Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, Roman Catholic Books 2006, 224pp pb. $24.95
Reviewed by Dr. Alcuin Reid
The news that Monsignor Klaus Gamber’s book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background has been brought back into print by Roman Catholic Books is very good news indeed, for it is a seminal work which has done much to expose the extent of discontinuity in the post-conciliar reform. It stands alongside Archbishop Bugnini’s own book, The Reform of the Liturgy, as essential reading – though Gamber is certainly the more accessible of the two.
Gamber’s book is in fact two books. The first examines the overall work of the changes made to the liturgy in the 1960’s. He sees the question of whether or not the changes were an organic development as crucial. His conclusions speak for themselves: “Obviously, the reformers wanted a completely new liturgy, a liturgy that differed from the traditional one in spirit as well as in form; and in no way a liturgy that represented what the Council Fathers had envisioned, i.e., a liturgy that would meet the pastoral needs of the faithful” (p. 100). Gamber is clear and unequivocal: a large mistake has been made with regard to the liturgy, unprecedented in the Church’s history.
However, it would be wrong to align Gamber with traditionalists who draw a line at 1962, 1955, or even earlier, beyond which all change is anathema. Gamber is a critical liturgical historian, as shown by his precise and detailed discussion of the question of which way the liturgy should be celebrated, which comprises the second book in this volume. (A more recent and comprehensive treatment of facing east, including a critical evaluation of Gamber’s contribution, is to be found in Fr U.M. Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord.)
Gamber’s concerns are historical, doctrinal and pastoral. He readily accepts the appropriateness of vernacular readings, and even of the pruning of some of the later accretions to the Traditional Roman Rite (Psalm 42 from the prayers at the foot of the altar, the Offertory prayers, the last Gospel). These prudential decisions can be argued about, as they were at Trent. But he staunchly defends traditions integral to the Roman Rite throughout its history, e.g., facing eastwards and the Roman Canon, and deprecates “the cold breath of realism [that] now pervades our worship” (p.13).
Gamber speaks frankly of the destruction of the Roman Rite after the Council, the last example of which can be found in the Ordo Missae promulgated in 1965 as the reform called for by the Council. Significantly, Archbishop Bugnini dismissed this 1965 reform as insufficient because its alterations were merely “peripheral”, insisting that “radical” changes were what was needed.
It is Gamber’s brave but loyal ‘critical traditionalism’ that gives such importance to his writing. His theses are well documented, and his research is impressive. One hopes more of his writings will be made available in translation.
After reading Gamber (and also Bugnini) it is difficult if not impossible to maintain an uncritical acceptance of the new liturgy, even when it is celebrated devoutly and with the right intention. When we recall the doctrinal importance of the liturgy (lex orandi, lex credendi), we realise that the question of how we worship is central to our faith. What then is to be done?
“What we need today … [are] bishops like those who in the fourth century courageously fought against Arianism when almost the whole of Christendom had succumbed to the heresy. We need saints today who can unite those whose faith has remained firm so that we might fight error and rouse the weak and vacillating from their apathy,” writes Gamber (p.113). At tall order, certainly, but not beyond the possibilities of Divine Providence.