Rorate Caeli

What is behind the papal strangulation of the old Mass?

The author celebrating Mass in the Shrine of St Augustine, Ramsgate, England

By Fr Christopher Basden, Parish Priest of Ramsgate, England.

Since the Pope’s recent brutal and unmerciful constriction of the traditional Latin Mass, many have been shocked by its unusual severity and questioned what motivates it. Liberal Catholic friends respond that it lacks the inclusivity that a broad Church demands. Friends from beyond the confines of Catholicism scratch their heads; this is the classic Roman ritual which for 1 ½ millennia was the inspiration of countless works of music, literature and art.

One of the loveliest personal memories I have was the infectiously charming and bubbly founder of the famous monastery of Le Barroux, Abbot Gerard Calvet OSB. Out of the chaos of the disintegration of religious life in the 1960s he had left his community and become a hermit. Sought out by young disciples he was urged to re-initiate traditional monastic life centred on the classical liturgy. This he accomplished with his foundation nestled beneath the majesty of Mt Ventoux (of Tour de France fame) in Provence. In 1988, feeling the Episcopal consecrations were a step too far, he sought canonical recognition from the Vatican. Despite the warm welcome of Pope John Paul this was not shared by the monastic establishment who excluded him from their associations. I found this shocking and sad and after a while I was relieved to hear he had at last been invited to the worldwide conference of Abbots in Rome. I hoped, I remarked to him, that they were welcoming. His response:

“Oui ils etaient gentils mais c’est une autre religion” (Yes they were kind but it’s another religion).

I was quite startled and struck by what I then perceived to be an extreme assessment, but a quarter of a century later it bears further scrutiny.

But let us get back to the question at hand. Why on earth does such a venerable ancient Rite with stellar accomplishments in the pantheon of saints, not to mention the huge cultural impact it has had within western civilisation merit exclusion? Today its adherents represent a tiny percentage, largely unknown in the worldwide Catholic Church since the Rite’s termination in 1969. Despite the liberalisation of its use in 2007, and a remarkable flourishing of vocations and conversions in the limited confines in which it returned to use, why the draconian and fearful suffocation of newly ordained priests being permitted to use it? Why should the new young communities be subjected to hostile commissars bent on eradicating the old Rite as if it were a dangerous virus?

The papal condemnation accuses these traditionalists of being divisive and of being ideologically opposed to the second Vatican Council. However that Council (of which most of the young devotees know little, having been born long after its closure in 1965!) was pastoral, not definitively doctrinal let alone ideological. The vast majority of the bishops at the Council, including Marcel Lefebvre, signed most of its decrees.

It was largely what came afterwards, with the explosive and revolutionary ‘implementation’ of the Council. The vast majority of bishops had no say (let alone anyone else) in the promulgation of the reformed Mass. However, at the Synod of Bishops in 1967 it is on record that only a minority of bishops present approved the New Order of Mass. Cardinal Heenan prophesied it would result in dwindling numbers. In spite of this, the Consilium pushed it through, calling on all to be a obedient to the “spirit of Vatican II.” Cardinal Ottaviani, then head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, complained that the new Mass marked a “striking departure” from the solemnly defined Catholic Eucharistic theology of the Council of Trent. In many ways it can be demonstrated that the Consilium’s new Mass was in no way what was envisaged by the Fathers at Vatican II. For example, the Council asks that “Latin is to be retained in all the rites” (it totally disappeared) and “Gregorian chant is to have pride of place” (it sadly has had no place at all)!

The Rubrics which uphold facing East during the Canon are still in print but almost universally ignored.

Cardinal Suenens boasted that Vatican II was “1789 in the Church!” Fr Yves Congar said of the Council, “the Church has peacefully undergone its October Revolution.”

Was that really in the minds of the bishops who assembled in 1962? Pope Benedict deplored the “Council of the Media” and promoted the notion of the “hermeneutic of continuity”. He resisted the idea that at Vatican II we had begun completely anew. The holy Bishop of Leeds, Gordon Wheeler, stressed that Vatican II can only be properly interpreted within the harmony of the preceding tradition.

The studies of Father Anthony Cekada are very disturbing. The Council called for a return to the sources, but he amply demonstrated that 83% of the Collects of the traditional Mass were discarded. Archbishop Bugnini (architect of the New Rite) admits in his apologia (his full papers have yet to be divulged) that ‘negative theology’ was incompatible with the sensibilities of modern man. The concepts that were deleted included the very notion of the soul! The use of this word disappears in the New Mass! Other deletions include miracles, fasting, mortification, error, evils, enemies, the wrath of God and Hell. He is on record as saying that the New Rite should avoid anything that could be a stumbling block for Protestants. Jean Guitton, a personal friend of Pope Paul VI, confirms this, admitting that the revolutionary changes were set in place to more perfectly coincide with the Calvinist Eucharist. How naive to think unity with Protestantism could be achieved, especially as now the mainstream churches of the Reformation are in terminal decline. Only the Baptist, bible based and so-called fundamentalist denominations have much life left. As former Anglican Bishop Graham Leonard declared, “the future of the church will belong to those of conviction.” Even more serious is the New Rites’ deselection of holy scripture (ignoring the warning at the close of the book of Revelation!) For example, “Whoever receives the body of the Lord unworthily merits condemnation.” This line among several others is deleted.

Today’s young clerics who stumble on the classical Roman liturgy discover a rich scriptural content with explicit priestly and sacrificial overtones. Fr. Hugh Simon-Thwaites, SJ remarked that, “the Old Rite is the greatest expression of the Eucharistic doctrine of the Catholic Church.” I find it amusing but sad, that after an appeal to the Pope against the termination of the Old Mass in the ‘London Times,’ in July 1971, from the greatest men and women of culture in Britain, he recognised but one, Agatha Christie, the writer of pop murder mysteries! Others included Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kenneth Clark, Robert Graves, Yehudi Menuhin, Iris Murdoch, Nancy Mitford, and R.C. Zaehner. Most were non-Catholics and even non-Christians, including two Anglican bishops. The Old Mass was universally terminated (save in England which allowed rare permissions due to Agatha Christie!)

After two permissive indults under Pope John Paul in 1984 and 1988 (the second responding to the Episcopal consecrations of Archbishop Lefebvre), Pope Benedict attempted to give the classic Roman Rite a home back in the Catholic Church in 2007. In his Summorum Pontificum he confirmed the long held view of many canonists, including Count Nero Capponi and Cardinal Stickler, that the Old Rite had never been canonically abrogated. As Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) said, “anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this (Old) Liturgy or takes part in it is treated as a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing so we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can we trust her at present if things are that way?” Pope Pius V had in 1570 declared that the traditional Roman Rite “would be valid henceforth now and forever.”

I have two contrasting memories of the response that summer of 2007. The liberal London Tablet (financially supported by the Catholic hierarchy but read more by Anglicans) screamed in protest “but it (the Old Mass) WAS banned!” At Wonersh Seminary, on the other hand, at an Eastern Churches seminar, several Orthodox ecclesiastics enthused delightedly that Rome had no longer officially proscribed its ancient tradition which had further distanced us from the Churches of the East.

A question has to be sincerely posed: “What are the fruits of the revolutionary transformation in the liturgy which heralded a huge plethora of changes in the Church?” Despite the continual denial of the aged ecclesiastics in power who suffer from the “Emperor’s new clothes syndrome” one can truly say that the result is a huge devastation of the vineyard of the Lord. Every religious order, diocese and parish has drastically declined since 1965 in numbers. We have never seen such an abandonment of priestly and Religious vows in all our history. By 1978 40,000 priests had left the priesthood; the sad, seeping, departures have never stopped since that time. If we had kept the priests we had actually ordained there would not be the severe shortage of clergy. In 1985, with the celebration of 20 years since the Council, the then Cardinal Ratzinger dared to say that the results could never be described as positive. He was demonised, and his ‘Report’ was banned from several Seminary libraries! Eight years earlier, in 1977, an Archbishop in Italy, Arrigo Pintonelli wrote in an open letter to his fellow Bishops that the anarchy in the church was “a true scourge of God much more vast and destructive than the one by Atilla, with consequences that ought to deprive of sleep those who are responsible for the life and governance of the church, who inexplicably remain silent.”

This terrible decline has never subsided. Religious women have disappeared from our streets. Monasteries collapse and Seminaries close due to the utter collapse of vocations. In England over 95% of students from our Catholic schools (our pride and joy) do not persevere in the practice of the faith. Not only in the European heartlands does the decline in vocations and practising Catholics occur. For example even the powerful Nigerian Catholic Church is subject to a continual substantial haemorrhage to Pentecostal sects.

The sex abuse scandals have disgraced the Church and destroyed much of everything the priesthood stands for. Since 90% of the victims were teenage males we can see that pederasty and not paedophilia is the real problem. No one dares to ever speak about it, however, lest they be considered ‘homophobic.’ This has infected the highest echelons of the hierarchy as evidenced in the sordid affair of Cardinal McCarrick. What a veritable dark night of the Church!

In contrast, the tiny percentage of clerical Institutes, convents and monasteries, using the irresistibly attractive Traditional Latin Rite, have flourished. The revival, with seminarians and novices and conversions, has been heart-warming for so many of us worn out and wearied priests. The large noncontraceptive families represent one of the only answers to the demographic timebomb affecting the western world. Sadly the very sight of these seminarians and novices in cassocks and full habits incurs the contempt, derision and detestation of the Vatican commissars.

It is not the adherents of the Old Mass who are ideological, it is the curial officials of the Vatican who display a paranoia in the face of reasonable dissent from the so-called liturgical reforms of Bugnini. They are the ones who respond with a unpastoral ferocity and ideological fanaticism. Now, years later after decades of reluctance, I realise the old Abbot was correct.

They are the purveyors of a new, distinct and often subtle religion without any real substantial base in scripture and tradition. While holding to the divine corpus of truth as set out in the Creed and Catechism, their slippery interpretations renders many doctrinal and moral beliefs in a subjective and relativistic manner, leaving them devoid of the original content. As Fr George Tyrrell SJ predicted a century ago, “Rome cannot be destroyed in a day, but it is necessary to make it fall into dust gradually and inoffensively, then we will have a new Religion and a new Decalogue.” Today Tyrrell is largely rehabilitated by his brother Jesuits. The new religion will dialogue with anyone except those who stand by Catholic Tradition. The mantra “the liturgical reform is irreversible” and the “New Order of Mass is the richest form of the Mass in history” is not dissimilar to the empty, ugly, untrue dogmas of the Chinese communist party which has the Vatican in its financial control.

What are the hallmarks of this new ideological religion? They are all around us in this present moment of history. The new ideology promotes the idea that “God wills diversity of religion.” Excepting for His “permissive will” this goes against everything objectively stated in both the Gospel and the Koran of Islam. The new faith deplores proselytism, thus thrusting a dagger into the church’s missionary nature, destroying the real nature of evangelisation. Furthermore the new faith, by moral ambiguity, devalues marriage and family life by allowing access to the sacraments after divorce and remarriage. By confusing “loving the sinner and hating the sin”, it opens the door to betraying the long held Gospel belief in the indissolubility of marriage. Furthermore it welcomes recognition of homosexual unions, even denying that chastity is possible! This new approach has transformed the Pontifical Academy of Life into the Pontifical Academy of ‘Choice’, thus negating the remarkable contribution of Pope John Paul in his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae. The new religion is man centred, humanist, with no seeming necessity for the Atonement of Christ whose Divinity is devalued.

Finally the title used by many previous popes and even discussed by the second Vatican Council, of Our Lady ‘Mediatrix of graces’, is to be discarded. She is but a mother. Here we have the neo-Protestant, de-supernaturalised religion evident for all to see. The present situation reminds me of the scene in CS Lewis in his Last Battle, in which a baboon covers himself in the skin of a lion proclaiming himself to be Aslan, showing forth the age of the antichrist. The commissars see the extraordinary growth, potential and fruits of the Old Mass in just 14 years as a threat to their pseudo faith which patently does not work.

Do not despair. In England the faith in the 16th century was abruptly cancelled, being replaced by a new Religion and Catholics persevered underground waiting for a second spring that happened ages later. In Egypt despite the rest of the whole of North Africa ceasing to be Christian, the Copts amazingly survive, despite continual persecution.

Our Blessed Lady is the ‘Conqueror of all Heresies!’

She and Saint Joseph, the ‘Patron of Times of Crisis’, will see us through this diabolical incursion into the enfeebled Church of God today. He alone wins the Victory!