Monday, July 10, 2023

Why Are Laity So Involved in the Liturgical Debate? And Why Is the Continued Struggle Necessary?

These cartoons were published during Vatican II
This Paix Liturgique Letter 776 was published in French (source) on December 18, 2020, but never translated into English. It is really good and deserves to be available to English readers. And it has only improved with age. — PAK

On the occasion of the publication of Cyril Farret d’Astiès’ book Un heureux anniversaire? Essai sur les cinquante ans du missel de Paul VI, we asked him about this work, with the aim of highlighting the importance that laity have played, and continue to play, in defending the traditional Mass.

When the Tridentine Mass was de facto banned [now more than] fifty years ago, its users, obeying the instinct of the Christian people’s faith — the sensus fidelium — fought to ensure that it continued to be celebrated: this is why it was maintained and borne down to us. They supported, and sometimes even helped to enlist, the courageous priests who continued to say it, and then they assisted the communities that organized themselves in order to continue supplying traditional priests: the Society of St. Pius X and, later, the Ecclesia Dei institutes. These efforts were very concrete — material aid to priests and communities; driving many kilometers every Sunday to attend the Holy Sacrifice — but also intellectual and editorial, through the publication of magazines, brochures, and essays. Just think of the importance of the publications of Jean Madiran, Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, Louis Salleron, Romano Amerio, and so many others, alongside priests like P. Calmel, Abbé Dulac, and bishops like Mgr Lefebvre and Mgr de Castro Mayer.

Today, it’s Cyril Farret d’Astiès’ turn to peacefully, but uncompromisingly, explain the immense damage to faith and piety caused by the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council. The approach of all these laity who, for half a century, have been militating in this way through their religious practice or their pen seems like a paradoxical fruit of Vatican II, which, in its decree Apostolicam Actuositatem on the apostolate of the laity, affirmed “its desire to make the apostolic activity of the People of God more intense”!

Paix Liturgique
. You’re a layman who continues the work of many laity who have gone before you in defending the liturgy. How do you explain the very important role played by laity in defending and promoting the traditional liturgy?

Cyril Farret d’Astiès: Yes, I’m a layman with a family and a variety of professional and associative activities. I’m not a theologian or a historian, yet I’ve long wanted to write an essay on the central and essential subject of liturgy. I’d already tackled the liturgical subject a little, but in a roundabout way, in my novel Balade buissonnière and in a collection of short stories. And in that respect, I’m not exactly a trailblazer. The defense of traditional liturgy from the mid-1960s onwards was largely the work of laity from various backgrounds: Tito Casini, Jean Madiran, Cristina Campo, Michel de Saint-Pierre, Marie Carré, Louis Salleron, and even Serge Lama or Agatha Christie to some extent! I don’t pretend to be on a par with them, but I’m extremely grateful to them for having perceived the essential stakes of liturgical reform at an early stage, for having fought tirelessly and shown the way.

It seems to me that there are two main reasons why laity are so involved in the liturgical debate.

First, while ministers of religion have been clerics since Christ Himself instituted the sacraments, the faithful attend and participate in all liturgical actions. The public prayer of the Church is the action of the whole people of God. It’s our first duty as human beings: “hallowed be Thy name!” We’ve always been encouraged by the clergy to take part in Vespers, to attend Mass during the week, to take part in processions. We’re very much involved. So it’s only logical that laity with a little knowledge or insight should be concerned about what was going to be imposed on them — especially as the reforms were being carried out under the pretext of making worship “more accessible and understandable to the faithful”!

The other reason, it seems to me, lies in the greater freedom and independence of the laity. The obedience owed to their bishop by priests and promised on the day of their ordination (even if it is subordinate to the Truth which is Christ Himself) is an important aspect of the hierarchical Church in the most supernatural sense of the term. This is even truer of those in religious vows. By their very nature, laity do not have the same relationship of obedience to the clergy. While loyalty to a parish and belonging to a diocese are important bonds, the stability of the laity fluctuates — even more so in modern times. That’s why laity were quick to express their astonishment and to question their pastors in view of the total transformations they were seeing everywhere and in every field.

You insist on the obedience imposed on clerics and laypeople alike. Do you think this question of obedience is important?

CFA: It’s essential for understanding how the new missal was imposed, and just as important for understanding how to restore the old one. First of all, let’s remember that obedience is a great and beautiful thing. It’s a virtue that’s not always easy to acquire, especially for strong, independent characters! It requires education of the will and discernment, for obedience is not an end in itself. It is necessarily subordinate to truth, goodness, and morality.

Allow me to digress for a moment, in a digression which after all is not so far removed from our subject. I note with joy and gratitude that bishops, for the first time in a very long time, have called for disobedience to political power in the absurd matter of limiting the number of worshippers in places of worship to thirty.

In a homily, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that “the authority to teach in the Church implies a commitment to obedience to the faith.” Clearly, the obedience we owe to religious authorities is very precisely based on faith. It is because religious authorities transmit revelation in apostolic succession and in fidelity to tradition that we must obey them, even in small things. Disobedience is a serious act, so the motive for it has to be serious too. If some of those who opposed the liturgical reform refused to adopt the new missal, it was precisely because they felt there was more at stake [than mere “changeable disciplines”].

As Jean Madiran wrote in L’hérésie du XXe siècle: “You are quite mistaken in imagining that we would walk anywhere and accept any religion, pushed by a blind party-attachment, provided the new directives had an episcopal guarantee…. We don’t obey jokes. Because we take obedience and authority very seriously, we have always known that no obedience to men can pretend to make us go against obedience to God.”

So some disobeyed, refusing to celebrate (or attend) the new Mass and continuing to celebrate (or attend) the old one. For this reason, they were singled out and pushed aside by those who required obedience to the new laws and adoption of the new practices as a norm. But, wham! We now know that the old missal could not be abrogated, has not been, and never will be! It turns out the prohibitions were illegitimate, the obligations abusive. In 1986, a cardinal’s commission ruled on the thorny question of the legal status of the old missal, which was then almost completely settled by the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. This necessarily calls for a rereading of the events that have unfolded since the 70s!

It would be extremely salutary, therefore, if the liturgical question were now dealt with on its own merits, putting aside the question of obedience, which has no place here. Is the traditional liturgy in itself more in keeping with worship, the understanding of mystery, respect for the Holy Eucharist, and the edification of the faithful? These are the only questions that clerics and laity should be asking themselves today.

You title your book Un heureux Anniversaire? [A happy birthday?] Isn’t it an opportunity to take stock of the crisis that has shaken the Church for 50 years and more — and to draw some conclusions?

CFA: Absolutely! The liturgical reform promised a springtime for the Church. We were going to see all that we were going to see! Well, we have seen. Spring has been rainy, extremely rainy. The faithful fled. Belief in the main dogmas of the Catholic faith has collapsed, not only among the faithful who remain, but among the clergy and right up to the highest levels of the hierarchy. Not a stone upon a stone of the ancient edifice remains. Who can argue with that? No special issue of La Croix, no special solemnity at the meetings of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) in Lourdes, no text of any importance either in Rome or in France, is necessary for that purpose. The failure is so bitter that everyone looks the other way and pretends not to notice. Everyone.

Liturgy is both the revelation of the crisis and its fuel.

Admittedly, it wasn’t the promulgation of the new missal that gave birth to Modernism, that sewer collecting all heresies that so worried St. Pius X. However, it is undeniable that all the modern thinking of the twentieth century paved the way for liturgical reform; the reformers were all in love with new ideas and had experimented, more or less clandestinely, with their pastoral whims, which found concrete and definitive application in the new missal — suppression of the Offertory, horizontal participation, abandonment of eastward orientation, systematic use of the vernacular, methodical simplification of all rites, and so on. Once these radical transformations of the entire liturgical edifice had been imposed, the faithful and the clerics who had to apply them ended up integrating as well their suspicious theological foundations, and in 2020 we’ve come to see bishops receiving Communion from the hands of a young girl, veneration given to Pachamama in the heart of the Vatican, bishops knowingly giving the Eucharist to Protestants as well as to civilly remarried divorcees... the list goes on.

Even if worship is not itself a catechism, its expression is necessarily a reflection of belief. Liturgy expresses faith. And faith is expressed and spread through worship. As Fr. de Blignières so beautifully put it during the pilgrimage to mark the tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, ritual makes truth tangible.

The liturgical crisis is therefore naturally linked to the crisis of faith. And if the restoration of the liturgy is the top priority because it concerns God himself, truly present in the Eucharist and through the sacraments, then the restoration of catechism, canon law, and pastoral care must accompany this liturgical restoration.

Many of our contemporaries think that if the Church had used a more intelligent pedagogy, it would have succeeded in imposing its reform.

CFA: Perhaps... Perhaps the vexations, the contempt, the clericalism, the authoritarianism, the headlong rush, the outrageousness, is what made some Catholics keenly aware of the breadth and depth of what the liturgical reform actually entailed [as opposed to what was said on its behalf]. Perhaps this awareness has given rise to a movement that is numerically quite small, but dynamic, combative, resolute, and fruitful.

On the contrary, I believe that if the Church had been patient — if it had immediately offered indults and the possibility of keeping the old books for those who wanted to keep them — the reform would probably not have been able to be implemented as it was [that is, to the virtual exclusion of the old rite]. Under those conditions, many of the Catholics whom Yann Raison du Cleuziou defines as “observant” — I’m thinking here of the Saint-Martin community, Opus Dei, and a host of other priests and faithful — would have simply kept the old Mass, for these “observers” seek and aspire to a liturgy that fully corresponds to its purpose as public worship of God. And you can see that this brings us right back to the question of obedience.

That’s why it seems to me that it’s high time for those “observant” Catholics who have chosen to use the new missal conjuncturally (out of obedience!) to objectively examine the difficulties of the new missal and to become aware of all that they are depriving themselves of by not celebrating with the old Ordo.

So liturgical questions are not just ritual or aesthetic or a matter of sensitivity, but directly linked to our faith?

CFA: In a 1969 issue of the journal La Pensée Catholique, a group of theologians remarked: “We have good reason to fear that, by no longer highlighting the Sacrifice of Jesus, the Ordo Missæ is in fact dooming it to oblivion; for this Sacrifice is too supernatural a reality for man to be able, without a sign, to remember it and live by it.” This remark is essential: it was totally prophetic. I could have written it as an epigraph to my essay, so much does it sum up the whole problematic of the comparison of the two missals.

I’d like to touch on a point that seems very sensitive to me, but which it is essential to address. I’m not sure I’ve managed to do so in my book. The liturgical question is one of great emotion and sensitivity, because the subject has unleashed passions, imposed clear-cut positions, and forced personal (but also family and community) public choices. It’s undeniable that reasons of sensitivity, aesthetics, and habit explain certain choices. All of which means that, for psychological reasons, it’s difficult to restate the liturgical question in a cold, theoretical way.

The motu proprio of 2007 — a considerable event, and one for which I’m still grateful — did have one drawback, however: it made the choice of liturgical form both personal and, in a way, relative. One of the aims of this motu proprio was to appease all parties by offering an extremely wide opening for the use of the old missal, while at the same time trying to preserve unity, hence the attractive (but perhaps above all tactical) idea of “two forms” of a single Roman ritual. However, if aesthetic considerations or sensitivities are always legitimate in the context of an objective good — one can be personally very keen on the Dominican liturgy, or one can well prefer “Gothic” vestments to “Roman” ones — the fundamental choices that guide the adoption of the old Mass once and for all are based on criteria of faith.

The reform was undertaken for two essential reasons: “that this restoration organize the texts and rites in such a way that they express with greater clarity the holy realities they signify” (SC 21) and that “the sacrifice of the Mass, even in its ritual form, obtain full pastoral effectiveness” (SC 49). But the pastoral care derived from this liturgy has driven God’s people away. The majority of those who remain no longer know what happens at Mass, what the sacraments are, what the Church is. With the celebration of both missals authorized, it’s high time we returned to the old ways!

What would you say to all those who are about to discover your book?

CFA: This essay of mine is aimed at all sincere Catholics, “observant” Catholics. Based on official Church texts, I attempt to unpack the spirit and letter of the new missal, and to show that its native and structural weaknesses led (and lead) to a massive loss of understanding of the supernatural realities covered by the liturgy.

But beyond this quasi-systematic risk, by depriving ourselves of the old books we are not only depriving ourselves — our family, our faithful, our community — of ritual riches of incomparable depth and great spirituality, we are also depriving God Himself of the perfection that 2,000 years of Christianity have slowly shaped to render Him the worship that is His due!

We must never forget that everything in the liturgy must be directed towards our Creator. So come and see, dear friends of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True: the treasure of the ancient liturgical books is the common treasure of all Latin Catholics, not the privilege of a small, privileged caste. The traditional liturgy is of such profound richness that it nourishes a whole life of contemplation, preparing our soul for its eternity, which will be nothing other than participation in the heavenly liturgy. There’s no better way to strengthen our desire for heaven than with this liturgical form, so mystagogical, so Christ-centered! The traditional liturgy is — today perhaps even more than yesterday — the remedy for our spiritual sluggishness, for the seduction of the world, for the pretensions of the old man of sin.

As Archbishop Thomas Gullickson said during a meeting with priests who celebrate the ancient ritual: “I sincerely believe that the ancient Mass is the future of the Church.”

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