This is a question frequently asked about whether old and discontinued liturgical traditions can be restored. Actually, this question is one at the very base of the Paul VI liturgical reform in the Roman Catholic Church that claimed be be restoring ancient traditions whilst fabricating a new liturgy on the basis of pastoral expedience and accommodating “post-modern” culture.
One instinct, that of Tridentine and Novus Ordo Roman Catholics, as well as Byzantine Orthodox, argues that when a tradition is broken or discontinued, it cannot be restored. To do so would be archaeologism and a negation of liturgical tradition. We are brought to consider the words of Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei (1947):
62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a colour for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.
63. Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.
64. This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the “deposit of faith” committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn. For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to paralyse and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father of their souls’ salvation.
Naturally, the late Holy Father argued from the point of view of what is permitted by Rome, but he does appeal to Tradition. The practice of scouring university libraries in the search of documents from some “golden age” of the Church’s history, which are almost invariably fragments, and conjecturing a “primitive” liturgy around them is more than questionable. We see examples of this kind of liturgical work in some of the more or less canonical Orthodox Churches when it comes to restoring the Gallican and Celtic liturgies. I have attended Gallican liturgies celebrated by the French Orthodox Church (ECOF) and find something not very dissimilar from the Byzantine Liturgy, just some differences of texts. It just doesn’t hit home for me!
Liturgical scholars in the 1950’s and 60’s feverishly sought to re-order the Roman Canon. See From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many: How it Happened and Why by Father Cassian Folsom, O.S.B. The character whose work he most described was that of Cipriano Vagaggini who worked closely with Bugnini. His arguments for abolishing or reordering the Roman Canon were – “The defects are undeniable and of no small importance. The present Roman canon sins in a number of ways against those requirements of good liturgical composition and sound liturgical sense that were emphasized by the Second Vatican Council“. Much of this kind of work from that era found its way into various Western Orthodox attempts to restore an “old Roman” liturgy.
Another school of thought that does not involve forbidding absolutely everything that cannot prove proven continuity is the moderate approach of reviving late medieval and well-documented liturgical traditions that were partially preserved in the Anglican and Lutheran churches. The work of men like Dearmer was left incomplete (it only went as far as “dressing up” the Prayer Book rite), but it was abiding and captured the English imagination. We find that the spirit and culture of the Use of Sarum (and by extension the other English and northern French diocesan uses) never completely died like the old Gallican world. Revival and restoration to a more complete extent is possible. We have only to build on an existing basis.
Ecclesial context is vital, but the most difficult. Churchmen are often selfish in this respect and find it difficult to look beyond their own horizons. When the original ecclesial context is lost or distorted to such an extent that it becomes impossible to stay, that is when the drama begins. Most Roman Catholic and Orthodox hierarchs cannot understand such an aspiration – You can come into our Church but without your baggage. Churches for the most part do not want immigrants from other Churches, shipwrecked sailors even less!
So, what is needed is education. We need to understand what we are doing so that we can teach others to understand our aspiration to our medieval northern European patrimony – not just English or from a single diocese. It may seem unimportant compared with the task of evangelism and humanitarian work, but it is the interface by which people relate to the Church and God. Liturgical and spiritual culture go deep into the human psyché. Fiddle with it and millions are alienated from the Church, and they lose God or any spiritual markers. It is a pastoral question, but also one of justice and empathy with cultures closer to our own than of those living in parts of the world further away.
The opportunity has again been missed in the Roman Catholic Church, unless there is some hidden movement in the Ordinariates to take on this work of liturgical revival. There has been much talk of a more or less secret committee to produce and Ordinariate liturgy, but I see no real evidence of one. Apparently, Monsignor Burnham in England came up with ideas, and I heard they were rejected. Bishop Elliott once said how he was interested in Sarum, and Bishop Wilkinson of the Canadian TAC submitted a revised English Missal. Might Rome surprise us by saying – No more fabricated liturgies. Here is the Sarum missal – use that? But, we are dreaming and speculating on something with no substance. In addition, the more secret it is, the more afraid I would be of what might be in the process of being cooked up – yet another primitive liturgy with pastoral adaptations? Ugh!
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia has a very interesting Western Rite ministry allowing several traditional rites and a St Colman Prayer Book. All these can be found at www.theorthodoxchurch.org/westernrite.htm. Orthodoxy has a mentality many western people find it difficult to relate to, but I respect and esteem this option.
In a Church that has the pastoral openness to understand this aspiration, ideas need to be clearly expressed and conveyed without confronting emotions and prejudice. There are late medieval rites that are extremely well documented – complete missals with rubrics, chant books, customaries, processionals, books of rules for the calendar and other ceremonial aspects. They are just as complete as the Roman rite, though perhaps a little less precise in places. This is the case of the Use of Sarum as for the Lyons Rite or the Dominican liturgical books. Everything is there, and different uses of a same family mutually clarify any ambiguities or difficulties in understanding a particular rule. This is the kind of liturgical revival that is no less legitimate than that of the Dominican rite or the Roman rite in its editions from 1570 to 1962. All rites have been discontinued and revived to one extent or another. As evidenced by what is said and done by some Anglicans, the Use of Sarum remains in the collective memory, and as such was never discontinued. This seems something entirely other than fiddling about with documents of Hippolytus and eighth-century fragments.
The issue now is a “Church-vehicle” now that Rome is still not open enough to this aspiration and the Anglican Church is closing to all who are unwilling to accommodate to female clergy. The possibilities are narrow, but this blog is being read and found interesting. We have only to continue the good work…