Rorate Caeli

A Reply to Cavadini, Healy & Weinandy

Rubrics erased in the Reform

It would try the patience of readers, and more than exhaust the time I have available, to comment on the whole series of five articles published in Church Life Journal by John Cavadini, Mary Healy, and Thomas Weinandy (hereafter, CHW). Instead I will focus on just two points in the concluding article of the series: ‘The Way Forward from the Theological Concerns with the TLM Movement’. 

Throughout this article they keep repeating two fundamental misunderstandings of the movement for the Traditional Mass, misunderstandings which make their analysis and recommendations beside the point. It is a principle of academic discussion that before criticising a position one must first be able to summarise it in a way which would be acceptable to those who put it forward. In this, CHW have, I am afraid, completely failed.

The first misunderstanding is in the motivation of the movement. It is all the more remarkable in that they express their own understanding as their reading of a passage from Peter Kwasniewski which says something entirely different. Dr Kwasniewski, as CHW quotes him, says this:

If at all possible, we should avoid participating in a form of prayer that deprives the Lord of the reverence that is due to Him. The Novus Ordo systematically does this by having removed hundreds of ways in which the Church showed her profound reverence for the Word of God and the holy mysteries of Christ.

CHW comment:

Such critiques presume that the reformed rite must be an occasion of significant irreverence; there is little appreciation of the many celebrations of the reformed liturgy with profound reverence, feeding the souls of countless members of the faithful in parishes throughout the world.

CHW want the argument to be about celebrants and perhaps the congregation lacking a spirit of reverence. But this is not what Dr Kwasniewski is talking about. He refers to the Novus Ordo’s reformers having “removed hundreds of ways in which the Church showed her profound reverence”. An obvious example would be the removal of the genuflection by the celebrant before each of the elevations. The reverence of the celebrant is another issue altogether.

Nor does Kwasniewski deny that people can be spiritually fed by the Novus Ordo. Like me and nearly all adult members of the Traditional Movement, he was fed by it himself for many years before discovering the Traditional Mass. What he felt, on making this discovery, is what he says in this passage: that there are things in the texts and rubrics of the Traditional Mass which express more clearly the reverence due to God than are to be found in the Novus Ordo.

I think this is extremely hard to deny, and perhaps that is why CHW don’t want to engage with this argument. Traditionalists could supply them with a mountain of examples, and also point to the published words of liturgists in no way committed to the Traditional Mass who have made similar arguments on particular points. Cardinal Ratzinger—as he then was—thought that the silent Canon was preferable, more reverent, more conducive to prayer, than the Canon proclaimed aloud. He and Cardinal Sarah have said the same thing about worship ad orientem being preferable to worship versus populum. Non-traditionalist liturgists have published critiques of the reformed Lectionary, the reformed Offertory Prayers, the Novus Ordo Sign of Peace, the reformed manner of receiving Holy Communion, and many other things. What is more, the Holy See itself has accepted some of these criticisms, such as those about the way the Collects were edited. In the 2008 edition of the reformed Missal a whole lot of words and phrases which had been cut out of them by the Concilium were actually restored.

Are CHW going to attack all these people for rejecting Vatican II? For failing to maintain communion with the Church? For lacking a proper respect for ecclesial authority? For failing to read the signs of the times? I very much doubt it. It is only when these arguments are made by Traditionalists that they are wrong. But this is ridiculous. There can’t be one law for us and another for everyone else.

The second misunderstanding is about how Traditional Catholics define themselves. CHW claim it is by reference to the Rite they attend: for trads, they say, “‘Church’ is now defined by which Eucharistic rite one attends.”

This is easily disposed of. Among Traditional Catholics, there is absolutely no sense that the ancient Roman Rite is the only “true” or adequate or reverent liturgical form. If this seems surprising, consider the attitude of Traditional Catholics towards the ancient Dominican Rite, the ancient Ambrosian Rite, or the Eastern Rites.

I can imagine CHW protesting: Oh this is not what we meant! No, indeed: you didn’t think your statement through, did you? Trads are not fixated on the Roman Rite. The other rites are not so easy for most of us to attend, but we think they are great, and express in a beautiful way the universality and genuine pluralism of the Catholic Church. Typically trads regret the loss of liturgical diversity following the Council of Trent, and lament the ‘Latinisation’ of eastern Rites both before and after Vatican II; again, it is among Trads that you will find enthusiasts for the revival of the Sarum Rite and the regional Rites of France.

Given that CHW’s statement as written is totally false, what is the defining feature of Traditional Catholics? It is what it says on the tin: we are concerned with tradition: the passing on down the generations of a living patrimony of prayer, as opposed to the artificial manufacture of liturgy by committee: to paraphrase Cardinal Ratzinger.

This may make CHW a little uncomfortable, but it should be obvious that the rupture in this process of handing on, which Ratzinger referred to and which is undeniable by anyone with any knowledge of the matter coupled with intellectual honesty, is a problem. It is a problem, perhaps, with no easy solution. But it is right for Catholics to see it as a problem, because reverence for tradition is part of what it means to be Catholic.

Let CHW come out and deny that, if they can.

Postscript. In 2020 I wrote a response to an article by Prof Healy in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review. There is a response by 'Fr Tom W' in the replies. Between this and Healey's article it is clear that they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing in the last two years.