Benedict, Marini & the Importance of the 'Reform of the Reform'

There's been a lot of buzz lately in the Catholic news outlets about one of my favorite topics: liturgy.  And I'm eager to share a few thoughts of my own on the matter...

There was a time in my life (not all that long ago) when "liturgy," for me, was not much more than a physical expression of some poorly-formed and weakly grasped ideology--one that took issue with Reformation-esque practices as (in the words of Hilaire Belloc) a "profound cleavage" from the traditions of Roman Catholicism.  But, at the heart of my rash reactionism was a poor understanding of just what that Roman Catholic tradition meant for the history of Western civilization as a whole; and, accordingly, a grasp of what the Protestant influence meant for its future.

I've come to the (slightly) more informed realization, recently, that the Church's influence on culture and tradition has not merely offered a sense of universal significance to something that was otherwise without, but rather that its very importance is entirely and inextricably united with the basic, cosmological significance of history and tradition as it has always unfolded and developed.  And nowhere is this more clear than in the Catholic liturgy.

Thankfully, this opinion is more than simply personal.  And, in the last few days, it has been echoed strongly by papal emcee and liturgist, Msgr Guido Marini, in his comments regarding the "reform of the reform" of Catholic liturgy.  In short, Marini asserts that the liturgy celebrated by the Catholic Church should have a character of historical continuity.  "I purposely use the word continuity," says Marini, "a word very dear to our present Holy Father. [...]  He has made it the only authoritative criterion whereby one can correctly interpret the life of the Church." (CNS)

What is more "Catholic" than "catholicism": that is, universality, interwovenness, and the highest sense of "continuity"?  And, conversely, what is more "Protestant" than an affront to such continuity (often expressed even overtly in terms of "non-denominationalism" or post-enlightened "egalitarianism")?  If there is no clear series of precedence, then there is no possibility for continuity.

What I saw initially as a "profound cleavage" from Roman tradition--the Reformed infiltration of the Catholic liturgy--was a valid perception.  But without attempting to comprehend the absolute depth of such cleavage, my mindset was one aimed merely at fixing the problem at hand, and not at seeking to repair the damaged roots of a thorough and complete break with the sensus fidei.  "The liturgy cannot and must not be an opportunity for conflict," says Marini; yet the reformist mentality of the late 20th century amounted almost entirely to nothing but a conflict with the stated and perennial traditions of the Church for centuries before.

As Marini is keen to point out, the real work of faithful Catholics in the 21st century--for those who wish not simply to profess the faith, but to live, preserve and pray it by their deeds and practices--lies in promoting an understanding of the liturgy that is, above all, wholly Christian, and wholly undivided and non-partisan.  "Fixing the glitch" is not a sufficient response to the deep wounds inflicted by the Protestant mentality of spiritual individualism (or what Belloc calls the "alienation of the soul").  Instead, Catholics must follow the example of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, by further grasping the true meaning of liturgy (theologically) and by evangelizing their fellow Christians on its deep importance in the life of faith.

"I have learned to deepen my knowledge these past two years in service to our Holy Father," admits Marini.  "He is an authentic master of the spirit of the liturgy, whether by his teaching or by the example he gives in the celebration of the sacred rites."

Indeed, Pope Benedict has never modeled an attitude of reactionism; but instead always an attitude of genuine appreciation and profound love for the beauty of the liturgy that is possessed simply by virtue of its supernatural character.  Benedict and Marini speak of the "reform of the reform" not because they are Reformers, but instead because they realize the importance of eradicating the very mentality of  the Reformation by way of a thoroughly Catholic "hermeneutic of continuity."