Sunday, September 1, 2013

Reform or Restore?

Do you remember years and years ago all the paper, in the form of books and manuals, which came packed with a new computer or other electronic device? I can remember discovering too that for the most part it could all be thrown away as such items were authored by geeks who had flunked English Comp 101. If you didn't have their mindset, you could not figure it out. It was better to punt, or play the thing by ear. The greatest progress in this field has to be awarded to all who have minimized and rationalized product packaging. If all else fails in our day and time, minus the paper, you can pose your question or problem to an online forum, know that others suffer like you, and wait until you can justify purchasing something new and improved.

In all fairness, however, I must concede that one word was always used correctly with regard to computers and that is/was the word "restore". If your computer was fouled up, blocked or otherwise misbehaving, you could arbitrarily fix a "restore point" which took you back before your problem and enabled you to sort things out. This is what we mean by a "restoration". When we talk about the restoration and organic development of the liturgy, there is not a computer geek in the world who doesn't get the point, because he or she knows what a "restore point" is.

Sadly, the word "reform" does not seem to have any tech apps. This may or may not explain a certain amount of equivocation concerning its meaning and application. For the sake of clarity, I think it would be better to say that there has probably never been a time when the word, REFORM, has had a different definition than the one you find today in Merriam-Webster:
transitive verb
1 a : to put or change into an improved form or condition; b : to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses. 2 : to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action.

Reforming is not restoring; it is changing or improving, not renewing but making something different and therefore new. That is why we don't restore an alcoholic, we reform him or her; we give that person skills and options for living and interacting with others that are new in his or her life. At this point, then, would begin the debate about whether "reforming the reformed liturgy" can ever heal something diagnosed as a rupture, a damaging break with the tradition, seen as the life-giving patrimony of past experience. On the other side, one might ask if it is at all possible to restore a living thing. The danger would seem to be in the temptation or inclination to resorting to paradigms drawn from movies like Jurassic Park. Even short of science fiction, we cannot argue about liturgy as if to say "What would our world be without Giant Pandas?" 

To my way of thinking, Laslo Dobszay makes the best case for restoration over reform of the reform, and Pope Benedict XVI has spoken with wisdom and authority by favoring the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one Roman Rite. My wish or my prayer would be to live to see the day when the enrichment process would generally inspire the Church to urge the Supreme Legislator to fix that "restore point" and empower us to life and liturgy in continuity.

I was intrigued by a video from Scotland which took a very different stance from my understanding of Dobszay on the issue of whether chant is universally doable. This man, at least, is convinced that you don't need a professional schola in every parish to be able to sustain chant in its simplest forms. 

Mutual enrichment rises and falls upon the doable. Our patrimony is beautiful; restoration requires do-ability. As a child I always found our chant beautiful and never quite understood why older folk were draw to hymnody. We see life and development today, in terms of the restoration of chant as an integral part of liturgy, wherever it is chosen and wherever ears are attuned to rejecting the shrill or dull in favor of the ancient patrimony. 

In my previous piece I noted on a very different level that reform involves the hard work of repentance. If there were reason to privilege the reform of the reformed liturgy, then it would be in the sense of recovering our patrimony, of seeking earnestly for that "restore point" which will enable us to set things forth as ought.


  1. I would very much agree that the proposal and restoration point of the late prof. Laszlo Dobszay is maybe the best case. One question remains unresolved, however. Who will be that pope of courage who decides that it is really a true necessity for the entire Church that this restoration should take place. For the time being very few bishops would agree with such point, while our present Bishop of Rome hardly keeps these matters in his agenda.

    1. I think it is important to remember that a key aspect of Pope Benedict's notion of "mutual enrichment" is to encourage engagement. A priori resistance to restoration can only be surmounted through shared reflection and encouragement. Dobszay would have benefited from contact with Musica Sacra Scotland; he would have been more optimistic about the restoration of the EF. A piece I just read on NLM is indicative for me of the kind of engagement which will hasten the day for setting that "restore point". We live in hope, we work, we pray.

  2. In my opinion, Pope Benedict really wanted the old rite because he knew that we cannot simply tweak it but NO is so widely use that he needed to bridge the old and the new, thus, the reform. Reform for me is just taking out the abuses and doing NO in a very reverent manner but I believe that we need a restore point. There will never be a restore point if we do not have a courageous pope who can handle dissident bishops (sorry your Excellency). Restore point requires strong leadership because implementation comes from leadership. Pope Benedict was the person for this but age caught up with him. Our current Bishop of Rome have different chrism but, we need to fix our gaze to God so that He might give us the grace in finding solutions to material poverty. I believe we have what I call poverty of the soul - God first.

    1. That's good, Maria, but don't give up on the present generation. If I look at my own iter I have to realize that much prayer is involved. We need to pray hard for our hierarchy. Those who have occasion need to talk things up and you don't fix a restore point cold turkey. Remember the wisdom of Benedict in teaching mutual enrichment. Reforming the reformed liturgy, especially when it comes to rooting out abuse and cultivating always and everywhere only truly sacred music are a must. As I say, I pray to see the day we can accept a restore point from the Pope.


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