The Bitter Fruits of a Fashionable, Unserious Liturgist | Rev. Brian Van Hove, S.J. | Reflections on Toward Ritual Transformation: Remembering Robert W. Hovda: Articles contributed by Gabe Huck, Robert W. Hovda, Virgil C. Funk, J. Michael Joncas, Nathan D. Mitchell, James Savage, and John Foley. (Collegeville, Minnesota: A Pueblo Book published by The Liturgical Press, 2003) | Ignatius Insight
Editor's note: This essay originally appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly (Vol. 27, No. 2). In reviewing Toward Ritual Transformation: Remembering Robert W. Hovda, Fr. Van Hove has provided a helpful introduction and significant critique of the influential and problematic thought of Fr. Hovda, one of the key figures in "liturgical reform" in the United States following the Second Vatican Council.
In 1983 it was baffling to me when I learned that partisans of The National Association of Pastoral Musicians would object to the publication of Monsignor George A. Kelly's The New Biblical Theorists whose foreword was by René Laurentin.  Why would musicians be interested in the historical-critical method? However today, looking back, it is easy to see. What helped was the festschrift Toward Ritual Transformation: Remembering Robert W. Hovda, although the book is more conspicuous for what it does not say and for what is left out of this story. On page 48 the founder of The National Association of Pastoral Musicians, Virgil C. Funk, wrote:
We are challenged to maintain our roots in the biblical renewal. Central to my own understanding of the liturgy was my training in Sacred Scripture. The primary sources of revelation are the Scriptures and the liturgy. We will be challenged to expand our awareness of the Scriptures, of their meaning and interpretation based on modern techniques and the tradition of the Church.But in 1983 it was unacceptable for Kelly to call into question those "modern techniques." And is not Sacred Tradition presumed to be a primary source of revelation, especially since the definition of the Council of Trent?
Kelly, after conversations with Manuel Miguens and even Hans Urs von Balthasar,  criticized the use or misuse of the historical-critical method by Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998). Kelly insisted Brown did not admit the weaknesses of the method, instead allowing it to have a virtual monopoly as a way to the truth about Scripture with implications therefore for later issues concerning the development of doctrine. This created doubt among ordinary people in the church since Brown did not write only for specialists.  Kelly, too, decided to write for the non-specialist. He understood that ours is not a religion of the professors. Kelly asserted that what Brown called "science" was no more than unprovable theorizing, perhaps akin to sophisticated science fiction. It happened that some of these doctrinal topics were of interest to the liturgists as well.
Not all the connections were made in 1983. I had not reflected enough upon the classic significance of "lex orandi, lex credendi." By then, to me the liturgists were technicians and choreographers rather than the pure scholars who studied texts in various languages. I distinguished "liturgists" from "liturgiologists". In this reckoning, Robert Hovda was a liturgist,  and Josef Andreas Jungmann was a liturgiologist. One was not serious, while the other was. True, the older generation of pastor-liturgists such as Martin B. Hellriegel in St. Louis had fostered a noble movement. But the next generation of liturgists presented themselves to us, when we were much younger than they and eagerly watching, with a peculiar affinity for fastidious liturgical aestheticism coupled with a deep hatred for the old rites and devotions.  Their punctilious attention to aesthetic details, their hyper-sensitivity to "tassels and brocade," often their demanding and petty nature, were well known. They seemed to have coalesced into a guild more interested in celebrational style and their own egos  than in the symbolic language of our Catholic identity.  Jokes were made about them—comparing them to terrorists. They knew how to shop for threads. Little did I know they had also shopped for doctrines.
When he wrote about the theorists—he refrained from calling them "scripture scholars"—Kelly specifically referred to the following points, either doctrinal in nature or with strong doctrinal implications. These, he claimed, were the victims of a great divorce promoted by many Catholic exegetes, including Raymond Brown, who by a selected method  had severed the classical union between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition:
The stories of Christ's birth are dubious history.But the liturgists, at least the ones most in fashion, had already separated themselves from their roots in Catholic dogma. To realize this took me quite a while. Perhaps here we have the real meaning of "ritual transformation" —the concoction of a new religion? 
The Liturgical Conference's "Liturgical Week" in August of 1969 in Milwaukee was more like collective madness than liturgy—I was there—yet this embarrassing history is passed over in silence. On page 8 in Toward Ritual Transformation we learn only that Robert Hovda, starting in 1965, was with The Liturgical Conference for fourteen years, and that the Liturgical Weeks continued into the 1970s. On the program in 1969 were Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon—who droned on and on one evening about antiwar politics—and The Black Panther Party. They were more the object of interest at this gathering about the liturgy than the General Instruction of the Roman Missal which was still new at that moment and surely deserved wider study and appreciation.  The "social sanctification" theme developed by Gerald Ellard  and others in the 1940s and 1950s had become exaggerated and distorted by the 1960s. A confused notion of social justice and its relationship to the Catholic Mass was the product. 
Virgil C. Funk,  wrote on page 31: "Without a basic celebrative model and a common experience, we learn by doing. Lex orandi statuat legem credendi: How we pray shapes what we believe. By our diverse singing, we believe in diversity of belief."
Diversity of belief? Isn't this what the Unitarians boast of? Isn't this what comprehensive Anglicanism means by "high, low and broad"? In other words, for Funk, the connection between doctrinal orthodoxy and orthopraxis in the liturgy is explicitly and formally rejected. That the liturgy judges us, and that we do not judge the liturgy, is set aside in favor of novelty,  a reversal of all we have known and done in the sacred liturgy. "Diversity of belief" represents the age-old contest between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Any pretense at unity in the church is consequently annihilated. If there is no truth, then there is no heresy, echoing Karl Barth. On this question the liturgists of Catholic heritage seemed doomed in the 1970s to repeat the mistakes of the Liberal Protestants of the nineteenth century. As Kelly wrote years later and in another place, "Doctrinal purity and discipleship go together—injury to one weakens the other—hardly a desirable condition for the Mystical Body of Christ." 
Anglican writer Peter Toon put it well concerning that rule of prayer, the "lex orandi":
... as used by modern writers of the new mix-and-match liturgies the tag as a claim is true in the way they translate it only in so far as it tells us that what they pray is what they believe (which is usually a revisionist or progressivist form of Christianity). That is, they have written into their liturgies a revised form of the Christian Faith reflecting progressive thinking because that is where they are in terms of their own beliefs. Then what they pray is certainly what they believe. However, they ought not to claim that they speak for the whole Church: they speak only for themselves and their supporters.... What they really believe is lex orandi statuat (founds) legem credendi. And since they produce the lex orandi they also decide what is the lex credendi! Bingo. That explained why the liturgists preferred the speculations of Raymond Brown, harnessed to their agenda, rather than the dry and fixed formulations found in Denzinger-Schönmetzer or Neuner-Dupuis, the canons of the councils, the writings of the popes, or the revised liturgical books which came directly from The Second Vatican Council. Brown, who had achieved virtually untouchable celebrity status, could be used in a congenial way to justify their positions, or so it seemed, and the voices of resistance, such as those of Kelly and Miguens, or von Balthasar, were not to be admitted to the discussion.  That they could be the best minds of our church did not seem to matter.
No one hints in Toward Ritual Transformation that at the end of his life Raymond Brown explicitly reconnected his work to its Catholic nature. He wrote that there was a harmony between Scripture and Tradition. Here is what he wrote in his Introduction to the New Testament:
Indeed, the subsequent role of the Spirit in human history, in the history of the church and its pronouncements, in the writings of the Fathers and theologians enters into a Tradition that embodies the postscriptural interpretation of the salvific action God described in Scripture. The Bible has unique importance because it contains both the narrative of the foundational salvific action of God and the basic interpretation of that action, but there can be subsequent normative interpretation of that action which is not found in Scripture. Thus for example, the raising from death to glory of all the faithful disciples of Christ is an interpretation of salvation revealed in the NT; and although not found in Scripture, the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary can be seen by Roman Catholics as a particular application of that interpretation -- an interpretation developing from a late NT tendency visible in Luke and John to see Mary as a privileged disciple." Footnote 25 on the same page adds: "Of course, in a wider sense Scripture itself is tradition, viz., the written tradition of Israel and of the early church." Luke Timothy Johnson, who published Brown's obituary, maintained that Brown believed himself to be faithful to the Catholic Church. "For in an era when biblical scholarship increasingly turned toward the academy, Father Brown's work, while meeting the highest scholarly standards, was nonetheless rendered as a service in and for the church."  Brown called himself a centrist, whatever that might eventually mean to ecclesiastical history, and he said a quiet morning Mass all his priestly life, presumably according to the norms of the missal.
The same could not be said of Robert W. Hovda who said Mass in northern Virginia in the early 1970s. While a fleeting mention is made of the community known simply as Nova (p. 11), nothing is really said about it by Gabe Huck in Toward Ritual Transformation. Here are some particulars of what it was really like from an eyewitness who in 2004 submitted the following for this essay:
When I was a teenager, my parents wanted to get us kids (me, my two younger brothers, and younger sister) involved in church. So in the very early seventies, they began taking us to an "alternative liturgy" community—a "floating parish" that met in several places, most often in the "cafetorium" (a school cafeteria with a stage at one end) of Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in suburban Virginia.The dark side of the liturgy establishment has yet to be attested to, and it will not be found in the pages of Toward Ritual Transformation. Hardly had the ink dried on the revised liturgical books produced by the church when a cadre of quasi- or semi-professionals—against the explicit teaching of Sacrosanctum concilium #22—bypassed those books, or interpreted them very loosely, in the name of their own higher law and purpose. Their liturgy was in open competition with the church's liturgy.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three (Endnotes)
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