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Online Edition:
September 2009
Vol. XV, No. 6

Book Review
Massive Misunderstandings?

Mass Misunderstandings: The Mixed Legacy of the Vatican II Liturgical Reforms by Kenneth D. Whitehead (2008 South Bend, Indiana, St. Augustine’s Press: 256 pages, $20.00)

Why has there been such confusion and conflict over the celebration of Mass — the “sacrament of unity”? Noted Catholic author Kenneth D. Whitehead addresses the “mixed legacy” of the post-Conciliar liturgical reforms in his latest book — highlighting problems of reform of the liturgy after the first document enacted by the Second Vatican Council, the 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. His assesment extends to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 document Summorum Pontificum, which permitted wider celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin as an “extraordinary” form of the Roman rite.

The author points out that the many and sometimes abrupt liturgical changes following the Council were bound to cause confusion — especially the sudden move from Latin to the vernacular, and the “misunderstandings” of liturgical experts who controlled the way the reform was put into effect. He also notes that Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly signaled, through his many writings on the subject, that the post-Conciliar liturgical reform now needs further reform.

The first part of Mass Misunderstandings focuses on Summorum Pontificum, which was not a repudiation or cancellation of the Vatican II liturgical reforms, as some believed. As Pope Benedict’s letter that accompanied the document made clear, liturgy must be developed organically from what went before, not manufactured. The document further signaled that Pope Benedict recognizes that the development of liturgy must be approached realistically in the light of how the reforms have actually worked out.

Part II, “Vatican Council II and the Reform of the Sacred Liturgy”, comments on challenges (and errors) that led to problems in the liturgical reform. Included in this section are the complicated matters surrounding liturgical translation, and recent changes, such as the Vatican’s 2001 translation instruction, Liturgiam authenticam, a major factor in the reassessment of the Council’s directives (sometimes called the “reform of the reform”).

In Part III, the author comments on the “Traditionalist Schism” of the followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and the Holy See’s continuing, but so far unsuccessful, attempts to reconcile this group with the Church. He also comments on the resistance by some liturgists to the effort to recover a more sacred dimension in the Church’s worship — those who believe the “Spirit of Vatican II” is undermined by the effort to restore greater reverence in worship in line with the Church’s perennial liturgical heritage.

Yet, despite conflicts of the past four decades, the reform stands. In Mass Misunderstandings, Kenneth Whitehead shows why a “reform of the reform” is needed.

Kenneth D. Whitehead, who has written extensively on Vatican II and on the liturgy, and has translated many books, is a former career diplomat and was Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration. He is a board member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Catholic League. Among his recent books are One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Early Church Was the Catholic Church (Ignatius, 2000); co-author of The Pope, the Council, and the Mass (Emmaus Road, 2006); and he edited Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Reform of the Liturgy, Proceedings from the 29th Annual Convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (University of Scranton Press, 2009). — hhh

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