Rorate Caeli

Interview with Dr. Kwasniewski about Discovering the Old Mass, Progressive Liturgists, Common Objections, Ad Orientem, Optionitis, Antiquarianism, and More

The Croatian Catholic page has just published a substantial interview with our fellow contributor Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. The interview was recorded in Norcia (Nursia, Umbria, Italy) this past July, then transcribed and translated into Croatian by the journalist (which explains the conversational tone at times). His story is that of so many of us: how discovering the Traditional Mass changed his life forever, and how it all evolved from there.

The English transcript was offered to Rorate Caeli for publication. The photos are as they appear at the Croatian site.


Before we get into our questions today, Dr. Kwasniewski, tell our readers about yourself. Where did you study and where do you teach?

I was born in Chicago, Illinois. I grew up in New Jersey, where I attended Catholic grade school and an all-boys high school run by Benedictines. During this time I sang in various parish and school choirs and started studying music. I went to Thomas Aquinas College in California for a bachelors degree in liberal arts, then on to the Catholic University of America for a masters and a doctorate in philosophy, with special emphasis on Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. I was hired by the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, under Cardinal Schönborn, and taught philosophy and theology there for almost 8 years. I left Austria to help establish a new liberal arts “Great Books” school in the United States called Wyoming Catholic College. Over the past decade, I’ve taught courses in philosophy, theology, art history, and music. For me, the most satisfying thing I get to do is directing the college choir and scholas for the liturgies.

How did you get into the old Mass? Where did the interest arise from?

It happened somewhat gradually. I didn’t grow up with it at all. I was born in 1971, so I just never saw it; I never knew it even existed, as is the case for a lot of people of my generation and younger. And we’re the people that Pope Benedict XVI was talking about in his letter to the bishops of July 7th 2007, when he said that “it was originally thought that the interest in the old liturgy would die out with the older generations, but it’s meanwhile been shown that young people have found in this form an encounter with the mystery of the most holy Eucharist particularly suited to them.” So that’s what happened with me. I found out at the end of high school, when I was maybe 17 or 18, that there was such a thing as the traditional Latin liturgy. I didn’t have it anywhere nearby, so it was a kind of theoretical knowledge. But I was becoming much more interested in the faith at that time. I was studying it more carefully, I was trying to live it more fully, and so when I had the opportunity in college to start attending the traditional liturgy periodically, it really spoke to me.

How did it strike you when you first started attending?

I found that there was a very deep sense of the mystery of the Mass, of the reverence that we owe to it. And the seriousness of the liturgy was something that really impressed me. Of course, we know that a Mass celebrated with the proper intention and the proper matter is a valid Mass, but in a lot of liturgies I had been to in my life, it seemed as if people weren’t really serious about what they were doing. And when I went to the old Mass, it just seemed that there was this total focus on God and on our Lord Jesus Christ. It was something that both attracted me and provoked me, because it made me wonder: if we really believe what we say we believe about the Mass and the Eucharist, why shouldn’t we always be treating it with this massive adoration, and reverence, and devotion, and care, and seriousness? Why should we not do that?

That began a journey for me of several years, at the end of which I was simply going whenever I could to the traditional liturgy, and only going to the new one when I had to or when I had the ability to influence for the better how it was celebrated, usually through leading sacred music.

The standard liturgical narrative from some professors is that, back before Vatican II, there were the Bad Old Days™. The liturgy was distant, incomprehensible to the faithful, almost conceived of as a magical ritual: the priest does his magical thing there, and the faithful were passive observers, like at a play or an opera. Basically, granny prayed her rosary, and that was the extent of her liturgical participation. And then came Vatican II, and the reforms after Vatican II. And they did away with useless repetition, and all of the medieval accretions and impurities that crept into the original, pure liturgy of the early Church. Vatican II insisted on vernacularization so that Mass could be understandable, and the altars were turned around so that people can understand what is happening and actively participate in what is going on. So we’re living in the Good New Days™. But you don’t buy this narrative, do you?

No, I don’t, and of course you’ve raised a lot of different topics, so let me see if I can address several of them.

The first and most basic fact is that we will never understand the mystery of the sacred liturgy, we will never comprehend it, because it is from God and for God. St. Augustine says: “If you comprehend it, it’s not God.” Obviously we want to have some notion of what we’re doing, what we’re involved in, but the idea of making it all intelligible to people actually leads to a kind of dumbing-down of the liturgy, where suddenly the prayers are put into everyday language, and mystery evaporates—that is, the idea that we are participating in an awesome, time-transcending, cosmic sacrifice which is more important than anything else we do, and more mysterious than anything else we do; something that’s really transcendent, that should leave us speechless, full of wonder. 

The idea that we can somehow wrap that in a package and hand it over to people, and say: “OK, now you’ve got it, and we’re done with our work”—this is profoundly contrary to the nature of the liturgy. That’s why we see, when we look at the history of liturgy in every period and in every place, there are always features of the liturgy that emphasize its solemnity, its sacredness, its specialness, the fact that this is something set aside from everyday life.

The Byzantine liturgy is full of this. And even though the Byzantine liturgy is in the language of the people, it has an iconostas, there are many things that only the clergy can do, there are many silent prayers, there are all kinds of signs of reverence and awe that show us that this is not the marketplace, this is not the business office, this is not the classroom—this is a special and sacred time. And so liturgy needs to have elements in it that convey that to us. One of them for the West was Latin. Yes, once upon a time people spoke Latin, but nobody spoke the Latin of the liturgy—that’s a very formal, and high, polished, elegant, eloquent Latin, poetic Latin. And as time went on, the Latin language became a kind of badge of the distinctiveness of the liturgy: this is the only place where you encounter these prayers said in these ways. And eventually that became, I would argue, a kind of sacramental, like holy water or like the Rosary; it became something that led us to holiness, even though in and of itself Latin is just a language, but the Latin of the liturgy became a hallowed vehicle for connecting us with the divine.

The other thing I want to say in connection with this is that the liturgists in the 50s, 60s and 70s were often guilty of a kind of contempt for common people, in that they spoke of the common people as though they had no understanding—they were just so ignorant, and illiterate, and unwashed, and disgraceful… and we intelligent, expert liturgists, we have to retrain them and show them what it really means to be Christian. That’s an incredible arrogance. The Catholic faith flourished for centuries and centuries with people who “didn’t understand the liturgy”, and now, with all the expert advice—is it flourishing? I don’t think it is. You can’t necessarily blame that only on the liturgical reform, but certainly what they predicted didn’t happen—in fact, the opposite happened. So whether that’s a cause or whether that’s a coincidence, that’s another debate.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Curé of Ars. There’s that famous story that the Curé of Ars found an old man in his church who was just sitting there for long periods of time, and the curé finally asked him one day: “What are you doing?” And he said: “I look at him, and He looks at me.” And the Catechism quotes this as contemplative prayer, the essence of prayer. That’s the kind of prayer that people encounter with the old liturgy, and that’s what granny was doing more often than not—not just mindlessly telling beads.

I think we need to recapture or recognize the profound piety that people had, which was nourished by the liturgy. There are several other things you asked about—do you want to go over them one by one?

I’ll just throw out the more or less standard objections you can hear, and give you the opportunity to respond. So, one objection would be something like this: Vatican II called for active participation. But you can’t participate actively unless you understand the prayers or the readings or what’s going on. So we need vernacular liturgy. 

Right, [that's what they say]. So, I think I can be more specific now in connection with this. Active participation even by Vatican II is defined as primarily the investment of the mind and the heart in what is going on. So the first thing presupposed in active participation is that you understand what the Mass is, what the liturgy is—that it’s the holy sacrifice of the Cross, that it’s your participation in the redemptive Passion of our Lord, and in all the mysteries of His life. So, if you don’t have that understanding, if the liturgy doesn’t nourish that deep understanding in the mind, and in the heart, then it does not matter how much you’re standing up, sitting down, kneeling, speaking, singing, clapping, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing actively, externally, if you don’t have that interior participation in the Mass. 

It seems to me that it’s true to say that there were times and places where people could have been more involved in the liturgy, they could have had a better understanding of its prayers, they could have sung the chants as pope Pius X asked for—Pius XI, Pius XII, many popes asked for that—and it was happening in many places, but it’s true that external participation does have a place, and yet it’s not the most important place. What we’ve seen is a transition from a Catholic world in which participation was real, but mostly silent, and interior, to a world in which participation is external, and vocal, but not very internal, and without a lot of actual understanding, or without feeling the spirit of the liturgy in the way that Guardini and Ratzinger talk about it. It’s clear that we need to have both interior and exterior participation, and that both of these constitute active participation. There’s a real danger in a simplistic understanding of “active.”

Sometimes it’s mentioned that maybe a better translation of the term “active participation” would be “actual participation,” since the Latin term actuosa means actual, not activity in the sense of “I’m doing all these things.”

Yes, I think that’s true. It means fully engaged, with all of one’s powers.

How about this: the original language of the Roman rite was Greek, and it only got translated into Latin when people no longer understood Greek. So, what the reformers did was basically the same. They made the liturgy understandable, or at least more accessible to the people out of pastoral concern. Why would we want something most people can’t understand?

That’s an interesting question. The early Church prayed in Greek. That wasn’t necessarily the common language of everybody, but it was certainly a widespread language, and it was the language of the intelligentsia, so the liturgy was able to be conducted in a formal manner in that language. And it seems that the Church, always acting from a deep conservatism, hesitated for quite a while before making the switch from Greek to Latin—that is, the Church in Rome, the Western Church, so to speak. And when that change was made, the kind of Latin into which the liturgy was translated was, as I said before, a noble and high version of the Latin language. It wasn’t the street language; it wasn’t the vernacular in the sense of everyday speech. 

But the interesting thing is that having made that shift, that fundamental shift, it seems that the Church never—never until the end of the 20th century—seriously called it into question. We have to respect the fact that the pace of change in liturgical history slows down as we go through the centuries. Things are added, but what’s already there is preserved. And as Catholics we believe that the Holy Spirit guides the development of the liturgy, the organic development of the liturgy. So, had it truly been necessary or even advisable for the Church to switch from Latin into other languages, she would have done that, and much earlier on, too. The fact that she didn’t do that even after other languages had developed out of Latin—especially the Romance languages, and even when the missionaries brought the Latin liturgy to the New World, and to tribes in Africa that had no clue about Latin—the fact that the Church held firmly to that Latin liturgical heritage meant that it had become something more than a practical convention to her. It had become something sacred, something precious, something extremely valuable that wasn’t a mere external; it wasn’t just like the color of someone’s hair or eyes, or the fashion of their clothing.

Here is a good comparison: the vestments of the liturgy developed a little bit for a few centuries. As you know, the vestments of the liturgy are adaptations of ancient Roman clothing, common Roman clothing. But after a certain point, the development of the liturgical clothing stopped. Meanwhile secular clothing kept developing, and there have been a hundred different styles of clothing, but the liturgical clothing—it developed a little bit; there are different types, different cuts, different styles, but they’re fundamentally the same: you always have the alb, and the chasuble, and the amice, and the maniple, even though they might take on different shapes or colors. And so, in liturgical history you had more development earlier on, and less development later on. This, it seems to me, makes sense, because as the liturgy is brought to greater and greater fullness and perfection, it shouldn’t need to change much anymore.

The funny thing to me is that we didn’t have serious complaints about the Latin liturgy from anyone but the experts. It’s the self-styled experts who kept saying: “Oh no, we have to change this for the common people.” The common people weren’t out there clamoring, and signing petitions or marching with placards saying: “We need the liturgy in Italian, or Spanish, or French, or German.” They liked the fact that it was always the same, and wherever you went, you found the same liturgy. 

Maybe a relevant point would be that the actual conciliar text about liturgical reform Sacrosanctum Concilium said that Latin should be retained, and not abolished. 

Exactly. It said that the limits of the vernacular could be extended; the use of it could be extended, but it went on to say that it would make the most sense to extend it only to the parts of the Mass that are changing from day to day.

So, another way of thinking about your question is: most of the liturgy of the Church is very stable, and repetitious. You only have to hear the Kyrie or the Gloria a few times before you can figure out what it’s saying. I know from experience that my children, and the children of many other families in the communities I’ve lived in, can sing, and recite, and understand the repeated Latin prayers of the liturgy without difficulty.

Again, I think this goes back to contempt for the intelligence of ordinary Catholics. The liturgy of the Mass can be printed on a few pages—it’s not a lot of text. And beyond that, of course, we have the fact that as time goes on, we also have an increase in literacy, and part of the Liturgical Movement in its healthy phase was reintroducing people to the prayers of the liturgy through printed missals. By the time you get to the middle of the 20th century, anybody who can read can follow the entire liturgy from front to back, from start to finish—they don’t need to do that every single moment, but they’re capable of doing that, and they often did exactly that. Really, it’s more about educating people into the riches of their own heritage than about changing it all around on the assumption that they aren’t educated or won’t ever get educated. That seems like a defeatist attitude.

Do you think the exodus of the faithful from the mid-60s to the mid-70s had to do with the liturgical reform?

It had a lot of cultural causes, but there’s no question that the number, magnitude, and rapid pace of the changes played a huge part in disorienting, disenchanting, and disinheriting the Catholic faithful from their own Church. It was as if the clergy were suddenly springing a new religion on them, with new “values” and new “priorities.” Some adapted to it willingly, some went along with it grudgingly, and all too many marched right out the doors, never to return. Bill Buckley, a famous American political journalist, said he wanted to believe that the changes handed down from the hierarchy must somehow be for the good of the people, but he said it was the hardest act of faith he’d ever had to make—and the fruits of it were never apparent. One might almost think of it as reverse transubstantiation: we had the living body of Catholic tradition with all its beauty and nobility, and now the Church was transforming it back into ordinary bread. But in our hearts we want the living body. The world is full of bread and gives it out plentifully to those who serve its interests. The Church is meant to give us what the world cannot. So, in the end, I guess I’m just elaborating on Ratzinger’s sober statement: “The crisis in the Church is to a large extent caused by the crisis in the liturgy.”

Cardinal Sarah has been saying similar things about the controversial topic of liturgical orientation. One argument you hear for versus populum is that the laity should join themselves to the sacrifice of the Mass, but they also have a royal priestly character, besides the ministerial priesthood of the priest. So, they have the right to see what’s going on at the altar, and that means versus populum is the better option.

If you don’t mind my saying so, I think that’s a very weak argument. The faithful don’t have a “right” to see what’s going on at the altar because, in a sense, there’s nothing to see. The miracle of transubstantiation isn’t visible, and, as one person said, when the priest turned around, and people could see what he was doing, suddenly they didn’t think it was such a big deal anymore. Because, in reality, the Mass is addressed to our faith, not to our sight. It’s not about watching a show—let’s say, a cooking demonstration going on in front of you, where you put in a little bit of this spice, and that herb, and you learn how to mix it up yourself. Well, you’re never going to do that unless you’re a priest, so you don’t need to “see it.”

The deeper issue here is that when the priest faces eastwards, he is facing in the same direction as the people. Or rather, the people are facing in the same direction as the priest. And it’s clearer that everyone is offering the sacrifice—the priest in his own priestly way, and the people in their baptismal way, with their baptismal priesthood. Everybody is united in offering up the sacrifice to the East—and Scripture says that the East is a symbol of Christ who is to come, and He will come to us from the East. So that eschatological sign is the sign of our longing for heaven, and for the return of Christ. As it says in the Book of Revelation, Maranatha, “Come, Lord Jesus.” That whole symbolism, in my experience, makes people feel more involved in the offering of the Mass, rather than less involved.

If the priest turns around and is facing the people, suddenly there’s a dynamic of the priest and the people who are facing off to each other, and now the priest is over against the people as somebody who has to entertain them or animate them or get their attention or be careful how his hair looks or how his face looks. Suddenly there’s this dichotomy, maybe even an antagonism between the two parties, whereas when the priest turns around, he becomes anonymous, he is the icon of Christ, and all the people can, so to speak, “ride up to heaven” on his chasuble. I think that’s exactly the experience people have at a Mass celebrated ad orientem. 

When people go to Mass, and they see the priest not facing them, maybe it’s uncomfortable for them at first, but it helps them to realize that this is not about us. The priest is not talking to us; he’s talking to God. The priest is offering a sacrifice to God, from which we benefit. And therefore it’s very important for us not to have the Mass turned towards us—that’s a fundamental error, that’s what we call anthropocentrism.

Was it Ratzinger who said that the priest is not “turning his back to the people,” it’s more like he’s leading them?

Exactly. As it’s been humorously said, would you want the pilot of your airplane to be facing you or facing forward? Whenever you’re going somewhere, everybody should be facing in the same direction. 

It’s often said to “reform of the reform” types and traditionalists: “Well, you people insist on organic development. You object to construction by committee. But what Trent did was not organic development; it did exactly the same thing as the reformers after Vatican II: to the best of its abilities, it got some experts, and they tried to restore the liturgy of the Fathers. And then it imposed this rite, which was the result of the work of experts.

This is a terribly fallacious argument. Anybody who has studied liturgical history knows that the reforms that took place after the council of Trent were minor reforms compared to the ones that took place in the mid-to-late 1960s. For example, the order of Mass contained in the missal of Pius V, promulgated in 1570, is fundamentally the same as what you find in Rome in the 15th century, which is the same as what you find in the 14th century—and you can keep going back.

The very heart of the Mass, the Roman Canon, goes all the way back to the 6th century and earlier, but its definitive form is already given to us from the late 6th century. So, in fact, the changes made in the Tridentine period under Pius V were ones that anybody would recognize as cosmetic, minor changes. Maybe the biggest change they made was abolishing most of the Sequences. And there are people today who regret that fact, but what his committee saw was that of all of the parts of the Mass, those were the most recent additions, and they were also the most regionally constricted, that is to say, they were things that had popped up much more recently, and in order to preserve what everybody had preserved up until that time, they thought that a simplification of the Sequences was advisable. One could agree or disagree, but it’s interesting to me that that was the only major target or casualty, you might say, of that committee: something that had developed rather recently—not the things that had been in place for centuries. Those are the things they would have never dreamed of taking away.

Another thing we could note is that Pius V’s edition of the missal added certain things to the order of Mass. For example, the prayers at the foot of the altar—which are very beloved to Catholics who attend the old Mass all over the world (Psalm 42, the double Confiteor, the dialogue, the prayers going up to the altar)—those things were started as private priestly prayers of preparation, but Pius V ordered that they be included in the order of the Mass. And that was an enrichment of the Mass, that wasn’t changing something, or subtracting something, but adding something. That’s generally the way liturgical history works—by addition, not by subtraction. Similarly, the last Gospel became fused with the liturgy, when before it had been a private devotion of the priest, of thanksgiving. 

We have to distinguish between liturgical change that consists in enhancement or addition, and liturgical change that consists in deconstruction, or even destruction. 

On the topic of enhancement, couldn’t someone say: The new Mass introduced many, many options, even many new canons—including Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children and things like that. So, if liturgy develops by way of addition, well, we’ve got a whole bunch of new options. Isn’t that good?

No, no, options are terrible, terrible, terrible. It leads to what I call “optionitis.” In all traditional liturgies of East and West you can see this, no matter which one you look at—whether it’s the Mozarabic, or the Syro-Malabar, or the Byzantine, or the Ambrosian, or the Roman, whatever tradition you look at—there’s a certain point after which (and it’s pretty early on, it’s in the first millennium for sure, and even the first half of the first millennium) you have fixity of liturgical forms developing, whereby priests and bishops inherit a certain body of prayers, and texts, and chants, and readings, and those are the ones they use. They don’t tamper with them; they perpetuate them. Whatever was happening in the early centuries—and we have very scattered, and incomplete records of that period—it’s nevertheless a fact that there was an inherent drive in Christianity towards fixity of liturgical forms. And this was not some kind of late medieval corruption. This was something you see early on—you see it in Pope Gregory the Great, who died in, I believe, 604. So this is very early indeed. And Pope Gregory the Great is the one who is finalizing various prayers so that they can have that nobility and fixity of form.

The reason for this, it seems to me, is quite simple: when you’re dealing with the most sacred and solemn realities of all, you want to use the most noble, and beautiful, and orthodox, and well-expressed prayers. And if you’ve inherited them, why would you think that you’re better than your ancestors; that you could invent a better prayer, or that you could spontaneously do something better? In fact, when most people have to make up something extemporaneously, it’s a bit of an embarrassment. You see this at weddings, when people have to make toasts. If they could memorize a famous toast, they’d probably end up doing a lot better than if they just tried to make one up themselves. And this is just a toast which has no lasting significance. But when we’re talking about the awesome sacrifice of the Mass, or baptism, or confirmation, or penance, or any of the sacraments, there’s a reason why the Christian people has this instinct for preservation and conservation, fixity and stability.

What the modern options have done to the liturgy, and especially the openings for the priest to make things up in his own words, to use “these or similar words,” what it’s actually led to is a lot of banality in the liturgy, a lot of sub-standard, second-rate pseudo-liturgy. And you never know what you’re going to get, that’s the problem. It’s like going to McDonalds or Burger King—are you going to get this option, or this option, or this option? In that sense it’s very disconcerting for the faithful, who just want to go and get out of the confusion and complexity of the secular world, and focus as purely as they can on the Lord, and really give that time to the Lord. If you’re going in and things are always changing, like a ground that’s shifting underneath you, it’s very difficult to establish that relationship of prayer. It’s just a profoundly unsettling aspect of the new liturgy.

Given all the various options that are liturgically lawful in the missal of Pope Paul VI, you can celebrate the new Mass in a way—ad orientem, using exclusively Latin, chanting the readings—which would be to an outside observer practically indistinguishable from the old Mass, but you can also celebrate it in a completely different way which emphasizes the differences between what we now call the two forms.

That’s true. Martin Mosebach once said: “Isn’t it possible to celebrate the new Mass reverently and beautifully? Yes. But the problem is that it’s possible.” In other words, it should be necessary to do it that way. And that’s the way it is with the old liturgy: if you follow the rubrics, it will be done properly; it will be done suitably, and fittingly. What Mosebach says is that with the new Mass the priest has to be a holy person. Now, of course, the priest should always be a holy person, but with the new Mass, if he’s not holy, then the liturgy could be a disaster, whereas if he is holy, he will do something that is prayerful and reverent.

The old Mass is like an aircraft carrier: it’s a machine built by geniuses which can be operated by idiots. That is to say, it has to be in a certain sense bomb-proof. You can’t make it rely on the personality of the celebrant.

In the interest of time, let me pose a final argument to you. Benedict XVI famously said that what is held sacred by one generation cannot suddenly be considered dangerous and wholly disregarded. But the new Mass restored many of the things that the ancients held as sacred in their liturgies, such as prayers of the faithful, or the offertory procession—the procession with the gifts—or communion in the hand. So these shouldn’t be considered dangerous and discarded today.

That’s what people call a sophistical argument. There are two different levels on which one could answer that kind of argument. One level is simply to note, as Pius XII did in his great encyclical Mediator Dei from 1947, that just because certain things were done in the ancient Church, and have fallen out of practice for many centuries, doesn’t mean automatically that you can or should reintroduce them right now. In fact, the Church deepens, grows in her understanding of the liturgy and of what she’s doing. That’s why we have liturgical development to begin with.

In the ancient Church, if people received in the hand—and, by the way, there’s some scholarly debate over how widespread that custom was, and even how to interpret certain Patristic texts on it—they received in the hand very reverently, they covered their hands with a cloth, and many precautions were taken so that none of the bread would be lost—precautions we don’t take anymore. So, we’ve revived in a fake way something that was done differently in the ancient Church. But the reason that practice stopped is because at a certain point people realized: “You know, this isn’t really working very well. Let’s go to a system that works better.” And so, we actually had a better way of distributing communion, and invoking archaic practices—we try to bring back this practice, but we’re not even doing it in the way that the ancients did it, and meanwhile we’re turning our backs on a superior practice that wisely developed. 

So, I regret to say that there’s a lot of… what shall I say… deception involved in making those kinds of arguments. People want to “go back to early practices” not because they are full of piety for the ancients (you can see that from how they turn a blind eye to the ascetical practices of the ancients!), but because the underdeveloped pluralism of early practices easily serves as a matrix for their modernist agendas—like the agenda of denying the Real Presence, or placing it on the same level as Christ’s presence in the people.

The other kind of response to this argument is that sometimes what scholars or experts say was done in the ancient Church, when they reconstruct this and that based on bits of fragmentary evidence—later scholars come along and prove them wrong. In the early Latin tradition there wasn’t an offertory procession like the kind of thing we have now, where a couple of people bring bread and wine down the aisle and give it to the priest, and he takes it up to the altar. There’s very little evidence that anything like that ever took place in the Western liturgies. On the other hand, ironically, there was always some kind of offertory rite, and yet this is just what Bugnini and the Consilium took out of the liturgy when they reformed it. The way it’s done in the Novus Ordo corresponds to nothing that was ever done historically in the Christian liturgy. And so it’s a kind of artificial archeologism—it’s not even a real recovery of something. 

How about the prayer of the faithful?

The same thing: it’s a theory you find in people like Josef Jungmann, that when the priest says “Oremus” at the beginning of the offertory, that’s a sort of leftover introduction to the prayer of the faithful. But there are other good scholars who say, “No, that’s not at all what that was for,” and that the prayers we find, say, on Good Friday—those long intercessions—were for special occasions, they weren’t an everyday or even every Sunday affair. (We’re speaking about the Roman Rite and its derivatives. The Ambrosian rite has wonderful intercessions, akin to those of the Byzantine liturgy.)

Apart from being careful not to ignore how the Holy Spirit guides the Church and inspires the development of the liturgy, one also has to be suspicious about scholarly theories because the scholarly theories are often proved wrong. For instance, there were scholars who argued that versus populum was the original format of the liturgy. But almost nobody holds that anymore. Scholars hold all kinds of positions, but not that one. It’s a dangerous thing to yoke yourself, to connect yourself to a cart that’s being driven by scholars, because they might just drive you off somewhere over a cliff. But if you connect yourself to tradition, you are guaranteed to be following in the line that the Holy Spirit willed for the Church.

On a final note, you wrote a couple of books on the liturgy, right? And you contribute to the New Liturgical Movement, so can you tell us a bit about those?

Sure, thank you for asking. Three years ago I published a book called Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis. The subtitle is “Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church.” It’s a number of essays that deal with different important aspects of the liturgy. I aim to show people what’s at stake in these questions. There’s a lot at stake. For example, one chapter is about why it was such a bad idea to give up on the private celebrations of the Mass in favor of concelebration. Another chapter is called “Latin: the Ideal Liturgical Language,” where I make a case that Latin is not just a quaint tradition of the past but something vitally important for the unity, the self-identity, of the Catholic Church in the postmodern pluralistic world. This book, I’m happy to say, has been published in Czech, Polish, and German, will soon be available in Spanish and Portuguese, and is being translated into Italian, French, and Belorusian. It seems to have “struck a nerve.”

The more recent book came out this past summer: Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages. I would describe this book as a high-level apologetic for the recovery of traditional liturgy for modern and postmodern people—that is, assuming for the sake of argument that the traditional liturgy had a central place in the past, I want to make the argument that it is especially important for people now—that it responds to our particular needs now more than ever. And that, of course, sounds paradoxical, because people might think: “How can an elaborate medieval liturgy respond to the needs of man in the 21st century?” But I make that very argument at length: our problems, what we’re lacking, what we’re missing, what we’re confused about, the traditional liturgy responds to those things in a way that the new liturgy doesn’t. The new liturgy confirms or supports us in some of our modern errors and modern misconceptions; it does not help to dispel our modern spiritual malaise. La messe du toujours, “the Mass of always,” provokes us and challenges us in ways that we need.