Can you summarize it for me? Some say that the Council intended a radical break with the past to make the liturgy relevant; others claim that the Council’s reform of the liturgy was the nefarious work of a few people determined to destroy the Church!”
This question, from a serious and well-informed Catholic, is representative of many similar questions we’ve encountered recently. It is a different question from “why do we need a new translation” — though it is not entirely unrelated to this significant change in the language of worship we are about to encounter.
More likely, such questions arise in the context of the recent change that permits the old form (vetus ordo) of the Mass to be celebrated side-by-side with the new (novus ordo). People who never experienced the pre-conciliar liturgy, and who have only known a wholly vernacular Mass that may vary widely from parish to parish — and especially those who are attracted to the solemnity and reverence characteristic of the “extraordinary form” of the Mass — are curious about why there ever should have been a liturgical reform. If Pope Benedict, in issuing Summorum Pontificum in 2007, intended to permit wider use of the “extraordinary form” alongside the “ordinary form”, doesn’t this suggest that the liturgical reform was not needed?
We, too, have read the extreme views of the liturgical reform that the letter-writer mentions. Though they reach polar opposite conclusions, both views have in common one basic assumption: that the Council’s liturgical reforms represent a rupture, or “discontinuity” with the entire history of the Catholic Church’s liturgy — and both views are equally and very seriously mistaken, as Pope Benedict has stressed repeatedly. The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council are, truly, in continuity with the Church’s history. And a liturgical reform was needed — and still is.
Here’s an attempt to pack an eventful century into a very short space.
Read the entire essay, "Why the Liturgical Reform?" (or, "What if we just say no to any liturgical change?") by Helen Hull Hitchcock, from the September 2011 edition of Adoremus Bulletin. Hitchcock is the editor of the excellent collection of essays, Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (Ignatius Press, 1992).
Related on Ignatius Insight:
• Reform or Return? | An Interview with Rev. Thomas M. Kocik, author of The Reform of the Reform?
• • Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
• Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | From The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy | Martin Mosebach
• Walking To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
• Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
• The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP