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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

ARCHIMANDRITE ROBERT TAFT ON THE WESTERN LITURHY



source: BYZANTINE,TX (Wednesday, May 28, 2008)
Archimandrite Robert Taft on the Western liturgy



May 26, 2008 (America Magazine) - These are frustrating times for Vatican II loyalists, as the council’s mandated liturgical renewal comes under attack by those who “look back in anger”—to borrow the title of John Osborne’s 1956 play—at real or imagined deficiencies of the liturgical renewal carried out after the Second Vatican Council. I have been asked to comment on the present situation from my perspective as a specialist in the liturgical heritage of the Christian East. Note that I am neither a liturgist nor a liturgical reformer, but a historian of the liturgy who believes his task is to point out the facts of liturgical history and what they might mean for today. As such, I maintain that the Roman Catholic liturgical renewal in the wake of Vatican II was an overwhelming success, returning the liturgy to the people of God to whom it rightly belongs. The reform mandated by the council was not perfect, because nothing but God is perfect. But it was done as well as was humanly possible at the time, and we owe enormous gratitude and respect to those who had the vision to implement it. So rather than re-examine what has already been done well, I will concentrate on what the reform did not do well.

My list of what was not done well or not done at all leaves aside the overly creative liturgies and other abuses that accompanied the reform. These were the fault of individuals, and not what Vatican II mandated. Nor does my list include anything the “reformers of the reform” want to reverse, like the celebration of liturgy in the vernacular, Communion in the hand, Mass facing the people or the removal of the tabernacle to a sacrament chapel.

A list of work still to be done would include the order of the Christian initiation of infants, the Liturgy of the Hours, the practice of taking holy Communion from the tabernacle during Mass and the retreat from any meaningful reform of the sacrament of reconciliation, which has left confession a disappearing sacrament, at least in North America. Regarding all of these except the last, Catholics might learn from the East.


Liturgical Renewal and the Christian East

In the pre- and post-Vatican II Roman Catholic liturgical renewal, the following were directly inspired by the East: the restoration of Holy Week and the Easter Vigil under Pius XII, liturgy in the vernacular, the Spirit-epiclesis in the new post-Vatican II Roman-rite anaphoras (which calls on the Spirit to consecrate these gifts), eucharistic concelebration, Communion under both species, the permanent (and married) diaconate, the recomposition of the ancient unity of Christian initiation in the justly famous Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, revisions in the rites of ordination and confirmation, and the attempts (in my view unsuccessful) to restore the Liturgy of the Hours.

This influence resulted from a long process of maturation in two fundamental phases: a felt need and a search for solutions consonant with tradition. The need was to renew the Roman liturgy so that, as the council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” says, the faithful might “be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people...have a right and an obligation by reason of their baptism” (No. 14). The solution consonant with tradition demanded that the rites “be restored to the vigor they had in the tradition of the Fathers” (No. 50).

That is where the East came in, when the liturgical movement among francophone Catholics drew inspiration from contacts with the Orthodox of the Russian emigration who had found refuge in France in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. As a protagonist and historian of the liturgical movement, Dom Olivier Rousseau, O.S.B. (1898-1984), explained, this was because “the Orthodox Church has preserved the liturgical spirit of the early church, and continues to live by this spirit, to drink from it as from its purest source.... This church has never departed in its piety and its offices from the liturgical spirit of the early church, to which it has always remained faithful.”

What the liturgical movement did, however, was not so much imitate existing Eastern usage, as make decisions on the basis of perceived pastoral need and then find justification and support in patristic and Eastern precedents, as interpreted in the light of those needs. In other words, Western Catholics’ view of Eastern liturgy and its presumed virtues is simply a mirror of their own deepest longings.

One such virtue is that Eastern liturgy has remained a stable, holistic, traditional synthesis of ritual and symbolic structure that permits liturgy to do what it is supposed to do without the self-consciousness of present-day liturgy in the West. There is a sameness, familiarity and repetitiveness at the very basis of day-to-day human culture, and Eastern tradition has retained this. Men and women who wish to gather to praise God need regularity and consistency in their prayer, which is why people object to having their worship changed every time their pastor reads a new article.

The West might learn from the East to recapture a sense of tradition, and stop getting tripped up in its own clichés. Liturgy should avoid repetition? Repetition is of the essence of ritual behavior. Liturgy should offer variety? Too much variety is the enemy of popular participation. Liturgy should be creative? But whose creativity? It is presumptuous of those who have never manifested the least creativity in any other aspect of their lives to think they are Beethoven and Shakespeare when it comes to liturgy. I hear a cannonball passing a hairsbreadth over the heads of some people.


Where Vatican II Failed

With a view of liturgy as tradition in mind, let me return to my list of what the Second Vatican Council failed to do well or did not do at all.

Initiation. In the theology of the fathers of the church, the church’s earthly song of liturgical praise was but the icon—in the Pauline sense of mysterion, a visible appearance that is bearer of the reality it represents—of the once-and-for-all accomplished salvific worship of the Father by his Son. God the Father saves through the saving economy of his incarnate Son, Jesus, who is the icon of that saving God’s work. The church is the present, living icon of that saving Jesus, and the church’s ministerial acts—what we call the liturgy—are the efficacious signs of Jesus’ salvific ministry at work among us.

This is the unitary patristic vision that the Flemish Dominican Edward Schillebeeckx recovered in his sacramental theology, systematizing in modern terms what fathers like Pope Leo the Great said in his Homily 74 on the Ascension: “What was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into sacraments.” What Jesus did during his earthly ministry remains permanently, visibly and tangibly available in mystery through the liturgical ministry of the church. The breakdown of this holistic patristic vision into its component parts in the medieval church—leading to a list of seven discrete sacraments—ultimately dissolved in the West the ancient order and unity of the triple mystery of initiation in baptism-chrismation (confirmation)-Eucharist.

The denouement of this collapse came, ironically, as a result of one of the most successful liturgical reforms in history: St. Pius X’s decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus (1905) on the frequency of Communion, and his lowering of the age of first holy Communion from adolescence to the age of reason in Quam Singulari (1910). Pius X’s stunningly successful reform had the deleterious side effect of shifting the time of first Communion to before confirmation—an unheard-of novelty totally contrary to the universal ancient tradition of East and West—and displacing first confession so that it preceded first Communion. This destroyed the age-old sequence of the rites of Christian initiation. And it turned the sacrament of penance, originally intended to reconcile grave sinners, into one of the rites of Christian initiation in the Catholic West.

The Liturgy of the Hours. Similarly, in the East the Liturgy of the Hours has remained what it was meant to be, an integral part of the worship of God’s people. Here too the West has lost its balance, reducing the Divine Office to the prayer of clergy and monastics. In the discussions of the post-Vatican II commission for the reform of the Divine Office, the overriding concern was to produce a prayer book for clergy and religious that would be prayed for the most part in private. Celebration “with the people” was deemed desirable, but the whole tenor and vocabulary of the commission discussions show that this was not the point of departure for understanding the Liturgy of the Hours.

The historical basis underlying much of the debate was gravely deficient, based as it was almost exclusively on post-medieval Latin tradition, with its defects of clericalism, privatization and ignorance of early and Eastern tradition. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that the new Roman Liturgy of the Hours, despite its title, is no liturgy at all, but still just a breviary, or book of prayers.

Communion from the tabernacle. Distributing holy Communion during Mass from hosts already consecrated at a previous Eucharist was totally unthinkable in the early Christian East and West. It is still inconceivable in any authentic Eastern Christian usage today. Nevertheless, it would become and has remained a common practice in Roman-rite usage despite its repeated rejection by the highest Catholic magisterial authorities: in Pope Benedict XIV’s encyclical Certiores Effecti (1742); in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei (1947); in the 1962-1965 instructions and norms for the distribution of holy Communion at Mass; and most recently in the third edition (2002) of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (No. 85).

The reason for disapproval is obvious to anyone familiar with eucharistic theology. The dynamic of the Eucharist is one continuous movement, in which the common community gifts are offered, accepted by God and returned to the community to be shared as God’s gift to us, a sharing of something we receive from God and give to one another—in short, a communion. Well said.

Communion from the tabernacle is like inviting guests to a banquet, then preparing and eating it oneself, while serving one’s guests the leftovers from a previous meal. Ouch. The symbolism of a common partaking of a common meal is completely destroyed. Holy Communion is the ecclesial communion of the faithful with one another in Christ by sharing together the fruits of his sacrificial heavenly banquet they are offering together. Communion from the tabernacle can hardly claim to signify this. The Latin Middle Ages had forgotten it, and the widespread continuance of the practice of Communion from the tabernacle, which as been repeatedly stigmatized by the highest magisterium, shows that Western Catholic eucharistic piety is still stuck in the same medieval rut.


In the last analysis, the solution to Roman Catholic liturgical problems lies not in an idealization of the Council of Trent or the East. Western Catholics, largely ignorant of the riches of their own living tradition, mistakenly look elsewhere for what they already have. I am disappointed at the failure of contemporary Catholics to understand, appreciate and market the riches of their own Latin tradition. Stuck in the aridity of late-medieval theology, the Catholic West has stalled the great movement of patristic ressourcement initiated in postwar France by authors like Yves Congar, O.P., Marie-Dominique Chenu, O.P., Jean Daniélou, S.J., and Henri de Lubac, S.J.

The Catholic West does not need to turn East, or to a dead-and-gone-forever medieval or Tridentine past; it needs to return to its roots. Latin Christianity is just as apostolic, ancient, traditional, patristic, spiritual and monastic as that of the East. A Christian culture that produced Chartres and Mont-Saint-Michel; Augustine and Cassian; Benedictine monasticism and Cîteaux; Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Ignatius Loyola, John of the Cross and Charles de Foucauld; Teresa of ávila, Thérèse of Lisieux and Blessed Mother Teresa; and the popes of my own lifetime does not have to copy anybody except Jesus Christ.

Robert F. Taft, S.J., is emeritus professor of Oriental liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and consultor for liturgy of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
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Mass instruction: Fr. Robert Taft on liturgical reform
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
A U.S. Catholic interview

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Opponents of the modern liturgy could use a history lesson, says this scholar of the church's prayer. Overall, the liturgical reform has been a great success.
If any scholar could claim a ring-side seat to the liturgical reform of the 20th century, it would have to be Father Robert Taft, S.J. Taft recalls being surprised when he arrived in Europe in 1964 to see liturgical change already well underway. "Worker priests in Western Europe were celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular because it was the only way to come into contact with the de-Christianized workers there," he says. "The notion of celebrating the liturgy for them in Latin was simply absurd."

A Jesuit ordained in the Russian rite of the Byzantine Catholic Church in 1963, Taft eventually focused his studies on the ancient liturgies of the Christian East, work that has led him to a profound appreciation of the diversity of Christian liturgy in the past and present. "There is no ideal form of the liturgy from the past that must be imitated," he says. "Liturgy has always changed." Tracking those changes has been his life's work, a career that has included decades of teaching all over the world as well as hundreds of books and articles.

Though a historian, Taft is critical of attempts to remain in the liturgical past in the name of tradition. "We don't study the past in order to imitate it," he says. "Tradition is not the past. Tradition is the life of the church today in dynamic continuity with all that has come before. The past is dead, but tradition is alive, tradition is now."

Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, there is still argument about its liturgical reform. What do you make of the continuing opposition to the "new" liturgy?




Let me put my cards right on the table: I'm a Vatican II loyalist without apologies to anyone. The Second Vatican Council was a general council of the Catholic Church, and the popes since the council have made it clear that there's no going back. The mandate for liturgical reform was passed by the council with an overwhelming majority, so it is the tradition of the Catholic Church, like it or lump it.

Unfortunately, partly as a result of the schism of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers, there has been an attempt on the part of a group of what I call "neo-cons" to portray the reforms of Vatican II as something that was foisted upon the church by a small minority of professionals contrary to the will of many people in the church. This is what we know in the vernacular as slander.

The reforms of the council were carried out under Pope Paul VI in a spirit of complete collegiality. Every suggested adaptation, change, or modification was sent out to every Catholic bishop in the world, and the responses that came in were treated with the utmost respect. When changes were severely questioned or opposed by a large number of bishops, they were revised according to the will of the bishops and then sent back again.

So the notion that the liturgical reform was somehow forced on an unknowing church by some group of "liturgists," as if that were a dirty word, is a lie, and that needs to be said.

So the reform didn't come out of nowhere?


The pastoral liturgical movement began in the 19th century as an attempt to get the people not to pray at the liturgy but to pray the liturgy. People were at the Eucharist, but they were praying the rosary or reading a prayer book or something. You had two things going on at once. The whole point of the reform was to allow people to be active participants in the liturgy, as Pope Pius XII himself insisted in his encyclical Mediator Dei (On the Sacred Liturgy) in 1947, well before Vatican II.


What we sometimes forget is that it wasn't the Second Vatican Council that began the reforms of the liturgy. It was Pope St. Pius X, who in 1910 reduced the age of First Communion to the age of reason and, in perhaps the most successful liturgical reform in the history of the church, restored the Eucharist as the daily food of the people.

People who don't know any history don't understand that this was a very long process. When I was a kid, pastors did everything they could to get people to go to Communion on Sunday. They had Men's Sunday, Women's Sunday, Family Sunday, Knights of Columbus Sunday-whatever they could do to get people to go to Communion at least once a month.

Now the vast majority of people go to Communion at every single liturgy-a great success that turned around centuries of history in which people used to go at the most once or maybe four times a year.

It didn't end there. Pope Pius XII restored the celebration of the Easter Vigil in 1951, which took the world by storm, followed by all the liturgies of Holy Week in 1955.


People who complain about the Second Vatican Council forget where it began and how long it took and how long the church prepared for it. The notion that it was done in a rush and shoved down the church's throat is simply ridiculous.

What about the oft-mentioned abuses?

After Vatican II some people unfortunately thought that they had to be creative. As I've said more than once, I have never understood why people who have never manifested the slightest creativity in any other aspect of their human existence all of the sudden think they're Shakespeare or Mozart when it comes to the liturgy. That's sheer arrogance.

Certainly there were abuses, but the abuses weren't the responsibility of the council's reforms. In part as a result of the church's resistance to the Protestant Reformation, Rome refused even very positive suggestions that were part of it, for example, returning the chalice to the people. This in effect put the Catholic liturgy in the freezer for centuries.

When the ice melted after Vatican II, things overflowed and people thought that they could do what they wanted with the liturgy. I can remember some of those "howdy-doody" liturgies. But let's put the responsibility where it belongs.

Everything has its downside, and one of the downsides of the reform was that people were ready to burst.

How has the reform been a success?

The best thing about it is that people have come once again to pray the prayer of the church rather than praying during it, which is, without any doubt, the result of celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular.

When I was a kid, the gospel and epistle readings were proclaimed in Latin and then sometimes the gospel might be repeated in English. Who were we reading them for, God? God knows all the languages already. The prayers of the liturgy are for us.

Now Catholic communities throughout the world participate in the liturgy actively and interiorly, praying the prayers of the liturgy, giving the responses, singing the hymns, paying attention to the readings, and so forth. The Liturgy of the Hours, especially Morning and Evening Prayer, has been restored in parish worship in many countries. This is part of the prayer of the church, too.

The restoration of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults has been a marvelous success for activating entire parishes to cooperate in bringing new candidates into the church. A pastor in Washington, D.C. wrote a beautiful article in the liturgical journal Worship describing how the RCIA had transformed the entire life of his parish, with the people themselves bringing the candidates into the bosom of the church through catechesis, prayer, the exorcisms, and so forth, until they reach Baptism.

The reform has been an enormous success, and if you can't see this, then you must be blind.

What are the arguments of those who still oppose the reforms?




Some complain that Vatican II's reform wasn't done by the council but by post-conciliar commissions, but the same is true of the liturgical reform of the Council of Trent. Trent, like Vatican II, left it to the pope at the time, Pius V, to implement changes in the liturgy. He naturally appointed others to do the actual work.

Why aren't they complaining about the way things were done at the Council of Trent? This is all foolishness as far as I'm concerned, foolishness of people who don't really know the true story.

When Pope John Paul II canvassed the Catholic hierarchy concerning the desire for the pre-Vatican II liturgy early in his pontificate, less than 1.5 percent of the bishops said that their priests and people were in favor of it, so there was no great outcry for its return. The rest of the episcopate said to leave it alone.

For his own good reasons, Pope John Paul decided to permit the continued use of the old rite, and the present pope has extended it to win back these so-called "traditionalists."

But the real problem isn't the liturgy, it's that people, including the Lefebvrites, don't accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which is the teaching of the Catholic Church. They believe that the Second Vatican Council taught error. They believe that Pope Paul VI was not a real pope.

How can you pretend to be Catholic if that's your point of view? I'm not attempting to force anybody to be Catholic, but let's stop this pretense.

What about those who claim that the old liturgy is more "mysterious" or reverent than the new? Are they right?
Absolutely not. The mystery we're trying to celebrate in liturgy is the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation, and we have died and risen through Baptism to new life in him.

That life is expressed in the liturgy. It is nourished through scripture and the Eucharist and prayer. You don't need Latin for that.

Some people think liturgy is our gift to God. If we go to church on Sunday, we're doing God a real big favor.

But our liturgy is God's gift to us, not ours to him. St. Paul is quite clear that the purpose of the liturgy is not what we do at the celebration itself. That is simply the expression and nourishment of what is supposed to be the "liturgy of life," the way we live in the world.

That's why St. Paul never uses words such as sacrifice, priesthood, or worship except to describe the life we live after the model of Christ. "It is not I who live," he writes, "but Christ who lives in me." That's the mystery the liturgy is all about.

Do you think people make the connection?

Most people don't realize it, of course, because they don't spend any time thinking about it. That's why we have preaching.

The preacher should make them think about it. The preacher should wake them up. The preacher should catch their attention by saying something that has meaning for them and their lives today. That's why one of the most important aspects of preparation for Sunday on the part of the pastor should be his prayer and meditation on the readings.

It's not easy, but it can be done. It's done at the beginning of the week, reading and praying over the scriptures, meditating on them. I always read very carefully the texts of the refrains and prayers of the liturgy as well. But, to put it bluntly, it takes that four-letter word, work.

Beyond that the preacher has to open up the meaning of the liturgy itself. Sometimes people will come into the sacristy and ask, "What are you offering the Mass for today, Father?" I always answer: "Open the book, it's all right there. I didn't make it up."

Just read the prayers. They say what we are doing in Baptism, what we are doing in Matrimony. People think Matrimony is a ritual expression of the love between a man and a woman. Baloney. You can do that at City Hall.

What's the difference?


A Christian marriage should be about what Jesus Christ's death and Resurrection has to do with marriage.

What does Christ tell us through St. Paul in Ephesians? Ephesians says Christian marriage is like the union between Christ and the church, a permanent union, a union of love, a union of shared life.

It's not about the love of a man and a woman; it's about the love of a man and a woman in the context of the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation.

Liturgy is the expression of where we're supposed to be, not something that we drag down to where we're at. Liturgy is the ideal to which we must rise. Liturgy is the model of a life given for others rather than life lived for ourselves. The bread we break is the sign of a body broken for us, and the chalice we drink is the blood poured out for us. They are symbols of a life lived and given for others.

When we celebrate that reality in the liturgy, whether in Eucharist or Reconciliation or Matrimony, we're saying: This is what we, with the grace of God, pledge that we're trying to be. If it's not, then we shouldn't be there; we're wasting our time.

How do you respond to the complaint that people don't get anything out of the liturgy?


What you get out of the liturgy is the privilege of glorifying almighty God. If you think it's about you, stay at home. It's not about you. It is for you, but it's not about you.

One of the great problems today, especially among some of the younger generations, is that they think that salvation history is their own autobiography. They think they're the center of the universe. In John 3, when John the Baptist is asked whether Jesus is the Messiah, John says quite clearly that Jesus is the important one: "He must increase, I must decrease."

He must increase, I must decrease. Everybody needs to hear that. It's not about me, it's not about you. It's about something infinitely more important than us.

Why is it important that liturgy stay basically the same week to week?
People will never take possession of the liturgy as their own if every time the pastor reads a new article, the liturgy in the parish is turned on its head. Who does this liturgy belong to?

Catholics need to stop tinkering with the liturgy. They need to take it the way it is and celebrate it as well as possible. If they do that, the problems will disappear.

Take the kiss of peace, for example. Sometimes people don't know if they're going to get  kissed or jumped. I always tell my students that it's the "kiss of peace," not "a kiss apiece."

The kiss of peace is a ritual gesture. What does that mean? That means it's a formalized gesture that carries its own meaning.

The kiss of peace is not an expression of your friendship with whomever is standing around you, and you don't have to crawl over three pews to get to somebody you know. It is shared among people in your immediate vicinity as a sign that we're in the same boat together. The same thing is true of things such as the traditional greetings and so forth.


Is there any place for creativity in the liturgy?


The two places that the church has left to our creativity, the homily and the prayers of intercession following the readings, are the two places where our liturgies are generally irredeemably awful. If you want to be creative, devote your creativity to the places where the liturgy allows it.

I'm not preaching against future liturgical change. Liturgies evolve normally, like languages do. They acquire new words and so forth.

People today say, "That's cool." Cool when I was a kid meant that something just came out of the fridge. So words acquire new meanings.

But it's not the work of individuals. It's not up to me to say I'll use the word window for door and door for window, because that's where I'm at today. If we do that with language, people won't understand what we're talking about.

The same thing is true of liturgy. Leave it alone and it will grow by itself, but don't stand it on its head every Sunday, because people are sick of that.

Some people would like the liturgy to be the same everywhere, as it was before Vatican II. Is that what we should be shooting for?
It was never the same everywhere, unless you wish, as some Catholics would, to limit the boundaries of Christ's church to the Roman rite and exclude the liturgies of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which would be sheer foolishness.

The church is a great mosaic of different traditions, of different peoples. Until the life of the church has reached expression in every single culture, there will still be something lacking. St. Paul said we have to fill up what is lacking in the Body of Christ.

What's lacking in the Body of Christ is not anything about God; it's about us. In other words, until the whole of humanity has become completely conformed to the mystery of Christ, then there's something lacking.

To fill up that lack, we need to have Vietnamese and Chinese and African and Indian expressions of that reality. The sacraments remain the same, the faith remains the same, but they take on different expressions that can all be valid. So there's still a lot of work to be done.

This interview was conducted by Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, during the annual conference of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy in June. This article appeared in the December 2009 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 74, No. 12, pages 26-30)
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