Rorate Caeli

FIUV Position Paper: Tradition, Restoration, and Reform

The language of reform has been important in the Church since the era of the Second Vatican Council, as it has been in the political sphere since the French Revolution, but it does not, or should not, mean the same thing in the Church as in secular politics. It will no doubt surprise many liberal Catholics that when the read (in English) the word 'reform' in texts of Vatican II and official 'reforming' documents from before and after it, the words translated 'reform' and also 'revise', 'revision' and so forth, actually mean restore: instauratio, instaurare, recognoscantur

This is not a merely verbal point: genuine reform in the Church is always a matter of restoration, since the opposite of reform is not stability but decay. Restoration is how you maintain stability and continuity, not how you undermine it. Whether the changes made following the Council were successful in restoring the authentic spirit and practices of the Church, is a question which needs to be asked case by case. The concern of this paper is to establish that this is the correct question to ask, and that the efforts of supporters of the ancient liturgy in restoring the Traditional Mass to the Altars of our churches and the spiritual lives of Catholics, have at least as much claim to be about instauratio as the efforts of Bugnini and his associates.

I say something about Pope Francis' use of the term 'restorationist' on my blog here.

Comments can made on my own blog or email to: treasurer AT

I will not be publishing a Position Paper in September, but there is another in preparation which should be ready not long thereafter.

This is numer 27 of an ongoing series. This paper can be downloaded as a pdf here; the complete series can be seen online here, and most (1-23) are included in a hard-copy book which can be purchased from Lulu here.

The passing on of Tradition: a Traditional Solemn Mass at the St Catherine's Trust Summer School
in July, attended by 24 children in North Wales, UK; Mass took place in St David's Church, a Pugin
church attached to the Franciscan Retreat Centre at Pantasaph, near Flint.

Positio 27: Tradition, Reform, and Restoration

This paper seeks to address two possible objections to the revival of the Extraordinary Form: that such a project is contrary to the spirit of reform called for by the Church, particularly by the Second Vatican Council; and that such a project is contrary to the nature of tradition itself, which should not be ‘rediscovered,’ but only ‘passed on’.

For the purposes of this paper it is necessary to distinguish between the concepts of reform and restoration, and individual projects of reform or restoration. There have been many such projects, both proposed and implemented, in the history of the Church, some sponsored by the Papacy or by Councils, others by individual bishops, religious superiors, movements, or by individual scholars. These projects may be in tension with each other, and each must be assessed on its own historical and theological merits. In this series of Position Papers we have addressed past projects (such as the Pian Psalter[1] and the Holy Week reform of 1955),[2] and we have ourselves proposed some modest reforms (such as changes to Holy Days of Obligation[3] and the Eucharistic Fast).[4] The purpose of the present paper, however, is not to argue for or against specific proposals, but to clarify the concepts of reform and restoration themselves.

Reform and Restoration: Instauratio

The spread of the Extraordinary Form can be described as the recovery and restoration of tradition, and closely related movements can be identified in relation to sacred music, popular devotions, theological sources, and so on. The question to be considered first is whether a movement of restoration is appropriate in the light of the call for reform often made in the Church, and particularly in the Second Vatican Council. Simply put, the objection is that the concepts of restoration and of reform are opposed.

There is, however, in the language of the Church no tension between the concepts. On the contrary, we see in the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium and its official English translation that the English nouns ‘reform,’ ‘revision,’ and ‘restoration’ are all used to translate the Latin instauratio; the corresponding verbs are used to translate instaurare.[5] The verbs restituere, ‘to restore’,[6] and recognoscere, consistently translated ‘revise’, are frequently used in Sacrosanctum Concilium to stand for the same idea.

What, then, is the kind of change called for by this language? Sacrosanctum Concilium clarifies the meaning, in conformity with the usage of the terms over many centuries (see the Appendix), when it mandates that

the rites be revised (recognoscantur) carefully in the light (mens,‘mind’) of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigour to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.[7]

Recognoscantur here means ‘be checked for authenticity and accuracy’; the translation ‘revise’ is misleading.[8] Like instauratio, it implies a checking that something is correct, in light of tradition.

Thus, the primary concept at work here is that of restoration. The translation of any of these Latin terms with the English ‘reform’ is inaccurate, given the way the English term is generally used; ‘revise’ and ‘revision’ is also questionable.[9] Instauratio is the seeking out of the genuine, correct, and old form of things, aiming at making something vital again, for its original purpose.[10]

A notable example in Sacrosantum Concilium is the instauratio of Gregorian Chant;[11] other examples are the references to the charism of the founders as the key to the reform of a religious community or order, as demanded by the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Religious Life;[12] another would be the emphasis on the teaching of the Fathers given by the Council’s Decree on Priestly Training.[13] In each case, ‘reform’ is a matter of restoration.[14]

Again, when it comes to specifics, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states (50):

elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigour which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary.[15]

The specific proposals of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, historically led to the publication of what is now known as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Pope Benedict XVI authorised the use of the ‘previous liturgical tradition’[16] as an Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. If the Ordinary Form represents one attempt at an instauratio of the Roman Rite, the renewed use of the Extraordinary Form represents, for today, another attempt: the restoration to use of rites which were used formerly, in light of the needs of today. We have not attempted to consider the validity of the liturgical principles involved in each case, how they might relate to each other, or what authority they may have. It is enough for present purposes to establish the centrality of the notion of instauratio in the Church’s self-understanding, and its continuing relevance in the development of the liturgy.

The Problem of Discontinuity

The etymology of ‘tradition’ (traditio) reminds us that tradition is what is passed on, most clearly when each generation hands on to the next what it received from the previous generation.[17] The instauratio of making the Extraordinary Form more widely available goes beyond merely preserving what has been given us by those who passed it to us as our parents and teachers: it includes the bringing back of things which have actually been lost, or nearly lost, for a period of time. In this, however, it remains a more modest form of instauratio to those envisaged by the Second Vatican Council and the 1955 reform of Holy Week, which sought to restore to use rites and texts which had entirely fallen out of use, not for decades, but for centuries.

In his 1947 Encyclical Mediator Dei Pope Pius XII urges caution on those who seek the restoration of things lost in distant centuries, pointing out that the organic development of the liturgy in the Middle Ages and later was guided by Providence.[18] Nevertheless, the restoration of tradition from decay or misdevelopment is certainly not ruled out, and there are important precedents for such projects.

First, and most radical of all, is the restoration of tradition by Our Lord in the Gospels. Our Lord criticises the Pharisees for ‘making void the word of God by your own tradition’;[19] again, on the subject of divorce, He says ‘from the beginning it was not so’.[20] By sweeping away the human tradition, in one case, and the dispensation,[21] in the other, Our Lord recovers the true tradition.

This appeal to the most ancient elements of tradition, against the practice of many centuries, is appropriate to the Kingdom established by Our Lord, and is made possible by His authority. It is not often that such a radical restoration would be possible without that authority, even if the Church’s indefectibility were not sufficient to render it unnecessary.

In a second category, less radical in terms of the length of the discontinuity, but involving more complexity and detail, are the restorations of the Temple cult recorded in the Old Testament, following periods of apostasy or foreign occupation.[22] These are important illustrations of the possibility of instauratio from written records.[23] These restorations were rendered necessary and urgent by the fact that the Temple cult and other regulations were enjoined as a matter of Divine Law.

In the era of the Church, we find liturgical practices and texts current in one place influenced or replaced by those of another, where the former were for one reason or another regarded as corrupt or otherwise inferior. Examples would include the influence of the Roman liturgy in the Frankish dominions in the 8th century,[24] and the influence of German liturgical practices in Rome in the 10th century.[25]

A third kind of instauratio is that of the many religious who have sought to bring back their orders to the spirit of their founders, from which the order had gradually departed, and the restoration of Chant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at Solesmes.[26]

It is interesting to note that, as well as a reliance on manuscripts, the Solesmes chant scholar Dom Joseph Pothier was directly concerned with its value for his own day, considering how the chant could be sung with ease and beauty, while also attempting to discern, in the practice of chant of his day, ‘the feeble echo of a powerful tradition’.[27] While fallible,[28] the attempt at restoration was necessary, if the riches of the Chant tradition were to be made available for the Church in their fullness.

The Extraordinary Form: Conclusion

The instauratio represented by the spread of the celebration of the Extraordinary Form is an example of the seeking, in the Church’s treasury, for those things whether old or new, which can be of benefit to the Faithful and the Church’s evangelising mission.[29]

At a practical level, this project has many things in its favour. It is not necessary to rely solely on book-learning, as there has not been a complete discontinuity in the celebration of the older Form.[30] When wide permissions for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form were given by Pope St John Paul II in 1984 and 1988, it was well within the lifetimes of those who had been expert in the liturgy prior to 1962. Furthermore, the written records of the former liturgical tradition are remarkable for their detail.

The aim of this work of instauratio, and related projects in the area of chant, devotions, and theology, is not a wholesale return to a former era, any more than was the attempt by the creators of the Missal of 1970 to restore certain older liturgical practices.[31] It is, rather, a matter of putting the Church’s liturgical patrimony to work, in relation to modern conditions.

Appendix: the Language of Reform and Restoration in the Documents of the Church

Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, efforts to combat injustice and corruption were commonly presented, with or without historical justification, as efforts to return to the just and authentic practice of the past. The rhetorical importance of the virtues and institutions of the Roman Republic, throughout the Imperial period, is just one illustration of this. In the language of the Church, the language of restoration, to combat decay, decadence, and corruption, is similarly found.

Vulgate: 2 Chronicles (2 Paralipomenon) uses the verb instaurare of the physical repair and restoration of the Temple by Hezekiah (29:3) and Josiah (34:8, 10; 35:20). In Nehemiah 8 we find that to convert (‘eos conversique sunt et clamaverunt ad te’, 9:28) is to revert, to the law (‘contestatus es eos ut reverterentur ad legem tuam’, 9:29), a theme also implicit in the finding of the Book of the Law in the reign of Josiah (2 Chron 34:14).

St Pius V Quo primum (1570). St Pius V records that Trent ordered him to publish and correct (edere; emendare) the Roman Missal and Breviary. Accordingly he corrected (castigare) the Breviary. Then he restored (restituere) the Missal to the pattern (normam ac ritum) of the Holy Fathers. St Pius V declares: ‘Quod recognitum iam et castigatum:’ recognitum here means ‘checked’. The experts appointed to the task (eruditi delecti viri) looked at all the manuscripts they could find in order to check the texts.

The terminology used in Quo primum is found throughout subsequent documents on liturgical reform. Recognitio is the term used in all areas of the Church’s life for the process of texts (such as locally produced translations) being approved by the Holy See; successive editions of the Roman Missal indicate on their title pages the Popes who granted them recognitio.

Clement VIII Cum sanctissimum (1604) lists liberties taken with the text of the Roman Missal by printers and others; his recognitio is an indication of fidelity to the text approved by St Pius V.

Urban VIII Si quid est (1634) refers to St Pius and Clement VIII as having done a recognitio and instauratio.  Following their example the rubrics have been restored to ‘the old usage and rite’ and clarified, and the biblical passages have been carefully checked.

St Pius X Divino afflatu (1911) speaks of making a step towards the emendatio of the Roman Missal and Breviary, and sets up a ‘Consilium seu Commissionem’ of scholars to do this, but, meanwhile, speaks of taking a more immediate task of instauratio a good number (nonulla) of things in the present books.

Pius XII Maxima redemptionis nostrae (1955) (on the revision of Holy Week): the document is headed ‘Decretum ... quo liturgicus Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae Ordo instauratur’. The order is called an ‘Ordo Instauratus’.

Second Vatican Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium (1962) 4 speaks of recognoscere, in this case ‘ex integro’, thoroughly, and ‘to the mind of healthy tradition’. While recognising the more radical nature of the proposed reform, it is still emphatically linked to the norms of past tradition. The document goes on to use the term instauratio of what is intended, as noted above, echoing Quo primum (‘ad pristinam ...sanctorum Patrum normam ac ritum restituerunt’) in paragraph 50 (‘restituantur ad pristinam sanctorum Patrum normam nonulla quae tempora iniuria deciderunt’).

Paul VI Missale Romanum (1970) uses the terms instauratio with renovatio and novitas, including the phrase ‘instaurationis novitas’. This takes a further step in recognising that that what is being promulgated includes what is new (novitas), but it is still justified by reference to the notion of ‘restoration’. Thus the Apostolic Constitution quotes Sacrosanctum Concilium 50 with a list, including (perhaps surprisingly) the Penitential Rite, of things being restored ‘ad pristinam sanctorum Patrum normam’.

[1] Positio 5: The Vulgate and Ancient Latin Psalters
[2] Positio 14: The Holy Week Reform of 1955, Parts 1 and 2
[3] Positio 13: Holy Days of Obligation
[4] Positio 10: The Eucharistic Fast
[5] Examining the English translation of Sacrosanctum Concilium from the Vatican website, we find the following translations for instauratio and instaurare (emboldened): ‘a general restoration of the liturgy’ (21), ‘recent liturgical reforms’ (23); ‘the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy’ (24); ‘the revision of the liturgy’ (33); ‘the rites for the baptism of adults are to be revised’ (66); ‘the restoration already so happily begun’ (87); ‘when the office is revised’ (89); ‘In revising the Roman office’ (90); ‘restoration by St. Pius X’ (117); ‘the reformed liturgy’ (128).
[6] Sacrosanctum Concilium uses the word five times, and the Vatican website’s translation always used ‘restore’ to render it. Thus: ‘other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored’ (50); ‘there is to be restored, after the Gospel and the homily, "the common prayer" or "the prayer of the faithful." (53); ‘hymns are to be restored to their original form’ (93); ‘the discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times (107); ‘some of them, which used to flourish in bygone days, are to be restored as may seem good’ (109, a)
[7] Sacrosanctum Concilium 4: ‘Lastly, in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigour to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.’ (‘Traditioni denique fideliter obsequens, Sacrosanctum Concilium declarat Sanctam Matrem Ecclesiam omnes Ritus legitime agnitos aequo iure atque honore habere, eosque in posterum servari et omnimode foveri velle, atque optat ut, ubi opus sit, caute ex integro ad mentem sanae traditionis recognoscantur et novo vigore, pro hodiernis adiunctis et necessitatibus, donentur.’)
[8] The Oxford Latin Dictionary gives, for recognoscere: ‘1. To examine, review, inspect. …b to examine, check (a document) in order to establish authenticity, accuracy, etc.’ ‘2. To give recognition to, acknowledge.’ ‘3. To recall (something previously known), to recognise.’ Clearly it the meaning given in 1 b which is relevant here. Other uses of the word as translated in Sacrosanctum Concilium are as follows: ‘careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised’ (23); ‘The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible’ (25); ‘when revising the liturgical books’ (38); ‘The rite of the Mass is to be revised’ (50), and so on (the word appears nineteen times).
[9] The Oxford Latin Dictionary is not aware of ‘reform’ as a meaning of the Latin noun or verb, giving as the primary meanings the notion of repetition,[9] though ‘renew’ and ‘restore’ are also given for the verb, and an instaurator is ‘a person who renews or restores’.
[10] See the Appendix for a comprehensive account of the usage of the term.
[11] Sacrosanctum Concilium 117
[12] Perfectae caritatis 2: ‘let their founders’ spirit and special aims they set before them as well as their sound traditions—all of which make up the patrimony of each institute—be faithfully held in honour.’ (‘Ideo fideliter agnoscantur et serventur Fundatorum spiritus propriaque proposita, necnon sanae traditiones, quae omnia cuiusque instituti patrimonium constituunt.’)
[13] Optatem totius 16: ‘Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation.’ (‘Theologia dogmatica ita disponatur ut ipsa themata biblica primum proponantur; quid Patres Ecclesiae Orientis et Occidentis ad singulas Revelationis veritates fideliter transmittendas et enucleandas contulerint necnon ulterior dogmatis historia -considerata quoque ipsius relatione ad generalem Ecclesiae historiam- alumnis aperiatur’)
[14] Cf. Pope Benedict XVI: Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005: ‘On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call ‘a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.’
[15] Sacrosanctum Concilium: ‘restituantur vero ad pristinam sanctorum Patrum normam nonnulla quae temporum iniuria deciderunt, prout opportuna vel necessaria videantur.’
[16] ‘Traditio liturgica antecedens:’ a phrase used by Pope Benedict XVI (2007) Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007) 5.1. Cf. ‘the ancient Latin liturgical tradition’ (‘antica tradizione liturgica latina’) in Pope Benedict’s Letter to Bishops (2007) which accompanied the Motu Proprio.
[17] Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3: ‘For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received’, noting the Latin: ‘Tradidi enim vobis in primis quod et accepi’
[18] Pope Pius XII Encyclical Mediator Dei 1947 61: ‘The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savour and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.’ (‘Utique vetustae aetatis Liturgia veneratione procul dubio digna est; verumtamen vetus usus, non idcirco dumtaxat quod antiquitatem sapit ac redolet, aptior ac melior existimandus est vel in semet ipso, vel ad consequentia tempora novasque rerum condiciones quod attinet. Recentiores etiam liturgici ritus reverentia observantiaque digni sunt, quoniam Spiritus Sancti afflatu, qui quovis tempore Ecclesiae adest ad consummationem usque saeculorum (cfr. Matth. 28, 20), orti sunt; suntque iidem pariter opes, quibus inclita Iesu Christi Sponsa utitur ad hominum sanctitatem excitandam procurandamque.’)
[19] Mark 7:13 ‘Rescindentes verbum Dei per traditionem vestram quam tradidistis’: the issue is the use of the category of ‘corban’ to avoid using goods to maintain one’s parents.
[20] Matthew 19.8: ‘ab initio autem non sic fuit.’
[21] Cf. Deuteronomy 22:1.
[22] By Hezekiah (2 Chron 29-30); by Josiah (2 Chron 34-35); by Ezra (Ezra 6; Nehemiah 8-9); and by Judas Maccabaeus (2 Macc 10). This is to say nothing of major programmes of physical restoration which had to take place from time to time, and the complete rebuilding of the Temple under Herod the Great.
[23] The finding of the Book of the Law and its renewed proclamation and implementation is a key theme in the restorations carried out both by King Josiah (2 Chron 34:13f) and by the Prophet Ezra (Nehemiah 8:1-3). Nevertheless, many details of the restored Temple cult must have been preserved, if at all, in secondary documents and by word of mouth.
[24] Josef Jungmann Vol I pp74-5
[25] Goddard Festa Paschalia pp57-8
[26] Benedictine monasticism itself was being restored at St Peter’s Abbey in Solesmes, France, at a time (1830) when the Benedictine tradition had worn thin. The contemporary practice of the chant was felt to be unsatisfactory, and thus began a major programme of research with a view to a restoration.
[27] Quoted by Katherine Bergeron Decadent Enchantments: The Revival of Gregorian Chant at Solesmes (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1998) p15.
[28] In the case of Chant the debate about the meaning of ancient manuscripts, and the practical possibilities of restoring things to modern use, shows no signs of abating.
[29] Cf. Matthew 13:52: ‘Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old.’ (‘ideo omnis scriba doctus in regno caelorum similis est homini patri familias, qui profert de thesauro suo nova et vetera.’)
[30] Notably thanks to the permissions immediately given to older priests to continue to use them when the 1970 Missal was promulgated, and the English Indult of 1971.
[31] Such as the Prayers of the Faithful, the people’s direct participation in the Kiss of Peace, and certain ancient liturgical texts.