The Bitter Fruits of a Fashionable, Unserious Liturgist | Rev. Brian Van Hove, S.J. | Ignatius InsightThe 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 RenŽ Laurentin. [1] 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, [2] 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. [3] 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, [4] 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. [5] 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 [6] than in the symbolic language of our Catholic identity. [7] 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 [8] had severed the classical union between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition:
• The stories of Christ's birth are dubious history.
• Early Christians understood themselves as a renewed Israel, not immediately as a new Israel.
• We must nuance any statement which would have the historical Jesus institute the Church or the priesthood at the Last Supper.
• In the New Testament we are never told that the Eucharistic power was passed from the Twelve to missionary apostles to presbyter-bishops.
• Only in the third and fourth century can one take for granted that when "priests" are mentioned, ministers of the Eucharist are meant.
• The Twelve were neither missionaries nor bishops.
• Sacramental powers were given to the Christian Community in the persons of the Twelve.
• Presbyter-bishops described in the New Testament are not traceable "in any way" to the successors of the Twelve.
• The episcopate gradually emerged, but can be defended "as divinely established by Christ" only if one says it emerged under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not Christ.
• Peter cannot be looked upon as the Bishop of the early Roman Church community. Succession to his Church just fell to the Bishop of Rome, the city where Peter died. However, that concentration of authority produces, says Brown, "difficulties such as those we are now encountering within Catholicism."
• Vatican II was "biblically naive" when it called Catholic bishops successors of the Apostles.
• It is dangerous to assume that second century structures existed in the first century. [9]
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? [10]

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. [11] The "social sanctification" theme developed by Gerald Ellard [12] 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. [13]

Virgil C. Funk, [14] 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, [15] 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." [16]

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! [17]
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-Schšnmetzer 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. [18] 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." [19]
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." [20] 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.

Certain moments in my memories of Nova stand out. One couple (I remember them as young, attractive, and always smiling) planned a liturgy at which the first reading was (I'm not making this up) the bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Yes, in its entirety. With slides of wheeling gulls against a sheet in the background, as the lights were darkened in the cafetorium. By the end of the forty-five minutes the first reading took, about half the congregation had left, including my family. This was a little much, even for Nova.

At another liturgy, designed after much prodding by a group of teenaged sons and daughters—the Nova people were very anxious for "youth" to "get involved"—the offertory song was the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man." This, again, caused many to have a vague sense that something was not quite right, but the liturgy went ahead.

Another time, halfway through Litany of the Saints, the liturgy designers slightly anticipated the Vatican (to say the least) by invoking as "saints" Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Franz Fanon, and Thomas Merton. It's been thirty years, and I wouldn't swear it, but Malcolm X, Bobby Seale and Che Guevara might have been on the list. I dimly remember hearing of controversy among the lay planners of this particular service over whether to include the name of anyone who had advocated violence.

Most of the youngish-middle-aged couples who made up the congregation worked for the federal bureaucracy. Many had jobs in the Pentagon and Defense Department, even the CIA. You'd think that such Establishment types would be the last people to engage in liturgical experimentation. In fact, their iconoclasm did not extend to their jobs. I remember a Lenten service at which several members of the congregation were supposed to come forward to lay symbols of our worldly attachments at the foot of a large cross (with no corpus, of course). At the foot of the cross were reverently laid—to a chorus of approving murmurs—first a large image of a dollar bill, then an American flag.

Nova didn't have a regular pastor; instead, several visiting priests performed Mass more or less regularly. An occasional celebrant was a Jesuit who taught at my high school in inner-city Washington. One of the regulars was Fr. Bob Hovda, a liturgist at the Liturgical Office of the Conference of Catholic Bishops who was originally from North Dakota.

Fr. Hovda suffered from a voice constriction for which no organic cause had been found. He was a slight man with thinning hair, an oval face, and a grey goatee. He usually spoke in a labored, choking way, as if he were forcing the words out at great cost of effort, with many painful silences as he struggled. When he said Mass, however, his voice boomed out, unexpectedly loud and strong. He was considered prickly, and was sometimes at odds with members—not necessarily over the church's rules for liturgy, but over what we might call aesthetic correctness. For a baptism, for example, Fr. Hovda took great pains over an arrangement of an aged-copper basin with smooth rocks and a spray of dried reeds and ferns that graced a worn square wooden table, giving a Zen effect.

One of Fr. Hovda's chief irritations for me was the length of the Kiss of Peace, which often turned into fifteen-minute socializing sessions, as members chatted and criss-crossed the room to greet friends. It was not uncommon for a Nova Mass to last two or three hours.

The Nova wives took turns baking the bread for Communion. They knew it had to be unleavened, but they thought "leavening" meant yeast only. Irish soda bread, [21] they felt, complied sufficiently with Church directives. Of course, at the end of the service, Fr. Hovda was required to consume a half loaf or more of the consecrated Host, which could not be stored like traditional wafers, both because of spoilage and because there was no tabernacle at Joyce Kilmer School. More serious for Fr. Hovda—a recovered alcoholic who regularly attended AA meetings—were those occasions when too much wine had been consecrated.

As a typically obtuse teenage boy in the early seventies, I was unaware of much of the larger context. I was unable to appreciate how much these stolid bureaucratic parental types were, or considered themselves to be, liturgical revolutionaries.

From the distance of time, and from bare descriptions of the Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Rolling Stones Masses, it is easy to imagine that these people were bent on deliberate outrage and provocation. What I remember is mostly solemn, self-important silliness and extreme naivetŽ on the part of the members. These were grownups who saw the holy Mass as a place to act like kids again, to recreate in the secular suburban sense of the term rather than the older and more authentic sense. And they were playing in a space that traditional authority had vacated. That is a coda for much of what happened in those years."[22]
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.

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.


[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 EstŽvez, 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 consommŽ, 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 Mikl—sh‡zy, 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. Kšstenberger, 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. Kšstenberger, 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 Schšnborn's words: "In fact, Christ and the Church are one." See Christoph Schšnborn, 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.

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