John F. BALDOVIN, Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008. pp. 188. $29.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8144-6219-9.
Reviewed by James DALLEN, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258

Since well before Vatican Council II there has been tension between Catholics favoring liturgical reform and Catholics opposing it or seeking to limit it. In this book John Baldovin makes a major contribution toward understanding that tension by surveying criticisms of the post-conciliar reforms. He gives an overview of criticisms from the philosophical, historical, theological, and ritual perspectives, identifies the major issues, and offers his proposal for moving beyond the liturgy wars. His own sympathies are clear: he favors reform and has been involved with groups preparing or implementing the reforms but acknowledges weaknesses and agrees with some criticisms. He presents the criticisms fairly and responds to them persuasively.

He discusses Catherine Pickstock’s and Jonathan Robinson’s critique of the philosophical premises of the reform. Pickstock, associated with Radical Orthodoxy, alleges that the reform did not adequately contextualize the liturgy in contemporary culture and criticizes its simplification of the liturgy. She offers an appreciation of the medieval Mass in support of her critique. Robinson focuses on Enlightenment, romantic, and postmodern presuppositions in the reform.

Klaus Gamber, Alcuin Reid, and Denis Cruan have criticized the historical basis of the reform and specific changes. Gamber, one of the most vocal critics, sees the postconciliar reform as a new rite rather than a development of the Roman rite—e.g., focused on meal rather than sacrifice—and opposes it with historical data. For him it was done by “experts” and has little to do with the people’s pastoral and spiritual needs. Reid also deals with the issue of organic development and regards the reform as a departure from tradition. Cruan supports reform but criticizes how it has been implemented.

For theological critique Baldovin uses the writings of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Ratzinger criticizes the Enlightenment historical-critical analysis and dismissal of metaphysics. He objects to the subject of liturgy becoming “we” rather than God or Christ and to the neglect of the personal and individual encounter with the Lord. Ratzinger would not so much undo the reform as reform it.

Sociologists and anthropologists have also criticized the liturgical reform. Here Baldovin uses the writings of Victor Turner, David Torevell, Kieran Flanagan, and James Hitchcock.

The major issues which Baldovin identifies are: liturgical architecture and the orientation of the priest (toward the people or “eastward”), language and vernacular translations, liturgical music, and the re-authorization of the 1962 Missale Romanum. In his conclusion he returns to eight proposals from the critics for improving the reform and examines each. His own proposal is to continue the reform by focusing more on communities that celebrate than on structure or style: the need to recognize that the liturgy is a gift and to cooperate in receiving the gift, the need for priests and ministers to reassess how they perform their role, the need for beauty in celebration.

Baldovin presents critics’ views fairly and respectfully. He acknowledges the legitimacy of some criticisms and gives good counter-arguments to others. His vision is to continue the reform while giving attention to areas where implementation has been poor and deepening communities’ understanding and participation beyond externals. His book complements Piero Marini’s A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007) which examines pre-1975 opposition to liturgical reform, especially within the Vatican bureaucracy.

A few times Baldovin refers to a significant shift in Vatican policy since 1975 (when Archbishop Bugnini was removed from the department that supervised the reforms). He gives only hints of what that shift was or what its effects were. It would have been useful if he had looked at that in more detail, to see which criticisms were officially accepted and acted on or to indicate how the institution had become critical of its own work.

Anyone concerned with liturgical reform ought to listen to the critics and not become too comfortable. Baldovin helps us listen to their voices and continue the work of reform thoughtfully and with clear purpose.

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