Monday, May 13, 2019

Rebuilding Authentic Catholicism upon the Ruins of the Conciliar Experiment

I was invited to do the following interview by the Italian magazine Radici Cristiane, edited by Roberto de Mattei. It appeared in the April issue under the title “L’«usus antiquior» ci salverà – Intervista al dott. Peter Kwasniewski.” The original English text is reproduced below, with permission of Radici Cristiane.

Radici Cristiane: We are going through an historical period of crisis in the Church. Just think of the decline in vocations, churches more empty everyday, abuses in the liturgy more and more numerous ... However, in churches where Mass is celebrated in ancient rite, there is a very high presence of young people. How can this be explained? 

Dr Kwasniewski: The phenomenon is not difficult to explain. The contemporary world presents constant temptations to young people, whether in the attraction of intellectual fads or in the ubiquitous moral snares of unchastity and other vices. For this reason, most youths in the Western world are corrupted by the time of adolescence: they are practical atheists, hedonists, materialists, bored, indifferent to truth, addicted to easy stimulation. If, in the midst of this degrading morass, there are any young people left who really want to go against this trend and lay claim to the Christian Faith, they will be looking for something serious, demanding, countercultural — something that can satisfy the searchings of the mind and the desires of the heart.

Young people in the West have to fight to believe and to worship. So there has to be something to fight for. The ancient Roman liturgy and the customs, beliefs, artistic culture, and worldview that tend to go along with it offer the kind of rich, complex, all-encompassing framework of meaning that inspires confident self-surrender, the pursuit of virtue, the motivation to keep living and to share life generously. People are drawn upwards by the worship of the transcendent God and forwards by the pride of receiving and delivering a great inheritance. It gives us a sense of belonging at a time when so many are rejecting their families, their cultures, their identities, their very selves; it gives us a sense of stability in an age that is formless and void.

The new liturgy was designed to appeal to modern people. Why do you think it has failed?

The reformed liturgical rites are characterized — both in their official books and in the universal manner in which they have been implemented — by a very modern emphasis on autonomy, spontaneity, local “ownership,” popular and secular styles of music and art, and an utter contempt for the way our ancestors worshiped for as many centuries as we have records.

This is not only unattractive for serious searchers, it is positively nauseating. No church will ever flourish when, instead of initiating people into divine mysteries that are seen, heard, and felt to be mysterious, awe-inspiring, fearful, timeless, it merely hands them over to a banal and verbose prayer service of contemporaries imprisoned in their contemporaneity.

The number one cause of the exodus of youth is that the “Vatican II Church” has absolutely nothing to offer young men and women — spiritually, morally, intellectually, culturally — that could spark their curiosity, awaken their conscience, capture their imagination, or open before them a path that is utterly different from the one our society is treading.

The Progress of Vatican II with Modern Youth
In your article “How the Best Attacks against the Traditional Latin Mass Fail,” you quote Dr. Alice von Hildebrand saying that the devil hates Mass in ancient rite. Why?

The devil hates discipline, order, beauty, humility, self-sacrifice, liturgical praise, tradition, and the priesthood. The ancient Roman liturgy — and I’m speaking here not just of Mass, but also of the Divine Office and all the sacramental rites — is permeated with order and beauty. It calls for immense humility, discipline, and self-surrender on the part of the ministers who undertake its correct and fitting celebration. It deliberately suppresses individuality and the desire to “shine” or to “be oneself” as the phrase is currently used. It is ordered to the adoration and glorification of God, with Christ Himself as the High Priest, and everyone else as the servant. Paradoxically, it edifies and benefits the faithful themselves precisely because it is theocentric and Christocentric, not anthropocentric like modern philosophy and culture.

Lucifer, the most beautiful of God’s creatures, fell in love with himself. His sin was one of egocentricity, self-celebration. Therefore any movement in liturgy towards freeing or applauding or celebrating or cultivating the “ego” of the ministers or the faithful is diabolical in its origin and effect. The Church in her God-given wisdom had always understood the danger of the unleashed “charismatic” personality and had guarded against it by rites notable for their objectivity, stability, precision, dogmatic clarity, ascetical requirements, and aesthetic nobility. These characteristics, in and of themselves, counteract certain recurring tendencies of fallen human nature, such as emotionalism or sentimentalism, relativism, ambiguity, haphazardness, indulgence, and aestheticism (of which utter lack of taste or carelessness of appearance is a peculiar genetic mutation).

The ancient liturgy gives the unambiguous role of sacramental mediator to the priest and, in varying degrees, to his assistants. This mediatorial role is a living icon of the Incarnation of the one Mediator between God and man, against which Satan rebelled. The one “liturgical reform” Satan is always seeking is to pull the Church away from the Incarnation, from a sacramental economy rooted in the Eucharistic flesh of Christ, and from the whole structure of rites, ceremonies, and prayers that embody it.

In every aspect, the usus antiquior is like a perpetual exorcism of the devil, pointing over and over again to the incarnate God’s triumph over the ancient enemy of human nature. The very fact that the new liturgy abolished or abbreviated exorcisms wherever they were found — in the rite of baptism, in various blessings, in the very rite of exorcism itself! — speaks volumes.

Really, there is so much one could say to unpack this extremely perceptive remark of Dietrich von Hildebrand, as reported by his wife. One could write a book on it: “The Devil’s in the Details: The Postconciliar Liturgical Reform and the Spirit of Satan.” One wonders if the confused and tormented Pope Paul VI was sensing the same truth when he said in 1972, only shortly after the introduction of the monumental rupture of the Novus Ordo: “From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.” Perhaps that fissure was nothing else than the incessant liturgical reforms of the 20th century, which culminated in a change in the lex orandi of earthquake proportions.

Crossing out the Cross: psychotherapy for unbelievers
At the convention for the tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, it was said that “celebrating the ancient rite means looking with hope to the future.” How is the return of the usus antiquior an effective way to counter the crisis of the Church we are living in these times?

The solution to the mess into which we have fallen through a long series of bad decisions is simple and at the same time exceedingly hard: we have to make the opposite decisions, again and again. The Church needs to stop thinking about new strategies, new programs, new pastoral initiatives, or any statistical measure of success, and resolutely throw herself again into the proclamation of the full Gospel, including its “hard sayings”; the celebration of solemn and beautiful liturgy; the building of monasteries and religious communities on the foundation of the usus antiquior; the cultivation of an intellectually robust curriculum in seminaries and universities; an encouragement of large families, as in the old days, and the promotion of homeschooling. Only by taking a seriously countercultural path is there any long-term hope for Catholicism. As a believer, I am convinced that the Faith will survive and prosper again, but only where such things are being done, or to the degree that they are being done.

What can be done to transmit to and make understood by future generations the importance of Mass according to the usus antiquior?

First and foremost, the number of places where the ancient liturgy is offered must continue to increase, in spite of all pressures to the contrary. In this time of official hostility, especially in Europe, priests will often have to learn the old Mass and say it in secret, as the undercover Jesuit missionaries in Elizabethan England had to do in their century.

As no man can believe what he has not heard, so no Catholic can learn how to think and live as a Catholic without having access to the preeminent treasure of the Faith, namely, the Roman rite in its fullness. Whenever and wherever these Masses are offered, worshipers will invariably show up at them.

I remember in college we had a chaplain who offered the traditional Latin Mass privately, but everyone who cared to know knew that it was taking place, and many students availed themselves of this opportunity — including future members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. This is how I was introduced to the old rite: as a disciplina arcani, just as in the early Church! And even now, so many years after Ecclesia Dei and Summorum Pontificum, it’s still often the case that we must fight to win territory for the Mass of the Ages.

Many people today are “converting” from Novus Ordo “Catholicism Lite” to the traditional Catholic Faith, prompted in part by the travesty of Pope Francis’s pontificate. But there are also children growing up in Catholic families who drink it in with their mother’s milk, so to speak; for them, learning the ancient liturgy is no different from learning the alphabet or the catechism. I know quite a few adults in the USA who, having faithfully assisted at the old Mass from their childhood, have never attended a Novus Ordo, or who see it for the first time when they get to college. To me, this is an enormously hopeful sign: a new generation of people uncontaminated by the false assumptions and principles of the liturgical reform, who can carry Catholic tradition forward into the future, and who, coming from outside, can easily see the Novus Ordo for the wreckage it is and will always be, no matter how much it is dressed up and made to look pretty.

Passing on the tradition, one Mass at a time
Do you think there are weaknesses in the traditional movement that might need to be overcome?

Yes, I think we can often take for granted the riches we have, almost “hoarding” them, and not going out of our way to try to bring others into the movement so that they can be blessed with what we, through no merits of our own, have discovered and couldn’t live without.

In spite of what I was saying about secrecy, most of the time we are (at least for now) “above ground” and fully capable of advertising what we are doing and why. Those who love the Church’s traditions need to be intelligently zealous about promoting the usus antiquior, through pamphlets and publications, lectures, conferences, social gatherings, study groups, invitations to strangers, and above all, tolerance for those who are showing interest or starting to come but who are not yet “on board” in regard to how they speak or dress, what their social and political views are, etc. We need to be very patient with them, remembering that — given how much the Faith has been hidden and even suppressed in the past half-century — an intellectual and moral conversion to authentic Catholicism can take a very long time, sometimes years or decades. In my own life, it took many years of experiences, conversations, and study to reach the conclusions I hold today, and yet now, as I look back, it all looks so obvious. As a result, I always try to remember how things used to look when I was an ultramontanist or papolater, and how they look to me now.

How sad it would be if inquisitive people felt shunned or unwelcome among us. I know there have to be standards of dress and behavior, but somehow we need to keep trying to reach the mainstream Catholics, and even the so-called “nones,” the people who have no religion at all. The mightiest work of evangelization ever undertaken will be, in the future, the rebuilding of authentic Catholicism from the ruins of the conciliar experiment.

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