Rorate Caeli

Guest Op-Ed: Cultic Charity in the Church (and a note about yesterday's Motu Proprio)

Cultic Charity in the Church:

Returning to a Full Celebration of the Ancient Roman Rite

By Veronica A. Arntz

The liturgical treasures of the Church are perhaps her greatest and most sublime. These beautiful treasures, from Gregorian chant to vestments to the language of the ancient rite itself, are to be reverenced and preserved, just as the many great saints of antiquity have done before us. As we are all very well aware, the preservation of the liturgical treasures of the Church has been in decline since the Second Vatican Council, in many, if not most, parishes and dioceses. With Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, which declared that the ancient rite was never abrogated, we have seen an increase in the celebration of the ancient Roman liturgy—many within the Church have been given the spiritual boldness to preserve this liturgical rite. In the tenth anniversary year of Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum, it is worth meditating on why it is important to maintain with reverence and encourage the celebration of the ancient Roman Rite. Namely, if we look to Cardinal Charles Journet’s theological perspective on charity within the Church, we will have a better understanding of why it is necessary to uphold the ancient liturgical traditions of the Church.

In his work Theology of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), Journet explains that charity is the created soul of the Church; he argues that this soul is cultic, sacramental, and directed (p. 170). For the purposes of this essay, I shall focus on the cultic aspect of charity. With regards to charity as the soul of the Church, Journet explains, “We can define this soul by saying that it is a charity that is Christic and Christ-conforming, which has come, under the New Law, to full birth” (Ibid.). Through charity, we are fully conformed to Christ, for we are willing to be united to him. To those who would argue against charity as the created soul of the Church, Journet explains that membership in the Church involves two elements: theological faith and the will to remain in the Church (p. 171). For this reason, a sinner is personally deprived of charity, but charity can never be completely absent from the Church herself (Ibid.). As Journet further describes, “Where the charity of Christ is in its fullness, that is, where it is cultic, sacramental, and directed, the soul of the Church is whole; the Church, composed of the just and sinners is in perfect, or complete, act” (p. 172). This is a remarkable statement: the charity of the Church is in perfect act where the liturgy (her cult) and her sacraments are thriving. Charity is not primarily bound up with humanitarian efforts, social justice activities, ecumenism, or any other external activity. Rather, charity and liturgy are intimately linked, as Journet understands it.

For that reason, Journet goes on to say the following two things. First, “Where the charity of Christ is not in its fullness, where there is lacking either the sacrifice of the Mass, the sacraments, the directives of divinely assisted jurisdiction, the soul of the Church is imperfect, or mutilated; the Church is found only in an inchoate act, or more exactly, in a mutilated act” (p. 172). Second, this charity is “absolutely inseparable from Christian worship. To suppress the Christian cult—to suppress the Mass or the sacraments—would be to suppress at the same time charity, in its reference to the redemptive act of Christ; it would be to suppress charity insofar as it is Christian” (p. 173). This should come as no surprise to us: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, from which all charity flows. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, RSV), and, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). Thus, the very fact that the Mass is a sacrifice reveals the charity of Christ. Those who would attempt to reduce the celebration of the Mass to the celebration of a fraternal meal are missing the fullness of the sacrificial aspect, and therefore the fullness of Christ’s charity, which is offered to us through the liturgy. Journet’s words concerning the connection of charity and the Mass are strong: those who would try to suppress or reduce the Mass are ultimately denying the charity that Christ offers us. The charity of the Church—the very soul of the Church—becomes diminished when we fail to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments with the proper reverence, careful attention, and due diligence.

At this point, one might object that every human being is fallen and subject to original sin. Can there be any “perfect” celebration of the Mass in that case? While it is true that we are often lacking in our celebration of the Mass, due to a wide variety of circumstances and defects, it does not follow that we can be slothful in the way that we celebrate and participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. Any defect in our celebration, our participation, our attention to prayer, and yes, even the externals of the Mass (such as vestments and music) contributes to the imperfectness of the charity within the Church. A similar example is sin within the Church: because the Church is the one Body of Christ, any sinful action from one member affects the rest of the members. Therefore, Journet is arguing that one Mass celebrated poorly or without the proper attention and reverence contributes to an incomplete act of charity within the Church.

Can we not see the catastrophic effects of the lack of proper reverence when celebrating the holy sacrifice of the Mass in our own day? Would she be experiencing the same crisis of faith, the same widespread rejection of traditional teachings, the same misunderstanding and application of her teachings under the guise of the need to be “pastoral,” had she not drastically changed her sacred liturgy shortly after the Second Vatican Council? While it would be incorrect to say that every Mass and every sacrament celebrated before Vatican II was celebrated with the appropriate reverence, this does not mean that it was fitting to reject the ancient liturgy of the Church, which had been organically developing throughout the centuries. Even though it is possible for the Novus Ordo Mass to be celebrated reverently and in accord with what the Council Fathers intended (one thinks of the Masses celebrated by the Canons Regular at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, IL), it would seem that the richness of the ancient liturgy of the Church, celebrated by so many saints with rubrics that honor so many saints, contributes more perfectly to the fullness and flourishing of charity within the Church. Indeed, we may think of the priest’s prayer directly before the washing of the hands in the 1962 Missal: “Accendat in nobis Dominus ignem sui amoris, et flammam aeternae caritatis. Amen”—“May the Lord enkindle within us the fire of His love, and the flame of everlasting charity.” Or, we might think of the eighth antiphon from Holy Thursday Mass: “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor. Exultemus et in ipso jucundemur. Timeamus et amemus Deum vivum. Et ex corde diligamus nos snicero.”—“Where charity and love are, there is God. The love of Christ has gathered us together. Let us rejoice in Him and be glad. Let us fear and love the living God. And let us love one another with a sincere heart.”

In his most recent work, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why theModern Age Needs the Mass of Ages (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2017), Dr. Peter Kwasniewski reminds us of the importance of preserving the ancient liturgy of the Church, which I argue is directly connected with the charity of the Church, as described by Journet. As Dr. Kwasniewski explains, “The perennial liturgy is a source of sanity and stability for a Church storm-tossed, vexed with heresy, harassed by temptations to compromise with the world, the flesh, and the devil” (p. 61). Here again, we see the centrality of the liturgy to the Church’s life, which is the life of charity. A constantly changing liturgy is much like the changing world, but what the members of the Church truly need is a liturgy that is stable and points them toward the Beatific Vision, toward the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb (Revelation 5:6). In the tradition of Romano Guardini and Joseph Ratzinger, Dr. Kwasniewski explains that the liturgy is not primarily about us; rather, it is about our Lord (p. 66). When we make ourselves the center of the liturgy, we are, as Journet might say, diminishing the charity of the Church. By diminishing the essential sacrificial identity of the sacred liturgy, we are diminishing the importance of Christ’s charity.

For this reason, as faithful Catholics, we must and we ought to preserve the ancient liturgical treasures of the Church. As Dr. Kwasniewski explains, “Although tradition does not derive from us, it does depend on us: if clergy and laity do not transmit whole and entire that which they have received, God may allow it to perish in a certain portion of the Church on earth” (p. 80). Here we can hear echoes of Journet: if we fail to pass down the ancient liturgy of the Church, which has been developing organically for centuries, then we are failing to fulfill the charity of the Church. Even worse, if some individuals would choose to suppress the ancient rites of the Church (which is, of course, unimaginable), then they are suppressing the charity of Christ in the Church. As Dr. Kwasniewski aptly describes, “The rejection, manipulation, or transmogrification of this rite by Roman Catholics is nothing less than an act of violence against their own identity, a kind of institutional suicide” (p. 82). This would seem to be the case because the violence done to the liturgy is ultimately violence done to Christ, who has poured himself out in love for the whole Church. While Christ continues to pour out his graces on the Church even in the darkest hours, for the gates of hell will never prevail against her, we are more or less able to receive these graces based on how well we are nourished by the liturgy and the sacraments.

Dr. Kwasniewksi makes it clear in his book that we have come a long way in preserving the ancient liturgical treasures of the Church, but we still have a long way to go (p. 111). We should not lose hope, however. Rather, we should be deeply inspired by the worlds of Journet and Dr. Kwasniewski; we ought to be inspired to preserve the ancient liturgical rite of the Church. Let us close with the following words from Journet. “This charity is fascinated by the mystery of the Mass, which, under the appearance of the unbloody sacrifice, brings us, at each moment in time, the very presence of the unique bloody sacrifice, in which heaven and earth are pacified (Col. 1:20). Is it not the exigency of love to give to the Beloved something that is worthy of him?” (p. 173). Our love for our Lord, who gave himself on the Cross, should excite within us a deep desire to give him the very best in the sacred liturgy, meaning that we desire to give him what has become the common attributes of the traditional Roman Rite: hauntingly beautiful Gregorian chant, elaborate vestments, care and concern in the recitation of the rubrics, and patient attention to his Word. Let us recall the words at the beginning of the 1962 Missal: “Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam”—“I will go unto the altar of God, to God who giveth joy to my youth.” The priest and those who assist at the Mass approach the altar with the joy of a lover, the joy found in youth—but it is a restrained joy, one that does not exude any sort of pride or presumption. A liturgy that is celebrated with this kind of joy and reverence is vastly opposed to the liturgy as commonly celebrated in the average parish; thus, it is not without good reason that Pope Benedict XVI saw Summorum Pontificum as a necessary step for the health of the whole Church. With grateful hearts, let us celebrate and assist at the ancient liturgy of the Church with the proper care and reverence, for the sake of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the Cross.


This is why Pope Francis’s latest motu proprio, Magnum principium, is so problematic. In holding the vernacular as superior to the Latin language in the liturgy, Pope Francis has not only denied what the Vatican Fathers called for, namely, the continued use of Latin in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 36), he has also rejected our great liturgical history of celebrating the liturgy in the language of the Roman Rite—Latin. How can we not compare this motu proprio with the one published by Benedict XVI ten years ago this year? Does it not seek to undermine Benedict’s balanced approach to both forms of the Roman Rite? This action from the Vatican ought to make us fight all the more diligently and bravely for the preservation of our ancient liturgical traditions—indeed, Roman Catholics should not be afraid to celebrate or participate in the Roman Rite of antiquity.