Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pontifical Scholar Calls Vatican II Liturgical Reforms "Overwhelming Success"

Jesuit priest Robert A. Taft, internationally recognized as an expert on the liturgies of Eastern Christianity after teaching at a Rome pontifical institute for almost 40 years, writes in the latest issue of America magazine that "the Roman Catholic liturgical renewal in the wake of Vatican II was an overwhelming success, returning the liturgy to the people of God to whom it rightly belongs."

The full article is available at, but only to subscribers. However, Notre Dame theology professor Richard McBrien covers the highlights in a glowing review in the latest National Catholic Reporter.

Taft says the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was right to validate the Catholic liturgical movement that had been in progress for roughly 50 years. Paraphrasing him, McBrien writes: "Liturgical pioneers drew inspiration from Russian Orthodox emigres to France, who had fled from their homeland after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. These contacts proved crucially important because the Orthodox church...had preserved the liturgical spirit of the early church and continued to live by it. Liturgists in the West, however, did not attempt simply to imitate existing Eastern usage, but interpreted and applied it in the light of the needs of Latin Christianity."

Granting that the liturgical reform might have been handled better in some respects, Taft still believes "it was done as well as was humanly possible at the time." Noting that the bishops at the council aspired to restore the Western rituals "to the vigor they had in the tradition of the Fathers," Taft says their Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy had a single, guiding purpose: that the faithful might "be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy and to which the Christian people...have a right and an obligation by reason of their baptism."

Taft has a list of specifics which he believes the council did not handle well. However, it does not include any of the things Catholic traditionalists prefer, such as the old Latin mass or various paraliturgical eucharistic devotions.

One of the council's larger failings, Taft says, was not doing enough to rein in practices he groups under the heading of "communion from the tabernacle." I have critiqued some of them in previous postings here.

No comments: