Rorate Caeli

“To go back is to go forward, to be propelled by the river of the great Tradition”: Archbishop Aguer against Papal Progressivism

Progressivism, which established itself a decade ago in Rome, decries a kind of reverse populism.

The populist handbook indicates that one must win the trust and adhesion of young people. But it happens that young people nowadays are suspicious of deviations and progressive adventures; they prefer and love Tradition. Rome, then, scourges them by scornfully branding them as ones who would "go back to the past"; they look "back" and long to get "behind" [what came with Vatican II], which would be better than the present, better than the "progress" of the progressives. "Behind" are the roots, the Cenacle and the Cross, from which the great ecclesial Tradition springs.

It is interesting to note that young people in general have been enthusiastic about the possibility of participating in the Mass of Ages, as made possible, with great wisdom and pastoral zeal, by Benedict XVI, who established an "extraordinary form" of the Roman Rite, in 2007, through his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Undoubtedly, it was not only young people who since then adhered to the centuries-old celebration, in which they discovered the meaning of the Mystery; but, in particular, the new generations were dazzled by an accuracy, solemnity, and beauty that they never knew before, and that they did not find in the "Eucharistic celebration" invented by the Freemason Annibale Bugnini and his crew of specialists.

The motu proprio Traditionis Custodes was a real calamity, forcing many priests and faithful to disobedience, and treated with understanding (a kind of pardon) by the good bishops. This papal ukase, contrary to the much-vaunted synodality, has disavowed the work of the great pontiffs St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Tornare indietro [to go back], paradoxically, is equivalent to andare avanti [going forward], since it consists in adhering to the Tradition which is always the same, always new, not like a museum piece but rather like a living plant, as St. Vincent of Lerins perceived and said, in the 5th century: in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu, eademque sententia. The Pope is not the master of the liturgy, to do with it as he pleases, but its servant and custodian. Joseph Ratzinger explains this very well in his theology of the liturgy.

Besides criticizing "go-backism", Rome persists in criticizing those who use "very old-fashioned methods" -- another caricature of Tradition! It would be necessary to "renew our way of seeing reality, to evaluate it". It is also affirmed that "the only Council that some pastors remember better [than Vatican II] is that of Trent". It is said that this is not "nonsense"; well, it is worse: a fallacy, a mockery.

Another target of official progressivism is "restorationism", which it attributes to many in the United States; clearly, it is annoying that the great ecclesial Tradition flourishes in that country. The accusation is about a "restorationism that would not accept Vatican II". It is curious to see that Rome confuses the Council with the "spirit of the Council", which was its arbitrary deformation. The progressive mania considers as "signs of renewal" those groups "that give a new face to the Church through social or pastoral assistance". A new face in which Christ no longer recognizes that of his Bride!

The "go-backers" and "restorationists" are those who understand their action to be inspired from the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, a text in which the will of the Fathers of Vatican II decreed: "No one, even if he is a priest, may add, subtract or change anything on his own initiative in the liturgy" (n. 22). This indication implies that the liturgy is to be characterized by the exactness of the rite. In every religious system we encounter what the Roman jurist Pomponius Festus (who was a pagan) defined as mos comprobatus in administrandis sacrificiis. Joseph Ratzinger has interpreted this purpose as the "search for a just way of worshipping God, a form of prayer and communal worship pleasing to God that is in conformity with his nature. How to glorify him in such a way that this worship constitutes the right way to meet him. Mos means custom, manner, usage, practice, and also designates the law. In Christian language it is the rite, the 'orthodoxy', the legitimate glorification of God endorsed and sustained by the People of God, which is the Church".

The Roman Rite was formed in the first Christian centuries, and was transmitted unaltered. A vast number of saints celebrated it. In 2007, Benedict XVI rescued it as an "extraordinary form", and a multitude of young people discovered it as a perfect form of adoration of God, which makes present in a sacramental way the Sacrifice of the Cross.

Accuracy -- without subjectivist stiffness -- is an objective value in the Roman Rite, protects the adoration of the Mystery, and allows the union of the celebrant and the faithful with the supernatural reality that is made present under the veil of the sacramental signs. In the Eucharist God is truly glorified, and one participates in the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Incarnate Word and Risen Redeemer. In the new Mass of Paul VI (of Bugnini, in fact), the altar has disappeared, transformed into a table without a Cross; genuflections and reverences are omitted, and the celebrant looks at the faithful and refers to them in a fraternal encounter, instead of leading them to look with him to the East, to the rising Son, who comes so that, through the action of the Holy Spirit, the community of the Church may glorify the Father: with Christ, through Him and in Him, all honor and glory are given to the Father.

Two other values are attributed to the Rite that the "go-backers" and "restorationists" cultivate: solemnity and beauty.

Solemnity has been liquidated, in the practice of the new Mass, by trivialization; it is a smiling and friendly encounter in which the priest acts as animator. Eliminating ritual exactitude, special care is taken to create a "homely", everyday, ordinary atmosphere. In this way, the aim is to attract crowds, without realizing that solemnity is the guardian of the Faith, an invaluable gift of God, and that the Eucharist is a feast of the Faith.

By beauty we mean not only the setting, which must be artfully arranged, but the whole, the totality, and its perfection. Only one aspect should be emphasized: the music. The Gregorian plainchant and polyphony performed "a cappella", and the pipe organ, are replaced by the guitar, not played like a zither (note the kinship between guitar and zither) but badly played, punished one might say. The text and the elementary and percussive melody make up an insignificant ditty, with no musical or cultural value whatsoever.

The Roman Rite has given rise to creations of a superior art, which spread and became famous in the secular sphere. The greatest composers of the West, in the seventeenth century, offered the Church and the world a marvelous treasure. It is impossible in the dimensions of an article to collect the names that make up a famous list of authors of Masses, oratorios, hymns, and pieces of religious inspiration. By way of example: from Bach's Mass in B minor to Olivier Messiaen's Twenty Views of the Child Jesus. This musical wealth at the service of the Church was clearly popular. In the cities and even in villages, with modest means, the beauty of worship was always cultivated. A healthy "go-backism" can today put this treasure back into circulation, even outside of the liturgical celebration, presenting the compositions in the churches in a context of prayer. It is opportune to recognize that one prays not only by saying or singing, but also by listening, listening with the ears and with the heart. The fecundity of the Church has promoted musical creation and has exercised for centuries a patronage that should be recognized (and is recognized by historians), and that can be renewed for the glory of God and the education of the people. I insist: the beauty of worship can become popular if it is officially cultivated, if it once again finds a necessary place in the liturgy. There is nothing less popular than populism. Rome remains the center of the West; it does not suit her to adopt the pauperism of a distant republic.

The values of accuracy, solemnity, and beauty, if cultivated in the liturgy, leave a cultural imprint that constitutes a richness of evangelization. An objective reading, without ideological prejudices, of the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium shows the coherence of Vatican II with the great ecclesial Tradition. A very different thing is the reform of the rites, especially the rite of the Mass, the work of Bugnini and his staff. Sectors of the Liturgical Movement, colored with rationalism, have not perceived the popular rootedness of the best achievements of the centuries-old practice concretized in the Mass, which has always manifested the unity of the Church.

I include at this point of reflection a long quote from Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, which expresses what I am trying to say:

A Mass celebrated in a village in Upper Bavaria would appear very different from a solemn Mass in a French cathedral, and this in turn from a Mass in a parish in southern Italy, or in a mountain village in the Andes, and so on. The ornamentation and the arrangement of the altar, as well as of the whole Church, the liturgical service, the way of singing and praying, all this gave the liturgy a particular physiognomy, so that one felt completely 'at home' in it.  And yet it could be experienced everywhere as one and the same, thus perceiving the great community of the Faith. The unity of the rite gives the real experience of the communio; where this is respected and at the same time encouraged, there is no contrast between multiplicity and unity.

The "go-backers" and "restorationists" only want to feel "at home" when they go to Mass. Tornare indietro is, in reality, andare avanti -- to go back is to go forward, to be propelled by the river of the great Tradition. To restore is to reconstruct, to rebuild, to rebuild the way always in force. There is no dead, smelly past, like Lazarus after four days in the tomb; it is something living, present, perennial, that we have to transmit to the future. This is the novelty and youth of Christianity. Rome now repudiates, in interventions that cause great confusion because of their deliberate ambiguity, the use of what it calls "very old-fashioned methods", and proposes "to renew our way of seeing reality, of evaluating it". This proposal of fundamental progressivism will only increase the number of "go-backers" and "restorationists", since Christian common sense itself invites us to adhere to those healthy positions.

 + Héctor Aguer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata
Buenos Aires, Monday, July 18, 2022