Monday, August 12, 2019

Why Restoring the Roman Rite to Its Fullness is Not “Traddy Antiquarianism”

The broad stole (and not visible, the folded chasuble), both abolished by Pius XII

In a recent address, Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, Papal Nuncio to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, made a rousing case for “pressing the reset button” on the Roman liturgy by abandoning a failed experiment and taking up again the traditional rites of the Catholic Church. He is giving us a brisk version of what the newly-published book The Case for Liturgical Restoration provides in much detail.

Then, with admirable candor, Archbishop Gullickson broaches the million-dollar question:
I am avoiding the burning issue of setting a date for the reset. I used to think that going back to the 1962 Missal and to St. Pius X and his breviary reform was sufficient, but the marvels of the pre-Pius XII Triduum as we have begun to experience them leave me speechless on this point. Perhaps the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI on the mutual enrichment of the two forms will provide the paradigm for resolving the question of which Missal and which breviary. My call for a return to the presently approved texts for the Extraordinary Form, then, is inspired by a certain urgency to move forward, to further the process. I do not feel qualified to take a stance in this particular matter of where best to launch the restoration.
The position that has dominated the Tradisphere for a long time is that we should be content with 1962 as our point of departure for a healthy liturgical future. After all, 1962 is the last editio typica prior to the upheavals occasioned by the Council; it is still recognizably in continuity with the Tridentine rite; and it is enjoined upon us by Church authority in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

In a contrasting position, Dom Hugh Somerville-Knapman of Dominus Mihi Adjutor urges that we must still take seriously the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and that, accordingly, the 1962 Missal will not pass muster:
I still see a validity in a mild reform in the liturgy along the modest lines actually mandated by the Council: vernacular readings, setting aside the duplication of the celebrant having to recite prayers, etc., that were being sung by other ministers, a less obtrusive priestly preparation at the beginning of Mass, etc. And the conciliar mandate for reform cannot be just forgotten as though it never happened: it must be faced and dealt with, either be reforming the reform made in its name, or by a specific magisterial act abrogating it.
       That is why the interim rites interest me – OM65 [The Ordo Missae of 1965] is clearly the Mass of Vatican II while also clearly being in organic continuity with liturgical tradition. It left the Canon alone as well as the integral reverence of the liturgical action. Even Lefebvre was approving of it. What distorts our perception of OM65 is that we have seen 50 years of development since, and cannot help but see OM65 as tainted by what came after it.
       Moreover MR62 is a rather arbitrary point at which to stop liturgical tradition. For some committed trads this is an imperfect Missal, even a tainted one. Is a pre-53 Missal better? Or a pre-Pius XII one? Or maybe pre-Pius X? Why not go the whole hog and argue for pre-Trent — after all, Geoffrey Hull sees the seed of liturgical decay there? We end up in a situation in which each chooses for himself on varying sets of idiosyncratic principles. It is ecclesiologically impossible. The Catholic Church has a magisterial authority which establishes unity in liturgy. That this has been sadly lacking for some decades is not an argument for ignoring magisterial authority altogether. Then we may as well be Protestants.
Dom Hugh is willing to admit that Bugnini and Co. were busy behind the scenes throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, plotting and eventually carrying out the rape and pillage of all that remained of the Western liturgical tradition. He nevertheless thinks that, in the world outside the Politburo, the 1965 Missal was generally seen — and can still be seen today — as the reform that lines up with the Council’s desiderata. This, then, should be where the reset button takes us. (To brush up on what the 1965 Missal was like, read this account by Msgr. Charles Pope.)

A missal from the mid-60s: trying to keep up with the changes

As far as I can tell, however, the purist 1962 and reformist 1965 positions are rapidly losing ground throughout the world, particularly as the internet continues to spread awareness of the ill-advised and sometimes catastrophic reforms that took place throughout the twentieth century to various aspects of the Roman liturgy, with Holy Week looming largest. Since I, too, disagree with the 1962 and 1965 positions, I would like to make the case for returning to the last editio typica prior to the revolutionary alterations of Pope Pius XII: the Missale Romanum of Benedict XV, issued in 1920. [1]

The principal argument used to defend adherence to 1962 is that we should all do “what the Church asks us to do.” But who, or what, is “the Church” here? In this period of chaos, it is no longer self-evident that “the Church” refers to an authority that is handing down laws for the common good of the people of God. From at least 1948 on, “the Church” in the liturgical sphere has meant radicals struggling to loose the bonds of tradition who have pushed their own agenda of simplification, abbreviation, modernization, and pastoral utilitarianism on the Church, with papal approval — that is, by the abuse of papal power. These things are not rightful commands to be obeyed but aberrations that deserve to be resisted — of course, patiently, intelligently, and in a principled manner, but nevertheless with a firm intention to restore the integrity and fullness of the Roman rite as it existed before the Liturgical Movement in its cancer phase took over at the top level and drove the Roman rite into the dead end of the Novus Ordo.

For a long time, I sincerely tried to understand, appreciate, and embrace Sacrosanctum Concilium. But it was not possible, after reading Michael Davies, and later Henry Sire’s Phoenix from the Ashes and Yves Chiron’s biography of Annibale Bugnini, to see in this document anything more than a carefully contrived blueprint for liturgical revolution. It contradicts itself on several points and takes refuge more often than not in massive ambiguities that were deliberately put there — and we know this based on documentary research, no conspiracy theories are needed.

For me, the evaporation of the validity of Sacrosanctum Concilium came from a deeper reflection, thanks to a lecture by Wolfram Schrems, on the meaning of its abolition of the Office of Prime. A Council that would dare to abolish an ancient liturgical office of uninterrupted universal reception vitiates itself from the get-go. Since none of the documents of Vatican II contains de fide statements or anathemas, the charism of infallibility is not expressly involved. Given their very nature, a bunch of practical pastoral recommendations can be mistaken, and there is ever-mounting evidence that the aims and means of the radical arm of the Liturgical Movement were grievously off-target. The assumptions of the Council about what “had to be done” to the liturgy misread the sociology and psychology of religion. Their proposals for reform bought into modern assumptions that have not stood the test of time and had, indeed, already been effectively criticized before and during the Council. So it seems to me somewhat immaterial that ‘65 better reflects the conflicting and at times problematic ideas of the Council.

Moreover, the idea that the 1965 Ordo Missae represents the implementation of SC is hard to sustain in the light of repeated statements by Paul VI that what he promulgated in 1969 is the ultimate fulfillment of the liturgy constitution (see here and here for examples culled by the selectively papolatrous PrayTell; I discuss the infamous addresses of 1965 and 1969 here). 1965 was presented publicly (though not always consistently) as an interim step on the evolutionary process away from medieval-Baroque liturgy to relevant modern liturgy.

The “moment of truth,” I think, is when students of liturgy realize that the 1962 is extremely similar to 1965 in this respect: it was an interim Missal in the preparation of which Bugnini and the other liturgists working at the Vatican had changed as much as they felt they could get away with. Even assuming all the good will in the world, these liturgists had experienced a triumph of renovationism with the Holy Week “reform” of Pius XII — a reform that was notable as a dramatic deformation of some of the most ancient and poignant rites of the Church — and they were rolling along with the momentum. The abolition under Pius XII of most octaves and vigils, multiple collects, and folded chasubles, inter alia, is part of this same sad tale of cutting away some of what was most distinctive and most precious in the Roman heritage. [2]

This is why it is not arbitrary for traditionalists to say that the Missal ca. 1948 — which means, in practice, the editio typica of 1920 — is the place to go. The reason is simple: except for some newly added feasts (the calendar being the part of the liturgy that changes the most), it is in all salient respects the Missal codified by Trent. It is the Tridentine rite tout court. For those of us who believe that the Tridentine rite represents, as a whole and in its parts, an organically developed apogee of the Roman rite that it behooves us to receive with gratitude as a timeless inheritance (in the manner Greek Catholics receive their liturgical rites, which also achieved mature form in the Middle Ages), a pre-Pacellian Missal gives us all that we are looking for, and nothing tainted.

People like to point to “improvements” that could be made to the old missal, but those who have lived long and intimately with its contents are usually the last to be convinced that the suggested improvements would actually be such. I have addressed some examples here, here, and here. [3]

A Maria Laach altar missal from 1931

Wait a minute, an interlocutor might say. Isn’t all this “traddy antiquarianism”? Aren’t we guilty of doing the same thing we blame our opponents for doing, namely, reaching back to earlier forms while holding later developments in contempt?

No, none of what I am proposing amounts to “traddy antiquarianism.” What is clear is that the Liturgical Movement after World War II went off the rails. Changes to the liturgical books from that point on were motivated by global theories about what is “best for the modern Church,” which led to the abundant contradictions and ambiguities of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Montini-Bugnini reign of terror, and the crowning disgrace of the 1969 Ordo Missae and other rites of that period.

The point is not to go back indefinitely, but to take a missal that is essentially the one codified by Trent and Pius V, with the kind of small accretions or small emendations that characterize the slow progress of liturgy through the ages. As Fr. Hunwicke likes to point out, for many centuries since Pius V, it is possible to take up an old missal and put it on the altar and offer Mass. The changes are so minor that the missal is virtually the same from Quo Primum to the twentieth century. [4] Saints come on and saints come off, but even the calendar is remarkably stable. After Pius XII’s reign, however, it is much harder for an “old” missal and a “new” (i.e., 1955 Pacellian, 1962 Roncallian, 1965 Montinian) missal to share the same ecclesial space; they cannot be swapped one for the other, including at some very important moments in the Church year. This already shows, in a rough and ready way, that a rupture has occurred — and this, prior to the Novus Ordo.

Pius V’s condition that only rites older than 200 years could continue to be used after his promulgation of the Tridentine Missal is another way to see that our argument here is backed by common sense. A rite younger than 200 years old might seem like a local made-up thing, but a rite that’s clocked up two centuries of age or more has an “immemorial” weight to it — something not to be disturbed or replaced. This, indeed, is the basic reason for the illegitimacy of the Novus Ordo: that which it replaced was not merely something older than 200 years, but something with a 2,000-year history of continual use that shows no momentous ruptures but only a gradual assimilation and expansion. But the 200-year rule of Pius V also suggests that the revival of something less than 200 years old need not be an example of antiquarianism, but could be simply an intelligent recovery of something lost by chance, error in transmission, or bad policy. Thus, if certain octaves and vigils were abolished only a few decades ago, and if the rationale for this change deserves to be rejected, their recovery cannot be considered, by any stretch of the imagination, an example of antiquarianism. After all, as The Case for Liturgical Restoration points out (pp. 14, 16), the Old Testament gives us examples of liturgical restoration far more dramatic than the recovery of pre-Pacellian rites is for us.

Antiquarianism or archaeologism — often qualified with the adjective “false” — is the attempt to leap over medieval and Counter-Reformation developments to reach a putatively “original, authentic” early Christian liturgy. The term does not correctly apply to setting aside modernist, progressive, or utilitarian deformations. How ironic if a move against false antiquarianism were now to be targeted as being itself an example of the same! Let us put it this way: Catholics have always been intelligently antiquarian in that they care greatly for and wish to preserve their heritage and seek to restore it when it has been plundered or damaged. The Liturgical Movement, on the other hand, presented us with the spectacle of an arbitrary, violent, and agenda-driven antiquarianism. The two phenomena are as different as patriotism and nationalism.

Our situation in the Latin Church has achieved the clarity of a silverpoint drawing: (1) the modern papal rite, risibly dubbed the Roman Rite, has established itself as a pseudo-tradition of vernacularity, versus populism, informality, banality, and horizontality, as NLM contributor William Riccio described with gut-wrenching accuracy; (2) the “Reform of the Reform,” on which hopeful conservatives during the reign of Benedict XVI had gambled away their last pennies, is not only dead but buried six feet under; (3) the traditional Latin liturgy, though by no means readily available to all who wish for it, is firmly rooted in the younger generations on all continents and in nearly every country, and shows no sign of budging. Many traditionalist clergy would already prefer to use a missal from the first half of the twentieth century, and of those who remain, there are plenty who, in moments of honesty, and with trustworthy friends, will admit they have some problems with the ersatz Holy Week and the John XXIII missal. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis: if you have made a wrong turn, the only way to go forward is to go back. That is the fastest way to get on.

In this article, I explained why it is legitimate, praiseworthy, and indeed necessary to seek the restoration of the fullness of the Roman liturgy that was lost in the postwar period. I am not touching on the more delicate and controversial question of what kind of permission, and from whom, is or may be required for utilizing an earlier edition of the missal. It does not follow, simply because an earlier edition of the missal is better, that anyone is ipso facto entitled to give himself permission to use it. But regardless of permissions already in effect or still remaining to be ascertained, we should not see 1962 as a neighborhood where liturgical life may settle down. In comparison to the strife-ridden ghetto of the Novus Ordo, where opposing gangs of progressives and conservatives engage in a neverending turf war, the 1962 status quo comes across as far safer, lovelier, more commodious. It is, nevertheless, a trailer park, a way station along the road to a better place.


[1] Needless to say, particular feasts that subsequently entered the calendar, such as that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, should be included.

[2] Archbishop Gullickson says, in the same address: “While we are at it: When it comes to calendar… isn’t older better? From me you will get a resounding ‘yes’, especially if we are talking about vigils and octaves, and giving the proper denomination to times and seasons.”

[3] The question of the reform of the Divine Office under Pius X is a separate can of worms. It is easy to see that the Church should restore some elements of the traditional Roman office that were lost, such as the Laudate psalms in Lauds, but it is by no means easy to see exactly how that should happen. The situation with the Office is vastly more complex than the situation with the altar missal or the other sacramental rites. Fortunately, at least Benedictine monks have the option of using an Antiphonale Monasticum largely untouched by the rupture of Pius X.

[4] One does see more dramatic change in the explicitation of rubrics. Pope Clement VIII did a major “reboot” of the Missal of Pius V aimed at clarifying the rubrics. Any edition of the missal from Pius X onwards includes an enormous bloc of rubrics added at the front, which wasn’t there before. Nevertheless, the broad point that one could use any edition of the missal is indisputable; it would apply to the majority of feasts and the temporal cycle.

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