Rorate Caeli

"Reverence Is Not Enough: On the Importance of Tradition" -- Dr. Kwasniewski's Lecture at Strahov Abbey in Prague

In the evening of Friday, October 14, 2016, the official launch of the Czech translation of my book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church was held at historic Strahov Abbey in Prague. His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke gave an introduction in which he spoke of the importance of the sacred liturgy in his own life, his experience of the painful years of liturgical reform and experimentation, and his joy that Catholic tradition is being rediscovered today by young people. He then spoke about the book, recommending it to the audience of about 130 people, including journalists and a national Catholic TV station, gathered in the winter refectory of the abbey. Sitting at the same table were the book's Czech translator, Fr. Štěpán Smolen, and one of the members of the publishing team, Mr. Andrej Kutarna, who also translated the lecture below into Czech.

The text of the lecture is reproduced in full.

Reverence Is Not Enough: On the Importance of Tradition

Peter A. Kwasniewski

I am grateful to all of you for coming this evening to be present at the launch of the Czech edition of my book, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, and to hear my talk, which reflects some of the book’s main themes.

At the end of August, everyone in the Catholic world was saddened to hear about the major earthquake that struck the region of Italy around the town of Norcia, the ancient town of Nursia, traditionally held to be the birthplace of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, and the site (since the Jubilee Year of 2000) of a Benedictine monastery famous for Latin liturgy and delicious beer. The news was particularly distressing to me, since I am an oblate of this monastery, and I had just spent two weeks there in July teaching a course on the Epistle to the Hebrews. As I looked at photos of the damage, I could not help thinking of a verse from that letter: “We have here no abiding city but we seek one that is to come” (Heb 13:14), and another verse: “Whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth; and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb 12:6).  Fortunately, in the true Benedictine spirit, the monks have begun to rebuild, many people are coming to their aid, and, in due course, they will not only recover but, God willing, come out stronger than before.

Nevertheless, the damage in Norcia is substantial. The earthquake happened suddenly, its magnitude was considerable, and there have been powerful aftershocks. In many buildings throughout the town, including the main basilica and the smaller churches, there are huge cracks in the walls, broken ceilings, compromised structures. Experts have been going around from building to building, carefully inspecting them to assess engineering dangers and declare them safe or unsafe. Places that were once full of life are no longer inhabitable. Years of expensive repairs will be necessary before all is back to normal. Temporary solutions will be found, but they are not likely to be beautiful, strong, or compatible in style with the rest of this medieval town; they will eventually need to be replaced with something more permanent and more worthy. And there are costs that are harder to speak about, because they are emotional, personal, spiritual: some people will be sanctified by these trials, while others may take occasion for sinning. In short, in the space of just one day, Norcia became a place of fear, distress, confusion, disappointments, headaches and heartaches too numerous to count. It has also become a place of heroic charity and generosity, a summons to patience, hope, and determination, and a reminder of what is most important in life.

Now, it seems to me that we can take this earthquake as a parable for the Church in our times. Something similar began to happen about fifty years ago in the day-to-day life of the Catholic Church, namely, a series of sudden and sizeable changes in the manner in which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the other sacraments were celebrated, and the often heretical meaning that was attached to those changes. The ground shifted underneath us as centuries-old liturgical rites and practices were replaced almost overnight with rapidly-constructed forms and unprecedented novelties. In Western Europe and America, there was an epidemic of unbridled experimentation; all certainties vanished; the map and compass of tradition were discarded, replaced by communal exercises in self-expression. The advent of the Novus Ordo Missae was like an earthquake in its suddenness as well as in the devastation that followed after it in so many places.[1] Local churches that had been thriving in numbers of faithful and in priestly and religious vocations collapsed, as millions of Catholics stopped practicing their faith and thousands of priests, monks, nuns, and sisters abandoned their holy calling. When the dust settled, instead of a renewal, there were huge cracks in the intellectual and spiritual structure; the walls and ceilings of artistic beauty had fallen apart; ecclesiastical structures were dangerous to inhabit.

Half a century later, however, the People of God have yet to come to grips with the reports of our own “engineering inspectors,” who were keenly aware of the magnitude of the earthquake and the scope of its damage—experts who know and love the Church’s liturgy, theology, and tradition, and experts who are familiar with human disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology. There was Michael Davies, who, in his book Cranmer’s Godly Order, demonstrated that the changes made to the Roman Catholic liturgy paralleled those made by Thomas Cranmer in his creation of the Protestant liturgy of the Church of England. There was Laszlo Dobszay, who documented the ritual-musical incoherence of the new rites. There is Dom Alcuin Reid, who has shown that the liturgical reform of the 1960s cannot be considered to be in continuity with the Roman tradition by any historically-grounded and philosophically coherent understanding of ‘organic.’[2] There is a host of authors, among whom could be named Aidan Nichols, Catherine Pickstock, Mary Douglas, and Anthony Archer, who, drawing on human disciplines such as the anthropology of religion, have exposed with embarrassing clarity how badly the revised liturgical rites assessed the actual needs of “modern man,” and how they have not only failed to stem the tide of secularism and desacralization but have even contributed to it.

Natural disasters are responsible for many physical and cultural evils, but they also serve to bring out the best in people. Something similar is true of the liturgical and theological revolution that took place last century. Once it became clear that the great Catholic tradition was under attack and exposed to the risk of extinction, the Holy Spirit raised up many noble souls, in all ranks, classes, and states of life, the famous and the humble, to oppose this forced march of modernization. One thinks of the so-called Agatha Christie indult, whereby priests in England obtained permission to continue with the traditional liturgical rites (although we learned later on, in Summorum Pontificum, that such permission was never required). One thinks of how Pope John Paul II encouraged bishops to be “generous” in making room for Catholics attached to their liturgical tradition. One thinks, most of all, of Pope Benedict XVI, who firmly called the Church back to continuity with her glorious past, her faith-filled tradition, her unsurpassed culture of beauty in the service of the Word. In these decades of wandering in the wilderness, in this Babylonian captivity to contemporary Western fashion, the movement to rediscover and restore the fullness of the Church’s worship has quietly grown. Clergy, religious, and laity dedicated to the usus antiquior are now found in every country and on every continent; they are characterized by large families and high numbers of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Fully Catholic worship goes hand-in-hand with doctrinal integrity, a consistent witness of life, and a renewed thirst for holiness. This much is good news, amidst the rubble.

But after this extended metaphor, an objection might be raised. “Why is tradition so important? Isn’t it enough just to have a reverent liturgy? As long as we are sincere in our intentions and serious about our prayer, all these other things—the language of our worship, the type of music, the direction of the priest at the altar, the way people receive communion, whether or not we keep the same readings and prayers that Catholics used for centuries, and so forth—are just incidental or accidental features. They are ‘externals,’ and Jesus taught us that externals aren’t the main thing in religion.” 

There is, of course, some truth to this objection. Our intentions are indeed fundamental. If a non-believer pretended to get baptized as part of a play on stage, he would not really become a Christian. No externals by themselves will ever guarantee that we are worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth (cf. Jn 4:23–24), and an attitude of reverence and seriousness is the most crucial requirement of the ars celebrandi. Nevertheless, I believe that the objection as stated is erroneous, and dangerously so, because it presumes (and thereby fosters) a radical transformation of the very nature of the Catholic religion under the influence of Enlightenment philosophy.

Prior to all arguments about which practice is better or worse is the overarching principle of the primacy of tradition, meaning the inherent claim that our religious inheritance, handed down from our forefathers, makes on us. We do not “own” this gift, much less “produce” it. Tradition comes to us from above, from God who providentially designed us as social animals who inherit our language, our culture, and our religion; it comes to us from our ancestors, who are called antecessores in Latin—literally, the ones who have gone before.[3] They are ahead of us, not behind us; they have finished running the race, and we stand to benefit from their collective wisdom. St. Paul states the principle in 1 Thessalonians 4:1: “We pray and beseech you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, so also you would walk, that you may abound the more.”

The rejection of tradition and the cult of change embodies a peculiarly modern attitude of “mastery over tradition,” which is the social equivalent of Baconian and Cartesian “mastery over nature.” The combination of capitalism and technology has allowed us to abuse the natural world, treating it as raw material for exploitation, in pursuit of the satisfaction of our selfish desires. In a similar way, the influence of rationalism and individualism has tempted us to treat Catholic tradition as if it were a collection of isolated facts from which we, who are autonomous and superior, can make whatever selection pleases us. In adopting this arrogant stance, we fail to recognize, with creaturely humility, that our rationality is socially constituted and tradition-dependent. By failing to honor our antecessores, we fail to live according to our political nature and our Christian dignity as recipients of a concrete historical revelation that endures and develops organically over time and space.[4] The Psalm verse comes to mind: “Know ye that the Lord, he is God: he made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps 99[100]:3). Ipse fecit nos et non ipsi nos. We do not make ourselves, nor do we make our religion or our liturgies; we receive our existence, we receive our faith, we receive our worship. Tradition comes to us from outside ourselves, before and beyond us. It unambiguously expresses our dependence on God—as creatures, as Christians, as coheirs with the saints. An heir is one who inherits, not the “self-made man” of capitalism. 

The reformed liturgy, moreover, like modern liberalism itself, exalts choice, spontaneity, and diversity, whereas the historic liturgies of Christianity, both Eastern and Western, present the worshiper with a fully articulated act of worship to which we gratefully yield ourselves, taking on its features as an icon panel receives layer after layer of prescripted color until the beautiful image stands forth.[5] The worshipers act according to roles and a script they have received, putting its words on their lips, wearing the mask (as it were) or prosopon of Christ, so that they may acquire His mind in this life, and deserve to obtain His glory in the life to come. The liturgy is a continual putting on of Christ, which presupposes a putting off of the old man, with his warped desire for “authenticity,” originality, autonomy, recognition. The “inculturation” to which traditional liturgy aspires is best seen as a re-culturation into a common Christian patrimony accompanied by a de-culturation from the noxious errors and vices of our fallen condition and of the human societies we inhabit.[6] The liturgy is not simply a series of tasks, a holy agenda; it is a school of life, of thought, of desire, in which we are enrolled from our baptism until our death. How the liturgy understands human nature, how it asks us to behave, the axioms and aspirations it places on our lips and in our hearts, will shape us into an image of itself. Our participation in the earthly liturgy of the Church will prepare us well or poorly for our participation in the heavenly liturgy, depending on how well we have been educated in the school of Christian tradition. This is why it is such a grave problem if the curriculum and faculty of this school have been compromised by worldliness, corrupted by ideologies, diluted by a loss of confidence in the truth of the Gospel, or simply distracted by the whims and fads of their surrounding anti-Christian or semi-Christian society.[7]

St. Paul states to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Massively changing the liturgy to make it apparently more suited to “modern man” was, in fact, a form of yielding and conforming to the world rather than standing all the more firmly over against it with a supernatural alternative, holding fast what was already known to be “good and acceptable and perfect.”[8] While earlier ages of the Church witnessed the enrichment of the liturgy with elements from the cultures through which it passed, there had never been, prior to the twentieth century, a systematic attempt to reconfigure the liturgy according to the pattern of a certain epoch or worldview. There had been pruning and adjustment, but never wholesale reconstruction and whole-cloth invention. The very ambition to attempt such an audacious feat could have arisen only in an age bedazzled by the Myth of Progress—a myth that played upon the well-known gullibility of rationalists and romantics alike. The liturgical reformers for the most part surrendered to the temptation without resistance, like springtime lovers in Paris. We could adapt what St. Paul says elsewhere in the Epistle to the Romans: “they became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom 1:21).

In my book, I speak often about my personal experience of discovering the old Roman liturgy, and how much it has affected my family for the better—how it has awakened us to a deeper, broader, and loftier vision of God, man, and the world than anything we have ever encountered in the “updated” catechesis, preaching, or liturgies of the post-conciliar Church. At our wedding, my wife and I exchanged vows following the beautiful preconciliar ritual, and then assisted as a newlywed couple at a splendid Tridentine Missa cantata. We had our children baptized and confirmed in the magnificent older forms, which put to shame their modern counterparts. We went to confession with priests who used the richer and more explicit traditional prayers of the sacrament. We began to pray the age-old Divine Office. Most importantly, the Mass came alive for us as a holy sacrifice.[9]

A certain verse from the Psalms has become for me a motto of this journey: Et eduxit me in latitudinem, “And he brought me forth into a large place” (Ps 17:20 [18:19]), or, as other translations have it, “he led me out into a broad area.” This large place, this broad area, is Catholic tradition, which is immense beyond imagining, rich beyond reckoning, more colorful, diverse, and surprising than the humdrum uniformity of modern man’s concocted religion, with its predictable rationalism, its superficial whims and fads. The Lord in His goodness led us out into the broad area of sublime sacred music; the unmatched eloquence of Latin orations; the moving spectacle of ceremonies rich with symbolism; the self-abnegating worship of the transcendent, thrice-holy God, expressed and aroused through gestures of humility, adoration, spiritual longing, and peaceful possession. 

In this large place called Catholic tradition, we see beauty all around us, stretching off into the distance, further than the eye can see, far beyond what any individual man can master in his lifetime. We baske in the sunshine of the ancient world, we breathe freely the fresh air of man’s medieval childhood, we meet with every generation of believers who have trodden the path of faith before us. For me, for my family, for our friends, it has been a liberating, exhilarating, and stabilizing experience—somehow like growing roots and wings at the same time. Traditional liturgy is our lifeline, not only to Our Lord but to the entire history, heritage, culture, theology, and identity of the Roman Catholic Church to which we belong. Without this, we are anybody and anywhere, that is, nobody and nowhere—modern-day orphans, illegitimate children of modernity, without honorable birth from a noble family. 

The movement to restore the usus antiquior is therefore not merely an expression of personal taste, a “preference” or a “sensibility,” as some people would have it, in their effort to co-opt the movement for the very project of liberalism and democratic pluralism that is our mortal disease. Traditionalism is—or should be, and has the potential to be—a principled rejection of modernity’s fundamental assumptions so as to prepare the way for a new birth of Christendom out of the rubble and ashes of the rapidly crumbling post-Christian West. It is a movement for the restoration of identity, sanity, spiritual health, and vigor. It is about the rediscovery and re-assertion of the Catholic Faith in its highest and fullest expression. The sacred liturgy in all its fullness is the indispensable means for renewing the priesthood, marriage and family, and the missions—precisely because it is not merely a means to those ends, but because through it we are united with the end that endows everything else with its meaning, orientation, efficacy, and even desirability.

Let me expand on that last point for a moment. What is it that makes lifelong indissoluble marriage and the begetting and educating of children appealing to fallen human beings, who are notable for their selfishness and impatience of hardship? It is nothing other than belief in God, first of all, and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If there is a God, marriage is possible. If God has given Himself to the very end—as Jesus has done in the Incarnation, in His Passion and death—then the sacrificial love of parenthood is possible, and more than that, desirable. If you take away God, there is no reason whatsoever to love any other person “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health”; take away the Eucharist, and there is no reason to pour out one’s life to bring more life into the world. Without God, without the mystery of the Cross, without the divine food of the Eucharist, marriage and family would be irrational, insane, a delusion, an impossible and deceptive fantasy. But if He goes before us as our antecessor, if He clears the path for us, if He gives Himself to us as our daily bread, sacrificial love is a reality already present in our midst, accessible, inviting, compelling. “The charity of Christ presses us” (2 Cor 5:14).

Consequently, liturgy ought to be unambiguously focused on Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross and the awesome reality of His Eucharistic presence, a focus obviously fostered by such practices as chanting, praying in silence, kneeling, and turning eastwards to offer the holy oblation in peace. When practices like these are absent, we are not confronted with the sovereign Mystery that redeems our fragmented lives, we are not prompted to surrender ourselves to the one who loves us beyond all that we can imagine or conceive. In this sense, the oft-remarked “verticality” of traditional worship is in service of the most intimate communion with the One who loves us from all eternity with an infinite love. In contrast, it is horizontal sociability, artistic banality, non-stop verbiage, and clerical showmanship that obstruct the soul’s ascent to God and the immediate “mystical” contact between creator and creature, savior and sinner, lover and beloved.

Traditionalists are sometimes blamed for elevating their “personal preferences” over the reformed liturgy of Paul VI and over the common discipline of the Church. Why can’t we “get with the program” and do what everyone else is doing? But the accusation is ironic and ill-placed. For it was the Novus Ordo that, for the first time in the history of the Church, elevated the preferences, tastes, and even whims of the “presider” and the “assembly” into a matter of principle by allowing an indefinite number of possible realizations of liturgy. Many texts are optional; the music is optional (there are no strict rules for what constitutes a High Mass, which has arguably brought about its demise); the rubrics are minimal, at times open-ended. Some have even spoken of the “vel missal”: you may use Latin or the vernacular. You may use chant or some other music. You may use this Penitential Rite or that one, this Eucharistic Prayer or that one. You may worship either ad orientem or versus populum. In all these ways, the mutable will and personality of the celebrant (and, perhaps, of the group over against him) is thrust to the fore, pushing the indissoluble and immutable marriage of Christ and the Church into the background. Every celebration is, in a sense, a new project, a new compilation, a new construct of the human agents involved. Even if the same “traditional” options were to be chosen as a rule, the very fact that they are chosen and could be otherwise makes the liturgy not so much an opus Dei as an opus hominis.[10]

This voluntaristic malleability of the liturgy, joined with an emphasis on local adaptation and continual evolution, is precisely the liturgical equivalent of the decades-long dispute between Walter Kasper and Joseph Ratzinger in the sphere of ecclesiology. For Ratzinger, the universal Church and its sole Lord and Savior take precedence[11]—and therefore the liturgy, which is the act par excellence of Christ and His Mystical Body, should embody, express, and inculcate exactly this universality, the faith of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Now, if you are familiar with it, you will know that everything in the traditional Roman rite fulfills this lofty requirement. As for unity, the liturgy offers us, year after year, the same rite, the same rubrics, the same texts, the same chants, as befits “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5). As for holiness, the Council of Trent notes: 

holy things must be treated in a holy way, and this sacrifice is the most holy of all things. And so, that this sacrifice might be worthily and reverently offered and received, the Catholic Church many centuries ago instituted the sacred canon [of the Mass] [that is, the Roman Canon]. It is so free from all error that it contains nothing that does not savor strongly of holiness and piety and nothing that does not raise to God the minds of those who offer.[12]

The Council of Trent then says something similar about all of the ceremonies of the Mass. With regard to the mark of catholicity, we find the same traditional liturgy everywhere in the world, from the rising of the sun even to its setting, offered by all men and for all men, with no distinction of nation, race, or sex.[13] Finally, the apostolicity of the Church is reflected in the principle of tradition I spoke of earlier. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Cor 11:2); “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Cor 11:23).

In contrast, we see Cardinal Kasper’s group-based “ecclesiology from below” reflected in the localist Novus Ordo Missae—not in its abuses, but in its essence as a matrix of possibilities destined to receive its “inculturated” form from priests and people at each celebration. It is a liturgy in a constant state of fermentation, re-visioning, re-invention, which is antithetical to orthodoxy in its original meaning of “right-worship-and-right-doctrine.” It is worth pointing out that proponents of Kasperian ecclesiology and liturgy also tend to repudiate Constantinian Christianity and its universalizing aspiration to “re-establish all things in Christ” (Eph 1:10). This is because they hold, with Karl Rahner, than every man is already Christian at some level, and that the world as such, the secular world, is already holy. Thus there is no clear distinction between ad intra and ad extra, between sanctuary and nave, between minister and congregation, between tradition and innovation, or even between sacred and profane. All things collapse into immanence, into the choice of the moment, the quest for instant inculturation, the transient emotional connection, the self-proclamation of the group. It is a liturgy of the Enlightenment, ahistorical, sociable, accessible, efficient, unthreatening. It is supposed to be pleasant, convenient, thoroughly free of magic, myth, or menace. There must not be any of that primitive or medieval mysterium tremendens et fascinans, none of that groveling of slaves to their masters: we are grown-ups who can treat with God as equals. As a matter of fact, we will edit out “difficult” passages from Sacred Scripture and rewrite “difficult” prayers so that offenses or challenges to our modern way of life will be, if not eliminated, then at least kept to a polite minimum.[14]

It should be obvious at this point that the traditionalists’ defense of the classical Roman Rite and all that goes along with it is not just a matter of aesthetics or personal preferences. It is an adherence to a premodern understanding of man, the world, and Christianity that is uncontaminated with modern errors[15] and therefore capable of saving modern men and women from the abyss into which they have hurled themselves from the time of the Protestant Revolt to the French Revolution, down to the Sexual Revolution and now the Gender Revolution. We believe that what modern people need the most is someone with a foothold outside of modernity, transmitting a wisdom which originated before its rebellion and which aims at goals not of this world—this political age of great violence and failed originality. The liturgical revolution was the ecclesiastical equivalent of these social revolts, as people threw off the rubrics of restraint, the formality of address, and the commitment to a way of life received rather than a utopian (and thus artificial) construct. The only way forward is to quit our dead end, reverse our steps, and go back to the more demanding narrow path, which, by a delightful divine paradox, leads us to the large place, the broad area, of tradition. 

My conclusion, then, is that reverence is not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Following the official books is not enough. If we are to be Roman Catholics, if we are to be the heirs and recipients of our faith rather than promethean neo-Pelagians who shape it to ourselves, if we are to be imitators of the apostles and all the saints, then entering into the Church’s traditional lex orandi is no less necessary, and no less important in our times.[16] If anything, rediscovering the rich, multifaceted, profound, undiluted symbolism and doctrinal fullness of the sacred liturgy—the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s gentle brooding over all the centuries of our ecclesiastical life—has acquired a new and special urgency as the dictatorship of relativism clamps down on us with a vengeance. Even within the hierarchy of the Church, there are those who would barter away the primogeniture of the Gospels for a bowl of modern pottage. This is not what we shall do; we will take Christ as our King and the tradition of His Church as our strong support. 

I am reminded of the words of the ancient martyr St. Genesius: “There is no King but Christ, and though I be slain a thousand times for Him, yet you cannot take Him from my mouth or my heart.” [17] This, too, is how we feel about the traditional liturgy. It is our privileged access to Christ, who gives Himself to us not only by placing His Body and Blood in our mouths, but also by burying deep in our hearts the treasure of His Church’s prayer. This joy, this pearl of great price, this glorious inheritance, no one can take away from us.

Thank you for your kind attention.


[1] It is true, of course, that the Novus Ordo Missae was prepared for by several years or even decades of “tremors,” such as the unmandated introduction of versus populum celebration and the increasing vernacularization of the old Mass; but these were still external (though meaningful) changes, compared with the gutting of the rite itself and its replacement by the Consilium’s fabrication, which would have been still more barren had it not been for last-minute augmentations insisted on by Pope Paul VI. These augmentations, although still novelties, at least preserved something of the external structure: I refer to the depersonalized Confiteor with the abolition of the distinction between priest and people, and the pseudo-Jewish offertory rite.

[2] See Alcuin Reid’s The Organic Development of the Liturgy.

[3] The English word “ancestor” is derived from the Latin antecessor.

[4] The God we worship is no abstraction but a flesh-and-blood reality whose Incarnation is mystically continued in time and space.

[5] God writes Himself upon the tablets of our souls by means of a liturgy that is determinate and active, as He is. The art of the icon is essentially different from the Renaissance and post-Renaissance mentality of much of Western religious art. The iconographer does not seek self-expression through his art, or even the expression of his culture, people, place, or time. He humbles himself by following strict canons that aim at reproducing on his panel and in his soul the personal reality of the holy figure contemplated, so that when he is finished, the result draws the viewer directly to the holy figure. Even if icons will vary incidentally from writer to writer, they do not sign their names, because the goal is the veneration of the Other. The regimented process of writing an icon is exactly comparable to the regimented process of executing a liturgy: the point of departure is the Church’s pre-existent tradition; the point of arrival is immediate contact with the Holy One. In between, the human agents do their work as well as they can, but they subordinate themselves to the canons and the goal; they “get out of the way.”

[6] I do not wish to be understood to be saying that there is no sense in which the Church can borrow neutral elements from a culture and give them a new Christian meaning or orientation, as we see in the efforts of great missionaries to reach native peoples through a discriminating adoption of some of their customs and artifacts. But such inculturation presupposes the essential truth of the Christian faith and the essential rightness of its Catholic expressions, which act as active and fertilizing principles upon the ones receiving the word. In other words, the true missionary brings the Roman or Byzantine liturgy to a pagan tribe, and converts them to it. The existing liturgical rite is the solid rock on which inculturation is built, the magnet to which customs are attracted. On these points, see my article “Is ‘Contemporary’ Church Music a Good Example of Inculturation?”

[7] I owe this comparison of the liturgy to a curriculum to Joel Morehouse. Morehouse originally applied the comparison to the great treasury of sacred music, which he called a curriculum of Great Books to which Catholics ought to return year after year.

[8] It may be objected that the liturgy is never “perfect.” But there are two ways of saying perfect. One sense pertains only to the heavenly liturgy, which enjoys a divine perfection. The other sense pertains to the organically developed liturgy of the Church on earth, which, as a work of the Holy Spirit (as Pius XII teaches in Mediator Dei), has its own relative perfection, and cannot be considered irrelevant, harmful, or corrupt. As it happens, the theorists of the Novus Ordo, above all Josef Jungmann, S.J., held two false theories: the Corruption Theory (that at some undefinable point in the early Middle Ages the liturgy began to depart from its pristine ancient condition and suffer corruption, a process that only worsened over the centuries) and the Pastoral Theory (that liturgy must be adapted to the mentality and condition of each age, and that modern man, being exceptionally different from his forbears, needs a radically different liturgy). The former has as a corollary antiquarianism or archaeologism, while the latter has as its corollary modernization. Both theories are false and must be rejected, and their poisons must be purged from the Mystical Body.

[9] The new Mass is also a sacrifice, in se, but this dogmatic truth is phenomenologically obscured by the new rite’s “table fellowship” model, which both follows from and further reinforces the anthropocentric distortion of liturgy, with its traits of informality, horizontality, and secularity.

[10] One thinks of the comment by Martin Mosebach that the problem with the new rite is that it can be done reverently (think about that). Joseph Ratzinger makes a similar point in his penetrating essay “The Image of the World and of Human Beings in the Liturgy and Its Expression in Church Music” in A New Song for the Lord.

[11] Cf. Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” 

[12] Trent, Session 22, ch. 4. In ch. 5 the Fathers continue: “Holy Mother Church . . . has provided ceremonial, such as mystical blessings, lights, incense, vestments, and many other rituals of that kind from apostolic order and tradition, by which the majesty of this great sacrifice is enhanced and the minds of the faithful are aroused by those visible signs of religious devotion to contemplation of the high mysteries hidden in this sacrifice” (Denzinger, 43rd edition, 1745, 1746).

[13] This, in contrast to the Novus Ordo, which seems to attract more women than men and to appeal more to modern Westerners than to those who are not already shaped by Western modernity.

[14] See Peter Kwasniewski, “The Reform of the Lectionary,” in Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives, ed. Alcuin Reid (London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 287–320; idem, “Not Just More Scripture, But Different Scripture,” Foreword to Matthew P. Hazell, Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite (N.p.: Lectionary Study Press, 2016), vii–xxix; idem, “The Omission that Haunts the Church—1 Corinthians 11:27-29”; Matthew Hazell, “On the Inclusion of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 in the Ordinary Form.”

[15] Exactly the errors, namely, that are condemned in Pius IX’s Quanta Cura and Syllabus Errorum and the great encyclicals of Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI.

[16] Without this continuity in orthodoxy (meaning both right worship and right belief), we risk inventing or drifting into a somewhat new religion that has certain appearances of the old but deviates in open or subtle ways into modernism.

[17] See the traditional Roman Martyrology under August 25.