Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Missal of 1962 - A Rock of Stability

The Missal of 1962 should be made available to all Catholics!

by Michael Davies

In his motu proprio Ecclesia Dei Pope John Paul II manifested his will that the Missal of 1962 should be made available to all those Catholics attached to the traditional Latin Mass. The Ecclesia Dei Commission in Rome, ever since its first president, Cardinal Mayer, was replaced by Cardinal Innocenti, has shown very little sympathy and given very little help to these Catholics in attaining their rightful aspirations. The Commission is now authorizing modifications to that Missal that must certainly undermine whatever credibility it may have retained after its one-sided intervention on behalf of the dissident minority within the Fraternity of St. Peter in 1999 and 2000. In the following essay Michael Davies makes clear why the 1962 Missal must be regarded as a rock of stability within the disintegrating Church of Western society, and why it must be defended at all costs against attempts to replace it by the Missal of 1965, or to destroy its sacred ethos by introducing the 1970 Lectionary or the practice of Communion in the hand. He sets what is taking place today within its historical perspective, in particular with the manner in which Thomas Cranmer conditioned the people of England to accept his 1552 Communion Service.

Commenting in 1898 upon the manner in which Thomas Cranmer, the apostate Archbishop of Canterbury, had mutilated the Sarum Mass by removing specifically sacrificial prayers when revising it to concoct his English Communion Service, the Catholic bishops of the Province of Westminster remarked:
That in earlier times local churches were permitted to add new prayers and ceremonies is acknowledged… But that they were also permitted to subtract prayers and ceremonies in previous use, and even to remodel the existing rites in the most drastic manner, is a proposition for which we know of no historical foundation, and which appears to us absolutely incredible. Hence Cranmer, in taking this unprecedented course, acted, in our opinion, with the most inconceivable rashness.1
This rebuke was well deserved. Fr. Adrian Fortescue, one of the greatest liturgists produced by the English-speaking world, condemned the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers for changing the existing rites of the Mass in their respective countries to conform to their heretical doctrines of the Eucharist, as in doing so they “broke away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution.” This was the first radical reform of the liturgy in the entire history of the Church in either East or West. Fr. Fortescue has traced in painstaking detail the gradual and natural development of the Roman rite.2 He explains that our knowledge of the details of the liturgy increases from the earliest Fathers and with each succeeding century. The prayers and formulas and eventually the ceremonial actions developed into set forms. The reform of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) was of crucial importance in the development of the Roman Mass, and its keynote was fidelity to the traditions that had been handed down (the root meaning of the Latin word traditio is to hand over or hand down). It consisted principally of the simplification and more orderly arrangement of the existing rite.

This was also the case in the second great reform, that of Pope St. Pius V, whose Missal was published in 1570. One cannot emphasize enough that St. Pius V did not promulgate a new Order of Mass (Novus Ordo Missae). The very idea of composing a new order of Mass was and is totally alien to the whole Catholic ethos, both in the East and in the West. The Catholic tradition has been to hold fast to what has been handed down and to look upon any novelty with the utmost suspicion. The essence of the reform of St. Pius V was, like that of St. Gregory the Great, respect for tradition. That the Roman rite could ever be remodeled “in the most drastic manner” would have appeared inconceivable to Fr. Fortescue.

But then came Vatican II. The vast majority of the 3,000 bishops present in Rome for the Council neither wished for nor mandated a radical reform of the Roman Missal. The idea would have seemed as inconceivable to them as it would have to Fr. Fortescue. Cardinal Ratzinger described the late Msgr. Klaus Gamber as “the one scholar who, among the army of pseudo-liturgists, truly represents the liturgical thinking of the center of the Church.”3 And Msgr. Gamber writes: “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.”4 They ensured that the Liturgy Constitution of the Council contained stipulations that appeared to make any drastic remodeling of the traditional Mass impossible. The Latin language was to be preserved in the Latin rites (Art. 36), and steps were to be taken to ensure that the faithful could sing or say together in Latin those parts of the Mass that pertain to them (Art. 54). All lawfully acknowledged rites were held to be of equal authority and dignity, and were to be preserved in the future and fostered in every way (Art. 4). The treasury of sacred music was to be preserved and fostered with great care (Art. 114), and Gregorian chant was to be given pride of place in liturgical services (Art. 116). There were to be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly required them, and care was to be taken that any new forms adopted should grow in some way organically from forms already existing (Art. 23).

The explicit commands of the Council Fathers were cast aside contemptuously by Archbishop Bugnini and the Committee (Consilium) that he controlled. It had obtained the power to interpret (or, more accurately, to misinterpret) the wishes of the Council Fathers. Msgr. Gamber writes: “Much more radical than any liturgical changes introduced by Luther, at least as far as the rite was concerned, was the reorganization of our own liturgy – above all, the fundamental changes that were made in the liturgy of the Mass.”5 He continues:
Was all this really done because of a pastoral concern about 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?6
In 1969 a new rite of Mass was promulgated in which, to paraphrase the bishops of the province of Westminster, prayers and ceremonies in previous use were subtracted, and the existing rite was remodeled in the most drastic manner. It was proclaimed triumphantly that this reform, better termed a revolution, would initiate a second Pentecost within the Church, but from the very beginning it initiated an unprecedented collapse in Mass attendance and Catholic life in general throughout the Western world. Msgr. Gamber sums up the true fruits of this revolution as follows:
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 debacle 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.7
Cardinal John Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, England, warned in 1972: “One does not need to be a prophet to realize that without a dramatic reversal of the present trend there will be no future for the Church in English-speaking countries.”8 The trend to which the Cardinal referred was not confined to English-speaking countries. Cardinal Daneels of Brussels, in an interview given in England in May 2000, warned that the Church in Europe is facing extinction.9 That this is also the case in the United States is made clear in an article by Dr. James Lothian, a professor of economics, published in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review in October 2000.10 Dr. Lothian notes that the official view from the Vatican on down is that what it terms the “liturgical renewal” that was promised “has taken place and that the Church is all the better for it.” The statistics that he cites prove that the opposite is true. Particularly significant is that he proves that during the period following Vatican II, when the catastrophic decline in Mass attendance got under way, there was no such decline within Protestant denominations. “Church attendance for Protestants, in contrast, has followed a much different path. For most of the period it was without any discernible trend, either up or down. In recent years it has actually risen. The notion that the Catholic fall off was simply one part of a larger societal trend, therefore, receives absolutely no support in these data.”

Dr. Lothian is completely correct in claiming that the Vatican insists that a liturgical renewal “has taken place and that the Church is all the better for it.” Pope John Paul II assures us that “the vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervor.”11 In reality the vast majority of baptized Catholics in Western countries do not assist at Mass on Sundays. Those who were not assisting at Mass before the Council have not been brought back to the practice of their faith, and millions who participated with joyful fervor in the unrenewed liturgy have now ceased attending altogether. In some European countries the percentage still assisting at Mass has collapsed to a single figure, and in the United States it is about 25% – i.e., 14 million out of 55 million Catholics.12 The official 1998 Catholic Directory for the U.S. reveals that the number of seminarians is now only 1,700, a decline of almost 97% from the 1965 figure of 48,992.

The one prefect of a Roman congregation who has faced up to the reality of the liturgical debacle is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He has no doubt that “the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.”13 He explains that the finalized (1570) Roman Missal was, in the words of J.A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgists of our time, “a liturgy which is the fruit of development.” “What happened after the Council,” writes the Cardinal, “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.”14

The liturgical destruction did not begin in 1969 with the promulgation of the new rite of Mass, the Novus Ordo Missae. The debacle was well under way in 1965 when the Vatican allowed its liturgical bureaucrats to begin revising the Missal that had last been revised in 1962. The 1962 Missal incorporated the mainly rubrical changes contained in the General Decree Novum Rubricarum of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of July 26, 1960. This rubrical reform had been ordered by Pope Pius XII, and few of the changes would have been noticed by the layman using a pre-1962 Missal apart from the omission of the second Confiteor before the Communion of the Faithful. In pre-1962 Missals in the Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, X, 6, this Confiteor is stipulated. In the same section in the 1962 Missal it is not mentioned, but nowhere in the rubrics is it forbidden. Apart from this omission the ordinary of the Mass was not changed.

No layman could help noticing the changes made to the Ordinary of the Mass in the 1965 Missal, and there can be little doubt that its purpose was to prepare the faithful for the revolutionary changes that were to be introduced in 1969. By design or by coincidence the preparation for this revolution followed precisely the strategy of Thomas Cranmer, the apostate Archbishop of Canterbury, prior to the imposition of his English Communion Service of 1549.15 One of the principal features of the Catholic liturgy had been stability. Developments in the manner in which Mass was celebrated did occur, but they crept in almost imperceptibly over the centuries, and the Missals in use in England and throughout Europe in the sixteenth century had remained unchanged for at least several hundred years. The faithful took it for granted that whatever else might change, the Mass could not. In order to avoid provoking resistance among the Catholic faithful Cranmer deemed it prudent not to do too much too soon. Parts of the Mass were celebrated in the vernacular – but, many insisted, it was still the same Mass, so why risk persecution by protesting? New material was introduced into the unchanged Mass, which while open to a Protestant interpretation was in no way specifically heretical; once again, why protest?

An important innovation was the imposition of Communion under both kinds for the laity at the end of 1547. Catholics in England made the mistake of conceding this change without opposition for the sake of peace. The great Catholic historian Cardinal Francis Gasquet writes:
It was, after all, only a matter of ecclesiastical discipline, although some innovators in urging the incompleteness of the Sacrament, when administered under one kind, gave a doctrinal turn to the question which issued in heresy. The great advantage secured to the innovators by the adoption of Communion under both kinds in England was the opportunity it afforded them of effecting a break with the ancient missal.16
Every such break with tradition lessened the impact of those to follow, so that when changes that were not simply matters of discipline were introduced the possibility of effective resistance was considerably lessened. The introduction of the vernacular was the most significant innovation. Where the ordinary Catholic was concerned the celebration of parts or all of the traditional Mass in English was far more startling than the imposition of the newly composed vernacular Communion service in 1549. Douglas Harrison, the Anglican Dean of Bristol, accepts that by introducing English into the liturgy, “Cranmer clearly was preparing for the day when liturgical revision would become possible.”17 In his Liturgical Institutions, Dom Prosper GuĂ©ranger writes: “We must admit that it is a master blow of Protestantism to have declared war on the sacred language. If it should ever prevail, it would be well on its way to victory.”18

Exactly the same process was initiated following the Second Vatican Council. There is not the least doubt that the changes imposed upon the traditional Mass before 1969 were far more startling than the introduction of the Novus Ordo in 1969. By the time it came into use the faithful had already reached the stage of either accepting any innovation without question or joining the mass exodus from our churches that has continued to this day and shows no sign of abating. The 1965 Missal can be compared to Cranmer’s 1549 Communion Service or Mass, which was only an interim measure, intended to condition the faithful into accepting its 1552 replacement which could be interpreted only as a Protestant Communion service. Likewise, the 1965 Missal was intended to condition the faithful into accepting without protest the radically reformed Missal of 1969. In comparing the 1965 Missal to the 1549 Communion service in no way do I intend to suggest that the former is ambiguous, unorthodox, or comparable in any way to the 1549 Communion Service. It is totally orthodox and unambiguously sacrificial, retains the sublime offertory prayers, the Roman Canon, and such prayers as the Placeat tibi, all of which were abolished by the Protestant Reformers and would be abolished in the 1969 rite. Thanks be to God, Pope Paul VI ordered Msgr. Bugnini to replace the Roman Canon which he had removed from the 1969 rite of Mass. It is, alas, only an option and is very rarely used. My comparison does no more than suggest that just as the 1549 prayer book conditioned the faithful to accept without protest that of 1552, the 1965 Missal conditioned the vast majority of the faithful into accepting without protest that of 1969.

The revisions incorporated into the 1965 Missal are listed in the Acts of the Apostolic See, pp. 877-891, 1964, and in the Instruction on putting into effect the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Inter Oecumenici), September 26, 1964.19 The changes found in the Missal of 1965 will be examined from the standpoint of one mandatory article of the conciliar Liturgy Constitution: that there were to be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly required them, and that care was to be taken that any new forms adopted should grow in some way organically from forms already existing (Art. 23). Other articles of the Constitution can be cited to justify the changes that will be listed – e.g., Article 50, which declares that parts of the Mass “which with the passage of time came to be duplicated, or were added with little advantage, are to be omitted.” This is typical of the conciliar documents, which contain passages that contradict each other or cancel each other out. One of the most distinguished Protestant observers at the Council, Professor Oscar Cullmann, noted the extent to which the conciliar documents are compromise texts: “On far too many occasions they juxtapose opposing viewpoints without establishing any genuine internal link between them.”20

Confining ourselves to the Ordinary of the Mass, we must ask whether, in fact, there are parts which with the passage of time came to be duplicated, or were added with little advantage. I would insist that no such parts exist. The survival of the virtually unchanged 1570 Missal until 1965 was, even from a cultural standpoint, something of a miracle. It would not be an exaggeration to describe this Missal as the most sublime product of Western civilization, more perfect in its balance, rich in its imagery, inspiring, consoling, and instructive than even the most beautiful cathedral in Europe. It should not be a matter of surprise that when St. Pius V finally codified the Roman rite of Mass he enshrined the jewel of our Faith in a setting of more than human perfection, a mystic veil worthy of the Divine Mystery that it enveloped. In his book This Is the Mass, which was highly praised by Pope Pius XII, the great French academician and historian of the Church Henri Daniel-Rops writes:
The Mass in its present rigidly regulated form, as we now know it in the West, was fixed on the morrow of the Council of Trent by St. Pius V. By his Bull Quo Primum of 1570, he expressed a wish to recall the Mass to its antique norms; he attempted at once to disencumber it of certain incidental elements and to impose its observance in uniform fashion throughout Latin Christendom. The Mass was thus given definitive form by being closely associated with the Primacy of the Apostolic See and the authority of St. Peter’s successor, while the Mass Book endorsed by the Tridentine Fathers was none other than that used in the Eternal City, the Roman Missal.
 Therefore was it declared in the Catechism of the Council of Trent that no part of that Missal ought to be considered vain or superfluous; that not even the least of its phrases is to be thought wanting or insignificant. The shortest of its formularies, phrases even which take no more than a few seconds to pronounce, form integral parts of a whole wherein are drawn together and set forth God’s gift, Christ’s sacrifice, and the grace which is dowered upon us. This whole conception has in view a sort of spiritual symphony in which all themes are taken as being expressed, developed, and unified under the guidance of one purpose.21The Mass in its present rigidly regulated form, as we now know it in the West, was fixed on the morrow of the Council of Trent by St. Pius V. By his Bull Quo Primum of 1570, he expressed a wish to recall the Mass to its antique norms; he attempted at once to disencumber it of certain incidental elements and to impose its observance in uniform fashion throughout Latin Christendom. The Mass was thus given definitive form by being closely associated with the Primacy of the Apostolic See and the authority of St. Peter’s successor, while the Mass Book endorsed by the Tridentine Fathers was none other than that used in the Eternal City, the Roman Missal.

Therefore was it declared in the Catechism of the Council of Trent that no part of that Missal ought to be considered vain or superfluous; that not even the least of its phrases is to be thought wanting or insignificant. The shortest of its formularies, phrases even which take no more than a few seconds to pronounce, form integral parts of a whole wherein are drawn together and set forth God’s gift, Christ’s sacrifice, and the grace which is dowered upon us. This whole conception has in view a sort of spiritual symphony in which all themes are taken as being expressed, developed, and unified under the guidance of one purpose
Nicholas Wiseman 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 wrote, concerning the Mass that he celebrated each day of his priestly life:
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. No doubt, to give full force and value to this sacred rite, its entire ceremonial is to be considered. The assistants, with their noble vestments, the chant, the incense, the more varied ceremonies which belong to a solemn Mass, are all calculated to increase veneration and admiration. But still, the essential beauties remain, whether the holy rite be performed under the golden vault of St. Peter’s, or in a wretched wigwam, erected in haste by some poor savages for their missionary.22
Such citations could be multiplied indefinitely. If a liturgical rite is perfect in construction, perfect in thought, and perfect in expression it is hard to understand how it can contain parts that were added with little advantage. What exactly were these parts, according to the compilers of the 1965 Missal? They decided not to delay, but to begin at the beginning and suppress Psalm 42, the Judica me. Thus, from almost the very moment the Mass began, a familiar and well-loved dialogue was removed and within a few seconds the celebrant was saying his Confiteor, making it clear to the faithful that the traditional rite of Mass, described by Fr. Faber as “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven,” was no longer considered sacrosanct. Did the good of the Church genuinely and certainly require that the Judica me should be abolished? Did the words of this inspiring Psalm harm our faith? Did Catholics who were not practicing their faith return to the Church in droves because they would no longer be bored by the words: “O send out Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, even to Thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God who giveth joy to my youth”? Unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly required the removal of this psalm, those who removed it were certainly disobedient to the Council.

Another very significant change that also made clear that no prayer in the Mass was sacrosanct23 was made at the very moment of receiving Holy Communion. The traditional practice had been for the priest to make the Sign of the Cross with the Host over the ciborium before each communicant, and then to place this Host upon his tongue with the words: “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen.” In the 1965 rite the Sign of the Cross is abolished; the priest says simply: “Corpus Christi” and the communicant responds “Amen.”24 There is, of course, nothing unorthodox in this formula. It is found in the De Sacramentis of St. Ambrose (d. 397). Its significance, as with the omission of Psalm 42, is that it made it clear to the communicant that if this sacred ritual, which he had known and revered since the day of his First Holy Communion, could be callously suppressed, then nothing in the Mass was sacrosanct.

This point was reinforced by the revisers with very shrewd psychological perception by radically curtailing the conclusion of the Mass, omitting the Last Gospel and the Prayers for the Conversion of Russia. Thus at the beginning of Mass, at the moment of Holy Communion, and at the conclusion of Mass, breaches with tradition were mandated that were certain to impose themselves upon the consciousness of the faithful. It is correct that the Judica me and the Last Gospel were among the latest additions to the Ordinary of the Mass, but what of it? Is there a more inspiring passage in the whole of the Sacred Scriptures than the first fourteen verses of the Gospel of St. John? Did the good of the Church genuinely and certainly require the suppression of this inspired evocation of the Incarnation, the event in history that is the foundation upon which our entire Catholic faith is built, and which connected the Sacrifice of our Redemption with the Incarnation of the Word?
That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God: to them that were born of His name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. ET VERBUM CARO FACTUM EST, et habitavit in nobis: et vidimus gloriam ejus, gloriam quasi Unigeniti a Patre, plenum gratiae et veritatis.
A good number of changes incorporated into the 1965 Missal diminish the unique role of the celebrant, particularly in sung Masses. He no longer says quietly those parts of the Proper that are sung by the choir or the people. Thus when the Introit is sung the priest does not recite it after the prayers at the foot of the altar. The celebrant has the option of singing or saying the parts of the ordinary said or sung by the choir or the people with the choir or the people, as if he were simply a member of the congregation, rather than saying them separately sotto voce. Note how this diminution of the distinct role of the celebrant is developed in the 1969 Ordo Missae – where, for example, he is deprived of his separate Confiteor and is just one of the brothers and sisters who confess their sins.

The Secret Prayer is to be chanted in sung Masses or recited aloud in other Masses. The doxology at the end of the Canon, beginning with the words Per ipsum, is to be sung or said aloud, and the five Signs of the Cross omitted. The Pater Noster may be sung or said together with the celebrant in Latin or the vernacular, once again diminishing his distinctive role. The embolism (Libera nos, quaesumus Domine) after the Pater Noster, must be chanted or recited aloud. In Masses celebrated with a congregation the Lessons, Epistle, and Gospel are to be read facing the people and the vernacular is permitted for all of them. A lector or server may read the Lessons and Epistle while the celebrant sits and listens. Even in sung Masses, the Lesson or Epistle and the Gospel may be read in the vernacular and not sung.

Just as Thomas Cranmer introduced new material into the traditional Mass, the Prayer of the Faithful is introduced into the 1965 Missal. This is authorized by Article 53 of the Liturgy Constitution, another example of its internal contradictions, as it also states in Article 23 that care must be taken that any new forms adopted should grow in some way organically from forms already existing. By no stretch of the imagination can the Prayer of the Faithful be said to have existed in the Roman rite prior to Vatican II. It had died out before the pontificate of St. Gregory at the end of the sixth century. If the prayer of the faithful was as utterly tedious in the early Church as it is today it is easy to understand why it fell into disuse.

Authorization was also given for the vernacular to be used for the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communion, any chants between lessons, in all acclamations, greetings, and dialogue formulas such as Ecce Agnus Dei, Domine non sum dignus, and Corpus Christi during Communion. These concessions made a mockery of Article 36 of the Liturgy Constitution, which mandated that the use of the Latin language was to be preserved in the Latin rites. Inter Oecumenici stated that only the Holy See could grant permission to use the vernacular in other parts of the Mass, but this instruction was treated with contempt by bishops throughout the world. In April 1965 permission was given for a vernacular preface, and by 1967 permission was further given for the Canon to be said aloud and in the vernacular.

By 1965 the practice of celebrating Mass facing the people was already becoming the norm. This practice was not so much as mentioned in the Liturgy Constitution and was alien to the universal practice of celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice facing the East in both the Eastern and Western Churches, including the Orthodox.25 Apart from the imposition of the vernacular, this practice more than any other destroyed the ethos of mystery and reverence that permeates the traditional Mass. Among other changes made during this period were the reduction of the Eucharistic fast from three hours to one, and permission to fulfill the Sunday obligation on Saturday evening.

To summarize the stage reached by the Liturgical Revolution with the publication of Inter Oecumenici in September 1964:
  1. Parts of the unchanged Mass are celebrated in the vernacular.
  2. The text of the Mass itself has been changed with the new formula for distributing Holy Communion.
  3. Omissions have been made from the text of the Mass, i.e., Psalm 42 and the Last Gospel.
  4. New prayers have been added to the Mass, i.e., the Bidding Prayers.
There is thus no new form of change which can be made. All future changes, including the entire new Mass, must duplicate one of these four processes, i.e.,
  1. Introducing the vernacular.
  2. Changing existing prayers and ceremonies.
  3. Removing existing prayers and ceremonies.
  4. Introducing new prayers and ceremonies.
The faithful were assured that these changes represented the will of God speaking through Vatican II, that they were precisely what they themselves wanted, that they were delighted with them, and that they were waiting eagerly for more of the same. The innovations were sufficient to make the Mass appear different, but not sufficient to make it appear that it was not the same Mass that had been celebrated before the Council. Where the Mass continued to be offered in Latin by a conservative priest facing the altar and without the Prayer of the Faithful, the congregation could continue to use their pre-Vatican II Missals and would notice only the omission of Psalm 42, the Last Gospel, and the new formula for Holy Communion. This had the effect of neutralizing conservative priests, and these priests were, in any event, unlikely to oppose any innovation imposed from above. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a bureaucratic mentality had developed among Catholics, the clergy in particular. The essence of Catholicism was seen as implementing any instruction coming from higher authority whatever its merits, and this is still the attitude of most of those clergy who abhor the destruction of the traditional liturgy. They complain but they obey. Liberal clergy did not subscribe to this concept of unquestioning obedience. They soon discovered that they could do what they liked and the Vatican would surrender to a fait accompli. Thus they would use the vernacular in parts of the Mass where it had not been authorized, and the Vatican would then authorize it. They would distribute Holy Communion in the hand, they would distribute Communion under both kinds on Sundays, they would allow girls to serve at the altar (or table, to be more accurate), and again and again the Vatican would surrender. At the same time Catholics who agree with St. Thomas Aquinas that “it is absurd and a detestable shame that we should suffer those traditions to be changed that we have received from the Fathers of old,”26 were censured for disobedience and disloyalty.

The letter Quattuor abhinc annos of the Congregation for Divine Worship, dated October 3, 1984, made a grudging concession to traditional Catholics by authorizing diocesan bishops to permit celebrations of Mass in Latin according to the 1962 Missal, stipulating that there must be no mixing of the texts of the two Missals. The other Missal was obviously that of 1970, but it is reasonable to presume that this directive also precluded any mixing of texts with the 1965 Missal. In his Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei of July 2, 1988, Pope John Paul manifested his will concerning the 1962 Missal in one of the most authoritative manners open to him, motu proprio.27
To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition, I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations. In this matter I ask for the support of the bishops and of all those engaged in the pastoral ministry in the Church.... Moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See, for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.
By “a wide and generous application” of the directives contained in Quattuor abhinc annos the Holy Father evidently meant that far more bishops, even all bishops, should make Mass according to the 1962 Missal available for all who request it, and that some of the absurdly restrictive norms contained in the 1984 document should be disregarded, e.g., that the Mass should be celebrated in parish churches only “in extraordinary cases.” A commission of cardinals had been convened in December 1986 to examine the implementation of Quattuor abhinc annos, and its members agreed unanimously that its conditions were too restrictive. It also agreed by a majority of 8 to 1 that every priest choosing to celebrate Mass in Latin had the right to use the 1962 Missal.28 This Commission is quoted directly in the statutes of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, the first of which concerns “the faculty of granting to all who seek it the use of the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition, and according to the norms proposed in December 1986, by the commission of Cardinals constituted for this very purpose, the diocesan bishop having been informed.

It will be noted that any priest requesting a celebret can be granted one without the agreement of his bishop. It is necessary only to inform the diocesan bishop that it has been done. It will also be noted that the 1962 Missal is mentioned specifically, as was the case in the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. Neither this nor any of the other statutes of the Ecclesia Dei Commission authorizes it to permit modifications to the 1962 Missal, yet it has been authorizing Masses in which most of the 1964 modifications are permitted (but not the vernacular apart from the readings), the use of the 1970 lectionary (which completely destroys the integrity of the 1962 Missal); the Prayer of the Faithful, and even the distribution of Holy Communion in the hand. It is also suggesting to those asking for its help in obtaining the Mass according to the 1962 Missal from bishops who refuse to respect the will of the Holy Father, that they should be satisfied with the Mass according to the 1970 Missal in Latin but with vernacular readings. These actions demonstrate what has been clear for the last ten years to those who have been in regular contact with the Commission, that its permanent bureaucrats do not have the least idea of what motivates traditional Catholics in their insistence upon Mass according to the 1962 Missal. They consider traditionalists to be ignorant, narrow-minded, and rigid. They do not believe that it is in any way their task to persuade bishops to guarantee respect for what the Holy Father terms the rightful aspirations of traditionalists. I have been told bluntly that the Commission does not exist to represent traditionalist Catholics but to represent the Holy See, and it has stated quite openly that it has the task of “integrating the traditionalist faithful into the reality of the Church.” The reality of the Church in the Western world today is that it is disintegrating. To take Europe as an example, the Church there is facing extinction, as Cardinal Daneels expressed it. This is not a matter of opinion but of fact. Why should traditionalists wish to be “integrated” into a disintegrating Church?

Delegates of the International Una Voce Federation were very favorably impressed by the positive attitude shown towards traditionalists by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos at a meeting on September 4, 2000. We are now waiting for signs that he is able to translate his kind words into positive action. It is unfortunate that his work as Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy will almost certainly take priority over his role as President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, which may result in the permanent bureaucrats continuing to run the Commission as they did during the presidencies of Cardinals Innocenti and Felici. There is a possibility of the Commission publishing a document formally authorizing all the modifications to the 1962 Missal listed above, including Communion in the hand, and in this case we will know that there is nothing to be hoped for from it. These changes would not show respect for our feelings, as the Holy Father requires, but contempt for all that we hold most dear.

The International Una Voce Federation has made it clear that it considers every one of these modifications unacceptable. If any of the clergy who are celebrating Mass according to the 1962 Missal, either as individuals or as members of priestly societies, implement any of these changes they will certainly receive no financial support from our members. The following resolution was passed unanimously by delegates representing the 26 member associations present at the 14th General Assembly of the International Una Voce Federation, Rome, November 13 and 14, 1999, and I am confident that it will not be modified at our Assembly in October 2001.
In view of suggestions from certain quarters that the Missal of 1965 and its multiple amendments should be used by celebrants of the traditional Mass of the Roman rite as set out in the Typical Edition of 1962, this 14th General Assembly of the International Una Voce Federation requests respectfully that the norms of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta be adhered to without change. The introduction of the changes found in the 1965 edition would constitute an “interchanging of texts and rites” specifically forbidden by Quattuor abhinc annos, October 3, 1984.

By refusing to accept any rite of Mass other than that found in the Roman Missal of 1962, traditional Catholics are in no way a cause of disunity in the Church but, motivated by a profound sensus catholicus, they are serving it with the utmost fidelity to the faith handed down from their fathers, the faith that they are determined to hand down to their children. As Msgr. Gamber put it:
In the final analysis, this means that in the future the traditional rite of Mass must be retained in the Roman Catholic 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.29


  1. The Cardinal Archbishop and Bishops of the province of Westminster, A Vindication of the Bull “Apostolicae Curae” (London, 1898), p. 42. [back]

  2. M. Davies, The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue (Roman Catholic Books, PO Box 2296, Fort Collins, CO 80522, 1999). This book is the most comprehensive resource available on the Mass of the Roman rite. [back]

  3. K. Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy (Roman Catholic Books, 1993), p. xiii. [back]

  4. Gamber, p. 61. [back]

  5. Ibid., p. 43. [back]

  6. Ibid., p. 100. [back]

  7. Ibid., p. 9. [back]

  8. The Times Literary Supplement, 22 December 1972. [back]

  9. Catholic Times, 12 May 2000. [back]

  10. "Novus Ordo Missae: the record after thirty years.” [back]

  11. Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 4 December 1988, para 12. [back]

  12. Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 1971. [back]

  13. Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1998). [back]

  14. Preface to the French edition of The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. [back]

  15. See Chapter xi of my book Cranmer’s Godly Order (Roman Catholic Books, 1995). [back]

  16. F. Gasquet & H. Bishop, Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer (London, 1890), p. 79. [back]

  17. D. Harrison, The First and Second Prayer Book of Edward VI (London, 1968), Introduction, p. x. [back]

  18. Liturgical Institutions (1840), vol. I, chapter IV. [back]

  19. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with the documents it claims to include, the relevant section of Inter Oecumenici is omitted from the Flannery edition of the Documents of Vatican II. [back]

  20. Cited in M. Davies, Pope John’s Council (Angelus Press, 1992), p. 56. [back]

  21. H. Daniel-Rops, This is the Mass (Hawthorn Books, New York, 1959), p. 34 [back]

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

  23. Even the consecration formulae were changed in 1969. [back]

  24. This new formula had already been introduced by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites on 25 April 1964. [back]

  25. See my booklet The Catholic Sanctuary and the Second Vatican Council for full documentation (TAN Books, Rockford, Illinois 61105). [back]

  26. Summa Theologica, II, I, Q. 97, art. 2 (quoting the Decretals). [back]

  27. A document published motu proprio (“of our own accord”) is a binding papal document involving the supreme authority of the Sovereign Pontiff as opposed to the documents of the Vatican Congregations which although normally issued with papal approval are not papal acts. [back]

  28. See The Latin Mass, Summer 1995, p. 14. [back]

  29. Gamber, p. 114.13 [back]

Photo credits[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, "The Missal of 1962 - A Rock of Stability" was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Spring 2001), pp. 4-13, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Rite Histrionic and Disoriented

By Nicholas Postgate

The title of this article highlights two aspects of the new rite of Mass. The word “histrionic” refers to the Novus Ordo’s inherent tendency to place emphasis on the priest as a talker and performer, with ample room allowed for extemporaneous words and free-form bodily posture, in contrast to the Tridentine rite’s insistence on the priest as an “animate instrument”1 who fulfills a definite hieratic function at the altar through his recitation of ecclesiastically determined sacred speech and his careful observance of detailed rubrics fraught with inherited meaning.

The word “disoriented” refers specifically to a Mass turned away from the East and towards the people, thus towards the West. Since, for all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the East represents Christ the Daystar who rises into our world and receives our worship,2 while the West represents the darkness and those who love the dark by fleeing from God’s light, this turning of the priest’s back to the cosmic symbol of Christ and his second coming and towards the people is code language for anthropocentrism, the worship of man’s inner potentiality, and the subordination of the immutable divine source of perfection to the ever-changing human “experiment”3 Saint Thomas quotes Saint Augustine: “The East (that is, Christ) calleth thee, and thou turnest to the West (namely, mortal and fallible man).”4 In the words of Diderot, encyclopedist of the Enlightenment: “Man is the single term from which one must begin, and to which all must be brought back.”5

* * * * * * *
According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the feminist clamor for women’s ordination could only have occurred after the lowering and lessening of the priestly office to a vehicle of community power.

* * * * * * *

Research on the new liturgy by such mainstream theologians as Aidan Nichols, Lauren Pristas, and Jonathan Robinson, building on the work of earlier critics like Klaus Gamber, has established the deep and pervasive influence of Enlightenment theory upon the members and fellow-travelers of the Consilium, the team that produced the new liturgical books.6 It is no surprise that a liturgy set within this Enlightenment context, which at once accentuates the people and invites the priest to become a “presider” over this people’s republic, cultivates a distinctive celebrity ethos, the aura of the politician who, in modernity, is not so much a moral agent as an amoral actor. The presider or president is the center of attention and must act and react accordingly; he is, more than ever, the man in charge, the holy politico. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the feminist clamor for women’s ordination could only have occurred after the lowering and lessening of the priestly office to a vehicle of community power. If it is a matter of lording it over the congregation, the vain, power-hungry extrovert should stay as far as possible away from the old rite, with its sober beauty, classical restraint, and ascetical attention to details unseen and unheard, and throw himself with gusto into Bugnini’s talent show, where the great I Am (Me) has almost untrammeled opportunity for exhibition.

The old rite stresses the unworthiness of the priest himself, and continually asks that he, and the rest of us, be made worthy by a divine initiative of mercy. The priest may well be vain or egoistic himself and that may affect his entire ministry, especially outside of liturgical functions; yet the classical order of Mass goes constantly against the grain of fallen nature, it constantly asks of the priest a self-abnegation out of obedience to the aw of the liturgy, it almost forces him to enter its rhythm and the lilt of its language, so dominating is the ceremonial aura. It would take a fairly corrupt priest to ignore, trifle with, or undermine the old ordo Missae. Think about it: in the traditional rite, the priest himself, all gloriously attired and set apart as a consecrated mediator, of whose superior status there never was the slightest doubt, nevertheless beats his breast, bows low, asks for the grace to offer the sacrifice worthily, purifies and prepares himself throughout the liturgy until the act of consecration, when Jesus speaks in propria persona – as though the liturgy were saying: “You, O human priest, in spite of all your prayers, are still unworthy; I, the Incarnate Word, the Eternal High Priest, must step in and act for you, offering myself to the Father.” When this liturgy formed the minds and hearts of the faithful, there was hardly a whimper about the “need” for women priests. Could one have then coveted the priesthood as though it were a position of merely human authority, a matter of facilitating a simple ritual action, as it now appears to be on account of the new liturgy? The old rite in its solemn silence almost shouts that the priest bears the burden on his own shoulders, as Christ bore the weight of the rood. What lay person would stand up and say, “Give that burden to me, it is my right, it is unjust for you to hold it to yourself”?

* * * * * * *
The new liturgy almost cannot help drawing attention to the personality of the celebrant because the vernacular is his comfort zone, the realm of his daily speech, and if there is one thing he has been encouraged to do from day one in the seminary, it is to “connect with the people,” to “speak to them where they’re at,” ... So he must also offer Mass in that same spirit.

* * * * * * *

In the new rite it is altogether different. First, for all intents and purposes, it is taken for granted that everyone is completely worthy, “on top of it,” since, apart from a couple of fleeting references (agnoscamus peccata nostra, ut apti sius ad sacra mysteria celebranda...; Domine, non sum dignus – said once only), mention is hardly made of sin and repentance. The pride and presumption at work in the new missal is the direct fruit of secular humanism, which refashions God after man’s image; Feuerbach and Schleieracher reposing in the sanctuary, where the tabernacle used to be. The dumbed—down missal could be (and sometimes is ) read by anyone; the rubrics, said to be “simplified,” are in reality inadequate and unstable, allowing opportunities for the celebrant to show his stuff, to pepper the Mass with personal messages, to add the Hallmark touch; the vestments, liturgical furnishings, and architecture follow suit, in a crescendo of self-satisfaction, banality, and secularism.

Victims of the Vernacular

The use of the vernacular for the Mass, which entered into the Latin Church at about the same time as the anemic “praise music,” helps ensure that sacramental ceremonies will be the opposite of what the Second Vatican Council asked for: superficial, chatty, smug, and lacking in spiritual savor. Given the prevailing absence of spiritual discipline – an absence sadly epitomized in the new Missal’s glaring rubrical minimalism, which, in turn, forms a lackadaisical clergy – the vernacular cannot but encourage emotionalism by taking one into the realm of the subjective. The more a celebrant “gets into” the texts, glossing, doctoring, riffing on them, the more artificial and staged and self-conscious the whole thing seems. It becomes like a one-man show or a stage act, not a sharing in the “past perfect” of Calvary or the “future perfect” of the Kingdom made present here and now. A priest who simply reverently reads the Missale Romanum and makes those prayers his own, subordinating himself utterly to the ritual of Holy Mother Church, becomes the mouth-piece of a living Tradition emanating from the living Lord. This requires asceticism for the priest, yes, but it requires the same from the congregation: they too must deny themselves, take up their missal (as it were), and follow the priest, in order to enter the mystery of the cross reenacted on the altar of sacrifice. No one gets to shine or warble; everyone has to kneel and adore.

The new liturgy almost cannot help drawing attention to the personality of the celebrant because the vernacular is his comfort zone, the realm of his daily speech, and if there is one thing he has been encouraged to do from day one in the seminary, it is to “connect with the people,” to “speak to them where they’re at,” to “be one of them.” So he must also offer Mass in that same spirit, filling it with familiarities, colloquialisms, witticisms, anecdotes, holiday greetings, bits of news – and from there the infection takes hold of fixed parts of Mass, too, whose formulations begin subtly to reflect whatever pastoral-theological-gastronomical perspective the priest happens to have developed. The problem has obvious roots: in the West, for over a thousand years, no systematic attempt was made to employ a noble vernacular in our rituals7; hence we did not develop the Eastern custom of total reverence towards liturgical texts in the mother tongue.8 In fact, one of the colossal mistakes of the failed reform was thinking that just because vernacular worship with lots of congregational singing works in the East or among Protestants, it would therefore work fine among Catholics, which ignores the towering fact that for centuries the Catholic soul had been formed by silence, reverence, kneeling, gazing, and, in a way that was far more profound than any of the reformers realized or cared to admit, by the Latin language itself, and to a lesser extent, by Gregorian chant, its connatural companion. To make a sudden shift away from these habits of soul was to ensure not only discontinuity with the past but also a death by starvation of those spiritual virtues specific to the Western Church. She went from having some virtues to having none.

* * * * * * *

in the Latin rite church we have witnessed the reduction of the divine sacrifice, the sacred banquet, to a human meal – and, what is worse, not the traditional meal that creates brotherhood, but the fast food and chatter of modernity that leaves our souls alone and untouched, however energetically we shake hands and “stay connected.”

* * * * * * *

Speaking broadly, the Novus Ordo has established a kind of laziness among priests and laity. Many older people, whether cleric or lay, would prefer not to go back to the Tridentine Mass because it is more spiritually and physically demanding. It is, as Robert Hugh Benson once wrote, a sacred dance that requires utmost concentration in its execution, and begs for careful preparations beforehand, not to mention years of preparation for the major ministers. The Novus Ordo is a perfunctory social event that can be performed with comparatively minimal preparation. One sees the same difference between traditional acolytes and contemporary “altar servers.” The former had to be well trained, even drilled, in their elegant, synchronized motions, particularly for solemn Masses (though not all the little boys could pull it off), whereas the latter can be shown the ropes of the Novus Ordo in a matter of minutes, since it amounts to little more than hoisting a book or holding a cruet. In both the priest’s and the server’s case, there is a difference too in habiliments. The traditional priest wears any layers of often rich and beautiful materials that have to be worn in a special way, and the server has at least his old-fashioned cassock and surplice, but the modern priest dons a few items topped off by polyester drapery, an his modern male or female assistant wears a robe of some sort that never manages to hide his or her gym shoes.9

In the old rite, the priests are clearly working: their role is a difficult one, they are about serious business – “the Father’s business.” They almost always sweat profusely at a High Mass. In the new rite, whether he sweats or not, the priests appears to be going through motions that are not serious work, motions that are really aimed at catching and keeping the people’s attention and carrying on a sort of dialogue with them. The manner in which ministers at the altar work, pray, bow, etc., reflects and represents the reality of what is taking place. I am reminded of an observation of Monsignor Benson again: at an old Mass, the priest hobbles out, climbs up the steps and goes to work. He has got a serious job to do, and he does it – not primarily for the people, not with a view to them, but with a view to the work to be done, the opus operatum.10 This is why he faces eastward, toward the Christ who has come and who will come. Christ is his master, his “employer,” if you will. The priest answers to Hi. Is the priest at the new Mass answering, literally or metaphorically, to Christ, or to the people? The priest’s physical disorientation, his turning his back to the Orient and towards Man, inverting the priority of the Mass and the masses, symbolizes with a poetic justice worthy of Dante the state of the Western soul and the essential crisis of the Roman Church in this Dark Age.

Meals and Mysteries

A feast or a banquet is a real event of human togetherness, of fraternizing at leisure, and, if we are blessed with faith, of truly celebrating life as a gift from God. In traditional societies there was always time for a feast, just as there was a place for fasting. Providence would have it so. For its part, the Last Supper was a meal. Yet Christ decided to institute the sacrament of His love in the context of a Jewish feast that was already richly sacramental and formal in its practice, not at all what modern meals are like; and he transformed the elements of the meal into a mystical supper11 that made present, in anticipation his death on the cross the following day, thereby fundamentally altering the event from commemorative feast into a true and proper sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary. This was no “ordinary” meal to begin with; it had become absolutely extraordinary by the time it is finished. Christ’s command gave the Church power to elevate the human banquet into an instrument for making present, and furthering, the Kingdom of God. This consecration of the ordinary had, in turn, a notable effect upon ordinary life, illuminating it with a ray of the Church’s holiness, invigorating nature as a basis for grace. For it was the same people who found the meaning of their life at Mass and broke bread at table in the family circle.

The modern meal – a rushed affair of prepackaged microwavable foods and, on the off chance people are eating together, trivial chitchat – has nothing mysterious or even dignified about it. Do we think that our shift away from the family, the home and hearth, and the rhythms of country life have had no effect on our perception and practice of the liturgy: It is improbable that we can still appreciate a sacred banquet (O sacrum convivium, Saint Thomas sang), if even a worldly banquet is rarely spread. The “desacralization” of ordinary Christian life, the “demystification” of the Mass: which one comes first and brings about the other – or are they simultaneous and co-causative? This much, at any rate, is clear: in the Latin rite church we have witnessed the reduction of the divine sacrifice, the sacred banquet, to a human meal – and, what is worse, not the traditional meal that creates brotherhood, but the fast food and chatter of modernity that leaves our souls alone and untouched, however energetically we shake hands and “stay connected.”

* * * * * * *

Man’s highest activity is the silent contemplation of divine reality through the power of his mind elevated by grace, and this the activity towards which the liturgy should be leading all of us.

* * * * * * *

A Novus Ordo liturgy celebrated in dis-oriented churches where the altar has been replaced by a mere table and the priest, breaking with nearly 2000 years of tradition, faces the people and talks to them instead of facing East and speaking softly to the Beloved, is nothing less than a visible betrayal of the invisible essence of the Mass.12 All oriental and occidental liturgies are absolutely one in regard to the irreducible priestliness of the priest and the “altarity” of the altar. The priest at the altar clearly has a special priestly task to perform that demands all his attention; he is focused entirely upon it, and thus sets the right example for all. He is doing something that no one else can do, yet paradoxically in doing it properly he opens up the mystery to everyone who participates in the liturgy, and enables them, through him, to approach the altar and offer the sacrifice. But when texts conspire to emphasize the mundane at the expense of the transcendent, the horizontal to the detriment of the vertical, the ceremony becomes a Protestant exercise in commemoration padded with “moving” or “relevant” sermons.13 What follows is not that everyone finally worships equally, but that no one effectively does so; the single sacrifice that unites heaven to earth gets lost on the table, in the meal, in the neighborly chatter. A high altar or an altar behind an iconostasis, surrounded by sacred ministers dedicating themselves unstintingly to the giving of thanks to the Most Holy Trinity,14 visibly and vividly expresses what the entire church building, the entire liturgy and by extension, the entire Church, are for, and that from which they originate; a table and a platform frequented by a motley assortment of people does not do this and cannot do this.15

At a Novus Ordo liturgy, with its ever-ending verbiage, from the improvised greeting of Father to the often poorly coordinated set of Scripture readings to the meandering homily to the “prayers of the faithful” and so on, we are battered and bored with words, words, words, not captivated by the quiet condescension of Christ. We are surrounded by human words that, more often than not, distract us from the One who becomes really, truly, substantially present among us as the ultimate Mysterium Fidei to which our silent, wonder-filled gaze of worship is the only suitable response. As a consequence, the medieval ritual of elevating the consecrated host and chalice – a drawing or photograph of which was once able to function as the universal symbol or synopsis of the entire rite of Mass – has become, if one may judge from appearances, an irrelevancy, perhaps an embarrassment, for any celebrants. It is inconsistent with the “supper” idea: when you are having supper, you generally don’t elevate the food in front of your table mates. Jews during the Passover Seder lift up the matzo, but no one needs reminding that early one hundred percent of the Church is Gentile, and that our Lord, the prince of His own people, inaugurated a new form of worship that both fulfilled and abolished the Jewish ceremonies. For us Gentiles, the symbolism of offering a gift in sacrifice to God by raising it up high over the head, towards the heavens, makes good sense. When the priest is versus populum, the rationale for such a gesture is much harder to see. As we know, many priests fail to elevate the consecrated host and chalice at all; a slight lift of each, and then one speeds into the “acclamation.” There is no ceremonial slowness, the catch-your-breath-and-cross-yourself interval during which the heart is lifted up in adoration of the crucified Savior hidden beneath the veil of bread and wine.16 We have an hour for verbiage, platitudes, and folk songs, but we have not thirty seconds for silent adoration.

* * * * * * *

Whenever and wherever the faithful are able to be touched in their soul by chant, by candlelit morning Mass, by the stillness of the priest praying the Roman Canon, by the simple but poignant gestures of the sacred ministers, by the fervor of the collects and other prayers printed in well-thumbed handheld missals – when things like this are firmly in place and appreciated for what they are, there is neither need nor desire for any “reform.”

* * * * * * *

One reason the liturgy has become so banal is that the “ordinary mysticism” of Western liturgical life was gradually lost. This was something that was slipping away long before the Council, although not everywhere and certainly not for everyone. Whenever and wherever the faithful are able to be touched in their soul by chant, by candlelit morning Mass, by the stillness of the priest praying the Roman Canon, by the simple but poignant gestures of the sacred ministers, by the fervor of the collects and other prayers printed in well-thumbed handheld missals – when things like this are firmly in place and appreciated for what they are, there is neither need nor desire for any “reform,” excepting the most obvious, and the most miniscule, adaptations for time and place, new saints or new feasts. Making allowance fro differences of temperament, state of mind, and degree of devotion, it is plain that the predominantly quiet participation of the faithful is, in healthy circumstances, as deeply active as it will ever be. One only makes it superficially active (that is, one actually makes it spiritually more passive) by forcing people to stand up and talk, shake hands, lift hands, wave hands, and so on. Man’s highest activity is the silent contemplation of divine reality through the power of his mind elevated by grace, and this the activity towards which the liturgy should be leading all of us.17 The most community-building activity is the inward contemplation of divine love, which have power to transform their bearers into icons of Christ.18 When men have no longer tasted something of the sweetness of contemplation – how revitalizing it can be just to gaze at a crucifix with trust in one’s heart, or to make a visit to a church and be at peace before the tabernacle, half-noticing its red lamp flicker – they will throw away or put into a museum anything that relates to it, like people going through very old family heirlooms who can’t figure out their importance and toss them aside with a shrug of the shoulders.

In this period of history, when God has permitted that Catholics be driven by their very shepherds into an arid spiritual desert, a secular wilderness of jackals and thorns, it is our task to preserve – in the sanctuary of our hearts, if we cannot preserve the sanctuaries of our churches – the treasures that have been handed down to us in better days by better servants, and to keep them safe for a generation that will taste the fruits of a watered garden once more.


  1. St. Thomas, Summa theologiae III, q. 64, a. 8, ad 1. [back]

  2. Summa theologiae II-II, q. 84, a. 3, ad 3: “There is a fittingness in adoring eastwards – first, because the divine majesty is indicated in the movement of the heavens which is from the east; second, because paradise was situated in the east according to Gen. 2:8 (Septuagint), and so we signify our desire to return to paradise; third, on account of Christ, who is ‘the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12, 9:5) and is called ‘the Orient’ (Zach. 6:12), who mounts above the heaven of heavens to the east (Ps. 67:34) and is expected to come from the east, according to Mt. 24:27, ‘As lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.’” [back]

  3. It may be objected that moderns are so “cosmologically challenged” that they no longer register any of the significance of these things; Ratzinger, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, observes that city-dwellers are hardly aware of the rhythms of sun and moon, stars and seasons. True indeed; but actions are symbolic, and liturgical actions doubly so. We cannot effect a 180˚ change in priestly position (not to mention every other aspect of liturgy) without profoundly altering the subliminal and conscious messages transmitted thereby. In reality what occurs is the substitution of a new worldview to replace the old, cosmically rooted one; it is an essentially anthropocentric, technocratic, rationalist worldview, where man ignores not only nature but the God who is the author and redeemer of nature. [back]

  4. Summa theologiae II-II, q. 189, a. 10, corp. Elsewhere, in Contra retrahentes, Saint Thomas cites the passage again: “Saint Augustine, in his book De verbis Domini, has this passage: ‘The Orient calls thee; wilt thou wait for the West?’ Now by the Orient is meant Christ, as we know from the words in Zach. 6:12, ‘Behold a man, the Orient is his name.’ By the West is signified man, declining to the grave, and liable to fall into the darkness of sin and ignorance.” [back]

  5. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 26. [back]

  6. One need only read the masterful article by L. Pristas, “Theological Principles that Guided the Redaction of the Roman Missal (1970),” The Thomist 67 (2003): 157-95, to see how deep was the influence of modern(ist) thinking on the composition of the missal’s prayers. [back]

  7. I am not implying that the West was mistaken in not having employed the vernacular in her rites; quite the contrary, as Pope John XXIII argues in his apostolic constitution Verterum Sapientiae of February 22, 1962. My only point is that we were never accustomed to a fixed and solemn vernacular, unlike, for example, the Anglicans with their Elizabethan translation of the Tridentine rite. [back]

  8. So profound is the respect of the Byzantine priest towards the text of the Mass books that even when he is celebrating the liturgy in his mother tongue he will never alter the wording or the rubrics (nor is any opportunity allowed him for doing so; such things are fixed in minute detail, as they used to be in the West). The only thing that will ever be “added” are the names of the sick, the deceased, or others who request prayers – and, of course, the homily in his own words. [back]

  9. As older Catholics know, tastes in vestments, not to mention styles of church architecture and sanctuary design, had been infected by a utilitarian superficiality even before Vatican II. And there have been other eras in the history of the Church where artistic/liturgical styles and tastes had grown decadent. Still, it would be difficult to imagine a more wholesale banalization, a more ruthless sacrifice of substance to ephemeral fashion, than we see around us today. [back]

  10. While it is true that preconciliar times saw a fair share of desacralization in the Roman Rite – when, for example, a celebrant would zip through the Mass at breakneck speed, making the requisite signs of the cross over the oblate so quickly that they were no longer intelligible as signs of the cross – nevertheless there was not a “culture” of banality that choked the church. Generally people were still able to experience the Mass, consistently, as a visible source of invisible grace and peace. [back]

  11. I take this phrase from the beautiful Byzantine prayer before communion: “Accept me as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal the mysteries to your enemies nor give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to you: Remember me, O Lord, when you shall come into your kingdom; remember me, O Master, when you shall come into your kingdom; remember me, O Holy One, when you shall come into your kingdom.” [back]

  12. Ratzinger and now Father U. Michael Lang, not to mention other authors, have refuted the old argument that saw in the configuration of certain Roman churches, especially Saint Peter’s, evidence for a celebration versus populum. For in these churches, due to historical accidents, the priest, in order to stand ad orientem, had to stand also “towards the people” because the church was built upside-down, with the altar not up against the east end but all the way back at the west end. The key point was always to face ad orientem, to Christ the Orient. [back]

  13. Protestantism has historically tended to see or set up an opposition between form, order, and law on the one hand, and freedom and spontaneity (“in the Spirit”) on the other. We have seen this opposition revived in elements of the Catholic charismatic movement. [back]

  14. Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem – the title of a prayer by Saint Catherine of Siena, but also an apt description of the essence of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice in which the Son of God, in virtue of His human nature, offers perfect praise, thanksgiving, honor, and worship to the Holy Trinity on behalf of the Church ad all creation, thus pleasing to God perfectly and communicating that divine delight to all souls in a state of grace. [back]

  15. If it is objected that I am criticizing not the Novus Ordo but the way it is currently practiced, my response is that of Martin Mosebach: the very fact that the rite, with its innumerable options and “inculturations,” permits all this to occur, and that the Church leaders have seen fit to allow every sort of “adaptation” (including, in rare cases, Latin chant liturgies) precisely in accord with the “genius” of the Missal of Paul VI, proves my case. No authentic liturgy exults in formlessness. [back]

  16. Historically, the priest began to elevate the host and the chalice in response to a desire on the part of the faithful to see them and worship the true God hidden under the species of bread of wine. Naturally, the elevation of the species resonated with biblical/theological overtones: “Sicut Moyses exaltavit serpentem in deserto, ita exaltari oportet Filium hominis”; “Et ego si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad me ipsum.” Of course, the strictly theological meaning of elevating the species remains regardless of whether the priest faces ad orientem or versus populum, but gone, in the latter case, is the supporting context that made the gesture so obviously appropriate. [back]

  17. In his hard-hitting ad limina address on October 9, 1998 to the bishops of the northwestern United States, John Paul II spoke about true and false notions of participatio actuosa and of the need to regard meditation and listening (to Gregorian chant, for example) as profoundly active. The call for the laity to “participate” arose because of the deleterious influence that the devotio moderna had on liturgical life, coupled with an approach to liturgy that emphasized the juridical over the artistic, the utilitarian over the aesthetic. If genuine participation was often lousy prior to Vatican II, the post-Vatican II liturgical reformers erred grievously by seeking to achieve participation through the deconstruction and minimalization of the liturgy. Many of the appeared to understand active participation to mean doing something: singing, reading, helping out with the distribution of Holy Communion. A premium was placed on the doing, even when it meant making the liturgy banal and simplistic to assure that such participation could be actually realized. They seemed to forget that people who go to the opera or the symphony, for example, not need to be involved with the production of the music in order to be actively participating in the event. [back]

  18. This description may seem to apply only to the Low Mass, but it does not. Even in a Solemn High Mass with a lot of plainchant and participation in the singing of the Ordinary – the kind of celebration, in other words, that is the norm and the ideal for the Roman Rite – there is plenty of time for meditation, for listening, for quiet prayer; and there is a spirit of stillness, too, that goes far deepen than mere absence of sound. In that respect, I do not think that a low Mass, however simple, and a high Mass, however elaborate, differ all that much in spirit, great though their external differences may be. [back]

Photo credits
  • Dancers performing during Mass celebrated by Cardinal Roger Mahoney, seated, during Youth Day at Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles, February 17, 2005. (from Archdiocese of Los Angeles website via TIA)
  • Kinabayo 2006, Concelebrating priests lead benediction for citizens of Dapitan City from all over the U.S. and Canada, gathered for 2006 "Kinabayo" festival in honor of their patron Saint James the Greater.
  • First weekly Tridentine Mass celebrated at St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria, after permission granted by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde in the Spring of 2006 (
  • The Immemorial Tridentine Mass, narrated by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen -- a magnificent live 1940 recording of a sung High Mass remastered for DVD (black and white).
[Dr. Nicholas Postgate (not to be confused with the eminent Assyriologist of the same name at Trinity College, Cambridge) is a professor of philosophy and theology at a small liberal arts college in the American West. The present article, "A Rite Histrionic and Disoriented," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Winter 2007), pp. 34-39, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]