We all know we need to careful when it comes to reading the newspaper. I was often told as I was growing up that paper never refuses ink and just because a newspaper says something is true, it is not necessarily so. When you get into the nuances of hermeneutics and "sources", a good salt cellar is a handy tool to have at your side.
The same rule could also be applied to the writings of some theologians and liturgists: one needs to be very careful when thrashing through the ideas and proposals of certain thinkers - knowing where they are coming from is vital. When reading their account of history, it is even more important to check facts - ideas and opinions are exactly that, but when it comes to historical reality, then we have to show prudence for a false history can serve as a very shaky foundation.
This is especially true when it comes to Church history, and liturgical history in particular. There is an excellent article by Michael Foley on the Crisis Magazine website, exposing five of the most common myths proposed by liturgists in the last number of decades as an argument to introduce revolutionary ideas and practices in the Catholic liturgy.
For years these versions of how the early Church worshipped were accepted as fact and changes in the Mass and the orientation of prayer were founded on these very "historical facts". By the time I got to seminary to study liturgy enough research had been carried out by objective parties to undermine these myths, so much so our lecturers put their hands up and admitted that there was no evidence to support their propositions but they think the new way is the best and, anyway, people are used to it now so things cannot be changed. Their ideological work done and reinforced, they can afford to let the cat out of the bag.
Well, they thought they could, but they did not factor Pope Benedict into the equation, nor Summorum Pontificum nor the establishment of the new Ordinariates, nor the corrected translation of the Roman Missal nor the orthodox nature of the up and coming generation of priests, religious and laity.
Now those of you who know me know I am not a Traditionalist, though I count some Traditionalists among my friends and we have had many conversations on the liturgy. While I am often infuriated by the attitude of some Traditionalists and their views, some of whom pick and chose when they are faithful to the Pope and when not, the ones who are truly faithful to the Pope and not reactionary I respect and admire.
When it comes to the liturgy I am a liberal: not in accord with the usually meaning of the term, I assure you. Unlike the ideological liberals, I have no problem whatsoever with the normalisation of the Extraordinary Form and making it widely available. I think Pope Benedict is on to a winner with his hope that the two forms of the Latin Rite will cross pollinate and, in time, one form may emerge organically with the best of both. Now I know that statement may give some Traditionalists a stroke, but, if they survive it, they may realise that that will not happen in their lifetime nor in mine: the Church tends to work and think in terms of centuries, and the recalibration of the sacred liturgy will take time.
At the heart of the reform of the liturgy is, of course, a return to reverence, devotion and prayer: three things which tend to be absent to various degrees at many liturgical celebrations. We need to be reacquainted with the idea of sacred space - something the liberals have been talking about for years, but ironically, have managed to undermine. Indeed in creating sacred space out in a field or forming a coven in a group, they have turned the sanctuaries of churches into marketplaces.
Reclaiming the sacred space will include how we behave in a church, and at the moment that is a real issue as people treat the building as if it was an ordinary public hall. In Ireland in particular we have a real problem of talking, and loud talking, in churches, particularly in the time before and after Mass. They have forgotten what a church is, and indeed, they have forgotten who is there.
Over time I have begun to realise the importance of altar rails, dividing the sanctuary from the the rest of the church: a physical reminder to all of us that this place is different. Of course this brings up the whole topic of church architecture, another serious issue that has to be addressed. It is interesting that the restored St Patrick's Church in Soho is being considered by some to be an example of liturgical progress: I would agree.
Another thing I have come to realise as necessary, is the reorientation of the liturgy prayer. Pope Benedict speaks about this in his The Spirit of the Liturgy. More and more as I offer Mass, and try to enter more deeply into the mystery, I find myself wanting to turn around and lead the people in prayer rather than stand as the focus of the Mass.
People judge the Mass on the basis of the priest's ability to say it (perform it??), and this, of course, distorts what the Mass is. The priest-performer is under pressure to deliver and make the Mass interesting and entertaining, so he has to resort to new ideas, themes, para-liturgical elements, to keep his congregation (audience??) onside. This has to change not only because greater reverance is needed, but also because thus way of worship cannot be sustained: people's threshold for boredom will get lower and more and more crazy stuff has to be introduced be it clown Masses, or Barney blessings, or aging sisters girating in the sanctuary (that'll drive them out!).
So much to do, and so much opposition, and the worst enemy is the mediocrity which reigns among bishops, priests and laity. It seems for many in the church today mediocrity is taken as a sign of authenticity: beauty, excellence, devotion and ritual are seen as dishonest, irrelevant and unnecessary. Yet these things are part of our human nature, they have always been a means of expressing what is important to us. We are in a bad way if we deny this part of our humanity and our worship.