Rorate Caeli

The Outrageous Propaganda of Archbishop Roche

“Where do you get your stuff?”  “Oh, in the wild blue yonder.”

As I was reading the other day the page proofs of Fr. Bryan Houghton’s autobiography Unwanted Priest—long believed lost but recently rediscovered and just now published by Angelico Press—I was struck by the following passage (among many others). He is talking about anti-religious posters he came by on a trip to Russia:

I had picked up the first group [of posters] in 1931 from an upper school in Moscow. They are forcefully designed but the content is rather naive. They are anti-clerical rather than anti-religious. A typical example is one for use in a history class… It represents the square in front of Notre-Dame de Paris with the cathedral in the background. To the right is a leering capitalist, identifiable by his top hat, in front of whom are Cardinal Verdier (Archbishop of Paris in 1931) and Marshal Foch, who are encouraging some troops on the left side of the poster to massacre a crowd of defenceless workers. Underneath is a quotation from Karl Marx referring to the Paris Commune of 1870/71.
         Now it is obvious that the religion might still be true even if cardinals were in the habit of mowing down the populace. As anti-religious propaganda it is naive. What is wicked and typically communist about the poster is its falsification of history. It so happens that in May 1871 it was the then Archbishop of Paris, Georges Darboy, who while in prison was murdered in cold blood by the communists.... You do not just tell a lie but the exact opposite of the truth; it leaves your opponent speechless. It is the technique used so successfully by progressives when they accuse traditionalists of being divisive.

I had this passage in mind as I read the latest interview with Archbishop Roche, in which he does not merely tell lies, but says the exact opposite of the truth. However, he will not leave his opponents speechless.

One can hardly read a paragraph of this article without cringing at his befuddlement. Here is a brief commentary on some of his more egregious statements.

“I think one of the problems that we are facing today is that we are living in a very individualistic world, a very relativistic world, and where the individual preference promotes itself above the common good and the common expression,” he said. “I think that that is a very dangerous thing, and it is something that as Christians, we really need to take very careful note of.”

So: how exactly does a liturgy notorious for its “optionitis,” which makes of it the personal project of whoever is celebrating it, escape from “individual preference”? The priest gets to make choices about the penitential rite; optional commentaries on the readings; whether or not to have an alleluia; whether or not to say the Offertory out loud; sometimes which Preface to say; which Eucharistic Prayer to say (!); whether to use some Latin or not; ad orientem or versus populum; and so on and so forth. Add to this the completely open-ended possibilities for the music, what kinds of music, which texts, when to sing and when not to sing, possibilities of readings, optional memorials, periods of silence just sitting there, etc... As any amateur mathematician may see, there are millions of possibile configurations of the Novus Ordo, all of them summoned into being by “individual preference,” which, of course, rules out altogether a liturgical “common expression” of the Faith! That’s a “very dangerous thing” that “we really need to take very careful note of”!

“This is not the pope’s Mass, it’s not my Mass, it’s not your Mass. This is the Mass of the church,” the archbishop said. “This is what the church has decided how we express ourselves as a community in worship, and how we imbibe from the books of the liturgy the doctrine of the church.”

Apart from His Excellency’s tipsy grammar, we may note the profound irony of saying, about a Mass created for and issued by Paul VI in an absolutely unprecedented flexing of papal creativity, that “this is not the pope’s Mass.” Of course it is: it is Paul VI’s Mass, in a way that the Tridentine rite was never “the Mass of” St. Pius V or Benedict XV or John XXIII, for it was the Roman Rite handed down from century to century by all who used this missal. Only of the TLM could it be truthfully said: “This is not the pope’s Mass; it’s not my Mass; it’s not your Mass. This is the Mass of the Church.”

The differences between the pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Masses, he said, are not simply the use of Latin, chant, silence and the direction the priest faces. The promotion of the pre-Vatican II liturgy as somehow more holy or prayerful than the current liturgy “is not basically a liturgical problem, it is an ecclesial problem,” the archbishop said.

Here is where Roche makes a fatal move. He admits that the differences between the missals are not just “skin-deep”: they go beyond the “smells and bells.” By stating that the promotion of the preconciliar rite is “not basically a liturgical problem, it is an ecclesial problem”—that is, has to do with fundamental theology, the lex credendi expressed by the lex orandi—the Archbishop once again asserts the rupture thesis that condemns Traditionis Custodes to the dustbin: if the new rite is antithetical to the old rite, yet the old rite expressed the faith of the Church for well over a millennium, which of the two is the loser? Surely the new rite, unless we want to say the Church had a faulty and damaging notion of itself and of its faith for most of its history—which sounds oddly like the view many Protestants hold.

The current Mass, with a richer selection of prayers and Scripture readings, reflects and reinforces the church’s understanding of itself as the people of God.

Here we come to the most monumental of the errors. Roche tells us every chance he gets that the “current Mass” boasts a “richer selection of prayers and Scripture readings.” True, the missal of Paul VI draws its euchology or prayer texts from a wider variety of sources in ancient manuscripts. What people like Roche do not want to tell you is that Bugnini’s Consilium heavily redacted most of the texts it borrowed, altering their message, removing material deemed “difficult” or “irrelevant” for “modern man.” What you end up with in the missal is not a plethora of ancient sources but a carefully filtered and rewritten 1960s “take” on them. This chronological snobbery is perfectly conveyed in a memorandum from the Consilium in charge of the liturgical reform, dated September 9, 1968:

It is often impossible to preserve either orations that are found in the [1962] Roman Missal or to borrow suitable orations from the treasury of ancient euchology. Indeed, prayer ought to express the mind of our current age, especially with regard to temporal necessities like the unity of Christians, peace, and famine… In addition, it seems to us that it is not always possible for the Church on every occasion to make use of ancient orations, which do not correspond with the doctrinal progress visible in recent encyclicals such as Pacem in terris and Populorum progressio, and in conciliar documents such as Gaudium et spes. (source)

In keeping with this policy, only 13% of the prayers of the old missal, once the backbone of Roman Catholic worship, found their way into the new missal unchanged. The scholars with their scissors and paste were busy rejecting or rewriting most of what they came upon. The editing process was ruthless, removing most of the references to “detachment from the temporal and desire for the eternal; the Kingship of Christ over the world and society; the battle against heresy and schism, the conversion of non-believers, the necessity of the return to the Catholic Church and genuine truth; merits, miracles, and apparitions of the saints; God’s wrath for sin and the possibility of eternal damnation” (Michael Fiedrowicz, Traditional Mass, 239, with ample notes there). Gone are most references to the struggle against our sinful fallen nature, offenses against the Divine Majesty, wounds of the soul, worthy repentance, remorse, and reparation; the need for grace to do any good acts; the mystery of predestination; the relics of saintsthe subordination of the secular sphere to the sacred; the snares of the enemy; victory over hostile forces, including the pagans; beautiful orations specifically addressed to Jesus Christ as God.

How, exactly, can a missal missing all these old riches be said to represent “a richer selection of prayers”? On the contrary, the selection—precisely because it is a selection by 1960s “experts”—is theologically narrower, culturally thinner, and spiritually impoverished. The old missal’s prayers express much more of the full height and depth of the divine mysteries and the variegated human response to them. For those who are not persuaded, I recommend, in addition to Fiedrowicz, the unanswerable research of Lauren Pristas in her Collects of the Roman Missals: A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons before and after the Second Vatican Council. (Don’t these Sant’Anselmians ever study any books? They seem to have read nothing after ca. 1975.)

The same thing can be said of the “richer selection of Scripture readings.” Yes, there are more readings, numerically speaking. However, some of the highly appropriate and crucial readings found in the old missal were excluded from the new lectionary, and the new one, for its part, skips verses deemed (you guessed it) “difficult for modern man.” The old readings, like the old orations, actually express a wider range of certain themes than the new lectionary in spite of its vastly greater size. And this is not even to get into the many other problems with the new lectionary, which, so far from deserving to be the poster child of the reform, deserves to be rigorously reexamined in light of the numerous advantages boasted by the old lectionary.

Returning now to Roche:

“That which was given to us by the council, which classified, concretized the teaching of the church about itself and its understanding of the role of the baptized and the importance of the Eucharist and the sacramental life of the church, is not without significance for the future of the church,” he said.

The Novus Ordo was not given to us by the council. Please repeat three times. The premises of Sacrosanctum Concilium could have been fulfilled in many different ways. Their actual application in the form of the new liturgical books of Paul VI has led to unceasing controversy and complaints at all levels and from all sides, because it will never be traditional enough for those who love immemorial tradition and never progressive enough for those who favor constant “inculturation” or “adaptation” (and we will be seeing more of this Amazonian trend in the future, if rumors about the replacement of Liturgiam Authenticum are true). Nevertheless, it would be impossible to find a single statement in Vatican II that would necessarily yield the Novus Ordo as it now exists. Nor can it ever be said that the preconciliar period lacked a profound awareness of “the role of the baptized and the importance of the Eucharist and the sacramental life of the church”; on the contrary, this awareness was far stronger, as the vastly greater participation of Catholics before the Council in Sunday Mass, regular Confession, matrimony in the Church, and baptism for more numerous children, and the higher numbers of priestly and religious vocations, would evidently suggest to anyone but an ideologue.

And the bishops gathered for the Second Vatican Council, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said, “this is the direction in which we are going,” Archbishop Roche said.

No reputable theologian has ever claimed that bishops at an ecumenical council act “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” simply speaking; nor was “this direction” as clearly pointing to the Novus Ordo as Roche must assume as support for his dogmatism.

Through regular contacts with bishops and bishops’ conferences, he said, he knows most bishops have “greeted the pope’s call back to the council and also to the unity of the church with open arms and are very much behind what the Holy Father is saying.”

This sounds like the mandatory optimism of the Communist Party, according to which everything is always getting better, and everyone is marching side-by-side, arm-in-arm, into a glorious future! If Roche is correct, why is it that so many bishops have either done nothing about the motu proprio and the CDW responsa, or have sought ways to work around its onerous and episcopally insulting provisions? The available statistics and statements suggest—as Diane Montagna already reported (see also this and this)—that most bishops had either positive or neutral things to say about Summorum Pontificum, or indeed, had nothing to say, since only 30% responded to the pope’s survey. This doesn’t sound like “most bishops…are very much behind what the Holy Father is saying.”

But His Excellency saves the most delicious absurdity for last:

Obviously, people have preferences, the archbishop said. But Catholics need to look more deeply at what they are saying when they express those preferences. “When people say, ‘Well, I’m going to Father So-and-So’s Mass,’ well Father So-and-So is only the agent. It is Christ who is active in the Mass, it is the priest who acts in ‘persona Christi’—the person of Christ, the head of the church,” he said.

Are traditionalists really individualists who exalt their personal preferences above the Church’s “common liturgy”? Or is it rather the Novus Ordo that has privileged clerical choices and community preferences for five decades? The old liturgy consistently bears witness to a common faith and worship across the ages and around the world; it possesses a durable diachronic unity and a sensible synchronic unity. The phenomenon of “Fr. So-and-so’s Mass” generally happens only in the realm of the Novus Ordo because of all the options and interpretations and loose rubrics, which can make two Masses radically different from each other even at the same parish on the same morning. No wonder Catholics choose between “Fr. Pius Fiddleback” and “Fr. Lookatme Adlibber”: they are compelled to make a choice between those who make choices. The loser here is the Christi persona that should shine through and dominate.

“When we go to Mass, even when the music perhaps isn’t something that we would personally choose—and again, this is individualism coming in—then we’ve got to realize that we are standing at the side of Christ on his cross, who gives everything back to the Father through this Eucharist,” Archbishop Roche said.

Once again, the opposite is the truth: at the traditional Latin Mass, the music you will hear is (most often) either age-old chant dictated by the liturgy itself or polyphony based off of that chant—in short, the music long praised by the Magisterium and well suited for universal use, not “what we would personally choose” (which has nothing to do with it, although we may well prefer it for aesthetic reasons, and indeed it is superior). Which is—surprise!—exactly what Vatican II insisted on: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, ceteris paribus, it should be given chief place in liturgical services” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 116). My, how our idols often let us down, do they not, dear Prefect? Whereas in the Novus Ordo, somebody else—the pastor, the guitarist, the parish council, GIA, etc.—gets to impose his or its personal choice of music on the hapless people in the pews, dismissing the unitive power of the Church’s tradition.

Enough! We are dealing, at best, with an illiterate imbecile and a lackey looking for a red hat. How sad it would be if any readers were to fall for such tripe.

This post has been updated 1/22/22 with the quotation from the Consilium memorandum, the link to Fr. Houghton's now-published memoirs, and further links in the section on orations.