronting us with something deplorably banal.
If the Liturgy appears first of all as the workshop for our activity, then what is essential is being forgotten: God. For the liturgy is not about us, but about God. Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age. As against this, the liturgy should be setting up a sign of God's presence.
Yet what is happening, if the habit of forgetting about God makes itself at home in the liturgy itself, and if in the liturgy we are only thinking of ourselves? In any and every liturgical reform, and every liturgical celebration, the primacy of God should be kept in view first and foremost.
I think it has become clear that this book, which offers a wealth of material, teaches us some criteria and invites us to further reflection. That is why I can recommend it.