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Part Two: The Bitter Fruits of a Fashionable, Unserious Liturgist | Rev. Brian Van Hove, S.J. | Ignatius Insight

This festschrift presents the narrow bright side and remains silent about the broader dark side of Hovda and of the circle of which he was a member. [23] The "we always know more than the official church which has not yet caught up with us" liturgy establishment with its penchant for infidelity to norms and approved texts, and its barely suppressed disdain and contempt for any authority over the liturgy except its own, is at its most transparent in the festschrift.

Nathan Mitchell put it this way: "Recent documents such as Liturgiam authenticam, Built of Living Stones, the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal 2000 are all, to one degree or another, troubling or tremendous (depending on your point of view). But none of them really deserves all the time, attention, and anxiety we give to them." [24] Mitchell forgets that next to the New Testament itself, the liturgical texts have been the most sacred in Christianity, East and West, and that the implementing or regulating documents are the voice of the living church helping us to understand our prayer.

The issue of "who owns the liturgy" is not addressed. Nor is there any genuine apology [25] for the damage done to our church in the years when Hovda and his closest associates were most active—for the senseless iconoclasm, for the disobedience to religious authority and the undermining of church norms, for a "private interpretation" of the ecumenical council itself, for the subversion of the General Instruction, and for the liturgical injustice done to so many "Joe Sixpack" Catholics who never got from this establishment—parallel to the church and resembling an alternate church—what the real church wanted delivered to them. The self-appointed arbiters of the reform were liturgical highjackers who deprived ordinary parishioners—and bewildered pastors—of their right to the normative worship of their own church. Disrespectful of existing piety and custom, they were technicians and choreographers rather than the genuine scholars who studied and maintained a certain humility before texts and the mystery which is the church. Accordingly, their concern for orthodox doctrine, and for the doctrinal implications of their radical changes, was nil—or worse, their hostility to doctrinal orthodoxy was veiled beneath a gauze of rhetoric about liturgical renewal and the need for more change.

Without acknowledging reliable writers and publications such as Richard J. Schuler and Sacred Music or Adoremus, or authors such as Denis Crouan, [26] or for that matter Joseph Ratzinger, we are introduced in Ritual Transformation to yesterday's enthusiasms from what can only be called the aging, graying liturgical hippies who narcissistically celebrate each other's stories. Hovda is reported to have said more than once that "he just didn't have anything new to say." [p. 11]. Rather, he had said too much already.

The impenitence of this party is clearest when they insist the church has not gone far enough yet and that the reform must cut even deeper. [27] They take no responsibility for their role in providing the background for those young people who today are asking for the return of the old rite of 1962 before in their estimation "everything went wrong." [28] The reform of the reform would not be so urgent if we had been given the authentic reform in the first place. The failure of the reform, and the failure to implement it honestly, [29] must be attributed to someone, yet nowhere in the festschrift is there acknowledgement that anything "they" did might have been misguided. The implication is plain, however, that they wish they had won. The contributors to this festschrift nowhere express a robust optimism that they will have successors. The most they can now hope for is a certain pluralism or tolerance for their ideas which are already in place.

Not a few young American Catholics are openly and loudly calling for traditional liturgy. In the words of Anthony Dragani:
They are tired of being reminded that the Church is undergoing a process of tumultuous change. Constantly hearing guitars playing music written within the last two decades serves as a painful reminder that the Church of today is disassociated from its past. Instead, it is comforting for many students to hear the historical music of the Church, and perhaps get a whiff of incense, imagining that the Church of today is essentially the same as it was yesterday. We want to be reminded that the Church has a glorious liturgical legacy, which is our birthright as Catholics. [30]
It was the protestantization and secularization of the Mass which drove the next generation to this conclusion, not Sacrosanctum concilium. [31] Of course nowhere in this festschrift do we hear of Catherine Pickstock, the British scholar who praises the Medieval Catholic Liturgy for its superiority. [32] They are just not that erudite. Nor is it mentioned that in the United States "Living Stones" replaced the "Environment and Art in Catholic Worship" written chiefly by Robert Hovda. [33]

Why did it take so many years finally to understand that to focus on the assembly, the notion that the church is the people, soon excludes transcendence? [34] The obsessive slogan "we are the Body of Christ" of the Hovda era displaced the centrality of the Eucharistic Presence in worship. Simply put, it focused more on the people of God than on God Himself. People encircled around the Holy Table were locked in a closed circuit, eventually worshipping each other. As soon as the liturgy was concluded in this system, the presence of Christ vanished because the people went home, so linked to the faith of the assembly was this presence. But we know Luther thought of all this long before Robert Hovda. [35] The abiding presence of Christ after Mass is a Catholic truth, and the youth of today are rediscovering adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. [36]

The contributors to the festschrift are aware of the trend among the younger generation. It is just that those practitioners who taught a whole generation to hate their own liturgical past and to replace it with the superior culture of "balloons, banners, and Wonder Bread," disagree. Funk wrote "Some young people are naively longing for an imaginary ideal time before the reform experienced by their parents. This transformation has moved from singing that is fresh and new, to singing that is political, to singing that is downright offensive." [37]

I have worked with Catholic seminarians over the past few years. I would have to say that there is a drift toward the revival of the missal of 1962. The traditionalism espoused by certain sophisticated students is based on a felt preference and their own extensive reading, as well as on official assurances from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [38] and Cardinal Francis Arinze. Students who are content with the missal of 1969 are in favor of a strict interpretation of the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The rediscovery of liturgical Latin—at least the revival of it in chant [39]—during this new millennium seems imminent. My position is identical to that of Denis Crouan—use the official books and interpret them intelligently, faithfully and seriously.

An example of this was the installation in the St. Louis Cathedral of Archbishop Raymond L. Burke on January 26, 2004. I was there. The new rite does convey transcendence and beauty, if only we choose it. [40] Despite this, some seminarians and young people disagree, and they insist on a return to the missal of 1962. [41] But whether we choose the missal of 1962 or the missal of 1969, it is the church's liturgy which should guide us, and we should not ever be at war with those books. [42] Students have a right to their convictions on this question, but the liturgical establishment represented by the Hovda legacy would certainly do its best to undermine that right. [43]

Youthful "traditionalism" is not confined to Catholics. Colleen Carroll recently pointed out that traditionalism and religious orthodoxy are increasingly popular among young Jews and Protestants, too. Often it is a healthy search for the heritage denied them by the "manufacturers of new liturgy." [44]

But Hovda called for radical changes in the opposite direction. "We know how much we owe to people who volunteered when no one else was around or stood up to offer their services, but we have relied far too long on volunteers, goodwill, private feelings of call, and rites of public commissioning or ordination to supply what only talent and training and time can supply. This means radical changes in recruitment, training, lifestyle, as well as qualifications not just for musicians but for all of our specialized ministries, including bishops and priests." [45] One is tempted to ask, "How radical is radical?" Good Catholics have always accepted the ministry of weak and imperfect priests because Holy Orders is a gift of the Lord to His Church. Talent and training are secondary. Average Catholics worldwide, who know their catechism, would welcome a mediocre priest rather than have no priest at all to celebrate the Mass, to hear confessions, and to anoint the sick. We do not need a Hovda-style attack upon decent priests when he says "Clerics whose world is the ecclesiastical island, and who are therefore drained by its inconsequential demands, consumed by its spiritual narcissism, breathless from its ritual busy work, will never be able to preside in (or even to understand) the Sunday assembly which such a faith community must have for its survival." [46] Ritual busy work?

Hovda's sacramental theology is disjunctive from our past rather than showing the "organic development and evolution" out of older forms requested by Sacrosanctum concilium. The real dogmatic core of the Catholic Mass is that it is the One Sacrifice offered by a priest in persona Christi and the ordinary means of grace for our salvation. [47] All of the mysto-poetry about "bringing our broken hearts to the assembly" is secondary and more or less the fabricated lingo of the liturgists. For them, the object of faith is displaced and actually reinvented. The vocabulary of Catholic piety is scrapped in favor of a much more protestant-friendly lexicon. From them, one hears little of Mary and the saints or the doctrine of mediation. This explains why some of them were so enthusiastic about new biblical theories such as "we must nuance any statement which would have the historical Jesus institute the church or the priesthood at the Last Supper." Why? Because "we" do not believe in that any longer.

This is what Hovda thought about the Mass:
The rediscovery of initiation [48] as the root of all ministry tells us, as musicians and other ministers involved in the service of the churches, that we are finally beginning a very slow process of outgrowing that unspoken but implicit division of the Church into a gnostic elite of leaders with God-connections that are inaccessible to most and the majority of the faithful, who must experience the holy secondhand. That division was a temporary reversion, a bit of atavism in our history, but it lasted a long time. The great identification with Jesus Christ and with the priesthood of Jesus Christ is again, now, baptism and not holy orders. So the entire assembly is the primary minister in liturgy, and the variety of specialized ministries, which we are in the process of rediscovering again in our life as Church, are all in the service of the assembly, dependent in many ways on that assembly. Sacraments are no longer things that the priest brings to the rest of us but rather symbolic actions that we all do together. We need offices of ministry for the doing of them, to be sure, but they are our common action, with the different roles that a liturgical assembly requires. [49]
Robert W. Hovda remained an adherent of the Protestant Reformation. He entered the Catholic Church juridically, but did he really understand it or accept it doctrinally? [50] Perhaps he had no encouragement, or perhaps his seminary education was insufficient or ill-timed, or perhaps he made the wrong friends. He seems never to have grasped that the source of all our unity as Catholics is the covenantal and ecclesial offering, in persona Christi, of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the central act of worship in the Roman Catholic Church, as Vatican II emphasized over and over again. This ancient doctrine has been brilliantly developed over more than fifty years by the great theologian Henri de Lubac, but Hovda never mentions him, nor does anyone else in this festschrift. There can be no eucharistic communion with those who, by a Lutheran rejection of the sacrificial office of the Catholic priesthood as it is defined by the Council of Trent, put the reality of the Sacrifice of the Mass in issue.

Nowhere in Ritual Transformation do we read this kind of language. Robert Hovda may have been a technician of the liturgy, but his baptism-based understanding of the priesthood of all believers [51]—the exaltation of the assembly's role and what he called the "rediscovery of initiation" [52]—locates him within the Reformation's tradition, not that of Trent or Vatican II. The idea that the words of consecration change the assembly, the minds and hearts of the believers into the Body of Christ, and not the bread and wine which remain only a symbol, is the genuine Protestant Principle. [53]

Unlike Raymond Brown who at the end of his life began "connecting the dots" for his nonprofessional readers, Robert Hovda remained the offspring of the Reformation and he made no apparent effort toward such needed Catholic connections.

Note: Since this article was published in the summer of 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope (2005), the Motu Proprio "Summorum Pontificum" was promulgated (2007), and the Commission "Ecclesia Dei" clarified that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass could be scheduled on any Sunday in any parish even if the purpose was simply to introduce the faithful to this form of the Mass (2010). In other words, the Missal of 1962 is back.

(Originally published in The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer 2004): 3-11. Reprinted here by kind permission of the author.)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three (Endnotes)

Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:

A Year of Crisis, Revisited | Hubert Jedin's 1968 Memorandum to the West German Episcopal Conference
How Should We Worship? | Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. | by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Learning the Liturgy From the Saints | An Interview with Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P., author of The Mass and the Saints
Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | Martin Mosebach | From The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy
Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
Reflections On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly) | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

Father Brian Van Hove, S.J., is the Chaplain to the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan.


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