JPII: Positive Restoration

I was having a great conversation yesterday about the modern liturgical calendar as compared to the 1962 liturgical calendar. As I was reflecting on this facinating topic I started thinking about the document Sacrosanctum Concilium. If you’ve read this document you know that it called for a reform of the liturgical calendar that privileged the integrity of the ferial days.1

In theory this is a great idea. However, in practice it may not have been a successful or even feasible project. I will grant that when you compare the current liturgical calendar with it’s predecessor the current calendar does attempt to privilege the ferial. The vast number of octaves, feast days, etc., found in the 1962 calendar (which was itself a reform calendar) are significantly reduced in the modern calendar.

At first glance this observation might seem insignificant. However, it has a very real impact on the lived faith of the Church. There is a necessary relationship between the devotional life of the Church and the liturgical calendar. The devotional life is what has historically inculturated the faith in societies and thus incarnated the faith in individuals. It’s been suggested by some that the simplification of the liturgical calendar is one significant cause for the decline of the devotional life in the Church.

I think that Blessed Pope John Paul II recognized the poverty of devotion that crept into the contemporary expression of the faith.2 This may be one reason why he departed from a minimalist approach to the liturgical calendar. He is still known for his penchant for actively seeking out worthy members of the faithful to elevate to the altar by canonization. He has been critiqued for this. Some have suggested that he exercised this papal prerogative too often. Some even refer to Blessed John Paul II as a canonization machine. However, this simply may have been a wise pastoral decision to shift away from this particular directive about the liturgical calendar in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

I’m sure that this suggestion may be difficult to hear. But, it seems to me that it’s a suggestion that’s in keeping with the purpose of our most recent council. Formally, we describe the Second Vatican Council as a “pastoral council.” However, we tend to treat it like a “dogmatic council.”3 But as the last two Pontiffs have taught us, it is fair to bring reasonable and reverent critique to some of the practical directives of the Council.4 Based on the writings and statements of our current Holy Father I expect to see Pope Francis continue this trend of critical reflection upon the documents of the Council.

  1. Ferial days are essentially the liturgical celebrations of the season instead of the special movable and immovable celebrations that occur throughout the year.  ↩

  2. There are a number of actions taken by John Paul II in his pontificate that indicate to me that he had a real interest in restoring a robust devotional life in the Church.  ↩

  3. Even this distinction is controversial. It’s unclear to many what this distinction actually means.  ↩

  4. This could even be applied to conceptual and fundamental aspects of the Council in certain instances. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is famous for having reservations about and critiques of certain aspects of Gaudium et Spes and Nostra Aetate and their concrete implementation.  ↩