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Ever since the publication of Traditionis Custodes, discussions, debates and outright arguments have erupted over the two forms of the Latin Rite of the Mass: The Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and the Novus Ordo Missae (NOM). Compounding the issue, articles are now being published suggesting that the TLM should be done away with altogether.
On November 23, just a little over a month ago, The Church Life Journal of Notre Dame University (I know, don’t get me started) published an article written by three theologians – John Cavadini, Mary Healy, and Fr. Thomas Wineandy – titled, “Theological and Pastoral Concerns with the Tridentine Mass Movement.”
The article opens with a criticism of arguments made by Fr. Peter Kwasniewski in his book, “Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius & Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass.” The article states the following:
“Throughout the book, he [Kwasniewski] speaks disparagingly of the reformed Mass, advising adherents of the traditional liturgy to avoid the Novus Ordo:
‘If at all possible, we should avoid participating in a form of prayer that deprives the Lord of the reverence that is due to Him. The Novus Ordo systematically does this by having removed hundreds of ways in which the Church showed her profound reverence for the Word of God and the holy mysteries of Christ.’
Such critiques presume that the reformed rite must be an occasion of significant irreverence; there is little appreciation of the many celebrations of the reformed liturgy with profound reverence, feeding the souls of countless members of the faithful in parishes throughout the world. Across the continent of Africa, for example, celebrations of the Mass that are both vibrant and reverent attract thousands of people to the Church. Critiques such as this also imply a rejection of the Council and its subsequent magisterial reception, which is to set oneself up as an alternative magisterium.”
I would have expected emotive and subjectively qualitative statements to be expressed by a college theology student, but not by accomplished theologians.
Look at the word choice by the authors: “profound reverence, feeding the souls …” “Celebrations of the Mass that are both vibrant and reverent attract thousands of people to the Church”
Dr. Kwasniewski critiqued the NOM by addressing the reverent prayers that were removed. This was not an appeal to emotion nor was it a statement of quality based upon preference. It was an observation that reverence was dimmed because due reverence was removed. That’s just math. If the proper way to approach a king is to genuflect on the left knee until he invites you to rise, then not to do such a thing is to diminish the reverence due to him. It’s a simple observation.
But the response by the authors is to appeal to an unqualified statement of vibrancy and reverence that is entirely subjective. Furthermore, the authors appeal to an unsubstantiated number of Mass attendees in Africa. I’ve been to both Kenya and Nigeria, and I attended Masses in both locations. I can say that the faithful Catholics I met there are sincere and in love with the faith. I can also say that the Mass attendance in the Cathedrals I went to did not indicate “profound reverence” or a vibrancy “attracting thousands of people to the Church.” Further corroborating this, my good friend George Neumayr is currently in the Ivory Coast. He posted a video he took inside the Notre Dame Basilica saying that the entire structure was designed to fill with 200,000 people, but daily Mass attendance is only around 70.
The point is that an appeal to anecdotal evidence with emotionally charged descriptions do not make an argument, and yet, that is what the authors of this article appealed to.
And then, the authors said this:
“But those who remember know that generally, hardly anyone, including priests, thought in terms of participation, transcendent mystery, majestic rubrics, and reverential silence. Such may have been present to a degree because of the very nature of the Eucharist, but these aspects did not realize their full potential. The Mass had become very routinized and in many instances almost mechanically celebrated.”
How can these authors say “hardly anyone” thought in terms of participation, etc? According to whom? Was there a poll taken? Did they have exit surveys as Mass attendees were headed out to the parking lot on their way home from Church? Did the dioceses hold interviews with parishioners? How can anyone quantify the claim that “hardly anyone” thought in these terms?
But more to the point, supposing it’s true, whose fault is that? Is that a suggestion that there was something wrong with the form of the Mass, or more likely, that there was something wrong with the instructions from the clergy and the people to whom instruction was to be given?
And then this line: “The Mass had become very routinized and in many instances almost mechanically celebrated.”
I’ve seen this stated before by those justifying the transformation of the Mass, but what no one will ever address is how ANYONE can claim this is the case! Who said the Mass was “routinized” or “mechanically celebrated”? If someone makes this charge, then it is incumbent upon the accuser to name the offender. In law there is the writ of Habeas Corpus, which loosely translated means “show us the body.” You can’t just make a charge and assume guilt, and yet, that’s precisely what these authors and so many others are doing.
But supposing there are cases where this may have been true, you don’t blame the form for the bad actions of the participants.
Does someone blame the art of ballet because some performers don’t put much heart in their performances, or because those attending the ballet are bored? Do we blame all of opera because some performers can’t sing or because those watching don’t understand what it’s about? Of course not! Rather, you do the best you can to hire the best performers who devote their lives to the best possible performance they can give, and you educate the audience as best as possible so they can enjoy the performance to the best of their abilities.
But even the word choice of the authors is appalling in and of itself. They suggest that the Mass had become “routinized.” Considering the fact that the Mass has very strict rubrics, it is, by its very nature, routine. Even the NOM is routine – and if it wasn’t it would be chaos. And what does “mechanically celebrated” mean? How can this even be quantified? Does it mean that the priest wasn’t emotive and expressive enough? Does it mean that those attending Mass weren’t being emotionally engaged? Is that even a theological concern?
The very charge that the Mass had become routine is a qualitative charge without any substance. It’s a meaningless accusation!
Following this article is one published yesterday at the Pope Francis apologist site “Where Peter Is.” The article is titled, “Is it Time for the TLM to Go Away?” The very first paragraph of the article is all you need to read:
“Answering the holy pontiff’s call to arms, the fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council made it clear in Sacrosanctum Concilium (by no accident the first document produced by the council) that the liturgy is to be adapted “more suitably to the needs of our own times” because it is “the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (§§1–2). To borrow the recent words of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “The Council Fathers perceived the urgent need for a reform so that the truth of the Faith as celebrated might appear ever more in all its beauty”
Again, notice the subjective and unsubstantiated charges:
“the liturgy is to be adapted ‘more suitably to the needs of our own times’” and that there was an “urgent need for a reform so that the truth of the Faith as celebrated might appear ever more in all its beauty.”
In the first place, this suggests that the liturgy was NOT timeless, and was somehow ill-suited “to the needs of our own times.” Really? It also suggests that the “truth of the Faith as celebrated” was somehow lacking in making it apparent “in all its beauty.”
The article is very long and makes an argument that the TLM should be done away with, but it starts from a false premise and never looks back, and that premise is the same unsubstantiated premise given in the very first paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) itself.
The thing is, all of these arguments begin with the existence of two forms of the same rite (NO and TLM) and debate whether only one or both should exist. But none of the discussions actually ask the big question that needs to be discussed, which is this:
“Was there sufficient reason and justification for changing the Mass at all?”
Going back to all of the arguments I’ve mentioned in this article, you can see that there is a broad range of assumptions and given premises without substance, and all of them are contained in the very first paragraph of SC, which says:
“This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.” (emphasis added)
So, there are four distinct reasons provided at the beginning of the document as to why the Mass needed to be changed, and these reasons are repeated in various ways throughout. The first given reason for changing the Mass is:
- “To impart an ever-increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful.”
In the first place, this assumes that there is something wrong with the form of the Mass and not the participants. Secondly, there is no clear definition of what “ever-increasing vigor” even means. But assuming it means an increase in living the Catholic Faith, then objectively speaking, this is a failure. Ever since the introduction of the NOM, all the markers of a healthy flock have dropped precipitously. Mass attendance is down. Belief in the true presence is down. Respectful attire at Mass is almost nonexistent. Marriages are down. Vocations are down. Baptisms, first communions, and confirmations are all way down.
There is no objective marker that shows any kind of improvement in the Christian life of the faithful since the introduction of the NOM. Not one. But what we do see is an increase in the use of birth control, the commission and support for abortion, all manner of sexual perversions, the adoption of Marxist ideologies, open acceptance of heresy and the comingling of pagan practices with the liturgy.
Now, I can already hear the defenders of the NOM screaming, “It’s not the fault of the Mass that people are doing these things.” And to this, I say, “if these matters cannot be blamed on the form of the Mass, then neither can a perceived lack of vigor be applied to the TLM.” In short, reason number 1 is utterly refuted and cannot be used as justification for monkeying with the form of the Mass.
- “to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change”
This is entirely subjective. There is no objectivity to be had here at all. What are those needs? How are they defined? You won’t find a definition of the “needs of our own times” in this document or anywhere else. Furthermore, what could the needs of one time be (liturgically speaking) that did not exist at other times? Who defined those needs? Who carefully measured, quantified, and catalogued those needs? What are they?
It’s almost as if this is a throw-away line that everyone just accepted as a given. But to make it the basis for the change of something so integral to the life of all Catholics, it’s WAY too important a claim to just “accept.” If we don’t even know what these “needs” are, then how can we POSSIBLY understand the changes that were imposed? It’s an arbitrary reason thrown out as a catch-all excuse for making whatever desired changes revisionists wanted to make. And that’s a SERIOUS problem!
- “to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ.”
This is a statement that we should make the Catholic Mass more like a Protestant service in order to attract Protestants. That’s a TERRIBLE reason for changing the Mass for two simple reasons. 1) If Protestants don’t observe much difference between their service and the Mass, then there’s nothing to convert to. It renders the Mass to one service among many, making it a matter of preference and not a matter of objective worship. “But, but, but,” I hear the NOM defenders say, “But, the protestants will come because the NO Mass has the Eucharist and their prayers services don’t.” You don’t say! Well, guess what? The same is true for the TLM, which makes this an argument NOT about the form of the Mass, but about catechesis and apologetics. 2) For Catholics who wish to remain Catholic, why should they be made to feel like they are going to a Protestant service? And believe me – MANY Catholics at the time of the change felt that way. My uncle was one of them.
This may sound callous, but the first duty of the Church is to the faithful, not to non-believers. A parent doesn’t toss out their children’s clothes and dress them in burlap bags because the other neighborhood kids are wearing burlap. Or … a parent doesn’t stop feeding their kids home-cooked meals and begin giving them microwaveable TV dinners because the neighborhood kids don’t have home cooked meals.
Similarly, the Church ought not change the liturgy to be more like the services of non-believers. All this does is make the Church like the rest of the world and cause resentment among the faithful – just as changing the clothing and meals a parent gives to kids makes them resentful.
- “to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church.”
There’s no other way to put this other than to say that this reason expresses a desire to make the Church more worldly and more tolerant of false ideals. This necessarily means removing anything which may be a stumbling block, which is why so many elements of the Mass were removed. If the desire is to call others into the Church, then you don’t change the Mass, you change the conversation AROUND the Mass. You find as many ways of discussing the Faith and the Mass and the Sacraments as you can. Outsiders aren’t attending the Mass, so changing things won’t affect them. What will bring them in is using convincing arguments and becoming living examples of Christian charity to them. And when they DO finally come into a church because of the examples, they will desire what the Church has to offer and the form won’t matter.
The bottom line is this: there is not a single good reason given in Sacrosanctum Concilium for changing the Mass. Not one.
The debate for far too long has been focused on whether the two forms can co-exist. My question has always been – “Why were the changes ever made to begin with?” Unless and until that question is resolved; the other question will always start with a false premise.