In 1841 the last of the Tracts for our Times, as they were called, was published. This was the last of a series of 90 tracts dealing with ecclesial issues by a group of Anglicans who wanted the Church of England to return to a more Catholic understanding of the nature of the Church and the Sacraments. The main writers of these Tracts were Edward Bouverie Pusey, John Keble, and John Henry Newman. These Tracts caused a sensation in mid-nineteenth century England and were the written foundation of what became known as the Oxford Movement. The most famous, or infamous, of the Tracts was number 90, written by Newman. In this Tract, Newman insists that the Articles of Religion of the Church of England could be interpreted in a Catholic way, so that, for example, a member of the Church of England could believe in the Real Presence despite the seeming denial of that doctrine in the Articles. Tract 90 was the last straw for many in the Established Church, and the Anglican Bishop of Oxford forbade the publication of more Tracts. As readers of Newman’s Apologia know, the Tracts served as a basis for the understanding of the Anglican Church as the Via Media between the errors of Rome and the errors of Protestantism. The suppression of the Tracts by the bishop and the furious reaction against them began that process of thought and spiritual discernment in Newman that found its fruit in his entering the Catholic Church. It also marked the end of the illusory notion of Anglicanism as the Via Media.
The “New Liturgical Movement” that sprang up in the 1990s concerned itself with “the reform of the reform”. This movement, which was and has always been diffuse, was grounded in dissatisfaction with the Novus Ordo rite of Mass. The sources of this dissatisfaction were many and varied: the liturgical abuses in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the faulty translations of the Latin into the vernacular; the near disappearance of an ars celebrandi; the disappearance of chant and polyphony and the ubiquity of folksy tunes with sentimental texts, first popularized by the St. Louis Jesuits and then institutionalized by the publishers of Missalettes; the lack of reverence at the typical parish Mass: one could list many more such sources of dissatisfaction. The purpose of the “Reform of the Reform" movement was to correct the abuses that were the source of dissatisfaction. But the movement assumed, in the main, that the goal was a reform of the Novus Ordo rite in the direction of Catholic Tradition. It was assumed that the Novus Ordo was the proper fruit of the Second Vatican Council and that it was now “the Roman rite”, pure and simple. The Indult given by Pope John Paul II to celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Missal was understood, again by most if not all, as something not having to do with the Reform of the Reform.
Much has changed since the beginning of the “Reform of the Reform” movement. Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum forced the movement to reassess its complete acceptance of the Novus Ordo rite as the “continuation” of the Roman rite, as merely a contemporary revision of the Roman rite. Whatever the logical and theological and liturgical and historical problems within the declaration of Summorum Pontificum that there are now two "forms" of the Roman rite, as contained in the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII and the 1970 Missal of Pope Paul VI, the question of the continuity of the two rites, which question had been raised by a number of theologians including Joseph Ratzinger, now came to the fore. The basic supposition of the Reform of the Reform movement, namely the continuity of the two "forms", was severely threatened.
When one looks back to the beginning of the criticism of the 1970 Missal, one sees the evolution of a thought process that is analogous to that of the Oxford Movement as seen in the Tracts for our Times. Aidan Nichols, Klaus Gamber, Lauren Pristas, Joseph Ratzinger, and Alcuin Reid, to name only a few, were in their own way authors of “tracts” that dealt with the flaws, weaknesses and discontinuities with Tradition inherent in the 1970 Missal. These Tracts refused to adopt the “positivist” attitude that whatever happens in the Church is good and is the will of God and cannot be questioned. The penultimate Tract, which we can call analogously Tract 89, was Alcuin Reid’s forceful exposition, in his address to the Church Music Association of America on October 15, 2013, of the question of the role and scope of papal authority with respect to the Liturgy, when it is shorn of both positivism and ultramontanism. These contemporary Tractarians used scholarship, empirical data and the historical proceedings of the post-Conciliar Consilium---and common sense—to expose the shaky foundations of the assertion that the 1970 Missal was continuous with the Traditional Roman Rite.
Just this past Sunday, February 9, Fr. Thomas Kocik published the equivalent of Tract 90 on the New Liturgical Movement website. Fr. Kocik has been one of the leading lights in the Reform of the Reform movement. Those who know Fr. Kocik know him to be above all a parish priest whose love for the Liturgy is at the center of his priesthood. He is a scholar and a man of the Church. His book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate (Ignatius Press, 2003), is a cogent and spirited defense of the Reform of the Reform movement. This book was certainly one of the important “Tracts” in the evolving understanding of the post-Conciliar Liturgy. The “Dean” of the Reform of the Reform movement writes as follows in his article of only a few days ago, Reforming the Irreformable?:
There are significant ruptures in content and form that cannot be remedied simply by restoring Gregorian chant to primacy of place as the music of the Roman rite, expanding the use of Latin and improving vernacular translations of the Latin liturgical texts, using the Roman Canon more frequently (if not exclusively), reorienting the altar, and rescinding certain permissions. As important as it is to celebrate the reformed rites correctly, reverently, and in ways that make the continuity with tradition more obvious, such measures leave untouched the essential content of the rites. Any future attempt at liturgical reconciliation, or renewal in continuity with tradition, would have to take into account the complete overhaul of the propers of the Mass; the replacement of the Offertory prayers with modern compositions; the abandonment of the very ancient annual Roman cycle of Sunday Epistles and Gospels; the radical recasting of the calendar of saints; the abolition of the ancient Octave of Pentecost, the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima and the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost; the dissolution of the centuries-old structure of the Hours; and so much more. To draw the older and newer forms of the liturgy closer to each other would require much more movement on the part of the latter form, so much so that it seems more honest to speak of a gradual reversal of the reform (to the point where it once again connects with the liturgical tradition received by the Council) rather than a reform of it…In the meantime, improvements can be made here and there in the ars celebrandi of the Ordinary Form. But the road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC 14).
This is indeed “Tract 90” for the "reform of the reform" and sounds the death knell of any serious attempt to hold onto the fiction of continuity between the 1970 Missal and the Traditional Roman rite. Just as Tract 90 marked the end of Newman’s attempt to find a Catholic continuity and a Via Media in Anglicanism, so does Fr. Kocik’s public articulation of the abandonment of his attempt to find a liturgical and theological continuity between the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Roman rite mark the end of the Reform of the Reform movement. What must be done now—and this will require much laborandum et orandum—is to make the Extraordinary-----ordinary.