Reform or Return? An Interview with Rev.
Thomas M. Kocik, author of "The Reform of the Reform?" | IgnatiusInsight.com
Reform or Return? An Interview with Rev.
Thomas M. Kocik, author of The Reform of the Reform? | Carl E. Olson | July 14,
Rev. Thomas M. Kocik is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, and the author of Apostolic
Succession in an Ecumenical Context (Alba House, 1996) and many articles on
Catholic belief and practice. He is also author of
The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (Ignatius
Press, 2003), described by Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., editor of Homiletic
& Pastoral Review as a presentation of "an enlightening and fair debate between
traditionalists and reformers on how to resolve the current liturgical crisis
in the Catholic Church."
Carl E. Olson, editor of IgnatiusInsight.com, recently
interviewed Father Kocik about Pope Benedict's recent Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, what
it means for traditionalists and reformists, and its impact on the
liturgical life of the Church.
You've been actively involved many years now in promoting a better
understanding and appreciation of the Church's Latin liturgical tradition. What
is your background and what are some of the ways that you've sought to bring
about a liturgical reform that is in keeping with Church tradition and the
directives of the Second Vatican Council?
Fr. Kocik: Having been born in 1965, when the Second Vatican
Council was still in session, I am not old enough to remember the pre-Vatican
II liturgy. The so-called Novus Ordo of Paul VI was all I knew growing up--though I happily add that my
boyhood parish in upstate New York was spared the wackiest of liturgical
aberrations. In the easy wisdom of hindsight, I now know that my usual
experience of Mass could have been better, more in keeping with the mind of the
Church in terms of music and ceremonial. (I rarely, if ever, heard Gregorian
chant or Latin, and scarcely recall anything resembling "high" Mass.) I had
heard of the days not long past when Mass was in Latin and the priest had his
"back to the people," and I couldn't fathom anyone but nostalgic old folks
missing that. It wasn't until the late-1980s that I began to understand what
some were calling, favorably or unfavorably, the liturgical "revolution." I
entered the seminary with a strong interest in the controversies surrounding
Vatican II and its aftermath. On a few occasions during those seminary years
(1990-95), I was able to assist at sung Latin Masses, and the experiences left
a deep impression on me.
At every Mass I have offered
since my ordination, I have tried not only to ensure against abuses such as the
unnecessary use of extraordinary ministers, but also to accentuate, whenever
possible, the continuity between the Missal of Paul VI (amended by John Paul II
and published in 2002) and the pre-conciliar liturgical tradition. To give some
examples: having a "preferential option" for the Roman Canon and the first form
of the Penitential Rite (the Confiteor); singing the orations and using incense
on Sundays and feast days; using a measure of Latin at every celebration;
wearing black or violet vestments for funerals and other Masses for the dead;
praying the optional sequences; offering votive Masses on occasion; and, in
some circumstances, facing ad orientem.
Your book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (Ignatius Press, 2003), offers a
unique way of addressing the conflicts and confusion following the Council,
with a fictional dialogue between a traditionalist and a reformist. How did the
idea for the book come about? What did you hope the book might accomplish?
Fr. Kocik: I was familiar with the standard "traditionalist"
condemnations of the Novus Ordo of
1970: that it is invalid, that it was devised by Protestants and modernist
Catholics who deny the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, and so on. But
having read balanced and scholarly works by Msgr. Klaus Gamber and Michael
Davies, I knew it was a mistake to portray all traditionalists as intractable
reactionaries who couldn't grasp the notion of a living, ever-developing
tradition. Nor did I believe the liturgy could be "re-enchanted" simply by
correcting abuses: had no wrong turns been taken?
In the mid-1990s, I first
learned of what would later be called the "reform of the reform" movement,
represented by such groups as the Adoremus
Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy and the Society for Catholic Liturgy. Its
protagonists did not advocate the abolition of the Novus Ordo, as if the post-conciliar reform yielded nothing
beneficial to the Church; instead, they called for a critical reassessment of
the reform in the light of a deeper understanding of Vatican II--one which
views the Council as a reappropriation of the fullness of tradition, not a
rejection of tradition.
And so, it was in the latter
half of 2001 that I wrote The Reform of the Reform? My intention was to cull the arguments for and
against competing alternatives to the liturgical status quo, in a way that
sifts the chaff of extreme polemic from the wheat of sober assessment. I
thought that a debate in conversational style, in which a "traditionalist" and
a "reformist" move quickly from point to point, might help Catholics who lack
theological and liturgical expertise to grasp the issues involved in any
attempt to re-stabilize the liturgy of the Western Church.
What is your initial reaction to Summorum Pontificum? In what ways might it give support to the traditionalist
and reformist views, respectively? Differ from them? Reconcile them?
Fr. Kocik:The Holy Father has long
maintained that one of the false interpretations of Vatican II is that it marks
a clean break from the past. No, says Benedict: the Council is properly
understood only in light of the Church's bi-millennial tradition, of which the
liturgy is the prime expression. The distinction between reform and rupture,
between continuity and discontinuity, is key to understanding Summorum
Pontificum. As the pope explains in
his letter to the bishops, it is not a matter of old rite versus new rite, but
of "a twofold use of one and the same rite." Traditionalists may object--correctly,
I daresay--that the Missal of 1970 cannot be put on a par with the relatively
modest revisions of the Roman Missal made by Bl. John XXIII and earlier popes. On
this basis, I think we can safely assert, without fear of contradicting the
pope, that the 1962 Missal is the last Roman Missal representing a particular
stream of tradition within the
family of the Roman liturgy. But to speak, as some traditionalists do speak, of
the 1970 Missal as a irremediable rupture with tradition is, ironically enough,
to espouse the same hermeneutic of discontinuity applied by the Catholic far
left to justify all kinds of unorthodox mischief.
In your opinion, are do the directives in the motu proprio shape a working compromise, as such?
Is Summorum Pontificum just one step--albeit an important one--in a much longer work
Fr. Kocik: I'm not sure "compromise" is the right word in this
case, since both traditionalists and reformists value the extraordinary form of
the Roman Rite, albeit for different reasons. Summorum Pontificum is an important step toward reforming the reform. Pope
Benedict hopes that both forms will enrich each other. He suggests, for
example, that the prefaces of the current Missal be inserted into the 1962
Missal. Likewise, in this age of casualness and improvisation in worship,
expanded access to the 1962 form can, over time, invest our celebrations of the
ordinary form of Mass with the sense of "sacrality that attracts many people to
the former usage...". Neither the Missal of 1962 nor that of 1970, Benedict has
said elsewhere, should be treated as an unalterable museum piece.
Some clergy and commentators have expressed concern that the motu proprio will place even more burdens on
pastors and that it will even increase division between Catholics. How valid
are those concerns? What will be some of the practical, logistical challenges
faced by priests? And how willing do you think bishops in the United States
will be to facilitate the extraordinary form of the Mass?
Fr. Kocik: The only way I envision a pastor becoming more
burdened is with the sudden need to add more Masses to his parish schedule. This
will not happen in places where there is no considerable demand for the
extraordinary form of Mass. Where the demand does exist, but where there is no
priest willing or qualified to use the 1962 Missal, the bishop is to arrange
for such celebration to take place, or else refer the matter to the Ecclesia
Dei commission. I daresay most
bishops will find many of their young priests willing to step in. A bishop
might also consider inviting into his diocese priestly societies exclusively
committed to the extraordinary Roman Rite and in full communion with the
Church, such as the Fraternity of St. Peter or the Institute of Christ the
With regard to the practical
and logistical challenges likely to be faced by priests, let me refer you to my
essay in the May/June 2007 issue of the Saint Austin Review (
"Benedict XVI and the 'Tridentine" Question'" [PDF document]). In it, I discuss (among other things) the question
of altar placement, the challenge of maintaining two liturgical calendars side
by side, and the likelihood of conflicts between pastors and their assistants.
Do you think Summorum Pontificum will lead to a significant increase in the celebration
of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII?
Fr. Kocik: There will probably be a more widespread use of the
1962 Missal and other sacramental rites, and perhaps of the 1970/2002 Missal in
Latin. But I do not expect an immediate or sharp increase in the number of
parishes celebrating Mass according to 1962 Missal. Most bishops and priests
say there is no great demand for it, although that could change.
If you had speculate, what does the future hold for the liturgy within the
Fr. Kocik: Prognostications are always risky. Who knows where
divine Providence will take us from here? I hope that, with the 1962 version of
the Roman liturgy now de-marginalized (in theory, at least), more Catholics
would take the opportunity to see for themselves what was lost and what was
gained since the Council. As I say, increased exposure to the extraordinary
form might encourage better, more dignified celebrations of the Novus Ordo and foster a responsible way of thinking about the
liturgy. The liturgical books of 1962 enshrine certain Catholic perspectives
and values that are often ignored or downplayed in contemporary worship.
In closing, let me register
my agreement with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus's opinion: "With the possible
exception of those who are incorrigibly nostalgic for the good old days of the
revolution that was not to be, I believe that the pope's initiative will be
recognized for what it is--a generous and hopeful proposal for a future in
which Catholics are freed to celebrate the rich variety of the tradition that
is theirs" (First Things, "On the Square," July 9).
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Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
The Spirit of the Liturgy page
For "Many" or For "All"? | From God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart
of Life | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
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Music and Liturgy | From The Spirit of the Liturgy
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The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | From The Spirit of the Liturgy
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The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | From
The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy | Martin Mosebach
To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and
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The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in
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and Conversion | Barbara Morgan
The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Benedict and the Eucharist: On the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum
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The Meaning and Purpose of the Year of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
The Doctrine (and the Defense) of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
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