Saturday, October 27, 2007

Kwasniewski: why the new lectionary doesn't work

Peter A. Kwasniewski has written a remarkable article, "The Loss of Liturgical Riches in the Sanctorial Cycle," Latin Mass magazine (Fall 2007). It is an outstanding article and offers a case in point of the kind of tough charity and constructive criticism that will be needed over the next years and decades to achieve the "reconciliation in the heart of the Church" that is the stated goal of the Holy Father's Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum. It is challenging in more ways than immediately meets the eye, and will likely get readers thinking about some things in ways they haven't quite imagined before; which, after all, is the point, albeit one rarely achieved.

It is commonly assumed by intelligent Catholics that, whatever the disasters of the post-Vatican II era (usually associated with its "implementation") one of the strongest suits of the Conciliar reforms was the revised lectionary. The renewed emphasis on Scripture in the post-Conciliar era, so it is often said, has been one of the great achievements of the Council.1 There is no question that the new lectionary readings contain a great deal more quantitatively of Scripture than the old -- and a great deal more of it from the Old Testament. A recent newsletter of the USCCB's Committee on the Liturgy published after the publication of Summorum Pontificum (see "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics," Musings, October 18, 2007), states that the Novus Ordo contains 14% of the Old Testament and 71% of the New while the 1962 Missal contains only 1% of the former and 17% of the latter." No doubt about it, this would seem to look like a prima facie case in favor of the new lectionary.

Protestant converts to the Catholic Faith, particularly those from non-liturgical backgrounds, are often initially enthusiastic in their support of this quantitative amplitude accorded to Scripture in the new Catholic liturgy. David Currie, for example, in his book, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, describes an experiment he conducted in measuring the average clock time spent in actual Bible reading in different churches.2 He chose two Protestant churches -- one evangelical, the other fundamentalist -- both with an average Sunday attendance well into the thousands. He found that the evangelical church, in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, spent less than 6 percent of its Sunday service in Scripture, while the fundamentalist church in northwest Indiana spent 2 percent of its mornings in Scripture. By contrast, he found that Catholics spend an average of more than 26 percent of their time at Mass in Scripture.

The problem with such a quantitative approach to assessing the place of Scripture in worship is that it takes no effective account of the liturgical role actually played -- and the role that should be played -- by Scripture in life of the community assisting at Mass. It is easy for Catholic converts from evangelical backgrounds, given their apologetical and propositionalist bent,3 to assume that liturgy, at its best, is intended to be some sort of richly exegetical Bible study session. On the other hand, it is easy for cradle Catholics who are disdainful of propositionalist apologetics to assume, nevertheless, that the superiority of the new Mass must surely consist in, among other things, its covering quantitatively more Scripture, as well as allowing the "active participation" of laity as lectors, cantors, and in offering congregational responsorial antiphons and the like.

But without prejudice to the propositional truth of divine Revelation, this sort of quantitative approach has always struck me as simply wrong headed. How often do people come away from the new Mass with any recollection of the readings, let alone any sense of a theme uniting these readings? People don't assimilate more biblical wisdom simply because they have quantitatively more texts read to them at Mass, or because they participate quantitatively more in reading those texts. What counts is meaning and context; and if the liturgy itself fails to provide these, then no amount of ratcheting up the quantity of Scripture read or "active participation" in meting it out is going to suffice. In fact (pace those from Protestant backgrounds), failing an adequate liturgy, no homily is going to suffice. On the other hand, with a properly integrated liturgy and lectionary, a homily need no longer be seen as the indispensable locus for instruction in Scripture, as those from Protestant backgrounds -- especially those accustomed to academically sophisticated 30-40 minute sermons where the congregation took notes! -- might be tempted to think. In fact, the assumption that the homily is the premier place for instruction in Scripture in the life of a Catholic is based on a flawed understanding of the function of liturgy.

The problem, in brief, is this: in Catholic tradition the liturgical role of Scripture served to richly contextualize lectionary readings within a cycle of annually repeated readings grouped thematically around various historic Saints and doctrines of the Church. This allowed Catholics to become familiar with a great number of central biblical texts and themes through the course of the year that were repeated annually, thus sedimenting themselves into their souls through cyclical repetition throughout their lives. The problem, however, is that the liturgical unity and integrity of these themes has now been radically compromised by the new lectionary and missal, which have substituted a quantitative biblical calculus for the traditional thematic cycle.

If ever there was a doubt that traditionalists had a legitimate case concerning the lectionary, it can be layed to rest by the kind of thoughtful, constructive criticism offered by Peter A. Kwasniewski in his article, "The Loss of Liturgical Riches in the Sanctoral Cycle," Latin Mass magazine (Fall 2007). The argument he makes is not on the level of the pathetic ICEL translations, which have perpetrated on English-speaking Catholics "a fraud the magnitude of which has never been equaled in the history of liturgical abuses." Kwasniewski writes, "No, my complaint is not at this level; it is at the level of the Latin text. In her masterful studies of recent years, Dr. Lauren Pristas has helped us to see that the radical difference between the old and new Missals has to be assessed on the 'pure' ground of the Latin editio typica of each. And this is where I, too, stake my claims. I prescind entirely from the insulting travesty of the ICEL translation and focus on the Latin."

Kwasniewski compares sets of propers from the two missals and asks: "Is this an example of liturgical progress, of a 'successful' reform?" He writes:
The new lectionary . . . is a failure for three fundamental reasons.

First, the guiding principles were Cartesian, that is to say, mathematical order, a technical completeness (we have to "get through" the Scriptures), and a typically materialistic disregard for the organic unity of the soul-body complex which is the liturgy ...

Second, there is the basic human problem of having more than one year's worth of readings. A single year is a natural period of time; it is healthy, pedagogically superior, and deeply consoling to come back, year after year, to the same readings for a given Sunday or weekday. This has been my experience. You get to know the Sunday readings especially; they become bone of your bone. You start to think of Sundays in terms of their readings, chants, and prayers, which stick in the mind all the more firmly because they are both spoken or chanted and read in the missal you are holding (more senses engaged). In this way the traditional Western liturgy shows its affinity to the Eastern liturgies, which go so far as to name Sundays after their Gospels or after some particular dogma emphasized. In the old days, the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost had a distinctive identity: Protector noster was the introit, you knew its melody, and the whole Mass grew to be familiar, like a much-loved garden or a trail through the woods. Nowadays, who knows what the "tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time" is about! It's anyone's guess.

Third, the men who chose the readings were a committee of "experts," biblical scholars with sociological leanings, who should be distrusted when it comes to spiritual matters. The only reverent way of augmenting a missal would be . . .
The argument itself is in the comparison of propers, in the result of the 'reform' in a wholesale abandonment in practice of the very notion of Propers, in a disorienting suppression of 'archaic' saints, and the general dis-integration (in the literal sense of the term) of the component parts of the liturgy. Read this first-rate article for yourself and see what you think. For my money, it's the most cogently and elegantly argued challenge to the new lectionary of recent memory. The gauntlet has been cast. The article can be found here: Peter A. Kwasniewski, "The Loss of Liturgical Riches in the Sanctorial Cycle," (Scripture and Catholic Tradition, October 25, 2007).


  1. One evidence that more emphasis on Scripture simpliciter is no panacea for the problems addressed by Vatican II is the nearly wholesale capitulation of Catholic biblical scholarship in many circles (e.g. John Dominic Crossan, Thomas Sheehan, etc.) to historically naturalistic liberal protestant presuppositions of biblical historical criticism. [back]

  2. David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996), 99f. [back]

  3. To suggest that a 'propositionalist' bent may be misplaced in liturgy -- that is, an approach that focuses principal on the didactic content and role of Scripture study -- is not to imply in the least any denigration of the indispensable propositional dimension to Scripture. [back]

Speaking of contracepting ourselves to death

If demographic trends continue, I've just read, the population of Yemen will surpass that of Russia by mid-century. At first it seems a small thing, I know. "We've had our two kids, so we've done our part," a couple will tell themselves; and so the woman will agree to have her fallopian tubes cauterized. It seems quite reasonable. And they'll go on "having sex" without the inconvenience of children. Then comes a whole culture of recreational sex, in which the proper end and purpose of "having sex" (babies and bonding) is inverted with and displaced by its proper accident (pleasure), so that the whole end or purpose of "having sex" now becomes pleasure (the accident) rather than the proper end (babies and bonding) of the act. Thus, a woman will tell her gynecologist that it was an 'accident' that she got pregnant, although she was regularly "having sex"; or a man will say that he had no intention of getting the woman so enmeshed with him emotionally, although he was regularly "having sex" with her. In the meantime, this culture of death is 'sexing' itself out of existence. We're not talking, of course, only about Russia. Just about twenty minutes down Michigan Avenue, where my wife works in Dearborn, she tells me that the refined sexual modesty of her Muslim co-workers makes some of their mainstream American clientele seem like lewd barbarians.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vatican Men in Black

Vatican News Flash:
Just moments ago the Roman Catholic Church confirmed the rumors about a new Vatican office. Limited information has been released about the new office. The extent of the office's authority has not been disclosed, but it is assumed that its power will be universal. Vatican officials have reported that the new office is titled:
The Pontifical Office of the Liturgical Police

For more details, see the breaking news at: "Alive and Young".
[Hat tip to Paul Cat via Casey Coleman. Image credit: Fairfield University]

Catholic policy responsible for AIDS epidemic, U.N. says

Prepare for the worst; you're more than likely to hear increasingly more of this sort of spin: "Catholic condom ban helping AIDS spread in Latam: U.N." (Reuters, October 23, 2007): "The rapid spread in Latin America of the virus that causes AIDS is made worse by the Roman Catholic Church's stand against using condoms, a U.N. official said on Monday." This is like saying, ex hypothesi, that the North Carolinian policy of forbidding gastroplasty (stomach stapling) is responsible for the epidemic of morose obesity in that state. What pea-brained lunacy! This is nothing more than a breath-takingly brazen pretext for Catholic-bashing hate speech.

[Hat tip to Nathan Blosser]

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Archp Ranjith on bishops who resist Summorum Pontificum: “instruments of the devil”

Well, I never quite expected to hear this, but there it is: "Archp Ranjith on bishops who resist Summorum Pontificum: 'instruments of the devil'" (What Does the Prayer Really Say? October 12, 2007). His Excellency Most Rev. Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments recently made this remark in a talk entitled "Faith, Obedience and Theology," which he delivered at the annual meeting of the Dutch Latin Liturgy Association (Vereniging voor Latijnse Liturgie) in ’s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands) on 6 October 2007. Here is a news story in Dutch.

Insight on Summorum Pontificum

Father Kenneth Baker is a Jesuit priest of the Oregon Province and editor-in-Chief of the monthly Homiletic and Pastoral Review and President of Catholic View Broadcasts. In the first issue of Latin Mass magizine to appear after Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio of July 7, 2007, is an article by Fr. Baker well worth reading. Crisply written and exceptionally lucid, it brings into sharp focus the decisive significance of the Pope's recent decree. In his article, Fr. Baker comments on the Pope's letter to the bishops as well as on the Motu Proprio itself. The article, now available online, is entitled "Summorum Pontificum and the Future of the Liturgy" (Scripture and Catholic Tradition, October 20, 2007). Below are several notable excerpts:
The first thing to note is that the letter is addressed to "My dear brother Bishops." The letter is not addressed to the whole Church; it is not the law of the Church. The law of the Church is contained in the Motu Proprio.

* * * * * * *

The Pope emphasizes that the ancient rite was never abrogated. In 1970, we were made to think that it was gone, and that only retired priests who had obtained special permission to say the Mass in private could say the traditional Latin Mass. That was a misrepresentation of the law of the Church, but it was almost universally adopted by the Bishops and religious communities.

* * * * * * *

After making these points, the Pope goes into the deformations of recent years, and here he is very personal . . . . Here he is addressing . . . deformations which drove millions of people away from the Catholic Church.

* * * * * * *

Many, perhaps most, Bishops were not "generous" in allowing the traditional Latin Mass, so in this new document the Pope says in effect, "I have to step in and solve the problem with new juridical norms," and he does that with this Motu Proprio: it is the new law of the Church.

With this document, Benedict is taking control of the traditional Latin Mass out of the hands of the Bishops and giving it to priests.

* * * * * * *

In recent months there have been many reports of opposition from mostly liberal individuals in the Church. Since the Latin Mass affects only about 1% of Catholics, why are they so opposed? They're afraid it's going to grow. Once people see the traditional Latin Mass and contrast it with the Novus Ordo, they realize what's been lost.

* * * * * * *

Now I propose to comment on the Motu Proprio itself. This new legislation solves a problem that has been causing division and heartbreak in the Church since the Novus Ordo was introduced in the 1970 by Pope Paul VI. The rapid, unprepared and unexplained imposition of the new rite was the occasion for the alienation of many Catholics who treasured the Catholic Latin liturgy.

* * * * * * *

The new legislation restores the traditional Latin Mass to the status it had for 1500 years. It is now on the same level as the Novus Ordo liturgy. . . . Every priest can use either form and from now on does not need the Bishop's permission.

* * * * * * *

In the introductory paragraphs Benedict XVI refers to the Supreme Pontiff or the Roman Pontiff seven times. This is significant. He makes it very clear in the second paragraph that the liturgy of the church is determined by the Roman Pontiff and not by the local Bishops and their liturgical committees. He says therefore that the local church must be in conformity with the universal Church. In a certain sense after 1970, because of the many options and the power of the Bishops' conferences, Pope Paul VI and John Paul II lost control of the liturgy. Now Pope Benedict is reminding the Bishops that only the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff, has the authority to determine the liturgical worship in the Catholic Church.

* * * * * * *

By restoring the traditional Latin Liturgy of the Church to its rightful place, Benedict XVI, the Pope of Peace, hopes to promote peace and unity in the whole Catholic Church. For this we owe him our gratitude and our prayers.

Brave scholars, wise warriors

The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.

--Thucidides (Θουκυδίδης) (ca. 460 - 395 BC)

Friday, October 19, 2007

A question of consistency

On October 1, 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” Therein he advised:
All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely. Such support, or even the semblance of such support, can be gravely misinterpreted. Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups, including the facilities of Catholic schools and colleges. To some, such permission to use Church property may seem only just and charitable; but in reality it is contradictory to the purpose for which these institutions were founded, it is misleading and often scandalous. (17)
In light of this statement, I wonder what the Holy Father thinks of the decision of Cardinal Levada (his successor as prefect of the CDF) to override the order of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor (Archbishop of Westminster) that homosexual activists in London desist from celebrating irregular Masses at an Anglican church in Soho or from using the title 'Roman Catholic' and, instead, to move the Masses to a Catholic church (Our Lady of the Assumption on Warwick Street) in an effort to regularize them. The activist group in question had called itself "Roman Catholic Church Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement" (RCC for short), but, instead of discontinuing its Masses, simply formed a sub-committee calling itself the "Soho Masses Pastoral Council" (SMPC), under the auspices of which it continued its dissident Masses. Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, former head of the Dominican Order, has reportedly celebrated Mass for the openly dissident homosexual group (see "Fr. Timothy Radcliffe OP at St Anne's Church, Soho," Independent Catholic News, May 3, 2004; and "Homilies" (scroll down to "Soho Mass Homily for Ascension Day - Sunday May 20th 2007," by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP).

For more on this, see "Masses for Gay activists, again" (Catholic Action, UK, March 1, 2007); "Westminster's 'Masses for Gays' used to promote dissent" (Catholic Action, UK, March 26, 2007); "Church of the (Soho) Masses" (Whispers in the Loggia, February 15, 2007); "The Soho Masses Pastoral Council," "Civil Partnerships," "The Soho Masses" (all on the SMPC website); and "Outreach and ministry to homosexual persons" (The Diocese of Westminster, February 2, 2007).

Catholic Action, UK, concludes:
There is here a deliberate ambigity as to whether, and in what sense, these Masses are intended for homosexuals.

It should be noted that the new arrangements represent a victory for faithful Catholics who have been voicing their concerns about the previous arrangements for many years. Specifically, the Archdiocese seems to be seeking to take control of the Masses, to prevent their being hijacked by groups explicitly or implicitly opposed to Church teaching. The celebrants, for example, are apparantly going to be selected by the Archdiocese, and not invited by a self-selected committee of gay activists, as happened in the past. The implication seems to be that Martin Prendegast and his group of dissidents will have no role to play at all.

Legitimage concerns remain, however, as to how the arrangements will work in practice. Are these Masses, in practice, intended to provide a spiritual home for the 'Soho Masses Pastoral Council', whose website is filled with references to dissenting priests and theologians and their views? Will people giving public scandal by their lifestyles be given communion? And what, in light of the first of the two paragraphs quoted above, is the point of drawing Catholics of a particular sexual orientation away from their parishes, for worship as a group? Please take up these concerns with the Cardinal Archbishop of Wesmister ( , and with Cardinal Levada (
The de facto ambiguities of policy implementation, at this point, contrast shartply with the clarity of CDF statements of the former Cardinal Ratzinger.

We were just seconds from Armageddon

A reader sent me an email with a link and the accompanying remark: "WOW. Good Lord; we were this close to the end. Astonishing."

The story is about a Russian man named Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov who saved the world in 1983. On September 1st of that year, as you may recall, the former Soviet Union shot down a Korean airliner, Korean Airlines Flight 007, that had drifted into Soviet airspace en route from the United States to Korea. In the days that followed, tensions between the two mega-powers -- the USSR and the United States -- hit an all-time high, and on 15 September 1983 the US administration banned Soviet aircrafts from operating in US airspace. With the political climate drifting dangerously toward the unthinkable, both US and Soviet governments were on high-alert. This is where Petrov comes in:
It was a cold night at the Serpukhov-15 bunker in Moscow on 26 September 1983 as Strategic Rocket Forces lieutenant colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov resumed his duty, monitoring the skies of the Soviet Union, after taking a shift of someone else who couldn't go to work.

Just past midnight, Petrov received a computer report he'd dreaded all his military career to see, the computer captured a nuclear military missile being launched from the US, destination Moscow.
Here's the story: "24 years on - The man who saved millions of lives" (, October 19, 2007). Read the article. When you understand what happened, I think you'll agree that this man is an unsung hero. One wonders how many would have done what he did under the circumstances.

[Hat tip to 'Sun & Wine'.]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two from Sandro Magister

One Year after Regensburg, 138 Muslims Write a New Letter to the Pope (www.chiesa, October 12, 2007):
They are proposing as common ground between Muslims and Christians the two "greatest commandments" of love for God and neighbor. These are in both the Qur'an and the Gospels. How will the Church of Rome react?
A New Musical Season Opens at the Vatican – And Here's the Program (www.chiesa, October 18, 2007):
Pope Ratzinger seems to be stepping up the tempo. The curia will have a new office with authority in the field of sacred music. And the choir of the Sistine Chapel is getting a new director

TLM in the Diocese of Charlotte

The following Q and A come directly from the Diocesan website and can be found under the "Parishes" link, if you then click on "Questions and Answers" and scroll down to "Liturgy and Worship":
Q: I am new to the diocese of Charlotte and was wondering if Tridentine masses are celebrated anywhere in the diocese.

A: The Tridentine Mass is not celebrated by any parish or mission of the Diocese of Charlotte.

I trust that the Diocesan website will soon be updated, because the TLM is slowly making its way into the Diocese of Charlotte, thanks to the Holy Father's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. The website is accurate, however, as to the status quo ante. There has never been an Indult Mass in Charlotte, even though there were clearly those who desired it and requested it. There has been, of course, an Indult TLM in the Diocese of Raleigh, at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Dunn, NC. There have been, moreover, three SSPX chapels in North Carolina where the TLM is regularly offered -- St. Anthony of Padua Church in Mount Holly, Old St. Mary's Church in Goldsboro, and Holy Redeemer Church in Youngsville, although these, of course, are not approved.1

I am heartened by the news of TLMs now being celebrated by Fr. Samuel Weber at the Davis Chapel at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem (Dr. Weber is a previous presenter at the Aquinas-Luther Conference hosted by the Center for Theology at Lenoir-Rhyne College, and I have the utmost respect for him and his liturgical insights). I am also heartened by the news that Fr. Arnsparger is celebrating the TLM at St. Michael the Archangel in Gastonia. Finally, I am glad to hear that His Excellency, Bishop Peter J. Jugis has indicated that a favorable pronouncement will be forthcoming and that he would encourage a TLM at St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville (pictured right), if an interested group requests it.

The ball is in the laity's court now, I believe. The motu proprio has provided the official sanction; but the laity will have to make their case, not only for themselves, but in a continued undertaking of consciousness raising and education about the liturgical history of the past half-century. Only such a sustained effort will facilitate the ultimate ecclesial unity intended by the Holy Father. Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., the editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, has suggested that it will take at least ten years before we can talk about the aims of the motu proprio actually being realized.


  1. My point is not to recommend SSPX chapels, which, as I point out, are not approved by the Church, but to highlight the discrepancy between historical Diocesan policy of rejecting appeals for an Indult Mass on the grounds that there was no need for one when there was a sufficient 'market' to fill three dissident SSPX chapels in the state. [back]

[Hat tip to S.C.]

Summer sex camp for your kids, anyone?

With an eye on Russia's dismally low birth-rate, a youth movement run by Russian President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin sponsored a "procreation camp" this past summer. Held 200 miles from Moscow, the two-week camp was reportedly attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters. Following instructions in physical fitness and exercises, couples repaired -- or should we say "paired off" -- to a special part of dormitory tents arranged in the shape of a heart, which was called the "Love Oasis," where they were encouraged to start "procreating for the motherland." The camp culminated in a mass wedding of twenty-five couples, who were ready to make the "ultimate expression of devotion to the motherland" (The Daily Mail, July 29, 2007; quoted by Michael S. Rose in "The News You May Have Missed, New Oxford Review [October 2007], p. 37).

Read more at "Hitl ... I mean Putin’s Youth (Nashi): Sex for the motherland: Russian youths encouraged to procreate at camp," by Edward Lucas (The Postnational Monitor, July 29, 2007).

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

The USCCB's Committee on the Liturgy offered a commendably careful explanation of Summorum Pontificum in their June-July newsletter, a testimony to how much the Motu Proprio has already altered the terrain. However, their answers to the question, "What . . . major differences characterize the . . . [two] forms of the Missale Romanum?" strain to to cast the traditional Mass in an unfavorable light. For example, according to the newsletter the Novus Ordo contains 14% of the Old Testament and 71% of the New while the 1962 Missal contains only 1% of the former and 17% of the latter. The Secretariat's number crunchers must not have noticed how almost every page of the 1962 Ordinary is steeped in the Psalms or allusions to the Holy of Holies, Abel, Abraham, Melchizedek, and Isaiah; and they probably forgot to take into account how a traditional sanctuary (which is assumed by the 1962 rubrics) deliberately evokes the Tabernacle and Temple of the old. But more fundamentally, the very idea of quantifying the Scriptures in this way bespeaks an indebtedness to social science models that is alien to a spiritual evaluation of liturgy.

Why does this matter? Because on an EWTN television program, Monsignor James P. Moroney, the Executive Director of the Secretariat for the Liturgy, used these statistics to argue for the use of the 1970 Lectionary with the 1962 Missal.1 The monsignor also stated, however, that "we don't want a mixing of the rites." Hopefully, for common sense's sake, the latter view will prevail.
  1. "The World Over" with Raymond Arroyo, July 9, 2007. [back]

[The present article, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Fall 2007), p. 19, where it appears anonymously, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Liturgical hegemonism and sola fideism

For decades many Catholics who have chafed under abusive indignities and often blasphemous irreverences associated with the post-Vatican II liturgical experiments have suffered a kind of exile. Many of these were particularly attached to the traditional Catholic Mass passed down to them from previous generations, and they found the subsequent decades a nearly unimaginable trial. They were effectively deprived of the freedom to worship God according to the Catholic traditions of their forefathers as far back as anyone could remember. After enduring decades of indifference to their plight and hostility toward the old Mass by many clerics and fellow-Catholics, these exiles received with gratitude the Holy father's Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007), which effectively provides for much broader freedoms in celebrating the old Mass.

Yet not everyone is pleased. From the 'left' wing of Catholicism, traditionally known for its championing of the ideal of diversity and difference, comes Fr. Richard McBrien, who tells us that "Pope Paul VI had made it clear that Vatican II's reform of the Mass was not to establish a second parallel rite," suggesting that the Novus Ordo was intended to replace the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. "Paul VI was convinced that the existence of two rites [the Novus Ordo and the 'Tridentine'] within the Roman Catholic Church would be divisive." (National Catholic Reporter, 8/3/07, emphasis added)

Pope Benedict has, of course, answered these sorts of predictable objections, which he clearly anticipated in his Motu Proprio and accompanying letter. The fear that the expanded use of the old Mass "would lead to disarray or even divisions," Pope Benedict says, "strikes me as unfounded." Furthermore, he responds also to the claim that the Novus Ordo was intended to replace the old Mass by stating emphatically that Pope John XXIII's 1962 Missal "was never juridically abrogated." (emphasis added)

From the 'right' wing of Catholicism, on the other hand, traditionally known for its enthusiastic support of Church teaching, comes George A. Kendall, suggesting that love of the old Mass is a form of idolatry. He writes: "This deprivation [the suppression of the old Mass] is, it seems, a means by which God can work with us to bring us to greater spiritual maturity [via the Novus Ordo and its contemporary incarnations], forcing us to live by faith alone without the comfort of beautiful liturgy." ("The Old Mass and the Purgative Way," The Wanderer, 7/19/07; emphasis added)

This sort of objection to the wider restoration of the old Mass, of course, is amply dispelled by Pope Benedict's repeated emphasis on the importance of beauty and holiness in the liturgy. "Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it," he states, "but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form [the old Mass], felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them." Further, he expresses the hope that "The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal."

McBrien's desire to see the old Mass replaced by the new is not only at odds with the declared intentions of the Holy Father. It is a species of hegemonism ironically at odds with the left's traditional celebration of diversity and difference within the Church. Kendall's opposition to the old Mass as a form of idolatry and his suggestion that the deprivation of the beautiful and reverent old Mass is "purgative" -- fostering of a "spiritual maturity" born of "living by faith alone without the comfort of beautiful things" -- is not only at odds with the views of the Holy Father. Like non-liturgical forms of Protestantism, it is a species of sola fideism ironically at odds with the incarnational sacramentalism of Catholic liturgical tradition, suggesting that outward forms are adiaphora -- things that don't matter -- or even that faith is best fostered in an environment devoid of sacramental beauty, dignity and reverence.

[Tip of the hat to Dale Vree, editor of New Oxford Review. Both the statements by Fr. Richard McBrien and those by George A. Kendall are quoted in Dale Vree's editorials in "New Oxford Notes," New Oxford Review (October 2007), pp. 14-15).]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Christopher sires a son

Son Christopher (of Against the Grain, Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club, & Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club) has just sired a son, Raphael Joseph Feldman-Blosser. If you're familiar with his blogs, you may wish to send him a congratulatory note -- with or without a cigar.

Electability vs. principles?

James C. Dobson, "The Values Test" (NY Times, op-ed piece, October 4, 2007), reports on a Salt Lake City meeting of more than fifty pro-family leaders, which, after two hours of deliberation, voted a resolution to abandon nominees of the two major parties if neither is pledged to uphold the sanctity of human life and to recommend voting, instead, for a minor-party candidate. The other issue discussed was the possibility of a third party. Dobson personally argues for voting on principle, rather than compromising principle for the sake of electoral success. This is a tough call; but in politics, which is the art of the possible, and not of ideal principles, this may mean letting the worst of two possible evils prevail. Tough call. If it came down to Giuliani-McCain vs. Clinton-Obama, would you vote for Brownback on principle, even if it meant handing the election to Clinton-Obama?

Os Guinness on the Episcopal meltdown

Although the piece is dated, some of you may be interested in the fact that Os Guinness, whom a few of us knew at L'Abri in Switzerland back in the early seventies, has co-authored a piece in the Washington Post with the Rev. John Yates, entitled "Why We Left the Episcopal Church" ( , January 8, 2007). Among other things, they write:
The core issue for us is theological: the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. It is thus a matter of faithfulness to the lordship of Jesus, whom we worship and follow. The American Episcopal Church no longer believes the historic, orthodox Christian faith common to all believers. Some leaders expressly deny the central articles of the faith -- saying that traditional theism is "dead," the incarnation is "nonsense," the resurrection of Jesus is a fiction, the understanding of the cross is "a barbarous idea," the Bible is "pure propaganda" and so on. Others simply say the creed as poetry or with their fingers crossed.
"It would be easy to parody the 'Alice in Wonderland' surrealism of Episcopal leaders openly denying what their faith once believed, celebrating what Christians have gone to the stake to resist -- and still staying on as leaders," they write. "But this is a serious matter." They list the outrages they protest as follows:
  • First, Episcopal revisionism abandons the fidelity of faith.
  • Second, Episcopal revisionism negates the authority of faith.
  • Third, Episcopal revisionism severs the continuity of faith.
  • Fourth, Episcopal revisionism destroys the credibility of faith.
  • Fifth, Episcopal revisionism obliterates the very identity of faith.
Thus continues the Protest of the endless Reformation, hiving off, yet once again, to preserve a "Reformed" faith. How valiant; yet how sad.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dutch Dominicans gone wild

Sandro Magister, "In Holland, They're Inventing Their Own Mass – Copyrighted by the Dominicans" (www.chiesa, October 3, 2007), reports:
The experimentation is already underway. In place of the priest are men and women selected by the faithful. And all together pronounce the words of consecration, which are varied as desired. In the view of the Dutch Dominicans, this is what Vatican Council II wanted.

Monday, October 01, 2007

'The Reform of the Reform' Is Going Nowhere -- At Least Not Yet

by Dale Vree

We are convinced that the Tridentine Latin Mass is superior to the new vernacular Mass. Martin Mosebach, in his new book, The Heresy of Formlessness, writes that the New Mass is generally formless: no sanctus bells, no incense, no Gregorian chant, no chapel veils, etc. His book is personal. His liturgical stories go back and forth through the centuries. It's meant for the liturgist. (A more practical book is The Reform of the Roman Liturgy by Msgr. Klaus Gamber (Roman Catholic Books).

Mosebach's book is published by Ignatius Press -- let's give credit where it's due. It has a Foreword by the Editor-in-Chief of Ignatius Press, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., who says: "There has been a lively debate...between those who, like Mosebach, advocate a return to the preconciliar liturgy [the Tridentine Latin Mass] and those who, like myself, the Adoremus Society [which advocates the "reform of the reform" for the New Mass], and -- I think I can assert this with confidence -- Pope Benedict XVI, advocate a rereading and restructuring of the liturgical renewal intended by the Second Vatican Council...." But there is no indication that Pope Benedict, as yet, is "advocating a rereading and restructuring of the liturgical renewal." Take it from Russell Shaw (Our Sunday Visitor, June 24): "Correcting the mistakes and abuses [in the new vernacular Mass].... Pope Benedict often has expressed concern relating to the Novus Ordo (New Order) Mass, but has left it alone so far."

In Andrew Rabel's interview with Fr. Fessio (Inside the Vatican, Aug.-Sept. 2006), Rabel poses this question: "In the past year, particularly with the Synod on the Eucharist, and the imminent publication of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, a lot of attention and discussion has been given to the area of liturgy.... Is this a fruition of the ideals you set forth when you started Adoremus, and what are we in fact likely to see happen in this very vexed area?" Fr. Fessio answers: "I cannot believe that he [the Pope] will not take steps to move in the direction of a real renewal of the liturgy.... I believe this post-synodal exhortation will be a significant document."

Pope Benedict's post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis ("The Sacrament of Charity"), issued on March 13, 2007, is a non-binding resolution for the new vernacular Mass. According to The Catholic World Report (May), whose Publisher is Fr. Fessio, Sacramentum Caritatis is "not a liturgical directive" and "did not propose any concrete liturgical reforms." It will have no real effect. So much for Fr. Fessio's belief that it would be "a real renewal of the liturgy."

Fr. Fessio, in his Foreword in Mosebach's book, says: "It is possible to make this profound reality [the reform of the reform] visible by celebrating the Novus Ordo Mass in ways that make the continuity with tradition much more obvious. The Novus Ordo permits that Mass be celebrated with all its parts, or the canon and ordinary parts, in Latin. It permits Mass to be celebrated ad orientem (facing the Lord)...incense may be used and sacred polyphony sung; altar boys, bells, paten, communion rails where people may kneel if they choose.... [All this is] permitted, but too rarely experienced. [Yes, indeed.] We at Ignatius Press are proponents of the reform of the reform, not of the restoration of the preconciliar form of the liturgy [the Tridentine Latin Mass]."

In Brian Mershon's interview with Fr. Fessio (The Wanderer, Dec. 7, 2006), Mershon poses this question: "Please clarify for our readers your personal view on the Traditional Latin Mass. Would you offer it if it is freed up by the Pope [with the publication of a motu proprio]...?" Fr. Fessio answers: "I don't like calling it the ‘Traditional Latin Mass' because I think the way I celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass is traditional. I've been thinking about trying to introduce a new label: the Vetus [Old] Ordo. I have objections to both the Novus Ordo and the Vetus Ordo as they are at present.... So I have always preferred the lonely moderate position of celebrating the Novus Ordo in the most traditional manner." The New Order Mass has been around for some 38 years. The Traditional Mass has been around for some 1,500 years, and is still going on. It goes without saying that what is rightly designated as "New Order" cannot be properly called "traditional." That's what's known as an oxymoron.

In Mershon's interview, Fr. Fessio also says: "Unfortunately for traditionalists.... those who love tradition [including the Tridentine Rite] are at a disadvantage." Really? The motu proprio (liberating the Tridentine Rite) is a fact. Fr. Fessio was flaunting his friendship with Pope Benedict (see our New Oxford Note, Jul.-Aug. 2005, pp. 13-14, 16). Fr. Fessio's "reform of the reform" has been disregarded thus far by Benedict. Fessio's "lonely moderate position" has been neglected -- apparently, too few are asking for it.

In Andrew Rabel's interview with Fr. Fessio (Inside the Vatican, Aug.-Sept. 2006), Rabel asks: "Are we likely to see a universal indult [motu proprio] granted to the celebration of the Tridentine liturgy...?" Fr. Fessio answers: "That is not an area that has been in the forefront of Pope Benedict's writings.... But now after it has been prohibited for so many years, I am not sure what the Holy Father will do."

Pope Benedict's motu proprio (written by the Pope on his own initiative and addressed to the entire Church) was issued on July 7, 2007, freeing up the Tridentine Latin Mass, allowing it to be celebrated by parish priests without permission from their bishop. We are overjoyed. In fact, on Sunday, July 8, at the indult Tridentine Latin Mass at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland, Calif., after the Mass we sang the Te Deum (Hymn of Thanksgiving), and the church was packed -- as it usually is.

In Pope Benedict's letter to bishops that accompanied his motu proprio, he says that "it was presumed that requests" for the Tridentine Rite "would be limited to the older generation," but "it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them."

Perhaps the "reform of the reform" will be instituted. But as of now, the "reform of the reform" is going nowhere.

[Dale Vree is Editor of the New Oxford Review. The present article, "'The Reform of the Reform' Is Going Nowhere -- At Least Not Yet," was originally published as an editorial in the New Oxford Review (September 2007), pp. 14-16, and is reproduced her by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]