Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Reforming the Reform

From Gerald Augustinus (The Cafeteria is Closed): Apparently, the apostolic exhortation that Pope Benedict XVI will publish in response to the most recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops, tentatively scheduled for release in October, will deal with a "reform of the reform" in regard to liturgical norms. The exhortation will apparently encourage greater use of Latin in the liturgy (but not in the Liturgy of the Word), greater use of Gregorian Chant and classical polyphony, elimination of secular music or lyrics, and elimination of instruments which are "inadequate for liturgical use." The apostolic exhortation is also expected to call for the exclusion of dance and applause in the liturgy, which makes sense to me -- we're not going to see a show.

One area in which I've remained consistently conservative is the area of the liturgy. Although I don't favor a complete return to Latin, especially not a sudden return, I recognize that Latin is the official language of the Roman Church and that it was the liturgical language of the Roman Rite for centuries prior to its replacement by the vernacular following the Second Vatican Council. Catholics should know Latin, and we should celebrate the liturgy together in Latin as a sign of our unity in our catholicity. I also believe that Gregorian Chant and polyphony hold a pride of place among liturgical music forms in the Roman Rite, and that these should be used more widely and should largely replace the ultrasaccharine folk music so common in the United States (especially music with questionable lyrics, like "Ashes").

One reservation I have is that I hope provisions will be made for cultures which are radically different from the European culture and its offspring, the North American and Latin American cultures. I'm thinking primarily of African Catholics and Asian Catholics. Some talk has been circulating that the African and Asian Churches should be given autonomous status similar to that of a patriarchate and freedom to develop their own liturgical norms. Until that discussion can be translated into action, perhaps Rome should at least allow the African and Asian bishops some freedom to inculturate the liturgy in their regions.

With that said, I don't think that this same freedom of inculturation should be extended to North America, and probably not to Latin America either, since our cultures are not so radically different from European culture that inculturation of the liturgy would be justified. Liturgical dance in America, for instance, has nothing to do with our culture, since we have never (until now) danced around in tutus and tights to worship God. But liturgical dance in Africa is quite different -- dance is deeply embedded in African culture as part of divine worship. Some provision should be made for authentic cultural expression, so that both the unity and the catholicity of the liturgy is preserved. While we're at it, though, let us not forget the holiness and the apostolicity of the liturgy; these have, to some degree, been abandoned in the postconciliar reform.

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