While Pope Benedict XVI strove mightily to overcome this rupture with the Tradition, the Church, humanly speaking, is still in a state of utter confusion and disarray, as it has been for the past half century. One need only consider how the Mass has been seriously damaged by the abandonment of ad orientem worship, a practice once universal in East and West, which St. Basil and St. John Damascene, among other Fathers, considered to be of apostolic origin—a conclusion that all recent research supports. Or one might consider the abandonment of sacred chant, also an ancient and constitutive element of Catholic worship, which, it seems, no intervention of the Magisterium has ever been able to reintroduce, given the adamantine non serviam that rises up against any effort to affirm or re-assert continuity with the Tradition.
The crisis of today’s theology is a crisis of identity, mentality, and heart. It is therefore also a crisis of prayer, of public prayer, divine worship, in which our Catholic identity is most of all expressed, nourished, and consolidated.
The hermeneutic of continuity in theology—the principle of going back to the primary sources (ad fontes) in company with, and as disciples of, St. Thomas Aquinas—is matched and supported by living the sacred liturgy as this treasure was and is handed down to us. Continuity in theology is matched by continuity in liturgy; rupture in theology is matched by rupture in liturgy. There is a complementarity, a mutual causality. It is no surprise that those who love Catholic theology in its fullness, in its rich tradition, also love Catholic liturgy in its fullness and tradition, or quickly fall in love with it once they have had the blessing of being exposed to it.
Those who believed that theology had to “come of age,” that it had to modernize itself out of pastoral considerations, were the very ones who deliberately left behind St. Thomas and tended either to exalt the Fathers or to throw in their hat with modern philosophy—and sometimes did both. One cannot miss the striking similarity with the liturgical reformers, who, having won the confidence of Paul VI, reveled in the antiquarianism, “the more ancient and simple, the better,” that had been condemned only a few years earlier by Pius XII, and who, at the same time, and seemingly without feeling the shame of self-contradiction, introduced novelties invented whole cloth from modern ideas.
Catholic theology venerates and studies primary sources as they deserve to be studied: Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, the Doctors (including, above all, the Common Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas), as well as the Magisterium. To do anything else will be to enter into a different kind of theology altogether, one that is not Catholic, however many superficial resemblances it may display. One must say the same about the liturgy: an institution that is true to Catholic theology will also, of necessity, venerate, cherish, embrace, and provide Catholic liturgy in its traditional fullness. The sacred liturgy is not only the “source and summit of the Christian life”; it is also the supreme repository and living witness of Tradition. It is a theological source par excellence, not only by transmitting the Faith in its integrity, but even more by being the actual source of our ever-deepening participation in the mystical Body of Christ, which the mere study of sacred doctrine, in and of itself, cannot be.