August 28, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Theologians are questioning Pope Francis' claim last week that post-Vatican II liturgical changes are “irreversible,” and note that it remains ambiguous what “liturgical reforms” he has in mind.
Speaking to participants at the 68th Italian National Liturgical Week in Rome, Pope Francis said that after the “long journey” of Vatican II’s liturgical reforms beginning five decades ago, “we can state with confidence and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”
The occasion of the Vatican II reform has been used by various liturgists to justify a number of novelties, including, but not limited to, removing high altars, moving the tabernacle away from the center of the sanctuary, re-structuring the liturgy and rewriting liturgical prayers, having the priest face the people, using the vernacular language throughout the entire liturgy, removing the Communion rail, giving Holy Communion in the hand, employing lay Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, allowing female altar servers and readers, allowing ‘liturgical’ dancing, and using profane music and instruments (guitar, banjo, drums, etc.) for liturgical celebrations.
Many of the reforms were implemented using the principle of leading the faithful to a “fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations” as set down in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.
Prior to Cardinal Bergoglio becoming Pope Francis in 2013, video footage was captured of him in Argentina celebrating a Mass that featured giant puppets, and another with couples dancing the tango dance in the sanctuary.
LifeSiteNews asked the Vatican Press Office what reforms Pope Francis sees as “irreversible,” but did not receive a response.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, a professor of philosophy and author of Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages, said it is “not easy” to understand what “irreversible” reforms the Pope is talking about.
“No one questions that the conciliar fathers desired minor changes to the liturgy, but many notable authors, including Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) and Louis Bouyer, have raised serious questions about the manner in which these changes were actually carried out,” he told LifeSiteNews.
Kwasniewski said that many components introduced into the liturgy since Vatican II have failed to meet the faithful’s spiritual needs.
“In reality, the only thing irreversible about the liturgical reform is its datedness, its failure to connect with the deeper needs of modern man – which was predicted by many who could read well the signs of the times,” he said.
“Meanwhile, as we see around the world, traditional parishes and communities are thriving with young people,” he added.
Pope Francis' declaration comes 447 years after his predecessor Pope Saint Pius V declared with “Apostolic authority” in his 1570 Papal Bull Quo Primum that the Tridentine Latin Mass as promulgated in the 1570 Roman Missal was the only Mass to be celebrated “now, and forever, throughout all…the Christian world.”
English scholar Father John Hunwicke pointed out that if Pope Pius V’s instruction “was in itself subject to change,” and Pope Francis “seems to assume that it was changeable … then clearly what Blessed Paul VI did [in Vatican II], and what the current occupant of the Roman See now says … are themselves changeable; they cannot be set in stone for ever.”
“Pope [Francis] Bergoglio is absolutely right. Liturgy is not reversible. Nobody can magic the Catholic Church back to how it was in 1962. Or in 1939. Or any other time. Liturgy will go on,” he said.
This means that liturgical texts and practices established after the Second Vatican Council are themselves “not immutable,” he added.
Hunwicke said that the Pope’s declaration has the “capacity to upset people; even to make them panic…but, I think panic is quite unnecessary, and is even an unfair overreaction to what he has actually said.”
A theologian who spoke to LifeSiteNews under condition of anonymity said that Pope Francis’ declaration to liturgists at a conference does not appear to “meet the same level of authority” as Pope Saint Pius V’s declaration in the form of a Papal Bull in Quo Primum, such that it “would supplant it.”
“Any liturgical change by definition does not meet the criteria for an irreformable magisterial act and therefore can always be changed again by a subsequent pope,” the theologian said.
Catholic commentator and blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf speculated that Pope Francis may be exerting authority to put down efforts from faithful Catholics, including a number of priests, bishops, and cardinals, who would like to see the liturgy purified of problematic novelties.
Pope Francis’ declaration, he said, “seems to be a shot at suggestions about a ‘reform of the reform.’”
The “reform of the reform” is an expression from the Pope Benedict era that refers to a reform of the post-Vatican II liturgy so that it would more closely align with Catholic liturgical tradition.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has argued that the path forward to rediscovering authentic liturgy involves interpreting the Vatican II liturgical changes through the lens of the Traditional Latin Mass. In this sense, the Cardinal suggested, when Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum ten years ago, giving priests the right to celebrate the Tradition Latin Mass, he was providing a path forward of rediscovery, not turning back the clock.
It was because of this that last year the Cardinal asked priests to begin celebrating the mass in the traditional posture of ad orientem, facing East towards the tabernacle, along with the congregation. He also has encouraged all Catholics to receive Communion in the traditional posture of kneeling.