Sunday, August 27, 2017

On Pope Francis' Address on the Irreversible Reforms of the Second Vatican Council

This recent address by the Pope has been making the rounds all over the web in the last few days. In this address to a group of Italian liturgists, His Holiness said this:
"...we can affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.... 
"And today there is still work in this direction [in the liturgical education of pastors and faithful], in particular rediscovering the reasons for the decisions made with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial revelations, and practices that disfigure it."
I think this is really a non-story, and people on both sides are going to twist it in their own way. One side will think Pope Francis is attacking them (I don't think he's attacking anyone) and the other side will think that Pope Francis is supporting a false "spirit of Vatican II" that was extremely popular in the 1970's and 80's.
Pope Francis

I think His Holiness is right on the mark when he says that we need to be "rediscovering the reasons for the decisions made with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial revelations, and practices that disfigure it." Unfounded readings, such as that ad orientem worship is no longer viable and is not the tradition of the Latin Rite any longer (as I've heard explicitly said before), assuredly disfigures the Council. And hopefully, with the Pope's pronouncement, this will perhaps discourage some people from falsely claiming that the Ordinary Form is somehow deficient or not the same Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I also think Fr. Richard Heilman had a really good soundbite about all this:
So the next time someone tells you their Mass has really “embraced the spirit of Vatican II,” you should ask them, “Oh terrific, so you have Gregorian chant? The parishioners know how to say the order of the Mass in Latin? . . . ” 
If they look at you strange and say "no," then you might (with a look of confusion) respond with, “then what is it you mean in saying that your liturgy has embraced the spirit of Vatican II?”
Now in discussing this, I had one person actually tell me that "Altar rails were removed per Vatican II. They were a symbol of separating the people from the liturgy."

I have seen no citation from the documents of the Second Vatican Council that the altar rails be removed from parish churches. Furthermore, the altar rail is not "a symbol of separating the people from the liturgy"; on the contrary, it is a symbol of the division between heaven and earth— that something holy is happening in the sanctuary. It's the marker of the place where Heaven and earth intersect. This demarcation was (and still is, in the Latin rite) also symbolized by the altar in the sanctuary being on an elevated plane.
Interior of a Ruthenian Catholic church

So if the altar rail symbolizes a separation of people from the liturgy, then what does the iconostasis in Byzantine Catholic Churches such as this symbolize? Keep in mind the picture here is from a parish in the U.S. and is the norm in the Byzantine Rite. Does anyone really think any Byzantine Catholic priest would agree with the charge that an altar rail or iconostasis separates people from the Divine Liturgy?

Well, someone did try to provide a citation for such removals from our parishes. Here is the "citation" I was given from Sacrosanctum Concilium:
To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection which they demand, the Apostolic See will grant power to this same territorial ecclesiastical authority to permit and to direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suited for the purpose... 
So that this pastoral-liturgical action may become even more vigorous in the Church, the sacred Council decrees: 
44. It is desirable that the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, set up a liturgical commission, to be assisted by experts in liturgical science, sacred music, art and pastoral practice. So far as possible the commission should be aided by some kind of Institute for Pastoral Liturgy, consisting of persons who are eminent in these matters, and including laymen as circumstances suggest. Under the direction of the above-mentioned territorial ecclesiastical authority the commission is to regulate pastoral-liturgical action throughout the territory, and to promote studies and necessary experiments whenever there is question of adaptations to be proposed to the Apostolic See.
"In other words," I was told, "the Bishops were given the authority to experiment for a time. It's how the Mass evolved to what it is today which includes the removal of the altar rails."

I have to say "nonsense" on that claim, as well as for the "citation". It reminds me of something hilarious that the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Francis Arinze, once said at a conference: "The Church from Rome never said to remove the altar rails. If you can find any document from Rome saying remove the altar rails I will give you a turkey!"

The good Cardinal is spot on, and the "citation" I was given does nothing to prove or support the notion that the Second Vatican Council ordered the destruction and removal of altar rails. First, it is presupposing that removing the altar rails in parish churches throughout not only the United States, but the world, was a "necessary experiment". How were these removals a "necessary experiment"?

Also, there was no evolution. Kneeling before the altar rail was a pious practice of the people. Altar rails were removed quite swiftly. In what way does an evolution of the Mass include a call to destroy and remove altar rails?

Again, there were many experiments in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, but which experiments were necessary? When one says the bishops were given the authority to experiment, it might as well have been a carte blanche experimentation, period. Was it a necessary experiment that leavened bread be introduced apart from intinction? Was it a necessary experiment that the laity come forward to a table to self-commune, or pass the Chalice to each other in succession? And finally, was it a necessary experiment that altar rails be removed?

Let's grant, for argument's sake, that such removal was a necessary experiment. At what point do we determine that this experiment failed or succeeded? Because if it succeeded, then we could suppose that the same amount of (or more) Catholics in America believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist from the 1960's to the 2010's, right? That something holy and life altering happens in the sanctuary at the altar?

Unfortunately that's not the case, as 45% of Catholics deny the doctrine of the Real Presence. Then you take into account the vast anecdotal evidence, and we can see that such an experiment hasn't really contributed to the reverence due the Holy Sacrifice and the Eucharist.

The altar rail (and iconostasis) have a deep theological meaning that many have overlooked. To say that it was "necessary" to experiment with its removal is something that needs to be proved. In my experience, I would say that this particular experiment was not only a "practice that disfigured" the Council, as Pope Francis said, but that this experiment was wholly unnecessary and was a complete failure in pointing the laity's mind towards heavenly things; especially as I have seen several parishes in my area restore their altar rails that were removed 40-50 years ago.

Our own bishops, here in the United States, have reminded us in more recent years that the preservation of sacred art and architecture is something important, and have also reminded us that the Council did not decree that altar rails be removed and pitched in basements to collect dust, or worse, thrown out or sold in the secular world. From the 2000 document "Built of Living Stones:
Art, Architecture, and Worship", promulgated by the USCCB:
"'Care should be taken against destroying the treasures of sacred art in the course of remodeling churches.'" When it is necessary to relocate or remove artistic pieces in the interest of the liturgical reform, they can be appropriately cared for and placed in a location 'befitting and worthy of the works themselves.' 207  Sacred art that at one time appropriately served liturgy and devotion but that is less capable of functioning in that capacity must still be accorded respect and never be put to secular or 'profane use'." 
The footnote reads: "EM, no. 24 (DOL 179, no. 1253): 'Care should be taken against destroying treasures of sacred art in the course of remodeling churches. On the judgment of the local Ordinary, after consulting experts and, when applicable, with the consent of other concerned parties, the decision may be made to relocate some of these treasures in the interest of the liturgical reform. In such a case this should be done with good sense and in such a way that even in their new locations they will be set up in a manner befitting and worthy of the works themselves.' 
"Each diocese is strongly encouraged to record and protect the cultural heritage of the faithful. Where possible, a diocesan repository or museum can properly preserve and make available the rich heritage of the local Church. Every renovation project should include a careful photographic and videographic documentation of the building as it evolves... 
"Alteration of Historic Structures: Over time, as public expressions of worship change, there is a consequent shift in the demands on the physical space used for the Church's liturgy. In accord with the norms of the liturgical reform, it is sometimes necessary to alter historic structures that pose a  challenge. 202" 
The footnote reads: "OA, no. 4 (DOL 541, no. 4331): 'Mindful of the legislation of Vatican Council II and of the directives in the documents of the Holy See, bishops are to exercise unfailing vigilance to ensure that the remodeling of places of worship by reason of the reform of the liturgy is carried out with the utmost caution. Any alterations must always be in keeping with the norms of the liturgical reform and may never proceed without the approval of the commissions on sacred art, on liturgy, and, when applicable, on music, or without prior consultation with experts. The civil laws of the various countries protecting valuable works of art are also to be taken into account.'"
Francis Cardinal Arinze
In closing, looking back at Cardinal Arinze, he once said this in a keynote address to the National Convention of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in 2003:
Some people think that liturgical renewal means the removal of kneelers from Church pews., the knocking down of altar rails or the positioning of the altar in the middle of the sitting area of the people. The Church has never said any such thing. Nor does liturgical restoration mean iconoclasm or the removal of all statues and sacred images. These should be displayed, albeit with good judgment. And the altar of the Blessed Sacrament should be outstanding for its beauty and honored prominence, otherwise in some so-called restored churches one could rightly lament: “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him” (Jn 20:13)... 
The shape of the church building has its importance. As someone has said, a gym that looks like a church is still a gym. Some questions can be of help. Does this church building help to raise people’s minds to God, to the transcendent? Where are the tower, the bell, the Cross? Within the church, is the sanctuary clearly distinguished from the rest of the church? Why were the beautiful altar rails that have been there for one or two centuries removed against the wishes of many of the parishioners? 
Why is it so difficult to make out where the tabernacle is located? Where is Our Blessed Mother’s statue or image? Is iconoclasm back? I am aware that the renovation of church buildings can be a contentious issue. Bishops and members of Liturgical Commissions have the delicate task of weighing all sides of the question. But before the hammer or compressor machine is applied to objects that have touched the devotional sensitivity of the people for decades or even centuries, those who have to take the decision cannot avoid asking themselves whether there are reasons weighty enough to upset so many people and ask the parish or diocese to pay for the exercise.
No doubt, these are wise words that we should all contemplate, especially if we are to all go back and do a thorough re-reading of the documents from the Second Vatican Council as Pope Francis suggests.

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