Rorate Caeli

“Why Charismatic Catholics Should Love the Traditional Latin Mass”: Full Text of Dr. Kwasniewski’s Steubenville Lecture

The following lecture was given on September 23, 2020 to members of the student body, faculty, and staff of the Franciscan University of Steubenville at the tent outside the J.C. Williams Center. The visit was co-sponsored by the local Juventutem and Una Voce chapters. The text is reproduced here in full. A video of the talk has been posted at YouTube.

Why Charismatic Catholics Should Love the Traditional Latin Mass

Peter Kwasniewski

My talk today focuses on the traditional Latin Mass; but it goes beyond it. I will also be talking about the hiddenness of the Holy Spirit; the old rite of baptism; the role of the Spirit in our personal devotional life; and more besides. The case I hope to make to you—at least, in the form of a quick sketch—is that the best expression and support of a life lived in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit is traditional Catholic liturgy and all that goes with it.

I would like to begin with a puzzling fact of Church history. Throughout the 2,000 years of Christianity, the Holy Spirit has never been as thematized in theology, spirituality, and liturgy as the Father and the Son have been. Why is that the case?

Fr. John Hunwicke of the Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham explains that the Christian tradition was first “binitarian” in character prior to being explicitly trinitarian—that is, it focused on the relationship of the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit “implied” or “understood” as their common bond, and as the atmosphere, so to speak, within which Christians breathed the life of Christ. He quotes the eminent liturgist Dom Gregory Dix, who says:

The doctrine of the full Deity of the Holy Ghost…was defined in 381… There is nothing in the N.T. which clearly indicates that the Orthodox doctrine is certainly right… St Athanasius and St Basil…appealed, naturally, to scripture and tradition, and it is notorious how defective in substance their appeal is found to be when it is closely examined. It is also remarkable that in the works which they wrote to vindicate this doctrine both carefully avoid even once applying the decisive word ‘God’ to the Holy Ghost [the same, of course, is true of the ‘Nicene Creed’]… St Gregory Nazianzen, ‘the theologian’ par excellence for the East, under whose presidency the Oecumenical Council of 381 actually defined the doctrine, is explicit that there were but ‘few’ who accepted it in his day and that Athanasius was the first and almost the only doctor to whom God had vouchsafed light on this subject. Elsewhere he is even more devastatingly honest with the admission that while the N.T. plainly revealed the Godhead of the Son, it no more than ‘hinted at’ (hupodeixen) that of the Holy Ghost.[1]

As a result, we do not have liturgical texts that address the Holy Spirit or even make much of the Spirit until after the year 381. Moreover, the heretics who opposed the divinity of the Spirit flourished in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, not in the Western. So it was the East that felt the need to emphasize this dogma in its liturgy through the introduction, in the late 4th century, of the so-called “epiclesis” or invocation of the Holy Spirit to effect transubstantiation.[2] The Roman Canon, on the other hand, predates this controversy, and therefore is silent on the Holy Spirit, until the final doxology: Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti, omnis honor et gloria, per omnia saecula saeculorum. The theology of transubstantiation in the Roman rite is based on an appeal to the benevolent acceptance of the almighty Father who is well-pleased with His beloved Son. When the priest asks the Father, in the Name and at the command of Jesus, to transform the bread and wine, the Father obligingly accomplishes it. The lack of an epiclesis in the Roman Canon bears witness to its apostolic pedigree: it reflects the Patricentric and Christocentric theology of the ancient Church, serenely at prayer long before disputes broke out about the deity of the Third Person. (The Gloria in excelsis Deo so often recited or sung at Mass is also “old enough to predate the dogmatising of 381; hence, it only brings in the Holy Ghost with its conclusion.”) The eminent liturgical scholar Fr. Joseph Jungmann, in his massive commentary on the Roman Rite of Mass, has this to say:

[S]ome commentators…make excuses for the fact that the Holy Ghost is mentioned only at the very end, and then only in passing… No, God and Christ are the pillars of the Christian order of the universe: God, the beginning and the end of all things, towards whom all religious seeking is bent and all prayer eventually is turned; but in the Christian order also Christ, the way, the road on which all our God-seeking must be directed. Therefore in St Paul’s letters we find this duality of God and Christ not only in the introductory salutation, but time and time again throughout the writing. And if at times St Paul rounds out the duality and completes it in the Trinity, this is done not so much to acknowledge the three divine Persons themselves, as, rather, to mark more distinctly the structure of the Christian order of salvation, in which our ascent to God is vouchsafed through Christ in the Holy Spirit.[3]

Having quoted Dom Gregory and Fr. Jungmann, Fr. Hunwicke concludes with his own eminently sensible reflections, which help us to appreciate that silence on a subject does not have to mean exclusion, denigration, or oversight. (A word of explanation before I continue: the word for “Spirit”—even in the phrase “Holy Spirit”—is masculine in Latin, neuter in Greek, and feminine in Hebrew: Spiritus, pneuma, ruach.)

Latin Catholics, and, I think, Byzantines, have not often had shrines, [or] pilgrimages, in honour of the Holy Ghost... He (Latin) It (Greek) She (Semitic) has never attracted a great deal of popular devotional regard. Sometimes Catholics feel guilty about this; sometimes they even wonder if they should remedy this lack; perhaps, take a leaf or two out of a Pentecostalist book. I do not agree; I think that the everyday [traditional] liturgical and devotional lives of Latins and Byzantines are perfectly sound and balanced and wholesome and healthy. I suspect that the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church is completely and totally central, just as breathing and the circulation of the blood are central and natural to a human body. But it is natural for us to talk about the things we are enabled to do or have done because of our breath or our circulating blood, rather than to be preoccupied about those processes in themselves. Sometimes something is so central that it is unnatural to keep talking self-consciously about it. Analogies may also be discerned in the states of being-a-priest, and being-married. This is why, I suggest, in our Roman Canon, and in the Gloria in excelsis, the Holy Ghost is simply and naturally taken for granted, being only mentioned in the summary doxologies at the end.[4]

Now, if all this is true, it would always have been unjust to claim that Christians in any given era were “neglecting” the Holy Spirit, as it would have been unjust to say that spouses were neglecting one another if they were not constantly talking about their marriage or being lovey-dovey with each other. Yet at various points in my life, I distinctly recall hearing teachers and preachers say something like the following: “The Catholic Church kind of forgot about the Holy Spirit for a long time, and with Vatican II, we remembered Him. This is now the Age of the Spirit. We’re living in the time of a New Pentecost.”

By now, in 2020, we are more sober and more realistic. What really happened is that the age of the Spirit merged into the spirit of the age (Zeitgeist), until we were left with “the spirit of the Council.” In practice, the “spirit of the Council” led to the progressive targeting and expulsion of the charisms granted by the Holy Spirit to the Church throughout the ages, as when we saw nuns discarding their habits, and priests their collars. In a parody of baptism, with a reverse exorcism, churchmen seemed intent on ridding Catholicism of its good spirit and sinking into compromises with the world, the flesh, and the devil, rather than dying and rising with Christ.

A book from 1970; the author subsequently left the priesthood

This business about the Third Person being forgotten is just one more of the “black legends” of the post-Vatican II period. Fr. Hunwicke’s observations notwithstanding, it is easy to find substantial doctrinal and devotional attention to the Holy Spirit in the preaching and prayers of all eras of the Church—and manifestly in the traditional Roman Rite, in which every day the priest utters those tremendous words: Veni, Sanctificator omnipotens aeterne Deus, et bene+dic hoc sacrificium tuo sancto nomini praeparatum. “Come, O Sanctifier, Almighty and Eternal God, and bless + this sacrifice prepared for the glory of Thy holy Name.” Whenever the Creed is said or sung at Mass—and it happens much more often under the old rubrics—the Holy Spirit is honored twice: first, by the collective genuflection at Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine: et homo factus est; and second, by a deliberate bowing of the head at the words Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur. Not for nothing are priests ordained in the traditional rite required to offer a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit as one of their first three Masses.

To this day, the traditional Roman rite—what Benedict XVI called the “Extraordinary Form”—celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit with a glorious liturgy each year on the day of Pentecost. The High Mass is preceded by the chanting of the Veni, Creator Spiritus, with all kneeling during the first verse in humble pleading:

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

And deign within our souls to rest;

Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid

And fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

The chanting of the Vidi aquam follows as the priest sprinkles the people with holy water and we sing of the water of grace flowing from the wounded side of Christ, even as the Spirit proceeds from His mouth. The first of many alleluias resounds through the church. The Mass itself begins with the Spiritus Domini Introit: “The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole earth, alleluia; and that which containeth all things hath knowledge of the voice. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,” followed by the ninefold Kyrie, in its Trinitarian spaciousness. After the Epistle, the double Alleluia includes the petitions Emitte Spiritum tuum (send forth Thy Spirit) and Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit), during the latter of which all kneel again—we take this invocation business seriously! Then follows the magnificent Pentecost sequence that begins, once more, Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

Come, Thou holy Paraclete,

And from Thy celestial seat

Send Thy light and brilliancy:

Father of the poor, draw near;

Giver of all gifts, be here;

Come, the soul’s true radiancy.

All this—even before the Gospel has been chanted!

There is more—much more. The Church from the late sixth century all the way through the twentieth century celebrated Pentecost for an entire week (an octave), even as she does Easter and Christmas, recognizing it as a feast of central importance in salvation history. Every day the propers trumpet forth alleluias. Every day the readings extol the sacraments of initiation, which are efficacious by the power of the Spirit.[5] Every day of the octave, we kneel at the Veni, Sancte Spiritus before the Golden Sequence. The Preface of Pentecost links the Ascension, the sitting at the right hand of God, and the outpouring of the Spirit of adoption on the sons of God. The Roman Canon—the only Eucharistic prayer used by Latin-rite Christians from the 4th century until 1967—features two special phrases during the octave. The Communicantes, the first litany of saints in the Canon, begins:

United in holy fellowship and keeping the most holy day of Pentecost, whereon the Holy Ghost appeared to the apostles in countless tongues; reverently bringing to mind also, firstly the glorious Mary, ever-virgin, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ… (and so forth)

The Hanc igitur, where the priest spreads his hands over the gifts in the gesture of the Jewish priest placing his hands on the head of a sacrificial victim, reads:

This, then, is our dutiful offering which we Thy servants and Thy whole family make to Thee, Lord, beseeching Thee to accept it with favour on behalf of those whom Thou hast vouchsafed to bring to new birth by water and the Holy Ghost, giving them remission of all their sins. Order our days in Thy peace, and cause us to be snatched from everlasting doom and to be numbered among Thy chosen ones.

Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the octave of Pentecost are Ember Days with special readings and prayers: days of fasting, not for the sake of penance, but to elevate the mind to a higher plane of solemn rejoicing. For eight days, the mid-morning office of Terce begins with the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus, the first stanza again said kneeling. In every way, this week is a worthy tribute and supplication to the divine Person. (I should mention, in passing, that the office of Terce outside of Pentecost week is always introduced by the hymn Nunc, Sancte, nobis Spiritus, again in honor of the Paraclete.)

Finally, every Sunday after the octave of Pentecost is denominated as a “Sunday after Pentecost,” enfolding in green vestments the long season of planting and harvesting, until we reach the Last Sunday after Pentecost and begin the cycle anew with Advent.[6] There is no “Ordinary Time” in the Extraordinary Form.

Nearly all of what I have just described was abolished in the liturgical reform of the late 1960s; a few things remained as little-used options. So we might turn around the question and ask who, exactly, seems to have been guilty of “forgetting the Third Person of the Trinity” in the official public worship of the Church? As a simple matter of fact, it can be readily demonstrated that the traditional Latin liturgy gives a far more prominent place to the Holy Spirit than its attempted replacement, the Novus Ordo of Paul VI.[7]

A traditional Church attentive to the Paraclete may also be discerned in a marvelous encyclical of Leo XIII, Divinum Illud Munus, from 1897—the same year, incidentally, as the death of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, when she would begin showering the faithful with roses from heaven, in a childlike imitation of the gift of the Spirit in tongues of fire. In its lucid exposition of the Holy Spirit’s “place” in the Trinity and of His presence and action in Christ, in the Church, in the human soul, and in the world, Leo XIII’s Divinum Illud Munus is a true masterpiece of theological and spiritual prose. We see in its pages a demonstration of how the seemingly abstruse doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas can “come alive” in the hands of one who really understands it. Pope Leo writes with great tenderness:

Now that We are looking forward to the approach of the closing days of Our life [Pope Leo was 87 years old at the time], Our soul is deeply moved to dedicate to the Holy Ghost, who is the life-giving Love, all the work We have done during Our pontificate, that He may bring it to maturity and fruitfulness.... We earnestly desire that, as a result, faith may be aroused in your minds concerning the mystery of the adorable Trinity, and especially that piety may increase and be inflamed towards the Holy Ghost, to whom all of us owe the grace of following the paths of truth and virtue. (§2)

The pope goes through every aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Here, for example, he speaks of the mystery of Pentecost as it applies to the apostles:

The Church which, already conceived, came forth from the side of the second Adam in His sleep on the Cross, first showed herself before the eyes of men on the great day of Pentecost. On that day the Holy Ghost began to manifest His gifts in the Mystical Body of Christ, by that miraculous outpouring already foreseen by the prophet Joel (ii., 28–29), for the Paraclete “sat upon the apostles as though new spiritual crowns were placed upon their heads in tongues of fire” (S. Cyril Hier., Catech., 17). Then the apostles “descended from the mountain,” as St. John Chrysostom writes, “not bearing in their hands tables of stone like Moses, but carrying the Spirit in their minds, and pouring forth the treasure and the fountain of doctrines and graces” (In Matt. Hom. 1., 2 Cor. iii., 3). Thus was fully accomplished that last promise of Christ to His apostles of sending the Holy Ghost, who was to complete and, as it were, to seal the deposit of doctrine committed to them under His inspiration. (§5)

And again, concerning the Church:

That the Church is a divine institution is most clearly proved by the splendour and glory of those gifts and graces with which she is adorned, and whose author and giver is the Holy Ghost. Let it suffice to state that, as Christ is the Head of the Church, so is the Holy Ghost her soul. (§6)

The working of sanctification is always appropriated to the Holy Spirit. Leo XIII writes:

The beginnings of this regeneration and renovation of man are by Baptism. In this sacrament, when the unclean spirit has been expelled from the soul, the Holy Ghost enters in and makes it like to Himself. “That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit” (John iii., 6). The same Spirit gives Himself more abundantly in Confirmation, strengthening and confirming Christian life; from which proceeded the victory of the martyrs and the triumph of the virgins over temptations and corruptions. (§9)

Here, as an aside, I would note that the traditional rite of baptism actually contains a substantial preliminary ceremony of exorcism, which was removed from the new rite of baptism. The priest says, among other prayers:

Depart from him, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Receive the sign of the Cross upon your forehead and upon your heart, take up the faith of heavenly commandments: and let your conduct be such that you may ever be a temple of God.

The priest then exorcises and blesses salt to be mingled with the water (I’m only quoting part of these prayers, just to give you a taste of how the Church’s ancient rites sound): “I adjure you, creature of salt, in the name of God the Father almighty, in the charity of Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit...”, etc., and then he places some salt in the mouth of the one being baptized, saying: “receive the salt of wisdom: may it be to you a sign of reconciliation unto life everlasting.” (The priest goes on to say a prayer that makes it evident that the tongue is being blessed in a special way for the eventual reception of Holy Communion.) A third time he exorcises the one being baptized, saying:

I expel thee, every unclean spirit, in the name of God, the Father almighty, in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, Our Lord and Judge, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Depart from this handiwork of God, whom our Lord has deigned to call to His holy temple, that he may be made a temple of the living God, and the Holy Spirit may dwell within him. Through the same Christ our Lord, who shall come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.

I turn back now to Pope Leo’s encyclical, and to a passage that should make us tremble with awe and delight: 

God by grace resides in the just soul as in a temple, in a most intimate and special manner. From this proceeds that union of affection by which the soul adheres most closely to God, more so than the friend is united to his most loving and beloved friend, and enjoys God in all fullness and sweetness. Now this wonderful union, which is properly called “indwelling,” differing only in degree or state from that with which God beatifies the saints in heaven, although it is most certainly produced by the presence of the whole Blessed Trinity—“We will come to Him and make our abode with Him” (John xiv. 23.)—nevertheless is attributed in a peculiar manner to the Holy Ghost. For, whilst traces of divine power and wisdom appear even in the wicked man, charity, which, as it were, is the special mark of the Holy Ghost, is shared in only by the just.

Consider carefully what Pope Leo is teaching here. The union with God of a soul in the state of grace differs only in degree or mode from the state of the beatific vision. When God dwells in our soul by sanctifying grace and its chief virtue, charity, we enjoy the same union in this life as the saints and angels enjoy in the heavenly fatherland. The differences are accidental: that God is seen or unseen, that we possess him changeably or unchangeably. As important as those differences are, the union itself far outweighs them: He is possessed by us, we are indwelt by Him. That is the essence of holiness. This realization of the indwelling of God is ultimately the most effective antidote against mortal sin: we do not want to lose Him, now or for ever.

Pope Leo XIII expounds St. Thomas Aquinas’s teaching on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Here, too, we are reminded that a thirteenth-century Doctor of the Church had not just a theological grasp, but a profound experiential knowledge, of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. When speaking of the gifts, St. Thomas underlines the absolute necessity of special assistance by the Holy Spirit—each and every day, throughout the day—if we are to attain the glorious end God has in store for us, because it so far exceeds our natural abilities. It exceeds, in a way, even what I like to call the “superpowers” of the theological virtues. This is why we pray with the Psalmist: “Thy good spirit shall lead me into the right land” (Ps. 143:10), the Promised Land, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Only the Spirit of God can lead us to that end; our spirit, no matter how perfect(ed), is inadequate.

Going one step further, St. Thomas argues that we need the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit not only for reaching the ultimate end, but also for accomplishing any particular ends we aim at as Christians—if we want to accomplish them as God’s children, acting by His standards. We can do the right thing, as far as natural virtue is concerned, but still not manage to do it “divinely well,” like a meal that is edible but not delicious. For this, we have to place ourselves in prayer at the disposal of the Holy Spirit in order to be guided in our activity, to be His instruments as we exercise our own faculties of judgment and choice. In this sense, there can be no Catholic apostolate at all without interior prayer behind it, as the Acts of the Apostles shows us emblematically.

Charismatics Catholics take seriously the power of prayer, and this is one of their greatest virtues, which separates them instantly from the superficial pastoral activism of much of modern Christianity, which has lost its supernatural orientation to the kingdom of God and the need for His grace, and has reduced the Gospel to being generous, being kind, or just being “nice.”

I’m not a fan of Praise & Worship songs, but I am well aware that the lyrics often revolve around the four basic acts of prayer, which are: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication or petition. (Just so you know, I learned about the ubiquitous acronym ACTS on a charismatic retreat in high school in New Jersey, in the late 1980s.) You know the kind of lyrics I mean: “Lord, You are my King, Lord, to you I sing, I fall down before You, I love You and adore You, I honor You with all my breath, I hold fast to You until my death, I repent my sins and seek Your face, Lord, do not take from me Your grace…” (I made all that up, but it’s probably not too far from the popular lyrics.) Now, it is simply a matter of demonstrable fact that the old Latin Mass is pervaded, from top to bottom, with expressions of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication.

In comparison with the modern Mass, more prayers are said, more gestures done—signs, both subtle and conspicuous, of faith, devotion, and adoration, such as the priest kissing the altar eight times during the liturgy (instead of only twice), bowing his head to honor God or the saints at significant phrases, making many genuflections before the Blessed Sacrament. The traditional liturgy practices, and thereby inculcates, utmost reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist. At High Mass, incense is used four times in an escalating pattern: at the altar during the Kyrie, because it is where the sacrifice will take place; at the Gospel, because it is the Word Himself preaching to us; at the Offertory, because the bread and wine that the priest sets aside exclusively for sacrificial use will become the Victim; and at the elevations of the Host and the Chalice, where we adore the Word-made-flesh. In its unmistakable focus on the moment of sacramental sacrifice, visually accentuated and veiled in silence, the Roman Canon as prayed in the traditional Latin Mass gives the “mystery of faith” its due prominence. This, truly, is the source and summit of the Christian life, towards which we are all turned in a common direction that symbolizes our inner orientation to Christ the King, to His Father, and to the coming of the Kingdom. The anointed hands of the priest are the only ones that touch the sacred species and distribute them to the faithful, who receive on their tongue, kneeling, in a posture of humble submission. This millennium-old practice of kneeling before the Holy One of Israel, truly present in the Sacrament of the Altar, and of receiving Him on the tongue from the hand of an ordained minister, literally embodies our dependency on God, our lowliness and unworthiness, our need to fall in adoration before the Lord, and our desire for healing and elevation. As Our Lady’s Magnificat proclaims, the creature must first be low—and see itself to be low—in order to be raised up on high by God. In this practice is contained the humility of willing to be fed like a child too small to feed itself. One of the Psalms says, in the person of God: “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it.” I will fill it. In the supernatural domain, we are all children who need to be fed by the Father, fed with the bread that is His Son.

The charismatic movement also strongly emphasizes the kingship of Christ, His lordship over our lives in all dimensions. But this belief, which is absolutely true, is hard to nurture in the modern world, which is so egalitarian and relativistic. The old Mass helps us very much in this regard. In terms of its atmosphere, it could be described as “kingly” or “royal.” It includes features reminiscent of court ceremonial because Our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Most High King over all the Earth. Scripture speaks of the “court of God” in heaven and how all the blessed are bowing before Him in worship. Heaven is not a democratic convention. Jesus refused an earthly kingdom not because He does not possess power, but because His power is absolute, universal, transnational, and eternal; He did not want to be confined to ancient Israel or to any one age. According to the psalms, He rules over all nations and all men with an iron rod (Ps 2:9), that is, His unbending divine law, which is the firm and strong foundation for our happiness. The Latin Mass points everything to Him, to His Cross and to His glorious reign.[8] “Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, and thy glory above all the earth” (Ps 56:6 [57:5]). The use of a single common transnational and transtemporal language, Latin, and a form of sacred music that is unique in all its features, Gregorian chant, also fit well with this emphasis on the eternal kingdom of Christ.

Moreover, if Christ is our king, then we are His subjects; in this life, we are His soldiers doing battle against the world, the devil, and our own fallen nature, with its disordered concupiscence. It is therefore immensely valuable that the old liturgy is more ascetical. The traditional Mass typically has the faithful kneeling for long stretches, from the prayers at the foot of the altar to the Gospel, and from the Sanctus to the last Gospel. This demanding discipline keeps us mindful that we are in a special sacred place, taking part in a sacrifice to which we must unite ourselves. At a High Mass, there will be a combination of standing, genuflecting, kneeling, and sitting, which, together with the signs of the cross, the beating of the breast, the bowing of the head, and the chanting of responses, amounts to what educators call a Total Physical Response environment: you are thrown into the worship body and soul,and, at almost every moment, something is happening that puts your mind back on what you are doing. Tragically, the Novus Ordo dropped a lot of these “muscular” elements in favor of verbal comprehension and response, which, by themselves, constitute a fairly impoverished form of participation. “The principal purpose of the liturgy is not dialogue, but collective worship.”[9] The prayers of the traditional Mass are full of references to warfare, discipline, fasting, self-abnegation, and the fear of the Lord. The malice of demons and the danger of hell are frankly acknowledged. Most of these prayers were either toned down or removed in the liturgical reform because they were considered dark, scary, and offputting—too “medieval.” Yet such things have been preached and lived by the Catholic Church in every age because they are simply true. In a modern world that tranquilizes itself into sleep and death, we need to be stirred up, warned, and assisted more than ever by this rugged realism and virile engagement.

As for sin: we are all sinners and we all need repentance and forgiveness. The old Mass is saturated with expressions of contrition and appeals to God’s mercy. The fuller medieval version of the Confiteor, appealing by name to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the whole court of heaven, is said not just once, but three times: at the start of Mass by the priest and the servers in turn, in a moving example of clerical humility and our need for one another’s prayers; then once again by the servers right before Holy Communion, as part of a diligent preparation for receiving the holiest of holy things, the Body of Christ. When sins are confessed at any point in the Mass, the one confessing bends low in humility, and only rises when the minor absolution is given. The fixed prayers of the Mass themselves groan with the unworthiness of Christians to approach the all-holy God. At the foot of the altar we say: “Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy, and grant us Thy salvation.” As the priest ascends the steps he whispers: “Take away from us our iniquities, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that with pure minds we may worthily enter into the holy of holies…. We beseech Thee, O Lord, by the merits of Thy saints, whose relics are here, and of all the saints, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to forgive me all my sins.” Before the Gospel, the priest prays: “Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, who didst cleanse the lips of the prophet Isaiah with a burning coal…,” and immediately after reading it he says: “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out.” At the start of the Offertory he lifts up the paten with the host and pleads: “Receive, O Holy Father, almighty and eternal God, this spotless host, which I thine unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, for mine own countless sins, transgressions, and failings…” After offering the chalice, he bends low and says: “May we, humble in spirit and penitent in heart, be accepted by Thee, O Lord…” When he washes his hands, he utters: “Take not away my soul, O God, with the wicked, nor my life with men of blood, in whose hands are iniquities… Redeem me and have mercy on me.” During the Canon of the Mass, he speaks up only once, to acknowledge his unworthiness: Nobis quoque peccatoribus… “To us, also, Thy sinful servants, who hope in the multitude of Thy mercies, vouchsafe to grant some place and fellowship with Thine apostles and martyrs…” After the Lord’s Prayer he begs: “Deliver us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come…” The priest says three times: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed,” and then for the Communion of the faithful, this humble prayer of the centurion is repeated three more times. While carefully cleansing the chalice and his fingers, the priest prays: “May Thy Body, O Lord which I have received and Thy Blood which I have drunk cleave to my guts, and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, whom these pure and holy sacraments have refreshed.” You see what I mean—such powerful prayers, accompanied by such memorable and impressive actions! What a shame, what a tragedy, that most of these prayers and actions were stripped away from the Novus Ordo, as if modern man no longer needed them!

Whichever aspect of prayer you look at, the traditional Latin Mass exhibits it to the maximum degree of intensity. Whatever kind of prayer you look at—vocal, meditative, contemplative—the Latin Mass exemplifies it or cultivates it. The old Mass is a powerhouse of prayer, which it takes utterly seriously, never deviating from the gaze of the Lord, and leading us intently to focus on Him. It is theocentric and vertical, habituating us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”; it is never anthropocentric or horizontal, losing its focus in a closed circle of human affirmation.

But there is more. The great theologian Romano Guardini, a strong influence on Benedict XVI, beautifully expresses the traditional liturgy’s “modesty,” its ability to draw forth from us a profoundly personal response without violating our emotional privacy, without exposing to public gaze what we are especially happy about or, for that matter, ashamed of:


[T]he liturgy is wonderfully reserved. It scarcely expresses, even, certain aspects of spiritual surrender and submission, or else it veils them in such rich imagery that the soul still feels that it is hidden and secure. The prayer of the Church does not probe and lay bare the heart’s secrets; it is as restrained in thought as in imagery; it does, it is true, awaken very profound and very tender emotions and impulses, but it leaves them hidden. There are certain feelings of surrender, certain aspects of interior candor which cannot be publicly proclaimed, at any rate in their entirety, without danger to spiritual modesty. The liturgy has perfected a masterly instrument which has made it possible for us to express our inner life in all its fullness and depth, without divulging our secrets—“secretum meum mihi” [my secret is mine alone]. We can pour out our hearts, and still feel that nothing has been dragged to light that should remain hidden.[10]

This observation from a great theologian prompts me to go one step further and talk about possible dangers in charismatic spirituality.

Now, to be fair, every spiritual approach or school of spirituality has its strengths and weaknesses, glowing virtues and subtle temptations. For example, the followers of St. Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi, fairly quickly diverged into warring factions over the question of how to interpret radical poverty, and the most extreme, the “spirituals,” were condemned. The Dominicans placed such a high emphasis on study that their temptation is an individualist intellectualism. The Jesuits cultivated an ideal of mission under obedience that could sour into activism and worldliness. The French School of the 17th century, which featured such luminaries as Cardinal Bérulle, Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, Jean-Jacques Olier, Jean Eudes, and St. Louis de Montfort, in lesser minds became the heresy of quietism. And I would say that Catholic traditionalists (for lack of a better term) can sometimes become fixated on certain externals and can get stuck on vocal prayer, paying insufficient attention to personal, spontaneous, and wordless prayer.

Charismatic spirituality has its dangers, too. I won’t have time to go into this question thoroughly, but I will speak from my own personal experience when I was involved in the movement many years ago. As a barely-catechized high school Sunday Catholic, a local Catholic charismatic prayer group ignited in me a desire to pray (after all, as I said before, prayer is at the core of it), but the style of prayer it favored seemed to me, in retrospect, to be caught up in emotions and dependent on the group dynamic. For this reason, “the focus of the spiritual life [was] taken off the will and perfection of charity and placed upon things that are not essential”[11]—more specifically, on “charismatic gifts” or “charisms.” I quote now a priest with expertise in spiritual theology:

The Church’s teaching on the charismatic gifts, supported by St. Thomas Aquinas and the writings of the great saints, theologians, and mystics, is that these gifts belong to what is classified as “extraordinary graces,” that is, graces freely given by God to a person for the specific purpose of the sanctification of another soul, not the sanctification of the person who has the gift. These gifts are distinct from sanctifying grace. As we know, sanctifying grace (or charity) renders our souls pleasing to God: it is a reflection of God’s very life in the soul and remains there as long as there is no mortal sin to drive it out. In other words, sanctifying grace is ordinary and extended to all souls for the purpose of their own personal sanctification and salvation. We need it in order to go to heaven and it can increase in us with the performance of penance and good works.

As we saw earlier from Pope Leo XIII, sanctifying grace and the virtue of charity always accompany the presence of God in the soul. This indwelling is attributed in a special way to the Holy Spirit, who is said to dwell in the soul as in a temple. This dwelling is an objective reality; it is meant to be the ordinary and stable state of the Christian. It is not an extraordinary grace or emotional experience or consolation, though it may sometimes, at God’s good pleasure, be accompanied by such things. But as we mature in the spiritual life, God “weans us from consolations. That is the teaching of all the great masters of the spiritual life, especially the Carmelites: St. Teresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux.” Thus, for example, St. John of the Cross simply writes: “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he hears best is silent love.” The priest I was quoting before continues:


Unfortunately, many souls…become alarmed when their initial fervor is lost and the consolations disappear. Instead of continuing on the straight and narrow path to a higher maturity, and fearing that God has abandoned them, they may turn to things that feed the emotions in order to regain some taste of the consolations they once had. In fact, a certain expectation (and it can be very subtle) begins to set in that this is the purpose and function of divine worship: how often nowadays is Mass attended with the intent to leave feeling personally affirmed and good about oneself?...
         The first thought of our spiritual life should always be God’s glory, not our own consolation and progress, and in so doing we actually serve our interests better because God will not lead us astray. For good reason, then, has the Church always commanded great caution when it comes to the presence and operation of the charismatic gifts because, in general, they are often sought for the wrong reasons, and because their manifestations can actually be false, either as a product of an emotional or psychological frenzy or arising from the demonic…
         When it comes to the charismatic gifts, the best attitude to have is one of indifference. Since they are not directed to our sanctification, which is our primary obligation, we should heed the Apostle’s advice and always seek the higher gifts—above all, charity, in which our spiritual perfection consists. No one can ever go astray seeking and begging for an increase of faith, hope, or charity, or an increase in the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost that are poured forth on all the baptized. These are the virtues and gifts of which we stand in lifelong urgent need, and to which we even have a certain “right,” inasmuch as God has adopted us as His sons in the Son.

Note that the spiritual condition praised by St. John of the Cross—“to be silent before the great God in silent love”—is palpably fulfilled in the traditional Latin Mass, which is very obviously directed to our sanctification, our seeking of the higher gifts, the exercise of our faith, hope, and charity, and the gentle, steady, repeated activation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit latent in our souls.[12] Moreover, we can see why, according to divine Providence, gratuitous charisms lessened over the course of history. In the ancient Church, charisms were poured out widely in order to spread the Faith, which had no foothold. As time went on, the grace of prophecy was consolidated into the hierarchy of the Church and the grace of true worship was concentrated more and more in the solemn, public, social prayer of the Church: the Mass, the sacraments, and the Divine Office. As the great restorer of Benedictine life in 19th-century France, Dom Prosper Guéranger, summed it up: “The Holy Spirit has made the liturgy the center of his working in men’s souls.” For the Church Fathers, it is in the celebration of the sacred mysteries, offered by Christ the High Priest through the hands and voice of His servants on earth, that the Holy Spirit acts upon our souls to transform them into Christ, to make us images of Him who is the perfect image of the Father. We come full circle, then, in seeing that the foremost and innermost work of the Holy Spirit is precisely to make Jesus Christ present; to make Him present in word, in ritual, in sacrament, in the Holy Eucharist, and, finally, in each one of us.[13] A great spiritual figure of 17th-century France, Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament, exclaims with fervor:

Can Jesus Christ give us more than Himself? And since in Holy Communion He gives Himself completely to us—all that He is, and all that He has of what is great and holy, His virtues, His merits, and the rest of His adorable perfections—what more do you want? If Jesus Christ gave you some favor, some lights or ecstasies or raptures in prayer, these would be real graces; but what are they, compared to Jesus Christ? And besides, you would have cause for fear, since such things are subject to illusion, and we can be deceived. But regarding Holy Communion, there is nothing to be apprehensive about, since it is Our Lord in His own person who gives the reality of Himself.[14]

When I first encountered the old Mass in college, I discovered an ocean of prayer that I had not even imagined possible, in which one could swim forever and never grow tired. There was no sudden mystical transport, at least not for me. Rather, I found a deep, resonant, quiet space, within which to meet the Lord and learn His language—slow, gentle, and peaceful. Not, of course, without its challenges, but never lacking in fruitfulness. I found a liturgy breathing in and breathing out with the rhythm of the saints in the two-millennium history of the Latin Church. The signs and symbols—the many kissings of the altar, genuflections, bows, signs of the cross; the praying ad orientem; noble vestments and vessels; the chant, the incense, etc.—all these reached into my soul and “took every thought captive to obey Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 10:5).

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and of remembrance: He unites us to the truth that is Christ, who said of Him: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26)—which means not just what Our Lord said in the Holy Land, but all that he has spoken through His Church and through the liturgy He raised up within her. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of tradition, for He fashions the body of Christ in the womb of history, He breathes on the waters of piety to produce the solid ground of rituals, and He ensures that universally received and venerated tradition will always remain fruitful and never be harmful. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of self-control, humility, obedience, and reverential fear.

In short: the greatest concentration of spiritual charisms that ever existed or could ever exist is the traditional sacred liturgy. It is a veritable powerhouse of purgation, illumination, and unification; self-discipline, wisdom, and ardent love for God. This is what charismatics want, and they deserve to know where they are going to find it in its purest and most intense form.


[1] Cited by Fr Hunwicke

[2] Presumably to this post-381 period belongs also the Byzantine prayer: “Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, you are present in all places and fill all things. Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life, come dwell in us, cleanse us from all stain, and save our souls, O good One!”



[5] See my article “Correlations between the Sacraments and the Readings for the Octave of Pentecost,” New Liturgical Movement, June 1, 2020.

[6] St. Andrew Daily Missal (1948): “[T]he liturgy celebrates the reign of the Holy Ghost, which extends over the universal Church and is in evidence from Pentecost to the end of the world, of which the Church speaks to us in the twenty-fourth or last Sunday after Pentecost” (737); “The reign of the Holy Ghost and the Church, which begins at Pentecost, is only the extension of our Lord’s reign to which it supplies a universality of time and place which it could never have had in Palestine alone” (738). Fr. Gaspar Lefebvre’s whole commentary on the Time after Pentecost is well worth reading.

[7] The Novus Ordo’s Byzantifications introduce, as by violence, some new mentions of the Holy Spirit, but only at the cost of damaging the integrity of the Roman rite’s own ancient theology.

[8] See “A Defense of Liturgy as ‘Carolingian Court Ritual,’” New Liturgical Movement, January 30, 2017.

[9] Michael Fiedrowicz, The Traditional Mass: The History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2020), 148.

[10] Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, published in the commemorative edition of Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018), 287. Guardini then adds in a note: “The liturgy here accomplishes on the spiritual plane what has been done on the temporal by the dignified forms of social intercourse, the outcome of the tradition created and handed down by sensitive people. This makes communal life possible for the individual, and yet insures him against unauthorized interference with his inner self; he can be cordial without sacrificing his spiritual independence, he is in communication with his neighbor without on that account being swallowed up and lost among the crowd. In the same way the liturgy preserves freedom of spiritual movement for the soul by means of a wonderful union of spontaneity and the finest erudition. It extols urbanitas as the best antidote to barbarism, which triumphs when spontaneity and culture alike are no more.”

[11] “Confusion about Graces: A Catholic Critique of the Charismatic Movement,”

[12] This is why Gregorian chant is so important: “The vast majority of Latin chants were composed by anonymous monks, cantors, and canons. We will never know their names in this life. What a healthy corrective to the egotism that often comes with artistic creativity and performance! Chant quenches distinctive personality—both in that we usually do not know its author, and in that we cannot “shine” or stand out in a rock-star way when singing chant in a schola or congregation. It works against the desire for show, encourages a submersion of one’s individuality in Christ, and makes us act and feel as members of the Mystical Body. Like other traditional liturgical practices, use of chant strips us of the old man and clothes us with Christ. This process of conversion needs to be gentle and continual if it is to be ultimately successful. It cannot be the result of fits of enthusiasm, emotional highs, or psychological violence.” From

[13] “Just as the Father made use of the Jewish people in preparation for the salvation of the world, and the Word took our human nature and made it the instrument of our redemption, so it is the Holy Ghost who makes that redemption operative in the Church. The priesthood, the Mass, and the sacraments are the official channels through which He supplies us with our Lord’s teaching, and applies His merits to our souls… The reign of the Holy Ghost is visibly manifested in the Roman Church, in the centre of which the Blessed Sacrament sheds forth its divine light on every side. The Spirit is the soul that animates the Church; and our Lord hidden in the Host is its heart from which the blood of grace circulates through the veins, the channel of the sacraments, into all the members…. The action of the Holy Ghost and that of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament meet at the point where the Holy Scriptures declare indifferently that we are sanctified in the Holy Ghost [1 Cor 6:11] or in Christ [1 Cor 1:1], and that as the Holy Ghost is the ‘Spirit of Life,’ so our Lord is the ‘Bread of Life’” (St Andrew Daily Missal, 1945 ed., pp. 737–38).

[14] Mother Mectilde, The Mystery of Incomprehensible Love (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2020), 116–17.