The Liturgy: What Aren't We Fighting About?

Recent posts about the LA Religious Education Congress, as well as persistent (if as yet unconfirmed) rumors that Pope Benedict plans to grant wider permission to celebrate the Tridentine rite have got me thinking about liturgy. So much ink (or pixels) has been spilled on the liturgy wars that the following question popped into my mind:

What arent we fighting about?

Or to put it more theologically: what elements of the liturgical reform of the 20th century have been largely received by the Church and are not the subject of continued controversy?

Wellsince many of us have just experienced ithow about the Triduum, for starters? While the Triduum was restored by Pius XII prior to the Second Vatican Council, its restoration was very much the fruit of the liturgical renewal of the 20th century. I havent noticed large numbers of posts on Catholic weblogs or liturgical watchdog websites demanding that the Triduum be suppressed.

Or how about the prominent place given to the Liturgy of the Word in the current rite and the revision of the lectionary to include a broader selection of readings? This, too, was a fruit of the liturgical reform. A Catholic who attends mass every Sunday for three years will hear an enormous share of the Bible. Again, I dont hear a lot of people clamoring for a restoration of the pre-Vatican II lectionary.

Lets try a controversial one: the vernacular. Okay, this is a stretch. But consider this: as vigorous and occasionally bitter as the debate between the ICEL and the CDW over the English-language translations has been, it is just that: a debate over translation. The principle that the (Latin) liturgy is going to be largely in the vernacularsomething that even the Council fathers at Vatican II were reluctant to give wholesale approval tois the assumption that underlies the debate. Yes, there is a very small minority of Catholics who would like to see the restoration of large parts of the liturgy in Latin. A larger number have concerns about the current translations, and not all those concerns are unreasonable. But the principle that Catholic liturgy will be in vernacular languages has won wide and deep acceptance.

Lets try another stretch: the RCIA. Yes, there are all kinds of arguments about lectionary-based catechesis over more systematic presentations, and arguments continue about the appropriate length of the catechumenate. But the rites themselves? Is the Adoremus society agitating for the suppression of the scrutinies?

Okay, now Im really going to go out on a limb: participation. The concept of full, active and conscious participation of all the faithful in the liturgy occurs repeatedly in the Constitution on the Liturgy. Weve been arguing about what it means ever since. But while I know a significant number of people who have issues with how the concept has been implemented, I know very, very few who actually want to return to the days when the mass was essentially something that the congregation watched the priest do.

Heres a final one: the ever increasing number of laypeople who pray the Liturgy of the Hours? This, too, was a fruit of the liturgical renewal in general and the Council in particular.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. My point is that there a large number of elements of liturgical reform whose reception has not proved particularly controversial. This is not to say that significant controversies do not remain. But I think that from time to time its helpful to realize that Catholics are not, in fact, as divided on many of these issues as is sometimes supposed and that not every concern about contemporary liturgy reflects a hidden desire of restorationists to roll back Vatican II. A conscious effort to lower the temperature of these debates is something we could all benefit from.

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