Taft: "I'm a Vatican II Loyalist"

Robert Taft, S.J., the great liturgical scholar, has forgotten more about the liturgy than most of us will ever know.  Fr. (and Archimandrite) Taft, one of the world's leading experts on Byzantine liturgy, and former vice-rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute Rome, was also professor of Oriental liturgy at the "Orientalum" in Rome from 1970 to 2000.  Here he is in a terrifically unbuttoned interview in U.S. Catholic.

Let me put my cards right on the table: I'm a Vatican II loyalist without apologies to anyone. The Second Vatican Council was a general council of the Catholic Church, and the popes since the council have made it clear that there's no going back. The mandate for liturgical reform was passed by the council with an overwhelming majority, so it is the tradition of the Catholic Church, like it or lump it.


Unfortunately, partly as a result of the schism of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers, there has been an attempt on the part of a group of what I call "neo-cons" to portray the reforms of Vatican II as something that was foisted upon the church by a small minority of professionals contrary to the will of many people in the church. This is what we know in the vernacular as slander.

The reforms of the council were carried out under Pope Paul VI in a spirit of complete collegiality. Every suggested adaptation, change, or modification was sent out to every Catholic bishop in the world, and the responses that came in were treated with the utmost respect. When changes were severely questioned or opposed by a large number of bishops, they were revised according to the will of the bishops and then sent back again.

So the notion that the liturgical reform was somehow forced on an unknowing church by some group of "liturgists," as if that were a dirty word, is a lie, and that needs to be said.

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MaryMargaret Flynn
9 years 2 months ago
GOOD NEWS from USA Catholic.
Beth Cioffoletti
9 years 2 months ago
Unbuttoned, indeed.  Cheers for Fr. Taft.  But what in the world is an Archimandrite?!  (I guess I'll have to google it)...
james belna
9 years 2 months ago
The most charitable interpretation that I can give to this interview is to take Fr Martin's introduction literally. Fr Taft must have forgotten a great deal about the liturgy, and in particular the ''reforms'' in the aftermath of Vatican II, if he sincerely believes that the changes were implemented with ''utmost respect''. He has apparently forgotten about things like ''Clown Masses'', the ruthless purging of  traditional hymns, and the repositioning of the priest from ''alter Christus'' to something more akin to an emcee. Perhaps Fr Taft should consult some ''grass roots'' liturgical experts, namely those of us who have been sitting in the pews all these years. As anyone in their fifties or older knows from first-hand experience, the ad hoc ''reforms'' made in the name of Vatican II were foisted upon us with little warning and no concern for our traditions and preferences, much less the actual text of Vatican II itself. Sad to say, but much of what was familiar and reverent about the Mass was indeed subverted by professional liturgists (and a cadre of ''progressive'' bishops) who placed their own agenda above that of the Church, Fr Taft's protestations to the contrary.
Eric Stoltz
9 years 2 months ago
Wow, that must be a new record: "Clown Mass" reference in the second comment. They're getting quicker.
Hey Jim, you forgot to leave your contact information so Fr., Taft could consult with you as an expert. Obviously he is in need of your scholarship, since he's only, you know, headed universities and stuff like that.
Thomas Piatak
9 years 2 months ago
Fr. Taft was not asked any difficult questions:

1) If the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were such a success, how does he account for the precipitous decline in Mass attendance and in religious vocations since Vatican II?

2) If the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were such a success, how does he account for the fact that as few as one third of American Catholics believe in the Real Presence, if polls are to be believed? If Catholics are indeed participating more than ever in the liturgy, why do more and more of us doubt what the Church teaches about the liturgy?

3) Is it not the case that Catholic church architecture and music have become banal at best and ugly at worst since Vatican II? Are "On Eagle's Wings" and "Gather Us In" really better than Palestrina and Gregorian chant? Is the typical modern suburban church really better than a Gothic or Baroque church? Was it a good thing that so many statues and altars were ripped out of churches after Vatican II, leaving structures that prior generations would not even have been able to recognize as Catholic?
Robert Lynch
9 years 2 months ago
LOL, Eric!!  Our friends on the right owe a real debt of gratitude to whoever it was who started the "clown Mass";  if he or she hadn't done it for them, they'd have to invent it themselves, along with its accompanying strawman, the Pizza Mass!
Eric Stoltz
9 years 2 months ago
Ooohhh, and the legendary poll on the Real Presence also mentioned by post #5!!! They are on top of their game today! I like how they combined this with the usual post hoc ergo propter hoc line as well; that's a nice move. Next up, Masonic conspiracies headed by Bugnini in 3.. 2.. 1..
9 years 2 months ago
With respect, as someone in his late fifties, my experience is not yours.  I remember some pre-Vatican II masses where most of the congregation sat with little apparent involvement in the Liturgy while the priest raced through (Sunday Masses seemed much shorter then).  I would not generalize too much from my experience, but I would question whether the typical celebration of the Liturgy is worse now.  I think there aremany parishes with genuine and deep devotion.
The fall off in Mass attendance might well involve factors like Americans' greater material prosperity-and greater materialism. 
I love Gregorian Chant and other traditional music, and I'd love to hear more of it at the most solemn liturigies, but there is real value in music that most of the congregation can sing, rather than listen to as an audience.
Catherine Jayjack
9 years 2 months ago
1. Whether or not Vatican II had ever happened, the 60's would have and did.  Declining attendance is not a problem that affects only the Catholic church, but virtually all mainline Protestant churches as well.  Popular opinion is not and never has been a barometer of the Church's success in its mission.
2. Failure to believe in the Real Presence is more a failure of catechesis than of liturgy.  And that doesn't mean we should all go back to the Baltimore Catechism.
3.  Apples and oranges.  Just because the sweeping granduer of good modernist design doesn't sing to you doesn't mean nobody else can hear it.
Thomas Piatak
9 years 2 months ago
Deacon Eric Stolz is not willing to answer tough questions, either, preferring instead ridicule and invective. The collapse in Mass attendance and in religious vocations since Vatican II are not rumors, they are facts, rather large and important facts, facts for which the liturgical "experts" have no real answers. It is because of these facts that the Holy Father has expressed his desire for a "Reform of the Reform," a desire I share.

Fortunately, more and more parishes are beginning to recover some of the traditional devotions that were mindlessly discarded in the wake of Vatican II. More and more are having regular eucharistic adoration and even Forty Hours devotions, some Latin is once again heard in many parishes, and more and more tabernacles are being restored to the center of the church, where they belong. The new translations of the Mass into English will also help to add to a sense of reverence appropriate for Mass, as will the example of the Latin Mass, now being enjoyed by more Catholics thanks to Summorum Pontificum. Let us hope these trends continue so that we will once again be able to enjoy the traditional music of the Church at Mass and have new churches built that our ancestors in the Faith would be able to recognize as Catholic.

Louie Verrecchio
9 years 2 months ago
Yes, the Second Vatican Council produced Sacrosanctum Concilium; ''the mandate for liturgical reform'' as Fr. Taft calls it.

Yes, a process of implementation followed. Now we can argue ad nauseum about ''who struck John XXIII or Paul VI'' (the actual process) but this is of limited value. We are better served looking at the products; the Constitution and the Mass.

An honest review of Sacrosanctum Concilium (mindful that the Roman Missal of 1962 was its starting point) contrasted with the Mass as it is now celebrated in many places plainly reveals that the ''liturgical mandates'' suggested by the Council have not been followed. In fact, not even close.

It takes neither an expert nor a right-wing activist to acknowledge this, it only takes a little honesty and humility.
Joe Garcia
9 years 2 months ago
I would find it interesting, illuminating and instructive to be shown where the Ordinary Form of the Mass (such as we know it today) appears in the V2 documents. Alas, my readings of same have not been able to locate such passages.
All that said, I would heartily commend everyon to read the article "The Mass of Vatican II" by Fr. Martin's friend, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ.


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