Rorate Caeli

“The Mass Is Not Ended” — A Review-Essay by Cleto Moroni

A new book by Cristina Siccardi, That Mass So Battered and Persecuted, Yet So Alive! has been released [so far in Italian only], dedicated to the Mass that some call Vetus Ordo, others “the Mass of Ages.” The issue is as thorny as ever. The essay asks some inescapable and radical questions. What were the real goals of the conciliar liturgical reform? What were the results? Why is fidelity to the Mass so important to Catholics, now nearly one and a half billion worldwide?

In the most unjust trial in history, which the Mass evokes each time for its definitive and absolute salvific value, Jesus declares to Pilate, “For this I was born and for this came I into the world: to bear witness to the truth. Whoever is of the truth listens to my voice.” The unjust judge reacts, annoyed: “What is truth?” His skeptical question bounces off the walls of our contemporary Babel, producing endless echoes.

The fury against the Tridentine Mass

Siccardi traces the history of the Mass, from its institution to the present, and addresses the question of the reform that resulted from the Council, a supposed springtime that turned out instead to be a winter, even from a liturgical point of view. The book appeared in bookstores right in the bewilderment following the publication of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and the apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi. The Mass in its traditional form is indeed persecuted, yet it is more alive and vital than ever, appreciated by many young people. According to the author, this is the clearest demonstration that the traditional Holy Mass goes to the heart of the faith, because the lex orandi is inextricably linked to the lex credendi: to worship God in the line of Tradition means to remain faithful to the Church’s magisterium of all time; to worship man—as we read in Paul VI’s address for the closing of the Council, December 7, 1965: “The religion of the God who became Man has met with the religion (because such it is) of man who makes himself God. What took place? A clash, a struggle, an anathema? It could have been; but it did not happen”—is no longer defending and doing justice to Catholicism.

Today, Siccardi says, no one can claim anymore that this is a rite linked to the “nostalgia” of past generations, who in their youth had experienced the “ancient” liturgy. The elders of our days are rather those of the upheaval of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical revolution, those who continue to persecute “that Mass,” around whose altar belltowers, basilicas, shrines, monasteries, abbeys, and cathedrals rose up. Vatican II is the only Council in history that did not convene to condemn theological and doctrinal errors but to open itself to the world, to the “distant,” to Protestants. It is certainly no coincidence that the first document of a gathering that focused on ecumenism was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, where the first paragraph reads: “The sacred Council proposes to make Christian life among the faithful grow daily more intense; to better adapt to the needs of our time those institutions which are subject to change.” The objective thus signaled has failed resoundingly because the premises were fallacious and erroneous. For this reason, as statistics mercilessly point out, seminaries are closing; parishes are being amalgamated; already dioceses (like that of Cefalú) are entrusting parishes to groups of lay people. Thus, while churches, especially in Europe, are emptying and being sold off more and more, those of the traditional kind are vital and thriving.

The liturgical reform in some respects aligned itself with the Protestant liturgical revolution, where it was no longer the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar that is the main purpose of the rite of worship, but rather (though not denying it, as the Lutherans and all the sects that have arisen from this strain do) the focus has shifted to the Eucharistic memorial of the Last Supper, with all that has ensued in support of it: the “presider” turning his back on the tabernacle to be facing “the assembly”; loss of the value of the tabernacle to the point of storing consecrated hosts in Eucharistic closets or cabinets off to the side; the abolition of the sacred language of the Church of Rome (a language that calls for a more intense vertical and transcendent relationship with the Most Holy Trinity, unlike the vernacular, which humanizes and does not divinize the liturgical moment, favoring the horizontal distraction of the faithful); loss of reverence and adoration toward the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the elimination of gestures, silences, genuflections, the taking of the sacred Host in one’s hand at communion; lay violability of the presbytery; participation of the laity in the ritual (reading of the Word of God; distribution of Communion; servers, including females); liturgical adaptations through both the demolition of altars (replaced by tables) and communion rails, and the typically Protestant aniconicity or absence of holy images in modern churches, the impoverishment of priestly vestments.

The Novus Ordo Missae was the result of a desk effort by a special liturgical commission in which a delegation of Protestant pastors also participated, chaired by Monsignor Annibale Bugnini, who was given wide latitude. In sharp contrast, the rite of the Mass of Ages had been built up brick by brick, from the moment of its institution willed by Christ onward, along the centuries of the Church’s Tradition: we are, therefore, in the presence of an extraordinary work of goldsmithing, so to speak, which has gradually allowed for the human and divine setting of gems and shaping of material—a masterpiece of inestimable value, with which the revolutionized rite will never be able to compete for firmness of Truth and for supreme Beauty. After 15 years of living under the provisions of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, clergy, religious men and women, families, children and young people have come to know the wonders of such a Holy Mass, which they can no longer renounce for any reason in the world. Their conscience is at stake.

Cristina Siccardi points out that welcome and mercy for every worldly reality are the usual attitudes of the modern Holy See. However, there is no respect and recognized dignity for the Church identity as it has always been understood for two thousand years. Tradition has been betrayed and the teachings of all time are no longer transmitted. It is for this reason that the Mass of Ages creates embarrassment; indeed, it produces a real terror in the upper echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy because it is the mirror of the faith showing what it really is, devoid of the superstructures carried out by the theologians, innovators, and pastors chained to modernist, political, sociological, psychological, or ecological dynamics, rather than committed to the care of souls.

The reasons for liturgical reform

The revolutionaries most often expound their demands by falsely making themselves the “spokesmen of the good of the people,” while in reality acting according to their own subjective ideologies. This manner of behavior goes back to the Pontifical Liturgical Commission established on May 28, 1948, whose members were: Monsignor Alfonso Carinci; Father Ferdinando Antonelli, general rapporteur of the Historical Section; Father Joseph Löw, deputy rapporteur; Father Anselmo Albareda y Ramoneda, prefect of the Vatican Library; Father Agostino Bea, rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute; Father Annibale Bugnini, editor of the Ephemerides Liturgicae, then secretary of the Commission, a post he held from 1948 until the dissolution of the Commission itself, at the time when the Preparatory Commission for the Council was established in 1960. In its twelve years of existence, from June 28, 1948 to July 8, 1960, the Commission met 82 times, acting in absolute secrecy. This Commission enjoyed the confidence of Pius XII, who was informed by the Substitute to the Secretariat of State Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Paul VI, and every week by Father Agostino Bea.

In the case of the liturgical revolution following the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI argued that the Latin language needed to be sacrificed for the sake of a greater and more widespread understanding of the content of the Mass. However, the Catholic faithful did not feel the need for this at all, and no demands were ever made in this regard—much less for altering the formulas of prayer, changing the Canon, erasing signs and words, distorting attitudes of priests and laity, all of which ultimately shifted in a Protestant direction.

The common thread of this sad story was the desire on the part of some members of the Conciliar Church (the minority, not the majority) to vary the Roman religious institution in depth. To do this, it was necessary to go to the heart and soul of divine worship: the Holy Mass. As early as the second half of the nineteenth century there were liturgists eager to open up to Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican liturgical realities, a kind of great cultic temptation to move closer to them. A purpose, then, anthropocentric and ecumenical, with illusionistic and utopian horizons, the fallacious and harmful results of which are there for all to see.

On the contrary, the guiding thread of the traditional Holy Mass has always and only been the greater glory of God and the sanctification of souls. The Old Testament commandment “Remember to keep holy the feasts” was perfected through the Incarnation of the Son of God for the eternal salvation of souls. His Passion is bloodlessly renewed every time a Mass is celebrated. This is why Jesus said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world” (Mt 28:18–20). The protagonists featured in Siccardi’s book, champions of Tradition—from St. Francis of Assisi to Cardinal John Henry Newman, from St. Alphonsus Liguori to Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, from St. Philip Neri to Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre—are those who have most of all left precious pages of absolute credibility on the bimillennial liturgical rite, a rite that has produced conversions, miracles, sanctifications, fully realized Christian lives, and, therefore, that has really served to catch men in the fisherman’s net.

The drama of the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception

The persecution against the religious of the institute founded by Father Stephen M. Manelli, who meritoriously identified the traditional Holy Mass as the crucial pivot of the integral and not spurious Faith, constitutes the typical contemporary reaction against all those who are in search of the Truth (the only Truth, in spite of relativist, ecumenical, and interreligious religion) exhaustively revealed by the Son of God. Returning to the Franciscan sources, thus to the authentic figure of St. Francis of Assisi and his co-redemptive work, the Franciscans of the Immaculate showed that one cannot untie ritual from doctrine; whenever this happens, ambiguity and deception are manifest. For taking this path of liturgical purification and advancing criticism of the problematic Second Vatican Council, the Holy See commissaried them and mercilessly punished them.

But the Holy Mass, as always, continues to attract abundant vocations and faithful alike. This is the real “springtime of the Church,” certainly not the winter that followed the Second Vatican Council, which turned into a system of self-demolition, as Paul VI had already pointed out on December 7, 1968 before the members of the Pontifical Lombard Seminary.

A devoted NGO

The last few years of “pandemic emergency” made it sadly evident that the Church hierarchy is more concerned about the health of bodies than the salvation of souls. Where is faith in the Son of God, the only Redeemer of the world? And in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, under the Eucharistic species? By insisting on turning the Catholic Church into an incoherent “devout NGO,” some members of the hierarchy misrepresent the meaning of the mission assigned to it by the Most High, as indeed the Modernists intended.

In the preface to Siccardi’s essay, Fr. Davide Pagliarani, superior general of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, writes that “the Holy Mass cannot be understood and valued if the mission of the Church is perceived as a socio-humanitarian contribution or an ecological commitment; it is not possible to fully experience the Holy Eucharist if one is not willing to come out of indifference and lukewarmness; above all, one cannot approach this mystery without faith.” All over the world many faithful attracted to Tradition have understood this, while pastors continue to be prisoners of old patterns that have failed. Will it be the lay faithful, paradoxically, who will save the Mass by rescuing it from deviations and abuses?

Cristina Siccardi is convinced that it is first and foremost the priests who will save the Mass for what it authentically is—that is, those priests who do not betray their identity (for the ordained minister of God exists ontologically because the Holy Sacrifice of the altar exists!) and who continue to administer the sacraments according to rites that are not modernistic and protestantized but follow the parameters of the Church’s Tradition, thus guarding the deposit of the Faith. As has always been the case in the Church’s grave moments of crisis (think of the spread of Arianism after the Council of Nicaea and the proliferation of Protestant denominations after the rebellion of the early Reformers), the lay faithful united with their priests guarantee the necessary and militant resistance so that sanctifying grace can act in the “renewal of all things in Christ,” bringing back order, harmony, and true peace in Him, for “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).

As Christ was persecuted to death on the Cross, so His Mass is battered and crucified, for there is nothing more hostile to the forces of evil than the Offering of the Immolated Lamb, renewed on the altars, the one that reproduces Calvary for the salvation of every soul. Therefore, this is not only a clash between men in the Church; it is also a clash of supernatural forces.

In the face of such serious deviations, human hope could induce capillary action, planning to spread sound doctrine and foster the growth of heroically faithful communities according to the model that has been called the “Benedict Option.” It must be kept in mind that what counts here is the Will of God, for the Church is His, not men’s, and the Mass was instituted by the Son of God. It is theological hope that must be revived, abandoning oneself into the arms of God the Father and trying to be gently sensitive to the motions of the Holy Spirit. Mary, Mother of the Church, will never fail to intercede for the Christian faithful. On this basis, one can develop a very broad catechesis that starts, first and foremost, from the witness of a heroic life.

First and last communion?

Exemplary witnesses are especially needed by children. Dislike for the Holy Host begins at the earliest age, with catechism in preparation for First Communion. Although a mother may have endeavored to pass on the faith along with her mother’s milk, and the same efforts have been made by a father, the sometimes distant-from-reality teachings given at this stage are not infrequently deleterious. Little ones have an early and special sensitivity to the essence of things. If one teaches them that the Mass is the banquet of Christians, a cheerful convivial gathering, they will gradually lose interest in a liturgical entertainment that appeals almost exclusively to feelings.

The common experience [in Italy and certain other countries] is that children stop going to Mass the Sunday after they receive their First Communion. Some of them return, more or less convinced, to prepare for the sacrament of Confirmation, only to disappear again. If Jesus is not Perfect God and Perfect Man, if the Mass is not the bloodless renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, if Our Lord is not really present in the sacramental species in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, why should teenagers participate in a schtick that ends up being a pale shadow of the celebrations that so many of them know how to organize much better?

Often some memory of truth remains in them, amid so many doctrinal errors passed on by pastors and catechists. In due time it will resurface, because the Holy Spirit acts in the soul of every human being. But God counts on Christians; he follows the ordinary pedagogy of transmitting the faith from generation to generation by means of men and women. Was this distancing of little ones from the Church what the liturgical reform was intended to do, in the intentions of some of its promoters? Take away firm points of reference from Catholics? Dismember the most united and healthiest communities and cause them to lose the power to hand on the Faith?

Babel and Pentecost

In the Novus Ordo Missae one senses a kind of compromise with Lutheran irrationalism. It originated in the era of Catholic humanism, which favored the rereading of the Greek and Roman classics in light of the Revelation of the Logos. Martin Luther’s fatalism and illogic are light years away from the spirit of a St. Thomas More, to name just one of the Renaissance saints. “I do not love him, I openly confess,” said the Protestant author Thomas Mann in admitting his position toward Luther. “That which is extremely German, separatist and anti-Roman, anti-European, baffles and frightens me, even when it presents itself as evangelical freedom and spiritual emancipation, while that which is specifically Lutheran, the choleric villany, the invective, the raging eruption, the frightful vigor mixed with delicate depth of soul and massive superstitious belief in demons, nightmares and monsters, arouses my instinctive revulsion.”

The liturgical reform, far from attracting Protestants to communicatio in sacris, adulterated the nature of the Mass. Moreover, sola scriptura—the unregulated interpretation of the Bible advocated by Luther, without the shrewd vigilance of the Church’s Magisterium—is one of the tenets that still cause new Protestant denominations to spring up today, based on new eccentric readings of the texts. Nor was the beginning any different, with reformers divided among themselves in their understanding of Scripture: Luther (1483–1546), Zwingli (1484–1531), Calvin (1509–1564), not to mention the Anglicans and others from the first phase. No one gained by departing from the truth, and it is only on the basis of truth that dialogue can be established so as to return to the common home.

There is the role of modernism in all this to consider. Condemned by St. Pius X in 1907 with the decree Lamentabili Sane Exitu and the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, the movement was momentarily deprived of its most venomous sting, the tactic of infiltrating the Catholic world to dismantle doctrinal foundations without openly attacking them as heretics of previous centuries had done. Once unmasked, the theological movement seemed destined to disappear. Instead, it reappeared within the Liturgical Movement, only apparently setting aside its interest in subverting dogmatic theology. Characters such as Josef Jungmann (1888–1975) and Louis Bouyer (1913–2004) succeeded in corrupting a meritorious movement that had been born under the best auspices of a healthy rebirth of the liturgy at the hands of consecrated religious animated by sacred zeal, first and foremost among them Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805–1875). In the case of Jungmann and Bouyer, more than a contamination with Lutheran irrationalism, it is Enlightenment rationalism that prevails, on the basis of which a militant intellectual can say everything and the opposite of everything, e.g., by means of the ambiguous use of archaeologism, seeking a primary, pure form of the Mass in the early Christian communities.

A synthesis of the two approaches is found in Romano Guardini (1885–1968). In fact, his was not so much a banishment of syllogism as a romantic confidence in neo-chivalric sentimentalism. Not surprisingly, he had Rothenfels Castle, especially the “Knights’ Hall,” arranged so that Mass could be celebrated with the young people of Quickborn (whom he called “Ladies” and “Knights”) fanned out around a table like the Knights of the Round Table. To do this he enlisted the help of architect Rudolf Schwarz, whose minimalist works and whose book Vom Bau der Kirche influenced much of later sacred architecture. In the volume, modernist principles are explicit (Jesus is not self-aware as the eternal Son of God but gradually discovers his own mission, etc.). Instead, in his architecture there is clear reference to the spiritualism of the Theosophical Society, which denies the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

If these are the articulated references of liturgical reform, the current situation is really a monumental Babel. On the one hand, we find circus-like entertainment Masses, sometimes with authentic clowns; we find glacial liturgical classrooms more suited to practices of transcendental meditation than to an encounter with Jesus Christ on Calvary. And in the case of the architecture and furnishings of some modern churches, the rejection of tradition has no appeal whatsoever: they are simply not churches, they seem good only for conferences, dance parties, or (at best) esoteric gatherings. On the other hand, we also find the Novus Ordo celebrated by holy priests, animated by faith in the salvific value of transubstantiation, with attention to detail, with devotion and in union with the heavenly Church.

Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis. And Our Lady unceasingly watches over the children of God. In the center of the vault mosaics, at the altar, Etimasia (preparation) is depicted in medieval Sicilian churches. The dove of the Holy Spirit is seated on a throne studded with signs of Jesus’s Passion. It evokes the Parousia, the second and final coming of the one Redeemer of humanity. A new outpouring of the gifts of Pentecost must be called down so that there may be a deep and widespread conversion of Catholics, along with a renewed awareness of the Truth. May Our Lord, when He returns to earth, find living faith in the hearts of the elect.

(Italian original here)