Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Loss of Liturgical Riches in the Sanctoral Cycle

by Peter A. Kwasniewski

One year, a friend and I had the blessing of attending two celebrations of the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, for in the old calendar her feast is October 3rd, and in the new calendar, October 1st. In fact, neither date is apropos. Thérèse actually died on September 30th, but this has long been the feast of Saint Jerome, qui non movetur, while October 1st, which might be styled the first day of her eternal reward, had been occupied by Saint Remigius, Bishop and Confessor, the one responsible for baptizing King Clovis, thereby bringing the Frankish kingdom into the bosom of Holy Mother Church. This latter feast - so relevant in our days when the "eldest daughter of the Church" has become, sad to say, a silly strumpet for whose conversion the whole Church should be offering up prayers and penances -- was removed from the universal calendar in the 1969 reform. I shall have more to say later about the removal of "obscure" or "local" saints. Meanwhile, to come back to the Little Flower, it was hard not to feel blessed by the opportunity to celebrate her memory twice. Surely, the saint of heroic humility would be smiling at the inopportuneness of both dates.

Still in the Novus Ordo celebration (which was, I might add, just about as Oratorian as could be, complete with a schola singing the chant), it was hard not to notice how absolutely unsuitable the readings were; they were simply the "readings for the day." The readings from Baruch had to do with the wickedness of the cities who reject God; the reading from the Gospel was "Woe to you, Tyre and Sidon." Admitting that a preacher with Origen's exegetical ingenuity could make any Scripture passage illustrate any mystery he pleased, the ordinary layman is left asking: Does this really have much to do with Thérèse? In the old rite, the readings always linked up with the saint whose feast was being celebrated. In the other Mass I attended, the Epistle was Isaiah 66:12-14 ("As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you"), and the Gospel was Matthew 18:1-4 ("Amen I say to you, unless you convert and become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven"). The abandonment of the inner unity of Scripture and feastday is one of the greatest disasters of the new rite. It makes the prayers, the readings, and the sacrifice seem like three different things, when they ought to be clearly woven together, as in the old rite, making one seamless garment.

But there was something more, and worse: the proper chants for her feastday, in the new Graduale Romanum, are, in some cases (like the Alleluia verse) irrelevant, and in other cases barely relevant -- that is, bearing no special relation to Saint Thérèse. A comparison with the propers of the old rite for Thérèse's feastday will make apparent the magnitude of the loss suffered by the faithful when the ancient liturgy and its organic development were cast aside.

The Graduale Romanum (the Novus Ordo) offers the following propers for Saint Thérèse:
Introit (Ps. 30:7-8,2) -- I however have hoped in the Lord: I shall exult and rejoice in Thy mercy, because Thou hast looked upon my humility. V: In Thee, O Lord, I have put my hope, I shall not be confounded for ever; in Thy justice free me. I however have hoped in the Lord: I shall exult and rejoice in Thy mercy, because Thou hast looked upon my humility.

Gradual (Ps. 26:4) -- One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord. V. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and be protected by His holy temple.

Alleluia (Ps. 116:1) -- Praise the Lord, all ye nations, and rejoice in Him, all ye peoples. Alleluia.

Offertory (Ps. 102:2,5) -- Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all of His gifts: and thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle's.

Communion (Ps. 9:2,3) -- I shall tell of all Thy wonders: I shall rejoice and exult in Thee: I shall sing Thy name, O most High.1
It goes without saying that the translations given above are not, in fact, the ones given in the ICEL text that still, after all these years, perpetrates on English-speaking Catholics a fraud the magnitude of which has never been equaled in the history of liturgical abuses. The faithful are deprived even of the benefit that would accrue to them from having in their ears the actual texts that the Church has chosen for her celebrations. Besides, probably fewer than 10 percent of the faithful today actually hear these (or any) "Propers," least of all in the resplendent clothing of Gregorian chant. Instead, they might sing lame songs that are even less relevant to the feastday being celebrated. In other words, the "reform" has resulted, in most instances, in a wholesale abandonment in practice of the very notion of Propers.

No, my complaint is not at this level; it is at the level of the Latin text. In her masterful studies of recent years, Dr. Lauren Pristas has helped us to see that the radical difference between the old and new Missals has to be assessed on the "pure" ground of the Latin editio typica of each. And this is where I, too, stake my claims. I prescind entirely from the insulting travesty of the ICEL translation and focus on the Latin.

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Comparing the two sets of propers, I ask: Is this an example of liturgical progress, of a "successful" reform? The Novus Ordo propers are vague and generic, ready for application to any female saint; the Tridentine propers are majestic, poetic, and exactly apropos to the Little Flower.
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Now, consider the Propers appointed in the old rite for the feast of Saint Thérèse. In stark contrast to the sad situation that obtains with the new rite, in the old rite the Propers were always recited or sung, because they are, and were treated as, an integral part of the liturgy. Moreover, people often had their handheld missals with them, so that everyone who cared to pay attention -- and this was certainly an ever-growing number right up to the eve of the Council -- was nourished by these verses from Scripture, beautifully applied to the Little Flower:
Introit (Cant. 4:8-9) -- Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come; thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart. V. (Ps. 112:1) Praise the Lord, ye children; praise ye the name of the Lord. Glory be. Come from Libanus, my spouse, etc.

Gradual (Mt. 11:25) -- I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. V. (Ps. 70.5) [Thou hast been] my hope, O Lord, from my youth.

Alleluia (Ecclus. 39:17-19) -- Bud forth as the rose planted by the brooks of waters: Give ye a sweet odor as frankincense. Send forth flowers as the lily, and yield a smell, and bring forth leaves in grace, and praise with canticles and bless the Lord in His works. Alleluia.

Offertory (Lk. 1:46,48-49) -- My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior: because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid. He that is mighty hath done great things to me.

Communion (Deut. 32:10,12) -- He led her about and taught her, and He kept her as the apple of His eye. As an eagle He has spread His wings and hath taken her on His shoulder. The Lord alone was her leader.
Comparing the two sets of propers, I ask: Is this an example of liturgical progress, of a "successful" reform? The Novus Ordo propers are vague and generic, ready for application to any female saint; the Tridentine propers are majestic, poetic, and exactly apropos to the Little Flower.

The Loss of Liturgically Suitable Readings

Let us turn to the subject of readings and how they are to be selected. A first principle for lovers of liturgical tradition is that the cycle of feasts of our Lord, our Lady, and the saints must take precedence over a cycle of Scripture readings. There is no liturgy in existence that privileges a rationalistically-conceived march through books of the Old and New Testaments. All liturgies, Eastern and Western, look to the mysteries of Christ and of His Mother, and to the lives and virtues of that bright "cloud of witnesses" who incarnate, so to speak, the reality of Jesus again and again throughout history. Recitation of the text of Scripture is made decisively subordinate to the historical embodiment of Scripture's message in holy persons. The readings serve, in other words, to frame, adorn, and bring to light the face of Christ and the faces of all His imitators. The use of Scripture is iconic, not homiletic. We are not being lectured at, but rather summoned to worship, to bow down before mysteries. The readings are to function as verbal incense, not verbose information. That is why a relatively narrow selection of Scripture passages, and usually shorter rather than longer ones, is perfectly adequate and even preferable for the sacred liturgy. Not all passages are equally suited to the purpose of the liturgy per se. With all due respect to the inspired word of God, probably only about 10 percent of the Bible is liturgically suitable. The other 90 percent is fertile ground for lectio divina, the practice that all of us should be engaged upon in some of the hours when we're not at Mass.

With these all too brief considerations in mind, we can see the fallacy lurking behind one of the most common complaints the liturgical movement made against the Tridentine Missal, namely that it did not contain a sufficient diversity of Scripture readings. Apart from the general refutation of the argument -- namely, that liturgy is not meant to be a Scripture study session, that Scripture serves an important but still subordinate role in the Holy Sacrifice -- the real solution would have been to undertake with great patience the long-term task of composing Masses more "proper" to individual saints or liturgical seasons, so that a carefully augmented use of Scripture would have been able to retain the iconic function that we glimpsed in the propers of Saint Thérèse. I do not necessarily mean composing new chants, although in some cases this would certainly have been possible, but selecting chants more directly relevant to the life and teaching of the particular saint, and expanding the readings by appointing previously unread passages for the feastdays of saints whom they suit the most.2

For example, the feast of Saint John on December 27 might have been enhanced by the use of a different entrance antiphon than In medio ecclesiae. As beautiful an introit as this is, it was used indiscriminately for all the Doctors of the Church, whose numbers have greatly increased in recent centuries, with no attempt made to craft propers for them.3 A properly Johannine introit would refer, using verses from his Gospel, to the sublimity of his teaching on the divinity of Christ. In general, the feasts of the Evangelists could have been improved simply by making the propers more, if you will, "proper." Or again, why must every holy woman get the mulier fortis reading of Proverbs? It seems odd to apply the selfsame reading to very distinctive saints for whom one could find other more appropriate passages. This would have been the way to expand the liturgy's readings while respecting the intrinsic connection between scripture and sanctity. As long as you preserve the mulier fortis for, say, three women (rather than for twelve or however many!), daily Mass-goers will still hear or read this fine reading every year, but there will not be overkill on the one hand, and undervaluation of the distinctiveness of the saints on the other. The pattern had already been set by the feasts of those saints who, in the Missal of 1955 or 1962, already had a perfectly adapted set of propers special to them: for example, Saint Thérèse herself, where all the chants and readings are exquisitely suitable, or Saint Margaret Mary in her special relationship with the Sacred Heart. Yes, to do this would have made the Missal somewhat larger or demanded its publication in two volumes, but it would have greatly enriched it, and one of the arguably legitimate goals of the liturgical movement -- that Scripture be more fully represented -- would have been satisfied in a manner wholly consistent with the tradition and its best models.

The new lectionary, in contrast, is a failure, for three fundamental reasons.

First, the guiding principles were Cartesian, that is to say, mathematical order, a technical completeness (we have to "get through" the Scriptures), and a typically materialistic disregard for the organic unity of the soul-body complex which is the liturgy -- its soul being the Eucharistic sacrifice-sacrament, the dual motion of offering to the Father and receiving in communion, while its body is the surrounding prayers, readings, and chants.

Second, there is the basic human problem of having more than one year's worth of readings. A single year is a natural period of time; it is healthy, pedagogically superior, and deeply consoling to come back, year after year, to the same readings for a given Sunday or weekday. This has been my experience. You get to know the Sunday readings especially; they become bone of your bone. You start to think of Sundays in terms of their readings, chants, and prayers, which stick in the mind all the more firmly because they are both spoken or chanted and read in the missal you are holding (more senses engaged). In this way the traditional Western liturgy shows its affinity to the Eastern liturgies, which go so far as to name Sundays after their Gospels or after some particular dogma emphasized. In the old days, the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost had a distinctive identity: Protector noster was the introit, you knew its melody, and the whole Mass grew to be familiar, like a much-loved garden or a trail through the woods. Nowadays, who knows what the "tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time" is about! It's anyone's guess.

Third, the men who chose the readings were a committee of "experts," biblical scholars with sociological leanings, who should be distrusted when it comes to spiritual matters. The only reverent way of augmenting a missal would be to entrust to contemplative monks the task of proposing new readings and propers for certain saints' feasts, for the weekdays of Advent, and so on -- to entrust it to traditional Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, whose daily bread (after the Eucharist) is lectio divina, whose every thought is permeated by the words, the rhythms, the doctrine of Sacred Scripture. For these men and women, Scripture is not a "project," a book to be divided and conquered; it is their food and drink. Feeling the spiritual weight of what they read, they would be able to recommend readings that are most fitting for a given saint, or for the ferial days in Advent and Paschaltide. So the process could have gone like this: monks at many monasteries propose, after much prayer and meditation, new readings for feastdays or ferials in the old calendar; then, final decisions are rendered by a board composed of monks, bishops, and experienced preachers, but not "scholars" and "liturgists."

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The abandonment of the inner unity of Scripture and feastday is one of the greatest disasters of the new rite. It makes the prayers, the readings, and the sacrifice seem like three different things, when they ought to be clearly woven together, as in the old rite, making one seamless garment.
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What are some areas of the old calendar where new readings could be appointed without undermining the spirit, the unity, the internal pedagogy, and the traditional perfection of the liturgy as a whole?

Weekdays during Advent. The Roman church in the early ages adopted the practice of daily Mass during Lent at a time when daily Mass was unusual and when the Eastern churches adopted precisely the opposite custom, having prayer services instead of Mass for weekdays of Lent. With the increasing modern emphasis on assisting at daily Mass, and the constant though lesser theme of Advent as a time of penance, comes the need to enrich this segment of the calendar. Here, then, is a beautiful open field for the assigning of Advent lessons from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books, and new graduals from the Psalms, all of them pointing as with one voice to the coming feast of Christmas and testifying to the mystery of the Incarnation. The saints' feastdays during Advent should not, however, be interfered with; only the "empty" days should have readings assigned to them. If the Church decided to add a new saint's day to the universal calendar, the readings could be adjusted accordingly.

Weekdays during Paschal time. Again, not to the prejudice of the saints, new readings could be used for the ferial days of this season.

In general, many of the saints' feastdays could be furnished with apposite readings, in the way that Saint Monica's feast has the Gospel about the widow's son raised from the dead, or Saint Gregory Thaumaturgas, a saint famous for having literally moved a mountain, has the Gospel about the moving of mountains by men of faith.

Suppressing "Archaic" Saints

I would like to turn to a related theme: the suppression in the new Missal of so many saints' days, and their partial replacement with "new" saints supposedly more "relevant" to our times and to modern Catholics. The fact is, there are thousands of saints; John Paul II canonized hundreds more. There could never be room in the calendar for even the modern saints (19th and 20th centuries), let alone a representative sampling from all centuries. The whole problem with the reformers' mentality is that they felt that the calendar has to reflect in almost mathematical proportions, by a quantitative sampling, the various periods of Church history, with weight being given to the modern because it is nearer to us. The "reform" betrays a false notion of sacred time. We are the contemporaries of Christ, the Apostles, and the early Christians who died in agony for sake of the Faith, and yet we are most likely to forget about them and to need their prayers and their example ever before us. The early Christians are the perennial witnesses to the Faith, the first great standardbearers after its sudden appearance in the fallen world. There is something especially glorious about them, and that is why the old calendar is filled with their names. We are ever being led back to the first ages, the infancy of our faith, the childhood of our religion.

The calendar's main purpose is not to keep up with the ongoing march of saints; there are devotional books, prayer manuals, biographies, and much more to help us deepen our knowledge of that vast assembly. No, the saints whom the Holy Spirit moved the Church to include in the universal calendar are there for special reasons which cannot be grasped by a sociological or historical analysis; the reasons are intuited by one who prays long and faithfully with the old missal. The very appearance of randomness, of an unlikely gathering of some few more recent saints with the much larger number of saints from the earliest times, gives pause for reflection: Am I numbering myself with the ancients, the wise men, the first martyrs? Am I remembering my forefathers, who would otherwise pass out of human memory? The continual recollection of the earliest saints corrects our modern habit -- a habit that all "moderns" have in their own period, regardless of whether we are speaking of the Renaissance or the 21st century -- of thinking that the new is more real, and the old is a distant shadow no longer distinct and discernible. No, the missal brings us immediately into the company of the Romans and Greeks and barbarians who converted to the Faith, who were great bishops or virgins or martyrs, and who bring us outside of our age into the agelessness of the faith, its eternal youth that sings the praises and begs the intercession of these ancient men and women just as though they were sitting next to us in the pew. It ever joins the end to the beginning, and keeps today rooted int he first day; it brings into sharp relief the awesome fact that the Christian religion is ever-present and transhistorical, there is neither yesterday, nor today, nor tomorrow, but Christ is always and forevermore coming to us in the manger and dying for us on the Cross, and his saints, even those whom our human instincts would place at a distance, are not dead strangers but living friends. the old calendar does all this with a remarkable subtlety of force: it works at you day by day, quietly, until you begin to recognize those names, and remember the collects, and spontaneously turn to the men and women who bore the names, who are now not only your models but your contemporaries. Clock time loses its hegemony, and sacral time, which participates in the changeless now of God, gains on your soul. That is the kind of calendar we need.

One who is attentive to the old liturgical calendar will perceive many instances of the subtle unity and harmony that pervades this noble work of the Holy Spirit, in which many great souls participated but, thanks be to God, no committee had a part. Note, as a palpable but by no means isolated example, the magnificent progression of feasts from September 14th to September 18th, which form a miniature catechesis of the mystery of the passion and death of our Lord and its saving power throughout all ages -- beginning with Mary and John at the foot of the cross, and continuing in all the heroic imitators of Christ whom divine grace raises up when the faith has begun to grow cold.(I do not reproduce here the texts in full, but merely sketch out each day, to show how well they cohere.)
September 14: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Introit: cf. Gal. g:14: It behooves us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection, by whom we are saved and delivered. Collect: O God, who on this day dost gladden us by the yearly feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: grant, we beseech Thee, that we who on earth acknowledge the mystery of redemption wrought upon it, may be found worthy to enjoy the rewards of that same redemption in heaven. Through the same Our Lord Jesus Christ. . . Epistle: Phil. 2:5-11: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . Gospel: Jn. 12:31-36: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself . . . . While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light.

September 15: The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Introit: Jn. 19:25: there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister Mary of Cleophas, and Salome, and Mary Magdalen. Woman, behold thy son, said Jesus: and to the disciple, Behold thy Mother. Collect: O God, at whose Passion according to the prophecy of Simeon, a sword of sorrow pierced the most sweet soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary, mercifully grant that we who honor with devotion her sorrows, may obtain the happy fruit of Thy Passion: who livest and reignest with God the Father . . . Epistle: Jud. 13:22, 23-25: The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, who by thee hath brought our enemies to nought. . . . for thou hast not spared thy life by reason of the distress and tribulation of thy people, but hast prevented our ruin in the presence of our God. Gospel: Jn. 19:25-27.

September 16: Saints Cornelius and Cyprian, Martyrs. Introit: Ps. 78:11,12,10: Let the sighing of the prisoners come in before thee, O Lord; render to our neighbors sevenfold in their bosom; revenge the blood of thy saints, which hath been shed. Epistle: Wis. 3:1-8: The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. . . . As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them . . . Gospel: Lk. 2:9-19: They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, dragging you before kings and governors, for my name's sake. . . . In your patience you shall possess your souls.

September 17: Impression of the Holy Stigmata on the Body of Saint Francis. Introit: Gal. 6:14: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ: by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. Collect: O Lord Jesus Christ, who when the world was growing cold, in order to enkindle in our hearts the fire of thy love, didst renew the sacred marks of thy passion on the body of blessed Francis: mercifully grant that with the aid of his merits and prayers we may ever bear our cross, and bring forth worthy fruits of penance: who livest and reignest with God the Father . . . Epistle: Gal. 6:14-18: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . From henceforth let no man be troublesome to me; for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body. Gospel: Mt. 16:24-27: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he that will save his life shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. Postcommunion: O god, who in diverse ways didst show forth in blessed Francis thy confessor the wondrous mysteries of thy cross, grant, we beseech thee, that ever following the example of his devotion, we may be strengthened by constant meditation on the same cross. Through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

September 18: Saint Joseph of Cupertino, Confessor. Introit: Eccl. 1:14-15: The love of God is honorable wisdom, and they to whom she shall show herself, love her by the sight, and by the knowledge of her great works. Collect: O God, who has ordained that thine only-begotten Son when lifted up from the earth should draw all things to Himself, mercifully grant, through the merits and example of thy seraphic confessor Joseph, that we may be lifted up above all earthly desires and be found worthy to come unto Him, who liveth and reigneth with God the Father . . .4 Epistle: 1 Cor. 13:1-13: If I should have prophecy, and should know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I should have faith so that I could move mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. . . . Gospel: Mt. 22:1-14: Many are called, but few are chosen.
This sequence of profoundly coordinated and mutually reinforcing prayers, readings, and propers is only one example among many of the quiet working of the Holy Spirit on the calendar over the centuries, perfecting the liturgical expression of the mysteries of faith and intensifying its pedagogical power on receptive souls. I recall how a highly perceptive priest who celebrated the Tridentine Mass every morning told me that such treasures of beauty and order could be found throughout the calendar. We should not be surprised; we should even have expected that a liturgy that had grown organically for centuries would exhibit refinements of this degree.

Preserve, Study, and Pray

What, then, is the conclusion we can derive from the foregoing observations? First, there is the obvious truth that we must preserve, with all our might, the riches of the Latin liturgical heritage for future generations who deserve to know what the Western liturgy really is, and who long to worship God in spirit and truth according to His gifts to the Church. The words of John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei, now almost twenty years old, ring out with a relevance ever-new: "respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition." Could anyone with mind aware and heart aflame fail to be attached to so rich a tradition, and disturbed by so impoverished a revision? The recently promulgated Summorum Pontificum beyond all expectation, transforms the late pope's counsel into a veritable law for the Latin Church, down to each and every parish, and in this way gives the reigning pope's official sanction to the apostolate of a living and life-giving preservation of our inheritance.

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The readings serve, in other words, to frame, adorn, and bring to light the face of Christ and the faces of all His imitators. The use of Scripture is iconic, not homiletic. We are not being lectured at, but rather summoned to worship, to bow down before mysteries.
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Second, and less obviously, we need to take the time and make the effort to study the traditional liturgy to the extent that our state in life permits, so that we can peacefully, intelligently, and persuasively defend its superiority, and help those who are unfamiliar with it to see the vital spiritual lessons, the poetic beauty, the catechetical instruction, the consolation of soul it plentifully affords.

Finally, and least obviously, we need to support with prayers and good will the may priests and laity who are doing their utmost to bring the celebration of the Novus Ordo into conformity with the Latin liturgical tradition, however much this may seem to be a quest to square the circle. Ultimately, for the very survival of orthodox Catholicism, there has to be return to the ancient heritage that has been spurned, yet this can happen in a pure way and in a piecemeal way. The readers of this journal strive to follow a purer way, but they must not scorn the piecemeal (or Adoremus) way, for it, too, is capable of leading souls in the right direction. It is not for us to judge how the victory will be won. Our task is only to promote the good we know. May Saint Thérèse -- and all the saints nourished on the Tridetine rite -- pray for us.


  1. Of course, the very fact that the altar missal can have still other texts than those given in the Graduale Romanum, and ones not especially better than the selection made by Solesmes, underlines the lack of coordination and unity which has effectively made it impossible to say the Roman rite is unified and universal. Put simply: When I walk into a church anywhere in the world, I do not know what I am going to get, regardless of the so-called universal calendar -- there are so many options, dispensations, derogations, cycles, and what have you. This is a deplorable situation. [back]

  2. Every five years, a supplement could have been published, to be used alongside the missal on those particular feastdays, until after twenty years or so it was time to put all the new propers/readings into the missal itself. One sees in old missals how certain universal or regional feasts were introduced by appendices pasted into the back of the books. [back]

  3. Note that I am not advocating liturgical experimentation, but only the augmentation of a Missal otherwise left intact in its beauty and riches. This is exactly what the Church herself did for a century and more prior to Vatican II: new feasts were introduced, often with new propers, with relevant readings appointed, and even new chants composed. It could only be snobishness or squeamishness that would prevent us from seeing the wisdom of this kind of truly organic development. Who could not imagine a suitable Mass in honor of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, drawing from the sayings of the prophets (such as Amos) and of our Lord on the poor (the epistle of the rich young man comes to mind)? [back]

  4. Let the reader be reminded that Saint Joseph of Cupertino was especially famous for his much-witnessed levitations that literally "lifted him high" above the ground, even to the very rooftops. So, the Collect is using the saint's "levity" as a symbol of how we, too, must rise above merely earthly goods and cleave to those of heaven. It is a splendid example of multiple layers of meaning deliberately planted in a text, which presupposes an audience awake and intelligent enough to parse out the meaning. [back]

Photo credits

Dr. Peter A. Kwasniewski is Associate Professor of Theology at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming. The present article, "The Loss of Liturgical Riches in the Sanctoral Cycle," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Fall 2007), pp. 30-35, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Summorum Pontificum and the Future of the Liturgy

by Father Kenneth Baker

We had to wait a long time for the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, to be promulgated, but it was worth it. The document is well thought out and gives some precise juridical norms for the use of the traditional Latin liturgy of the Church. Over the next ten years this new legislation will have a profound effect on the worship of the Catholic Church.

A Motu Proprio is a special type of papal document which is the publication of a new law for the Church. This phrase means "on my own initiative" or something similar. This means it comes directly from the Pope who is the Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of Jesus Christ. It does not come from one of the Vatican Congregations run by a Cardinal. In this case the Motu Proprio is accompanied by a covering Letter explaining why the Pope is issuing the new legislation.

The first thing to note is that the letter is addressed to "My dear brother Bishops." The letter is not addressed to the whole Church; it is not the law of the Church. The law of the Church is contained in the Motu Proprio.

The Pope divides the letter into two parts, addressing two fears: the first is the fear expressed by the French and German Bishops -- that the document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council. He rejects that outright: "this fear is unfounded." And he uses the same expression for the second fear: that the use of the Missal might lead to "disarray" and "divisions" among parish communities. That is also "unfounded."

He then introduces the two forms of the Roman rite, the ordinary and the extraordinary. He points out that it is not appropriate to speak of "two rites," but that it is rather a twofold use of one and the same Roman Rite -- there is one rite, with two equal forms. As you will see, this has very profound implications.

The Pope emphasizes that the ancient rite was never abrogated. In 1970, we were made to think that it was gone, and that only retired priests who had obtained special permission to say the Mass in private could say the traditional Latin Mass. That was a misrepresentation of the law of the Church, but it was almost universally adopted by the Bishops and religious communities.

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The Pope emphasizes that the ancient rite was never abrogated. In 1970, we were made to think that it was gone, and that only retired priests who had obtained special permission to say the Mass in private could say the traditional Latin Mass. That was a misrepresentation of the law of the Church, but it was almost universally adopted by the Bishops and religious communities.

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After making these points, the Pope goes into the deformations of recent years, and here he is very personal -- he uses the first person singular. He says, "I am speaking from experience, since I, too, lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church." Here he is addressing the experience of all of us -- the hootenanny Masses, the clown Masses -- deformations which drove millions of people away from the Catholic Church.

Benedict next mentions Pope John Paul II, especially the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei (1988). In this document John Paul was trying to solve this problem for the people who had been alienated because they preferred the old liturgy. He wanted to assist these people, and, in particular, he also wanted to achieve reconciliation with the Society of Saint Pius X. But the document is only in general terms. It contains no "precise juridical norms."

In 1988 Pope John Paul II asked the Bishops to be generous in granting permission for the old Mass. Many, perhaps most, Bishops were not "generous" in allowing the traditional Latin Mass, so in this new document the Pope says in effect, "I have to step in and solve the problem with new juridical norms," and he does that with this Motu Proprio: it is the new law of the Church.

With this document, Benedict is taking control of the traditional Latin Mass out of the hands of the Bishops and giving it to priests. He's taking a giant step toward the Saint Pius X Society by granting their first demand that every priest be allowed to say the traditional Latin Mass. The "giant step" is that, in Article 2 of the Motu Proprio, Benedict says that every priest now has the right to say the traditional Latin Mass -- he doesn't have to ask the Pope, he doesn't have to ask his Bishop.

* * * * * * *
With this document, Benedict is taking control of the traditional Latin Mass out of the hands of the Bishops and
giving it to priests.

* * * * * * *
Remember that the second fear he mentioned was that the Motu Proprio would cause "disarray" and even "divisions" within the various communities. The Pope points out that there is only a small number of Catholics who are interested in the traditional Latin Mass at the present time, and so it is not likely to cause such divisions. He point out that neither liturgical formation or knowledge of the Latin language is found very often among priests -- and that is especially true here in the United States. So only a small percentage of the faithful -- to begin with -- are going to be interested in this. Frankly, the French and German Bishops should not be concerned about divisions in the Church over the Latin Mass, since eighty or ninety percent of the Catholics in these countries don't go to church anyway.

How can our priest learn how to celebrate the Latin Mass correctly according to the rubrics? Here is where the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter and the Institute of Christ the King come in, because they are in a position to train priests to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. The Fraternity offered one week courses in June in the seminary in Denton, Nebraska, training diocesan priests who want to learn how to celebrate the traditional Mass. And they'll offer more in the future.1

The Pope underscores the fact that "the two forms of the Latin Mass can be mutually enriching." But some traditionalists are concerned that endless tinkering might occur by the constant addition of new saints and new prefaces. Yes, Popes have done that in the past, but with all the changes that been wrought in the past 40 years, why bring that up? What we're looking for here is stability -- we want the liturgy that is fixed and permanent. We don't want it changing every year.

With regard to the notion of the two forms as "mutually enriching," I think it's likely that the proper celebration of the traditional Mass on a wider scale in many parishes will bring about a more sacred celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass. After all, in the traditional rite, the priest is facing the east, he makes about fifteen genuflections, he uses very particular liturgical language -- and the Latin has the sacred character of mystery. All religions have sacred language -- for example, the Jews use Hebrew in the synagogue, even though it is not usually spoken. It brings home the message that there's mystery here. We are dealing with the supreme majesty of God almighty, and that language of mystery brings it all home -- we do not express it in the language of the street.

The Pope next states his basic reason for restoring the Latin mass: "I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the church." That's essential to this whole thing -- the Pope wants to bring back reconciliation and unity in the Church; he wants to bring back the Saint Pius X Society, and he wants to bring back the millions of Catholics who don't go to church anymore.

* * * * * * *
With regard to the notion of the two forms as "mutually enriching," I think it's likely that the proper celebration of the traditional Mass on a wider scale in many parishes will bring about a more sacred celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass.

* * * * * * *
In recent months there have been many reports of opposition from mostly liberal individuals in the Church. Since the Latin Mass affects only about 1% of Catholics, why are they so opposed? They're afraid it's going to grow. Once people see the traditional Latin Mass and contrast it with the Novus Ordo, they realize what's been lost. The sense of the sacred, the mystery of the Mass, the Latin, the facing east, the Gregorian chants, altar boys, communion on the tongue, kneeling at the communion rail, all of those things.

I like the passage where the Pope assures the Bishops that the new legislation does not lessen the authority of the Bishop, after he has taken all of this away from the Bishop. He says to the Bishops, "in conclusion, dear brothers, I very much wish to stress that these new norms do not in any way lessen your own authority and responsibility, either for the liturgy or for the pastoral care of your faithful." So the Bishop's job is to oversee and implement the pastoral care of the faithful in the liturgy. And in the next paragraph, he repeats it -- their "role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity." I love that, because what he's saying is, you no longer have absolute control over the traditional Latin Mass, but you have to see to it that the priests who celebrate it are doing it right. That has been the role of Bishops for the last 400 years.

Now I propose to comment on the Motu Proprio itself. This new legislation solves a problem that has been causing division and heartbreak in the Church since the Novus Ordo was introduced in the 1970 by Pope Paul VI. The rapid, unprepared and unexplained imposition of the new rite was the occasion for the alienation of many Catholics who treasured the Catholic Latin liturgy.

Since 1970 groups of the faithful in many dioceses have asked the Bishop for a regular Latin Mass and have been denied. In 1984 and then again in 1988 Pope John Paul II tried to solve the problem and asked the Bishops to be "generous" in granting permission for the use of the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII. Some Bishops did grant permission, but is was often restricted to once a month or in a remote part of the diocese that was difficult to reach. In San Diego it was relegated to a Mausoleum.

The new legislation restores the traditional Latin Mass to the status it had for 1500 years. It is now on the same level as the Novus Ordo liturgy. Benedict XVI has decreed that there is one Latin Rite with two forms -- Ordinary and Extraordinary. What many call the English Mass is now the Ordinary form of the Latin Rite, and the traditional Latin Mass is the Extraordinary form. Every priest can use either form and from now on does not need the Bishop's permission.

The most important point in the new legislation is that any priest can use the 1962 Missal "on any day except in the Sacred Triduum (that is, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Holy Week) (Article 2).2
In Article 5 the Pope says when a group of faithful request a Latin Mass from their pastor, he should "willingly accede to their requests for the celebration of the Holy Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962." If the pastor for any reason refuses, then the people should inform the diocesan Bishop of the fact. Then the Pope says to the Bishop in Article 7: "the Bishop is earnestly requested to grant their desire." This is a dramatic reform of how such things have been handled since 1970.

In the introductory paragraphs Benedict XVI refers to the Supreme Pontiff or the Roman Pontiff seven times. This is significant. He makes it very clear in the second paragraph that the liturgy of the church is determined by the Roman Pontiff and not by the local Bishops and their liturgical committees. He says therefore that the local church must be in conformity with the universal Church. In a certain sense after 1970, because of the many options and the power of the Bishops' conferences, Pope Paul VI and John Paul II lost control of the liturgy. Now Pope Benedict is reminding the Bishops that only the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff, has the authority to determine the liturgical worship in the Catholic Church. This point is emphasized by the magisterial "We" and the strong language he uses when he says "We decree" (decernimus) and "We order to be firm and ratified" (servari iubemus). The responsibility of the Bishop is to see to it that the liturgy is performed according to the rules established by the Pope.

The same point is made in the covering letter when Benedict cites Vatican II's document on the liturgy number 22: "Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the Bishop."

Finally, to repeat the important point made above, the Pope says that what motivated him to issue the new Motu Proprio is to bring about "an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church." Thus, the purpose is to restore a sense of liturgical unity in the Church. By restoring the traditional Latin Liturgy of the Church to its rightful place, Benedict XVI, the Pope of Peace, hopes to promote peace and unity in the whole Catholic Church. For this we owe him our gratitude and our prayers.

  1. See the Special Report from the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter on a program for the training of priests who wish to learn how to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, "Training Today's Priests to Celebrate the Traditional Mass," Latin Mass magazine (Fall 2007), pp. 24-26). [Blog editor] [back]

  2. As Michael Foley points out in his article, "Motus Magnus: An Analysis of Summorum Pontificum," Latin Mass magazine (Fall 2007), p. 17, this is "a preasonable restriction, since this is the practice for all private Masses on those days (and note that it does not forbid public Tridentine services during the Triduum)." [Blog editor] [back]

Photo credits

Father Kenneth Baker is a Jesuit priest of the Oregon Province and editor-in-Chief of the monthly Homiletic and Pastoral Review and President of Catholic View Broadcasts. The present article, "Summorum Pontificum and the Future of the Liturgy," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Fall 2007), pp. 9-11, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.