Anthony Cekada, Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI, Philothea Press, West Chester, Ohio 2010, 445 pp pb. (Product Link)
by Dr. Alcuin Reid
Some will dismiss this study because Father Cekada is canonically irregular and a sede vacantist. Whilst these are more than regrettable, ad hominem realities are not sufficient to dismiss this carefully argued and well researched work. We must attend to his arguments on their merits.
The principal thesis is that “the Mass of Paul VI destroys Catholic doctrine in the minds of the faithful and in particular, Catholic doctrine concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priesthood and the real presence,” and that it “permits or prescribes grave irreverence.” His secondary thesis is that the Mass of Paul VI is invalid. His practical conclusion is that “a Catholic may not merely prefer the old rite to the new; he must also reject the new rite in its entirety. The faith obliges him to do so.” These strong, even extreme, positions may themselves repel readers. But again, they must be examined.
Work of Human Hands seeks to lay an historical foundation for these theses, examining the liturgical movement of the twentieth century and the work of liturgical reform from 1948-1969. Unfortunately this history is not dispassionate. It makes the mistake of repeating the all-too-frequent shrill cries of “modernism” that abound in Father Didier Bonneterre’s slim work, The Liturgical Movement, which I have reviewed elsewhere as “not a study that reaches a conclusion, but a conclusion which seeks the support of a study.”
That is not to say that those at whom the finger is pointed ought not to be scrutinised. Dom Lambert Beauduin certainly inaugurated the pastoral liturgical movement, but anyone who studies his seminal work Liturgy the Life of the Church can see that this was both sound and traditional. Beauduin’s ideas developed, yes, and he became a suspect ecumenist, certainly, but there is no evidence that he conspired towards or would have been happy with the missal of Paul VI. The influence of the Jesuit scholar Joseph Jungmann―expounded very well here―is certainly crucial. Louis Bouyer’s liturgical theology was definitely different to the prevailing twentieth century scholasticism, but that does not mean that it is necessarily modernist or heretical: theological development is possible so long as it does not deny truths of the faith.
Father Annibale Bugnini is pivotal, of course. But the idea that prevails here, and elsewhere, that he held the reins of power in all liturgical reform from 1948 onward, carefully manipulating and conspiring towards the goal of the new Mass, is false. Bugnini was an activist and an opportunist, certainly. However, as Msgr Giampietro’s study of Cardinal Antonelli’s liturgical role, The Development of the Liturgical Reform, demonstrates, Bugnini was by no means the principal or sole architect of the liturgical reforms of Pius XII. His moment came later, in 1963, when his friend, Cardinal Montini, became Paul VI and rehabilitated him, naming him secretary of the commission to implement the Council’s liturgical reform. This singular opportunity and their frequent personal collaboration is what brought about the Mass of Paul VI.
It must be said that the author’s veneration of Pius XII, and his exoneration of him from any responsibility for the liturgical reforms of the 1950s, is excessive. The fact is that we do not know the extent of Pius XII’s personal enthusiasm or involvement in their realisation. But we do know that they were enacted on his authority. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, for better or worse, the responsibility for them is his.
Cekada’s history of the Vatican II reform is better, though to treat the discussion of liturgical reform at the Council itself in but three paragraphs, and the intense activity of the following five years in but ten pages is rather thin; and there are occasional inaccuracies. One also needs to disentangle the historical narrative from the at times amusing commentary and analogy provided by the author (“The fox [Bugnini] was back in the chicken coop”).
However the meat of Cekada’s work is found not in his history, but in his theological analysis of the Mass of Paul VI.
Two chapters are devoted to an analysis of the different versions of the General Instruction of the Missal that appeared in 1969 and 1970. Cekada rightly points out that the 1969 text confidently outlined the prevailing theological principles that underpinned the reformed rite of Mass, which was published with it. Cekada demonstrates well (but with a bit too much rhetoric) that these principles leave traditional Catholic theology behind: “sacrifice” is replaced with “assembly”, “the Lord’s supper” moves in to displace “the Sacrifice of the Cross”, etc.
This provoked an unholy Roman row and the “Ottaviani Intervention”, which declared that the new Order of Mass “represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated [at] the Council of Trent.” Note that Cardinal Ottaviani speaks about the rites, not the Instruction. As Cekada ably demonstrates, the theological principles so boldly outlined in the 1969 Instruction guided the decisions about what went, remained, or was invented for the rites of the Mass of Paul VI (just look the offertory).
This row led to the appearance of a revision of the General Instruction in 1970, with, as J.D. Crichton quipped, a more “Tridentine” phrase put beside each incriminated expression, in order to shore up its doctrinal integrity. However, as Cekada deftly observes, the prayers and rites of the 1969 Order of Mass are identical to those of 1970: a defective building is not rectified by scribbling a few changes on the blueprints. The Mass of Paul VI remains, in its Latin original (before any Episcopal Conference gets to mistranslate it), intentionally theologically different to what came before.
Over half of this book is given over to a detailed exposition of this difference, not at all unsuccessfully. Cekada draws frequently on the writings of those responsible for the reform itself, who state the difference plainly. (One of the strengths of this work is its research and detailed footnotes and bibliography).
To take but one example, Cekada’s exposition of the theological reform of the orations―the collect and other prayers (pp 223-228)―brilliantly demonstrates that, as Father Carlo Braga boasted at the time, the “doctrinal reality” of the texts was altered in the “light of the new view of human values” and “ecumenical requirements”, as well as “an entirely new foundation of Eucharistic theology.” My only regret here is that this is not augmented with references to the excellent and detailed work being done on the same topic by Professor Lauren Pristas. Nevertheless, here, Cekada makes his point very well. Indeed, it has to be said that the book as a whole succeeds in demonstrating the substantial theological difference between the two missals.
He also succeeds in demonstrating the impact of a doctrinally different rite on the belief of the faithful. Surveys on the decline in belief in the real presence amongst Catholics are sufficient to underline that.
What the book does not succeed in doing, however, is to demonstrate the invalidity of the Mass of Paul VI. For whilst there is certainly a theological difference between the two, it is by no means proven that in its Latin text the rite of Mass of Paul VI contradicts Catholic doctrine. It may be doctrinally weaker, it may be theologically different, but it is not heretical. Nor can it be successfully maintained, as does the book, that Paul VI had no authority to modify the formula for consecration in the Mass.
Given that, it is certain that a validly ordained priest who intends to “do what the Church does” in celebrating the Mass according to the modern rite, celebrates a valid Mass. Yes, it is possible, perhaps even more likely, that some priests with a formally defective liturgical and Eucharistic theology that may have been unintentionally encouraged by the liturgical reforms, may more easily celebrate invalidly; that too is an indictment of the rite. But Peter holds the Keys, and whatever prudential errors he may or may not have made in the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council, he cannot have committed the Church to an intrinsically invalid rite of Mass.
Given its theological deficiency, Father Cekada dismisses the efforts, led by Pope Benedict XVI, to celebrate the modern rites in more visible continuity with liturgical tradition. We disagree here: the Mass of Paul VI is a valid rite, and its better celebration is all to the good. One may even prefer it in good conscience―as do many generations who have known nothing else. We can argue (and I think quite convincingly) that we can and ought to do better than what is in the Missal of Paul VI, but to worship according to the modern rite is not of itself sinful.
Regardless, Father Cekada’s great service is to flag the big question that we have not widely, as yet, been prepared to face. Whilst it is certainly better to celebrate the modern liturgy in a traditional style using more accurate translations, that is not enough. For if the Missal of Paul VI is indeed in substantial discontinuity with the preceding liturgical and theological tradition, this is a serious flaw requiring correction. It is high time, then, that we not only recognise, but do something about the elephant in the liturgical living-room.
Dr Alcuin Reid is a liturgical scholar and a cleric of the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France.