Rorate Caeli

"Non habetis, propter quod non postulatis": Why overhaul of Rite was so destructive to Church at large

 "Petite, et dabitur vobis: quaerite, et invenietis: pulsate, et aperietur vobis. Omnis enim qui petit, accipit: et qui quaerit, invenit: et pulsanti aperietur." [Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.] (Mt. 7:7-8) / "Litigatis, et belligeratis, et non habetis, propter quod non postulatis. Petitis, et non accipitis: eo quod male petatis." [You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss.] (James 4:2-3)

Considering the doctrine of prayer of Our Lord and of His apostle and kinsman St. James the Lesser will help us to understand how and why last century's overhaul of the liturgy of the Roman Rite proved so corrosive and destructive. For the Roman liturgy is nothing less than the corporate, public prayer of the Roman Church and the predominant rite of prayer of the Catholic Church. Prayer is so powerful, so fundamental to life, that the Church literally cannot perform the least of God's commands and counsels without prayer.

If, then, the Lord affirms that everyone who asks, receives, then it follows, as St. James reminds us, that those who do not ask do not obtain, and those who ask amiss shall not receive. In these basic principles of prayer we find the key to understanding the origin of the maladies afflicting the Church today, as well as their remedy.

In illustration of that point, we may highlight innumerable examples. However, because, as the Lake Garda Statement on the Ecclesial and Civilizational Crisis explains, the effective elision from Catholic life of the doctrine of the Social Kingship of Christ is both a cause and consequence of the Church's troubles, we may begin with a consideration of the liturgy of the Feast of Christ the King. (Within the past few days, Father John Hunwicke has explored this very aspect of the liturgy, while Peter Kwasniewski treated the subject here last year.)

From the 1940 St. Andrew Daily Missal, here is the English translation of the old Collect prayer of the Mass of the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, which priests who use the old Latin liturgy still pray today:

"Almighty everlasting God, who in Thy beloved Son, King of the whole world, hast willed to restore all things anew, grant in Thy mercy that all the families of the nations, rent asunder by the wound of sin, may be subjected to His most gentle rule."

In comparison, the current approved American English translation of the reformed Roman Missal's Collect for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is:

"Almighty ever-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe, grant, we pray, that the whole creation, set free from slavery, may render your majesty service and ceaselessly proclaim your praise."

The original prayer points to mankind's pressing problem -- that sin has rent asunder the nations of the world -- and indicates the solution to that problem: the restoration of all things in Christ by all nations being subjected to Christ's most gentle rule. But, where the original prayer asks God that every nation become subject to the teachings and commandments of Christ -- that is, it asks that all nations be converted to the Catholic faith -- the new prayer asks for something else: the deliverance of all of Creation so that it may serve and praise God. This petition draws upon St. Paul's prophecy in Romans 8 that at the end of time all of Creation would be delivered from the bondage of corruption and decay. This change in the prayer is in keeping with the shift in emphasis in the post-conciliar Feast of Christ the King, a shift most clearly seen in the transfer of the feast from the last Sunday of October to the last Sunday of the liturgical year, signifying the consummation of the world and the coming of the eschatalogical fullness of Christ's kingdom in the Last Judgment and the world to come. Pope Pius XI, however, did not institute this feast to celebrate that ultimate aspect of Christ's kingship at the culmination of history, but to remind Catholics and the world that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords today, here and now, not just in the world to come. And if Jesus is king even now, that means all nations have a moral obligation to submit to Him and to uphold His kingship in law and policy, in arts and culture, and in religion.

It's not that the new Collect for Christ the King is sinful or contrary to the Faith. No, the problem is that it doesn't ask for the same things that Pius XI wanted the Church to ask for. If those who ask, receive, but those who do not ask do not receive, then if the nations of the world are ever to be subjected to the most gentle rule of Christ, the Church will have to ask for it. The Church formerly was united in asking for that gift, but since the 1960s most Catholics have not asked for it; on the contrary, many prelates, priests, religious, and lay Catholics do not believe the conversion of sinners and the repentance of peoples is something that it is desirable, let alone obligatory, for us to pray. In this we see again the ancient rule of lex orandi, lex credendi. Those who do not believe in the Social Kingship of Christ will not pray that it be established, and conversely, when the Church publicly ceases to pray for something, her members will soon begin to forget that the Church believes it is necessary to pray for it. (For those who usually or exclusively assist at a reformed Mass, when was the last time you heard a prayer for the conversion of sinners or the liberty and exaltation of the Catholic Church included among the general intercessions after the Creed?)

This same principle -- "non habetis, propter quod non postulatis" -- can be seen in the solemn prayers of Good Friday. Where once the Church generally prayed "for heretics and schismatics, that our God and Lord would deliver them from all their errors, and vouchsafe to recall them to our Holy Mother the Catholic and Apostolic Church," asking that God, "who savest all, and willest not that anyone should perish," "look down on the souls of those deceived by wiles of the devil, that the evil of heresy being removed from their hearts, the erring may repent and return to the unity of Thy truth"; now the Church prays "for all our brothers and sisters who believe in Christ, that our God and Lord may be pleased, as they live the truth, to gather them together and keep them in his one Church," asking God "that those whom one Baptism has consecrated may be joined together by integrity of faith and united in the bond of charity." As with the Collect for Christ the King, the new petition is neither sinful nor heretical, yet in effect it elides the needful healthy awareness of the fact that schism and heresy are grievous offenses against God for the healing of which it is fearfully urgent that the faithful pray. Should we be surprised, then, that we see so few conversions of Protestants and Orthodox Christians to the Catholic faith, when we don't pray for conversions? When indeed "proselytism" so-called is discouraged? Should we be surprised that so many Catholics are not troubled even a little by widespread doctrinal error and schism, or that they even dissent from Catholic teaching themselves?

Another example may be drawn from the Good Friday prayers: the prayer for pagans, rewritten in the new liturgy as a prayer "for those who do not believe in Christ." In the ancient liturgy, the Church asks "that almighty God would remove iniquity from [pagans'] hearts, that, forsaking their idols, they may be converted to the living and true God, and His only Son, Jesus Christ our God and Lord," praying that God, "who desireth not the death but the life of sinners," would "deliver them from the worship of idols and, for the praise and glory of Thy name, unite them to Thy holy Church." In the new liturgy, however, the Church prays that non-Christians, being "enlightened by the Holy Spirit," also "may enter on the way of salvation," asking that, "by walking before [God] with a sincere heart, they may find the truth." The new liturgy then switches from praying for non-Christians to praying for Catholics, "that we ourselves, being constant in mutual love and striving to understand more fully the mystery of your life, may be made more perfect witnesses to your love in the world." Once again, it's not heretical or sinful as far as it goes: but it may be faulted for not going far enough, for it never explicitly prays for the conversion of non-Christians (or as Scripture and Tradition and the ancient liturgy call them, "pagans") -- it prays that they find the truth, but not that they embrace it. And if we don't ask for their conversion, how can we expect to see them convert and be saved? Going further, it seems most unlikely that a church who still generally prayed the ancient Good Friday prayer for pagans would experience the scandal of a Prince of the Roman Church joining  -- or joining with impunity -- in the worship of a false goddess in blatant violation of the First Commandment. But, non habetis, propter quod non postulatis.

We easily could multiply examples in illustration of this point. In the face of the appalling onslaught of Muslim slaughter and rape of Christians and desecration of holy places in the Middle East, what would be more fitting and necessary than a votive Mass against the Heathen, in which the priest prays on our behalf, "Almighty, everlasting God, in whose hand are the power and the government of every nation, look to the help of the Christian people, that the heathen nations, who trust in their own fierceness, may be crushed by the power of Thy right arm." But there is no such votive Mass in the reformed Roman Missal, and so, non habetis, propter quod non postulatis.

May the Lord soon grant a restoration and renewal of the sacred liturgy, so that Catholics everywhere may learn anew the teaching of St. James, "You covet, and have not: you kill, and envy, and can not obtain. You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences."

[Image: Greater mosaic of the Basilica of the National Vow to the Sacred Heart, Montmartre, Paris, France]