28Jul The Reform of the Roman Rite by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth

When I am in Rome, I hear very little these days about the ‘reform of the reform’ – it
just isn’t within the arena of most people’s awareness. In matters liturgical, if anything,
we see something of a polarization and many people seem to have a vested interest in
promoting this. Happily, not everyone is of this view and I would like this evening to
concentrate on one such person whose view, fortunately for us, will be decisive. I refer
to the Holy Father. Just ten days ago, he addressed these thoughts to those gathered in
Dublin for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress:
The Congress also occurs at a time when the Church throughout the world is preparing
to celebrate the Year of Faith to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second
Vatican Council, an event which launched the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite
ever known. Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the
Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic
sacrifice. At our distance today from the Council Fathers’ expressed desires regarding
liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church’s experience in the
intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear
that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities. The renewal of
external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter
into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal
encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that
through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one
another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has
remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with
external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical
[Pope Benedict XVI – Video Message at the Closing Mass of the 50th International
Eucharistic Congress, Dublin June 17th, 2012]
During our brief time together, I propose to reflect with you on a few themes taken from
this single recent utterance of the Holy Father, as I believe it is highly representative of
his thought in relation to this all-important consideration. The Holy Father said that:
1. “the Second Vatican Council, an event which launched the most extensive
renewal of the Roman Rite ever known”
Very few people could have foreseen the wholesale revision of the liturgy which would
come in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and certainly few could foresee that
the unifiying experience of a Latin liturgy would become entirely alien to most Catholics
born in the last third of the twentieth century. The unchangeable nature of this
characteristic of the Liturgy was a view largely shared by Blessed John Henry Newman,
Mgr Robert Hugh Benson, Mgr Ronald Knox and, until the liturgical reform happened,
also by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Commentators such as Fr Joseph Gelineau SJ,
composer of the famous psalm tones, went as far as to say “the Roman Rite, as we knew
it, has been destroyed”!
The factors which fed into the liturgical reform after the Council were complex and in
some ways, not entirely contemporary. I think we must admit that until relatively
recently there has been very little scholarship that is able to accurately identify the
sources of the liturgical reform. In some cases, the scholarly opinions upon which some
decisions were based does not stand the test of time. We must hope that scholarly
commentary which unravels some of the mystery surrounding the making of the new
liturgy becomes more readily available in the near future.
Whether or not we have any scholarly insight, many of us have lived in the Church
through this period and have thereby accumulated a vast reservoir of experiences which
for good or ill shape our perceptions in relation to the liturgy and guide our expectations
when we consider what we would hope to find when we come to worship God in the
liturgy. While there is a sort of commonality to these observations across a wide
spectrum of liturgical preference, it goes without saying that whether something is
considered desirable or not will largely depend on your view of what the liturgy is meant
to achieve. I have come to the view that there is little agreement in this important matter
and many people proceed on what is essentially a privatized view of something which is
by definition common property.
In his address to the Eucharistic Congress, the Holy Father said:
2. “a great deal has been achieved”
Obviously, there have been some very positive developments in the wake of the
liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II. Among them, I would cite:
– The liturgies of the Sacred Triduum, largely unknown to a previous
generation, have now become the liturgical heart of the year for most Catholics.
– The Liturgy of the Hours, previously largely limited to the clergy, has
become more genuinely the Prayer of the Church in the experience of both
religious and lay people.
– A wider selection of lections in the Mass and all the Sacramental Rites has
strengthened the idea that Scripture is part of the primitive liturgical κήρυγμα.
– In those places where the principles of the liturgical movement have been
applied to music, there is a greater appreciation of the various functions of music
in different elements of the liturgy.
– The revision of the rites of Christian Initiation has led to a greater
understanding of Baptism as the foundational fact of our ecclesial identity.
– Where provision has been made for individual Confession, there has been a
return to the centrality of the Sacrament of Penance in the personal journey of
– The renewal of the Rite of the Worship of the Blessed Eucharist outside
Mass has facilitated (if not quite inspired) the widespread adoption of Eucharistic
Adoration as a standard element of parish life and as an important means of
engendering private prayer.
On this recent occasion, the Holy Father
3. ‘it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and
– A sense of the communion of the Church has become limited to local
communities that are in many ways self-selecting – many Catholics have a poor
understanding of what it means to belong to the Universal Church but a highly
developed understanding of what it means to belong to a self-selecting parish
community of people like themselves.
– Any notion of the shape of the Liturgical year has been greatly lessened by
an ironing-out of those features which characterized the distinctive seasons of the
– The universal tendency to ignore sung propers and to substitute nonliturgical
– The transference of Solemnities which are holydays of obligation to
Sundays destroys the internal dynamics of the liturgical cycle e.g. The Epiphany
and The Ascension.
– The frequent tendency to gloss or paraphrase the liturgical texts, supplying
continuous commentary, has contributed to an improvised or spontaneous
character in much liturgical celebration.
– The multiplication of liturgical ‘ministries’ has led to considerable
confusion and error concerning the relationship between the ministerial priesthood
and the common priesthood of the baptized.
– The liturgy often seems to have the quality of a performance with the priest
and liturgical ministers cast in the roles of performers and behaving accordingly.
Consequently, congregations are often expecting to be ‘entertained’ rather as
spectators might be at a theatre.
– The manner of the distribution and reception of Holy Communion
(including the appropriateness of one’s reception of Communion at a particular
Mass) has led to a casual disregard for this great Sacrament.
– A proliferation of Communion Services presided over by lay people has
resulted in a lessening of the sense of the importance of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
– The appalling banality of much liturgical music and the lack of any true
liturgical spirit in the use of music in the liturgy has been a primary generating
force in anti-liturgical culture.
The Holy Father then went on to say that:
4. “not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external
level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity”
In my view, this is the very crux of the matter and I would like to illustrate it with
reference to the Mass at which Pope Benedict’s remarks were heard – the closing Mass
of the recent Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The improvements in liturgical culture and
particularly the improvements in liturgical music, that have become increasingly evident
throughout this papacy, particularly in large-scale celebrations were sadly almost
entirely absent from this occasion, giving the event a sort of ‘eighties’ feel to it. More
– the entire liturgy had a ‘performance’ quality to it, with the assembly as the
principal focus. This was borne out by the fact that musicial items were frequently
greeted with applause.
– There was a frequent disregard for the provisions of the GIRM. This was
particularly evident with reference to music:
+ None of the antiphons of the proper were sung for the entrance, offertory and
communion processions (cf GIRM #40)
+ Gregorian Chant was conspicuous by its absence (cf GIRM #41). None of the
Missal chants was used for the people’s parts of the Order of Mass (with the single
exceptions of the gospel and preface dialogues), even though the liturgy was
predominantly in English and these chants would have been known by most people
+ In the Profession of Faith, after the Cardinal celebrant had intoned Credo III,
lectors read the Apostles’ Creed (which has a different intonation to the Nicene
Creed) in a variety of languages, spoken paragraphs were punctuated by the sung
response ‘Credo, Amen!” This is not recognizably one of the modes for the Creed
described in the GIRM (cf GIRM #48).
+ Much music did not ‘correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action’ [GIRM #41]
such as the celebrity spot during the distribution of Holy Communion of 3 clerical
tenors, ‘The Priests’, singing the impossibly sentimental song “May the road rise up
to meet you”. I feel like asking, just what is wrong with the Communion antiphon
and psalm?
+ Despite the international character of the occasion, the use of Latin in the people’s
sung parts was almost non-existant (cf GIRM #41).
The depressing cumulative effect of the disregard for all these principles in a major
liturgy, celebrated by a papal legate, and broadcast throughout the world, is hard to
underestimate. If I were given to conspiracy theories, I would almost feel persuaded
that this was a deliberately calculated attempt to broadcast a different message and to
oppose the better liturgical spirit of recent times. But surely it cannot be so?
I think we have to ask such questions and indeed to surmise that the influence of
former barons of the liturgical establishment has found a new and conspicuous arena
of activity in which to model their example of poor liturgy. There can be no talk of
the reform of the Roman Rite until the GIRM is enforced as the minimum
requirement. If it remains a largely fantasy text at the beginning of our altar missals
then ‘the rebuilding of the broken down city’ will take a very long time.
The Holy Father then concluded by stating that:
5. “much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal”
We must conclude by agreeing with the Holy Father – there is much to be done and
happily a week like this one is a prophetic sign of the new liturgical road map – where
we are going and how we are going to do it! In an attempt to engender on-going
improvement in the quality of our liturgy, and in the hope that Catholics will be able to
encounter a liturgy that is self-evidently expressive of our liturgical tradition and
conveys a sense of something larger than the purely local, in a highly personal view, I
would identify the following as desirable characteristics of the liturgy of the future:
– A sense of reverence for the text: the unity of the Roman Rite is now
essentially a textual unity. The Church permits a certain latitude in the
interpretation of the norms that govern the celebration of the liturgy and hence our
unity is essentially textual: we use the same prayers and meditate on the same
Scriptures. This is more clearly evident now with a single English text for
universal use.
– A greater willingness to heed Sacrosanctum concilium rather than continual
recourse to the rather nebulous concept of the ‘spirit of the Council’ which
generally attempts to legitimize liturgical abuses rather than correct them.
Currently, these teachings are more likely to be evidenced in a well prepared
presentation of the Extraordinary Form than in most Ordinary Form celebrations.
It need not be so.
– In relation to both forms of the Roman Rite, a careful attention to the
demands of the calendar and the norms which govern the celebration of the
liturgy, not assuming that it is possible or acceptable to depart from these norms.
– A re-reading of the encyclical Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII in conjunction
with more recent Magisterial documents. In this way, the light of tradition might
be perceived to shine on all our liturgical celebrations.
– The widespread cultivation of a dignified and reverent liturgy that
evidences careful preparation and respect for its constituent elements in
accordance with the liturgical norms.
– A recovery of the Latin tradition of the Roman Rite that enables us to
continue to present elements of our liturgical patrimony from the earliest centuries
with understanding. This necessarily requires a far more enthusiastic and
widespread commitment to the teaching and learning of Latin in order that the
linguistic culture required for interpreting our texts and chants may be more
widely experienced and our patrimony enjoy a wider constituency.
– We should seek to see the exclusion of all music from the Liturgy which
does not a ‘liturgical voice’, regardless of style.
– The exclusion from the liturgy of music which only expresses secular
culture and which is ill-suited to the demands of the liturgy. A renaissance of
interest in and use of chant in both Latin and English as a recognition that this
form of music should enjoy ‘first place’ in our liturgy and all other musical forms
are suitable for liturgical use to the extent that they share in the characteristics of
– An avoidance of the idea that music is the sole consideration in the liturgy,
the music is a vehicle for the liturgy not the other way around!
– A commitment to the celebration and teaching of the ars celebrandi of both
forms of the Roman Rite, so that all priests can perceive more readily how the
light of tradition shines on our liturgical life and how this might be communicated
more effectively to our people.
– A clearer distinction between devotions, non-liturgical forms of prayer and
the Sacred Liturgy. A lack of any proper liturgical sense has led to a proliferation
of devotions as an alternative vehicle for popular fervour. This was a widespread
criticism of the liturgy before the Council and we now have to ask ourselves why
the same lacuna has been identified in the newer liturgical forms.
– A far greater commitment to silence before, during and after the Liturgy is
Having travelled the English-speaking world very widely in preparation for the
implementation of the English translation of the third typical edition of the Missale
Romanum, and having experienced the liturgy in a wide variety of circumstances and
styles, I would conclude that I have generally encountered a great desire for change,
although not always among those who are directly responsible for the liturgy. I think we
are currently well placed to respond to this desire and this is evidenced by the fact that
many things which were indicated fifty years ago, such as the singing of the Mass, and
more particularly the singing of the proper texts rather than the endless substitution of
songs and hymns, are only now being seriously considered and implemented. It is
earnestly to be desired that such developments continue to flourish and that an improved
liturgical culture is accessible to everyone in the Church.
Crucial to this peaceful revolution has been the leadership and example of the present
Holy Father who has consistently studied and written about the liturgy in a long life of
scholarship which now informs his governance of the Church’s liturgical life. Much that
he commends was already evident in aspects of liturgical scholarship from the early
twentieth century onwards. In our own time, however, it is finally being received with
the joy and enthusiasm that it merits. A new generation of Catholics eagerly awaits a
greater experience of the basic truth that the liturgy is always a gift which we receive
from the Church rather than make for ourselves. The Church Music Association of
America and all those who identify with its initiatives and benefit from its prophetic lead
have a very serious and a highly significant contribution to make to this process. May
God bless us all as we share in his work

16 Responses

  1. Martin Harran

    An excellent illustration of the navel-gazing that preoccupies those at the highest levels of our Church when there are so many really important issues to be dealt with.

  2. ger gleeson.

    Msgr Wadsworth words are obviously important to the people he rubs shoulders with in his daily life. For me they do nothing. My Catholic faith is shared with the people I met at the ACP assembly in Dublin and who live in a different world to this good man.

  3. Steve Edward

    Sometimes the grumbler is simply the kind of person who is only happy when they’re unhappy. They view the world as an imperfect place and everyone in it as imperfect people (except them of course) and you’ll never satisfy them. Maybe they’re one of those outsiders whose favorite hobby is to criticize anyone who seems to them to be the ‘establishment’. You have to understand that they like the ‘prophetic outsider’ role. It makes them happy to protest like that. They feel that it gives their life meaning and purpose. They feel special and unique when they’re unhappy. What’s sad about this type of grumbler is that not only can they usually not do anything about the problem, they usually don’t do anything even if they can.

    This sort of protester personality type will never be satisfied, and they exist in just about every subset of religion or politics or in any community or workplace.

  4. Pól Ó Duibhir

    More like an archeological dig than a celebration.
    There is much superficiality in the current practice of the liturgy which could be purged, but first you need to know where you want to go.
    I recently delivereed a eulogy in church at the funeral of my godmother. Unexpectedly, there was a round of applause when I finished. Although taken aback at the time, on reflection I thought it wholly appropriate. A fine exit for a modest lady.

  5. Martin Murray

    I wonder what the faithful souls who attended and dared to enjoy the celebration of the closing Mass of the Eucharistic Congress make of this. With its stance with the LCWR and now this, it seems the leadership is hell-bent on a strategy of mass alienation of its followers.

  6. Eddie Finnegan

    Martin, I don’t know about ‘mass alienation’ but for some enlightenment on ‘Mass alienation’ it’s a pity Msgr Wadsworth didn’t join Nuncio Charles Brown on Croagh Patrick yesterday to listen to Archbishop Neary’s homily:
    “Some, sadly, do not find any attraction in their faith. They may have abandoned the Mass because they find it repetitive, structured or, as many people describe it, boring. Maybe this is because we have emphasised too often the ritual and rubrics or the notion of celebration without drawing attention to the task or mission of the Mass. I heard of one elderly priest, with no hang-ups about liturgy or new translation, who would end the Mass with ‘Ite, Missa est – off with you now and live the Mass and that may mean some sacrifice’.”

  7. Peter

    Congratulations on publishing this lecture, given that the content is unlikely to attract sympathy from the majority of those who follow your website. It is good, in what is becoming an age of polarisation, to see you giving practical effect to the old maxim, Audi alteram partem.
    I am an Irish person who has lived in England for over 40 years, but who continues to visit Ireland and to take a daily interest in Irish affairs. I have to confess that, when I first read Fr Wadsworth’s lecture some weeks ago now, it rang all too positively with me. I found the closing Mass of the Congress as unattractive a liturgy as one could imagine, and a stark contrast to the two public Masses in England (and one in Scotland) during the 2010 papal visit. The Croke Park event seemed a performance, focused on the performers rather than directed to God. Of course it was a genuine act of worship, but at times it did not seem so. Moreover there was a truly disappointing absence of participation in the singing by the congregation. If, as an example, one takes the Beatification Mass in Birmingham for comparison, what a difference… The choirs there led, rather than did, the singing, and almost everyone present joined with full voice both in the Ordinary of the Mass (in Gregorian) and in the many hymns. There was also in Dublin the quite astonishing (at an international occasion) absence of Latin, again a contrast to the papal visit here, where the Eucharistic Prayer at all three Masses was said in Latin.
    Some people may be inclined to dismiss these observations as things indifferent, or merely as reflective of taste or cultural difference, but I think that you would find a good many Catholics in England (and not least among the younger generation) entirely sympathetic to Fr Wadsworth’s theme.
    Again, thanks for publishing his lecture.

  8. Ambrose OFarrell

    Could you for the sake of balance for Mgr Wadsworth remarks put up Fr.Jone’s reply to them?

  9. Aodh

    An excellent article.

    The constant tinkering with the liturgy must stop. How can unity be achieved when we constantly mess with peoples’ sense of belonging.

  10. ger gleeson.

    Steve Edward true to form has, in his most recent post, highlighted a particular type of individual who obviously upsets him. Like the poor, the Grumbler will always be with us. The opposite to the Grumbler where our church is concerned, is of course the Catholic Fundamentalist (CF for short). At least some of the CF beliefs are as follows.

    Once a man made rule comes from Rome, it must be obeyed without question. In all its glorious history, Rome has never made a mistake in either its rules, or implementation of same, and those who question any aspect of their management of Christ’s Church on earth, are traitors to the cause. The CF believe they are within their rights to insult Christians of other denominations, and also believe that the ACP are no more than a bunch of “Lone Rangers” who with their “Tonto’s” should ride into the sunset and leave the church in secure hands. Those abused as children and whose plight was also covered up, should shut their mouths. Their constant whineing has really gone too far, and continues to be an embarrassment to all members of the CF, and also those in high places in Rome.

    The CF also hears too much grumbling from our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and also of course those in second unions. Their voice should also never be heard. They are happy when the hundreds of Ordained Ministers from other Christian churches, convert to Catholicism, and with their wives and families are welcomed with open arms. After a short period and under the ordinariate granted by Rome, they commence working as Catholic Priests. The thousand’s of ordained Catholic priests who sin by falling in love, are cast out of active ministry. The double standards, established by Rome, are of no consequence to the members of the CF.

    In various parts of the world there are good priests, religous, and laity, who have major problems with the Institutional Church. We have the ACP and their followers in our own country,Priests in Austria, Nuns in the U.S.A, and Priests working in the U.K. There are hundreds of Priests and Theologians all over the world, silenced by Rome. I have no doubt that the CF would advise these good people to stop their grumbling, and give unquestioned loyalty to Rome.

    It is unlikely we will ever see a CF member attend any meeting organised by the ACP. The grumbling that would go on there would simply be too much for them. Once they are happy in their own minds that they conform completly with all man made rules which originate in Rome, then their life is complete. I have no doubt that all CF members sleep well at night as they believe their blind fidelity guarantees them everlasting happiness both in this world and the next.

    What a world they live in. What a charade.

  11. Aodh

    Ger Gleeson, All you seem to be doing is swapping Rome for Dublin.

  12. ger gleeson.

    Aodh, thank you sincerely for your civil response. Swapping Rome for Dublin has nothing to do with the point that I made. After all Dublin will always obey Rome. My central point is that there are some people (hopefully few in number)that firmly believe that once Rome speaks, then we should all obey without question. They seem to forget the damage that has been done by Rome to many of our sisters and brothers. Those of us who comment on the wrong’s of the church are perceived as Grumblers, and are frequently advised to seek another church which will satisfy our needs. Well,if we all did move out then the ACP could close down this site, as most who comment are Grumblers. I can only speak for myself. I was baptized a Catholic and I will die a Catholic, and God willing,I will continue to upset some members of our Church, who also happen to be Catholic Fundamentalists.

  13. Paddy Ferry

    Thank you for that brilliant –and all too true– piece at 10 above.

  14. Sean

    Mgr Wadsworths comments on the final Mass of the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin were justified. It was a parade of celebrities – very dated. The congregation as so often were sandwiched like dead meat between the celebrant(s) and the music makers. It works if you like that passive role.


  15. Kevin

    I didn’t understand most of this. Just no accounting for us spiritual trailer trash.

    What it reminded of though in parts was a visit recently to another land. An Italian priest who obviously loved to hear himself sing and leave the rest of us wondering if we were in Purgatory or Hell. I didn’t know if he were speaking Italian, Latin or Latalian at times. For nearly three hours we stood listening. Every five minutes off he’d go singing, “alleluiah alleluiah…….” Seemingly ad infinitum. It got to the point where I asked one of those people with us if he had a gun. Cause if Robert de Niro singin’ Italian had gone into his “Alleluiahs” once more I honestly believe I would have shot him. God love the poor soul. If he at least had had a modicum of a singing voice. Clearly tone deaf. He’d be a great penance after confession.

    We did have a laugh afterwards though. Not at the man. Just the experience of three hours of “rubrical” hell.

    To each their own. Different strokes for different folks n’ all that. I do like Gregorian though I have to admit.

  16. Joe O'Leary

    Agree with Sean — it was dated — more like a funeral for the past than a joyful opening to the future — but the daily events were marked by a warm and joyful spirit, I hear, and the theology conference in Maynooth before the Congress was also invigorating.

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