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Catholic Education Daily


Not Only for Liturgists

Editor’s note: The Cardinal Newman Society co-sponsored the Sacra Liturgia 2013 conference in Rome and provided scholarships to enable several Catholic academics to attend.  The Society publishes the following review of Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church, available online here, as part of an ongoing project to promote sacred liturgy in Catholic education.

Not Only for Liturgists

Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
Edited by Dom Alcuin Reid
Reviewed by Father Paul Scalia

It is oftenLiturgy observed that the real fruit of an ecumenical council does not appear for many years after the event itself.  Indeed, the years immediately after a council can seem to contradict it.  After Nicaea's strong condemnation of Arianism, that heresy lingered for centuries. Nicaea seemed such a dead letter that, as Saint Jerome would famously quip decades after the Council, "the whole world groaned and marveled to find itself Arian."  Likewise some decades after the Council of Trent, Saint Vincent de Paul arrived in Paris to find the offering of Mass and training of clergy in an appalling state.  To glean the real fruit of a council requires patience.

It is with that in mind that one should pick up Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.  The book is the proceedings of the International Conference on the Sacred Liturgy, held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome in June of last year.  It was a look at the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium fifty years after its promulgation.  The Cardinal Newman Society was proud to cosponsor the event. Dom Alcuin Reid, who has already done so much to deepen thinking about and devotion to the Liturgy, served as the book's editor.

As will not surprise any observer of liturgical matters, Pope Benedict, who had only months before retired, looms large in the talks.  Several of his observations serve as guideposts for the talks and are often specifically mentioned in them.  First and most immediate, the conference was a response to his invitation to a renewed reading and understanding of the Second Vatican Council during the Year of Faith, the fiftieth anniversary of the Council's opening. In those fifty years much liturgical mischief had been worked by a poor reading or, perhaps more accurately, a failure to read, Sacrosanctum Concilium.  With fifty years of reflection under our belts, with the initial enthusiasm now set aside, and with the sad wisdom from witnessing much liturgical silliness, we are better situated to understand that document and apply it to the pastoral work of the Church.  Such is precisely what the speakers at this conference do, to great effect.

Another important "Benedictine" inspiration for these proceedings is his teaching on the "hermeneutic of continuity" -- that is, that the Second Vatican Council should be seen in continuity with all that came before and not as a rupture.  It is a rejection of the manichean division of "Pre-Vatican II" and "Post-Vatican II."  Pope Benedict enunciated that essential principle (and, in typical Ratzinger style, coined that powerful phrase) early in his pontificate, in his first Christmas address to the Roman Curia.  Clearly, he saw it as fundamental to his pontificate. And just a couple of months prior to the conference, in his last talk to the priests and clergy of Rome, he returned to that point, reflecting on the real Council versus "the Council of the Media."  These two talks serve somewhat as bookends of his pontificate, demonstrating the need not only for the proper interpretation of the Council, but also to situate the Council within the Church's Tradition. 

It was in light of these principles that the conference participants gathered and the papers were given.  Although the Pope Emeritus did not contribute anything directly to the proceedings, his thoughts about the Liturgy inspire and inform them.  Some chapters address these things directly, bringing forward important considerations of the Tradition and its bearing on the Liturgy now. Others take up the question of integrating the Liturgy with other aspects of the Church's life.

Another piece of conventional wisdom at work in these pages is the adage, The Liturgy is too important to be left to the liturgists.  If the Liturgy is indeed as central as the Church teaches, then everyone -- not only the expert-- has an interest in its integrity and reverent offering.  Were it left only to those trained liturgists the Liturgy would become a gnostic exercise -- restricted to those initiated into the higher knowledge -- and not something belonging to all in the Church. 

Certainly we find many liturgical names in these pages -- Cardinals Cañizares Llovera and Malcolm Ranjith (both connected to the Congregation of Divine Worship), Bishop Peter Elliot (whose contribution is worth the price of admission), Andrew Burnham of the Anglican Ordinariate, and Jeffrey Tucker of the New Liturgical Movement.  But there are just as many if not more contributors, whose formal training lies elsewhere but whose appreciation for the Liturgy enables them to bring out its importance beyond the Liturgy.  It is not liturgists only but also systematic theologians, canon lawyers, musicians, and pastors of souls.  We find Cardinal Burke of the Apostolic Signatura, Tracey Rowland of the John Paul II Institute, Father Ignacio Berriero of Human Life International, and Archbishop Sample of Oregon.

According to this same not-only-liturgists principle, the conference proceedings approach the Liturgy from many different angles.  The book is not just a lengthy discussion of liturgical minutiae.  The effort is to connect the Liturgy with other, varied aspects of Catholic life: evangelization, formation, catechesis, the defense of life, parish life, and so on. The varied perspectives and approaches in these pages truly reveal the centrality of the Liturgy as the source and summit of our faith.

In that regard, the pastoral value of this book deserves mention.  The reflections and arguments in these pages should not be regarded as esoteric ideas.  They propose many powerful initiatives for parish life and its renewal. The parish, after all, is the Church in miniature, where the New Evangelization has to happen most of all. If the Liturgy is not renewed there, that evangelization will only limp and lumber best.

The contributions in these pages steer clear of many of the all-too-familiar barbs and jabs that characterize discussions of the Liturgy.  There are a few unfortunate acerbic or snide comments about the abuses we know too well.  But for the most part the speakers strike a placid tone so different from much of the liturgical arguments we encounter elsewhere.  That tone reveals a confidence about the truth of the Liturgy and its ability to form Christ within us.

Finally, in light of this conference one wonders about the whereabouts of those who rushed in with liturgical experimentation and innovation after the Council -- those who promised that it was the way the Church was going.  Where are they?  It is a sad truth that the modernist approach to the liturgy is essentially contraceptive.  It does not bear fruit or pass anything down to the new generations.  If anything, the younger generations desire not more innovation but more deeply set roots in Tradition. They desire precisely what this volume provides.

The proceedings of this conference present the best thinking about the Liturgy, not in an esoteric manner, and not about the Liturgy only, but with a genuinely ecclesial mind and with a view to the Liturgy's fundamental role in the renewal of the Church and her mission of evangelization.

Father Paul Scalia serves as the Bishop’s Delegate for Clergy in the Diocese of Arlington.  He also serves as chaplain on The Cardinal Newman Society’s board of directors.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.


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