Rorate Caeli

“Hyperpapalism and Liturgical Mutation: The Case Against the Novus Ordo” — Full Text of Dr. Kwasniewski’s Lepanto Lecture

Rorate is pleased to present the full text of the lecture given by Dr. Kwasniewski at the Lepanto Conference held in New York City on February 16, 2019. A video of this lecture may be found at this link. The text has been edited for publication.
Hyperpapalism and Liturgical Mutation: The Case Against the Novus Ordo

Peter A. Kwasniewski

Just over fifty years ago there occurred one of the most momentous and fateful events in the history of the Catholic Church—the promulgation of the new Order of Mass, or Novus Ordo Missae, by Paul VI in his Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum of April 3, 1969. Half a century later, it is fairly common to find conservative clergy saying something like the following. “The reform of the liturgy is not what propelled the postconciliar crisis in the Church; rather, it was doctrinal and moral relativism that led to liturgical chaos. The liturgy is in shambles because doctrine and morals are in shambles. Put colloquially, don’t blame the car, blame the drunk driver. The Novus Ordo Missae and, for that matter, all the reformed sacramental rites, the blessings, the exorcisms, the Liturgy of the Hours—it’s all fine in itself, and if we approach it with the right attitude and follow ‘best practices,’ we can have a truly Catholic liturgical life, minus the doctrinal and moral aberrations that we all rightly decry. We can, in other words, have our cake and eat it, too: Novus in what we do, Vetus in how we do it.”

To me this seems like a case of severe naiveté. Joseph Ratzinger famously remarked that “the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.”[1] And this latter crisis stems directly from several problematic features of the liturgical reform itself, and the results that emerged from it.

The Cost of Sudden and Major Change

The simple fact that, after well over a millennium of stability in liturgical form, there were sudden and major changes to the liturgy in every aspect transmitted a message: “Even the most important things in Catholicism—the things that seem permanent and rock-solid—can change at a moment’s notice, as long as the Pope wills it.”

Yes, the liturgy has always developed slowly and in small ways, but never, in the entire history of Eastern or Western Christianity, has there been anything remotely comparable to the quantity and quality of change witnessed in the decade from about 1963 to 1973. This, in and of itself, quite independently of whether certain changes were arguably good or bad, had a catastrophically destabilizing effect on the mentality of Catholics. Some left the Church for good, scandalized, demoralized, disillusioned. Others bit their lips and put up with a lot of nonsense. Still others tore off the habit (as it were) and embraced liturgical experimentation, pluralism, and subjectivism with wild abandon. All Catholics were profoundly damaged—a damage that is cumulative and lasting, like deep wounds that affect a family for generations, or genetic defects that are passed on to offspring. Due to its rate and scale of change, the liturgical reform unleashed upheaval, confusion, and anarchy. A fracture or wound was introduced into the Mystical Body that has not only not healed, but has grown worse with each passing decade.

Our faculty of reason, peering through the lenses of philosophy, psychology, and sociology, tells us that a colossal change to the way Catholics worship could carry one and only one meaning—namely, that what we were doing before was flawed, incorrect, unhealthy, even displeasing to God. This, indeed, is still the position of those who oppose the traditional Latin liturgy: they consider it to be an inherently bad form of worship and they do not hesitate to say so openly. I think we who love the classical Roman Rite owe them the courtesy of total transparency by admitting, with equal candor, that we consider the Novus Ordo to be an inherently messed-up form of worship.

I’ve heard more than a few people say: “We’ve left the silly season behind us and now, decades later, we’re coming to the right balance. The Novus Ordo has been accepted by the vast majority of Catholics and is here to stay, while the evils of the chaotic post-Council have been left behind by younger clergy with better theology and training.”[2]

This is Pollyanna speaking. Nothing can be well in the Body of Christ so long as the predominant liturgy of the Western Church exists in a state of novelty-ridden, archaeologistic, ideological rupture from the Latin tradition as it actually unfolded over the first two millennia of Christianity. It’s not about “achieving the right balance”—that’s a Newtonian way of speaking. It’s about the difference between an organism and a mechanism. It isn’t only that a rupture occurred; it is that we are living in a state of rupture. It’s like the difference between the French Revolution, which took place over a certain number of years in the past, and the liberalism of laicity, which has haunted and harmed us ever since.

Someone might object: If we change back to traditional Roman Catholic worship today, in 2019, would we not be guilty of the same crime, by inflicting sudden and major change on the People of God? Won’t this, too, have the effect of upheaval, confusion, and anarchy? My answer is that the two cases are altogether different. I do not deny that the greatness of the inherited Catholic liturgy was in many ways obscured or sidelined prior to the Council, and that the original Liturgical Movement had some legitimate proposals for restoring that greatness, such as privileging the sung Mass over the recited Mass, and encouraging the faithful to sing the responses at Mass. Nevertheless, the violence done to the liturgy in the reforms of Pius XII and especially Paul VI marked a transition from health to sickness, riches to poverty. As the authentic Roman liturgy is rediscovered and reintroduced, we pass from disease to well-being, from penury to wealth. Both transitions can only be called enormous changes, but one of them fractured and wounded, while the other binds and heals. The traditional movement wishes, in imitation of Christ, “to seek and to save that which was lost.” As discomforting and trying as it will be for some, the recovery of Catholic tradition is salutary, inevitable, necessary for the peace of the Church, and even, I would say, for her survival.

On what basis do I make such bold claims? Since my time is limited and these are huge topics, I will focus my critique today on three problem areas—the evils of arbitrariness, the fact of watered-down, dumbed-down content, and the dangers of hyperpapalism—and then speak of what we can do to heal the wounded body.

The Evils of Arbitrariness

All liturgical traditions, as they grew under the influence of the Holy Spirit, acquired fixity of language and ritual. Whatever improvisation may have been a feature of early Christian liturgy rapidly gave way, for obvious theological and pastoral reasons, to definite forms couched in hallowed language, passed down and venerated as the embodiment of apostolic and patristic wisdom. Look at the history of every liturgical rite and see: there is no exception to this rule.

The decision, therefore, to re-introduce a wide latitude and choice of options in the neo-Roman liturgy was a blow aimed directly at the traditional understanding and practice of liturgy, a blow against formal, public, objective, ecclesial prayer, and a confirmation of modern voluntarism and liberalism.[3] In other words, it did not challenge modern man’s hubris but capitulated to his proclivities. It is not just a liturgy designed for “modern man,” viewed as a sort of exotic object of evangelization, having little in common with his predecessors; it is also a liturgy from modernity, permeated with the principles of Modernism that were condemned by St. Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis. These principles include the following: that religion is a matter primarily of individual sentiment, an intuition of the heart, an immanent surge of “need” for the divine; that each age must discover for itself the meaning of religion, which will reflect man’s evolution in consciousness; that the idea of fixed and stable doctrines, rules of behavior, and ritual actions cannot be reconciled with the progress of science and philosophy; that the miraculous and the supernatural have to be purged or at least deemphasized; that the purpose of Scripture is to elicit new experiences in us of being touched by God, and the purpose of sacraments is to remind ourselves of an ethical worldview and to stir up an awareness of our personal value. These principles are not just different from the principles of Catholicism; they are at odds with them.

How does liturgical voluntarism play itself out on the ground? On Monday, one can pray Eucharistic Prayer II, because Monday’s a busy day; on Tuesday, let’s go with EP III, so that we can mention aloud a couple of optionally commemorated saints; on Wednesday, why not go out on a limb with the avant-garde EP IV; and, if one happens to be so inclined, on Thursday we might run with the old Roman Canon, which has a quaint charm of its own. In this way, the reformed liturgy elevates to the level of a principle of public worship the arbitrary will and feelings of the celebrant. I say “arbitrary” in the strict sense: whatever his good or bad reasons may be for choosing this or that option, it still comes from himself, and to that extent undermines liturgy as a work of God and of the Church, whose humble minister the priest is called to be. The paradox emerges of a lex orandi that binds its user to be unbound from a law of motion and diction; that requires him to be unrequired to act or speak in this or that way; that compels an unbecoming freedom, in a realm wherein the soul and the body should be most obviously subject to their heavenly Master.[4]

In the Christian East, the days on which different anaphoras are used are set in stone; there is no choice involved. The same practice prevailed in the West: regardless of the particular regional variant of the Latin liturgy one was using, there was always a fixed rule of worship that all believers, clergy and laity alike, received with reverence from tradition. In this way it mirrored the doctrine of the faith, which is received from Christ, the Apostles, and the Church, not fabricated or modified to suit the convenience, whims, or theories of any person, place, or age.

Thus, just as we accept from Our Lord Jesus Christ that taking another partner while your spouse is still alive is adultery, and from St. Paul that adulterers cannot guiltlessly approach the Blessed Sacrament or inherit the kingdom of heaven, so too, we accept that the Sacrifice of the Cross was handed down to us in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and that the Apostles are the first priests, ordained to perpetuate this mystery. We have no more reason for reverencing marriage or the gift of human life than we have for reverencing the Eucharist or the Mass of which It is the center; put the other way around, one who thinks of liturgy as a human artifact we can tinker with in the workshop will sooner or later treat morality as a social construct we can manipulate at will. In this sense, Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia is perfectly consistent with Paul VI’s Missale Romanum; the abolition of the death penalty harmonizes with the abolition of exorcisms in the rite of baptism.

For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, Divine Providence is placing before us in the past half-century the most dramatic proof ever given in the history of the Church of the truth of the axiom Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. The course of our prayer cannot but affect the course of our doctrine, and the course of our doctrine will necessarily spill over into the realm of behavior. It is not for nothing that the prophets of ancient Israel compared idolatry and the violation of the temple cult to fornication and adultery. Massive change in the lex orandi announced to the world the possibility and indeed the probability of massive change in the lex credendi, to be followed by massive change in the lex vivendi.

Watered-down, Dumbed-down Content

Then there is the notorious fact that much of the content of the new missal can only be described as watered-down doctrine, music, and ceremonial, and, in comparison to the old, as lighter fare, like a limited salad bar.

The work of Lauren Pristas has demonstrated in embarrassing detail that the Collects of the missal were systematically rewritten to downplay or even eliminate dogmatic, moral, and ascetical elements considered to be distasteful to “modern man,” and to inculcate new, more timely principles. Thus mentions of fasting, bodily maceration, and contempt of the world, prominent in the season of Lent, were purged and replaced with inoffensive generalities. It is as if the reformers, perhaps tired of the growing disharmony between tradition and modernity, wanted to replace literal fasting and abstinence with metaphorical fasting from the banquet of Catholic ceremonial and abstinence from the meat of traditional prayers.

Consider for a moment this astonishing statistic: of the 1,182 orations in the traditional Roman Missal, only 36% made it into the new Missal; and half of these were then altered. The result is that only 17% of the old orations remained intact from the 1962 missal to the 1969 missal.[5] How this can be considered acceptable to any Catholic conscience is completely beyond me.

What Professor Pristas showed concerning the Collects of the Sundays in Proper Seasons can be and has been shown in regard to every other area of the liturgy. One could look at the cycle of Gospels of the usus antiquior, on which we have homilies from St. Gregory the Great and others of the first millennium, witnesses to its great antiquity and universality. This cycle was taken away from us by the reformers, to be replaced with their own brainchild. The preface of Apostles was transformed from a deprecatory into an declarative text: whereas before the Church begged that the Lord, through the Apostles’ intercession, would not desert His Church, now she arrogantly assumes He will not, regardless of how badly her shepherds behave. The rite of baptism, indeed the rites of all the sacraments, were modified nearly past recognition. The list goes on and on. Everywhere one looks, one sees tradition suppressed, development rejected, novelty gaily pursued. How can anyone, confronted with this Everest of evidence, claim that there has been no rupture?

Our world is obsessed with low-fat this and low-calorie that; Paul VI, seeming to anticipate the Zeitgeist, gave us a low-fat, low-calorie liturgical diet. Almost every significant change in the liturgy went in the direction of simplifying, suppressing, abbreviating, amputating. But Almighty God thinks very differently about the kind of worship we are to give Him, and the kind of sustenance He wishes to provide for us. In the book of Ezekiel He tells us: “The priests and Levites … shall come near to me, to minister to me: and they shall stand before me, to offer me the fat, and the blood” (Eze 44:15). In Leviticus, succinctly: Omnis adeps, Domini erit (Lev 3:16), “all fat is the Lord’s.” Deo optimo maximo, “to God, most good, most great,” nothing should be offered except that which is greatest and best. The Psalmist says: “May He be mindful of all thy sacrifices: and may thy whole burnt offering be made fat,” holocaustum tuum pingue fiat (Ps 19:4), and again in the book of Daniel: “As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee” (Dan 3:40). When we give to God the best of the sacrifice, He feeds us in turn with the best of Himself: “And he fed them with the fat of wheat, and filled them with honey out of the rock” (Ps 80:17)—a verse that supplies the Introit of the Mass of Corpus Christi: “Cibavit eos ex ádipe frumenti.” One of the great psalms sung at Lauds puts it best: Sicut adipe et pinguedine repleatur anima mea, et labiis exsultationis laudabit os meum, “Let my soul be filled as with marrow and fatness: and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps 62:6).

The fat of the sacrifice is not only Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, who is the very best and greatest gift from God; it is also our efforts inspired by God and united with Christ, the fullness of our prayers and praises, fine arts and servile arts, our physical movements and spiritual elevations. The development of the traditional liturgical rites of East and West is the most special endowment of Divine Providence upon the Church, because He deserves, demands, and delights in the richest offering we men can make to Him, and He therefore provides us with the sacrifice—not only in the naked elements of bread and wine, but in the lavishly clothed, royally adorned, symbolically dense act of worship that He caused to appear in the midst of His temple by a long history of cultural concentration and refinement. This is the whole burnt offering. Our liturgical rites should indeed be like “thousands of fat lambs.”[6]

When we look with care and piety, we find that what tradition has given us is far better than anything we might have come up with on our own, no matter how many “experts” we cram on to a committee and how much papal muscle we put behind them. The Divine Office—let us say, Lauds or Vespers—furnishes an irrefutable example of the more-than-human magnificence of a slowly-matured manner of singing the high praises of God. The undulating verses of the psalms, chanted in the eight Gregorian tones with their subtly varying terminations, the lovely antiphons that frame them; the gentle build-up to a chapter, a hymn, a versicle, the Benedictus or Magnificat antiphon, the Gospel canticle, and concluding prayers… Nothing we could ever invent sitting around a table would be able to compare with it for compelling musicality, structural coherence, aptness of content, scriptural saturation, and integration with the Mass. And notice that I have not even begun to talk about the indescribable riches of the countless polyphonic settings of the Office, the Mass, and devotional texts of every description; the sublime architecture of the buildings made to house these rituals and reverberate with their music; the frescoes, sculptures, and windows that fill them with silent companions and speechless narratives; the innumerable vestments, vessels, and furnishings made for the altar of sacrifice, where the King and Center of All Hearts reigns victorious from His Cross.

The Latin liturgy assimilated and absorbed the intellectual and artistic riches that it found in its triumphant course through the world, dominating every culture with its own prepossessing gravitas. The liturgical reform, on the contrary, in the name of accessibility and adaptability to various cultures, Indonesian or Polynesian, Californian or Nebraskan, stripped the liturgy of its own distinctive clothing, ornaments, and symbols of authority, leaving it a naked slave to whatever agenda desired to press it into service. We may rightly call this an exercise in exculturation, since the result was not an enrichment or a renovation, but a destitution, an evacuation. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number” (Jer 2:32). Whatever the problems may have been prior to the Council, when this room of public worship was swept clean and put in rational order, it was infested with seven demons worse than the first (cf. Mt 12:43–45).

Such maneuvers represent nothing less than a frontal assault on the truth of the Christian tradition and its trustworthiness for men of every condition and era. It would have been different had the Roman missal merely been augmented with some new Mass propers for new saints, or ferial readings for Advent. But the revisers dismantled and reconfigured the entirety of the missal, breviary, Rituale, Pontificale, retaining, rewriting, or discarding material ad libitum, according to their private theological opinions. Extreme centonization, or the reconfiguration of old texts into new prayers, became a death-defying sport to which the reformers gleefully abandoned themselves.

The divergence between the classical and modern rites is so great that it is possible to celebrate the New Mass, assuming its new readings, new antiphons, use of a Eucharistic Prayer other than the Roman Canon, etc.,  in a way that would involve only about 10% of overlap with the old rite. Can you imagine a Byzantine Christian thinking that he had worshiped God properly if he used a liturgy that contained only 10% of one of the transmitted forms of the Divine Liturgy? Impossible!

Let us run with this thought experiment for a moment. Imagine the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as our starting point. Now, take away most of the litanies; substitute a newly-composed anaphora (with only the words of consecration remaining the same); change the kontakia, prokeimena, troparia, and readings; greatly reduce the priestly prayers, incensations, and signs of reverence; and while we’re at it, hand cup and spoon to the laity, so they can tuck in like grown-ups.

Would anyone in his right mind say that this is still the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in any meaningful sense of the term? Sure, it might be “valid,” but it would be a different rite, a different liturgy. Just for good measure, let’s say we also remove the iconostasis, turn the priest around, take away some of his vestments and substitute ugly ones, and replace all the common tones of the ordinary chants with new melodies reminiscent of Broadway show tunes and anti-Vietnam folk songs. Now, we’d have not only a different rite, but a totally different experience. It is not the same phenomenon; it is not the same idea (in Newman’s sense of the word “idea”); it is not the expression of the same worldview; indeed, it is not the same religion, since religion means the virtue by which we give honor to God through external words, actions, and signs.

The Danger of Hyperpapalism

That strange scenario, which has (to my knowledge) never taken place in the East,[7] is, tragically, exactly what we are dealing with in the West. There is no way to maintain that the Missal of Paul VI is a “form” of the Roman Rite. It is a new and different rite that bears some loose connections with the Roman Rite. This is why Klaus Gamber called it the “modern papal rite.”

Should this bother us? Absolutely! Of course, if the liturgy is just a service cobbled together by a group of men and subsequently actualized into validity by the stroke of a papal pen, it shouldn’t bother us because, on that view, liturgy is a pure construction, a pure artistic creation that is totally subject to our theories and whims, as long as the untouchable words of consecration are kept inviolate.[8] In the haunting words of Charles De Koninck, speaking of the constructivist urge in modern philosophy: “All imitable originals were to stand before the genius of man and be reduced to the condition of operable matter.”[9]

This has never been and can never be the view of orthodox Christians. It expresses a hyperpapalist, neo-ultramontanist legal positivism that makes the Pope the creator of tradition ex nihilo rather than the guardian of the Christian continuity of paradosis or the “handing down” of what we have received, as it has really come down to us, not as it should or could or might have existed in the distant past or as it should or could or might exist in the distant future. The hyperpapalist view, popular since around the time of the First Vatican Council, transmogrifies the Pope into a “combination Delphic oracle, globetrotting superstar, dynamo of doctrinal development, and standard meter bar of orthodoxy,”[10] whose mind and will are, in and of themselves, always right, true, holy, and laudable. This view of the papacy is contradicted not only by the actual teaching of Vatican I itself, but also and more obviously by the sins, offenses, and negligences of postconciliar popes. It will suffice to mention only a few words: Ostpolitik; Bugnini; Assisi; Koran; Kasper; Maciel; McCarrick.[11]

The view of liturgy that follows upon hyperpapalism—namely, that the form and content of liturgy is totally subject to the papal will—is no less erroneous. As we receive Catholic doctrine from our forefathers, so we receive our worship; and while we can enhance or augment this worship even as we expound Catholic doctrine in sermons, catechisms, and treatises, we cannot modify it in such a way that it ceases to be recognizably the same. As St. Vincent of Lérins would say, we can have profectus, growth, but not permutatio, mutation. Ecclesiastical tradition is augmentative or additive: as our worship devel­ops, its meaning is more clearly articulated and manifested. Authentic liturgical development in the age of the Holy Spirit—that is, the time from Pentecost to the Parousía—is teleological: it achieves a fuller, more striking, more adequate expression of the mysteries.

In short, liturgy is perfected over time, and unless we wish to say that Our Lord spoke falsely when He promised to be always with His Church until the end of the world, or unless we wish to say that the Holy Spirit did not lead the Church into the fullness of truth but instead allowed her to get seriously lost and mixed up for centuries, we will not dare to abolish or radically alter the liturgy. Such abolition or radical alteration would contradict the meaning the Church has come to understand and express in these rites, in all their particularity.[12] The liturgical expression of the faith is not, in other words, like a set of premanufactured lego bricks that can be endlessly reconfigured according to the ideas or tastes of each one who plays with them. Like the Creed we recite, it is something fixed and stable; and while we can expand a Creed (as that of Nicaea was expanded by that of Constantinople), we cannot reduce it or abolish it.

Ten years after the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, Cardinal Ratzinger made this fine observation in a speech he gave to the bishops of Chile:

It is good to recall here what Cardinal Newman observed, that the Church, throughout her history, has never abolished nor forbidden orthodox liturgical forms, which would be quite alien to the Spirit of the Church. An orthodox liturgy, that is to say, one which expresses the true faith, is never a compilation made according to the pragmatic criteria of different ceremonies, handled in a positivist and arbitrary way, one way today and another way tomorrow. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born out of the dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord. They are expressions of the life of the Church, in which are distilled the faith, the prayer and the very life of whole generations, and which make incarnate in specific forms both the action of God and the response of man.[13]

Would the laws of logic or metaphysics permit us to invert these judgments of Newman and Ratzinger? Could we say that if an orthodox liturgical form is abolished or forbidden, then it cannot be the Church that has done it, but rather churchmen abusing their authority? Could we say that a liturgy which is a “compilation made according to pragmatic criteria . . . handled in a positivist and arbitrary way” is, for that very reason, not an orthodox liturgy? Could we say that any liturgy not “born out of the dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord,” but rather assembled by academic experts and avant garde bishops in dozens of study groups orchestrated by a secretary with decidedly anti-traditional views is not a “living reality,” an “expression of the life of the Church” that “distills the faith, the prayer, and the very life of whole generations”?[14] Could we say, in the end, that this form of worship, whatever else it may be, is very far from being “an incarnation of the action of God and the response of man”?

Yes, we can say all of these things. This only shows the magnitude of our problem. One cannot create a living whole out of lots of scholarly pieces glued together. One cannot assign to an “on-the-spot fabrication” a complex, nuanced history of centuries of formation just by wishing it were so, any more than one can magically produce a nation called Esperance, home to a race of Esperanti, for whom Esperanto has been a centuries-old native tongue. The Novus Ordo is like Esperanto: a perfectly rational organization of language functions, spoken natively by no one and lacking any history or culture except that of its intentional community of specialists. Meanwhile, the truly beautiful, irregular, and rich Latin language and its incomparable Gregorian chant was left aside. Never has it been proved more true that experts are like wells—they are deep in one spot, but narrow and dark—while tradition, home of the common man, is like the ocean—irresolvably vast, incomparably deep, fearful, sublime, teeming with fertility and nourishment, beckoning endless journeys.

In his address to the German Parliament at the Reichstag in Berlin on September 22, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI distinguished between mere success, which technique can acquire, and wisdom, which comes only from the assimilation of tradition. The pope quotes St. Augustine’s description of government without justice as a “highly-organized band of robbers,” in which might is separated from right. The same judgment may be rendered on Bugnini and the Consilium: they assembled plenty of technical expertise, and their finished product was endorsed by the might of the reigning pope; but they lacked—indeed, they repudiated—the wisdom of tradition, and thus lost their right to handle the Church’s sacred liturgy. In the end, the Consilium was a highly-organized band of robbers.

Healing the Wounded Body

As Bishop Athanasius Schneider has eloquently said, the Mystical Body of Christ on earth is suffering from self-inflicted wounds. How do we staunch these wounds? Can they be healed? The only way to do so is to address the underlying condition. The wounds can be bandaged up but they will not heal until the body is healthy again. Since the very life of the Mystical Body is expressed and built up in the liturgy, no health is possible until (and to the degree that) the liturgy itself is healthy—when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the praises of the Divine Office, and all the other sacramental and liturgical rites are as they should be. And how should they be? In the way they were before the modern passion for “tinkeritis” dominated the minds of churchmen in the 20th century.

Romano Guardini in his 1918 work The Spirit of the Liturgy talks about the importance of receiving an objective, impersonal, stable liturgy from “the Church.” At the time he wrote, he could take it for granted that all his readers would understand what he was talking about: when you go to Mass or some other liturgy, you always see the clergy carrying out the rites entrusted to them and determined for them by the Church. If we look at the Novus Ordo, we can see that what Paul VI gave us is no longer something objective, impersonal, and stable, but a contrived blend of objective and subjective elements, a sort of Push-Me-Pull-You of impersonal and personalized, a liturgy that cannot be stable because it is a prisoner to mandatory optionitis and invasive inculturation.[15]

One cannot and must not identify any given pope with “the Church.” Paul VI is not the Church; indeed Pius V or Pius X is not the Church. Guardini’s argument, which matches the realities of Catholic theology and history, makes sense only if “the Church” means the body of Christ endowed with the deposit of faith and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, preserving Tradition with love and handing it down with authority. There is obviously a sphere over which popes have sway, but it cannot extend to the full-grown limbs and organs of the liturgical body. If they do touch these organic parts, amputating or performing plastic surgery or swapping in bionic limbs, their work will be offensive before God and man, and doomed to failure.[16]

Once again, it cannot be overemphasized that the method of reform adopted after the Council, with its assumptions and results, stems from the modernist praxis of theology as described in Pope Pius X’s encyclical Pascendi. This soft modernism permeates the reformed liturgy and, moreover, inculcates an unconscious contempt for tradition among the faithful who pray according to it. Just as people who drink contaminated tap water or ingest bits of asbestos or lead paint suffer from the intake, whether they know it’s happening or not, the Catholic who receives a mangled lex orandi is suffering from the lack of nutrition and the presence of foreign chemicals.

Thus, although most Catholics today are in a state of invincible ignorance about the liturgical reform, they too passively support the vandalism of tradition by praying with rites that are defective in their transmission of it. This is the reason why, when God grants a Catholic the grace of awakening to the problems of the liturgical reform and the grace of suffering on account of them, He is asking that Catholic at the same time to turn and be reconciled with tradition by making a principled commitment to the recovery and use of the traditional liturgy. The Catholic who refuses this gracious invitation ceases to be a passive supporter and becomes an active contributor to the incoherence and collapse of the Catholic Church. Such a commitment to the usus antiquior need not imply that he may never pray with the reformed rites and must pray exclusively with the preconciliar ones. It does, however, imply that he would be endangering his own soul, and harming the good of the Church, by not embracing the traditional liturgy as much as possible and advancing its cause, if it lies in his power to do so.

The reform does not need reform; it needs repudiation with repentance. It is not enough to set aside abuses or to reintroduce traditional elements pell-mell—a little incense here, a fiddleback there, an introit today, ad orientem tomorrow. This is like piling up plasters on a gangrenous wound, or treating a cancer with multivitamins. No, something much more radical is required.

The account of the golden calf in the Book of Exodus ends with a very peculiar verse. Often paraphrased in translation, the verse literally says: “And the Lord sent a plague upon the people, because they made the calf which Aaron made” (Ex 32:35). This verse illuminates a truth about complicity: even if Aaron was responsible for fashioning the golden calf, the people consented to what he did, and therefore share his guilt. Similarly, the laity who adhere to the Novus Ordo that Montini made are, to a greater or lesser extent, giving their approval to its deficiencies. Granted, the vast majority do not realize there is any alternative; but neither do unbelievers who have never heard of Christ, and yet unbelievers really do suffer from the lack of graces they would receive if they were actual members of His Mystical Body. In like manner, mainstream Catholics suffer from the lack of many good and important things of which the liturgical reform has deprived them. When a layman becomes aware of these good things, he has an obligation to seek them out, analogous to the obligation an unbeliever has to seek membership in the Church. For indeed the Church herself is found in her most concentrated form in the sacred liturgy.

Over the past fifty years and more, there have always been voices crying out in the wilderness about the reform’s deviations and defects. There has not been much of an excuse for ignorance on the part of the educated. But today, we are in a new phase of what Louis Bouyer once referred to as “the decomposition of Catholicism,” namely, the pontificate of Pope Francis, which has had the effect of the screaming sirens of London during the German air raids, urging all citizens to run for cover and hide in a safe place. The Church is being bombed by many of its leaders, and we too must run for cover and hide in a safe place—the traditional doctrine, morality, and liturgy of the Catholic Church, which no man, not even a pope, can rightfully take from us. That is why this pontificate is truly a moment of grace, a moment for waking up, a moment for acknowledging what we have done to our heritage, repenting of our folly, and taking due action.

Bruegel. Is modern man stuck in a bubble?

The fundamental error of modern man is his conception of himself as being so different from what man has been in other periods of history that he considers himself unable to submit humbly to tradition. By subscribing to this error, the modern Catholic bestows on himself a “pass” to step outside the common inheritance of the Church and to create his own peculiar structures, which always flatter his ego and satisfy his passions. His vaunted differentness, which in fact is nothing other than a lack of self-knowledge propped up by a scaffolding of slogans, becomes over time a state of alienation and isolation due to the habitual indulgence of disordered concupiscence. To become convinced of our unchanging human nature, fallen but redeemed, requires a sustained effort of self-control, silent meditation, and surrender to ritual prayer—in other words, exactly what the traditional Latin liturgy abundantly provides for. Thus we face the inevitable paradox that the Novus Ordo, in spite of being created for modern man, does not challenge his vanity and hubris, whereas the ancient liturgy, truly so remote in its origin and development, provokes modern people to confrontation with God and themselves through its disciplined regimen of prayer, gesture, chant, and symbol. Its very density, opaqueness, and solemn indifference provoke a response in those who are jaded with entertainment and education.[17]

Youths today may well be confused about a lot of things. But those who wish to be serious Catholics are clear about one thing: there is no future for a futuristic religion that already seems dated and dull. This is why they want the old, beautiful, meaningful liturgy of the Church. In a world where nothing seems certain, this liturgy is a stable rock, indeed a mountain crowned with a temple, on which to build one’s spiritual life, social life, and family life. It is a rock in the desert from which fresh spiritual waters are ever flowing.

Seen historically and theologically, the so-called “Ordinary Form of the Mass” is the indult, the exception that has been permitted to occupy territory rightly owned by another. The so-called “Extraordinary Form” is, in reality, the unbroken custom that was never abrogated and could never be abrograted. The one is a johnny-come-lately, with a tenuous purchase on its status; the other is an immemorial rite, with an unshakeable hold on our allegiance. What a privilege, what a blessing that we have been led, by an inscrutable Providence, to know and to love this inestimable treasure, for no merits of our own, but solely “for the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:12). “To Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations, world without end. Amen” (Eph 3:21).

Thank you for your kind attention.

[1] “Ich bin überzeugt, daß die Kirchenkrise, die wir heute erleben, weitgehend auf dem Zerfall der Liturgie beruht.” Milestones, Memoirs 1927–1977 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 148.
[2] My critique is more fundamental than the question of “liturgical abuses,” but in point of fact, such abuses continue today in large numbers and in a wide distribution across the Catholic world. Many recently documented abuses are presented in John Monaco’s article “The ‘Other’ Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church that No One is Talking About,” published at the site Medium on February 21, 2019.
[3] Such optionalism is in perfect accord with, on the one hand, the religious pluralism of Abu Dhabi, whereby we find that God all along wanted many religions, and on the other hand, with the homosexual/transsexual movement that makes sexual activity a matter of personal preference and subjective inclination. The liturgical reform paved the way for the triumph, among Catholics, of these unnatural and irrational ideologies.
[4] Lest anyone accuse me of exaggerating the problem, we can read in an article published in the National Catholic Register, St. Paul VI’s ‘Missale Romanum’ Turns 50,” a perfect expression of the mentality I am critiquing here: “The expanded optional parts of the Mass mentioned in Missale Romanum have also allowed for greater pastoral latitude in celebrating the liturgy. Father Samuel Martin … told the Register that the variations of the anaphora allow him to adapt the liturgy to the needs in his parishes. ‘For example, I use Eucharistic Prayer No. 2 during the weekdays,’ he said, ‘No. 3 for funerals and weddings, and No. 1, the Roman Canon, for weekends … Despite the variety, Father Martin said, the continuity between the Mass and the Church’s rich patrimony of faith and Tradition shines through, especially when he prays the First Eucharistic Prayer, the Canon of the Mass. ‘Some people get a charge out of the Canon,’ he said. ‘They like hearing all those names of the early saints and martyrs of the Church. That’s one of the times we retain continuity—these prayers have been said for centuries, and there will be someone else standing at the altar at St. John’s or Christ the King praying these same prayers centuries from now.’” Mark the words: “Get a charge out of…”; “that’s one of the times we retain continuity”—as opposed to all the other times when we don’t? One could hardly make up such stuff. It is as if Catholicism today is trapped in the pages of Calvin & Hobbes or Dilbert.
[5] See Fr. Zuhlsdorf, “Although the Council Fathers of Vatican II said that, in the liturgical reform they mandated, nothing should be changed that wasn’t truly for the good of the people and that changes had to flow organically from what went before (SC 23), the editing, re-arranging, transforming and wholesale creating of new prayers was of tectonic magnitude. The traditional Roman Missal has 1,182 orations, of which 36 per cent made it into the newer Missal and, of them, half were altered. Only 17 per cent of the orations remained unchanged. Moreover, many were shifted to other times of the year.” Does this mean that 83% of the orations were defective or in need of an update? The truly religious man never thinks this way; it is the thought process of an irreligious person.
[6] A moral aspect to this question is how we “spend” our personal resources. In keeping with the principle of nihil operi Dei praeponatur, we should give the best of ourselves and of our day to God in the liturgy, as priests and religious once did (and still do if they adhere to the traditional rites). The postconciliar man has, instead, kept the fat of his time, his work, his energy, for himself in a frenzy of anthropocentric activism or, frankly, for lazy self-indulgence, which deprives God of the sacrifice we owe to Him by divine right.
[7] With the exception of the Maronites, who stupidly turned their altars and priests around.
[8] In actual fact, not even these words were kept inviolate by Paul VI, who removed the phrase mysterium fidei from the formula over the chalice and made it an isolated fragment to which the faithful make a so-called “memorial acclamation”—a fake invention of Protestant flavor.
[9] Charles de Koninck, On the Primacy of the Common Good; see p. 79 of this online version of the text.
[11] Fr. Hunwicke has commented expertly on these things.
[12] St. Pius V’s abolition of Sequences that had only fairly recently entered the Roman liturgy is on a totally different plane than the radical changes introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.
[13] Joseph Ratzinger, “Ten Years of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei,” given on October 24, 1998, at the Ergife Palace in Rome. Ratzinger continues: “Such rites can die, if those who have used them in a particular era should disappear, or if the life-situation of those same people should change. The authority of the Church has the power to define and limit the use of such rites in different historical situations, but she never just purely and simply forbids them! Thus the Council ordered a reform of the liturgical books, but it did not prohibit the former books.” Incidentally, I am still wondering why this important address from 1998, which contains a wealth of reflections on the liturgy, was omitted from volume XI of Ratzinger’s Collected Works edited by Cardinal Müller and published in English by Ignatius Press. It is a peculiar omission, as anyone will see for himself by studying the text, which is available online. One notes, moreover, the emphasis Ratzinger places on “the dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord.” This is bridal, spousal language; it is not homosexual. The vice of sodomy inverts and perverts ecclesiology from the ground up; therefore it cannot help inverting and perverting liturgy, which is ecclesiology in motion, word made flesh.
[14] “In the confused times in which we are living, the whole scientific theological competence and wisdom of him who must make the final decisions seem to me of vital importance. For example, I think that things might have gone differently in the Liturgical Reform if the words of the experts had not been the last ones, but if, apart from them, a wisdom capable of recognizing the limits of a ‘simple’ scholar’s approach had passed judgment.” Benedict XVI to Cardinal Müller:
[15] Perhaps the most powerful cause of the atomizing and destabilizing nature of the new rites is their polymorphous vernacularization into hundreds of modern languages. This, in and of itself, has dealt the death blow to the Roman Rite as such, pace the “hermeneutic of continuity” fantasy of Liturgiam Authenticam. Whatever may be the case with Eastern liturgies, in the West, the sacred liturgy is Latinate, and its Latinity, after 1,600 years, is not a mere accident, but a property of its being. There can no more be a Roman Rite in the vernacular than there can be a Byzantine rite without litanies, leavened bread, and “the doors! the doors!”
[16] We could modify for our own purposes the advertisement of Southwest Airlines: “A liturgy without a heart is just a machine.”
[17] As I have argued in my book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness, esp. ch. 1.

The video of this presentation in New York City:

For those who watch the video: the audio drops from 42:29 to 43:23. Here is the text of the missing part: "It does, however, imply that he would be endangering his own soul, and harming the good of the Church, by not consistently preferring and promoting the traditional liturgy. The reform does not need reform; it needs repudiation with repentance. It is not enough to set aside abuses or to reintroduce traditional elements pell-mell—a little incense here, a fiddleback there, an introit today, ad orientem tomorrow. This is like piling up plasters on a gangrenous wound, or treating a cancer with multivitamins. No, something much more radical is required."