Saturday, July 23, 2022

Muphry’s Law Comes After Mass of the Ages (Part 1)

Muphry’s Law is the principle, well-known to copy-editors, that in the coarse of correcting someone else’s errors, one inevitably makes a few of one’s own. The parameters of this law are stretched almost to their furthest limits in this attempt by an Australian group of Dominican sisters (see note in following paragraph) to challenge the second part of the Mass of the Ages documentary series. In a quarter of the run-time, it manages to commit a genuinely astonishing number of mistakes about and misrepresentations of the history of the liturgy and the post-Conciliar reform. Perhaps that is why, unlike Cameron O’Hearn, the producer of MOTA, the good sisters, in the truest spirit of the Listening Church™ (formerly known as the Dialoguing Church™), have not allowed comments on the video. (MOTA part 2 has been removed from YouTube because of a fair-use challenge involving ten second of soundtrack, as Mr O’Hearn explains here, but comments are open on all his channel’s videos. You can watch it here on its own site:
UPDATE: thanks to Mr Eamonn Gaines for pointing out in the combox that the sisters who produced this video are a diocesan congregation, not formally affiliated to the Dominican Order.

Before all else, I must state that I do not attribute to the sisters any deliberate lying. Some of the mistakes which they make result from an evident failure to do very basic research; this is regrettable, but does not make for proof of mendacity. But many of the others are simply articles of faith among the defenders of the post-Conciliar reform, much as “Constantine made Jesus into a god at the Council of Nicea” is an article of faith among certain kinds of new atheists. And just like “Constantine made Jesus into a god at the Council of Nicea”, they rest on very sandy foundations, but have been repeated so long and so often that many people have no idea how sandy those foundations really are.

However, while I do not impute to them any suggestio falsi (with one exception), it is impossible to avoid the charge of a massive suppressio veri. In this regard, the video winds up committing so many errors that I can hardly hope to document them all without writing far more than you are likely prepared to read. I therefore will limit myself to explaining only the most egregious among them, which are more than sufficient.
At 0:18 there occur the terms “Extraordinary Form” and “Ordinary Form.” At no point does the video acknowledge that this terminology has been officially suppressed, as part of a doomed (but for that, no less pastorally harmful) attempt to save face over the post-Conciliar reform’s failure to produce any of the fruits which Sacrosanctum Concilium looked for in its opening paragraph.
At 0:55, we are presented with the classic canard that the old Mass was often celebrated very badly before Vatican II. As a friend of mine once observed, “The TLM was celebrated poorly; we needed a new liturgy!” but somehow, “Just because the Novus Ordo is nearly ubiquitously celebrated poorly doesn’t mean we that we need a new liturgy!”
First, we see footage of traditional Masses being done well nowadays. (I pause to say, “Good job, lads! Way to fulfill the Council’s vision for liturgical renewal!”) Then we are told that “we should note that before Vatican II, the liturgical practice was largely that of the Low Mass.” This is a perfect suppressio veri, which fails to make the all-important distinction between “before Vatican II”, which is more than 95% of the Church’s history, and “immediately before Vatican II”, which is, um, less. It therefore also fails to acknowledge that the best of our liturgical culture, from the cathedral of Chartres to the music of Palestrina (which is to say, everything that Vatican II wanted to thrive, and which has in the ensuing decades conspicuously failed to thrive), is also a product of the Roman Rite, and that the post-Conciliar rite has inspired almost nothing to match any of it.
‘Charles,’ said Cordelia, ‘Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?’ ‘Great bosh.’
It also fails to acknowledge that by abolishing the formal and prescriptive distinction between low, sung and high Mass, the Novus Ordo has normalized the low Mass with hymns, not improved it.
“The Mass … was often said in quite ordinary settings.” This is simply not true; most Masses were said in churches, and most churches, even when not very good artistically, made an effort to be beautiful, and in any case, distinctly church-like. I say “most” advisedly, because in the period immediately before Vatican II, especially after World War I, there was an emerging trend to build ugly churches totally devoid of any sense of the sacred. The video does not acknowledge that this harmful trend was normalized after the Council, and still flourishes in much of the world.
“the people in the pews were often involved in their own personal prayers”: another suppressio veri, which again ignores the crucial distinction between “before Vatican II” and “immediately before Vatican II”, and the fact that this phenomenon was realized very unevenly through the Church. My father used to say that it was quite common in the ethnically Italian churches he grew up in (of which two out of three are now not just closed, but gone), while an Irish former co-worker of mine who went to Catholic school in the same city at the same time used to say, with great indignation at the idea that she was “ignorant” of the Mass, “We ALL had our own missals, and those sisters made darn sure that we knew how to use them!”
Card. Ratzinger once wrote that if the point of the liturgical reform was popular participation, it was not necessary at all in Catholic Germany. In 1884, a Benedictine monk named Anselm Shott published a hand-missal which became so popular that German Catholics to this very day still use the term “Schott-Meßbuch” to mean a hand-missal for the Novus Ordo. In other words, the video sums up a very complex and lengthy aspect of the Church’s history, which would itself be worthy of its own documentary, as if one tiny part of it were representative of the whole.
At 1:36, we see footage of Richard Cardinal Cushing, the archbishop of Boston, saying President Kennedy’s funeral Mass in 1963. (This is captioned “A Mass prior to Vatican II…”, which had begun over thirteen months earlier.) This Mass is, frankly, bizarre; His Eminence doesn’t just say the quiet parts aloud, but does so in a weirdly affected stentorian voice. Another suppressio veri: it is not mentioned that he was doing so against the rubrics of the Missal, which had not yet been modified. (Sacrosanctum Concilium had not yet even been issued.) And another: it is not mentioned that the combined effect of saying rather than singing the Mass, the vernacular, versus populum, and standing at the people’s eye-level, has made the Novus Ordo a hostage to the priest’s personal quirks 1000 times more than was ever the case before the reform.
At 2:12, under the heading, “Coincidence = Cause Fallacy”, the sisters take MOTA to task for suggesting that “the new form of Mass as such caused the decline in faith practice (sic) over the past fifty years.” It is another article of faith among the post-Conciliar Rite’s defenders that this decline is in no way attributable to what Catholics were actually experiencing when they went to church, but rather to the secularization of society. I have never seen how this claim made any sense. “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” is a fallacy in logic; the fallacy lies in the “ergo”, but that doesn’t change the fact that causality moves forward in time.
Another suppressio veri: the Church’s authorities did not present the liturgical reform as if it would have no effect in halting the slide of Catholic societies into secularism. They presented it as if it were exactly what was needed to strengthen the faith of practicing Catholics, bring back those who had fallen away, and reconvert secularized Western man to Christ. And when that not only didn’t happen, but practicing Catholics began abandoning the Faith in droves, they assured their dwindling congregations that all was well, or soon would be. Only when it became too obvious to hide that all was not well did the official line change to, “Well, it’s all just too bad, but there was nothing to be done about it, because of secularism.”
At 3:03 begins a section of “the Bugnini myths”, and it is here that, after more suppressio veri, the sisters finally make their one and only genuinely serious criticism.
First, they attempt to downplay the importance of then-Monsignor Annibale Bugnini’s role as the gate-keeper and coordinator of the activities of the Consilium ad exsequendam. Yes, the Novus Ordo “is not a one-man production”, but it is a production in which the influence of that one man was not merely significant, but determinative. This fact is sufficiently well demonstrated by the memoires of Bugnini himself and of Fr Bouyer, among many others, as to require no further comment here.
They go on to say that the Consilium worked for four years, as if four years were not an outrageously short time in which to do a top-to-bottom radical reform of a liturgy into which the Church had poured some 15 centuries of wisdom and experience. They state that the Consilium worked in consultation with the bishops of the world, which is true as far as it goes, and say nothing about how little satisfied many bishops were with their work. But later on (11:02), they criticize MOTA for “not drawing our attention to the fact that the worst destruction of the Novus Ordo was done by priests and bishops formed in the years prior to the Council. Obviously there were flaws in their theological and liturgical formation…” The question is, of course, neither asked nor answered whether these flaws ALSO affected their consultation with the Consilium.
They say that the Consilium worked with the Congregation for Worship, without noting that that Congregation was completely sidelined, reduced by the Pope to rubber-stamping all its decisions. (Mons. Piero Marini, a colleague and admirer of Bugnini, documents this very well in his book “A Challenging Reform.”) And they say that they worked with the Pope, without mentioning Fr Bouyer’s well-known story of how Bugnini routinely deceived the Pope, or how the Pope himself did not bother to even look at their work in inventing a new lectionary.
Myth no. 2 touches the vexed question of Bugnini’s reputed Masonic affiliation. Here, I readily declare my agreement with Dom Alcuin Reid, who says in MOTA (54:30) that his work should be judged above all by its fruits. However, the sisters make a legitimate suggestio falsi when they asked why Paul VI then “promoted” him, rather than defrock or excommunicate him. To take a man who had been at the head of the liturgical reform for over a decade, someone with no diplomatic experience whatsoever, and make him nuncio to the tottering regime of the Shah of Iran, which has a Catholic population of less than 3 hundredths of a percent, is most unmistakably NOT a promotion. And of course, if they had done any research on Paul VI at all, the sisters would have known that if he had made such a grave mistake as to entrust such an important reform to a mason, he would never have admitted it by defrocking or excommunicating him.
Thus far, the suggestio falsi, but we also should not ignore the suppressio veri of the fact that, despite the supposed perfection and magnificence of their work, there has been suspiciously little celebration of ANY of the members of the Consilium since they finished it and went home lo these many years ago.
At 4:21, we come to the video’s one serious and substantive critique. Starting at 31:06, MOTA gives a quote famously but incorrectly imputed to Bugnini: “The road to union with our separated brethren – the protestants – is to remove every stone from the liturgy, every prayer from the Mass that could (even remotely) be an obstacle or difficulty.” (Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965)
This should be given in a fuller form and translated as, “And yet, the love of souls and the desire to help (or ‘make easier’) in every way the road to union for the separated brethren, by removing every stone that could even remotely constitute an obstacle or source of difficulty, have driven the Church to make even these painful sacrifices.” And furthermore, this was said, not in reference to a general reform of the liturgy, but specifically, to the revision of one of the solemn orations of Good Friday.
A photograph of the relevant page of the Osservatore Romano, provided to Dr Kwasniewski by a reader, which is admittedly not easy to read, even when enlarged. The relevant article is titled “Ritocchi ad alcune preghiere...”, the third header on the left side of the page.
The video correctly notes that this is a very serious flaw in MOTA, one which should without question be corrected. I urge Mr O’Hearn and his team not only to do so as quickly as possible, but to formally acknowledge the mistake, which undermines the credibility of their otherwise excellent work.
However, as Dr Kwasniewski rightly pointed out to me, the statement is nevertheless a fair summary of the ethos of the reform as a whole. The reformers unquestionably saw their mission not as the restoration of the liturgy which the Council had asked for, but the remaking of it in their own image and likeness. Ferdinando Cardinal Antonelli, who was a member of the Consilium, and in principle very much in favor of reform, stated this outright in his memoirs. And furthermore, this remaking did unquestionably consist in the reformers identifying, each according to his own personal ideas, what in the liturgy constituted an “obstacle”, whether it be to the comprehension of the faithful, ecumenical progress, or some other hazily identified but unquestionably desirable goal, and taking it out. And this is why they took advantage of the highly imprudent ambiguity of Sacrosanctum Concilium’s statement that “elements which … , were added (to the liturgy) with but little advantage are now to be discarded”, and discarded any number of elements that are attested in every single pertinent liturgical book of the Roman Rite as far back as we have them.
From this point forward (5:50), the sisters’ video behaves very much like a badly outclassed prize-fighter who, having landed one very solid punch on his opponent, has completely exhausted himself. But as one begins, so must one go on, and go on it does, with a long string of half-truths which will be enumerated in the 2nd part of this article.

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