Saturday, September 23, 2023

An Excellent New Series in Defense of the Roman Rite, by Dr John Lamont

There are many good reasons to hope that the traditional Roman Rite will be restored to full citizenship within the Church, and with it, the liturgical peace achieved by Pope Benedict XVI. One such reason is as follows. We are told that its adherents are a tiny, indeed, statistically negligible minority, notable for their loudness, but “tragicomic, peripheral human failures”, in the exquisitely charitable bon mot of Karl Rahner. We are told that the post-Conciliar Rite has been so magnificent a pastoral success that it is “irreversible.” And yet that glorious success somehow cannot speak for itself, and must be defended by an endless succession of apologias for the suppression of both the Roman Rite and the communities that love it. If one were a Freudian (and of course, one is not), one might suspect that a bad conscience is at work here, over the catastrophic failure of the reform to produce any of the fruits that the first paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium said it wanted to come from the reform of the liturgy.  

Another is that such apologias seemingly cannot be made without resorting to the grossest errors in matters of history, anthropology, philosophy, theology, and every other subject that matters. Last year, Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal treated us to just such an apologia, in which Dom Alcuin Reid, with gentlemanly tact, rightly noted a “paucity of … liturgical history and the lack of range of sources in (the) footnotes.” The first article in the series originally included the astonishing assertion that Fr Louis Bouyer “joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman.” Bouyer was a member of the Congregation of the Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate, founded by Card. Pierre de Bérulle in 1611, and sometimes called simply “the French Oratory.” The Oratory to which St John Henry Newman belonged was founded by St Philip Neri, 226 years before Newman was born. (This error was only corrected after I brought it to the attention of one of CHJ’s contributors.) The last mention of Bouyer in the series states that he was “not entirely happy” with the reform; this is one possible way of summarizing his ferocious criticism of the insane haste and atrocious scholarship that went into creating it, but perhaps not the best way. [note]

Screen-shot of the CLJ website made on Dec. 19, 2022.
Now it is the turn of Fr Henry Donneaud, a Dominican of the French province of Toulouse, professor of fundamental theology and sacramental theology at both his order’s studium and the Institut Catholique in that city. In an article in the Nouvelle revue théologique, and in a review of the French translation of Peter Kwasniewski’s True Obedience in the Church in the Revue Thomiste (of whose editorial board he is a member), he has offered yet another attack on the traditional rite, and another large dose of the suppressio veri and suggestio falsi on which all such attacks rely.

For those who take little interest in such matters, Fr Donneaud very kindly offers (in his review of True Obedience) a one-sentence summary of his own “paucity of … liturgical history.” “The changes to the missal introduced by Paul VI were no more than a return to earlier features of the Roman rite.” This is true of no more than a tiny number of texts imported into the liturgy from ancient sources in their original forms, and is absolutely false in regard to all of the structural and systemic changes (the use of multiple canons, the three-reading system, the epiclesis, the revamping of the liturgical year, etc.), without exception. This falsity is of course extremely well-documented, and it is simply inexcusable to pretend otherwise. And since a great deal of Fr Donneaud’s argument depends on the idea that the post-Conciliar Rite is simply a reform of the Roman Rite, most of his argument falls with that demonstrable falsehood.

But such falsehoods ought not to go unchallenged, and Dr John Lamont, a Canadian philosopher and theologian, has written a splendid and very detailed refutation of them, recently published in four parts on Rorate Caeli, and also available to download as a single pdf document.

The document form runs to 32 pages of 11-point type, and I can hardly pretend to do any greater justice to it than by encouraging all our readers to take the time to read and consider it carefully.

I do, however, wish to draw special attention to an argument which Dr Lamont makes in the fourth part, trusting to his indulgence as I make so brief a summary of it. Essentially, the Roman Rite is the product of centuries of Christian civilization, a civilization that stretches back in time to the Roman Empire in which Our Lord elected to be born. As such, its replacement by a new rite invented by an academic committee could not be anything other than the “savage rupture” it was rightly called by a confrere of Fr Donneaud, Fr Thierry-Dominique Humbrecht. This, Lamont argues, is why proponents of the hermeneutic of rupture, those who wish to see that civilization destroyed, and replaced by another of their own devising, or by nothing, cannot bear to see the Roman Rite continue to exist in the Church. I add for myself and many others that this is, of course, exactly why it MUST continue to exist in the Church, and I thank Dr Lamont for his superb defense of it.
Note:Illusions of Reform”, a detailed reply to this series, was published by Os Justi Press earlier this year, featuring the articles of a five-part series by Dr Janet Smith, several articles by Peter Kwasniewski, the editor of the volume, the article by Alcuin Reid linked above, and others by Dr Joseph Shaw, Fr. Samuel Keyes, Roland Millare, an expert on Joseph Ratzinger and Fr Peter Miller. The authors and editors of the original CHJ series have either ignored this reply, or expressed their lack of an interest in engaging with it, which is not surprising, nor will it be surprising if Fr Donneaud does the same.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: