Reform of the Reform?

Over at Faith and Reason, there’s an interesting discussion about the 2003 book The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return, by Fr. Thomas Kocik. While I haven’t read the book, the review (which I’ve re-posted in full, below) makes clear what his position is: instead of throwing away everything before Vatican II, or throwing away everything from, or after, Vatican II, find a way of incorporating some of the positive pre-conciliar traditions into the Ordinary Form of the Mass.  Here’s Faith and Reason’s take on the book:

I just finished reading a book entitled The Reform of the Reform by Fr. Thomas M. Kocik (Ignatius Press), which assesses the liturgical situation within the Church after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Kocik presents a fictional debate between a “traditionalist” (who would like to see a return to the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass) and a “reformist” (a tradition-minded Catholic who accepts the changes instituted by the Council but recognizes the need for improvement within a workable framework). Also included are a few essays from various thinkers within the current reform movement who mull over ideas for effective liturgical reform, and a point-by-point comparison between the old and new rite of Mass.

This book was published in 2003 – before Benedict XVI was installed as pope. What is amazing, besides the spot-on analysis of our current liturgical troubles, is the direct correlation between what the reformists suggest (ten years ago) and what has actually happened under the current pontificate of Benedict XVI. For example, the author wrote that he believed more freedom should be given to individual priests to celebrate unhindered the Tridentine Latin Mass (though he doubts this would ever happen)…yet, here we are under Pope Benedict, with full freedom to celebrate the Latin without special permission from the local bishop. Also it is mentioned that a new English translation of the Mass, one that is more faithful to the Latin, would be a tremendous help…and again, here we are preparing for just that.

This makes one wonder what else that is mentioned in this book might be in store for the Church with regard to liturgical renewal. The book also suggests encouraging priests to face in the same direction as the people (to the “liturgical East” – that is, with his back to the people), an increased use of Latin chant, and a renewed emphasis on symbolic gestures. Is Pope Benedict moving the Church toward a more traditional style of liturgical worship? It certainly seems so…and I pray it continues.

This position avoids the extremism of both the radical Traditionalists like the Society of St. Pius X, and the radical Catholic liberals who risk turning the Mass into something unrecognizable as Catholic, or as Liturgy, or as God-centric. As you might have guessed, it’s a position I’m partial to, and as the review shows, it’s a position which the Pope supports.  The reason I think that this approach is the best isn’t simply that it’s the most moderate: on certain positions, it’s better to be an absolutist than a moderate.

Rather it’s that this position, which Benedict calls “the hermeneutic of continuity,” views the Holy Spirit as active in guiding the Church before the Council, at the Council, and after the Council.  Now, surely He guides in such a way that reforms and changes are necessary.  That’s why Vatican II was needed, and it’s why we need to reform some of the ways Vatican II’s been implemented.  But to simply chuck everything before or after the Council suggests an attitude that we know better than He does.  He permitted the Second Vatican Council for a reason, just as He permitted every other Ecumenical Council for a reason.  Our task is to discern, to the best of our ability, what He wills, and obey, not to simply impose our liturgical wills upon the world.

I should mention that in addition to being, in my opinion, the most faithful interpretation, and the interpretation which the pope takes, this “reform of the reform”  interpretation has been implemented quite successfully in many parts of the U.S., including the diocese of Arlington where I live.  Faith and Reason mentioned Fr. Kocik’s four proposed “reforms of the reform”:

  1. Freedom for priests to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass without needing special permission;
  2. A new translation of the Mass, more faithful to the Latin;
  3. Prayer “ad orientum,” where the priest offers the Eucharist facing the tabernacle, rather than the people; and 
  4. increased use of Latin chant.
Of these four things, the first two have been implemented on a broad scale.  The pope clarified that priests have the right to celebrate the Latin Mass without needing special permission, and the English-speaking world is moving to a new, and more accurate, translation this Advent, as I mentioned here and here.  But in addition, Bishop Loverde already permits his priests to celebrate Mass ad orientum, and while he was with us at St. Mary’s, Fr. De Celles would celebrate one morning Mass this way each Sunday (he also celebrated the Latin Mass from time to time).  Beyond this, many of the parishes (including St. Mary’s) continue to pray specific prayers in the traditional language, from the Kyrie (in Greek) to the Agnus Dei (in Latin). Because these prayers are easily recognizable, people are praying in Greek or Latin, but they know what they’re saying.  So it keeps the beauty of a Latin or Greek portion of the Mass without the common downsides.
Don’t get me wrong: I think that the traditional Latin Mass is beautiful, and I think that the English-only Novus Ordo Mass is beautiful, too — in both cases, when they’re prayed reverently.  What isn’t beautiful are those factions within the Church who tear one another down for having different liturgical preferences, and hopefully, incorporating the best of both the old and new into the Ordinary Form of the Mass will help heal this particular wound in the Body of Christ, as well as creating a Liturgy which is at once beautiful and accessible.


  1. Joe:

    Well said, as usual. The Ordinary Form celebrated in accordance with the rubrics (particularly, I think, with the new English translation) is beautiful. The Extraordinary Form is also beautiful. The reverence of the priest is the key.

  2. Brock,

    I don’t know if this will answer your question, but I just attended my first TLM and realized, for the first time, what it means for us to participate in a sacrifice offered up to the Father. It’s about orientation. I reflected on my experience at the TLM here.



  3. I live in Virginia at the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. I can drive about an hour to 4 different Eastern Orthodox parishes. It’s 7 hours to the nearest Latin Mass.

    I think there is a hi demand and low supply of the old school.

  4. Brock,

    I’d started to respond to your question before Men’s Group, but upon my return found that Brent had already responded — and much better than what I had started to say. Anyone else reading this, I’d point you to his post on the subject.

    I will add two things, though:
    (1) When the Mass is done ad orientum, the priest is leading the congregation. He’s not performing for them, or even reading Scripture to them or preaching to them (the reason he faces them during the Liturgy of the Word and the homily). He’s leading them, the way that Moses lead the Israelites to the promised land. And then we feast on the New Manna, the Eucharist.

    (2) With all of the theological advantages of the Mass ad orientum, it’s worth respecting that not everybody appreciates that posture. Some people find it alienating or find it harder to follow. It’s also not always practical, depending on the physical layout of the church. So I think that it’s a great ideal, and hopefully one day a concept that all Catholics will embrace (once they understand the reasoning behind it), but it’s still one of those issues on which pastoral and other sensitivities should be respected.

    In Christ,


  5. Daniel,

    If you’re familiar with the history of the Arlington-Richmond split in dioceses, there are some reasons why you’re out cold.

    Until 1973, we were all one diocese, the Diocese of Richmond. After Bishop Russell died, Pope Paul VI split the diocese into two, because of Virginia’s growing Catholic population. The northern half, Arlington, has been governed by a series of solid bishops. The southern half had Bishop Sullivan, who, for whatever good he undoubtedly did, let some barbaric things happen to the Mass. I kid you not, there was an instance in which a VW Beetle was used in Church, and the wiper fluid was replaced with holy water. The priest in question intentionally requested permission to move parishes to stay on the Richmond side after the split.

    Meanwhile, many of Richmond’s better priests went to a more supportive diocese as well. For obvious reasons, most of the priests with a desire to preserve the Latin Mass were drawn to northern Virginia (how many went, I can’t say — it was well before my time). So generally speaking, Richmond’s loss has been Arlington’s gain. Northern Virginia’s bad priests went south; southern Virginia’s good priests went north. Your current bishop, Bp. DiLorenzo, seems to be a solid guy, but he’s still got his hands full cleaning things up.

    In Christ,


  6. The book was well done. I picked it up expecting something like Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Debate books, but it isn’t like that at all.

    The debate chapter seems designed to express the opposing views and why they hold them as opposed to setting one side as right and the other as wrong.

    The analysis of the extraordinary form and articles written by people of both camps seeking to explain their position.

    I prefer the Ordinary Form celebrated properly, so it is to be expected that I found their arguments to be better, but I am sure one who prefers the extraordinary side could say the same about those who shared their position.

    The ultimate point of the book seems to be to inform people who are appalled by liturgical abuses on how these two perspectives approach the Mass.

    I have no regrets whatsoever for buying this book.

  7. Thank you for making such positive remarks about our Diocese of Arlington – I love it here!
    N.B. ~ Fr. DeCelles now celebrates Mass in the EF on 1st and 3rd Friday evenings each month at St. Raymond of Penafort in Springfield. Our next one is July 15 at 7 p.m.
    I try to make it as our family schedule allows which hasn’t happened as recently as I would like. Join us! 🙂

  8. Call me a Reformist: I know too much about how the Mass changed over the centuries to fantacize that the Tridentine Missal is even 500 years old, yet I supported the reforms that Benedict XVI is proposing even before I knew who Ratzinger was. (Those “reforms” were proposed by Paul VI, but the liberals in the Church ignored him.)

  9. HoyaGirl,

    First of all, it’s great to see another Catholic Hoya — we’re an endangered species, I’m afraid. And I believe that Father’s July 15 Mass was cancelled … although it’s a bit late to be telling you this, I suppose.


    Well put. The Liturgy changes over time, without a doubt. Sometimes, it’s changed for the better, and sometimes not. Our job isn’t to try and recreate an imagined version of what the Church looked like in some past age, but to embrace what is True, Beautiful,and Good today. Benedict seems to really get this point, while his opponents on both sides seem to be blind to it.

    God bless,


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