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


[1] George A. Kelly, The New Biblical Theorists (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1983). It is noteworthy that Ralph Martin published A Crisis of Truth: the Attack on Faith, Morality, and Mission in the Catholic Church the previous year, 1982, also by Servant Press. In those bad days it was hard for orthodox writers to break into print either professionally or otherwise. This was never the case for Robert Hovda who wrote "The Amen Corner" for Worship during the last nine years of his life. He died in 1992 after forty-seven essays were written. See John F. Baldovin, ed., Robert Hovda, The Amen Corner (Collegeville: A Pueblo Book published by The Liturgical Press, 1994). It took another nineteen years before the crisis in biblical studies was put into focus, this time by insiders. See Luke Timothy Johnson and William S. Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: a constructive conversation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), esp. Kurz, 161-162. More narrowly responding to the abuse of method—and its entanglement with ideology in the recent fascination with the gnostic gospels—is Philip Jenkins, Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost its Way (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). Compare also Roland E. Murphy, "What Is Catholic about Catholic Biblical Scholarship?," Biblical Theology Bulletin 28, no. 3 (Fall 1998), 112–119.

[2] George A. Kelly, "A Wayward Turn in Biblical Theory," address given at the Conference on the Bible and the Church, November 12, 1999. Online edition. Also in Catholic Dossier 6, no. 1, (January/February 2000), 38-42.

[3] Raymond E. Brown's little book Biblical Reflections on Crises Facing the Church (New York: Paulist Press, 1975) was a case of his stepping outside his field. He adopted a polemical tone and generated anxiety in orthodox Catholics who wished to see church doctrine defended rather than dismantled. Had Brown given sufficient assurances back then, he would have won over more friends.

[4] Hovda himself preferred the expression "pastoral liturgist." See Baldovin, Hovda, Preface by John F. Baldovin, vii.

[5] The gratuitous attack upon the rosary in Ritual Transformation, 7-8, is tasteless. (Even more tasteless is the use of the "S" word on page 7.) One can only contrast it with the magisterial contribution to the subject of the Most Holy Rosary by Pope Paul VI in 1973 in Marialis cultus, as well as with the 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae of Pope John Paul II, with special reference to his historic addition of the Luminous Mysteries. On 14 March, 2004, Pope John Paul II led an international rosary via television in connection with European University Day.

[6] The unintended fallout from the Mass "versus populum" was the projection of the priest into the role of entertainer, celebrity, facilitator, talk-show-host, lecturer, professor, or center of focus. In this system, the priest assumes an exaggerated visual importance—he and the people speak less to God and more to each other, making it impossible for the priest to carry out the demand in John 3:30, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Today students who have read Klaus Gamber and Joseph Ratzinger are reconsidering the orientation of priest to altar. See also Letter of Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Vatican City, to The Most Reverend David D. Foley, Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama, 25 September, 2000. Prot. No. 2086/00/L.

[7] James F. Hitchcock's Recovery of the Sacred, appearing in 1975 and reprinted in 1995, was ignored by this group. Recovery is well worth re-reading to get a sense of the liturgical crisis in the United States, even if some examples are dated.

[8] Besides Manuel Miguens, not all Catholic exegetes agreed with Brown's academic approach. Stanislaus Lyonnet and Ignace de la Potterie were two. For more on this question, see Johnson/Kurz, Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship, passim.

[9] In this connection let us ever remember the chilling words of the Anglican biblical scholar and translator, J.B. Phillips: "I do not write for scholars; they can look after themselves. For twenty-five years I have written for the ordinary man who is no theologian. Alas, today, he frequently gets the impression that the New Testament is no longer historically reliable. What triggered off my anger... against some of our 'experts' is this. A clergyman, old, retired, useless if you like, took his own life because his reading of the 'new theology,' and even some programs on television, finally drove him, in his loneliness and ill-health, to conclude that his own life's work had been founded upon a lie. He felt that these highly qualified writers and speakers must know so much more than he that they must be right. Jesus Christ did not really rise from the dead and the New Testament, on which he had based his life and ministry, was no more than a bundle of myths." J.B. Phillips, The Ring of Truth, Foreword (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967), 9.

[10] C.S. Lewis once made a distinction between "thick" and "thin" religion. "When C.S. Lewis was converted from atheism, he shopped around in the world's religious supermarket and narrowed his choice down to Hinduism or Christianity. Religions are like soups, he said. Some, like consommé, are thin and clear (Unitarianism, Confucianism, modern Judaism); others, like minestrone, are thick and dark (paganism, 'mystery religions'). Only Hinduism and Christianity are both 'thin' (philosophical) and 'thick' (sacramental and mysterious). But Hinduism is really two religions: 'thick' for the masses, 'thin' for the sages. Only Christianity is both." Peter Kreeft, "Comparing Christianity & Hinduism," National Catholic Register (May, 1987). Online edition. Hovda tried to collapse the "thick" into the "thin" and ended with a brand of American enthusiasm, Reformation-style.

[11] For more on the final Liturgical Week see Richard John Neuhaus, "What Happened to the Liturgical Movement?", Antiphon 6, no. 2 (2001), 5-7. Also see Attila Miklósházy, Benedicamus Domino!: The Theological Foundations of the Liturgical Renewal (Ottawa: Novalis, St. Paul University, 2001), 15-16.

[12] See entry for "Gerald Ellard" in How Firm a Foundation: Voices of the Early Liturgical Movement, compiled and introduced by Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1990), 109-112. Also James G. Knapp, "The Social Dimension of the Liturgy in the Writings of Gerald Ellard, SJ" (STL thesis, Regis College and The Toronto School of Theology, 1982).

[13] Gabe Huck, "A Tree Planted by a Stream", Toward Ritual Transformation: Remembering Robert W. Hovda (Collegeville: A Pueblo Book published by The Liturgical Press, 2003), 6.

[14] Funk was trained by Eugene A. Walsh, SS (1911-1989). See Arthur Jones, "Funk—the Man Behind the Music", The National Catholic Reporter (August 24, 2001), 4. Funk and Tom Conry offer reflections on the life of Walsh in Toward An Adult Faith: Talking About the Big Questions: Eugene Walsh, by The Pastoral Press, a division of Oregon Catholic Press (1994). Tim Leonard wrote a biography of Walsh from the same press called GENO: An Autobiography of Eugene Walsh, SS (Pastoral Press, 1988). The Complete Works of Eugene A. Walsh, SS, have also been published by The Pastoral Press. It is a compilation of over forty previously published booklets and unpublished tapes and manuscripts in six volumes. Here we have Johnson's "second generation" at its clearest. See n. 37 below.

[15] Hovda once said "No. 'Good morning, sisters and brothers' is as worshipful an orientation after the opening song of the Sunday assembly as the sign of the cross and the scriptural greeting." See Baldovin, Hovda, 121. I know someone who left the Catholic Church and joined the Eastern Orthodox Church in part because once the priest omitted the sign of the cross and the greeting in this manner. Omitting the invocation of the Divine Trinity seemed to him a blasphemy. Serious Christians have joined the Orthodox Church in recent years, including Jaroslav Pelikan, John Garvey, Jim Forest, Michael Huffington and Franky Schaeffer. There are reports that Prince Charles is very interested. Perhaps they seek traditional liturgy with its timeless beauty and classic grandeur.

[16]George A. Kelly, The Second Spring of the Church in America (South Bend: St. Augustine's Press, 2001), 30.

[17] Peter Toon, "Lex Orandi or Lex Credendi", Lex Orandi 9, no.1 (Spring 1992). Online edition.

[18] Yes, dear reader, in those days Hans Urs von Balthasar was ignored. Balthasar and others founded the Communio International Catholic Review in 1974 in order to have a voice.

[19] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 34 and 34, n. 25. Brown's methodology was known to be restricted to the "scientifically" verifiable according to the historical-critical method. This narrowness placed his concern for Catholic identity out of focus and it is a pity he did not live longer to say more about his commitment to Tradition as expressed on page 34 of the Introduction. Concerning this, an Evangelical scholar, Andreas J. Köstenberger, wrote: "Brown seeks to justify his church's Tradition (with a capital "T") as "normative interpretation of [God's salvific action] which is not found in Scripture" (p. 34). As a result, he is able to support doctrines such as the assumption of Mary as a legitimate application of the New Testament teaching on "the raising from death to glory of all the faithful disciples of Christ" (p. 34). A further outgrowth of Brown's particular confessional stance is his limited engagement, even acknowledgment, of evangelical sources." Andreas J. Köstenberger, Faith and Mission 15/2 (1998), 97–98.

[20] Luke Timothy Johnson, Obituary for Raymond Brown, Commonweal 125, no. 15 (September 11, 1998), 7.

[21] Irish soda bread uses self-raising flour (which means additives), and it uses baking soda, and sometimes sour milk (which is preferable to water), and salt. There is probably enough flour to keep the matter valid, but it is certainly illicit. Hovda was annoyed when too much was left over after Mass.

[22] The writer is happily married and is an exponent of traditional liturgy.

[1] [23] Hovda was first invited to The Catholic University of America in Washington by Gerard Sloyan. The rector of Theological College (1969-1972), Eugene A. Walsh, SS was also part of the liturgy circle and contributed to the situation in the Washington, D.C., area in the period of the 1960s and the 1970s and after.

[24] Mitchell, "Being Beautiful, Being Just," Ritual Transformation, 87. Huck refers to Built of Living Stones as "a document utterly lacking in vision and poetry." See Huck, "A Tree Planted by a Stream," 9.

[25] The closest thing to an apology may be Nathan Mitchell's embarrassment (p. 78) when he remembers Peter, Paul, and Mary's music at "coffee-table-masses" in the 1960s.

[26] See Denis Crouan, The Liturgy Betrayed (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000) and The Liturgy After Vatican II: Collapsing or Resurgent? (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001).

[27] Hovda, "The Sacred: Silence and Song," Ritual Transformation, 20-21.

[28] Some older intellectuals take the same position. Paul Piccone, once editor of Telos, is perhaps the most impressive. And while we are on the subject, is there any good reason the old rite does not presently exist in a poetic vernacular translation akin to the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer?

[29] Funk on page 30 admits to poor implementation, but "who is responsible" remains unaddressed.

[30] Anthony T. Dragani, "A Growing Thirst for Traditional Liturgy", The University Concourse 4, no. 6 (April 12, 1999), 1-8. Online edition. A similar sensible statement is The Oxford Declaration published in the name of the Liturgy Forum of the Centre for Faith and Culture, under the chairmanship of Mgr. Peter J. Elliott, author of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, at the conclusion of the Centre's conference, June 29, 1996. See Peter J. Elliot, Liturgical Question Box: Answers to Common Questions about the Modern Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 187-189.

[31] The institutional liberals, on the other hand, had problems with Sacrosanctum concilium from the beginning. See Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ, The Monk's Tale: a biography of Godfrey Diekmann, OSB (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991), Foreword by Frederick R. McManus, xii. What a far cry this is from the "examination of conscience" called for by Pope John Paul II forty years after the promulgation of the document. See the apostolic letter "Spiritus et Sponsa," December 4, 2003.

[32] See Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

[33] Huck, "A Tree Planted by a Stream," 1 and 9.

[34] See Susan Benofy, "Radical Relocation of Transcendence: Changes in the Communion Rite 1977 – 2002," Adoremus Bulletin 7, no. 3 (May 2002). Online edition.

[35] Hovda entered the Catholic Church from Protestantism without waiting the prescribed canonical year before enrolling in the seminary at St. John's, Collegeville, Minnesota. One of his still-living classmates recounted the fact for this essay. This classmate recalls that in those days of the late 1940s the seminarians with liturgical interests tended to be elitist, sometimes shunning the company of others deemed less avant garde.

[36] See Benedict Groeschel and James Monti, In the Presence of the Lord: the history, theology, and psychology of eucharistic devotion (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1997).

[37] Funk, Ritual Transformation, 30. Funk seems unaware of Johnson's "first generation", "second generation", and "third generation" analogy. It is useful to explain liturgy as well as biblical scholarship. See Johnson/Kurz, Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship, 10-14; 32-33.

[38] Three of Cardinal Ratzinger's books have had an impact on liturgical thinking: Feast of Faith, A New Song for the Lord, and The Spirit of the Liturgy. One of the items reconsidered by these studies is the Mass "coram" or "versus populum."

[39] See Arlene Oost-Zinner and Jeffrey Tucker, "A New Dawn for Latin Chant?," Crisis 22, no. 7 (July/August 2004), 34-37.

[40] Benofy points out that so-called reformers such as Hovda and Huck try to reinterpret transcendence itself. See her "Radical Relocation of Transcendence."

[41] I tell them that neither the modern liturgy movement of "balloons, banners, and Wonder Bread", nor the return of the Roman Missal of 1962, nor our best efforts, will achieve anything unaided. I have witnessed elegant Anglican worship with more clergy than faithful in attendance. All is God's grace. The hemorrhage of possibly the majority of our youth out of a church they never really joined, so to speak, continues at an alarming rate. Secularism, which begins with the secularization of morals, is the real substitute for religion in the post-Modern world. In his writing, Robert Hovda never seemed too concerned about the problem of secularism versus Catholic identity. He did not understand that the loss of faith is the gravest issue of our day, and perhaps that is why he did not address it.

[42] The matter of defective translations is a separate issue.

[43] Recently even ultra-traditionalism has gained a certain unexpected respectability in the person of Mel Gibson whose father is a Lefebvrist and who himself prefers the Roman Missal of 1962.

[44] See Colleen Carroll, The New Faithful: Why young adults are embracing Christian orthodoxy (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002). Also David Brooks, "Kicking the Secularist Habit," Atlantic Monthly 291, no. 2 (March 2003), 26-28. Available online.

[45] Hovda, "The Sacred", Ritual Transformation, 22.

[46] Baldovin, Hovda, 183.

[47] The notion of the "multiple and equivalent presences" of Christ, expressed by J. Michael Joncas on page 67, distorts both Sacrosanctum concilium, #7, and authentic Catholic doctrine. Christ is substantially and permanently present under the Eucharistic elements—he is not present in his word, in his ministers, or in his assembly in the same way. See the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Washington: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003), #27, p. 20.

[48] The rediscovery of the Catholic understanding of any of the sacraments would be wonderful. But displacing holy orders, as Hovda does in this citation, is objectively to embrace Reformation theology. Hovda is effectively saying we really do not need priests, at least not in the sense of Trent and Vatican II. The Reformation holds that the church is founded and caused by baptism. Catholicism teaches that the eucharistic sacrifice causes the church.

[49] Hovda, "The Sacred", 21. Note the tone and the attitude of the passage. Hovda condemns himself with his own words which will be reassessed, if he merits a footnote, by ecclesiastical historians of the future.

[50] Huck, "A Tree Planted by a Stream", 12. Yes, Hovda did not leave the church—here referred to by Gabe Huck as "that pathetic institution"—but did he ever join?

[51] Those using the terminology of "the institutional church" implicitly distinguish it from the local assembly gathered on Sunday to worship. Again, the theme of the corrupt historical church is a favorite Reformation idea. If anything has been rediscovered, it is that the expression "institutional church" becomes assimilated to and then identified with the corrupt historical church—thus the dehistoricized invisible church sola fide unites us to Christ. Recent efforts to hyper-emphasize "The Gathering Rite" can all too easily accommodate a Neo-Lutheranism. By contrast, let us recall Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's words: "In fact, Christ and the Church are one." See Christoph Schönborn, Loving the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 101.

[52] Hovda, "The Sacred", 21.

[53] Nathan Mitchell puts it best: "The restoration of the assembly's role as pivotal agent and icon in the liturgy is probably the most decisive result of postconciliar reform among Roman Catholics. For in its worship, the assembly becomes what it receives: Christ's body given for the world's life." See Nathan Mitchell, "The Amen Corner, 'Plenty Good Room': The Dignity of the Assembly", Worship 70, no. 1 (January 1996), 65.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three (Endnotes)

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