Thursday, January 26, 2023

Wars and Rumors of Wars

By now, I am sure that all of our readers have heard of the various reports that further restrictions of the celebration of the traditional Roman Rite may be coming, within perhaps a few months. Rorate Caeli reported some days ago that their sources have heard nothing of it, while Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican reports that it certainly exists in some form. I have heard other reports contradicting and agreeing with them both, including one denial that any such restrictions are planned, and another that gave an outline of them which, if even partially true, would be disastrous. I have no information of my own to offer. It remains only to encourage everyone to pray fervently and constantly that God in His infinite mercy and wisdom avert such a calamity from the Church, and prevent the useless infliction of even greater suffering and sadness on followers of the traditional rite, such as is narrated in this video by a couple from Wisconsin, who recently lost their traditional Mass, one which predated Summorum Pontificum.

In the meantime, I also vehemently encourage all of our readers to read and share as widely as possible this absolutely superb column by Dom Alcuin Reid, published last week on One Peter Five, to which no summary can do justice:

This article is written in large part as a response to a series published last fall by the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal, written by Professors John Cavadini, Mary Healy, and Thomas Weinandy OFM Cap. The five articles, later republished as a unit, offer a defense of the post-Conciliar liturgy which relies heavily on the same combination of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi that all such defenses rely upon. Dom Alcuin is right to point out the “paucity of their liturgical history and the lack of range of sources in their footnotes”; I do not hesitate to assert, more bluntly, that the presentation is selective throughout, and simply ignores mountains of evidence that contradict its narrative.

Dom Alcuin outlines out a few of the broader points on which Cavadini, Healy and Weinandy (henceforth CHW, brevitatis causa) run aground. Simply put, they accept the false premise that to question the reform is to question the Second Vatican Council. (We will return to this later.) “... the intellectual and pastoral argument about the theological, liturgical, and most especially the pastoral superiority of the reformed liturgical rites has long since been lost. ... it is a well-established fact that the new rites promulgated by Paul VI after the Council were not the modest, organic development of the heretofore Roman rite for which the Council called (see Sacrosanctum Concilium 23) but were a radically new product of the body entrusted by Paul VI to implement the Council’s liturgical Constitution ... The Consilium intentionally went beyond the Constitution—with, in the case of many of its members, the best of intentions, and certainly, in the end, with the backing of papal authority. ... it is intellectually false to assert that to question or reject the reformed liturgy is in some way to ‘undermine Vatican II,’ as our three authors, and others, would have us believe.” (Or, as this fellow rightly put it:)

Their second major flaw (by far the most common with this particular genre of post-Conciliar apologetic) is to ignore the fact that the reform has not been the success that the Church was promised. Dom Alcuin writes: “... as repeated statistical studies from various countries demonstrate, the reformed liturgy has simply not delivered the ecclesial renewal promised. Promised? Yes: the assumption that guided (‘motivated’? ‘sold’?) the introduction of the new rites was that if the liturgy were simplified, modernised, made more contemporary, then people would participate in it more fruitfully and a new springtime in the life of the Church would be ushered in. Alas, the opposite has proved to be true. ... the modern liturgical rites have not of themselves proved to be part of the solution (to the problem of the decline in religious practice); of themselves they have not retained, let alone attracted, people to the practice of the Faith. Today we may, then, legitimately raise questions about their pastoral utility and about the wisdom of following the policies of sixty years ago that led to their production.”

The CHW narrative also relies on the idea that the entire process of liturgical reform, going back to the original Liturgical Movement, was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, to question its value is to “inherently den(y) the validity of the liturgical renewal as a genuine work of Holy Spirit in the contemporary Church.” (I make bold to insert here an observation of my own and my colleagues, that their presentation of the Liturgical Movement in their first article is inexcusably sloppy, since it falsely treats it as if were ONE movement with ONE set of ideas, which then flowed perfectly into Sacrosanctum Concilium and the post-Conciliar reform. This ignores both the range of ideas within the Liturgical Movement, and the flagrant contradiction between its aspirations and the results of the reform.) As Dom Alcuin rightly points out, this simply assumes too much: “they are practically making the liturgical reforms themselves a matter of faith, of Divine Revelation, to be believed in by all the faithful. But the reforms are not. They are the product of prudential judgements of men... Certainly, these men did (we hope) fervently invoke God the Holy Spirit to assist them in their work—and in this life we shall never know to what extent He did so assist them. (Could God the Holy Spirit really have been personally responsible for all the errors that resulted in Eucharistic Prayer II?) It is therefore not the sin of blasphemy to question the liturgical reform any more that it is blasphemy to assert that the College of Cardinals is perfectly capable of invoking the Holy Spirit at the beginning of a conclave and then of electing a truly bad pope, as any history of the papacy more than clearly demonstrates.”

Esto. It has been more than fifty years since the reforms were promulgated, and at this point, it would be unreasonable to expect anything else or anything better. In regard to CHW specifically, it remains only to note that they are open to the idea of a future correction of some of the more infelicitous aspects of the reform. However, as Dom Alcuin notes, this puts them, of course, into direct conflict with the current party line that the reform is “irreversible”, which either means that the Church is stuck with (e.g.) Eucharistic Prayer II forever, or it means nothing at all.

All that being said, it is the introductory section of this essay that really makes it a permanently valuable contribution to the on-going debate in the Church about reform and renewal, and the reason why I urge you so strongly to read and share it. Simply put, there is a healthy, reasonable, theologically sound approach to Vatican II, which is to treat it as one among many ecumenical councils, which (Dom Alcuin writes), “outlined policies which were judged to be expedient at the time and which were to be interpreted in a hermeneutic of continuity with the Church’s Tradition, including the dogmatic definitions of the other twenty Ecumenical Councils of the Church.”

But there also exists an unhealthy, unreasonable, and theologically unsound version of Vatican II which can be summed up in six words: “Vatican II changed all of that.” Dom Alcuin explains more fully: “Vatican II changed all of that, radically, irreversibly,” where ‘that’ stands for any previous liturgical, doctrinal, moral, or pastoral teaching or practice that is deemed inapplicable (read ‘inconvenient’) to contemporary man.” This is what he calls the “super-dogma.” The post-Conciliar reform is the most immediately tangible sign of this super-dogma, and the unhealthy grip which it has on the Church, and therefore, to question the reform is to question not the legitimate Vatican II, one council among many in a line of continuity that goes back to Christ and the Apostles, but the super-dogma wrongly built out of it.

“When we recognise this super-dogma for what it actually is—a lie upon which generations of clergy and laity have built their ecclesiastical careers ... we can begin to understand the manic severity that is meted out to those who refuse to subscribe to it and, indeed, we can begin to comprehend the extreme lengths to which its devotees will go in propping up and jealously defending everything that they have built upon this foundation, most especially the reformed liturgy. For the new liturgy is the touchstone of Vatican II. It is the single thread by which (in the minds of many) the Council (of their own conception) hangs.”

As I said above, I do not pretend to do this essay justice by summarizing it here, and it is important to qualify that Dom Alcuin does not ascribe the fullness of this super-dogma to CHW. However, whether they will it so or no, their attempt to brand the embrace of the historical Roman Rite as a rejection of Vatican II cannot stand UNLESS Vatican II is accepted in its super-dogma version, which is unhealthy, unreasonable, and theologically unsound, and now, after sixty years, possibly THE single greatest obstacle to authentic reform in the Church as a whole. I therefore congratulate Dom Alcuin for his elucidation of this very important point, and repeat my encouragement to everyone to read the essay in full.

ADDENDUM: just today, One Peter Five has another superb article, this time by Mr John Byron Kuhner, a fitting commemoration of the octave of Dom Alcuin’s piece. This paragraph gives a neat de facto summary of the most basic problem with CHW’s article.

“That the (Novus Ordo) Mass is a papal rather than a conciliar creation does not make it any less valid for Catholics, of course; but it does make it clear that discussions of it should be separated from discussions of the Council. (my emphasis) And whereas Paul permitted resistance from clerics of a modernizing tendency, even to his own decrees, Chiron is able to document his forceful crackdown on the use of older form of the Mass. He was capable of resolve against Tradition more than resolve against experimentation.”

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: