Oxford Declaration on Liturgy: intentions of Vatican II 'frustrated'

Oxford Declaration on Liturgy: intentions of Vatican II 'frustrated'

Christopher Quinn

"The manifest intentions of Vatican II have in large part been frustrated"

An important and representative international liturgy conference was held in Oxford in June 1996. Its concluding statement - "The Oxford Declaration on Liturgy" - was highly critical of a number of aspects of the post-Vatican II liturgical changes and called for several major developments to bring the Church's liturgy back into line with the intentions of Vatican II.

The Summer Conference, titled "Beyond the Prosaic: Human Culture and Divine Liturgy," was organised by The Centre for Faith and Culture at Westminster College, Oxford, and held between 24-30 June 1996. One of the stated purposes of the conference was to enable priests and laity "to pray and reflect together on the purpose of the Mass, and on what precisely the great liturgical reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council has so far achieved and failed to achieve." A warm letter of encouragement for the participants was received from Cardinal Paul Poupard of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The Centre for Faith and Culture is a Catholic research centre at Westminster College, which itself is a Methodist foundation dedicated to ecumenism. The Centre is partly supported by the publisher T&T Clark and is linked to two Catholic journals, The Chesterton Review and Communio.

Among the roster of international speakers - each with a particular expertise in the field of liturgy - were several representing the "new wave of the liturgical movement", including Mgr M. Francis Mannion, the President of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, founded in 1995 to express their vision for the future of Catholic worship. Other conference speakers were Dr Eamon Duffy, author of The Stripping of the Altars, who spoke on "Rewriting the Liturgy: the Theological Implications of Translation" and Dr Mary Berry, founder and director of the Schola Gregoriana in Cambridge, who teaches Gregorian Chant and has made many recordings. Her lecture topic was "The Role of Sacred Music: An Introduction to the Gregorian Mass." Also present were Mgr Peter J. Elliott of the Pontifical Council for the Family, author of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite (Ignatius Press), and Fr Edward Yarnold SJ, a Research Lecturer at Oxford University, author of several books and a long-time member of the ARCIC commission.

Sense of the sacred

At the conclusion of the conference, The Centre for Faith and Culture issued a press release which, while noting that "liturgy remains one of the most controversial topics in the Church," commented that criticism of aspects of post-Vatican II liturgical reform was not confined to traditionalists, but that "the need to recover a sense of the sacred at the heart of the Church's worship" was "a new cause" uniting "theological conservatives and liberals alike." It also drew attention to Dr Eamon Duffy's criticism of the "bland vernacular translations approved by ICEL."

Following a Forum chaired by Mgr Peter Elliott on 29 June, "The Oxford Declaration on Liturgy" was formulated as a summary of the conference's conclusions and proposals.

While citing "many positive results" during the period of liturgical renewal since Vatican II, such as introduction of the vernacular and the widened use of Scriptural readings, the Forum observed that "the preconciliar liturgical movement as well as the manifest intentions of Sacrosanctum Concilium [Vatican ll's liturgy constitution] have been in large part frustrated by powerful contrary forces, which could be described as bureaucratic, philistine and secularist."

Much of the Church's liturgical heritage - sacred music, art and architecture - had been "all but destroyed," it added. Despite the call for emphasis on Gregorian Chant in Sacrosanctum Concilium, in many places, this has "disappeared without trace." The "impoverishment" of the post-Vatican II liturgy, said the Forum, had not been "sufficiently admitted or understood - and the "necessary response must be a revival of the liturgical movement and the initiation of a new cycle of reflection and reform."

A recovery of a sense of the sacred could be accomplished via a "deeper acquaintance with the liturgical, theological and iconographic traditions of the Christian East," and greater prominence given to the Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharistic Adoration.

The Oxford Declaration on Liturgy concluded: "We hope that any future liturgical reform would not be imposed on the faithful but would proceed, with the utmost caution and sensitivity to the sensus fidelium, from a thorough understanding of the organic nature of the liturgical traditions of the Church. Our work should be sustained by prayer, education and study. This cannot be undertaken in haste, or in anything other than a serene spirit."

Christopher Quinn is a freelance European journalist.

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