Skip to comments.Is the SSPX right about the liturgy?
Posted on 10/30/2009 11:50:51 PM PDT by narses
Following their exchange in July, author Moyra Doorly and Aidan Nichols discuss the merits of post-Vatican II liturgical reform
Dear Fr Aidan,
In your kind reply to my first letter you made the point that I was drawing "unnecessarily sharp" contrasts between a theology of "propitiation and supplication" on one hand, and teachings on the "fruits of Communion" on the other. But what I was trying to demonstrate is that the pre-Conciliar sources give ample teaching on both, whereas the documents of Vatican II ignore the theology of propitiation and supplication.
Now, to me this represents a doctrinal discontinuity of the first order, and may explain my long-held suspicion that the Church since Vatican II seems intent on bypassing Golgotha and heading straight for Pentecost. And yet we are told repeatedly that no such discontinuity exists. What's more, even the suggestion that it might will be met from many quarters with threats of exile in the gulag along with the Society of St Pius X which holds the view, as expressed in the November 2006 newsletter of their Holy Cross Seminary, Australia, that "the New Mass is a grave danger to the Catholic Faith... it lacks the integral profession of Faith that is essential to the Sacred Liturgy".
It may be possible to explain the contrast between the appearances of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms - how they look, sound, and are experienced - by pointing to the Council's desire for the active participation of the laity as announced by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL) (para 14): "In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy the full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else." But then another discontinuity becomes apparent, since according to Pope Pius XII's 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei (paras 23, 24): "The Worship rendered by the Church to God must be, in its entirety, interior as well as exterior... But the chief element of divine worship must be interior."
Alternatively, the finger may be pointed at over-enthusiastic modernisers who have taken the liturgy in directions previously undreamed of. But according to the CSL (para 37): "Even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid conformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community." And (para 40): "In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed."
What puzzles me is that, despite the extent of the current crisis in the Church, no one seems prepared to question Vatican II itself. Instead, the insistence is upon liturgical changes not mandated by the Council and less than adequate catechetics. Although defined as pastoral and not dogmatic, Vatican II is considered to be beyond criticism.
Except by the SSPX, whose founder Archbishop Lefebvre wrote in A Bishop Speaks: Writings and Addresses 1963-1976 (Angelus Press): "The sacrifice of the Mass is the heart, the soul, and the mystical wellspring of the Church... Do not the ills of the Church, the weakening of faith, the dwindling number of vocations, the destruction of religious communities... spring from the doing away with altars and their replacement by the tables of the Eucharistic meal?"
Could it possibly be that the Council sidelined certain teachings in order to achieve the aim, professed in the CSL (para 4), that the liturgy be revised "to meet present-day circumstances and needs"? Is this why we never hear the traditional teaching that while Christ redeemed the human race, salvation requires the sacrifice of the altar for the remission of the sins we daily commit and the individual's cooperation with grace? And why the impression now given is that Christ's death on the Cross was a once and for all sacrifice by which all are saved, and that the Eucharist is spiritual food for those guaranteed a place in heaven through faith? Is this easier, softer way intended to be more in tune with the modern age which exalts man and rejects sacrifice?
Could it be that the reforms inspired by the documents of Vatican II have resulted in a liturgy which is inherently incapable of expressing the true sacrificial character of the Mass? If I am hammering a point previously made, here is Archbishop Lefebvre again: "There is no longer a Catholic Church if there is no longer a sacrifice of the Mass. There is no longer a Catholic Church if there is no longer a priest endowed with a character for the offering of the holy sacrifice."
At any rate, if the holy sacrifice of the Mass has become a memorial meal, a fraternal banquet, a community gathering, then many features of the reformed liturgy are explained. It is natural at a memorial meal for the priest to face the people who "gather round" an altar which has become a table. It makes sense that the people take an active part in simplified rites celebrated in the vernacular.
Although not actually mandating Mass facing the people, the CSL (para 128) opened the door for it by announcing the abolition of laws governing the design of churches, the shape and construction of altars and the placing of the tabernacle "which seem less suited to the reformed liturgy". Similarly, while permitting the vernacular with the proviso that "care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them", the CSL (para 54) also anticipated situations in which "a more extended use of the vernacular in the Mass seems desirable".
In this context, the scope given for liturgical variations and innovations also seems natural, although this too represents a discontinuity according to the series "SiSi NoNo" published in the SSPX's Angelus magazine, March 2003, which claims that "Vatican II promoted the adaptation of worship to secular culture, to the different traditions and temperaments of people, to their language, music, and art, through creativity and liturgical experimentation and through simplification of the rite itself. This was against the constant teaching of the Magisterium according to which it was the peoples' cultures that must adapt to the exigencies of the Catholic rite, with nothing ever having been conceded to creativity or experimentation or to any idea of men's temperaments in any given time in history."
A proposal currently gaining ground is that the Ordinary Form be re-sacralised, implying that the liturgical tendencies of the past 40 years are a matter of appearances only. But is the Ordinary Form a true sacrificial rite? Not according to the SSPX study The Problem of the Liturgical Reform, which claims that the reforms have diminished the traditional link between the Mass and the Cross in favour of the Last Supper.
To this end, the traditional Prayers at the Foot of the Altar have been replaced with simple Introductory Rites. The traditional Offertory with its unstinting emphasis on propitiatory sacrifice has become the Presentation of the Gifts which emphasises the peoples' offering of bread and wine which will become "the bread of life" and "our spiritual drink". The Last Gospel has been dropped, as have the traditional anthems to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Furthermore, the presence of Christ in Scripture is made equivalent to His True Presence on the altar. For example the CSL (para 48) states that the people, "should be instructed by God's word, and be nourished at the table of the Lord's Body". And that the people (para 106), "should listen to the word of God and take part in the Eucharist". So marked is the emphasis on Scripture in the Ordinary Form, that the Liturgy of the Eucharist can sometimes seem like an adjunct to the main proceedings, with every prayer spoken out loud contributing to the relentless din of amplified voices.
The study also claims that the gestures showing the respect intrinsic to a truly sacrificial rite have also been reduced in number or suppressed. For example, "of the 14 genuflections in the traditional missal, three alone have been kept". And, "of the 26 signs of the cross over the oblations in the canon of the traditional missal, one alone remains in each of the Eucharistic prayers". And so on.
Is it enough, then, to re-sacralise the Ordinary Form, to adjust its appearance without addressing its underlying form and structure as a memorial meal? Should it not, instead, be re-sacrificialised? Or in the words of Archbishop Lefebvre: "Perhaps there has been too much talk of the Eucharist, Communion, and not enough of the sacrifice of the Mass. I believe we should go back to the fundamental ideas, to that fundamental idea which has been that of the whole tradition of the Church, the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the heart of the Church. Communion is but the fruit, the fruit of the sacrifice."
Thank you for your recent letter, in which you ask for further clarification about the sacrificial nature of the Mass and add some pointed remarks about certain weaknesses in the Rite of Paul VI, the Eucharistic Liturgy most of us in the West experience weekly or even daily - with a familiarity which justifies that rather banal expression the "Ordinary Form". (Not that, to normal users of English, "Extraordinary" sounds any better!) You are not a disloyal Catholic by dint of holding that a number of the measures the Council Fathers called for by way of liturgical revision offended against prudence. Naturally, a judgment of that kind is easier to make with the benefit of hindsight, but warning lights should surely have flashed when a blank cheque was offered to national episcopal conferences and the Roman dicasteries to make radical changes in the name of cultural adaptation in Sacrosanctum Concilium 40 - though the word "radical", I hasten to add, appears only in English translation, the Latin having "deeper and more difficult". Prudential judgments about what practical steps to take so as best to realise goals indicated by the teaching of the Church about faith and morals are not covered, unfortunately, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
Again, you are not a "dissenter" simply by criticising incomplete or unbalanced formulations in the language of the Conciliar texts. That is wholly different from the claim that the Council fathers formally committed the Church to doctrinal error.
And that brings me to the substance of your remarks. Reading through the sections of the Liturgy Constitution that concern the Mass, I am inclined to agree with you that an opportunity was missed to spell out the "ends" - the purposes - of the Mass considered as Sacrifice. Not that Sacrosanctum Concilium fails to make plain the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. In language which would be anathema to the Protestant Reformers it declares flatly that "our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood ... in order to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again" (para 47), and adds a few sentences later that "offering the Immaculate Victim... [Christ's faithful] should learn to offer themselves too" (para 48). I can hardly underline too strongly how distasteful these expressions are to well-informed and committed Lutherans, Calvinists, and Evangelicals generally. Nevertheless, more could have been said along the lines that you (and the Society of St Pius X) desiderate.
For some centuries it has been the common teaching of theologians, widely publicised in catechisms, that the Mass, viewed as Sacrifice, has a quartet of purposes. It is a Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, propitiation and supplication. The grounds for making this claim are that these are the very aims of our Lord's own giving of himself at the first Easter. His death was an offering whereby he glorified the Father (thanksgiving and praise) in such a way as to secure pardon (propitiation) and help (supplication) for humankind. Precisely because the Mass-Sacrifice is, as Vatican II maintains, the perpetuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross, it can have no other ends than had the act performed on the Tree.
Appreciating that fact should discourage us from racing over what we might consider the "soft" and Protestantism-compatible theme of praise and thanksgiving in order to get as quickly as possible to the 'tough' and more distinctively Tridentine-sounding motifs of propitiation and supplication. Our doctrine is not that the Holy Eucharist is a "sacrifice of praise" in some vague sense equally applicable to any other worshipping activity and so perfectly acceptable to Reformation Christians. The Mass is a "sacrifice of praise" first and foremost in the sense in which Calvary was and because Calvary was.
A good theology will seek to inter-relate the four ends of the Mass, as likewise the ends of the Atonement, in an integrated doctrine, and I doubt if a better one can be found than that for which the Sacrifice of the Lord is a "latreutic" Sacrifice, a Sacrifice of adoration in which the Son, invested with our nature, glorifies the Father in the Holy Spirit. It is through being its own unique offering of praise and thanksgiving, in the unmeasured donation of his dying, that the Son's Oblation as man wins for the human race super-abundant pardon and help. The proof that a theology of glorification provides the best way to inter-relate the ends of the Mass lies in the nature of the pardon and help we are to receive through the offering of this Sacrifice. We are to become not just reconciled sinners, in receipt of spiritual (and sometimes temporal) assistance. More than that, we are to become those who, in the words of the Vulgate translation of the Letter to the Ephesians (1:12) live for "the praise of his glory".
I would judge, Moyra, that the subject of the Mass as a propitiatory Sacrifice is your principal concern. Even for "post-Conciliar" Catholics, the Mass as a Sacrifice of supplication is not so difficult an idea. Among those assisting at the rite of Paul VI, not many worshippers can be unaware that in the Holy Eucharist petition is made, in our Redeemer's name, for the bestowal of spiritual and temporal good - though, I would emphasise, such "supplication" should always be understood in a Calvary-oriented way, as mercies flowing from the Throne of grace established on the Cross.
Propitiation, however, is a different kettle of fish. Your anxiety is that, in the reformed rite, insufficient attention is paid to our need for remission of sins - sins that, rightly, have offended God's burning justice - through, precisely, the offering of this Sacrifice.
As a well-instructed Catholic, you'll know that the chief sacramental means provided for the forgiveness of sins are the Sacrament of Baptism for original sin as well as the personal sins of adults approaching Christian initiation, and, for post-baptismal sin, the Sacrament of Penance.
Extra-sacramentally, sin can only be given through perfect contrition - sorrow for sin for the sake of the sheer loveability of God. When we say the Mass is a Sacrifice of propitiation we are not saying that the offering of the Mass forgives mortal (grave) sin directly, though we may hold that a good Communion covers minor slackenings (venial sins) in the Christian life. We are saying that the Holy Sacrifice wins for us - and for all for whom it is offered, including, most especially indeed, the souls in Purgatory - those graces which render repentance, contrition, full conversion, not only possible but even easy. It would take a detailed analysis of the Proper prayers of the Missal of Paul VI to justify the claim, but my estimate is you would find that expectation represented there, though by no means as insistently as in the earlier history of the rites.
That said, I would agree with you that we need to "re-sacrificialise", in your invented but useful word, our common or garden usage of the rite of Paul VI - if not, in some respects, the rite itself. But to my mind the single greatest contribution we can make to that end is to press - judiciously and with respect - for the celebration of the Mass versus orientem, the Liturgy "turned towards the Lord". The celebrant stands ministerially in the place of Christ the High Priest. Appropriately, since our Great High Priest is Mediator between God and men, the Church's priest, during the Liturgy of the Sacrifice - after, that is, the litany-like moment of the Bidding Prayers - turns at key moments to the body of the faithful, engaging their response ("active" participation means engaged participation, not jumping up and down) to the sacred action of which he is protagonist. Essentially, however, in the celebration of the Sacrifice the ministerial priest is turned - always in spiritual attitude if, in our current practice, seldom in empirical fact - not to face the people but, with the beloved Son, to face the Father, to whom the Oblation of praise and thanksgiving, propitiation and supplication is addressed. Your desire for a clearer indication of the change in level as we move from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrifice would be well met by the change of direction whereby the priest at that shift in gear turns from facing the people to facing the Father. A strengthening of the Offertory rite would appropriately accompany that change.
Your other complaints I find rather a mixed bag. The suppression of the multiple signs of the Cross is a loss for the personal piety of the celebrant rather than the people to whom - with an oriented Liturgy - they would not be so apparent. I personally regret the suppression of the Last Gospel because I don't think people can hear often enough the Johannine Prologue which is almost always the form that Gospel takes (though you became a Catholic too late to witness the disedifying scurrying out of church by half the parish congregation as it was read). I don't think there has been any significant reduction in Marian references from one Missal to the other, for the simple reason that the Roman Liturgy, unlike the Byzantine, has always been sparing of reference to the Mother of God except on her feasts and commemorations.
Not that, dear Moyra, I wish to make light of your plea. All is not well in our worship, and you are right to be concerned. Concerned - but not alarmist. This or that version of the Church's official worship may have, compared with some other, ritual deficiencies which should be rectified as soon as the competent authority is convinced of the case. Meanwhile, we can rest assured that where the Holy Spirit does guide the Church is in ensuring that in her approach to the mystery of Christ she can never nullify the stream of grace not only continually but continuously poured from his opened Heart.
Yours very sincerely
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Is this relevant to the issue? The current Mass has nothing to do with Vatican II. Vatican II has a document on liturgy, but it was not used in the creation of the Ordinary Form.
An interesting correspondence. I think she’s right on a number of issues, and I’m not quite sure that I agree with Fr Nichols that the current form of the mass can be “resacrificialized.” It can definitely be improved, however, and having the celebrant face the liturgical east would certainly help.
But I think there are structural deficiencies that need attention and that the ideal would really be the pre-Vatican II mass - but mostly in the vernacular and with a few minor liturgical “clean ups.”
While it is true that Vatican II did not mandate the new mass, and that most of the Council fathers never saw it coming, I think the Novus Ordo was an attempt to fundamentally alter not only the Catholic liturgy, but Catholic theology. I think the evil bishops who were behind this were at least partially successful but that this Pope and many people around him are trying to reclaim the liturgy and theology of the Church before it is too late.
“I think the Novus Ordo was an attempt to fundamentally alter not only the Catholic liturgy, but Catholic theology.”
I think you are absolutely correct, L. One of the favorite theological aphorisms of Orthodoxy is +Prosper of Aquitaine’s “lex orandi, lex credendi.” As I understand it, it is among the most basic tenets of Latin liturgical theology. It should therefore be plain to anyone familiar with the pre 1962 “High” Mass and what goes on on Sundays in Latin Rite NO masses that the bishops who developed or allowed to be developed the latter were indeed attempting to teach a “new gospel”, the results of which are there for all to see.
You may remember that +Bartholomew pointedly remarked on the importance of the ancient liturgies of The Church in his sermon on the Feast of +Andrew at the Phanar when +BXVI was visiting in 2006. No doubt those remarks were heard loud and clear by the Pope and his hierarchial entourage and I agree that +BXVI is attempting to turn this back, but the theology engendered by the NO mass still infects the Latin Church; its bishops in some places still preside over “liturgies” more reminiscent of the temple ceremonies of my pagan ancestors than a Divine Liturgy of The Church or in prayer barns devoid of sacred art or icons but replete with “banner art”, or at “eucharists” which would be more familiar to those 16th-17th century Puritan ancestors of mine than to my Greek or Irish grandparents.
L, the People of God, the laity of the Latin Church, cannot leave the fixing of this mess to your hierarchs. The Liturgy, the “leitourgia” is the “work of the people”, not that of the hierarchs. It is your collective responsibility to repair what has been damaged and then faithfully preserve a restored liturgical “orthopraxia” so that it passes on inviolate to succeeding generations.
What about the Spaceship architecture for cathedral and parish buildings?
As a result, mass attendance is a shadow of what it was. Apparently, many agree with Flannery O'Connor who said Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.
***You may remember that +Bartholomew pointedly remarked on the importance of the ancient liturgies of The Church in his sermon on the Feast of +Andrew at the Phanar when +BXVI was visiting in 2006. No doubt those remarks were heard loud and clear by the Pope and his hierarchial entourage and I agree that +BXVI is attempting to turn this back, but the theology engendered by the NO mass still infects the Latin Church; its bishops in some places still preside over liturgies more reminiscent of the temple ceremonies of my pagan ancestors than a Divine Liturgy of The Church or in prayer barns devoid of sacred art or icons but replete with banner art, or at eucharists which would be more familiar to those 16th-17th century Puritan ancestors of mine than to my Greek or Irish grandparents.***
Agreed, 100%. The infection is still well placed, but shrinking.
***L, the People of God, the laity of the Latin Church, cannot leave the fixing of this mess to your hierarchs. The Liturgy, the leitourgia is the work of the people, not that of the hierarchs. It is your collective responsibility to repair what has been damaged and then faithfully preserve a restored liturgical orthopraxia so that it passes on inviolate to succeeding generations.***
It’s irritating sometimes that when it comes to matters like this you are almost always right. Just so ya know, Ray...
Forgive the screwy formatting of the following. It is taken from a mass e-mail from the editor of Inside The Vatican, Robert Moynighan.
It concerns the behind the scenes story of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform. The characters involved are the famous liturgist Fr. Louis Bouyer and Paul VI. This is a bit removed, but it is perhaps useful.
Letter from a Reader about the Liturgy
I just received this letter from a reader:Dear Dr. Moynihan,
These newsflashes are really informative and important for many of us to help us understand what is going on in Roma.
Given some of the past (and somewhat unfinished) newsflashes, I was wondering if you had seen this, from Fr. Anthony Chadwick (TAC priest in France) on his Civitas Dei web site http://pagesperso-orange.fr/civitas.dei/reflections10.09.htm, translating from a French traditionalist email group:
(Note: here follows the text from the web site; the incident occurred in about 1974.)
October 3rdSainte Thérèse de lEnfant Jésus (Roman calendar and a local Saint here in Normandy)...
Father Louis Bouyer (photo): I wrote to the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, to tender my resignation as member of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform. The Holy Father sent for me at once (and the following conversation ensued):
Paul VI: Father, you are an unquestionable and unquestioned authority by your deep knowledge of the Churchs liturgy and Tradition, and a specialist in this field. I do not understand why you have sent me your resignation, whilst your presence, is more than precious, it is indispensable!
Father Bouyer: Most Holy Father, if I am a specialist in this field, I tell you very simply that I resign because I do not agree with the reforms you are imposing! Why do you take no notice of the remarks we send you, and why do you do the opposite?
Paul VI: But I dont understand: Im not imposing anything. I have never imposed anything in this field. I have complete trust in your competence and your propositions. It is you who are sending me proposals. When Fr. Bugnini comes to see me, he says: "Here is what the experts are asking for." And as you are an expert in this matter, I accept your judgement.
Father Bouyer: And meanwhile, when we have studied a question, and have chosen what we can propose to you, in conscience, Father Bugnini took our text, and, then said to us that, having consulted you: "The Holy Father wants you to introduce these changes into the liturgy." And since I dont agree with your propositions, because they break with the Tradition of the Church, then I tender my resignation.
Paul VI: But not at all, Father, believe me, Father Bugnini tells me exactly the contrary: I have never refused a single one of your proposals. Father Bugnini came to find me and said: "The experts of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform asked for this and that". And since I am not a liturgical specialist, I tell you again, I have always accepted your judgement. I never said that to Monsignor Bugnini. I was deceived. Father Bugnini deceived me and deceived you.
Father Bouyer: That is, my dear friends, how the liturgical reform was done!
(The letter to me then continues):
Of course, this plays into the I think unfinished story you were recounting about Cardinal Gagnons investigation, and the aftermath. I must add that I saw on another traditionalist list group a few years back the comment from Prof. Luc Perrin (Strasbourg) that he himself had a typescript copy of Fr. Bouyers memoirs, which could not then be published due to family opposition or something of the sort, but that they contained bombshells
You have to know that Paul VI was perhaps overly trusting.