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Vatican liturgical official makes new plea for 'reform of the reform' February 23, 2009

A key Vatican official has called for "bold and courageous" decisions to address liturgical abuses that have arisen since the reforms of Vatican II.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, cites a flawed understanding of Vatican II teachings and the influence of secular ideologies are reasons to conclude that-- as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in 1985-- "the true time of Vatican II has not yet come." Particularly in the realm of the liturgy, Archbishop Ranjith says, "The reform has to go on."

Archbishop Ranjith, who was called to the Vatican personally by Pope Benedict to serve as a papal ally in the quest to restore a sense of reverence in the liturgy, makes his comments in the Foreword to a new book based on the diaries and notes of Cardinal Fernando Antonelli, who was a key figure in the liturgical-reform movement both before and after Vatican II.

The writings of Cardinal Antonelli, Archbishop Ranjith says, help the reader "to understand the complex inner workings of the liturgical reform prior to an immediately following the Council." The Vatican official concludes that implementation of the Council's suggested reforms often veered away from the actual intent of the Council fathers. As a result, Archbishop Ranjith concludes, the liturgy today is not a true realization of the vision put forward in the key liturgical document of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Specifically, Archbishop Ranjith writes:

Some practices which Sacrosanctum Concilium had never even contemplated were allowed into the Liturgy, like Mass versus populum, Holy Communion in the hand, altogether giving up on the Latin and Gregorian Chant in favor of the vernacular and songs and hymns without much space for God, and extension beyond any reasonable limits of the faculty to concelebrate at Holy Mass. There was also the gross misinterpretation of the principle of "active participation."

The Sri Lankan prelate argues that it in order to carry out a "reform of the reform," it is essential to recognize how the liturgical vision of Vatican lI became distorted. He praises the book on Cardinal Antonelli for allowing the reader to gain a better understanding of "which figures or attitudes caused the present situation." This, the archbishop says, is an inquiry "which, in the name of truth, we cannot abandon."

While acknowledging "the turbulent mood of the years that immediately followed the Council," Archbishop Ranjith reminds readers that in summoning the world's bishops to an ecumenical council, Blessed John XXIII intended "a fortification of the faith." The Council, in the eyes of Pope John, was "certainly not a call to go along with the spirit of the times."

However, he continues, the Council took place at a time of great worldwide intellectual turmoil, and in its aftermath especially, many would-be interpreters saw the event as a break from the prior traditions of the Church. As Archbishop Ranjith puts it:

Basic concepts and themes like Sacrifice and Redemption, Mission, Proclamation and Conversion, Adoration as an integral element of Communion, and the need of the Church for salvation--all were sidelined, while Dialogue, Inculturation, Ecumenism, Eucharist-as-Banquet, Evangelization-as-Witness, etc., became more important. Absolute values were disdained.

Even in the work of the Consilium, the Vatican agency assigned to implement liturgical changes, these influences were clearly felt, the archbishop notes:

An exaggerated sense of antiquarianism, anthopologism, confusion of roles between the ordained and the non-ordained, a limitless provision of space for experimentation-- and indeed, the tendency to look down upon some aspects of the development of the Liturgy in the second millennium-- were increasingly visible among certain liturgical schools.

Today, Archbishop Ranjith writes, the Church can look back and recognize the influences that distorted the original intent of the Council. That recognition, he says, should "help us to be courageous in improving or changing that which was erroneously introduced and which appears to be incompatible with the true dignity of the Liturgy." A much-needed "reform of the reform," he argues, should be inspired by "not merely a desire to correct past mistakes but much more the need to be true to what the Liturgy in fact is and means to us and what the Council itself defined it to be."

Archbishop Ranjith's 10-page Foreword appears in the English-language edition of a book entitled True Development of the Liturgy is written by Msgr. Nicola Giampietro, who serves on the staff of the Congregation for Divine Worship. It will be available in September from Roman Catholic Books.

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