THE MODERN RITE
by Mgr Klaus Gamber
(St Michael's Abbey Press, 2002, 87pp, $33.40 plus $4.40 postage. Available from P0 Box 180, Sumner Park, Qld 4704, (07) 3279 7415)
This small book consists of a collection of eleven pungent, easy-to-read essays by the noted German liturgist, Monsignor Klaus Gamber, who is already well-known to English speakers for his book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.
At The Modern Rite's launch in London in April, Fr Aidan Nichols OP said that Mgr Gamber has "let off a set of squibs and rockets", seemingly out of character for this learned and scholarly man, but motivated by love, concern, anxiety."
The topics covered include: the orientation of the altar and Mass facing the people; the problem of the vernacular; the reform of the calendar; Communion in the hand; the antiquity of the doctrine of the Mass as a sacrifice; participation by the laity; liturgical continuity.
Fr Nichols observes: "Certain themes predominate: the fact that worship is God-centred and Christ-centred, not assembly-centred, us-centred; that its liturgical expression must develop naturally, gradually, not by massive ruptures and remakes; that Western Catholic worship should move closer to the Christian East with its liturgical richness and amplitude, rather than to Protestantism with its truncations of the mediaeval rite."
In recent years, people have often cited the ancient adage, lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of worship establishes the rule of faith) - which in popular terms can be translated, "Your way of worshipping indicates your belief." In practical terms, this means that if local rituals are self-composed or of recent origin, its is indicative that the beliefs are the same.
It is very difficult to maintain right belief where the mode of worship is defective, unless one is devoted to private reading and instruction. For those well-instructed and who read good books, it is quite possible to keep the Faith while your weekly liturgy is a poor or defective expression of it. But since most Catholics are not reading good Catholic literature, the only contact with the Faith in any regular and significant way is Sunday Mass.
So Mgr Gamber writes: "One thing is certain: unceasing changes in the form of worship arouse in the faithful a feeling of insecurity, an insecurity which spreads out from the area of worship all across the foundations of the Faith, since most people are unable to distinguish what is essential from what is inessential" (p. 62).
Mgr Gamber always argues his case intelligently and reasonably. Being a liturgical scholar, he has solid grounds for his positions. As Fr Nichols said, his observations on the liturgical reform are "sharply expressed but carefully thought out and historically well-grounded."
The author was not a "strict Traditionalist", if by that term one means that the very idea of a liturgical reform is all wrong. He admits principles of reform, but criticises the excesses and false applications of legitimate principles. However, on occasions he also criticises bad principles of reform which were followed by the Roman Consilium for the liturgy after Vatican II.
He was highly esteemed by Cardinal Ratzinger, who is quoted on the back cover: "After the Council ... in place of the liturgy as the fruit of organic development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it - as in a manufacturing process - with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product. Gamber, with the vigilance of a true prophet ... opposed this falsification, and, thanks to his incredibly rich knowledge, indefatigably taught us about the living fullness of a true liturgy."
Fr Peter Joseph is Vice-rector and Dean of Studies at Vianney College seminary, Wagga Wagga.