Monday, December 09, 2019

Round-up of Articles on the 50th Anniversary of the Mass of Paul VI

Adriaen Ysenbrandt (active 1510-1551), Mass of St Gregory
In Book IV of his Dialogues, Pope St. Gregory the Great, to whom the final redaction of the Roman Canon is attributed — after which it remained virtually unchanged until 1962, when Pope John XXIII had the name of St Joseph inserted into it — stirringly says:
For, who of the faithful can have any doubt that at the moment of the immolation, at the sound of the priest’s voice, the heavens stand open and choirs of angels are present at the mystery of Jesus Christ? There at the altar the lowliest is united with the most sublime, earth is joined to heaven, the visible and invisible somehow merge into one. [1]
He asks if any of the faithful can have any doubt that an immolation is occurring; that, at the sound of the priest uttering the words of consecration, the heavens are opened and angels are present at a mystery; that the altar unites earth to heaven in the supreme atoning sacrifice. This is language redolent of the Roman Canon and the traditional Roman rite in its totality; it is language that equally describes all the authentic liturgies of East and West, in both theory and praxis.

Sadly, as poll after poll has shown, it would seem that today, fifty years after the mandatory implementation of the reformed liturgy, one would have to rephrase this question: Who among the faithful any longer believes or experiences that any of this is happening? Who among them has ever heard of it? Who can see it or hear it in the manner in which divine worship takes place? Ironically, though not at all surprisingly, it is the faithful attached to the traditional Latin Mass who encounter the mystery he describes.

On October 28, I published at NLM an article entitled “Why Is the Liturgical Establishment Not Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Novus Ordo?,” which inquired into possible reasons for the deafening silence about this golden anniversary from the quarters and parties who would be most expected to blow the trumpet in the new moon. Admittedly, though, it was late October, and the actual anniversary would not be until a month later — November 30th, to be precise. There was yet time.

That day has come and gone. Ardent partisans of the post-Conciliar reform, represented in the United States by PrayTell, have remained stone silent. I think they know better than to expose themselves to ridicule and refutation. Defenders of the Catholic liturgical tradition, meanwhile, have been boisterous and ebullient.

Most interestingly, there have been a few attempts to defend a via media, reminiscent of Newman’s prior to 1845; one has the impression that they, like him, are fighting a rearguard action, firing off a few stray shots as they run for cover.

There were, so far as I could tell, three major conservative pieces in English to mark the anniversary. Two were published back-to-back by the National Catholic Register: Fr Roger Landry’s “Celebrating the Novus Ordo as It Ought to Be” and Joseph O’Brien’s “The Mass of Paul VI at 50: Marking the Golden Jubilee of the New Order.” George Weigel’s “The Reformed Liturgy, 50 Years Later” appeared at First Things online. [2]

Fr Landry’s article is a remarkable study in innocence. The very title of his article contains an insoluble conundrum, since there is no single way that the Novus Ordo ought to be celebrated; it is open to literally thousands of realizations based on the local choices of different combinations of its modules, musical options, and inculturated adaptations. Moreover, the author apparently does not realize that Pope Paul VI from 1965 to 1969 and beyond expressly excluded a traditional style of Novus Ordo Mass (in Latin, with chant, ad orientem, etc.) as foreign to the entire project and purpose of the reform, even as the Consilium had ignored the vote of no confidence in the Missa Normativa at the 1967 Synod of Bishops. There never was any intention whatsoever to keep continuity with liturgical tradition in the actual content of the new liturgical books or in their roll-out and subsequent curial administration; yet even when so-called traditional options are chosen, they remain neither more nor less than the particular realization chosen by this priest or this worshiping community.

Those who study the records closely can readily see the incoherence in attempting to defend an amorphous and voluntaristic missal as the basis of a stable, dignified, and truly unifying liturgical life, but we are up against a triple obstacle in 2019: a profound ignorance compounded by five decades of distance; a tremendous atmosphere of indifference; and a well-intentioned but harmful indulgence in wishful thinking on the part of those who would reconnect severed limbs with adhesive bandages. Further rebuttal of Landry is hardly necessary, since, if one has the courage to open the Register comments section, one finds there a bloodbath of Napoleonic magnitude.

O’Brien’s article is more even-handed, citing in good journalistic fashion various opinions about the motives and outcomes of the reform. It still suffers from an attempt to put a good face on a revolution in Catholic worship that remains profoundly troubling and troublesome. The very title of this article is to me more revealing than anything else in it: The Mass of Paul VI. Never before 1969 had it been possible to say The Mass of (so-and-so). Not even Pius V contributed so much to the Missale Romanum that his 1570 edition could reasonably be called The Mass of Pius V. It was the Mass of the Roman Curia, the Mass of St. Damasus, St. Gelasius, St. Gregory I, Hadrian, St. Gregory VII, Innocent III, Gregory IX, and on and on — the Mass of all of them, and of none of them. [3]

Weigel’s article is . . . classic recent Weigel: brief, insubstantial, and inconsequential, with an obligatory memorial of his latest book, and an optional memorial of his favorite Ordinary Form parish, where, thanks to the wonders of the internet, one can view, from thousands of miles away in the comfort of one’s own home, one of the few places on planet Earth where the Novus Ordo is “done well,” i.e., mostly not according to the wishes of Paul VI, but with a house blend of Tridentinisms and novelties.

What is perhaps most telling is that none of these authors is capable of yielding to unqualified praise for the Novus Ordo. Positive statements are hedged about with qualifications, if-onlys, regrets, and desiderata. One is left with the impression that we are celebrating an anniversary not so much of something that exists as of something that failed to exist, or exists only in embryonic form, stalled in its gestation by hostile environmental forces. Meanwhile, the classical Roman Rite lives on, in its fully-matured form, offered according to ironclad rubrics that protect it from diminution, arbitrariness, and groupthink. [4]

New priests ordained for the old Mass: a sign of things to come
Why do traditional Catholics reject the Novus Ordo? This was the question I attempted to answer in my recent (November 13) Minneapolis lecture, the full text of which was published on November 29 at Rorate Caeli: “Beyond ‘Smells and Bells’: Why We Need the Objective Content of the Usus Antiquior.” Here is a synopsis:
I argue that the Novus Ordo Missae constitutes a rupture with fundamental elements of all liturgies of apostolic derivation, and that, as a consequence, it violates the Church’s solemn obligation to receive, cherish, guard, and pass on the fruits of liturgical development. Since this development is, in fact, a major way in which the Holy Spirit leads the Church “into the fullness of truth” over the ages, as Christ promised, so great a “sin against the Holy Spirit” cannot fail to have enormous negative consequences, as the past five decades have verified. Nor is it possible to bridge the abyss between old and new by applying cosmetics or the drapery of elegant clothing, because the problem is on the order of a genetic mutation, or damage to internal organs. The profound and permanent solution is to maintain continuity with the living liturgical tradition found in the usus antiquior.
(The audio of the lecture may be found either at YouTube or at SoundCloud.)

I consider this lecture my best effort to date in identifying the exact nature of the rupture between the preceding liturgical tradition (Eastern and Western) and the modern papal rite of Paul VI, as well as the magnitude of theological and spiritual loss inflicted on the Church by it.

Rorate contributor Ken Wolfe published a short and sweet Op Ed in the New York Daily News, also posted at Rorate. At his blog, Fr. Z shares a number of podcasts anent the anniversary.

One wonders where we will be in another 50 years’ time, at the platinum jubilee. The first golden anniversary already hints at a probable outcome. There will be even fewer articles from the ardent supporters of the reform, since, according to the cutting-edge Vatican mathematics that gave us 2 + 2 = 5, zero is less than zero; and there may not even be any ROTR-style articles, after the virtual schism between the neo-modernism of the conciliar epoch and the traditionalism of the preconciliar epoch will have become an outright parting of the ways, as it is bound to do — as, indeed, we see already happening.


[1] Gregory I, Dialogi 4,60,3 (SC 265, 202); Dialogues, trans. by O.J. Zimmerman (New York, NY: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1959), 273.

[2] We might consider Rusty Reno’s eloquent explanation of his preference for the TLM in his December 2019 editorial as a kind of commemoration, though he doesn’t bill it as such: see the section entitled “Et Cum Spiritu Tuo.” Dr. Joseph Shaw has already gently refuted Reno’s characterization of the strengths and weaknesses of the two “forms” in a pair of articles at Rorate: part 1 and part 2.

[3] In point of fact, the Roman Rite, although sometimes called “the rite of St. Gregory the Great,” is almost unique among major historical liturgies in that it did not traditionally circulate under the name of one of its creators, unlike the liturgy of St John Chrysostom, St Basil, St James, etc., but solely on the authority of the Roman Church. Even terms like “Gelasian” and “Gregorian” sacramentary are from modern scholars.

[4] NOTE ADDED ON DEC. 12: I agree with a commentator below that my claim in this sentence is somewhat exaggerated. Certainly, in comparison with the amorphousness of the Novus Ordo, which no one seems to be able to control, even the Roman rite as of 1962 looks mature, ironclad, and well-protected by its own rubrics. But it is true that the fully-matured form of the Roman rite is that which we find before the major tinkeritis of the 20th century begins (Pius X in regard to the psalm cursus, Pius XII in regard to Holy Week, vigils, octaves, and vestments), and that in order to recover it in its undiminished form, untouched by groupthink, we will need to settle in the future on the 1920 missal in its ca. 1948 status. I have discussed this point more here and intend to return to this important question in future.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s website for articles, sacred music, and classics reprinted by Os Justi Press (e.g., Newman, Benson, Scheeben, Parsch, Guardini, Chaignon, Leen, Roguet, Croegaert), his SoundCloud for lectures and interviews, and his YouTube channel for talks and sacred music.

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