Rorate Caeli

Guest article: “The Old Liturgy and the New Despisers of the Council”

The following article was written by an anonymous diocesan priest in Germany and published under the title "Die alte Liturgie und die neuen Konzilsverächter: Als Kardinal Frings fassungslos war" at It partly draws its content from my article at OnePeterFive, "Daringly Balanced on One Point: The New Papal Letter on Liturgy" of June 29, with much additional valuable content. It has been translated for Rorate.--PAK

A few days ago, in a blistering article, Mr. Felix Neumann, editor of a radical modernist website, attacked those who remain faithful to the traditional Roman Liturgy. Citing a text by the Holy Father which, according to the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Liturgy, Archbishop Arthur Roche, is by no means of a legal nature and merely claims to be a "meditation," Neumann says it is finally time to "defend" the last Council "against its despisers" -- and in his view, these are apparently primarily those who are attached to the old liturgy.

It may be of interest in this context to let some witnesses who were contemporary to the Council have their say, since they were well aware of the nature and scope of the liturgical reform intended by Vatican II. If there is a discrepancy between the intentions of this Council and the liturgical reform that followed (not to mention its implementation or distortion), the accusation that those who follow the Church's liturgical tradition of at least 1,500 years are "despisers of the Council" proves to be quite groundless.

Of Josef Cardinal Frings, his niece Sigrid Sels reports:

When the second liturgical reform took place [i.e., in 1969], he was stunned and told us, "This is not what we Council Fathers decided, this is against the decisions of the Council. I cannot understand how the Holy Father could give his consent to such a thing." I was perplexed and asked our uncle, "Then how could such a thing happen?" To which his sad reply was, "The Council Fathers didn't want many things, but then came the periti, and they were mostly very progressive gentlemen, and they pushed everything in a different direction." [1]


Cardinal Frings, whom Ratzinger served as peritus

With hardly surpassable clarity, even with brusqueness, Bishop Domenico Celada, who as Council Father had voted for a reform of the liturgy, expressed himself already thus in 1969:

The gradual destruction of the liturgy is a sad fact universally known. In less than five years the millennial structure of divine worship has been dismantled.... In its place, an infantile, noisy, crude and highly tiring form of the rite was introduced. And the alienation and reluctance of the faithful were hypocritically ignored. [2]

I regret having voted for the Council Constitution in whose name -- but in what a way! -- this pseudo-reform was carried out. If it were possible, I would take back the vote I cast. [3]

Alfonso Maria Cardinal Stickler, who as a peritus of the Council [indeed, on the liturgy commission!--PK] was precisely familiar with the history of the drafting of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, noted in a long paper on the reform of the liturgy:

You can understand my astonishment when, on taking note of the final edition of the new Missale Romanum, I found that its contents in many respects did not correspond to the texts of the Council with which I was well acquainted, much was altered, expanded, and even directly contrary to the decrees of the Council. [4]

Never has there been, in any area of Catholic rites, and surely not in the Roman Latin, a rupture, a radical new creation, until the present postconciliar liturgy of the reform, despite the fact that the Council ... repeatedly demanded the absolute preservation of tradition in the reform.... It is a well-known fact that all heretical secessions from the Catholic Church have always resulted in a liturgical revolution, as can be seen particularly clearly in the case of the Protestants and Anglicans, whereas the reforms initiated by the Council of Trent and carried out by Pope Pius V up to those of Pius X, Pius XII and John XXIII were not revolutions, but only insignificant adaptations and enrichments. The Council expressly says concerning the reform desired by the Fathers, that nothing new should be introduced that is not demanded by a real and proven benefit to the Church. [5]

Cardinal Stickler cites numerous examples for his statement that the liturgical reform went beyond what was intended by the Council Fathers, including:

Here another important point must be raised, wherein the Council injunctions were not only misunderstood but totally denied: sacral language... When the subject of the language of the divine cultus was discussed in the Council Hall, and indeed through several days, I followed the whole process with great attention, as I did afterwards the various formulations in the Constitution on the Liturgy until the final vote. I remember very well how, after some radical proposals, a Sicilian bishop rose and implored the Fathers to exercise caution and discernment on this point, since otherwise there was a danger that the whole Mass would be said in the vernacular, whereupon the whole council hall burst into peals of laughter. [6]

Two other well-known council periti confirm Cardinal Stickler's observations in their own way. For example, for the Ordo Missae, the liturgical constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium had called for "simplification" but with "faithful preservation of the substance" (probe servata substantia) of the rites. However, according to Fr. Joseph Gelineau, the liturgical reform produced a somewhat different result:

This must be stated unequivocally: the Roman rite as we knew it no longer exists. It has been destroyed. [7]

Joseph Gelineau, SJ

P. Henri Denis left us the following comment on the liturgical reform:

In some discussions with traditionalists, it has become commonplace to say that "nothing has changed." It would be far better to have the courage to admit that the Church has made significant modifications, for good reason. Why not admit that the religion has changed? [8]

So this is how one peritus assessed -- albeit with obvious hyperbole -- the result of the liturgical reform: "change of religion." I wonder what the Council Fathers would have said about this, to whom, as Cardinal Stickler reported, even an "abolition" of the Latin language of worship had seemed so absurd that they "burst out laughing" at the mere mention of this possibility.

This latter fact, incidentally, is also mentioned by another Council Father, Archbishop Robert J. Dwyer [of Portland, Oregon]:

Who could have dreamed on the day Sacrosanctum Concilium was promulgated that in a few years, in less than a decade, the Latin tradition of the Church would be all but extinguished and become a slowly fading memory? The thought of this would have horrified us, but it seemed so inconceivable that we considered it ridiculous. And so we laughed it off. [9]

Furthermore, Prof. Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, cannot be ignored, at least as a contemporary witness, even by those who now engage in his damnatio memoriae. Joseph Ratzinger wrote in a letter to Prof. Wolfgang Waldstein on December 16, 1976:

The problem of the new Missal lies in the fact that it breaks away from this continuous history, which has always gone on before and after Pius V, and creates a thoroughly new book (albeit from old material), the appearance of which is accompanied by a type of prohibition of what has gone before that is quite unheard-of in the history of ecclesiastical law and liturgy. I can say with certainty from my knowledge of the Council debate and from rereading the speeches of the Council Fathers delivered at that time that this was not intended [by them]. [10]

The voices quoted above find full confirmation by what transpired at the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in 1967. The vast majority of the bishops present there had previously, as Council Fathers, given their approval to the Constitution on the Liturgy. At the Synod, in the presence of these Synod Fathers, a so-called Missa Normativa was celebrated, which essentially corresponded to the later Novus Ordo Missae -- and this Missa Normativa failed to convince a large part of the bishops. Others made more or less extensive suggestions for improvement. Prof. Georg May writes about this:

The deep displeasure of some fathers with the so-called liturgical reform found expression in vehement statements. Bishop Donal Lamont of Umtali in Rhodesia stated succinctly on October 24: "We are poisoned by the renewal" (viz., of the liturgy). Cardinal Secretary of State Cicognani indignantly exclaimed: "Sat experimenta, sat innovationes!" ("Enough of experimentation, enough of innovation.") [11]

Overall, Prof. May -- citing numerous supporting documents -- comes to the verdict:

Against the new Order of Mass, then, there was strong opposition from the bishops participating in the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops [in 1967]. But this opposition was surprisingly ignored and had no effect.... With intransigence, intolerance, and defiance, the authors and promoters of the so-called liturgical reform persisted in their erroneous ideas. [12]

Paul VI addresses the Synod Fathers in 1967

It should have become clear by now that the idea that the post-conciliar liturgical reform was an expression of "the will of the Council Fathers" is to be relegated to the realm of fantasy. Those who -- for many good reasons -- remain attached to the traditional liturgy in an attitude of fidelity to the Church and the faith are unquestionably not acting in contradiction to the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, in accordance with theology, common sense, and, not least, the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI declared:

What was sacred to previous generations remains sacred and great to us as well; it cannot suddenly become roundly forbidden or even harmful. [13]

And since Benedict XVI made the latter statement in the exercise of his magisterium -- and not, say, "merely in a disciplinary sense" -- the following statement of the Constitution on the Liturgy, at least, is readily applicable to the ancient liturgy: "In matters which do not concern the faith or the common good, the Church does not wish to make a rigid uniformity of form obligatory" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 37). In other words: since the rites handed down cannot be "suddenly harmful," it is contrary to the spirit of the Church to wish to suppress them for the sake of a "rigid uniformity."

For the rest, the accusation that the faithful who are attached to the old liturgy are "despisers of the Council" seems rather amusing, especially when it is raised by the editor of the website mentioned at the beginning. This website has so far not attracted attention either for its fastidious faithfulness to the teachings of popes and councils in general, nor for its adherence to the last council in particular. If this council is occasionally cited there, it is at most selectively and with a modernist misinterpretation. In any case, among the actual teachings of the Second Vatican Council are the following:

"The Holy Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ." (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, n. 2).

"It is Jesus Christ ... who ... by signs and wonders, ... fulfills and completes the revelation and affirms it by divine testimony." (Dei Verbum, n. 4)

"Therefore, those people who knew about the Catholic Church and her necessity for salvation, instituted by God through Christ, but who did not want to enter or persevere in her, could not be saved." (Lumen Gentium, no. 14)

"Doctrine in its entirety must be clearly presented. Nothing is so far from the ecumenical spirit as that false irenism by which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers damage and its original and certain meaning is obscured." (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 11)

"Thus, this Holy Synod asks not only priests, but all the faithful, to make the precious gift of priestly celibacy a real commitment." (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 16)

"Life must be guarded with the utmost care from the moment of conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes." (Gaudium et spes, no. 51)

"Let governmental authority consider it its sacred duty to recognize, guard, and promote the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect public morality and to promote domestic prosperity." (Gaudium et Spes, n. 52)

Mr. Neumann now claims to want "not only to establish the Council" -- that is, presumably also the teachings of it just mentioned -- "but also to defend it against its despisers." A first sensible step towards realizing this laudable intention would be to locate the old and new despisers of the Council where they really are -- and, in the light of the knowledge thus gained, to take the website he edits off the internet.

1 Letter to the editor, Deutsche Tagespost, January 17, 1995.
2 Lo Specchio, May 16, 1969.
3 Lo Specchio, July 29, 1969.
4 Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler, "Erinnerungen und Erfahrungen eines Konzilsperitus der Liturgiekommission," in: Franz Breid (ed.), Die heilige Liturgie, Steyr, 1997, p. 161. For an English translation, see: New Liturgical Movement: "Recollections of a Vatican II Peritus."
5 Ibid., p. 169f.
6 Ibid. p. 177f.
7 Joseph Gelineau, Demain la liturgie, Paris 1976, p. 9 f.: "Le rite romain tel que nous l’avons connu n’existe plus. Il est détruit."
8 Henri Denis, Des Sacrements et des Hommes, Paris 1988, p. 34.
9 Cited in: Michael Davies, Liturgical Timebombs in Vatican II, Rockford, 2003, p. 65.
10 Cited in: Una Voce Correspondence, 38th ed, p. 203.
11 Georg May, "Die alte und die neue Messe," Düsseldorf, 1975, p. 42.
12 Ibid, p. 43f.
13 Pope Benedict XVI, Con grande fiducia, Letter accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum to the World Episcopate, July 7, 2007.