Rorate Caeli

“The Current Crisis of Faith in the Church Has Its Ground in the New Mass” — Analysis by Fr. Michael Gurtner

The following superb article by Austrian priest Fr. Michael Gurtner 
appeared in German at the site on November 27, 2022; the translation is published here with permission.—PAK

At present, the modern Church is working to change its internal constitution, transforming itself and by its own initiative from a hierarchical Church, as willed and instituted by God, to a “synodal” (and therefore humanly constructed) Church. In the one and only Church of Jesus Christ, which is the Catholic Church, a process of successive detachment from divine revelation and from Christ Himself has been underway for decades: it is thus a process of self-destruction. The Church is currently tearing itself apart from within. Unfortunately, the question is now very legitimate as to how Catholic the Catholic Church on earth still is. Is it really still as Christ intended and wanted it to be?

True, it is clear that the Catholic Church is identical with the Church instituted by Jesus Christ. One can, so to speak, point to the Catholic Church and say, “This is the one and only Church that Jesus Christ instituted.” Quite different, on the other hand, is the question of whether what is generally done, taught, decided, or believed by the earthly hierarchs of this one and only Church of Jesus Christ at any given time corresponds to what Christ willed.

One must not make the fatal mistake of thinking that everything the Church says in its visible organs automatically corresponds to the teachings and will of Jesus Christ. Not everything that the Church says and does is automatically in accordance with the divine will: in it there is very well also the potential to act in word and deed against the revelation of God. This is called error when it happens out of ignorance through no fault of its own, and sin when it happens willfully and consciously.

As a helpful image, one can think of a double template. One part stands for the supernatural church, the other for the natural one. The shape of the template of the supernatural church is formative. The template of the natural church is form-receiving and must be brought to congruence, that is, to coincidence. If both forms are congruent, everything is in order. If, however, the forms deviate from each other at certain points, something has gone out of order and must be urgently corrected, i.e., removed or added to, as the case may be, until the required congruence is restored.

Since the innermost core of the Church is the liturgy, specifically the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is at the center of its being and action, the analytical question must also be asked about the Holy Mass: What role does the liturgical reform in general, specifically the new Mass, play in its development to the point we see today: the decomposition of the Church from within?

What does the “new Mass” mean?

Right at the beginning of a reflection of this kind, we encounter a first basic problem: while for everyone it is perfectly clear and unambiguous what one is talking about when one speaks of the celebration of the “old Mass,” this is not the case with the “new Mass.” Here, one must first clarify what kind of “new Mass” one is talking about at all. For even if one moves only within all the possibilities provided by the Missal, the spectrum ranges from a Latin High Mass with incense, baroque chasuble, and high altar to a Mass in a sitting circle with gray alb, guitar, “Swiss Eucharistic Prayer” and modernist furnishings of chalice and stole. From a purely external point of view, both Masses have hardly anything in common, and yet they are done according to the same missal of Paul VI, without departing from its options.

If one then adds the Masses as they are actually held in the parishes, namely with piles and piles of “liturgical excesses,” i.e., where one goes (sometimes very far) beyond the possibilities provided by the new missal, the whole thing drifts even further apart.

These “liturgical excesses,” if one wants to call them that, are in many places the order of the day and have long since ceased to be limited to the rebellious third assistant chaplain, who in doing so acts against the express will of the pastor and bishop. On the contrary, such liturgical outrages have long been committed by high-ranking clerics as well: Not only parish priests or chaplains make a negative appearance here, but also episcopal vicars, vicars general, bishops, and cardinals. The Internet is full of reports with pictures, and by far not all such Masses are documented. One can find everything from a Sicilian archbishop riding a bicycle around his cathedral wearing a chasuble and miter, to a German bishop standing at the altar wearing carnival makeup and a baroque chasuble, to a Viennese cardinal handling balloons during a Mass under disco lights.

Even in modern seminaries (whose ugliest space is usually the seminary chapel, which makes recollected, pious prayer difficult, if not impossible, and which evokes a strange sense of unease or even resistance when one enters it), the liturgy is often described as a kind of “ongoing laboratory” with which one can and should experiment. An understanding of sacrality is not necessarily taught in priestly formation. Therefore, it is not surprising if some priests do not find anything objectionable to “celebrating mass” while standing in the ocean, with an air mattress serving as an altar; other priests in a T-shirt and shorts do the same in the middle of the forest, saying Mass on a cloth placed on the ground. The new Mass is understood as a communal meal and no longer as a sublime, sacred sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the new understanding of liturgy, as promoted and demanded by the liturgical reform itself, everything cultic has been degraded to merely cultural and sociological.

If one concedes that these extreme examples—even when committed by cardinals and bishops—do not reflect directly on the liturgical reform in se (indirectly, however, they do!), nevertheless the range in the form of celebration of the Mass in the new rite is enormous even within the framework the official norms set and allow, and it is difficult to see that all these divergent forms should be expressions of the same faith—this conclusion already follows from the great differences in the possible texts and ceremonies that may accompany any instantiation. This is a first and serious problem that already leads us into subsequent difficulties.

The new Mass is valid, but ambiguous

This alone causes the Mass and the faith associated with it to lose the necessary clarity and lack of ambiguity. Indeed, the impression is inevitably created in the faithful that there is no such thing as clarity in the first place—that everything is undefined, unclear, and that ultimately it is not all that important what is believed, as long as something is believed, no matter what (the only restriction being it must not be “pre-conciliar”).

If it is intended by the Church itself that the celebration of the sacrifice be subject to a very wide range of choice even in the most central parts and thus necessarily to personal decisions and, accordingly, personal preferences, because the Church has created a situation in which there is no longer an unambiguous liturgy, then this must logically also apply to the faith that underlies the liturgy and is in turn fostered by it (lex orandi, lex credendi). This situation, however, does not promote conviction and thus belief, but rather a creative expression of one’s own arbitrary opinions and views. The new missal itself forces the priest to make a (personal) decision as to how and as what he presents the Holy Mass.

The Church has thus de facto abandoned its previous convictions and put them up for free selection as one of many possibilities from which one can choose. Thus, it is much more a matter of taste, preference, and opinion, all of which have been placed on equal footing. Aside from the fact that the new missal itself has already made significant and very unfortunate changes, the celebrant must decide for himself where to place the emphasis. This, however, is absurd, considering that the Holy Mass would actually be clearly defined and must not degenerate into the work of a priest or become the product of a liturgical committee. Thus, it is also clear that the character of “celebrating together” predominates and the cultic offering of Christ’s sacrifice by His Church recedes into the background. The average Catholic will therefore understand the Holy Mass as a common celebration, which is presented to him outwardly in this way and, moreover, also said in this way, and not primarily as a sacrifice, which it actually is.

The old and previous beliefs will not be clearly and unambiguously revoked in order not to arouse any resistance, but will simply no longer be mentioned and will be superimposed upon and concealed until they disappear from faith and consciousness and are regarded in the general thinking of clergy and people as no longer current, valid doctrine or (liturgical) practice. At some point along this path, the traditional beliefs and practices come to be come to be viewed generally as the “former things,” no longer valid for today. Letting something “fall asleep” and thus go quietly into oblivion is often more effective than direct abolition, which will eventually provoke a resistance movement.

People are deceived by the clever choice of words that may seem insignificant: to speak not of a priest offering the sacrifice but of a president presiding over the celebration, to speak not of an altar for the victim but of a table of the Word and the Eucharist, etc. The main thing is that the unambiguous has disappeared. One now speaks rather of “enriching our diversity,” of the need for “different approaches,” of the priority of “active participation.”

None of this attacks the sacramental validity of the Mass per se, but it does attack its spiritual fruitfulness. It is not enough simply to communicate “validly,” as if the Lord’s Body were a drugstore medicine that works by itself like a biochemical reaction. The graces poured out through the sacrament must also fall on fertile soil in order to develop properly. And this soil—that is, our soul—is not prepared by the content and manner of the new Mass in the way that would actually be necessary for the graces to fully unfold. Depending on how it is done, the new Mass can even petrify the soil of the soul instead of making it fruitful and fertilizing it.

Of course, the grace of God can work everywhere, but this does not mean that we can shift our proper responsibility for the Holy of Holies to God’s hands and then do freely whatever we like, according to the motto: “The Lord God is so almighty, He will fix it.” With this approach, we could ultimately abolish all sacraments and give up all religious practice, all faith, and all liturgy: for the Lord God is omnipotent anyway, He surely does not need our intervention. With a false liturgy, which has lost sight of central principles, we risk that sacramental grace will fall on stony ground and be overgrown by thorny bushes. And at some point people stop believing, even though they are communicating sacramentally; or they stop coming at all.

The new Mass induces compromise on central issues of faith

A central problem of the new Mass is that it educates us to compromise in matters of faith. It shows us how to do this by its own example, so to speak. One gets used to making compromises. One smudge is followed by another, and then another, and another, until in the end there is nothing left of the original.

What is initially perceived as a deficiency that one would like to eliminate, if possible, soon becomes a habit that one has come to terms with and finally comes around to defending. At first, something is just an option; then, it’s a right for everyone; lastly, it’s a general duty. The people’s altar, female altar servers, and communion in the hand are only three particularly striking examples that demonstrate this repetitive development. Meanwhile, in some places we are getting used to lay preaching, lay-led baptism, lay-led marriages, and lay-led funerals. The priest as such is becoming superfluous, because after many other competences, such as pastoral leadership, are taken away, the only thing left to take away is the liturgy.

However, it is always the same pattern: what began as “scandal” and “liturgical abuse” is now de facto obligatory for everyone to accept. It has gone from being a wrong to being a right and a duty. A fatal mentality of “better this than nothing at all” or “it’s not so bad because it’s not essential” is creeping in. But the inexorable downward spiral has already begun. Through the new Mass itself we were accustomed to ever new things appearing; and it always goes one small step further. Often it is seemingly small things that do not appear to be drastic, yet gradually they go from being small steps to big steps when you string them together. If one compares the “normal” at larger intervals of time, it becomes clear very quickly how much decay can be seen even within today’s “normal” NOM.

One is educated by the liturgical reform to make ever new and ever more compromises. But a compromise in itself always means the interweaving of things that are not convincing and that are not the best possible. The compromise is always the toleration of a recognized evil as part of the whole, a reduction in quality—otherwise there would be no need to make a compromise if it were not a step down from the best. In the best case scenario, this leads to the average, which is just about sufficient. But no healthy, completely developed faith can be built on this, because faith means a profound conviction and is directed to the maximum: faith demands “as much as possible and completely,” not “as little as possible and just what’s necessary”!

But if the compromise means essentially a withdrawal of convictions, then it will go hand-in-hand with a decrease of faith or of the convictions of faith. Precisely when we are dealing with the Divine, the Holy of Holies, it is not possible to aim at the “merely valid” or at a mediocrity, a lowest common denominator that unites as many as possible: the sacrificium perfectum itself essentially demands a liturgia perfecta! One cannot consciously and willfully make of the perfect sacrifice of God a mediocre compromise in a human-centered liturgy without touching the essential to the core. Faith that engages in compromise, even if “only” in its outward expression, is thus at least subject to the grave risk of slowly disappearing. That this is far more than a potential danger but a brutal reality already actualized, we see (and hear) every day in the Church.

The tragedy is that, almost paradoxically, it is the (new) Mass itself that contributes to this degeneration, despite its sacramental validity in principle. It is still medicine from one point of view, but at the same time it is toxic poison. From one side, in the new Mass the sacrifice of God remains the same perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross; however, from the ecclesiastical side, the sacrifice is no longer able to correspond liturgically to its own essence. That which is inevitably conveyed by the new liturgy (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the celebrant, but in principle always) is not what it actually is in its essence and should and must be in its form. Due to this discrepancy of essence and form, an error is first implanted, which then mutates into a new, different faith. Such a claim almost seems to be “suspect of heresy” because at first it sounds unbelievable that so many people have been misled so much over such a long time in such an important matter. But with an honest, accurate view of the facts, we unfortunately have to make an analytical diagnosis today: It is precisely the (new) liturgy of the Church itself, though not exclusively, but to a substantial degree, that has massively favored and often directly triggered the mass apostasy we behold. For just where man rightly expects salvation and truth, he is greeted by error and banality.

Through apparent piety, even evil is justified

To believe this and to recognize it as a genuine factual reality is difficult for many people, for reasons readily understandable. It is hard to believe that a deviation like this could have occurred. The question arises: How can thoughts that are actually completely foreign and even opposed to the traditional mind of the Church nevertheless penetrate it so deeply and become so entrenched in it? The analysis of the events shows, strikingly, that one “convinces” the pious by their own piety, that is, one attacks them where they are most vulnerable and would like to develop. One finds a pious excuse for everything, which justifies everything; one chooses arguments which, seen superficially through their deceptive formulation, at first sound pious and nourished by faith, but in their core are not, similar to the famous wolf who comes along disguised as a sheep so as to appear as a friend, but in reality is out to eat them up.

Alas, one thing we must say quite clearly and honestly: Apart from well-isolated exceptions, theologians, priests, bishops, and even the organs of the Holy See, taken as a whole, are currently not our friends from whom we can expect anything—especially not in matters of faith. It is now an openly declared goal to destroy Catholic tradition in faith and morals, in dogma and liturgy, and to consign it definitively to the past. There simply must be no more traditional Catholicism, in all its central and marginal facets; we are considered the “backwardists,” to be eradicated with pious-sounding slogans and decrees. We must not continue to exist, if the will of the current church leadership, diocesan and universal, has its way.

This goal is pursued very vigorously, not only by decisions and laws but also by pious-seeming yet in reality perfidiously manipulative words. Whoever refuses to take communion in the hand, for example, is made to feel guilty about “not receiving Christ.” Someone says, reproachfully-sweetly: “Christ wants to enter your heart and you do not receive Him because you place the manner of receiving Communion above Christ and His grace.” Those who insist on going to the old Mass instead of the new one are accused of being “disobedient”: “Jesus does not want us to be disobedient!” Also, arguments like “If Jesus didn’t want it, He wouldn’t have allowed it” are just as theologically false and manipulative as “If the Church/Bishop/Pope/Pastor/Council says it, then it must be right: the Holy Spirit always speaks through them.” Or people are told (as they always like to tell students in seminaries): “He who obeys never sins.”

There are numerous other similar bogus arguments that sound pious and credible, which also easily seize the pious and believing people at their “weak” point, but which, when honestly looked at, turn out to be not arguments but manipulations, because they are not based on theological facts, but aim at people’s feelings, by the skillful use of which one seeks to change their actions, speech, and thinking.

Instead of engaging in factual arguments—after all, the act of faith is a willing assent of the mind to a recognized truth, not a sentimental matter!—people prefer to take it to an emotional level in order to unsettle pious souls with arguments that sound pious but are twisted in content and simply disregard important aspects of the issues: it is more effective for the critics to badger the traditionalists as impious and having a broken relationship with Christ. That which they do and believe—precisely because they want to cultivate, build, and maintain an intimate relationship with Christ—is conveyed to them as harmful. So the realities are completely reversed.

The ambiguity of the new Mass acts like an anesthetic

The ambiguity of the new liturgy and its wide scope for interpretation, which it inherently carries, act like an anesthetic that puts the spirit and soul of man to sleep. We get used to exchanging the right, clear understanding for an undefined or wrong understanding. Calm is quickly reachieved by saying to oneself: “Well, one can understand it correctly, anyway.” But exactly here lies the mistake: One may—but one also may not. This impression, that everything is uncertain anyway and not really clear and unambiguous, is promoted by a constant changing on the pastoral level. One gets used to the idea that nothing is definitely true and everything is ultimately subject to continual change, because “the Holy Spirit blows where he wills and makes everything new.” Objective revealed truth thus dissolves and becomes a negotiable agreement in people’s minds. Once the human mind is sedated and lulled to sleep in this way, it is easy to foist anything on it.

The deliberate ambiguity is deliberately used to make what is initially legitimately rejected by the majority ultimately become not only a possibility but even an obligation for everyone. We have already given examples of this above, such as communion in the hand, though numerous other innovations could be cited. The dynamics of the development is always the same and takes place in seven tiny separate steps, which always proceed in the same way, like a worked-out scheme.

First, there is something that encounters a general legitimate rejection and is therefore also forbidden—for example, people’s altar-tables, female altar servers, or communion in the hand.

Second, if one wants to break this prohibition or this rejection, one starts by transgressing this prohibition here and there. Initially, it may be rejected as scandalous and outrageous, but over time it becomes more frequent. Thus, a habituation occurs.

Third, people get tired of resisting it; since it has become more and more frequent, no one wishes to be the “black Peter” who stands there criticizing the same thing over and over. As criticism becomes less and quieter, the mind and the conscience begin to fall asleep: after habituation comes tolerance. One probably still perceives it as evil, but somehow comes to terms with it. This is an ambiguous situation: the practice may be associated with an evil, but is gradually considered a possibility (albeit a worse one).

Fourth, this possibility then becomes acceptance: perhaps (one says) “it’s not exactly what I would personally prefer,” but it’s now seen as feasible and legitimate in principle.

Fifth: But whatever is seen as possible and legitimate must consequently be officially allowed. So permission is then the next step. In principle, one can and may, but there is no actual right to it yet.

Sixth: the permission becomes a right, which one can claim over against all others.

Seventh, at the end of the chain is the stern duty to exercise one’s rights! We have thus come full circle from strict prohibition to stern duty. And since duty and prohibition are in a way the same, albeit with opposite “charges” (one is a must, the other a must-not), the way of moving from obligation to prohibition covers the same steps in reverse order, again anesthetizing the mind and conscience.

Through the new Mass, the Faith was lost

If we free ourselves from any ideology and analyze quite soberly and free of emotions, then we cannot avoid recognizing: the people’s faith was destroyed by the new liturgy, especially the new Mass. It was certainly not the only reason, but it must be seen as the essential and central reason. For if the Holy Mass is the heart of the Catholic faith (which it is in itself), then it is only logical and consistent that people find the measure of their faith in this core. Where else?

But if this core itself changes, if it becomes ambiguous and conveys new, different contents by word, gesture, and self-understanding, then inevitably also faith must conform and adapt to these ambiguities and changes. Man tends to perceive things very immediately and to draw the most obvious conclusion from them, even on a non-intellectual level. Complicated theological explanations on how to possibly understand an ambiguity correctly, if one wants to, cannot justify the changes, nor are they edifying for the faith. It is unthinkable that the Sacred Liturgy changes drastically while the faith remains the same! Very occasionally, individuals might hold on to the faith in spite of such changes by a very special work of the Lord’s grace, or because they nourish themselves spiritually elsewhere. But on a broad scale, so to speak, it is an impossibility.

The new liturgy follows a completely changed overall concept, which puts man in the center, where the Lord God once stood. It distracts man from God and directs him toward man, and virtually hinders personal, intimate prayer during Mass by not even allowing man to come to prayerful rest and by constantly “occupying” him, as it were, on the surface. This certainly does not nourish faith. Consequently, faith will dry up and evaporate. And this is exactly what we see every day today and what has taken on proportions that can no longer be glossed over, denied, or minimized.

As strange as it may sound, the deficiencies in people’s faith, the errors, the apostasy—these have their deep roots in post-conciliar liturgical practice.

We cannot overlook the consequences of decades of mutilation and dilution of the liturgy. Think of the damage done to souls! Their faith is mostly confused; it no longer corresponds in large parts to the Catholic Faith; it is very incomplete, or completely dried up. The consequences of the substantially changed faith, which we see every day—indeed, up to the highest floors of the apostolic palace—become reinforcing causes of still further apostasy. Everything is excused today, everything has validity and justification—except the tradition as the Church recognized, taught, and practiced it over centuries, guided by the Holy Spirit.

The state of the Catholic faith in the Church today is shown to us by countless examples: pagan cults, even in the presence of the Pope, which also find their way into official Vatican documents and addresses, the unforgivable behavior of the Church during the lockdowns, in which it became quite clear that Church officials had lost faith in the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence. Mass simulations by lay people, as they are becoming more frequent and more brazen, are understood and treated as the new normality, baptisms, weddings, funerals, blessings and other liturgical acts are officially transferred to lay people in more and more dioceses, there are deaneries where it has been decided: No priest holds a funeral or a requiem anymore, because one does not want to take anything away from the laity.

The new Mass is therefore also dangerous

The Mass is increasingly degenerating into a political propaganda tool for immigration, climate change, and other political issues of the day, in order to win people over to the political left via the spiritual-moral track as well. Today, people vote far to the left because, after all, they are Catholic. The end result is to be the “synodalization” of the Church, in which its divinely instituted constitution will be abolished: a basic spiritual-hierarchical form of the Church is to be dispensed with and transformed into a laical-synodal church. This development is nothing other than a logical, coherent continuation and implementation of the anthropocentrism initiated by the last Council and demonstrated by the liturgical reform.

The “Synodal Way” and its demands are a direct, logical consequence of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reform connected with it, since it thinks in the same direction, only it is more consistent and goes a step further. It would be foolish and illogical to say, “Second Vatican Council yes, but Synod no.” Because the break already happened with the last Council, not just in recent years. It is not consistent to say that Vatican II is still entirely in the tradition. Perhaps it seemed so to some at the beginning, but that is a mistake. For the genuinely Catholic in it is like a puff of smoke. At first, it seemed present (if only compactly) in the reforms that followed. This smoke diffused more and more, until now it has finally lost its shape; by now it is so thinned out that it can be perceived only in small traces. And the new liturgy has a decisive share in this process.

It is true that these ideas, rooted in modernism, go back much further; even before the last Council not everything was in order. The reform of the Holy Week liturgy is only one of many proofs that it is certainly not enough to say: before 1960 is good, after 1960 is bad. But the difference is this: with the last Council, the Church officially represented and promoted what until then it had rightly strictly rejected! Here a “paradigm shift” has taken place, which cannot be seen as growth and deepening, but only as rupture and destruction.

We see where it has led us: even bishops and cardinals, even popes are affected by it. There are bishops who openly say that the Church “must change”—that from now on they want to be “Catholic, but different.” To consider this development independently of the liturgical reform (which, in the meantime, is itself looking rather too old-fashioned and must be reformed again, as one hears more and more frequently!) would be short-sighted and a big mistake.

The way out: abandon the new Mass and return to tradition

From this point of view, the legitimate question arises: What should be done? How do we get out of this crisis?

There are two basic options to choose from. Either we try to save what little is left and then increase it again, like a vine that has had the energy-sapping weeds of modernism cut away so that the branches will grow stronger afterwards; or we continue in the direction that has led us to where we are now, and drive the whole thing even further into apostasy, and thus wait a little while longer until the parts of the Church that have been reformed to death disappear all by themselves, because they no longer convince anyone, and people quite rightly stay away from it.

In both cases, the end is the same. Only tradition will remain, because everything else will disappear all by itself and simply die out. We already see what is dying out and what is gaining strength! Even if numbers in themselves are not an adequate criterion, because the majority does not decide truth, we see nevertheless quite clearly an understandable trend: people turn away from a church and a liturgy that claimed to want to “meet them where they’re at” and was therefore changed to be more “human” and more “modern(ist).” On the other hand, churches that celebrate the traditional liturgy and fully present Catholic doctrine are experiencing enormous growth, despite all attempts to suppress them. In the not too distant future, one will either be traditionally Catholic or not Catholic at all.

Therefore, the most sensible thing to do would be to abandon the new Mass and return entirely to the traditional Roman liturgy before the natural evolution of things messily takes care of this itself. For the new liturgy, and the theology associated with it, are simply too gutted and hollowed out to stand. They are already imploding, and we all see it before our eyes.