Traditionalists reject Cardinal Sarah’s liturgical reconciliation plan – but that’s not a problem

Cardinal Robert Sarah (CNS)

Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call for “liturgical reconciliation” between the Extraordinary Form (EF) and Ordinary Form (OF) of the Mass, written for the tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum earlier this month – and my comment upon it in these pages – generated a quick, thoughtful, and mostly negative reaction from the EF community. The responses are noteworthy.

I learned that the expression “liturgical reconciliation”, which Cardinal Sarah proposed to replace “reform of the reform”, can actually be found in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s memoir Milestones:

When liturgy is self-made, however, then it can no longer give us what its proper gift should be: the encounter with the mystery that is not our own product but rather our origin and the source of our life. A renewal of liturgical awareness, a liturgical reconciliation that again recognizes the unity of the history of the liturgy and that understands Vatican II, not as a breach, but as a stage of development: these things are urgently needed for the life of the Church.

That’s notable, as “reform of the reform” was identified with Cardinal Ratzinger, and moving away from it might be thought to be a distancing from his liturgical ideas. In the case of “liturgical reconciliation” that it is not the case.

Gregory DiPippo expressed a view that the new three-year OF lectionary is not superior to the one-year EF lectionary.

This is a point of significant disagreement. I wrote that the superiority of the OF lectionary was a matter of broad consensus. I understated that, actually; it is nearly a unanimous position even in conservative liturgical circles, but evidently leading voices in the EF community do not think so. While there are clearly some weaknesses in the OF lectionary – the prologue of St. John’s Gospel is never heard by most Catholics – its more ample inclusion of Scripture is surely an improvement. It may be here that Cardinal Sarah’s warning about treating the EF as a “museum object” is most on the mark.

Joseph Shaw suggested that there is no need for reconciliation. Catholics who prefer the EF can have it, as can those who prefer the OF. The two exist happily side by side, and never the twain shall meet. After all, no one calls for “reconciliation” between the Syro-Malabar rites and the Byzantine liturgy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

“Above all I would like to suggest that the Church has nothing to fear from a varied liturgical landscape: a landscape becoming more varied as Eastern Rite Catholics flee to the West,” Shaw wrote.

Such a position would eventually have to address how the 1962 Missal might ever be modified, as the Eastern rites can be modified. But that appears to be an issue for generations hence. For now it appears there is a leadership consensus that neither a jot nor tittle of the 1962 Missal ought be touched.

Father John Zuhlsdorf writes a blog that has a pugilistic style. He celebrates both the EF and OF, but has characterized the latter as baby food suitable for children. The language of his response might then be exaggerated, but the psychological dimension he addresses is important (emphasis in original):

I think we all can agree that at the heart of most instances of reconciliation, especially in the life of the Church, all parties need a “change of heart”. However, I must of observe that, for decades, many of the traditional leaning, have experienced their hearts being torn from their breasts and stomped on by the other side, as it were. Their hearts have again and again been bruised and riven. If a change of heart is at the heart of reconciliation, then so are apologies.

It is unlikely that apologies are going to be forthcoming. Yet Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s point about wounds requiring time to heal is valid; he may be right that the EF community is too wounded just now for reconciliation. A challenge though is to ensure that wounds are not passed down to younger devotees of the EF who were not around to have their hearts riven.

Cardinal Sarah’s intervention has made clear that even when friends of the EF – Sarah himself, or Cardinal Raymond Burke – speak about enrichment of the EF by the OF, they lack for supportive listeners in the EF leadership.

From a pastoral point of view, this is not a great problem. Even in those places where the EF is readily available, it constitutes a tiny minority of Catholics – with the possible exception of French-speaking Europe. The more pressing issue by far is the enrichment of the OF, which can happily be done independent of any changes in the EF. Which is for the best, as it is clear that none such are likely to come any time soon.