19 August 2009

"Organic development"

Vatican II mandated that liturgical development be 'organic'. I suggest a touchstone for what is, or isn't, organic.

A change might be organic if you could just paste a newly authorised liturgical text, perhaps for a newly canonised Saint, into your Missal or Breviary ... and still keep using it. Or if it mandated revised Rubricae Generales so as to purge the Calendar a bit, so that you could use the old Books as long as you kept your eye on the ORDO.

Change certainly is not organic if it means you have to dump, as now totally unusable, your old Books, and shovel money at publishers to buy the new ones.

But - if readers are impressed by this definition - we will need a footnote to cover situations in which the Tradition was so badly ruptured a generation or so ago that one needs to be a bit radical (like the new ICEL texts) in order to pump out the bilge, get the ship on to an even keel, and put new parts into the engine, so as to get her under way again.


Rubricarius said...

Bang goes the 1568 Breviary then!

I think it is difficult to argue that there was anything 'organic' about changes which were produced by commissions of experts. There may be 'restorations' but I don't think they can be organic.

The development of (reasonably) cheap printing coincided with Trent's decision to hand over the regulation of liturigcal books to the pope. From that time a series of editiones typicae were issued with strick instructions to follow them. There was even a specialist group of professional experts set up, the good old SRC in 1588 to regulate praxis in the minutest detail.

Organic development with the Roman liturgy ended with the 1568-1600 series of books I fear.

Richard Duncan said...


You may, or may not, be correct in your view that the organic development of the Roman liturgy ended in the early 17th century. But I would be more inclined to accept your analysis if you could also say what, in your view, should happen next. Are you actually suggesting that the Novus Ordo should be abolished and that we should return to the liturgical books as they were in 1962, 1955, 1948, 1911 or earlier? If so, how would you respond to those people who have grown up with the new liturgy and whose spiritual lives would be profoundly affected by such a development. It is, I am afraid, no answer to say that just such an outrage was perpetrated in the 1960s. You do not remedy an injustice by committing another injustice but by restitution. It seems to me that Pope Benedict has grasped this, whereas some of those who merely write about the liturgy, and who do not have the responsibility before Almighty God for the souls commited to their care, do not.


Rubricarius said...


I don not think what should happen next and what has been or has not been organic development in the past are the same question.

I have never suggested that the Novus Ordo should be abolished as you appear to suggest. Neither would I claim an 'outrage' was committed in the 1960s. However I would argue one was committed in 1911 and another in the 1950s.

As to what to do I would have thought a recovery of ad Orientem praxis was of primary importance as a significant step to the recovery of a sense of the sacred. Allowing bishops to act as bishops and not mere puppets of Rome would help too and Dioceses develop their own local variations based on the best praxis, with appropriate consultation with the people as a prerequisite.

If I were abolishing anything it would be the liturgical books of 1962; happily abrogated by Paul VI which have been conjured up like some Hammer Horror Dracula. Pray God it will not be too long before a beam of the rising Sun, a thorn bush or a stake returns them to a (hopefully) perpetual grave.

Richard Duncan said...


Thank you for that clarification. I apologise if I misunderstood your point de depart, its just that your comment about organic development ending with the Tridentine books led me astray.

The more I learn about the 1962 reforms, the more I tend to agree that they were hasty and unnecessary. The NO has more coherence, arguably.

But my main point is that although a lot of things have been done which should not have been done, it is impractical simply to go back to a particular point in history and proceed as if the undesirable changes had never been made. The Reform of the Reform has to proceed slowly if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past. In this respect, I entirely agree that a return to ad orientem praxis is urgently needed, as is a decent translation of the NO.

We then have to face the question of what to do about the liturgical books. My own (very tentative) view is that the terminus ad quem towards which we must look is revised editions of the EF and OF Breviaries and Missals, harmonised on a Common Calendar and translated into dignified elegant English. I would also favour the restoration of some of the things that were lost in the 1950s/1960s (the Octave of Pentecost being top of the list). But I fear I will be pushing up the daisies before all this happens and am resigned to a certain amount of liturgical messiness for the foreseeable future.



Rubricarius said...


Thanks. I do agree with most of what you write particularly the need to avoid the rash imposition of anything.

The problem with 1962 is simply that it is far too late and the character of the Roman liturgy has been so watered down by that point. The Missal generally retained its character up until the early 1950s but the Breviary had been bu**ered up back in 1911-13. I could understand the concept of some form of synthesis but that can only produce a better solution if the right parameters are used.

In terms of the Calendar, again I would tend to agree with you, but 1962 is not a good starting point. With regard to Octaves I would have several on my list above that of Pentecost (Epiphany, SS Peter and Paul - quintessentially Roman, John the Baptist, the Nativity and Assumption of the BVM, Patron and Titular etc).

The other problem is that the 1962 Sanctorale is rather corrupted. The 1955 reduction of semi-doubles to simples managed to reduce in rank some of the older lesser feasts. The doubles had sprung up two-a-penny (or even more inflated terms) particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in order to reduce the chance of Sunday mattins under the pre-1911 system. Many doubles were both relatively modern and rather obscure if you are not Italian. They got converted into 'III Class' days in the 1962 books whilst the former semi-doubles passed through being simples to mere commemorations. In some ways the 1970 calendar is more authentic, although lacking the structure of the Octaves and Vigils IMHO.

Of course the NO also contains some things which are a genuine return to a former practice and not per se necessarily a bad thing. The problem I would suggest is the contempt with which celebrations according to the 'new' books are treated which is, of course, the same contempt shown to the previous editions. What was needed was a change of culture (and a massive dose of liturgical theology) and for people (clergy and laity) to see the celebration of the liturgy as of primary importance rather than something that was done to fulfil an obligation, gain an indulgence or provide a Host to stick in the lunette of a monstrance. So much could have been improved without as much as changing an iota in any liturgical book.

Richard Duncan said...


In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict writes:

"The life of the liturgy does not come from what dawns upon the minds of individuals and planning groups. On the contrary, it is God's descent upon our world, the source of real liberation".

It seems to me that many of the problems we have been discussing stem from that fact that people - including Popes - forget this fundamental principle. Consider, for example the following extract from Mediator Dei (n58):

"... the Sovereign Pontiff alone enjoys the right to recognize and establish any practice touching the worship of God, to introduce and approve new rites, as also to modify those he judges to require modification".

If the Pope is sensitive to the principle that Benedict enunciates, as I think Pius XII was on the whole (well at least in Mediator Dei), then this is OK. But if the Pope isn't ...