Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The War on Symbolism

by Alice von Hildebrand

According to Plato, "Any change except to eliminate an evil, is an evil." It is easy to caricature this assertion and label Plato a hopeless conservative opposed to any kind of progress, a man stubbornly attached to a past he irrationally idealized.

I propose instead that Plato's claim is to be interpreted in the light of his Philosophy as a whole. My reading is that Plato warns us of the danger of irreverently rejecting the wisdom and experiences of our predecessors on the grounds that they are merely old or allegedly obsolete. Lamenting the spiritual, intellectual and artistic decline that he witnessed in his old age, Plato remarked that in Athens's heyday "reverence was our queen and mistress."

Certainly, Plato does not reject any improvement, e.g., a response to a legitimate need that arises because of changing circumstances. Nor does he reject the normal growth of things from one stage to another. What he is trying to impress upon us is that we should have respect for the wisdom acquired by our ancestors and refrain from discarding our spiritual, intellectual and social heritage, assuming arrogantly, in an Hegelian spirit, that to move forward guarantees improvement. Plato's works were written some 24 centuries ago, and yet much of their contents has a freshness and vitality that explains why pride of place is still given him among the very great thinkers of the world.

Our society, inebriated by its mind-boggling technological accomplishments, is constantly threatened by the arrogance inherent in material success. Thus: "Our ancestors were children; we are mature. Man has finally come of age. There is nothing that sooner or later cannot come under his control." The last fifty years have witnessed changes that affect our lives so radically -- landing on the moon, the atomic bomb (man's revenge that he cannot create: he can now destroy, with his fiat), television, computers, supersonic planes, and the Internet, to mention some of the most prominent ones -- that we are al tempted to believe ourselves superior to our ancestors. Many scientists are in a state of hubris that usually antagonizes wisdom and can lead to disaster.

It is one thing to achieve an ever-greater control over the material world, but another to have wisdom to put these discoveries at the service of the good. One could raise the troublesome question of whether scientific conquests do not often militate against true wisdom. What the contemporary world, rich in technological feats, lacks is wisdom. Science aims at achieving through knowledge an ever-greater dominion over the material world; the love of wisdom (philosophia) is to shed light on the key questions of human existence, such as the existence of God or immortal souls, the meaning of human life, the meaning of moral good and evil, and the like. These are questions that science cannot answer because it cannot even raise them. Its perimeter is limited to the material universe. Our society offers a depressing discrepancy between our scientific conquests and -- to quote Gabriel Marcel -- our steady devaluation of human life, which is less and less appreciated as a gift. This state of moral disarray finds its expression in the demoralizing literature, which has flowered in the 20th century. Kafka, Camus, Hemingway and Fitzgerald come to mind here. We are suffering from a "sickness unto death" -- namely despair, to refer to Kierkegaard's great work.

The danger that characterizes our society is the tacit assumption that change b its very nature guarantees betterment. New means better. Lack of respect for old age, and adulation of youth -- so typical of our society -- are expressions of this same ethos. Traditionally white hair was respectable: today, people seem to be ashamed of their closeness to eternal youth. We try to hide it much as we try to hide physical defects and blemishes. After the age of 35, most women (and many men now follow suit) owe it to themselves to dye their hair. The "world" would brand them as "badly groomed" if they showed streaks of gray in their hair.

By contrast, in ancient Rome one had to be a senex to be member of the Senate. According to Indian customs, the chief was always a man whose age inspired respect: he was the one whose wisdom, based on experience, was respected and heeded. He was the one consulted in times of crisis. In Greek tragedies, white hair is treated with respect. The same sentiment is expressed in the Old Testament.

Our present philosophy of life, which glorifies youth and novelty, creates a state of instability that is one of the diseases afflicting our society; we have no roots. What Plato calls the golden cord of tradition has been ruptured.

This ethos assumes much weight when it affects a sacred tradition. It is here that the words of Plato reveal their wisdom. I am referring to changes that have been introduced in Catholic life since Vatican II. Those of us who are now elderly remember vividly that priests were identifiable not only because of their Roman collars and dark suits, but also because of their tonsure. The latter had a clear symbolic meaning: the fact that part of the priest's hair was shaved indicated his total donation to God. After Vatican II, this longstanding tradition was abolished. I do not recall that a convincing reason was given for this change, but somehow the special dignity of the priesthood was no longer honored by a visible sign.

Before ascending to the altar for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, priests had to don 7 pieces of clothing, each one of which symbolized a step in a particular scene of Christ's ascent to Golgotha, where the ultimate sacrifice of the God-man for our redemption took place. These symbols have been powerfully highlighted in [Martin] von Cochem's book, The Amazing Catholic Mass [i.e., The Incredible Catholic Mass] (TAN). Today many of them have been eliminated. It is most unlikely that young priests know either their names or their symbolic meanings. What is particularly regrettable is that priests are likely to be much less conscious of the fact that Holy Mass is essentially a non bloody re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, a fact of which the priestly vestments they were wearing physically and forcefully reminded them.

Whereas in the so-called Tridentine liturgy the priest stood first at the foot of the altar -- once again symbolizing the way of the Cross toward the hill of Calvary -- in the Novus Ordo he immediately faces the congregation. The steps have been eliminated. And yet, how deeply meaningful and symbolic were these "steps" -- powerful expressions of the virtue of discretio, which teaches us that before reaching a noble goal, we should beware of rushing to it without proper preparation.

Another significant change is the abolition of minor orders: up to Vatican II, there were seven steps leading to the priesthood: porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte, and then subdeacon, deacon, and finally the holy sacrament of the priesthood, in which a human creature is granted the unfathomable privilege of representing Christ, and of changing bread and wind into the holy Body and Blood of the Savior of the world. These seven steps had a deep meaning: inspired by a sentiment of sacred discretio, the Church in her wisdom reminded the candidate to the priesthood of the awesomeness of the step he was about to take. Whether in universities or in the military, we note grades of dignity. It was thus highly appropriate that the ascension to the highest dignity ever given to man should be marked by several degrees, each one of them granting the seminarian a more intimate participation in the mystery of Holy Mass. Once again, this tradition rich in symbolic meaning has been eliminated.

It is also regrettable that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is now celebrated on a table, the piece of furniture used for meals. An altar, on the contrary, was exclusively used for sacrifices, as clearly stated in the Old Testament.

Another important change is that priests now face their congregations, whereas for centuries they were facing east, and Christ is called the sol justitiae. He is the light -- the lumen Christi. Once again, a profound symbol was discarded.

Still another break with tradition is the elimination of the altar rails in catholic churches. For centuries, people knelt while receiving Holy Communion, and kneeling in our culture is the most perfect expression of an adoring posture -- that is, a bodily duplication of the proper posture of the soul. Why this change was introduced (at great financial cost) is difficult to understand, by unfortunately it is not the only case in which symbolism has been eliminated.

Symbolism plays a central role in religious life. A symbol is a material object that represents, or stands for, a spiritual reality. The symbol partakes of the dignity of this invisible reality and makes it physically present. Its purpose is to establish a harmony between the soul and the body of the faithful, the spiritual, and the material. For the posture of the body is bound to have an influence on the soul, just as the inner attitude of the soul calls for an adequate bodily expression. All of us know that if we were privileged to have a supernatural vision, we would immediately kneel and even prostrate ourselves. We only need read the New Testament; when Christ performed a miracle, its beneficiary prostrated himself and adored Him.

The kneeling posture when the faithful recite the words et incarnates est in the Creed and the beating of one's breast in the Confiteor are powerful expressions of one's adoration or one's sinfulness. Today, the number of times that a priest bows or genuflects in front of the altar has been substantially reduced. And yet repetition is of great significance in religious life. The mea culpa used to be repeated three times. The Donminus vobiscum is like a sweet refrain that keeps reminding us of the living participation of the faithful in the holy sacrifice taking place on what should be an altar. The value of repetition becomes obvious when we compare a sentence communication information (today is Saturday), and one which conveys an affective content. In the first case, repetition is inane once the message has been perceived. In the second case, repetition is never "repetitious"; it is old and always new, to quote St. Augustine. What would we think of a husband who never told his wife that he loved her, on the ground that she had already received this "information" when he asked her to marry him? The sweet words "I love you" are never old: each one of them is a new blossom on the tree of love. The Bible and the liturgy illustrate this powerfully: holy, holy, holy, sanctus, sanctus, sanctus. In heaven, the whole choir of blessed ones will eternally sing God's praise, without ever exhausting its plentitude. How deeply meaningful it was that the celebrant first prayed the Confiteor, followed by the faithful acknowledging their guilt to him -- who, while performing the sacred mystery, is in persona Christi -- and not to their brothers and sisters as is the practice today.

Another change that has had an upsetting effect on many faithful is that Catholics are now permitted to eat meat on Fridays. Until Vatican II, Friday was a day of abstinence, reminding the faithful that Christ died for us on that fateful day. It was therefore deeply symbolic that Friday should be a day of penance, and that his should be expressed by our abstaining form meat. Paul VI, who introduced this change, did remind the faithful that they should make some sacrifice of their own choice, by alas, how many young people (victims of a deplorable education in so-called Catholic schools) even know the meaning of the word sacrifice? The awareness of one's sinfulness and joyful willingness to make sacrifices are so essential to Catholic life that its total elimination was bound to have negative consequences on the religious lives of the faithful. That is true of the clergy as well: penance, abstinence, fast, hair shirts and the discipline have been eliminated or reduced to a minimum in most seminaries.

The abolition of the index is also relevant in this regard. For centuries, the Church as a vigilant mother warned her children that certain books contained poisonous doctrine, either in faith or morals. When a bottle contains toxic material, the law orders that that fact be indicated on the label: do not drink, do not inhale, do not eat. The obvious reason is protection of the non-initiated. The same thing applies in the intellectual and religious sphere. Most men are likely to be misled by brilliance, novelty, dynamism, and by what Dietrich von Hildebrand called "false depth." Kant's works are not easy reading. Many are those who assume that the very obscurity of his formulations constitutes proof that he is communicating a message of great importance that we do not understand because of its "depth," Whereas in fact his abstruse formulations often hide confusions and ambiguities. How many of us, if not protected by special graces and having a legitimate reason for doing so, can read scandalous books without being affected by their contents? Priests -- because of their role as confessors -- must be acquainted with the ugly traps into which men fall; for this reason the Church, in her motherly concern, reminds us that our intellects have been weakened by original sin. Our intellects are not "perverted," as Calvin claimed, and can still distinguish between true and false, good and evil, but this clarity of vision presupposes a fundamental attitude of humility. Just as we should remember that we are sinners, we should also remember that our intellectual faculties are limited. An attitude of humility never hurts. This was one of the precious messages of the great sage Socrates: "I know that I know not." This, of course, should not be interpreted as skepticism or intellectual despair, but rather as a reminder that the safest way of avoiding errors is to remember that we are prone to fall into them if we are not humbly vigilant.

Why this safeguard was abolished by Paul VI is not very clear. The pope told us that he trusted the intellectual maturity of Catholics, but to assume that one is mature is one of the typical marks of immaturity. In his holy rule, St. Benedict writes that when a monastery is facing important or even secondary decisions the abbot should ask the advice of the whole community and make up his mind only after having listened carefully to the various opinions offered for his consideration.

One of the great temptations of modern man is that, inebriated by the technological achievements of the 20th century, he is constantly exposed to the danger of believing that, given time, he can become God. Once again, the Greeks proved their wisdom; they considered hubris as a classical temptation likely to bring man to a tragic downfall. This is a subtle repetition of the temptation that the Evil One presented to Eve: thou shalt be like God (without God's help). Eritis sicut Deus.

The New Testament is truly -- to quote Roy Schoeman -- post-Messianic Judaism, for the Incarnation not only fulfills Judaism, but also opens up new vistas that were either only in a seminal stage in the Old Testament, or could not be realized without the divine miracle of the Incarnation. That the Second Person of the Holy Trinity should become man is something -- to quote Kierkegaard -- that never entered man's head. It is and can only be a divine "invention." For man's craving is always to go higher, so to speak. God, on the contrary, chose to assume the form of a slave, teaching us thereby that the message of the Gospel is incomprehensible to him who refuses to acknowledge that it should be read on one's knees, in an attitude of total receptivity and humility. Intellectual arrogance inevitably makes one blind, for many "brilliant" intellectuals have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear. A high I.Q. is not necessarily an advantage from a religious point of view, for the divine message is best understood by the little ones who become like children and acknowledge that without God's help, they can do nothing.

No doubt the numerous changes that have been introduced in the Church over the course of the past forty years have confused many of the faithful. One judges a tree by its fruits. Maybe we should rediscover the beauty and religious import of past customs that have been discarded in the turmoil that characterized the post-Vatican II years.

What attitude should a true son of the Church adopt? As St. Paul instructs us, "test all things, keep what is good." May contemporary man understand that message.

[Alice von Hildebrand, wife of famed philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, is an internationally known philosopher and author of numerous books, most recently The Privilege of Being a Woman. The present article, "The War on Symbolism," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Winter 2006), and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Musings on the October Synod

by Peter A. Kwasniewski

There is no question that the 11th Ordinance Synod of Bishops that took place in Oct. 2005, dedicated to the theme of "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church" -- a synod already announced by John Paul II but carried into effect by his successor, a theologian noted especially for his liturgical and Eucharistic focus -- was in many ways a fruitful ecclesial event, making allowances for the limitations of any such enormous gatherings of prelates.[1] Pope Benedict XVI was unusually present and accessible in the sense that he came to all the plenary sessions, listened with great care to the discussions, and participated from time to time spontaneously, as a brother bishop. He is clearly at home in discussions of this sort, the give-and-take of theological debate and pastoral deliberations. For their part, the bishops spoke freely, at times movingly, but without saying anything that could be described as a real surprise. The 700 or so media agents approved for the event had to leave somewhat disappointed that no items of a liberal agenda (such as married clergy in the Latin rite, or communion for divorced and remarried Catholics) were taken seriously, much less proclaimed to a world waiting for more validation of its habitual permissiveness.

What surprised me the most, however, was the astonishing lack of discussion or even the awareness of the most fundamental point of all in any attempt to come to grips with the Church of today and her Eucharistic life -- namely, the extent to which the so-called reform of the liturgy has been a disastrous failure. Here was a golden opportunity for some honest soul-searching, for the admission of collective guilt in allowing the riches of the Western liturgical heritage to be pitilessly scattered and buried, for the proposal of radical cures to confront a disease already far advanced. Here was a chance, dare we say it, for humble acknowledgement that what the majority of the Fathers of Vatican II had expected and desired in a liturgical reform was far, far different from what actually transpired at the hands of Bugnini's band, that the de facto abolition of the unbroken custom of ad orientem worship[2] and the associated destruction of sanctuaries and tabernacles across the world was a wretched mistake.[3] Indeed, though one cannot expect the pope of today to declare that the helmsman of the barque of Peter in the 1970s was asleep on the job and did not wake up until he sent Bugnini off to a foretaste of purgatory in Tehran, one could have expected the pope, or at any rate some of the bishops, to confront directly the key question: What has happened to the Roman liturgy of the Mass? Could it be that there was some connection between unprecedented liturgical experimentation and church redesign on the one hand, and the massive drop in devotional life on the other? In short, did something go drastically wrong, and can we take steps to undo the damage?

But my hopes that this would happen were repeatedly dashed. The first indication that the synod would be dealing with worthy but, in a way, second-level questions (as compared with the burning heart of the matter, the Mass) was when the ZENIT news service reported on some comments made by the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Francis Arinze, at a press conference on October 13.[4] According to Cardinal Arinze, up until that point no bishop had mentioned the "Tridentine rite" at the synod -- which means no one had directly raised the painful question of the faulty reform and the inheritance it so grievously distorted, not only by wretched translations into the vernacular but also by the rationalist presuppositions and execution of the reform as such, which constitute nothing less than a break with Tradition, as Cardinal Ratzinger himself had observed in more than one publication.[5] Cardinal Arinze went on to say: "If there are groups that desire the Tridentine Mass, this is already provided for. Bishops may allow it for groups. It is not a priority for the synod, as no one has spoken about it." If you imagine a group of hundreds of bishops and even more assistants, and not one of them brings up a matter that is, for many reasons, at the heart of all that the synod is supposed to be about, does this not sound a bit like a conspiracy of silence?

As I contended above, the burning heart of the matter is the Mass in concreto, not he Eucharist in abstracto. One of the most common mistakes today is when people think that since the Eucharist is the greatest mystery of the faith, we should focus our attention only on it, and not bother so much about he liturgy, which is a secondary affair, (rather like the shell of a hard-boiled egg: when it comes time for eating, you break the shell and eat the egg). But it is not like that. The only way in which our Lord gives himself to us is through the liturgy that His Spirit has lovingly created inside the heart of His Bride, who is our Mother. The Eucharist is not a free-floating entity but a distinctively sacramental, liturgical reality. We cannot be transformed eucharistically apart from being habituated to a life of meditation and contemplation by the sacred rites of the Church. The attempt to cut off the sacraments and view them as independent wholes, almost like Platonic Ideas, forgets altogether the way in which sacramental life is always and essentially a liturgical life, inculturated in forms of a given age and place.

We have been through many phases in the history of Western liturgy, and there have been peaks and valleys. Yet never have we been through a collective desacralization and ideological rewriting of the rites such as the past forty years have witnessed. This is the true crisis that stands behind the more attention-getting crises in the Church; this is the deepest reason for the Church's amnesia of identity, her loss of political nerve, slackened missionary impulse, abandonment of pure contemplation, and whatever other evils we are suffering from (and there are truly very many evils, as Amerio, Ferrara, and Woods, among others have documented all too well).[6] When she -- when we -- knew that we had, at our heart, the ultimate and supreme mystery of the universe to which all glory, laud, and honor was to be given, from sunrise to sunset, the mystery in which man would find his strength and comfort, the healing of his wounds and the salvation of his entire being, in which the very meaning of life begins to be disclosed and the secrets of divine intimacy are make ours to taste, as we yearn in hope for eternal consummation -- when this was our daily bread we knew we had to celebrate it with all reverence and beauty, we had to preach it and teach it to the ends of the earth, we had to fight against every power that would dare to stand in the way of Christ the King of glory, Redeemer of the world. This summarizes the message of Leo XIII in one of his last encyclicals, Mirae Caritatis (1902), on the Eucharist as the life of the world and the only hope for modern civilization.

Far be it from me to suggest that the Fathers of the recent synod do not, in fact, believe that the Eucharist is mankind's only hope. The very title of their final document shows the contrary: "The Eucharist: Living Bread for the Peace of the World." Many things they say are perfect echoes of what Leo XIII said. Similarly the lineamenta prepared before the synod as well as the 50 Propositions that the Pope unexpectedly released afterwards contain much that is beautiful and valuable. But what is fundamentally lacking is an acknowledgement of the properly liturgical causes of the Church-wide post-conciliar crisis, and the corresponding acknowledgement of the liturgical remedy to the same. Until this is done, no matter how numerous or "pastoral" the documents, we will not be liberated from the prison of our own design. We will continue to be like captives who spend their time longing with sighs and groans for better days (or more terribly, who are hallucinating that better days are already her to enjoy), when all along the door of their cell remains unlocked if only they would try to get out. The one solution that is ours to begin implementing even now is the one thing that none of the bishops, according to Cardinal Arinze, ever mentioned. One wonders: are they afraid of mentioning it? Or are they really unaware that the Catholic investment house called Tradition is open seven days a week, especially on Sundays, ready to pay out massive dividends to its customers?

But the best is what Cardinal Arinze said last, surely unaware of the irony of his words: "The problem we have discussed [so far in our synod] is that many people don't go to Mass, and those that come don't understand -- they go to Communion but not to confession, as if they were immaculate." Could one hope for a better confirmation of the point we are making? "Many people don't go to Mass." Does the reformed liturgy not speak to them after all? Why did their parents go to a Mass they could not understand? And those who do go -- exquisite irony here, given that the main point of the reform was maximal intelligibility -- "don't understand" what it's really about or what's required of them in return for the Lord's precious gift of Himself. (The bishops in general worried about the loss of a sense of the sacred, the loss of knowledge that the Mass is a true sacrifice, the loss of belief in the Real Presence. A person who cannot see the connection between these problems and the botched reform -- which intentionally emphasized a common brotherly meal, downplayed the sacrificial and took away dozens of poignant ritual testimonies to the Real Presence -- has a lot of waking up to do.) Finally, "they go to Communion but not to confession, as if they were immaculate."[7] Is there a form of the Roman rite that duly accentuates man's unworthiness and sinfulness, his need of divine help and healing, pardon and peace? And is there a form that does not? Experientia locuta, causa finita may not be a catchy phrase, but it is the truth.

There was once a "liturgical culture" in which the sacrament of penance, the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the ritual of divine worship were all of a piece, proclaiming a consistent message, calling to conversion of heart and promising eternal life to the faithful -- a life that one could almost taste in the "tranquility of order," the sublime adoration, manifested in the very manner in which the mysteries were handled. No one here was tempted to think himself immaculate; the only immaculate one was the Virgin Mother of God, and it was precisely her omnipresent cultus that helped us to see how far we had fallen and yet how high we could rise again by imitating her faith and humility, taking hold of the Lord's strong right arm. There can be such a liturgical culture once more. But it takes time, patience, and prayer, and most of all it takes priests and bishops who are awake enough and courageous enough to size up the problem form its roots.

Alas, it seems the time for this sizing-up is still in the future. Among the bishops' own propositions, the second proposition, deliberately in a place of prominence, refers to the "beneficial influence that the liturgical reform implemented since the second Vatican Council has had for the life of the Church." As readers of these pages are aware, this is a stock phrase that is repeated in all official documents (e.g. John Paul II's commemorative documents on Sacrosanctum Concilium: Vicesimus Quintus Annus of 1988 and Spiritus et Sponsa of 2003), apparently without regard to mountains of evidence to the contrary; Michael Davies has often spoken of the "obligatory optimism" of the Vatican. There is, of course, no room for an obligatory pessimism. It would seem that realism ought to be the default position.

Cardinal Arinze was not the only one who bore witness to this profound lack of analysis, this baffling disconnect between cause and effect. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, admitted frankly in an interview with Inside the Vatican that testimony of the Greek Catholic bishops at the synod was immensely important because they had a much deeper sense of the sacred.[8] "Something very enriching was the experience of the Eastern Churches. They have different liturgies and they have a different sense of the liturgy and so to hear them speak about the holy Eucharist was very defining for us.... They have a deep sense of the sacredness, and so to hear them speak about the holy Eucharist was very edifying for me. In the West, we need to recover the sacredness of the liturgy." Again these true but vague wards point to the much more precise analysis that many traditional Catholics have already given, though it seems to fall on deaf ears: we in the West had that sense of the sacred, we had (and still have) the liturgy that preserves the original undivided sensus liturgicus of the whole of Christendom before the Great Schism. In terms of ethos, atmosphere, density of prayer and symbolism, High Mass in the ancient Roman rite has for more in common with the Byzantine rite than it has with the Novus Ordo.[9] The lesson Cardinal Ouellet and the other bishops should have taken away is that we in the West need to recover the birthright that Catholics in the East have never been foolish enough to sell away for the pottage of modernity. The Eastern churches give us a model, an inspiration, and a warning: the model of traditional worship in spirit and in truth; the inspiration to return to our glorious and much-maligned heritage; the warning that we shall never reform our church life until we make the worthy glorification of God our absolute priority.

Cardinal Ouellet rightly pointed out that "adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is awakening and developing all over the world and this will help to restore the sacredness of the liturgical celebration of the Mass." Nevertheless, as I said above, this is simply not enough. Even in a Western world where everyone venerated the Body and Blood of Jesus, as they ought to do -- a tall order for any century, not just for the present one -- such uniform behavior would not, in and of itself, automatically produce a liturgy worthy of the sacra mysteria. We would still be eating the divine banquet with plastic knives and forks. While in a state of emergency there is no reason to complain if the cutlery is substandard, in "ordinary time" the service, when God and His gifts are in question, should be extraordinarily good.

There is still a glimmer of hope, as always. The Fathers of the October Synod did not, as it were, carry off an October Liturgical Revolution. It may well be too soon, humanly speaking, for the radical response that is required. We may need a hierarchy of bishops impregnated with traditional liturgical piety who, at a Synod in (say) 2055, by an unforeseen and overwhelming inspiration of the Holy Spirit, arrive together at the realization that it is time to dig up that treasure buried in a field, the full liturgical treasure of the Roman Church, and to spread its riches far and wide. Perhaps someday the cry will go up and resound in the heavens: "Burn the polyester jazzubles![10] Re-consecrate the high alters! Bring back the tabernacle, the relics, the fiddlebacks, the schola contorum!"

Meanwhile, in these duller times of ours, we are only at the beginning of a long, long journey, and we cannot assume that things will get better and better; that is the obligatory optimism machine, not faith in a divine Providence that embraces both the bitter Passion and the glorious Resurrection. It is up to us to pray and to work -- ora et labora, as the pope's patron saint instructs his monks to do in the Rule -- so as to make ourselves the intelligent instruments of that same provident God, who with his Son is ever at work,[11] in open and hidden ways, for the authentic renewal of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Te rogamus, audi nos!

  1. The important documents surrounding this synod are available at the Vatican website (; these include the instrumentum laboris of July 7, 2005 and the Message of the General Assembly at the Conclusion of the Synod, October 22, 2005. A number of Pope Benedict's homilies and messages in connection with the event are certainly worth reading.

  2. See the definitive study by U. M. Lang, Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004). It is no longer possible to call into question that the ad orientem stance goes back to the apostolic age and is, with great probability, fro the Apostles themselves, as St. Basil the Great (329-379 AD) placidly states in his treatise On the Holy Spirit, as if saying something obvious to all at that time.

  3. Michael Davies, no great friend of the Bugnini reform, nevertheless saw the need to demonstrate that there was nothing in the Council documents and even in the postconciliar legislation that mandated or even recommended reordering the sanctuaries and decentering the tabernacles (see his The Catholic Sanctuary and the Second Vatican Council [Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1997]). It is never required that the "president's" chair be in front and center stage; it is never required that Mass be celebrated "towards the people"; and, for a time at least, it was taken for granted that the ordinary of the Mass would remain in Latin, as it had always been. Yes the ambiguities and loopholes of Sacrosanctum Conciluim have been pointed out, but the fact remains that most of what is most distinctive in people's minds about the "reform" has nothing to do with the Council per se, and everything to do with the Consilium, Bugnini, Paul VI, slumbering and scheming bishops, parish councils, etc. In other words, let the blame be placed where the blame is due.

  4. See ZE05101305.

  5. A few good sources may be mentioned here. On translated texts, see Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, "The Catechetical Role of the Liturgy and the Quality of Liturgical Texts: The Current ICEL Translation," Comminio 20.1 (1993): 63-83; Eamon Duffy, "Rewriting the Liturgy: The Theological Implications of Translation," in S. Caldecott, Beyond the Prosaic: Renewing the Liturgical Movement (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), pp. 97-126. For well-researched critiques of the reform by orthodox Catholic theologians, see Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, trans. Klaus D. Grimm (San Juan Capistrano, CA: Una Voce Press, 1993); Aiden Nichols, OP, Looking at the Liturgy: A Critical View of Its Contemporary Form (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996); Alcuin Reid, OSB, The Organic Development Of The Liturgy (Farnborough: Saint Michael's Abbey Press, 2004). For Ratzinger's views, see, among other works, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986); The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000); God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003).

  6. See Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the 20th Century, trans. Fr. John Parsons (Kansas City, MO: Sarto House); Christopher A Ferrara and Thomas E. Woods, Jr., The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church (Wyoming, Minn.: The Remnant Press, 2002).

  7. Why is it that people now do not think themselves sinners? Why does Communion seem such a simple, lighthearted affair, almost like taking a potato chip? Could ever-multiplying lay "ministers of communion" or the giggling girls at the altar have something to do with this?

  8. See ZE05102107.

  9. Except when the Oratorians in England do it, but then they are the exception that proves the rule: the Novus Ordo has never been implemented in a way that makes it continuous with what came before, and the Holy See has not really lifted a finger to ensure that this should happen. The repeated warnings or regulations are no more than the feeble protest of a weak-willed parent against the tantrums of an unruly child. True liturgical reform would require the realistic measures of a St. Pius X who, to stamp out modernism, sent Vatican representatives throughout the world to make sure the heretics were identified and snuffed out.

  10. [Note from the Editor of the forthcoming Archaeological Dictionary of Catholic Worship: " 'Jazzubles' is a late 20th-century corruption of the original term 'chasubles,' which were the dignified, ornately decorated sacred vestments that priests used to wear in order to offer the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is possible that the proper name Jezebel had some influence on the corruption into 'jazzuble,' but etymological specialists are divided in their opinion on this matter."]

  11. Gospel of St. John, 5:17.
[Dr. Peter A Kwasniewski teaches philosophy at the International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, in Gaming, Austria. His article, "Musings on the October Synod," was first published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Winter 2006), pp. 16-20, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]