Liturgical Shipwreck

by Michael Davies
Part 7

This crisis is not, of course, confined to the United States, but exists with precisely the same manifestations throughout the Western World. In countries such as Holland, it seems reasonable to ask whether anything substantial exists now that can be described realistically as Catholicism. Far from filling our churches with renewed, revitalized Catholics-----many of them previously lapsed, but brought back to the Faith by an inspiring new liturgy that they can easily understand-----we have instead witnessed a catastrophic decline in Mass attendance in every Western country. We are, Father Louis Bouyer assures us, witnessing not the renewal, but the accelerating decomposition of Catholicism. 33 Hundreds of millions . . . I repeat . . . hundreds of millions of Catholics who went to Mass in the "bad old days," when the liturgy was supposed to have alienated them from the Church, have ceased assisting at Mass at all, and yet, according to those in authority, the liturgical reform has been a tremendous pastoral success, and we are all deliriously happy with it. Archbishop Bugnini, the great architect of the liturgical revolution, commented, in all seriousness it would appear, that "The renewed Mass was received with joy, with enthusiasm, and in a short time entered into the practice of the Christian people with obvious advantages to the community." 34 Well, if I may quote the Duke of Wellington again: "If you believe that, you'll believe anything!"

  It is only to be expected that Archbishop Bugnini would claim that the reform behind which he was the moving spirit had been a success. One might have hoped that the Pope, the Universal Shepherd, would take a more objective view. One might have hoped that when faced with the clear evidence that his flock had been led into a liturgical wilderness, that its numbers were declining at a catastrophic rate and that those who remained were being starved of true spiritual nourishment, he would lead them back once more to the sound pastures of tradition that had nourished their faith for so many centuries. But, alas, in his Apostolic Letter commemorating the twenty- fifth anniversary of the Liturgy Constitution, he appeared to have forgotten his apology to the faithful made in Dominicae Cenae eight years previously and echoed the optimistic and totally unrealistic assessment of Archbishop Bugnini, while accepting that "the application of the liturgical reform has met with difficulties," including, he claimed, the fact that "the transition from simply being present, very often in a rather passive and silent way, to a fuller and more active participation has been for some people too demanding." It would seem, then, that the lack of success of the liturgical reforms lies not in the nature of the changes, but in the inability or unwillingness of the faithful to understand how beneficial the changes really were for them. One cannot help recalling the censure passed upon those Russian peasants who-----after the 1917 Revolution-----were unwilling or unable to accept the fact that the collectivization of their land was really beneficial to them. But despite the difficulties to which he referred, the Pope insisted in his Apostolic Letter that:

     The vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervor. For this we should give thanks to God for that movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents; and for the fact that the table of the word of God is now abundantly furnished for all; for the immense effort undertaken throughout the world to provide the Christian people with translations of the Bible, the Missal and other liturgical books; for the increased participation of the faithful by prayer and song, gesture and silence, in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments; for the ministries exercised by lay people and the responsibilities that they have assumed in virtue of the common priesthood into which they have been initiated through Baptism and Confirmation; for the radiant vitality of so many Christian communities, a vitality drawn from the well-spring of the Liturgy. These are all reasons for holding fast to the teaching of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and to the reforms which it has made possible: "The liturgical reform is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council." For many people the message of the Second Vatican Council has been experienced principally through the liturgical reform. 35