Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., founder of Ignatius Press, spoke about the middle way between the traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass on Nov. 2 at Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco.

“On March 25, 1995, I was in Colorado Springs invited to give a talk, and there was another priest there giving a talk, Father Brian Harrison. He gave a talk on the reform of the reform of the Roman liutrgy. I was very impressed by it. The first part of his talk was about the current crisis in Eucharistic faith and practice. There was a great deal of confusion in the Church. Liturgical wars were raging. Father Harrison proposed two ‘inadequate’ solutions. First the proposal that everyone follow the official form approved by Rome. The problem is that there were so many exceptions. The second option was to return to the Latin Mass as it was before Vatican II.

“He considered both of these inadequate. And he proposed the Gamber solution. Klaus Gamber wrote The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.

“There was a liturgical reform movement in the late 19th century beginning at Solesmes restoring the Gregorian chant. Under Pius X, the reform took on the Divine Office, the cycle of feast days. The idea with the Mass was how to keep the sacredness but restore simplicity. Pius was most concerned with sacred music. In 1913 Pius decreed that liturgy was so important there should be 30-year moratorium before changes took place. In 1943 WWII was raging, but Pius XII produced Reform of the Roman Liturgy. There were seven world conferences reflecting on the liturgy. The very first document produced by Vatican II was Sacrasanctum concilium in 1963 on reforming the Roman liturgy. A committee was formed, but this reform was inadequate. Thus reform of the reform.

“Father Harrison, commenting on Gamber’s proposal for reform of the liturgy: ‘Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has described Gamber as “the one scholar who among the army of pseudo-liturgists truly represents liturgical thinking of the center of the Church”…. [Harrison:] I believe we must take up the reform of Gamber and Ratzinger for a new liturgical movement….’

“Father Harrison cites nine paragraphs in the Vatican II document on the liturgy which names the changes to be made:
– greater simplicity in the Mass (we don’t need the double Confiteor; people should recite the responses with altar servers)
– more use of Sacred Scripture
– the homily should be on the readings of the Mass
– restoration of the Prayer of the Faithful
– readings and some prayers in vernacular
– Hosts consecrated at Mass used for Communion
– early arrival for whole Mass
– rite for concelebration”

Father Fessio: “Nothing about facing people or new canons.

“In 1989 I had dinner in Rome at Dodici Apostoli near the Gregoriana in Rome with Father Jacques Servais, who was an assistant to Cardinal Ratzinger in the Congregation of the Faith; with Father Schonborn, a friend and classmate who studied with me under Ratzinger in Regensburg; and Father Marc Ouellet, a Suplician from Canada, a scholar of von Balthasar. The four of us wanted to start a house of discernment in Rome which we gave the name Casa Balthasar. We asked Cardinal Ratzinger if he would be our cardinal-protector. He enthusiastically agreed. From 1990 to 2010 we would have a half day of meetings with Cardinal Ratzinger. In 1990 I asked Cardinal Ratzinger what he was writing. He was writing a book on the liturgy.

“After Fr. Harrison’s talk in 1995, I wrote Ratzinger a letter about the idea of reform of the reform. Ratzinger responded that he read the 33-page proposal I sent by Father Harrison with which he said ‘I unreservedly agree.'”

Ratzinger encouraged Fessio in his idea of a publication on liturgy, but he demurred on the idea of a synod on the liturgy. “‘I made such a suggestion 10 years ago in a synodal discussion, but there was no support for it. From my present knowledge of the situation, I do not think the hour for such a synod has come. Most of the bishops depend far too much on their liturgical commissions and would only repeat their opinions.’

Fessio: “This is the book Ratzinger finished in 1999 and we published in the year 2000, The Spirit of the Liturgy.
– Facing east. Always regarded as essential
– Discovering the essence of the liturgy in its time
– No spontaneous innovation
– Bending the knee is necessary gesture”

Father Fessio on what to do now:
“– What the archbishop [Cordileone] is doing with his Benedict XVI institute
–  Convergence of missals
–  Ad orientem
– Parts of Mass in Latin
– Chant should be essential in Mass
– Use Roman canon 1”


The above are very abbreviated notes on the presentation. To watch the whole Fessio talk, click here.