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Leading Jesuit scholar criticizes ‘rigidity’ of pre-conciliar liturgy

December 16, 2011

One of the world’s leading scholars of Byzantine liturgy has told Catholic News Service that Church leaders “so froze the liturgy from the Council of Trent right up until the Second Vatican Council that when they opened the door of the freezer, everything poured out.”

“It wasn’t the Second Vatican Council that created the abuses, it was the reaction to centuries of rigidity in the liturgy,” said Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ, former professor (1970-2002) and vice rector (1995-2001) of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

“Liturgy is a play where there is no audience. We’re all actors,” he said. “The prayers are not for God. God happens to know the whole show already.”

Referring to Latin in the liturgy, Father Taft added that “the language is for us and if you don’t understand the language, then you’ve got a problem.”

“It's better to be part of the process than to stand on the sideline and criticize, although I criticize, too,” he said in reference to Church documents on Eastern Catholicism. “My attitude has always been I’d rather have myself writing these decisions than have someone dumber than me doing it.” Father Taft described himself as the person “on the top of the heap” in knowledge of the Byzantine liturgy.

“One of the advantages of getting old is that what the Byzantine liturgy refers to as the ‘dread tribunal of Christ’ that you’re going to stand before puts the fear of God into you, and so you move to pray more,” the 79-year-old priest mused. “That already has had an influence on my spiritual life.”


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  • Posted by: Erik George - Dec. 16, 2011 8:12 PM ET USA

    It mystifies me that an expert on the Byzantine liturgy could possibly call the preservation of the Tridentine liturgy "rigid". The Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the normative liturgy of the Byzantine rites (in whatever language) is over 1000 years older than the Tridentine mass. I wonder if the Archimandrite would offer similar criticism of his own liturgy?

  • Posted by: Defender - Dec. 16, 2011 7:53 PM ET USA

    And what was wrong with centuries of doing the right thing? I get tired of the statements concerning Latin, too. It was never difficult to move one's eyes across the opposite page to translate the words - after a very short while, you could be quite conversant in it too.

  • Posted by: normnuke - Dec. 16, 2011 6:58 PM ET USA

    “Liturgy is a play where there is no audience." I like that. Unfortunately, in the post VII years (only 45 of them!) that thought has been lost.At the Clown Mass, at the Ladies-Dancing-Mass, at Masses where we APPLAUD the Brownie-level music we certainly are an audience! Albeit a bored one.