Rorate Caeli

Benedict XVI and the Future of the Mass

In a post on this blog three days ago, it was said:

This Thursday, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops assembled at the Vatican to develop and approve the schema of the [post-Synodal] "Apostolic Exhortation", the papal document regarding the liturgy. Everything seems to indicate the solemnity and ceremony of another era shall be return to the Mass. This document is expected in October, along with the indult favoring the Tridentine Mass.

What does it mean, in practical terms, that "the solemnity and ceremony of another era" will be returned to the liturgy? What shape will this reform-of-the-reform take? Will it be something that Traditionalists can fully embrace? Tolerate? Will it simply be more of the same?

A now out-of-print book by Fr. Brian Houghton called Mitre and Crook may offer us some clue as to what the revised liturgy will look like. In this fictional book, Houghton chronicles the activity of a Bishop Forester (of Stamford) in the late 1970s, when the bishop finally decided that he was done participating in the revolution, and the time had come to clean up the mess.

Much in the same way that the revolution took its initial steps by first revising the Mass, so also Bishop Forester began the "reform of the reform" (if you will) in his diocese by laying down new laws for the celebration of the liturgy. His approach to the problem seems to very closely mirror the thought of Benedict XVI: the future reform must curb excesses, stop abuses, and restore the sacred to the Mass, but it must not consist of a total rejection of the Novus Ordo, for this would do much greater harm to the credibility of priests, bishops, and Rome itself.

The details of Bishop Forester's reform are given in Mitre and Crook in the reproduction of the text of Bishop Forester's letter to the priests of his diocese. This letter, along with some introductory comments, can be found in my essay Reforming the Revolution: The Future Shape of the Mass. The reader is invited to review this piece of history and draw his own conclusions: can we expect Benedict XVI's reform to closely resemble the reforms implemented by Bishop Forester? Does the logic displayed by His Excellency seem to be consonant with what we know of Benedict XVI's thoughts on matters liturgical? Is a reform such as the one detailed by Bishop Forester something that a Catholic could support? With a liturgical "reform of the reform" looming in the not too-distant future, it may be wise to begin consider these issues as real possibilities.