Piero MARINI, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007. 197 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0-8146-3035-8.
Reviewed by Richard SHIELDS, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON. M5S 1J4 Canada.

This short book chronicles the work of the Consilium for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from its inception, as a working group outside the Roman Curial structure, to its absorption into that same Curia as The Congregation of Divine Worship (1963-1975). Marini, who was a key member of the Consilium’s secretariat, provides an insider’s account, personal recollections and documented exchanges that introduce the reader to the raw reality of how change is made (or obstructed) in the bureaucratic and tradition-bound administrative centre of the worldwide Catholic Church. The book consists in six short chapters, an author’s epilogue, and a useful appendix of documents, which serve as milestones for the Consilium’s work. His explanations of the Consilium’s purposes and processes clarify the pastoral motivation and religious depth that inspired the directives that governed the liturgical changes mandated by Vatican II, which if studied only in the official memoranda, directives, and instructions, might seem formal and legalistic.

Within this story, however, is another, as much ecclesiological as liturgical. As the subtitle suggests, the work of reform was difficult. Marini’s chronicle uncovers the mind-set in the Roman Curia that sees itself as having the right to interpret and even overturn the manifest will of the whole Church as expressed in an ecumenical council. What was at stake in liturgical reform was an understanding of and commitment to what it means to be Church in the world today. And if Marini’s story of the Curia’s persistence in a pre-councilar bias were not scandalous enough, it goes on to describe the manipulations of both power and truth which the Congregation of Rites employed in an attempt to disenfranchise the Consilium and to effectively exclude local bishops’ conferences from any significant role in the governance of the Church in a matter as essential as worship.

Marini argues that the liturgy belongs to the Church and is not the property of the Roman Curia. While Marini celebrates the Consilium’s success in implementing the directives and guidelines that were necessary—because of the bureaucratic structures by which the Church is governed—for permitting change, the reader must come to grips with the often dull and formal enactment of cleric-centred rituals, which pass for the sacramental life of the Church in many parts of the world. If the liturgy is the source and summit of Church life and, as Marini argues, the reform of the liturgy is to be the basis of revitalization of the Church in accord with the vision of Vatican II, then the real reform is still to come. To see it though continues to be “difficult.” The pilgrimage of the Church, as envisioned by the Council, is more than a matter of conformity to the Vatican’s self-referencing theological orthodoxies or compliance with processes and practices rooted in the supposed superiority of a clerical hierarchy. Marini’s book is a reminder that the Second Vatican Council was and continues to be a defining moment for the Church—something many younger Catholics have never experienced or older Catholics have already forgotten, because of the overly controlling and authoritarian style of ecclesiastical office holders.


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