Archbishop supports Vatican II liturgical reforms

Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Columns


In the years following the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Piero Marini has been one of the most dedicated supporters of its liturgical reforms.

He has just published A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal, 1963-1975 as an expression of his continued fidelity to the council and to Pope Paul VI, who promulgated its reforms. The book is also a rebuttal of those who seem intent upon repealing, or at least neutralizing, those reforms.

He had launched the book in mid-December at the London residence of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster. Archbishop Marini was interviewed at the time by the National Catholic Reporter’s senior correspondent, John Allen. The full text is available in the "Special Documents" section of www.NCRonline.org.

“Vatican II,” the archbishop pointed out in the interview, “was not a revolution” or a “novelty,” but a “continuation of this need to adapt the liturgy to the situation of our time.” He noted that this was “the first time that an ecumenical council produced a fully composed document on the liturgy, on the necessity to reform the liturgy.”

The council affirmed that “the liturgy isn’t someone’s private property, but it belongs to the entire church. It belongs to the celebrant, but also to the faithful.”

In Archbishop Marini’s judgment, the path of liturgical reform taken by the council and approved by Pope Paul VI is “irreversible.”

He reminded us that so much of the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent and of Pope Pius V in the 16th century took shape in reaction to the Protestants, who rejected the idea of an institutional priesthood.

“The Catholic Church,” Archbishop Marini pointed out, “naturally defended this form of priesthood, and created a liturgy, the Tridentine liturgy, which made a sharp distinction between the priest and the people of God. The liturgy became something priests do. Today, Vatican II helped us to rediscover the idea of the priesthood as something universal.

“The faithful,” he continued, “don’t receive permission from priests to participate in the Mass. They are members of a priestly people, which means they have the right to participate in offering the sacrifice of the Mass. This was a great discovery, the great emphasis, of the council.”

The missal of Pius V, however, made no reference at all to the people of God. Its emphasis was on the unity of the church in the face of the Reformation: thus, the insistence on a common Latin language, fixed rubrics and norms for everyone to follow without exception.

What troubles the archbishop nowadays is “a certain nostalgia for the past.”

Although John Allen tried to draw Archbishop Marini into making some comments about Pope Benedict’s granting of permission for the Latin Mass, he was careful not to do so, noting only that in the letter accompanying the papal document, the pope insisted that his permission takes nothing away from the authority of Vatican II nor does it detract from the validity of its reforms.

The council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Archbishop Marini said, contains principles that are “perennial,” that is, not bound to any particular historical period. Among those principles are the priesthood of the faithful and the legitimacy of adaptation of language and rituals to changing circumstances.

If there is a crisis in the church today, he concluded, it is “in part because there’s a crisis in the liturgy.” His new book addresses that crisis in a straightforward and constructive fashion.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.P>

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