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The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward Paperback – 1 Nov 2005


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  • Paperback: 377 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press; 1st Edition edition (1 Nov 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586170694
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586170691
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,372,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By CJ Craig VINE VOICE on 6 Sep 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although a few years old now it is still relevant and leads to a number of questions that contemporary Catholics should be asking about the direction of the Church today. It is a relief that the author does not favour a wholesale "return to the past" with a Tridentine Mass. Rather, he sees the benefit of many of the changes introduced by Vatican II but also sees areas that are in need of further reform. He also provides a very good background to the development of the changes that were introduced by Vatican II. It clearly points the finger not at the generation of Vatican II, i.e. children who were still in grade school in the mid-1960s when the Council finished and the changes were introduced. But he shows how it was the generation or two before this time that had done the most to bring about and force through changes that were not necessarily clearly thought through beforehand.

For those with no memory of the Council years it is a very good "reality check". Not everything before Vatican II was perfect in the Church or in the Liturgy, hence it would not be wise to simply try to turn back the clocks. But the Church does need to respond to some valid criticisms and involve the laity in future planning. Of course, many committed lay Catholics have already begun to introduce more appropriate music for the liturgy. See, for example Adam Bartletts' Simple English Propersand also the new Parish Book of Psalms which is available from amazon USA. Plus the brilliant work of Corpus Christi Watershed which makes all its material available online for free.

A very good book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
An incisive contribution to the reassesment of the liturgical reform 19 Nov 2006
By Alcuin Reid - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"The present condition of Catholic worship has come about because it has been shaped by principles and attitudes of secular modernity. The result is that the Liturgy, instead of providing an alternative vision of life to that provided by secular modernity, now cooperates with and disseminates principles that are distructive of Catholicism."

"Modern liturgical practices are defective, and they are in place, and they reinforce people's understanding both of their faith and of how the faith should relate to the modern world."

Strong words, but true. Father Jonathan Robinson doesn't avoid the grim reality of the state of the Liturgy in the modern world. Rather, he subjects it to the scrutiny of a Catholic philosopher (himself), and comes up with a detailed if disturbing diagnosis.

However a correct diagnosis is the necessary prerequisite for a cure, and whilst it may be unpleasant, we are indebted to Father Robinson for his inscisive work. This book should form part of the liturgical formation programme of all clergy and religious and be studied by any laity seeking a qualification in the Sacred Liturgy. It is philosophically demanding, but all that more important for so being.

Whether or not one agrees with Father Robinson's practical suggestions - and with these there is scope for much discussion - his cry of alarm is prophetic.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Very thorough explanation 8 Jan 2006
By Jim Garlits - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A very good resource for your library if you're passionate about good liturgy and lament the current state of the Catholic Mass. If you want to know, philosophically, how we got where we are, and some suggestions for how to get out, this is the book for you. This isn't a spy thriller, it requires close reading. But its worth the effort.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward 19 Oct 2011
By Brian Van Hove - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward
by Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005
Pp. 377
Paper edition $17.95
ISBN: 1586170694

Reviewed by Reverend Brian Van Hove, S.J.
Alma, Michigan
Published in Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal, vol. 10, no 1 (2006): 117-119
Posted on Ignatius Insight, 11 September 2010

Readers who enjoyed Jonathan Robinson's Spiritual Combat Revisited in 2003, surely thrilled to The Mass and Modernity in 2005. This treatment of liturgical landscape is what we needed forty years ago, when the implementation of the reform was just beginning. On the other hand, it took us these forty years finally to understand certain factors related to the reform's failure. Not even Father Robinson could have written this book in 1965 when the Council ended. Only now do we have enough data and the pleasure of hindsight.
Robinson explains what he is doing. He is completing the historical work of Aidan Nichols, O.P., especially in Looking at the Liturgy. The two books go together. Both Robinson and Nichols orient us toward a grasp of the crisis in Catholic liturgy, and of the fitful, unfulfilled reform attempted since the Second Vatican Council.
These studies also give notes of hope amidst the bleakness, the chief of which is understanding itself. Nothing like light to cheer us. But on the political, practical, and pastoral levels, there is very little to hope for. Robinson says candidly: "The present state of the liturgy reflects the alienation of modern Catholic thought and practice from the tradition of the Church; but now it also contributes to it."
Robinson gives us a philosophical assessment. Ideas come from somewhere, and all ideas have a history. Ideas born in the eighteenth century Enlightenment, and especially the ideas of German philosophers later in the nineteenth century, influenced our world pervasively. The Old Liturgical Movement before the Council seemed blissfully unaware of the climate created by modernity. The way we think and feel about community comes from these sources to a greater degree than the liturgical reformers, and the ecclesiastical authorities who supported them, were aware of. Once Alexander Schmemann was reported to have said that the Catholic Church, which valiantly held out for so long, succumbed to modernity just as this modernity itself was about to collapse. This is the position Robinson takes in a 377-page explanation. He relies for insights on Iris Murdoch and Charles Taylor, both critics of modernity. He also mentions that some of the secondary followers of Karl Rahner and Bernard Longergan are to blame for part of the current catastrophe.
A search for creativity and community were dominant projects in "reform-minded" Catholic circles in the 1960s and beyond. In itself, this might not have been bad. But Robinson shows that a major reflection on community had already gone on in the century before. It came from a decidedly non-Christian source, namely G.W.F. Hegel, who taught that the community was god, and that "God" was not fully "God" without the community. Robinson calls Hegel "the source of the ideas that have done most damage to the Church." This secular notion of community made its way into the Church, perhaps unconsciously, and today we do not seem able to interpret the consequences. Those lacking the philosophical erudition of Robinson still do not recognize the problem that has been generated. In some cases, they deliberately insert modernity to supplant the inherited Christian tradition.
Writers who exclaim that "we are the Body of Christ" such that they compromise or downgrade transubstantiation and the tradition of sacramental realism, are influenced by Hegel whether they acknowledge it or not. Robinson points to German Martinez as an author in whom the success of the Enlightenment project is complete. He says Martinez's account of the Paschal Mystery has nothing to do with the understanding of the Paschal Mystery found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Frequently, contemporary seminarians desire a complete return of the Old Rite--a return to that point "before everything went wrong". Their instincts are laudable, and they speak up because they have been deprived of their rightful heritage. But once again Robinson provides needed wisdom, and he speaks as a parish priest as well as a scholar.
He believes the Old Liturgical Movement had some salutary goals. Robinson would keep the Mass readings in the vernacular, and read them facing the people. In short, with some adjustment, the New Rite (1969) should and can look much like the Old Rite (1962). The Eucharistic Prayers should be in Latin, and both people and priest should face together "Ad Dominum". This is the Mass as it is celebrated today by the pope in his household chapel, and Robinson would merely universalize it. The depth, focus, theology, and transcendence of the Old Rite can be maintained while preserving some of the secondary gains of the New Rite's structure which has enjoyed the approbation of the highest ecclesiastical authorities. This way we can say that newer forms evolve organically (and gently!) from older forms. We could also become proud to say that we are sticking to a stricter and more faithful interpretation of Sacrosanctum concilium.
We need a liturgy to satisfy the soul, to point us beyond the pain of the world, and to unite us more intimately to Christ's sacrifice. This is what the new crop of seminarians is trying to say by advocating a return to the Old Rite. They do not want to be priests who must perform as if on stage, who "get in the way" of the congregation's worship. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a doctrinal reality in history. It exists in the documents of the Council, in our liturgical books and in our implementing documents, and in the Catechism, if only we rectify our ways of interpreting them. The ambiguities in the law itself can easily be corrected by a critical rethinking of the principles which are at stake in liturgy. This is what the Nichols-Robinson books help us to do.
Robinson also recommends a re-reading of Dionysius the Areopagite for some indications of timeless liturgical principles. Obviously, the spate of books on the liturgy by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 1990s also help, and they are all available in translation.
The very existence of any notion of "creativity" in liturgy shows a problem. The idea of "creativity" only reinforces the thought that the liturgy is something "we create" rather than something given to us to lift us aloft into a mystery too sublime for words. In his reference to the Old versus the New Rite, Robinson says that "What the Old Rite possessed was a clear lesson in the transcendence of God; while the way the Novus Ordo is often celebrated puts the community in the place of this reference to God."
Jonathan Robinson states that "Modern liturgical practices are defective, and they are in place, and they reinforce people's understanding both of their faith and of how the faith should relate to the modern world. This means that the `reform of the reform' will be a long, hard business. How it will happen is at best opaque."
One way in which `the reform of the reform' will happen is if more people read the works of Aidan Nichols and Jonathan Robinson. The new reform will not happen until as many people as possible see the real problems.
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