Rorate Caeli

Dominican Theologian Attacks Catholic Tradition (Part 1): Refuting “Form and Matter” Reductionism

Henry Donneaud O.P. (b. 1960): Premiere French anti-traditionalist

Dominican Theologian Attacks Catholic Tradition (Part 1):
Refuting “Form and Matter” Reductionism

Dr. John R.T. Lamont

Introduction: from contempt to engagement

The progress of liturgical traditionalism in the Roman Catholic Church is reflected in the fact that its opponents are beginning to attack it. Previously, the existence of traditionalism was not acknowledged by its enemies, except for rare contemptuous dismissals. This approach was successful; it kept most Catholics ignorant of the very existence of traditionalism, which is the best way of preserving them from its attractions.

The successive interventions of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis on the traditional liturgy made this approach impracticable. The failure of Pope Francis’s attempt to eradicate the traditional Latin Mass has led its opponents to fall back on arguing against it. In an extreme step, some of them have even resorted to criticizing traditionalism in scholarly venues—an acknowledgement of the intellectual weight of traditionalism which it is in the interests of its enemies to avoid, if at all possible.

One effort in this direction was made by John Cavadini, Mary Healy, and Thomas Weinandy in the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal. Their arguments were not particularly serious ones.[1] A more serious effort has been made by Fr. Henry Donneaud O.P., in an article in the Nouvelle revue théologique, and in a review of Peter Kwasniewski’s book True Obedience in the Church in the Revue Thomiste.[2] We may take it that Fr. Donneaud’s position is the best case that can be made against traditionalism from the point of view of Catholic theology. For this reason, it merits detailed consideration. Refuting accusations is more complicated than making them, so this consideration must be of some length—for which the author begs the reader’s indulgence. The truths that furnish this refutation are important ones. (Our response will be published at Rorate Caeli in four parts.)

Some introduction of Fr. Donneaud will be helpful. He is the regent of studies for the French Dominican province of Toulouse, and professor of fundamental theology and sacramental theology at the Dominican studium of Toulose and at the Institut catholique de Toulouse. He is on the editorial board of the Revue Thomiste. In September 2021, Pope Francis appointed him to help direct a French traditionalist order of nuns, the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Spirit (Dominicaines du Saint-Esprit, Pontcallec).

Fr. Donneaud’s academic posts are significant, because the Dominican province of Toulouse and the Revue Thomiste played an important part in 20th-century Catholic history. Towards the end of the Second World War, neomodernist claims started to be openly proposed by theologians. In 1944, Henri Bouillard S.J. succinctly expressed the neomodernist conception in the following words:

When thought and understanding evolve, an immutable truth can only be maintained by a correlative and simultaneous evolution of all its contents, preserving the same relationship between them. A theology that is not contemporary would be a false theology.[3]

This asserts that the content of ‘immutable truths’ must and should change over time. If the content of an assertion changes, what it says about reality changes. Bouillard’s position, while preserving the verbal expression ‘immutable truth’, thus allows and indeed requires Catholic teaching to change what it says about reality in order to adjust to contemporary thought. This is the essence of the neomodernist position. Somewhat similar ideas were proposed by Jean Daniélou S.J., albeit less clearly.[4]

These neomodernist theses were attacked by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. in a series of articles in Angelicum, which can be found online.[5] They were also criticized in articles by Marie-Joseph Nicolas, Michel Labourdette, and Raymond-Léopold Bruckberger, Dominicans of the Province of Toulouse.[6] The Toulouse Dominicans thus had the honour of being one of the few voices to speak up against the revival of modernist thought.

They had to pay for it. Labourdette retreated to penning book reviews in the face of the hostility of the ascendant modernists, eventually being removed from teaching. Bruckberger was exiled to the American Midwest, where, unable to speak English and isolated in a totally alien culture, he took up with a woman, left the Dominicans, and became a respected film director.

The Toulouse Dominicans nonetheless preserved a tradition of orthodox and Thomistic scholarship, expressed in their journal the Revue thomiste. The intervention of Fr. Donneaud on the liturgy thus presents itself as a voice of the best of what is left of Thomism and Catholic orthodoxy in the Catholic Church. As such, it will have great weight with many Catholics.

The book Donneaud is critiquing

(I) Fr. Donneaud’s theological position on the liturgy

Fr. Donneaud’s intervention is a sustained attack on traditionalism as expounded by Dr. Kwasniewski, and a sustained defence of the intervention of Pope Francis in Traditionis custodes. Dr. Kwasniewski’s book puts forward theses that are common to most traditionalists, and that in some cases have been defended by the author of the present article. It will be useful to give a description of the liturgical theses that traditionalists have advanced. Not all of these theses are argued for by Dr. Kwasniewski, and not all of them are specifically addressed by Fr. Donneaud. The position of Fr. Donneaud nonetheless requires the rejection of traditionalism as a whole.

The theses of traditionalism

This whole is made up of the following claims:

1) Because of its venerable status, the traditional Latin liturgy cannot be licitly suppressed by any ecclesiastical authority including the pope. (For the sake of brevity, ‘traditional Latin liturgy’ will be abbreviated as ‘TLM’; while noting that the traditional Latin liturgy is not limited to the celebration of Mass, but includes the celebration of the other sacraments, the contents of the traditional Rituale romanum, and so on, and that it includes rites and uses other than the Roman rite.)

2) Any priest of the Roman rite who is entitled to say Mass is entitled to do so using the TLM.

3) The Novus Ordo and the other liturgical books of Paul VI are not versions of the TLM, but are new rituals.

4) The right mentioned in 2) cannot therefore be exercised by celebration of the Novus Ordo, and this right is not recognized by permission to celebrate the Novus Ordo. The right is only exercised by use of the 1962 missal of Pope John XXIII, or by use of other liturgical books of the Latin rite (as e.g. the Dominican missal) that predate the missal of 1962. 

5) The Novus Ordo has grave intrinsic flaws that make it at best unsuited for the celebration of the Eucharist. Various accounts are given of these flaws; the more severe ones describe the Novus Ordo as illicit, or as offensive to God. Traditionalists agree that these flaws do not invalidate Masses celebrated using the Novus Ordo, because the Novus Ordo preserves the matter and form of the sacrament.

6) The flaws of the Novus Ordo upon which traditionalists are generally agreed are not present in the TLM, and are one reason why the Novus Ordo cannot be said to be a version of the TLM, and cannot be said to be a version of the Roman Rite at all.

7) Because of these flaws, priests ought not to say the Novus Ordo, and they cannot be licitly require to celebrate it.

8) Because of these flaws, Catholics ought not to attend the Novus Ordo, unless perhaps in circumstances such as attendance at a family wedding where it is clear that they are not attending for the purpose of taking part in an act of Eucharistic worship.

9) Because the Novus Ordo is not a Catholic liturgy, attendance at it cannot satisfy the precept to attend Mass on a Sunday.

10) The Novus Ordo is a major cause, and perhaps the principal cause, of the current catastrophic state of the Catholic Church and the world.

11) The will of God and the good of the Church require that use of the Novus Ordo be completely discontinued, and that the Roman Church return to the traditional Latin liturgy.

Dr. Kwasniewski does not argue for all of these claims, and many traditionalists would reject 7) to 11) above.[7] The author of this paper, however, accepts all of them, and a large section of traditionalist opinion agrees with him. This article is a response to Fr. Donneaud, not a complete defence of traditionalism as described above, but some explanation of this form of traditionalism should be provided for readers who otherwise might be put off by what they consider to be its extreme claims.

The main reasons for holding 7) through 11) are the established historical facts that the drafters of the Novus Ordo purposely excised important Catholic dogmas from its text, and that its introduction was followed by a catastrophic decline of the Church. The traditionalist argument is that the Novus Ordo can be seen to have gravely harmed—indeed devastated—the Church; and that because of the anti-Catholic intentions of its drafters and their success in implementing these intentions, it cannot be a worthy way of celebrating the Eucharist, is not a Catholic liturgy, and is offensive to God.

A continuous tradition present in many centuries and missals

Two preliminary issues

Before addressing the substance of Fr. Donneaud’s theological case against traditionalism, we should consider some preliminary questions.

Fr. Donneaud presents Dr. Kwasniewski as identifying the traditional Latin liturgy with the missal of St. Pius V. Dr. Kwasniewski attends Masses where the 1962 missal of John XXIII is used, and would not exclude the latter missal from his arguments about the liturgy. This is a minor point. No doubt the traditional Latin liturgy that Dr. Kwasniewski is talking about is the Roman rite that was substantially existent under Pope Gregory the Great, and that is found in a completed state in the missal of St. Pius V. As the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observed,

In fact there is no such thing as a Tridentine liturgy, and until 1965 the phrase would have meant nothing to anyone. The Council of Trent did not “make” a liturgy. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing, either, as the Missal of Pius V. The Missal which appeared in 1570 by order of Pius V differed only in tiny details from the first printed edition of the Roman Missal of about a hundred years earlier. Basically the reform of Pius V was only concerned with eliminating certain late medieval accretions and the various mistakes and misprints which had crept in.[8]

Fr. Donneaud’s exclusive reference to the missal of St. Pius V is misleading, but nothing in his argument turns on it.

Additionally, Fr. Donneaud makes a clearly mistaken criticism of one of Dr. Kwasniewski’s characterizations of the TLM:

In making what he calls ‘the traditional liturgical worship of the Church’, as fixed once and for all in the missal of St. Pius V, ‘a fundamental, normative and immutable expression of her lex credendi’ (p. 46), the author denies to Pius XII and Paul VI, and thus to every Roman Ponitff after Pius V, the legitimate power to reform the Roman missal...[9]

Fr. Donneaud may have simply confused one expression for another here: he may have intended to criticize the idea that the missal of St. Pius V was a fundamental, normative, and immutable expression of the Church’s lex orandi, not of her lex credendi. Presumably he would accept that the missal of St. Pius V expressed the Church’s lex credendi at the time it was issued.  But if the missal was at one time an expression of the Church’s lex credendi, of her law of belief, it remains so permanently. Whatever one might say about the Church’s lex orandi, the law of her prayer, the law of her belief does not change. So if a given missal expresses her law of belief at one time, it always does so. Later missals are supposed to express the same law of belief as earlier ones, albeit in somewhat different terms—not to contradict or abolish the previous law of belief.

Reduction of liturgy to “form and matter”

The essence of Fr. Donneaud’s position on the liturgy is expressed in the following assertions from his review of Dr. Kwasniewski and from his article in the Nouvelle revue théologique:

Either out of ignorance or out of embarrassment, the author [Dr. Kwasniewski] is completely silent about the solid magisterial teachings that guarantee the supreme authority of the Church to modify certain rites, even in important ways, or to invent new ones… Save for the substance of the sacraments (matter and form), which is divinely instituted and hence immutable, the liturgy is left in the power of the Church, who through the apostolically established hierarchy has the power to regulate its development.[10]

Liturgical unity cannot rest upon an intemporal essence that has been implemented in different ways over the course of time, but upon the concrete reality of a liturgy celebrated here and now by the Roman Church… The Roman rite exists concretely only in the form in which it is actually celebrated by the Roman Church...[11]

Fr. Donneaud’s theological position consists in the following general claims:

A) The only divinely instituted part of the liturgy of the Mass is the matter and form of the sacrament.

B) Everything aside from this divinely instituted part of the liturgy of the Mass—the matter and form of the sacraments—can be changed by the Pope as he sees fit.

C) The Roman rite is the unique and fully specified rite actually celebrated in Rome at the present time. No other rite can be the Roman rite.

From these claims, Fr. Donneaud concludes that the Novus Ordo is the Roman rite and the TLM is not now the Roman rite, that the celebration of the Novus Ordo is normative for all priests of the Latin rite, that the permission to celebrate and attend the TLM is an exceptional measure permitted as a dispensation for persons in particular circumstances, and that this exceptional measure—undesirable in itself—cannot be proposed as a permanent state of affairs but must eventually cease to exist.

Claim C) can be disposed of fairly easily. Fr. Donneaud asserts that it is difficult or impossible within the framework of Catholic liturgical doctrine to conceive of more than one Roman missal being used at the same time to express the one Roman rite. On the basis of this argument he asserts that since the missal of Paul VI is the present form of the Roman rite, the use of the previous missal is an exceptional and undesirable occurrence that cannot be tolerated indefinitely or accepted as a norm.

In fact, as Fr. Donneaud himself notes, a number of different versions of the Roman missal were in use until Pope Pius V produced the first editio typica of the Roman missal in 1570, and for the first time suppressed all other versions of the Roman missal.[12] This was not an implementation of a liturgical doctrine that had been flouted throughout the entire prior history of the Roman see until 1570, when the idea of an editio typica giving the sole legitimate form of the Roman missal was officially formulated and implemented. There is no Catholic doctrine concerning the liturgy that requires such an editio typica.

The first introduction of an editio typica of the Roman missal was a legislative act by St. Pius V, a praiseworthy initiative of course that met the need of the times. There was nothing to stop Pope Benedict XVI, for different reasons that he considered to meet the needs of his own times, from permitting the use of a previous version of the Roman missal in addition to the missal of Paul VI. Pope Benedict, an outstanding scholar with a deep interest in liturgical matters, knew this perfectly well. He authorized the missal of 1962 as well as the liturgy of Paul VI to be said in the See of Rome and in St. Peter’s itself, and they were both said in those places. Both missals can therefore be described as rites now celebrated in the See of Rome.

This does not prejudice Dr. Kwasniewski’s arguments about the incompatibility of the TLM and the Novus Ordo; it simply points out, as against Fr. Donneaud, that there is no requirement for the Roman rite to correspond to a single uniform liturgy whose contents are determined by a single specified liturgical book. The Novus Ordo itself, on the assumption that it is a form of the Roman liturgy, could be given as an argument against Fr. Donneaud’s position, since it is designed to offer a multitude of options to the celebrant and takes very different forms according to the options chosen. It is a deliberate negation of the idea and purpose of an editio typica.[13]

A) and B) are the fundamental theological claims made by Fr. Donneaud. They are of great importance, and he has provided a helpful service by formulating and advancing them so clearly. A) and B) taken together, as they are by Fr. Donneaud, are absurd. If A) and B) were both true, the Pope would be entitled to replace Sunday by Tuesday as the holy day for Christians, and to forbid the liturgical celebration of Easter.

A) taken on its own is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. This teaching was clearly expressed by St. Basil in his On the Holy Spirit, chapter 27:

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church, some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force.  And these no one will gainsay;—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism, from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents.... Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source?...

This is a standard text often cited by Catholics to show that the Protestant denial of the existence of divinely revealed tradition is wrong. St. Basil makes this point about unwritten tradition in order to assert that the doxology in the liturgy is part of Sacred Tradition, and to use this doxology to argue for the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Since the matter and form of the Eucharist are given in the Scriptures, this assertion contradicts Fr. Donneaud’s claim that the matter and form of the Eucharist are the only divinely instituted parts of the liturgy of the Mass.

St. Basil’s text indicates that we must distinguish between a narrower and a wider understanding of Sacred Tradition.

In the narrower understanding, Sacred Tradition is the body of divinely revealed truths passed down from Christ and the apostles by word of mouth, taught to the faithful by the Church as calling for the assent of divine faith, and requiring to be believed on the grounds of their divine origin independently of whether or not these truths are stated by the Holy Scriptures as well as passed on by oral teaching. (It is generally believed by Catholics that some truths of Sacred Tradition are not contained in the Scriptures, but this description of Sacred Tradition is given so as not to make this belief true by definition.)

In the wider sense, Sacred Tradition includes everything that was divinely instituted by Christ and the apostles and passed on to the Church with the divine command to preserve and practice them. The wider sense includes the narrower sense of divinely revealed truths that are presented to the faithful for belief, but also extends to divinely instituted actions such as the ones referred to by St. Basil. The categories of truths and actions are not mutually exclusive, since liturgical actions express and teach certain truths—as, again, the examples given by St. Basil indicate. Many—perhaps most or even all—traditions in the narrow sense have been passed on at least in part by liturgical actions that are traditions in the wider sense.

In order to verify the truth of St. Basil’s position, Fr. Donneaud can consult the work of his Dominican confrère Yves Congar on tradition. In vol. 1 of his La Tradition et les traditions, Fr. Congar describes the main examples of unwritten apostolic traditions invoked by Catholic authors.[14] Most of the patristic examples of apostolic traditions are liturgical ones, such as the Easter fast, the baptism of infants, and the versicle and response “Dominus vobiscum/Et cum spiritu tuo.” The second council of Nicaea teaches that the veneration of holy images is an apostolic tradition that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Many more instances of liturgical tradition are taught by the Fathers to be apostolic traditions. John Driedo, the Belgian theologian who was a major influence on the Council of Trent and its teaching on tradition, included a number of liturgical practices in his description of apostolic traditions. Lodovico Nogarola, a lay theologian, composed a list of unwritten apostolic traditions for the use of the Fathers of the Council of Trent that included many liturgical traditions. Not every single one of these traditions need be maintained to be genuinely of apostolic origin, but there is no doubt that most of these individual traditions (such as worship on Sunday) are in fact established by the apostles.   

What theological censure should be applied to Fr. Donneaud’s denial of the existence of liturgical traditions of apostolical origin aside from the matter and form of the sacraments? This denial is not a rejection of a single item of Sacred Tradition. It is a denial of the apostolic character of a whole host of apostolic traditions that are central to the life of the Church, and that provided an essential part of the foundation for the teaching of the Council of Trent on the existence of Sacred Tradition. It is hard to see how it can be anything other than heretical. At best, Fr. Donneaud’s position in A) above is proximate to heresy.

Elia Naurizio, The Council of Trent

With surprising effrontery, Fr. Donneaud claims that his position in A) above is taught by the magisterium of the Church, and chastises Dr. Kwasniewski for defying Catholic teaching. He asserts that A) was taught by the Council of Trent:

The Council of Trent itself laid down this dogmatic principle, against the Protestants who denied to the Church the power of limiting the reception of communion by the lay faithful to the Body of Christ alone, although Christ instituted the sacraments with the two species of the Body and Blood: “It furthermore declares, that this power has ever been in the Church, that, in the dispensation of the sacraments, their substance being untouched, it may ordain,—or change, what things soever it may judge most expedient, for the profit of those who receive, or for the veneration of the said sacraments, according to the difference of circumstances, times, and places.” (DenzH 1728; session 21, ch. 2.).[15]

There is nothing in this passage of the Council of Trent that states or implies that the only divinely instituted part of the liturgy of the Mass is the matter and form of the sacrament. The Council stated that the practice of receiving the Sacrament under both species was not instituted by Christ:

Although Christ, the Lord, in the last supper, instituted and delivered to the apostles this venerable sacrament in the species of bread and wine; not therefore do that institution and delivery tend thereunto, that all the faithful of Church be bound, by the institution of the Lord, to receive both species. But neither is it rightly gathered, from that discourse which is in the sixth of John,—however according to the various interpretations of holy Fathers and Doctors it be understood,—that the communion of both species was enjoined by the Lord. ... (Council of Trent, session 21, ch. 1).

The Council specifically asserted that many aspects of the liturgy of the Eucharist in addition to their matter and form are derived from an apostolic tradition.

Holy Mother Church...has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolical discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice. (Council of Trent, session 22, ch. 5.).

Agreeing with Driedo and other doctors and theologians noted above, the Council taught that the baptism of infants was based on apostolic tradition, and anathematized anyone who rejected it:

For, by reason of this rule of faith, from a tradition of the apostles, even infants, who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this cause truly baptized for the remission of sins, that in them that may be cleansed away by regeneration, which they have contracted by generation. (Council of Trent, session 5, canon 4).

The Council also taught that

it was always the custom in the Church of God, that laymen should receive the communion from priests; but that priests when celebrating should communicate themselves; which custom, as coming down from an apostolical tradition, ought with justice and reason to be retained. (Council of Trent, session 13, ch. 8.).

The Council of Trent thus accepted and taught the position of Driedo and Nogarola that apostolic tradition includes liturgical practices in addition to the matter and form of the sacraments. The statement from this Council about the power of the Church to change and alter elements of the liturgy should be understood as referring to the changes that had actually been instituted by the Church when the statement was made. That is the context of the conciliar statement, and gives the meaning that it was intended to express. These changes did not extend to alteration of everything short of the matter and form of the sacrament.

The Second Vatican Council in its constitution on the liturgy also decreed that there are elements of the liturgy that are of apostolic origin. It asserts:

By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord's day or Sunday. (Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 106).

Catholics must therefore reject the claim that the only divinely instituted parts of the liturgy are the matter and form of the sacraments.

Tissot, The Communion of the Apostles

It should be observed that the division between elements of the liturgy that are of divine institution and elements of the liturgy that are of human origin is to a great extent an artificial one that cannot be applied to much of the traditional liturgy. One could not entirely divide up the missal into passages that are of divine origin and passages that are of purely human origin, and print the former in one color and the latter in another. Many of the elements of the liturgy that are of divine origin are principles, rather than specific words or practices.

The question of liturgical principles that are of divine origin is of great importance for the significance of the old liturgy. The elements of the liturgy that are usually given as apostolic traditions are specific words or actions such as the sign of the cross. However, we ought not therefore to conclude that the elements of the liturgy that are of divine origin are limited to the matter and form of the sacraments and to a number of individual liturgical practices. We must consider the possibility of liturgical principles that are of divine origin, and that are intended by God to direct all liturgical practice.

The existence of such principles depends on whether or not Christ and the apostles established a liturgical religion. By a ‘liturgical religion’ I mean a religion whose principal if not sole religious activity is a public, ceremonial ritual of prayer and worship: whose ritual follows complex and prescribed forms; whose ritual makes extensive use of symbolism, and is performative as well as informative; where participants in the ritual are all given a specific role, and where the different roles in the ritual are arranged in a hierarchy, with some roles being superior and more authoritative than others, but where authority and status is authority and status within the ritual, not over the ritual; where membership in the religion is conferred by and consists in participation in the ritual; and in which participation in the ritual is the main if not the sole way in which the gods or God are approached, appeased, and petitioned by the members of the religion.

(The expression ‘established a religion’ is not intended to prejudge the extent to which Christ and the apostles chose to establish a new religion that differed from their established Jewish religion, as opposed to a religion that they considered to be a fulfilment of that established Jewish religion. Clearly they did not consider that they were creating a completely new religion, but they were starting something that was new, and what they were starting was a religion.)

There are many reasons for thinking that Christ and the apostles chose to institute a liturgical religion.

1) They were Jews, and the religion they knew as Jews was a liturgical one. Their conception of religion and religious practice would therefore have been a liturgical one.

2) There are many indications in the New Testament and the earliest history of the Church that show that Christianity was established as a liturgical religion.[16] These indications are very extensive and complex—a full description of them would be a major scholarly endeavour. One important example of them can be cited from the letter of Pope St. Clement I to the Corinthians, composed around 92 AD:

Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appropriate times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices and services, and that it should not be done thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has himself fixed by his supreme will the places and persons whom he desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to his good pleasure, and be acceptable to his will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, for they follow the laws of the Master and do no sin. For to the High Priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity.[17]

3) The acknowledged Christian liturgical practices that date back to Christ and the apostles are not designed to be used in isolation, but are intended to form part of a liturgy.

4) Catholicism is a liturgical religion, so since Christianity is Catholicism, and Christ and the apostles founded Catholicism when they founded Christianity, they founded a liturgical religion.

5) Liturgical religions were the only kind of religion that existed in the time of Christ and the apostles, so it is unlikely that they would have thought of founding a religion that was not liturgical, or that anyone would have taken their religion seriously if they had.

It is evident that Christ and the apostles did not found the principal traditional rites of the Church as they now exist. But in order to found a liturgical religion, they would have had to establish not only individual liturgical practices but also general principles to govern the liturgy. Without such principles, you cannot have a liturgy. These principles would have formed the basis for the later development of the traditional rites of the Church from the original liturgical practice of the apostles. They account for the underlying similarity of these rites. They also tell us something about the normative status of these rites. Our only access to the divinely established liturgical principles is through these traditional rites. The principles that govern these rites must therefore be respected as being of divine institution. 

This analysis of the role of divinely established principles in the liturgy gives us a deeper understanding of what is wrong with Fr. Donneaud’s thesis A). It is not just that it denies the historical and theological facts by refusing to accept that many individual elements of Sacred Tradition are of apostolic origin. In asserting that no element of the liturgy except the matter and form of the sacraments is of divine origin, it denies the liturgical nature of Christianity, and hence it rejects the basic character of the Christian religion.

The Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary and the Virgin Mary, Goswijn van der Weyden (?), ca. 1515–20

As well as rejecting Fr. Donneaud’s claim A), we should also reject his claim B), which asserts that all the parts of the liturgy that are not divinely instituted can be changed by the Pope. In defence of his position on the liturgy, Fr. Donneaud cites the Second Vatican Council’s document on the liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 21:

In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.[18]

This does not assert that every part of the Sacred Liturgy that is not divinely established and immutable is subject to change. It asserts that those parts of the Sacred Liturgy that are not divinely established and immutable are subject to change if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it. This puts conditions on changing the parts of the liturgy that are not divinely established. It does not therefore support B).

It is easy to see that B) is not in fact true. Suppose for the sake of argument that the Rosary is not of divine institution, but was developed by the Church as a pious practice (disregarding reports that the Rosary was revealed to St. Dominic by the Blessed Virgin Mary). It would not therefore follow that the Pope has the right and power to forbid all Catholics from saying the Rosary publicly or privately, upon pain of mortal sin. Such a command to not say the Rosary would be an illegal order. Catholics would not be bound to obey it, and would be doing a meritorious act by disobeying it. This is because the authority of the Pope, like all legitimate authority anywhere, is given to him for the good of the society of which he is the earthly head. It is manifestly the case that forbidding Catholics to say the Rosary would not promote the good of the Church or of souls, but would be gravely damaging to them. It would therefore not be a legal and binding exercise of papal power. The same is true for other religious practices that are not of divine institution; the saying of novenas, for example, or the recitation of the Angelus.

The forthcoming Part II concerns the claim that the Novus Ordo is the “sole form” of the Roman Rite.


[1] Their articles were published in the Church Life Journal in September and November 2022; their arguments are considered and refuted in Illusions of Reform, Peter Kwasniewski ed. (Os Justi, 2023).

[2] Henry Donneaud O.P., ‘Le pape François, garant de la doctrine liturgique de St Pie V’, Nouvelle revue théologique, 2022/1 (Tome 144), pages 38 à 54: recension de Peter KWASNIEWSKI, La véritable obéissance dans l’Église, Un guide de discernement pour des temps difficiles, Poitiers, Dominique Martin Morin, 2022, Revue Thomiste 123 (2023), p. 203-208. The texts of the article and review used here are taken from the version on Fr. Donneaud’s website,

[3] “Quand l’esprit évolue, une vérité immuable ne se maintient que grâce à une evolution simultanée et correlative de toutes les notions, maintenant entre elles un même rapport. Une théologie qui ne serait pas actuelle serait une théologie fausse.” Henri Bouillard S.J.,  Conversion et grâce chez S. Thomas d'Aquin: étude historique (Paris: Aubier, 1944). p. 219.

[4] Jean Daniélou, 'Les orientations présentes de la pensée religieuse', Études, Vol. 79, nr. 249 (1946).


[6] Marie-Joseph Nicolas, Michel Labourdette, and Raymond-Léopold Bruckberger, Dialogue théologique: pièces du débat entre "La Revue thomiste"... et les RR. PP. de Lubac, Daniélou, Bouillard, Fessard, von Balthasar (Saint Maximin, Var: Les Arcades, 1947).

[7] For a defense of 7) to 11), see my article “Is the Mass of Paul VI licit?,”

[8] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (1986), p. 85.

[9] “Car en faisant de ce qu’il appelle « le culte liturgique traditionnel de l’Église », tel que fixé une fois pour toutes dans le missel de S. Pie V, « une expression fondamentale, normative et immuable de sa lex credendi » (p. 46), l’auteur dénie à Pie XII et à Paul VI, et donc à tout Pontife romain postérieur à Pie V, le pouvoir légitime de réformer le Missel romain...”

[10] “Soit par ignorance, soit par gêne, l’auteur [Dr. Kwasniewski] passe totalement sous silence les solides déterminations magistérielles qui garantissent au contraire le droit souverain de l’Église de modifier certains rites, fût-ce manière importante, et d’en inventer de nouveaux.  … Hormis la substance des sacrements (matière et forme), qui est d’institution divine et donc immuable, la liturgie est laissée au pouvoir de l’Église qui, à travers la hiérarchie apostolique, a autorité pour en régler le déroulement.”

[11] “Or l’unité liturgique ne saurait reposer uniquement sur une essence intemporelle diversement mise en œuvre à travers les âges, mais sur la réalité concrète d’une liturgie célébrée hic et nunc par l’Église romaine.... Le rite romain n’existe pas ailleurs, in concreto, que dans la manière dont il est célébré in actu par l’Église romaine.…”

[12] Dom Christopher Lazowski notes that ‘even the local rite of the Roman Church has not always been uniform, as it once comprised two distinct forms, one for the use of the pope, contained in what we call the “Gregorian Sacramentary” the other for the use of simple priests, contained in what we call the “Gelasian Sacramentary.”’

[13] On this question see Fr. Gabriel Díaz-Patri, ‘L’unicité du missel romain au regard de l’histoire’,  Sedes Sapientiæ n°163, March 2023, pp. 9-34.

[14] La tradition et les traditions, vol. 1: Essai historique, Yves Congar O.P., (Paris: Aubier, 1960), ch. II C), ‘Exemples de traditions apostoliques non écrites invoqués par les auteurs catholiques’. Fr. Congar remarks: ‘Il est douteux que des cas notables de traditions apostoliques non écrites ne figurent pas dans cette liste’ (p. 64).

[15] “Le concile de Trente posa lui-même ce principe dogmatique, contre les protestants qui déniaient à l’Église le pouvoir de limiter la communion eucharistique des fidèles au seul Corps du Christ, alors que le Christ avait institué ce sacrement sous les deux espèces : « [Le concile] déclare en outre qu’il y a toujours eu dans l’Église, pour la dispensation des sacrements, étant sauve leur substance, le pouvoir de statuer ou modifier ce qu’elle jugerait mieux convenir à l’utilité de ceux qui les reçoivent et au respect des sacrements eux-mêmes, selon la diversité des choses, des temps et des lieux » (DzH 1728).”

[16] See e.g. Acts 2:15; Acts 3:1; Acts 10:9; Acts 10:30–31; Hebrews 13:15; the Didache.

[17] 1 Clement 40, tr, Kirsopp Lake, in The Apostolic Fathers, vol. I (London: Heinemann, 1919), pp. 77-79.

[18] “Pia Mater Ecclesia, ut populus christianus in sacra Liturgia abundantiam gratiarum securius assequatur, ipsius Liturgiae generalem instaurationem sedulo curare cupit. Nam Liturgia constat parte immutabili, utpote divinitus instituta, et partibus mutationi obnoxiis, quae decursu temporum variare possunt vel etiam debent, si in eas forte irrepserint quae minus bene ipsius Liturgiae intimae naturae respondeant, vel minus aptae factae sint.”