Monday, June 06, 2022

Restoration, Not Reform, Is the Only Way Forward

Given the splash that Episode II of “Mass of the Ages” is making, it seemed an appropriate time to share the following letter, based on a letter sent some time ago to a priest who had argued that I should be more supportive of the “Reform of the Reform” as a way of connecting the new liturgy back to the old one—the route of gradual improvement rather than simple return or restoration.

Dear Father Hermes,

While you know that I appreciate your fatherly solicitude, and always consider what you have to say with great respect, in this case our disagreements cannot be easily resolved.

Paul VI’s unconscionable raft of innovations and antiquarianisms, pushed through by the abusive exercise of his power, cannot but be harmful to the Church’s identity, coherence, and mission. There is no future for a liturgy that has severed its ties to the past, its bond to the Faith of every generation, unfolding across the ages.

The sacramental sacrifice accomplished by the double consecration is always pleasing to God in itself. To the extent, however, that the new rite fails to respect the gifts of tradition that Our Lord Himself inspired in His Church and fails to give Him, here and now, the honor and reverence due to Him in our external worship, to just that extent are they displeasing to the same Lord of history and of holiness, and should not continue in existence.

As has been demonstrated by now too many times to count (Pristas, Cekada, Fiedrowicz, and Hazell are names that quickly come to mind), the modern lex orandi is defective in its texts, rubrics, and ceremonies; it fails to embody adequately and communicate clearly the full lex credendi of the Catholic Church. This is an objective wound in the Body of Christ and cannot be papered over with charitable intentions or surreptitious improvements.

It is worth pointing out that the journal Notitiae, which has provided official guidelines for the Novus Ordo for decades now, stated repeatedly that elements from the old missal were never meant to be incorporated into the new, and that the celebrant should not do so. This was back in the days when the rupture was plainly admitted, before it became politic for a time to deny there was a rupture. We are, of course, right back to the same spot:

It must never be forgotten that the Missal of Pope Paul VI, from the year 1970, has taken the place of that which is improperly called “the Missal of St Pius V” and that it has done this totally, whether with regard to texts or rubrics. Where the rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI say nothing or say little in specifics in some places, it is not therefore to be inferred that the old rite must be followed. Accordingly, the many and complex gestures of incensation according to the prescripts of the earlier Missal (cf. Missale Romanum, T. P. Vaticanis, 1962: Ritus servandus VII et Ordo Incensandi, pp. LXXX-LXXXIII) are not to be repeated. [Notitiae 14 (1978): 301–302, n. 2]
As it was said in response n. 2 of the Commentary Notitiae 1978, p. 301: where the rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI say nothing, it must not therefore be inferred that it is necessary to observe the old rubrics. The restored Missal does not supplement the old one but has replaced it. In reality, the Missal formerly indicated at the Agnus Dei, striking the breast three times, and in pronouncing the triple Domine, non sum dignus, striking the breast...says three times. Since, however, the new Missal says nothing about this (OM 131 and 133), there is no reason to suppose that any gesture should be added to these invocations. [Notitiae 14 (1978): 534–535, n. 10]
As generally happens, it [the manner of a priest’s raising hands and joining them at the Preface or at the final blessing] is a matter of a habit which comes from the rubrics of the former Missal. The indications of the OM, however, should be observed... Thus the ancient rite should not be retained... [Notitiae 14 (1978): 536–537, n. 12]
While I am fully prepared to call into question the credibility of the CDW and even the canonical standing of its decisions, there is no doubt that such quotations as the foregoing well express the dominant intention of liturgical severance that has generally animated the Vatican to this day, with a short and partial reprieve under Benedict XVI. What I do not see room for is a gradual “Tridentinization” of the new rite, because this is neither consistent with its rubrics nor ultimately possible given its extensive genetic mutations. The Eucharistic species may be the same but the liturgical species is different, and there is no evolutionary path from the one to the other.

Therefore, while I sympathize with a priest who wishes to do his utmost to offer the Novus Ordo as best he can, with the right intention and spirit, it is hard to find objective historical or theological grounds for supporting that approach as a formal policy or principled project, which is what I take the phrase “Reform of the Reform” to mean: a way of reconnecting the Novus Ordo to the Vetus Ordo, or to speak more truthfully, of reconnecting it with the organically developed liturgical tradition of the West, from which it departed in toto by the simple fact that everything was submitted to the scrutiny of the experts and filtered through their ideological system. Whatever remains is thoroughly modern, even the elements that come from the past.

If the liturgy is not treated as a gift of tradition that we humbly receive, it becomes a product we make, a thing we validate and give rights to—which we could just as easily toss aside. It seems to me that this is part of the reason why some clergy, such as Fr. Bryan Houghton and Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel, said from the first moment that they could not, in good conscience, offer the Novus Ordo.

Do I think that a priest sins by saying it? No, if in his mind and heart he considers it to be a worthy and acceptable rite for offering the always-worthy sacrifice of the Cross. I used to think like you on this matter, as one may find in many articles (e.g., this, this, this), but my shift in thought and the reasons for it have been articulated no less clearly (e.g., here, here, and here).

What I have written above will no doubt sound like an exaggeration to you, a failure to make various distinctions. As a Thomist, I am capable of making plenty of distinctions, but distinctions are not magic; they cannot overcome certain kinds of fundamental difficulties. I don’t agree with the (neo?)scholastic assumption that the Church may never err in matters of universal discipline, at least in the sense of enforcing on the people something that will occasion harm and damage, even if it is, strictly speaking, free of heresy. Deducing inerrancy in discipline from the doctrine of papal infallibility requires a number of assumptions and a lot of whistling in the dark; a negation of it does not threaten indefectibility. One assumption in particular deserves to be rejected, namely, that liturgy is merely a matter of changeable discipline over which popes have complete disposal. To the extent that any pope has spoken or acted as if he has absolute power over cumulative tradition, he is undermining the nature of his own office. In a related matter, we would also disagree about the infallibility of canonizations.

I believe a great deal of messiness is compatible with the human governance and divine support of the Church, provided that access to the means of salvation, especially sacramental grace, remains available to those who seek it out, and that the tradition of the Church continues to endure somewhere, anywhere, without deformation. There is no question that the tradition does endure, not just here or there, but in many places, in many minds and hearts. Even if it has been overtaken by barbarians, ransacked, and crippled, the ship will not sink to the bottom and perish. It will need a complete change in captaincy and crew before there is any real hope of the liturgy being restored to its immemorial and venerable form, in accord with the sovereign law of Christian Providence.

It can hardly be surprising that there will be enormous differences of opinion on how to interpret the strange liturgical situation into which churchmen of the twentieth century have maneuvered the Bride of Christ on earth.

Yours in Christ our King,

Dr. Kwasniewski

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