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How an ‘irreversible’ claim might be reversed

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 28, 2017

Father Anthony Ruff, who holds forth on liturgical matters on the PrayTell blog, doesn’t often (if ever) agree with me. So it’s not surprising that Father Ruff was pleased with the Pope’s “magisterial” announcement that “the liturgical reform is irreversible,” whereas I was merely puzzled. Still Father Ruff’s commentary is surprising for other reasons.

First, a tip of the hat to another Benedictine, Father Hugh Somerville-Knapman, for pointing out the irony in the fact that Father Ruff speaks of “mainline liturgical reform and renewal.” To most people, the term “mainline” evokes thoughts of Protestant churches with shrinking congregations. I don’t think Father Ruff would want to encourage such thoughts.

In his analysis of the Pope’s speech, and his listing of its references and footnotes, Father Ruff remarks: “It is obvious just what, and who, is omitted.” He stops there, without spelling it out, but clearly he is calling attention to the fact that Pope Francis did not mention his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who spoke and wrote quite a bit about the liturgy. The implication, apparently, is that with this major address—a rare excursion into liturgical affairs for Pope Francis, who rarely speaks on the topic—the current Pope has thrust aside the ideas of the Pope emeritus.

But that claim, too, has obvious implications, which Father Ruff does not address. If Pope Francis is free to discard the work of Pope Benedict, then the next Pope is free to discard the work of Pope Francis. If so, then the claim that the liturgical reform is irreversible could turn out to be reversible.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Aug. 30, 2017 1:46 AM ET USA

    "Irreversible reform" sounds like "the war to end all wars."

  • Posted by: billG - Aug. 30, 2017 12:11 AM ET USA

    "Irreversible" indeed. NOT. Were that true we would not have the Novus Ordo. Pius V said in Quo Primum Tempore: "All other of the churches referred to above, however, are hereby denied the use of other missals, which are to be discontinued entirely and absolutely; whereas, by this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, ,..." We wander in the liturgical desert of the Novus Ordo Missae,... For now but not irreversibly.

  • Posted by: JDeFauw - Aug. 29, 2017 11:31 PM ET USA

    My understanding is that no Pope can bind a future Pope in matters of discipline and liturgy. Even though it's unlikely a future Pope would "reverse" the liturgical reform, I think he would have the authority to do so if he so chose. In any case, Pope Benedict's reform of the reform was not a reversal of the liturgical reform, so if Cardinal Sarah is our next Pope, he could certainly give that idea his support.

  • Posted by: MatJohn - Aug. 29, 2017 10:05 PM ET USA

    Despite his Jesuitical academic background, the pope embarrasses with many of his statements that border on puerile.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 29, 2017 9:56 AM ET USA

    "It is therefore permitted to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal, which was promulgated by Blessed John XXIII... and never abrogated.." "The sacraments are for the people." The liturgy isn't the pawn of autocracy. In 4 decades there's been more change than a millennium. Corruption has set in. Speaking of one pope reversing another tit-for-tat is a testimony how far profoundly altered things have gotten. It's ominous. This is no plaything.

  • Posted by: shrink - Aug. 29, 2017 6:32 AM ET USA

    Phil, as is your custom, your logic is unimpeachable—any pope can reverse the disciplinary form of a predecessor—on paper. But reluctantly, I am inclined to believe Francis, because the Vatican bureaucracy is generally aligned with him and was against B16. The Church's own "deep state" will never allow another JP2 or B16 to get a foothold into the inner workings of the Vatican. The Left runs the Vatican now, it will never let go, so long as there is a Vatican.