Monday, July 06, 2020

Did the Reformed Liturgical Rites Cause a Boom in Missionary Lands?

This recent letter exchange may be of interest to NLM readers, as a sort of follow-up to my article last month “How the Traditional Liturgy Contributes to Racial and Ethnic Integration.”

Dear Professor Kwasniewski,

In my many discussions with fellow Catholics about the subject of the 20th century liturgical reforms, the objection often comes up that they directly coincide with the incredible explosion of Catholic faith in many parts of Africa and Asia.

I generally respond by saying that just because the totality of reforms may have had such positive impacts doesn’t justify any particular one of them, and a dispensation could have been allowed to use some vernacular in the Mass in mission territories without the enormous overhaul that was taken. However, I’m not sure this is a massively convincing response and wondered if you had ever given the idea some thought yourself? It seems like a gap in pro-Traditonal Liturgy discourse to me. It seems that for the legitimate points to be made about reverence, attendance, understanding, and so on deteriorating after the promulgation of the 1969/1970 Missal, one also has to take into account the positive fruits of the post-Conciliar era.

In Christ Jesus,
*       *       *
Procession in China in the 1950s
Dear N.,

African missions were experiencing considerable growth throughout the 20th century, including (as I’m sure you know) the missions of the Holy Ghost Fathers under the guidance of Archbishop Lefebvre. There is every reason to believe that this upward trajectory would have continued, quite possibly even stronger, had tradition not been derailed. There was no proof that the traditional Roman rite was incapable of being introduced and cultivated among natives of many lands, together with a reserved and sensible approach to inculturation, and some use of the vernacular, especially for readings and music.

On a darker note, the loosening up of doctrine and worship after the Council has allowed abuses to flourish in missionary lands, since a patient and persistent will to curtail and correct them was no longer operative: the mingling of pagan and Christian rituals and beliefs, polygamy, clerical concubinage, and so forth.

+Lefebvre in the Congo
The growth witnessed in recent decades can be accounted for demographically without the need to invoke Vatican II or the reformed liturgy as a primary cause. This would seem to be a classic case where the fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc might be operative — a fallacy that has often been thrown in the faces of traditionalists when they argue that Vatican II and/or the liturgical reform caused, or prompted, a massive decline in religious practice, at least in the Western nations. The latter claim, however, is at this point beyond dispute, whereas the claim that Vatican II and its reforms prompted the growth of churches in other parts of the world is by no means easy to argue. (Indeed, whether any good can be attributed to this Council has been the subject of intense conversation lately, prompted by writings of Archbishop Viganò and Bishop Schneider; links and discussion may be found here.)

Catholicism in Asia was generally experiencing steady growth in the 20th century with traditional modes of worship intact. Case in point: in China, the persecuted underground Church remained strong with the TLM until the late 1980s, when the Novus Ordo was first introduced with the collusion of the Communist Party. The situation in China today certainly cannot be said to be superior to what is was before. The Vietnamese were just as devout and single-minded in their Catholicism under tradition as under novelty, and today many who have rediscovered the TLM love it.

Chinese Trappists, 1947
As the book The Case for Liturgical Restoration argues (see especially chapters 25, 31, and 32), the Far Eastern mentality, broadly speaking, is well-suited to the contemplative ceremoniality and symbolism of the TLM (one need only think of the famous Japanese tea ceremony). Put differently, the novel aspects of the Novus Ordo that some modern people find appealing are the same aspects they will find — albeit usually more successfully — in Protestant Evangelicals and Pentecostals. It is therefore hardly surprising that Third World countries have experienced an explosion in conversions to (and, tragically, Catholic defections to) such Protestant sects. There are, needless to say, many other factors as well, such as a drift away from preaching the Word of God and fostering sound popular devotions, into alignment with socialist political programs. For those who are seeking God, for those who want to be saved by Christ, this will be a major turn-off.

It is true that a concession for some use of the vernacular was sought by some missionaries (although we may note that a large number of bishops at Vatican II spoke up against vernacularization), and there is no particular reason to think that this concession is necessarily a bad idea. However, there is much in the Catholic liturgy that remains constant from day to day; that content should certainly remain in Latin (for further argumentation, see, e.g., here, here, and here).

In my new book Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright, I say the following (p. 12, n. 3), which I think is relevant to the topic at hand:
That there have been a few saints after and under the Novus Ordo does not prove that it is equal in its sanctifying power to the traditional Latin Mass, just as the fact that some demons can be expelled by the new rite of exorcism does not contradict the general agreement of exorcists that the traditional Latin rite of exorcism is far more effective. At most, such things prove that God will not be thwarted by churchmen or their reforms. As theologians teach, God is not bound to His ordinances: He can sanctify souls outside of the use of sacraments, even though we are duty-bound to use the sacraments He has given us. Analogously, He can sanctify a loving soul through a liturgy deficient in tradition, reverence, beauty, and other qualities that ought to belong to it by natural and divine law, although in the normal course souls ought to avail themselves of these powerful aids to sanctity.
One might say something similar about “good fruits” after the liturgical reform. Are they precisely because of that reform, or are they rather in spite of it? God wills the salvation of mankind, so He will use whatever instrument the Church provides Him: a sharp knife or a blunt knife. The sharp knife will cut better, but the blunt knife will still serve in many cases. Yet it would be far better to have kept the sharp one, or to get it back as soon as possible.

Cordially in Christ,
Dr. Kwasniewski
A missionary bishop in China: traditional Catholicism inculturated
Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s website, SoundCloud page, and YouTube channel.

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