The Liturgical Status Quo: Clarifying the Issues

When I typed, rather unwittingly, my personal reaction to Fr Thomas Kocik’s re-assessment of the Reform of the Reform initiative, little did I know the the issue would be such a lively one. Most of it has been interesting. Only once has it descended to invective (under the guise of muscular Christianity or something similar). 

Dom Mark Kirby’s more recent contribution is another personal contribution, from one who did his best for the new liturgical order and found it to be exhausting and in vain. His reference to Thomas Merton’s trepidation at the prospect of liturgical reform was an eye-opener. His own later confusion seems to mirror and coincide with that of the liturgy.

There are three posts which have really captured my attention. One is by Dom Mark again, looking at (in part) the merits of the 1965 Missal which has occupied my recent speculation. Purists argue, rightly, that this Missal was not conceived as a permanent Missal but a transitional one. Put another way, it was not an editio typica for posterity. That ultimately seems irrelevant, since the point Dom Mark makes (and I agree) is that this Missal was never given a decent chance. It was an opportunity lost. He explains in his post 1965’s continuity with the pre-conciliar liturgy, and also its modest reforms. He cites the Vatican Secretary of State, writing on behalf of Paul VI in 1966, who expressed the view that,

 (t)he singular characteristic and primary importance of this new edition is that it [the revisions of 1965] reflects completely the intent of the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

It took me aback to see in writing, from the highest authority, what appeared to me to be so obvious of the 1965 Missal: it fulfilled the mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and no further novelty was needed (save, maybe, for refinements or restorations in light of pastoral experience). But what should have been an end-point for immediate reform ended up being commandeered as one in a sequence of changes, each of which softened the blow of the one following. The results we have seen all to clearly in some truly horrific travesties of Mass.


Dr Joe Shaw has not agreed with this view, and did so with his usual logical evenness. One excellent point he makes in an earlier post in his series is that the Novus Ordo of 1969/70 and the Vetus Ordo of 1962 are radically different in their methodologies, for want of a better word at this time of night. The new Mass is built primarily on verbal communication and comprehension, and exalts the text; the old Mass operates primarily by non-verbal communication and silence, and exalts ritual action (I have paraphrased and grossly simplified his writing: please go and read him direct). For him the 1965 Missal is fatally flawed in that it seeks to compromise between the two methodologies, and such a compromise is doomed to failure, as “falling between two stools.” His analysis is compelling and convincing. For him, naturally, the only solution is a return to the Missal of 1962.

Dr Shaw focuses most of his critique on the 1967 changes made to the 1965 Missal, and which were the subject of the Agatha Christie indult. It is the existence of this indult that led me to mention the 1967 changes, since they appear to be licit, permissible even now in England and Wales. By preference, I would prefer the 1964 or ’65 reforms This is not to quibble with Dr Shaw, but merely to clarify.

One thing I do quibble with is his assertion that “none of these changes find direct support from the Council.” That seems not to be a compelling point. The Council Fathers were not concerned with itemizing individual changes, so I would expect to find such direct support almost no conceivable change. This of course raises the issue of the naïveté of the majority of the Fathers, those who came without a fully-worked out agenda and plan of action. They left the field to those who did. Their vagueness served very well those who desired radical change.

Lastly, please do go and read the latest from Dr Peter Kwasniewski at the New Liturgical Movement. He expresses my own position far more coherently than I do. He accurately identifies the two approaches that make up the Reform of the Reform movement: to use the current books with with rubrical integrity, and with as much reverence and traditional beauty as possible; and to revise the books themselves and restore what was too hastily discarded while removing what was too hastily introduced. At present, I live by the former, and I yearn for the latter.

Dr Kwasniewski then goes on to explain that to recognize the apparent futility of the Reform of the Reform is not to have abandoned the prevailing liturgical order lock, stock and barrel. If that were so, I (for one) would not still be daily celebrating, or even concelebrating, the new Mass. “One cannot recover lost continuity by stubbornly insisting on it”, writes Dr Kwasniewski. The options are a complete return to the status quo ante concilium or such a radical revision of the new Mass as to have effectively abolished it, not because it is not valid but because it represents,

a detour, an evolutionary dead-end. It is like those modernist churches that do not suffer gently the passage of time, that are trapped in their own era and mentality, never able to escape from it. The way forward is not to keep developing the modernist aesthetic but to abandon it resolutely and definitively, embracing and cultivating in its place the noble artistic tradition we have received, which retains tremendous power to speak to us of realities that are timeless and transcendent.

Some no doubt see that a “detour”, a new departure was precisely what was needed for the liturgy, to make it relevant to modern circumstances. Whether that view is right or wrong is one question, but what is beyond question is the fact the Council did not mandate any such detour from liturgical tradition.

But we need to remember that any resolution needs to be done fully in the bosom of the Church, as far as possible bringing her members with us willingly and not dragging them by their hair. For now, we must employ the two options universally and licitly available: the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form, and present each at its very best – a new Mass with reverence and traditionally-consistent beauty, and an old Mass performed with loving care and joy as something in which all are invited to share as an enduringly and intrinsically Catholic means of worship. The first must never involve the abandon of liberty hall (as some might see it) and the second must never be the work of a traditionalist ghetto (as some might see it).

For most of us some sort of personal resolution of the issue is possible. For the pastor, and just as much for the faithful Catholic too, the desire must be for a communal solution. For me, as is clear, the glimmer of hope that reconciles the realpolitik of the conciliar teaching on liturgical reform with the urgent need to recover a radical and authentic continuity with the liturgical tradition of the Church’s worship lies in the 1965 Missal. It exists, was used for an obscenely brief period of time, is post-conciliar and yet more comfortably sits in the liturgical tradition. Perhaps it could even be introduced as a third Form (despite my horror of too many options) and allowed to sink or swim on its own merits. Perhaps it would attract those who continue to attend the OF because it is seemingly the only viable option for them, for whom the EF would be too much, too soon. Perhaps it would serve as an excellent entrée to the EF.

Perhaps it could go some way to addressing the acute and chronic haemorrhaging the Church has endured in the last 50 years or so. The need to reverse this dismal decay in the Church is something we can all agree on.

Revive ’65.

9 thoughts on “The Liturgical Status Quo: Clarifying the Issues

  1. Father, again I thank you for this conversation. I fall into step with your thinking at every turn. I have to admit Dom astonishment at the level of opposition to you suggestion that the 65 books might be a way forward in the Reform of the Reform impasse we seem to have reached. Perhaps we are not seeing things “from the pew”, so to speak. It would seem to me there is something very monkish about the 65 version of things. It represents the “bucket list” of reforms of the earlier stage of the liturgical movement, when it was more anchored to the tradition. In the end though, if the purpose is to return us to fully Catholic worship, I side with Dr Shaw and the others. The chances of weaning people away from their religion as it has devolved in the wake of the post conciliar period is well nigh impossible. Very few Church going Catholics will have any interest in the 65 Missal, who wouldn’t be just as happy with Mass according to the 62 Missal. If we wish to make progress with the next (much smaller) generation of Catholics, we need to give them what is best, not half measures that might or might not (Do we really think they would be?) be a useful transition for their elders. To use a useful image given to me by Dom Ambrose of our community: the leg was badly fractured at the time of the reforms, and was very badly set. The Church has been hobbled ever since and has been limping along. The time has come to reset the bone properly and the process has to involve breaking it again.


    1. Salve Dom.

      Like you, I am taken aback by the hostility to the books of 1965. Opposition from hardcore 1970 adherents I expected, but I had thought the more traditionally minded would agree that in these books might be a way of re-introducing a more sacral outlook on the liturgy to those who have not been formed to have such a view and who might be automatically dismissive of anything pre-conciliar, and more open to something demonstrably post-conciliar. All this is predicated on the principle that you meet people where they are, and then try to bring them with you.

      It seems thought that opinions have settled along harder lines and there is no tolerance for compromise or half-measures. While I can well understand those who value the Missal of 1962 as an attainable embodiment of mature Catholic worship, I worry about those now implying (or more) that anything after the late 1940s is tainted by a hidden agenda of liturgical revolution. Some lay the blame at the feet of St Pius X; so should we go back to 1894?! All this playing off of Missals one against t’other disturbs me greatly. There is a great danger people fashioning liturgical shangri-las after their own liking and taste. If that were to become widespread, we would not look much different from Anglicanism.



      1. That last sentance is exactly right! “Churchmanship” will eventually destroy us, but I don’t see anyway to deal with this problem. Since the authorities are determined to sit in a sinking ship and refuse to bail, I grow daily less hopeful.


      2. Well if they do not act soon when they can set the pace, they will find themselves perpetually on the back foot, playing an inevitable and un-winnable game of catch-up. How is it that the Church, once respected for taking the long-term view and never rushing into reactions, has hitched its wagon so firmly to the zeitgeist?


    2. Put simply, the 1965 can be in english, and many other languages. The 1962 can not. That is the appeal. This IS, I repeat IS appealing to the average catholic in the average parish, you are over analyzing things. It is tridentine for the mainstream, forget the handful of imperfections.

      Understand? Making sense yet?

      People are AFRAID of latin…all the time everywhere, every Sunday. Don’t ask me why they are, but they ARE. Overtime they may evolve, but not without baby steps, and this is the baby step most important.

      If the 1965 is done in latin exclusively it probably it’s impact won’t be important, but if you mix it with another language and than you have instant accessibility for the masses.


      1. Well accessibility to the masses is not exactly an evil! But I quite agree that Latin seems to have become the bogeyman of modern Catholicism. It seems quite reasonable to have anything addressed to the people in the vernacular, and anything addressed to God in Latin. 1965 allows for this, while retaining the traditional emphases of the pre-conciliar liturgy.

        Some time ago I read Dr Hull’s book and found it impressive, though it needs a lot of unpacking.



  2. Try reading: “The Dawn of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Reformation Thought” by Heiko Oberman and also “The Banished Heart” by Jeffrey Hull. They trace the origins of the theological/liturgical trends of today that linger from the mid 20th c. to late 14th c, to late medieval philosophies (nominalism) which influenced protestantism. Basically the Eastern churches are the only ones that know what they are doing liturgically and keep it consistent century after century….patristics is the key… the west in the late middle ages forgot to study the fathers of the church well enough.


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