Saturday, January 21, 2012

Another "Baby" tossed out with the Bath Water

Back in September 2011, I published a review of PART I of a book I was truly excited about: "The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite", by Laszlo Dobszay (T&T Clark, New York, 2010) 

At that time, I promised a review of PART II and finally, on this snowy Saturday here in Kyiv, I've manage to make my way through the bulk of this important work. A goodly amount of space in PART II of Dobszay's book is dedicated to the Roman Gradual, chant, church music: not exactly my forte. Even so, the book is in every respect impressive. It may be a scholarly road-map to restoration of the continuity of tradition in the Roman Rite, for healing the rupture we have experienced, but my question to myself is, why should I follow his lead and bow to his judgments concerning what should or shouldn't be? No doubt his criticism of the post-conciliar commissions' work which produced the 1970 Missal of Pope Paul VI is spot on, but why must I buy his approach to reform either in whole or in part?

The author is eminently faithful to his premises and in the end offers a vision of what reasonably would or could have happened after the Second Vatican Council had the process of reforming the liturgy not been hijacked. The academician, the theorist gets high marks from me, but I don't know what relevance the whole practical application part of the thing has to where we find ourselves in the world, or should I say, in the average parish. Most people I know would conclude that opting for Dobszay is like drawing that infamous card in the game Monopoly, which reads: "Go directly to Jail; do not pass GO; do not collect $200." The "mutual enrichment" of the two forms of the Roman Rite of which the Holy Father speaks in Summorum Pontificum radiates hope and confidence in the fruits which can arise from the living experience of the two celebrated rightly and well along side each other. Despite what he asserts in PART I, Dobszay offers no plan for what he wants to achieve which doesn't imply violence analogous to that of the post-conciliar renewal which was imposed and sometimes hastily upon the Church. It is all too evident that he wants to shelve the Novus Ordo as quickly as possible and pick up where we left off in 1962 with a series of temporary and transitional concessions to clergy and faithful who have never ever experienced Latin. With all due respect to the master now deceased, I don't think he's being realistic. I think the Holy Father anticipates a gentler hand when it comes to mutual enrichment.

On the one hand, the author seems comfortable with the so-called "Benedictine arrangement", with the priest on the opposite side of the altar from the people. While I too cannot justify huge expenditures to renovate recent church constructions with no focal point or a misplaced altar, so to speak, even for the sake of enabling ad Orientem worship, I would still give that aspect of the restoration top priority. He seems more interested in the number and height of the candles. On the other hand, he is adamant about having the priest pray everything in Latin (Low Mass model, where Father did everything) when there is not a choir or a schola with whom he can sing along in Latin or if that choir should sing the given part, antiphon or ordinary of the Mass in the vernacular. The dialogical character of the Novus Ordo would truly enrich the older form of the Roman Rite.

The great service which Dobszay provides is to document all the evidence for the existence of a tragic rupture with the tradition. His approach to the Divine Office and the restoration for monastic communities of all the traditional hours and in their traditional form sounds great. I like the idea of putting that treasury in everyone's hands and prescribing the parts of that wealth of material to be celebrated by others, such as ordinary priests. Whether his schema for achieving that goal is the only one or the best one remains to be seen. No doubt he's right about the Lectionary as well and he has some good ideas for improving the calendar. Nonetheless, you'd wonder if he had ever been outside of Europe when he talks about restoring the Epiphany to January 6 for the whole Church. Much of my world only discovered this beloved feast when it was transferred to Sunday. In the upper Midwest of the U.S. in the 1950's Epiphany was a celebration for parochial school children and those who came to daily Mass. Now on a Sunday it belongs to the whole parish.

All of this is to say that although I think his book is important and that the restoration and organic development of the Roman Rite will be based on the 1962 Missal, it won't be done without the Novus Ordo. The urgency is to press for respect for the rubrics found in the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, to purge liturgy of musical and other banalities, and wherever and as soon as possible to gift our people with worship ad Orientem, from the Preparation of the Gifts until Communion.

Someone might say, "You've missed the point of Dobszay! He doesn't claim to know the way forward but only projects an optimal end result." That may be, and he certainly enriches the literature on the topic. Even so, his book and my few marginal notes will go back on the shelf and I'll keep praying for "mutual enrichment". 

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