December 4th, 1993 will mark the 30th anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. As is fitting, liturgical reviews everywhere will be publishing numerous articles on the subject attempting to assess its significance. From its first publication in 1984 Ecclesia Orans has repeatedly treated the topic and will not ignore this opportunity to once again address its importance.
Not everyone will recall this important moment in Vatican II in the same way. Some will view its promulgation as a crucial and altogether felicitous turning point for the life of the Church. Others, however, will choose to lament it as a form of collective aberration by a majority of the, Council Fathers. Por these it may seem a betrayal of a tradition which would become the source of all the present difficulties of the Church. A lengthy list of abuses, in which they may take private satisfaction, in their opinion is the only result of this unfortunate decree. Such as these accept no consolation, preferring to withdraw into their gloom; still they will pay the price of refusing to accept the facts of history, even as they fantasize an heroic witch hunt for heretics.
We, however, believe that we should be grateful to the Lord and to all of those who have worked for the renewal of the liturgy. They tried, as objectively as they could, to put at the service of the Faith and of life the accumulateci results of historical and scientific research stretching back to the beginnings of the liturgical movement. «Pace» those who in their anger or ignorance say otherwise, an objective judgement of the renewal would conclude that it is based on competent scholarship, as well as on the teaching of the Church and its liturgical traditions. The same could not be said of earlier periods, including the time of Trent, simply because scholars at that . period did not have at their disposal the plentiful editions of ancient texts and the academic tools now readily available to even the most uninspired student. It would be a-historical and disrespectful to accuse our predecessors of prejudice and ignorance at a time when the Church found itself in tragic circumstances. What they did, they did well, given the possibilities and the urgent necessities of their day.
Recognizing, objectively, the advanced level of studies on which the present renewal is based, we also acknowledge that a lasting debt of gratitude is due a long series of discoveries and scientific studies which opened the door to new possibilities. Even an amateur student of liturgy would be able to cite numerous examples.
While we may acknowledge that, on the whole, the renewal has been indeed a positive one, dare we say that there are no problems? To dose our eyes to existent difficulties would manifest an unwholesome bias, lacking in serious depth, and as unhelpful as a one-sided condemnation. The wholesale canonization of what has transpired ill serves the Church and opens the door to another attack of liturgical sclerosis. We must not allow ourselves neither an unqualified admiration of the work which has been accomplished, nor a wholesale resistance to all efforts at improvement. More devastating stili would be an attempt to block, on principle, liturgical adaptation, all the while taking refuge in a sterile ceremonial formalism.
We have nothing but the highest regard for those from our perspective have labored so diligently for renewal and, without going into detail, we gladly accord them all due honor and respect. But precisely because they themselves are critically intelligent they need be keenly aware of certain defects in their work.
Could anyone honestly say that the «Ordo Missae» is without problems? Is the Lectionary beyond reproach? Are the two epicleses all that they could be? Are all the prayers of equal merit? Is the translation of the euchology the only possible one, or might we ask if those same ideas could not be better expressed according to the understanding of the people who are going to pray them. Has the rite of a sacrament, such as Confirmation, been organically constructed, without internai contradictions? Who would not be astonished to see evidence of the duality which the «Praenotanda» established and carries through in the Ritual? It seems to us this calls for a great deal of improvement.
This is not intended as an accusation but rather an acknowledgement that it was not possible, 25 years ago, to do always what should have been done. Thanks to a certain progression in thought more seems possible today. We are not speaking of setting up an agenda, but of destroying the myth of a renewal accomplished «once and for all». This tendency does exist. It is inherent in our human condition, since it is far easier to rest on one’s laurels rather than undertake the burdensome research necessary for further progress.
The blame is widespread. It has nothing to do with the Constitution itself but rather with the way in which it was implemented. It is not too late to address what may be considered a flaw, and this examination of conscience can assist us in avoiding repetition of the same mistake once again. Everyone involved in the press of pastoral problems is subject to such a temptation.
In our view a great number of people regret what can be called a tactical error: Renewal was often imposed without any preparation, in a great hurry, and without sufficient catechesis. The rallying cry was, «Strike while the iron is hot!». To have taken the time necessary to train was to slam on the brakes. With our «20-20 hindsight» we can see what happened. The implementation of the renewal went forward without sufficient effort to change people’s attitudes. It is the work of a few hours to change regulations on paper; it often requires a century to change minds. We must admit that the task is not yet accomplished. Let us change nothing without giving reasons and detailed explanations lest we repeat the same mistakes in the future.
This said, we raise paeans of praise for the tremendous good that has been accomplished; let us be done with seeing danger around evecy corner.
There is no artide in this review which does not intend to make its contribution toward knowledge and understanding. Our fondest hope is to open the door ever wider to progress in the true Tradition, which far surpasses all other traditions.