Wednesday, December 13, 2006

True and False Liturgical Reform: Part II

The Second of Two Parts

by Michael Davies

The first part of this essay appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of The Latin Mass and was reproduced on this blog on December 6, 2006, under the title "True and False Liturgical Reform: Part I."

Up to the time of St. Pius V the history of the Roman rite had been one of natural and gradual development. It was regulated not by written legislation but by customary usage. The Bull Quo Primum was the first papal legislation governing the celebration of Mass. Father David Knowles, Britain's most distinguished Catholic scholar until his death in 1974, and who refused to celebrate the Mass of Pope Paul VI, explained:
The Missal of 1570 was indeed the result of instructions given at Trent, but it was, in fact, as regards the Ordinary, Canon, Proper of the time and much else a replica of the Roman Missal of 1474, which in its turn repeated in all essentials the practice of the Roman Church of the epoch of Innocent III, which itself derived from the usage of Gregory the Great and his successors in the seventh century. In short, the Missal of 1570 was in essentials the usage of the mainstream of medieval European Liturgy, which included England and its rites.1
There have been revisions since the reform of St. Pius V but, as Father Fortescue explains, up to his time (1917) these had been intended to keep the Missal in line with the reform of 1570. By the time of Clement VIII (1592-1605) printers had corrupted the text in several ways. The work of the commission appointed by Clement VIII "was only to correct these corruptions. They did not in any way modify the Mass.... Benedict XIV (1740-1758), who did so much for the reform of the liturgy, did not revise the Missal."2 Father Fortescue deals with all the subsequent revisions up to his time in detail and concludes: "Since the Council of Trent the history of the Mass is hardly anything but the composition and approval of new Masses. The scheme and all the fundamental parts remain the same. No one has thought of touching the venerable liturgy of the Roman Mass, except by adding to it new propers."3

The reforms of Pius XII did not affect the text of the Mass but were concerned with the Holy Week services. But any objective assessment of his reforms will find that they were enacted "according to the custom and rite of the Holy Fathers," and with a profound respect for tradition. At the conclusion of his pontificate in 1958 it could still be said, as Father Fortescue had said in 1917:
Our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the Faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God ... there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours.4
It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the Roman Missal from any standpoint. Anton Baumstark (1872-1948), perhaps the greatest liturgical scholar of the past century, expressed this well when he wrote that every worshipper taking part in this liturgy "feels himself to be at the point which links those who before him, since the very earliest days of Christianity, have offered prayer and sacrifice with those who in time to come will be offering the same prayer and the same sacrifice, long after the last fragments of his mortal remains have crumbled into dust." 5

The Perfection of the Roman Mass

It is natural that the Church, the steward of these holy mysteries, should clothe them with the most solemn and beautiful rites and ceremonies possible. Nicholas Wiseman (1802-1865) was appointed as the first English cardinal and the first Archbishop of Westminster following the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales by Blessed Pius IX in 1850. This great pastor and scholar considered that the Mass that he celebrated each day of his priestly life had attained the level of perfection:
If we examine each prayer separately, it is perfect; perfect in construction, perfect in thought, and perfect in expression. If we consider the manner in which they are brought together, we are struck with the brevity of each, with the sudden but beautiful transitions, and the almost stanza-like effect, with which they succeed one another, forming a lyrical composition of surpassing beauty. If we take the entire service as a whole, it is constructed with the most admirable symmetry, proportioned in its parts with perfect judgment and so exquisitely arranged, as to excite and preserve an unbroken interest in the sacred action.6
The beauty, the worth, the perfection of the Roman liturgy of the Mass, so universally acknowledged and admired, was described by Father Faber as "the most beautiful thing this side of heaven." He continues: "It came forth out of the grand mind of the Church, and lifted us out of earth and out of self, and wrapped us round in a cloud of mystical sweetness and the sublimities of a more than angelic liturgy, and purified us almost without ourselves, and charmed us with celestial charming, so that our very senses seem to find vision, hearing fragrance, taste and touch beyond what earth can give."7 The Mass of St. Pius V, "the most beautiful thing this side of heaven," can truly be described as the birthright of ever Catholic of the Roman Rite, and as a treasure to be handed on unchanged in any significant respect from generation unto generation. But then came Vatican II.

The Post-Vatican II Reform -- True or False?

This brings me to the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council. The question I wish to pose is whether it was a true reform in the Catholic tradition of the reforms of St. Gregory the Great and St. Pius V, or false reform, better termed a revolution, in the tradition of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers. Note carefully that I have no referred to the reform mandated by the Second Vatican Council, but the reform that followed the Council. Msgr. Klaus Gamber assures us: "One statement we can make with certainty is that the new Ordo of the Mass that has now emerged would not have been endorsed by the majority of the Council Fathers."8

It would be perfectly legitimate to ask who Msgr. Klaus Gamber is, and how he dares to take it upon himself to make so radical a claim. The late Msgr. Klaus Gamber was one of the greatest liturgist of this century. He was among the founders of the Liturgical Institute of Ratisbonne in 1957, and its director until his death in 1989 at the age of seventy. Cardinal Ratzinger described him as "the one scholar who, among the army of pseudo-liturgists, truly represents the liturgical thinking of the center of the Church."9 His book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy was published in English in 1993. I will cite just a few of the denunciations it contains of the reform fabricated by the pseudo-liturgists that would "not have been endorsed by the majority of the Council Fathers." The drastic curtailment of solemnity in the liturgy, he writes, means that Catholics "are now breathing the thin air of Calvinistic sterility."10 "In the end," he writes, "we will all have to recognize that the new liturgical forms, well intentioned as they may have been at the beginning did not provide the people with bread, but with stones."11

Was all this really done because of a pastoral concern for the souls of the faithful, or did it not rather represent a radical breach with the traditional rite, to prevent the further use of traditional liturgical texts and thus make the celebration of the "Tridentine Mass" impossible -- because it no longer reflected the new spirit moving through the Church?12

Msgr. Gamber sums up the effect of the post-conciliar form in one devastating sentence: "At this critical juncture, the traditional Roman rite, more than one thousand years old, has been destroyed."13 Is he exaggerating? Not at all. His claim is endorsed from the opposite end of the liturgical spectrum by Father Joseph Gelineau, S.J., described by Archbishop Bugnini, the great architect of the liturgical revolution, as one of the "masters of the international liturgical world."14 The great master comments, with commendable honesty and no sign of regret:
Let those who like myself have known and sung a Latin-Gregorian High Mass remember it if they can. Let them compare it with the Mass that we now have. Not only the words, the melodies, and some of the gestures are different. To tell the truth it is a different liturgy of the Mass. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists (le rit romain tel que nous l'avons connu n'existe plus). It has been destroyed (il est détruit).15
Comment is hardly necessary. Msgr. Gamber makes precisely the same point when he writes: "Every liturgical rite constitutes an organically developed, homogeneous unit. To change any of its essential elements is synonymous with the destruction of the rite in its entirety."16 I shall quote just one more authority, His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [subsequently Pope Benedict XVI]:
J.A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgist of our time, defined the liturgy of his day, such as it could understood in the light of historical research, as a "liturgy which is the fruit of development".... What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.17
And again:
I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy ... in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not he speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the worldwide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless.18
There is no time available for me to demonstrate by a close examination of the new rite of Mass, that the criticisms that I have cited are based on fact, and that the Roman rite has indeed been destroyed. I have provided all the documentation needed to prove this in the 673 pages my book Pope PaulÂ’s New Mass. Suffice it to say, paraphrasing the Catholic Bishops of the Province of Westminster in 1898, that prayers and ceremonies in previous use have been subtracted, and that the traditional rite has been remodeled in a most drastic manner for the first time in liturgical history in East and West with the exception of the Protestant Reformation. To quote Msgr. Gamber once more:
The liturgical reform, welcomed with so much idealism and hope by many priests and lay people alike, has turned out to be a liturgical destruction of startling proportions -- a débâcle worsening with each passing year. Instead of the hoped-for renewal of the Church and of Catholic life, we are now witnessing a dismantling of the traditional values and piety on which our faith rests. Instead of the fruitful renewal of the liturgy, what we see is a destruction of the forms of the Mass which had developed organically during the course of many centuries.19

A Right to the Rite?

This brings us to the concluding section of my essay. I have described the Mass of St. Pius V as the birthright of every Catholic of the Roman Rite, and if this assertion is accepted it means that no one, the Pope included, was entitled to deprive us of this birthright, to destroy it. This is a claim that lies at the heart of the radical conservative and traditional Catholics. "Birthright!" exclaim the conservatives, "What birthright? Only one man in the Church has rights -- the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ. He is entitled to change the liturgy in any way he wishes and the other members of the Church, from cardinals to laymen, have a duty to accept the changes with docility. Indeed, if they are true Catholics, loyal Catholics, they will not simply accept these changes but welcome them."

The papal power of jurisdiction is indeed awesome. His prerogatives are listed in detail in two columns of the Catholic Encyclopedia [v.i. "The Pope"]. Consider just one example: "He has full authority to interpret, alter, and abrogate both his own laws and those established by his predecessors. He has the same plenitude of power as they enjoyed and stands in the same relation to their laws as those which he himself has decreed."19

Does this mean that to speak of the birthright of the faithful in liturgical matters is meaningless? Does only one right exist, that of the Pope to command the faithful to worship in the manner that he sees fit to accord them? In other words, which should take precedence -- the will of the legislator or the good of those for whom he is legislating? During the past two centuries there has evolved among many of the most loyal and most orthodox Catholics a totally untraditional and un-Catholic concept of the papacy in which, to all intents and purposes, the Pope is envisaged as an absolute monarch whose merest whim is law, and whose subjects can have a genuine right only to what he sees fit to accord them.

On the contrary, where there is a question of rights, it is the rights of the subject rather than those of the legislator that must take precedence. St. Thomas accepts the classical definition of justice as rendering to each one what is his right or due, and explains that a man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others.21 Every legislator in Church and State has an absolute obligation to rule justly, and this obligation is not simply binding upon the Pope, but it is clear that in his capacity as the Vicar, the earthly representative of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the source of all justice, this obligation binds the Pope more than any other ruler. He is the supreme shepherd charged with guiding the flock to heaven, and if, through harsh or unjust treatment on his part, even one of them should be driven from the fold he would bear a heavy responsibility. He has the duty to emulate his divine master and guide his flock to the green pastures and clear refreshing waters to which Psalm 22 refers.

What appears to be the virtually unlimited juridical authority possessed by the Pope is restricted by moral considerations. What is legally valid is not necessarily morally licit. An evident example of legally valid but morally illicit papal legislation was the all too frequent practice of nepotism in which benefices established for the salvation of souls were used by popes as no more than a source of income for their relations. Karl Rahner, who was most certainly not a traditional Catholic, wrote an interesting study in 1965 on the distinction between legally valid but morally illicit papal legislation, and used the liturgy to illustrate his thesis. The Pope, he explained, is legally entitled to impose the Roman rite upon the Eastern rites, but to do so would be a totally immoral act that would inevitably result in a schism for which the Pope would be responsible.22 Msgr. Gamber goes even farther, and poses the question as to whether a pope has even the legal authority to abolish the traditional Mass:
Since there is no document that specifically assigns to the Apostolic See the authority to change, let alone abolish the traditional liturgical rite; and since, furthermore, it can be shown that not a single predecessor of Pope Paul VI has ever introduced major changes into the Roman liturgy, the assertion that the Holy See has the authority to change the liturgical rite would appear to be debatable to say the least.23
During the debate on infallibility during the first Vatican Council fears were expressed that the Pope was to be given absolute or arbitrary power. It was made clear that this was not to be the case, and that the plenitude of papal power (plenitude potestatis) was subject to a number of limitations, the most important of which is the obligation to use it only to build up the Mystical Body; "Therefore Peter has as much power as the Lord has given him not for the destruction, but for the building up of the Body of Christ, that is, the Church."24

I have already cited the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia listing the awesome powers of jurisdiction possessed by the Pope. But after listing them it states:
Though the power of the pope, as we have described it, is very great, it does not follow that it is arbitrary and unrestricted. "The Pope," as Cardinal Hergenröther well says, "is circumscribed by the consciousness of the necessity of making righteous and beneficent use of the duties attached to his privileges.... He is also circumscribed by the spirit and practice of the Church, by the respect due to General Councils and to ancient statutes and customs, by the rights of bishops, by his relation with civil powers, by the traditional mild tone of government indicated by the aim of the institution of the papacy -- to 'feed'...."25
In his book L'Eglise du Verbe Incarné, Cardinal Journet quotes Cajetan as follows:
All this power is given to the Pope for no other end than the service of the Church. She is greater than he, not in authority but in worth and nobility. The papacy is for the Church, not the Church for the papacy: the end is always a nobler thing than the means. Hence the Pope calls himself the "Servant of the servants of God" and, so doing, he stands in the truth, et sic est in vertate.26
Liturgical laws, although coming within the category of ecclesiastical law, must be governed by the same principles by which any human law can be judged. The prayers in the Mass and the rubrics governing its celebration are, as has been explained, generally the codification of practices already established by custom. "Liturgies are not made, they grow in the devotion of centuries," notes Professor Owen Chadwick in his history of the Reformation.27

St. Thomas defines a law as "an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated."28 The consensus of Catholic authorities agrees with St. Thomas in his exposition of the nature of human law, namely, that whether civil or ecclesiastical it is an act of public authority having the right to demand obedience, but which itself must conform to the demands of reason and be seen to have an effect that is both good and to the benefit of those for whom it is intended. St. Thomas, followed by other authorities, warns that any change in existing legislation must be made only with extreme caution, particularly where it might involve changes in any long-standing customs. In support of this contention he cites the Decretals: "It is absurd, and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be changed which we have received from the fathers of old."29 He adds that the very fact of changing a law, even for a better one, "is of itself prejudicial to the common good: because custom avails much for the for the observance of laws, seeing that what is done contrary to general custom even in slight matters is looked upon as grave."30

In discussing the question of the mutation of laws, St. Thomas lays down the premise that there are two remote reasons that can lead to a just change in the laws. The first resides in the nature of man who, being a rational being, is gradually led by his reason from what is less perfect to what is more perfect.31 The second reason must be found in the actions that are being subjected to the regulation of law, and which can change according to the various circumstances in which men find themselves and in which they must work. Every change in law must be determined by an evident necessity of the common good since law is rightly changed only insofar as this change manifestly contributes to the welfare of the community.32 The principle was echoed in the Liturgy Constitution of the Second Vatican Council, which commanded that "there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them" (Article 23).

Even where a change in the law carries an evident benefit it will be accompanied by some harm to the common good, as any change in the law abandons a custom, and custom is always a great help and support in the observance of laws. Any change in an individual law diminishes the force and respect paid to law because a custom is taken away. Reference has already been made to the importance attached by St. Thomas Aquinas to maintaining existing customs unless changing them is demanded by some overwhelming necessity. With profound psychological insight he adds that this is true even when the innovations contrary to custom are minor ones, for, even though minor in themselves, they may appear important in the common estimation. From this he draws a general conclusion: law must never be changed unless it is certain that the common good will find in the modification at least adequate compensation for the harm done by way of derogating a custom.33

Suarez, another great authority, insists that for his law to be considered reasonable, a legislator must not simply refrain from demanding something his subjects will find impossible to carry out, but also that the law must not even be too difficult, distressing or disagreeable, taking account of human frailty. On no account should it contradict any reasonable custom because custom is a kind of "second nature" and what it finds abhorrent "is considered to be morally impossible." He also lays great stress on the necessity for laws to be permanent -- not in the sense that they can never be abrogated, but that this shall occur only if changing circumstances make it quite clear that they are no longer just. If legislation is to work in the common interest it must aim at stability and uniformity within the community.34

Where there is the least doubt that the benefits of a change in the laws are likely to outweigh considerably the harm that will result from a change of custom then it is better to conserve the existing legislation rather than change it. Being the accepted practice, it has, so to speak, the right of possession and, in a case of doubt, it is the right of possession that is the stronger.

The history of the various Christian denominations is replete with instances of disruption and even schisms concerning changes in established customs, changes which many modern commentators might regard as trivial. The secession of the Old Believers from the Russian Orthodox Church is a typical example.35 What such incidents prove is the accuracy of St. Thomas's insight into the harmful effects of changing the status quo without overwhelming reasons for doing so. Professor Johannes Wagner, Director of the Liturgical Institute of Trier, evoked this principle when he wrote: "History has proved a thousand times that there is nothing more dangerous for a religion, nothing is more likely to result in discontent, incertitude, division, and apostasy than interference with the liturgy and consequently with religious sensibility."36

Salus animarum suprema lex est -- "The good of souls is the supreme law." It is a law which binds all Christians and binds above all the Holy Father who, we can be sure, wishes to be bound by it. Did he not decree in his Apostolic Constitution Ecclesia Dei that by virtue of his apostolic authority "respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition"? We have a right to what is essential for the good of our souls, and we therefore have a right to the traditional Mass of the Roman rite, "the most beautiful thing this side of heaven." Let me conclude by quoting Msgr. Gamber once more:
In the final analysis, this means that in the future the traditional rite of Mass must be retained in the Roman Catholic Church ... as the primary liturgical form for the celebration of Mass. It must become once more the norm of our faith and the symbol of Catholic unity throughout the world, a rock of stability in a period of upheaval and never-ending change.37

References and Notes
Some of the sources referred to in the notes have been abbreviated as follows:

  1. The Tablet, July 24, 1971, p. 724. [back]

  2. TM, pp. 208-9. [back]

  3. TM, p. 211. [back]

  4. TM, p. 213. [back]

  5. Cited in T. Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy (Oxford, 1969), p. 18. [back]

  6. Cited in N. Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice Of The Mass (St. Louis, 1908), p. 337. [back]

  7. Ibid. [back]

  8. K. Gamber, Reform of the Roman Liturgy Liturgy (New York: Roman Catholic Books, 1993), p. 61; referred to in subsequent notes as RRL. [back]

  9. RRL, p. xiii. [back]

  10. RRL, p. 5. [back]

  11. RRL, p. 109. [back]

  12. RRL, p. 100. [back]

  13. RRL, p. 99. [back]

  14. A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975 (Collegeville, Minnesota, 1990), p. 221. [back]

  15. J. Gelineau, Demain la liturgie liturgie (Paris, 1976), pp. 9-10. [back]

  16. RRL, pp. 30-31. [back]

  17. Preface to the French edition of Msgr. Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. [back]

  18. Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones (Ignatious Press, San Fransico, 1998). pp. 148-49. [back]

  19. RRL, p. 9. [back]

  20. Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XII (New York, 1911), p. 269. [back]

  21. ST, II, II, Q. 58, art. 1. [back]

  22. K. Rahner, Studies in Modern Theology (Herder, 1965), pp. 394-95. [back]

  23. RRL, p. 39. [back]

  24. A statement made by Bishop D'Avanzo of Carli, a spokesman for the Deputation of the Faith. J.D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio (Paris, 1857-1927), vol. 52, p. 715. [back]

  25. Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 269-70. [back]

  26. C. Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (London, 1955), pp.423-24. [back]

  27. O. Chadwick, The Reformation (London, 1972), p. 119. [back]

  28. ST, II, I, Q. 90, art. 4. [back]

  29. ST, II, I, Q. 97, art. 2. [back]

  30. Ibid. [back]

  31. Ibid. art 1. [back]

  32. Ibid., art. 2. [back]

  33. Ibid. [back]

  34. De Legibus, t.5 & 6. [back]

  35. In the seventeenth century the Patriarch Nikon of Moscow changed the spelling of the name of Jesus and how many fingers were to be joined when making the Sign of the Cross. A schism resulted and about 12 million Old Believers (Raskolniki) left the Russian Church. [back]

  36. Reformation aus Rom (Munich, 1967), p. 42. [back]

  37. RRL, p. 114. [back]

N.B. -- See list of bibliographical abbreviations at top of the footnotes. Note that two editorial changes had been made for this blog: (1) footnote enumeration of Part II has been emended to start over from '1' rather than continuing with '18' from Part I; and (2) editorial insertions have been made in two places inside brackets in order to specify meaning or add documentation.

Art credits: (1) The Last Supper (detail) by Juan de Jaunes, (2) Justice, a ceiling tondo by Raphael, and (3) The Last Supper, by The Master of the Housebook.
[Michael Davies was president of Una Voce International and the author of many books on Catholic history and liturgy. One of his last works was Lead kindly light: The life of John Henry Newman (Neumann Press). The present article, "True and False Liturgical Reform: The Second of Two Parts," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Fall 2002), pp. 12-17, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]