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The Proto-History of the Roman Liturgical Reform Dr Geoffrey Hull

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The Proto-History of the Roman Liturgical Reform

Dr Geoffrey Hull

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Traditionalist objections to the Roman liturgical reform of 1969 were, until very recently, not taken at all seriously by most thinking Catholics who prided themselves on the orthodoxy of their faith and religious practice. Conservative Catholics would answer the traditionalist charge that the Novus Ordo Missæ of Paul VI was partly or largely Protestant in spirit by pointing out that the new Mass rite followed very closely the form of the eucharistic liturgy used in the early Roman Church up until the ninth century. In any case, they argued, the Council had explicitly ordered a return to the ancient Roman Mass in recommending that "elements... which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the earlier norm of the holy Fathers", and. these reformed rites were to be "distinguished by a noble simplcity », « short, clear and free from useless repetitions". 1 Like the Mass of the primitive Church, the new service was brief and sober, having been stripped of the ornate Gallican additions of the late Middle Ages. And certainly its more informed opponents had to concede that the rite of Paul VI, whatever its omissions and additions, retained all the essential elements of the Catholic Mass. Conservative apologists of the reform could add that even if the new rite was arguably a less forceful statement of Catholic eucharistic teaching than the old one, any such inadequacies were amply compensated by the consistently orthodox statements of recent Popes on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, for example Paul VI’s Mysterium Fidei of 1965, his Credo of the People of God of 1968, and John-Paul II’s Inaestimabile Donum of 1984.

No serious student of the liturgy could therefore subscribe to the view that the Novus Ordo Missæ celebrated strictly according to the rubrics of the Latin text promulgated by Pope Paul VI, was quasi-protestant, Even Michael Davies, one of the most eloquent and outspoken critics of the reform: had shown in his trilogy Liturgical Revolution, that whereas the Protestant liturgy-makers of the sixteenth century had systematically expunged from the traditional rites everything that clearly denoted the sacrificial nature of the Mass and transubstantiation, in the Mass of Paul VI the sacrificial language had been reduced or toned down but not eliminated, the result being in certain cases (for example when the second anaphora was used) an ambiguous but valid rite merely capable of a possible Protestant interpretation.2 Any analogy between the Pauline reform and the Reformation liturgies was thus at best partial.

Howeler, not everyone outside the initially small traditionalist camp accepted the clerically-imposed liturgical reform without stopping to analyse the intentions of its authors. John Eppstein, an English Catholic, had a clear understanding of the two forces at work in the creation of the new liturgy whom he identified in 1972 as "the liturgical purists who were inclined to suppress every prayer and action which was not found in the most primitive post-apostolic texts, and the modernists who were for scrapping everything that was not congenial to contemporary sentiment".3 As reasonable as such reforming projects may have appeared to Catholics of a modern scientific cast of mind, the fact remains that the idea of an arbitrary restructuring of the sacred liturgy has always been alien to orthodox Catholic instinct and practice. Paul VI’s unprecedented attempt to pass off as ‘authentic tradition’ a reform which was on his admission "a law... thought out by authoritative experts of sacred liturgy" was therefore profoundly shocking to many tradition-conscious Catholics.4 For them it was unthinkable that a committee of liturgical experts could change the traditional rites of the Church at will and then impose them on the grounds that their creations were, amongst other things, theologically orthodox.

The great irony of the Pauline reform was that Pope Pius XII in his encyclical of 1947, Mediator Dei, had condemned outright its main characteristic: liturgical antiquarianism or ‘archeologism’, the desire to restore the Roman liturgy to its primitive form:

‘It is true that the Church is a living organism and therefore grows and develops in her liturgical worship; it is also true that, always preserving the integrity of her doctrine, she accommodates herself to the needs and conditions of the times. But deliberately to introduce new liturgical customs, or to revive obsolete rites inconsistent with existing laws and rubrics, is an irresponsible act which We must condemn. (...) The liturgy of the early ages is worthy of veneration; but an ancient custom is not to be considered better, either in itself or in relation to times and circumstances, just because it has the savour of antiquity. More recent liturgical rites are also worthy of reverence and respect, because they too have been introduced under the guidance of the Holy Ghost... .... the desire to restore everything indiscriminately to its ancient condition is neither wise nor praiseworthy. It would be wrong, for example, to want the altar restored to its ancient form of a table, to want black eliminated from the liturgical coloufs, and pictures and statues excluded from our churches; to require crucifixes that do not represent the bitter suffenngs of the divine Redeemer...5

Here the Pope criticizes as simplistic the mentality which regards the worship of the age of the Fathers and the Apostles as purer than that of any other, as an absolute norm to be restored after every period of so-called liturgical decadence. Such an anachronistic outlook dismissed as irrelevant or detrimental the historical development of the liturgy; in setting up an ecclesiastical ‘golden age’ for perpetual emulation it was radically opposed to the ‘living’ notion of tradition. A century earlier the much-maligned Dom Guéranger had drawn up a syllabus of such tendencies and condemned them collectively as the ‘anti-liturgical heresy’.6 Similarly, Pius XII did not simply censure liturgical antiquarianism as misguided but actually passed a negative moral judgement on it as "a wicked movement, that tends to paralyse the sanctifying and salutary action by which the liturgy leads the children of adoption on the path to their heavenly Father".7

Since I am repeating the charge that the New Order of Mass is an artificial creation antiquarianist in conception, it will be useful to consider for a moment the manner in which Catholic eucharistic rites have developed. Basically it is a dual process. As the Church’s appreciation of its liturgical treasure deepened over the centuries, the rite grew organically by the gradual addition of new elements (such as the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Offertory and pre-Communion prayers and the Last Gospel, originally private devotions of the celebrant) and the abandonment of others (such as the Bidding Prayers after the Creed, Communion under both species and Communion in the hand). In either case, the change grew out of popular piety, was long in developing, and may be attributed to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In every case one is dealing either with new customs slipping almost imperceptibly into the existing fabric of the rite or old ones disappearing from it; there was never novel and sudden legislation from above.8 Before 1969 in the entire history of the Catholic Mass the ecclesiastical authorities had intervened in the growth of the sacramental rites only by ratifying or condemning particular customs and normalizing the changes in new official editions of the liturgical books. The process of liturgical development actually parallels that of the canonization of saints: popular cults arise spontaneously and at a later date the hierarchical Church passes authoritative judgement on them.

As Italian canonist Count Neri Capponi puts it in his study of the juridical status of the liturgical reform:

"What must be emphasized (...) is the absolute spontaneity of the development of the liturgy - and in particular that of the Eucharist - presided over by various bishops. There was no uniform legislation or imposition from above, but a body of custom developed by free invention of the celebrant and, especially, by imitation of forms in use in the older and more authoritative churches, round the central core of the Eucharist which, as of divine origin, was unchangeable".9

In the Roman rite this guided development of the liturgy through the growth and ratification or condemnation of custom was halted by the post-Tridentine reform which permanently fixed the basic form of the Mass. The common Christian experience has shown that in each of the other historical rites of Christendom, the Mozarabic, Milanese, Antiochene, Byzantine, Edessene and Alexandrine, what those for whom evolution is progressive improvement contemptuously term ‘liturgical fossilization’ or ‘freezing’, occurred well before the end of the Middle Ages. Thus in traditional Christianity it would seem that the organic growth of the liturgy is not perpetual, but has a natural term. Before Vatican II it was generally accepted that the form of the Roman Mass had reached the end of its formal development in the year 1570. This is naturally far from meaning that a mature rite cannot undergo renewal in the ordering and length of its component parts, in the manner of its celebration or in such externals as music or ornaments. In any case the Missal of 1570 was no arbitrary revision of the existing rite like the reform of 1969, but rather (as Paul VI freely admitted in his Apostolic Constitution Missale.Romanum of 3rd April 1969) a new edition of the traditional service-books characterized by the customary inclusion or exclusion of a small number of recent or variable elements.10

If the foregoing theory of ritual maturation is to be taken as the only orthodox one (and it should be recalled at this point that none of the Eastern churches, dissident or uniate, would entertain any other view), then it is necessary to explain how, in the mid twentieth century, the Roman Church could repudiate it in the name of Catholic orthodoxy. Indeed it is clear from his Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei Adflicta of 2nd July 1988 that Pope John Paul II, who condemns Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers for their supposedly ‘static’ notion of tradition, implicitly rejects the concept of spontaneous liturgical growth by identifying ‘Living Tradition’ with the post-conciliar liturgical reform. There can thus be no doubt that John Paul II, no less than Paul VI, has aligned himself with those who claim that organic liturgical development did not end in 1570 and that the unprecedented reform four hundred years later was merely the resumption of the evolutive process after a freakish period of stagnation. The disturbing conclusion is inescapable: the antiquarianism that Pius XII condemned as unorthodox yesterday, his successors impose as orthodoxy today.

In order to discover the prototype of the Novus Ordo Missae one need not go as far back as the Reformation; its antiquarianist rather than Protestant ethos and the strictures of Mediator Dei indicate that its immediate ancestry is more recent. The authors and apostles of the new rites have, in fact, readily acknowledged their great debt to the ideas and liturgical experiments of a network of eighteenth-century Catholic reformers. Unequivocally rejected as "pernicious errors" by Pius XII, these tendencies culminated in the infamous Synod of Pistoia of 1786 which, writes the same Pope, "the Church, in her capacity of watchful guardian of the deposit of faith entrusted to her by her divine Founder, has rightly condemned » 11 It is worthy of note that many of the leading figures of the eighteenth century movement for liturgical reform in France, Germany, Austria and Italy were also adherents of Jansenism, which the teaching Church has always condemned as heretical and which may be loosely described as a form of Catholic puritanism.

The Jansenist movement was characterized not merely but its extreme doctrinal Augustinianism, which related it to Calvinism, but also by its contempt for the dogmatic authority of the Holy See. This orientation inevitably affected the attitudes of the Jansenists towards the public worship of the Church. Their habit of regarding Saint Augustine as a theological oracle led them to idolize the Church of the age in which he lived, the fifth century. If Catholics ought to follow the teachings of Saint Augustine (or rather the Jansenists’ extreme interpretation of them), then they should also seek to emulate in their churches the worship of this golden age of Christianity. Hence the heretics’ contempt for the theology and liturgy of the Middle Ages. And since the Holy See was abusing its centralized organization by teaching error (in the Jansenists’ view, semi-pelagianism), more stress needed to be placed on the authority of the local Church, which as a small unit could be more easily purified in its doctrine and worship.12

In all these ideas the Jansenists leaned towards the antiquarianist and rationalist ideas of the Hussite, Lutheran and Anglican liturgists of an earlier age. Just as the Protestant Reformers had been supported by secular authorities, so too these reformers who refused to break openly with the Church found powerful allies and avid imitators among the Gallicans of France and the Febronians of’Austria and the Italian States. In Austria, the Emperor, Joseph II, even gave his name to a new form of erastianism: Josephism. "To Joseph II, the Church", writes Philip Hughes, "was primarily a department of state whose office was the promotion of moral order".13 In the 1780’s the Sacristan Emperor, as he was nicknamed by his contemporaries, initiated his reform by placing the Church under strict state surveillance and suppressing the contemplative orders. He then went on to outlaw such traditional practices as the Litany of Loreto and the rosary, banned sermons on Christian doctrine, abolished all prayers and hymns ‘offensive’ to the State and forbade certain feasts. He fixed by imperial decree the number of masses to be said in each church, and even the number of candles to be lit on the high altar.14 Within a few years his brother Pietro Leopoldo, ruler of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, was putting similar reforms. into effect with the help of Scipione Ricci, the bishop of Pistoia and Prato.

In considering the Jansenist liturgical reform it is most important to bear in mind that the partisans of the condemned heresy initially aspired to orthodoxy in their eucharistic theology: their over-scrupulous discouragement of frequent Communion and their insistence on preparation through the sacrament of penance are evidence enough of their fervent belief in the Real Presence. Unlike the Protestants, therefore, the Jansenists intended to uphold the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, though in their pedantic zeal to be patristic they rejected transubstantiation as an adequate explanation of the eucharistic mystery. Moreover, they stopped short of imitating the public worship of protestants to the extent that the Reformation liturgies were unpatristic. They did not, for instance, replace the altar with a table and celebrate facing the people, most of them retained the use of liturgical Latin. They were not iconoclasts, nor did they place the Eucharist in the hands of standing communicants or abolish the ritual distinction between priest and people.

In Austria and Tuscany, where the Tridentine missal was in common use, the heretics tampered little with the existing texts and rubrics of the Mass. By contrast, the French Jansenists had more scope for ritual reform because the Tridentine Mass was not widely celebrated in their country: most of the dioceses of France, including the archbishopric of Paris, clung to the indigenous Gallicano-Roman liturgies of the High Middle Ages that had survived the general reform of 1570 by virtue of the indult of St. Pius V. In these liturgically non-Roman dioceses of France new breviaries, and sometimes new missals, were composed by prominent Jansenist priests and laymen and imposed in place of the traditional ones by local bishops sympathetic to the reformers’ ideals. And since in most cases it was the ‘revision’ of a legitimate local rite, the Holy See did not have the immediate right to intervene.

What shape, exactly, did the Jansenist liturgical reform take? Inspired as it was by rationalism, the prevailing tendency of the age, this movement subjected the traditional liturgical texts to the most relentless criticism. As the work of revision progressed, no element thought to be post-Patristic was suffered to survive, so that propers, prayers and hymns composed in the Middle Ages were all replaced by texts from the Bible, especially those thought to favour Jansenist interpretations of dogma. While not giving formal adherence to the Lutheran doctrine of the priesthood of all baptized believers, the reformers tended to reduce the role of the ordained priest to that of president of the Christian assembly. Consequently they attacked private masses at which members of the laity were not present, discouraged votive Masses and anniversary requiems, and took a subjectivist view of the Real Presence in contending that one did not truly receive Christ in Holy Communion administered outside Mass. Attacking the extra-eucharistic cult of the Blessed Sacrament, Joseph II saw fit to ban the use of the monstrance and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; while in Tuscany Grand Duke Leopold forbade the laity to hear Mass in monastic churches so as to stress the essentially communitarian nature of the Eucharist.15

In France this new approach to the Mass as a communal sacrifice of the Christian people was further emphasized by such reforms as placing a white cloth, cross and lights on the altar only when Mass was to be celebrated. Sanctuaries were not to be encumbered with vases of flowers. Each church was to have only one altar; side-altars were demolished. Instead of reciting the KyrieGloriaCredoSanctus and Agnus Dei by himself in a low voice while the choir sang, the priest now sang along with the people. The role of the people in the offering was highlighted by the revival of such supposedly meaningful acts as the obsolescent offertory procession and the placing on the altar of seasonal fruits and vegetables for blessing at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, as in the early Roman rite. Instead of the traditional ‘veiling’ of the mystery and the deliberate cultivation of a numinous atmosphere, the new rites were to be distinguished by a clarity and openness which required the abolition of all silent prayers: the Canon was now to be recited aloud, the congregation responding with an Amen to each of is prayers. Laymen were allowed to read the epistle in the vernacular in some places; in one Jansenist parish a woman read the gospel of the day in French before Vespers.16

Orthodox churchmen throughout France were alarmed. Not only were the Jansenists destroying the traditional liturgy, but they had launched a savage attack on popular piety as well. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Parisian Oratorian Pierre-François d’Arères de la Tour complained how:

‘They do everything to diminish the cult of the Blessed Virgin, to weaken the respect due to the Pope. They pride themselves on using only Scripture in their liturgies, and in declaring themselves followers of Christian Antiquity, they frequently quote the canons of that age, boldly criticize everything, attack the legends, visions and miracles of the saints, affect elegance of literary style, valuing only their own productions and despising the works of others, and generally set themselves up as reformers... In the liturgical books being produced today they do not attack Catholic dogma, but subtly undermine it, uprooting the tree little by little..."17

Canon De La Tour equally deplored the worldly attitudes of the reformers, whose mania for modernity amounted to an eighteenth Century version of aggiornamento, irresistible to lovers of novelty and symptomatic of a cultural cringe towards Enlightenment England:

"Such is the frailty of human nature that involuntarily and without even suspecting it, people are taking on the tastes, fashions, language and idiom of the country and age in which they live... Our century is the age of Anglomania. It is the dominant strain in the agnostic movement, which rails against the superstition of the populace, the credulity of the devout, the excesses of the cult of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, the despotism of the Pope, the neglect of Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers, and so on. They would deprive religion of all its flesh if they could, leaving just the skeleton. To this end they abolish, polish, simplify, reduce to nothing the little that has been preserved."18

Ironically the reform-minded bishop who tried in 1736 to impose an antiquarianist missal on the diocese of Troyes was the nephew of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, and bore the same name. Bossuet’s cathedral chapter protested to the Archbishop of Sens, Mgr. Fan-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, who issued a condemnation of the missal of Troyes in which he remarked that:

"If it were necessary to suppress everything in the liturgy that does not go back to the earliest days of the Church, one would have to abolish the Gloria in excelsis, which, in the time of Saint Gregory, was only recited by the bishop..:’19

Bishop Bossuet refused to take the condemnation lying down, and in a letter to his metropolitan appealed to a canon of the provincial council of Sens of 1528 which gave local bishops the right to "correct and reform the breviary and the missal". Archbishop Languet’s reply to him is interesting:

‘The intention of that council was certainly not that each bishop should, on the pretext of acting more wisely than the universal Church, tamper with every part of the Mass, and thereby violate with dubious novelties the uniformity of the liturgy, hallowed by ancient and continuous custom over so many centuries. The council would certainly not have passed such a law if it had been able to foresee how, in the future and in the name of the reform it was prescribing, people would do such things as replace hymns going back to Christian antiquity with texts from Scripture that have been mutilated, altered and twisted so as to take on new meanings, to the great detriment of holy doctrine".20

The Archbishop reminded his Jansenist suffragan that the provincial service books of council of 1528 had in mind simply the removal from the "superfluous things injurious to the dignity of the Church". This was a very far cry from, for instance "...changing the prayers of the Canon of the Mass, and suppressing .a substantial part of the public rites". On that precedent one could go on to "order the singing of vespers in the morning or the celebration of Mass at eight in the evening; and abolish the law of Communion under one kind or the rule prescribing the reception of the sacrament fasting. Why not then allow the people to receive Communion after supper, as in the days of Saint Paul?"21

By 1794 when Pope Pius VI published his bull Auctorem Fidei, the mind of the Jansenist reform movement, impoverished by its hard, anxious rationalism and its divorce from authentic, living tradition, was moving in an increasingly modernist direction. One of the five propositions of the Synod of Pistoia condemned in the bull was the typically antiquarianist conviction that "in these recent centuries there has been a general ignorance about truths of the faith and of the moral teaching of Jesus Christ".22 But in refuting the Pope’s condemnation of their work, the Jansenists insisted that their beliefs, unlike those expressed in the offending bull, were impeccably orthodox. Some of them even refused to believe that the Pope could have freely endorsed such an obviously uncatholic document, and the bishops of the Dutch Jansenist church lamented that "this astonishing Bull [is] an injury done to the See of St. Peter (...) and dishonours the Pope who has been constrained to adopt it".23

Anticipating the twentieth-century Modernists, the Jansenists strove to establish their sectarian views as Catholic orthodoxy and spared no effort in reforming the Church from within according to their lights, rather than abandoning it as the Protestants had done. Similarly, just as many Catholic theologians today deny the very existence of the modernist heresy as exposed by Pope Pius X, the liturgical experts responsible for the post-conciliar reform have also done their best to whitewash the eighteenth century Jansenist liturgies which they readily claim as the blueprint of their own revolutionary programme. In his introduction to a book on the new liturgy published in 1970, English liturgiologist Lancelot Sheppard who, like all revolutionaries, takes it for granted that the old order was defective and corrupt, wrote:

"The present reform has obviously been wanted for some time. Its need was felt for example, in the eighteenth century when some dioceses of France and Germany set about reforming their liturgies along lines that have now become familiar to us in the recent changes. It was unfortunate that the lack of authorization gave them a bad name which probably retarded the eventual refonn". 24

Fr. Louis Bouyer, another prominent liturgist who had served on the Papal committee which manufactured the new rite of Mass between 1964 and 1969, found much to commend in the antiquarianist eucharistic rite invented by Father Jacques Jube, the early eighteenth century parish priest of Asnières, a village near Paris: "we of today can see in most of [these changes] intelligent and healthy improvements" They ought, however, to have been "introduced with the consent of proper authority".25

In his historical work The Mass in the West, Lancelot Sheppard shares Fr. Bouyer’s admiration of Jubé’s experiment, but omits to inform his readers that the French abbé was no ordinary Catholic crank with a penchant for innovation, but a staunch Jansenist.26 He also fails to mention that this reformed liturgy was not merely Jubé’s creation, but the fruit of close collaboration with a certain Nicolas Petitpied (1665-1747), a prominent Jansenist theologian who had been banished in 1703 to Holland where he associated himself with the Jansenist Church of Utrecht. Petitpied, incidentally, was later employed as Bishop Bossuet’s propagandist in the latter’s dispute with Archbishop Languet, while Fr. Jubé resigned his parish in 1717 to go to Russia on an-ecumenical mission organized by doctors of the Sorbonne working for a reunion of the Roman, Orthodox and Anglican Churches based on a common Jansenistic formula of belief.27

Whereas Louis Bouyer flays the Catholic liturgical outlook of the medieval, baroque and romantic periods in his study of 1956, La Piété liturgique, he does not hesitate to assert that "the beginnings of a true liturgical movement... are to be found during the sixteenth century", even though "sad to say, it was among the adherents of this nascent liturgical movement that the Protestant Reformation found its adherents".28 For Fr. Bouyer, then, certain Jansenists and protestants have been the modern Church’s best teachers in matters liturgical: and indeed "the worst of heretics may sometimes have very useful truths to tell us, truths which need only to be put back in a Catholic setting to take on their full value". 29

The authors of the Pauline missal were extremely critical of contemporary traditionalists who, in their view, wrongly viewed the existing Roman liturgy as a sacred cow. "There is no longer any question of considering the liturgy as something set once and for all in the forms now established" wrote Father Bouyer 30 The mentality that excludes the possibility of radical and rational liturgical change on a sound theological basis was, in his view, essentially pagan, since only to the pagan mind "sacred means untouchable, something to be preserved intact at any price". »31

Liturgists under the influence of another member of: the Papal Consilium, Father Josef Jungmann, attempted on the other hand to demolish the traditionalist position by characterizing it as a by-product of the nineteenth century theory of evolution, indeed the liturgical counterpart of Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine. According to Jungmann the essentials of the Catholic liturgy did not grow organically; rather, the ritual tradition, like the apostolic deposit of faith, was passed on perfect by the inspired Church Fathers who had fashioned it. In the following centuries it suffered gradual degeneration, and it was the duty of the official Church to prune away periodically the foreign matter that had crept into it. Fr. Jungmann went so far as to claim that the primary aim of Pius V’s revision, as expressed in the bull Quo Primum of 1570, was to restore the primitive Roman rite by removing medieval accretions, and that "the self-evident idea that the development which had taken place meanwhile, separating the present from the pristina sanctorum Patrum norma ["the ancient norm and rite of the holy Fathers"] should not be put aside as long as it did not disturb the ground-plan but rather unfolded it- that idea was never once expressed. »32

Now while it is undoubtedly true that Pius V had no idea of liturgical development as we understand it today, the fact is that the commission entrusted with the revision of the Roman missal codified a rite that was still essentially medieval. Jungmann, however, claims that their failure to restore the primitive Roman rite was largely due to a faulty scholarship which was unable to distinguish between medieval and ancient elements.33 But it is precisely here that the antiquarianist argument falls down, for if the liturgists of the sixteenth century did in fact have an historically inaccurate idea of the Mass rite of the Patristic age, one can hardly argue that Pius V envisioned an exhumation of such unknown quantities as the Eucharist of Saint Hippolytus or the Mass of Saint Leo. Furthermore, it now seems fairly clear that what the Pontiff meant by the "the ancient norm and rite of the Holy Fathers" was not indeed the ordinary of the Mass, that is, its basic structure, but the propers, or changeable prayers that went with it, since the most ancient sacramentary extant in his day (viz. the so-called Sacramentarium Leonianum of the seventh century) did not contain the ordinary.34 The things that were excised from the Roman rite in 1570 were in fact particular examples of standard variable elements like introits, prefaces and sequences.

Fr. Jungmann was probably the greatest expert on the history of the Roman liturgy, but like so many scholars, he fell into the trap of believing that analysis of a thing necessarily implies its reform. In this error, which was to wreak such havoc in the Latin Church, he resembled those nineteenth-century philologists who, having analysed English in the most rigorously scientific fashion, went on to advocate the ‘purification’ of our originally Germanic language through the elimination of all its French, Latin and Greek ‘accretions’. The promoters of ‘Saxonism’ were doomed to failure, for language, no less than liturgy, is a living organism that cannot be radically reshaped by those whose special knowledge leads them to pass particular judgements on history. Grammarians can influence to some extent the evolution of a language, but they can never alter its historical course.

In the last analysis if must be admitted that the very idea of returning to the ancient form of the Mass is a delusion: since it is obvious that the structure of the rite grew from the days of the Apostles until the coronation of Charlemagne, and that there was never in the Patristic period a liturgical codification with the same permanency and juridical force as that of Pius V, what precise phase in the development of the liturgy are we to canonize as the ideal form of the Mass? The obvious result of such a wild goose chase is to give up the search altogether and ‘return’ to the ritual of the Last Supper, a logical conclusion that has inspired the coffee-table Eucharists of our day. The rationale of the Novus Ordo Missae is thus, like the mentality of its authors, unquestionably antiquarianist. In justifying his reform to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1976 Pope Paul VI stated that "the present reform derived its raison d’être and its guidelines from the Council and from the historical sources of the Liturgy", and on another occasion he actually described his anti-historical innovations as "a step forward in the Church’s authentic tradition".35 The Pope was obviously of the same mind as Fr. Bouyer who had recommended in 1956 that "the true [i.e. Patristic] tradition… be disengaged from all spurious and unhealthy additions, and thus renewed in its primitive freshness, in order to be re-expressed in a frame which should make it accessible to the people of [to]day ».36

If traditionalists today are at variance with the Holy See, it is because they are convinced that the modern Popes have done exactly what the Jansenists wanted Pope Pius VI to do on the eve of the French Revolution. But the dilemma of traditionalists is that there is absolutely no appeal against Papal legislation on liturgical matters, as far as the modern Vatican is concerned.37 Indeed Mediator Dei, so often cited by traditionalists, makes it clear that the Pope "alone has the right to permit or establish any liturgical practice, to introduce or approve new rites, or to make any changes in them he considers necessary".38 The tragedy is that in making this forceful statement with the evident intention of safeguarding our liturgical inheritance, Pius XII set before the Church a Pandora’s box which his successors were tempted to open, and did. Gone forever are the days when one could serenely subscribe to this teaching in the knowledge that the Roman Popes, whatever their failings, always uphold and protect liturgical tradition from the wanton vandalism of would-be reformers. Whereas the traditional rites of the Church had been constructed by apostles and saints, Roman-rite (and Ambrosian-rite) Catholics have today a Mass which is the work of theorists and committees of ‘experts’.

Considering much of what has taken place in the sanctuaries of the Latin Church since Mediator Dei, Pius XII’s reversal in that encyclical of the historical principle legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, i.e. "let the rule of prayer establish the rule of belief", is no less disturbing:

"Indeed if we wanted to state quite clearly and absolutely the relation existing between the faith and the sacred liturgy we could rightly say that the law of our faith must establish the law of our prayer:’39

This liberty taken with a theological tradition going back to apostolic times has been considered by some a most serious flaw in an otherwise excellent exposition of Catholic teaching on the liturgy.40 The maxim quoted above was first expressed in the fifth century by Prosper of Aquitaine in an anti-Pelagian treatise entitled Indiculus de gratia Dei, and it is commonly shortened to the aphorism lex orandi, lex credendi. As this work is based largely on the sayings of previous Popes, Dom Cipriano Vagaggini notes that it "certainly reflects the thinking of the Roman curia of that era, and has notable theological authority because the Roman See has since then always considered it as the exact expression of its point of view in the matter under discussion and, subsequently, has often appealed to it".41

The basic meaning of the teaching is that in the traditional liturgy we have the oldest witness to what the Church believes, since Christians were worshipping God in public well before the first theological treatises were composed. Living tradition is bipartite, its two aspects distinct yet interrelated. ‘The rational aspect of Catholic Tradition consists of the Magisterium which interprets Sacred Scripture and apostolic teaching, while the sacred liturgy constitutes its symbolic and mystical aspect, and the latter has a chronological primacy over the former. Given, therefore, that the sacred liturgy is not something arbitrarily devised by theologians but theologia prima, the ontological condition of theology, the Church’s teachings must always be in harmony with the beliefs that the traditional liturgical texts express.42 This is of course very different from George Tyrrell’s modernistic abuse of Prosper’s maxim, by which doctrines are valid only insofar as they are found in the liturgical texts and have produced practical fruits of charity and sanctification.43 However, given the normative and testimonial nature of the liturgical tradition whose historical growth hag its own dynamic, there can be absolutely no question of artificially restructuring sacred rites to make them reflect new doctrines or new doctrinal emphases, which is precisely the Protestant approach to liturgy.

This rigorously conservative attitude on the question of ritual reform is also the constant teaching of the Eastern Churches. The Russian Orthodox theologian George Florovsky makes the same point rather more bluntly when he says that "Christianity is a liturgical religion. The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second".44 It is the Christians of the East, Uniates and dissidents alike, who have best preserved the classical Catholic approach to worship and who consequently have preserved their litugical traditions intact in modern times. The present liturgical chaos in the Western Church is due in no small part to the emphasis that Latin Christians have always placed on dogma, with the consequent tendency to regard the liturgical texts as a mere locus theologicus, a means to an end, rather than a living source of doctrinal truth. Thus orthodoxia, which originally meant ‘right worship’, gives way to orthopistis ‘right believing’, or orthodidascalia ‘right teaching’.45 When taken to the extreme, this exclusive emphasis on the rational culminates in that heresy which rejects the living components of tradition in favour of the written records of the Early Church, the Bible and Patristic writings, and which we know as Protestantism and full-blown Jansenism. The rejection of the liturgical tradition thus implies a rejection of the Church itself.

In the light of this typically Western aberration one can understand the Orthodox jibe that Protestantism was hatched from the egg that Rome had laid. For according to Timothy Ware,

"The Orthodox approach to religion is fundamentally a liturgical approach, which understands doctrine in the context of divine worship: it is no coincidence that the word ‘Orthodoxy’ should signify alike right belief and right worship, for the two things are inseparable. It has truly been; said of the Byzantines: ‘Dogma with them is not only an intellectual system. Apprehended by the clergy and expounded to the laity, but a field of vision wherein all things on earth are seen in their relation to things in heaven, first and foremost through liturgical celebration’"46

A similar outlook is by no means absent in the Latin West today, even if it is a minority view. Commenting on Pius XII’s reversal of Prosper of Aquitaine’s dictum, American Benedictine liturgist Dom Aidan Kavanagh notes that:

"To reverse the maxim, subordinating the standard of worship to the standard of belief, makes a shambles of the dialectic of revelation. It was a Presence, not faith, which drew Moses to the burning bush, and what happened there was a revelation, not a seminar. It was a Presence, not faith, which drew the disciples to Jesus, and what happened there was not an educational program but His revelation to them of Himself as the long-promised Anointed One, the redeeming because reconciling Messiah-Christos".41

Indeed the radical impulse to destroy the entire liturgical tradition and go back to Eucharists in the manner of the Last Supper is the inevitable consequence of applying the criteria of theological analysis to the sacred liturgy which, as a slowly growing humanly-ordered thing, cannot possibly have "come from the Lord complete and perfect" as Bossuet the elder said of the deposit of faith.

I come finally to the other immediate cause of the liturgical revolution, a new and particularly destructive form of ultramontanism, which in my view is the only way of explaining how recent Popes could have made such an astonishing about-turn on the question of liturgical tradition. The term ‘Ultramontane’ first coined by the French Gallicans of the seventeenth century, normally refers to those who supported the definition of the dogma of Papal Infallibility in 1870. However, on the popular level ultramontanism has manifested itself in the cult of the person of the Pope, which hardly existed before Pius IX, but is still very much with us today. In the nineteenth century the enemies of the Ultramontanes were the Liberal Catholics; the Ultramontanes of today, who abide loyally by all the decisions of the Papacy, rejecting criticism and even discussion of any of them, are opposed not only by the heirs to the Liberal Catholic tradition, but also by the Traditionalists. Fully aware of the consequences of their action, traditionalist Catholics feel bound in conscience to criticize certain aspects of the Second Vatican Council and to reject the official and unofficial liturgical reforms that ostensibly issued from it.

To the Ultramontane mind, which is also the mind of the Popes of our day, one cannot adopt the traditionalist stance and remain authentically Catholic. It is often not appreciated that in the discussions preceding the dogmatic formulations of the First Vatican Council, Pius IX strongly favoured the interpretation of Papal Infallibility as meaning Papal inerrancy in matters of Church discipline as well as in dogmatic definitions, an exaggerated claim at odds with the teaching of the Church. But when - so the story goes - Fr. Guidi, Superior General of the Dominicans, pointed out to the Pope that his idea of Papal infallibility was against Tradition, Pius IX angrily reminded him that "La tradizione son’io!" - ‘I am Tradition’, a symptom of Papal megalomania providentially checked by the Holy Ghost.48

Unfortunately, there is ample evidence today that the modern Popes consider themselves the infallible arbiters of disciplinary and liturgical tradition rather than its respectful custodians. John Paul II, for example, has been known to act arbitrarily and inconsistently in contravention of established liturgical law. One famous episode was during his visit to West Germany in 1980 when, in contradiction to the firm Papal policy of not giving Communion in the hand, he administered the Sacrament in this manner to a small boy by way of exception, thus establishing an irrevocable precedent.49 On another occasion, I am told, the Pope incorrectly knelt during a Papal ceremony in Rome, and when his Master of Ceremonies discreetly directed him to rise, John Paul remained on his knees and retorted pointedly: "II Papa s’inginocchia!" - "the Pope is kneeling!". With such a subjective attitude towards liturgical tradition, unthinkable in any of the Eastern Churches, it is understandable that the modern Popes and the ultramontanist Curia should view traditionalist rejection of the liturgical reform as incompatible with Catholic orthodoxy which they narrowly understand as right belief and right morals.

From the traditionalist standpoint, it is an abuse of power for the modern Papacy; however orthodox in its dogmatic teaching, to Command the faithful to accept an anti-traditional liturgy in the name of obedience to the supreme ecclesiastical authority. If the Papacy, in an official document, can reverse a fundamental teaching of orthodox Christianity by totally subordinating the liturgy to the interests of new ‘orientations’, one is forced to conclude that recent Popes, in turning their backs on their own past for whatever noble motives, have placed themselves above Tradition and abused their position as the supreme legislators in disciplinary matters. For a Catholic to make such an admission is painful, and from the ultramontanist point of view disloyal, not to say actively schismatical.

There is unlikely to be agreement on this question until the Holy Father comes to a deeper understanding of his own action in re-legalizing the traditional Roman liturgy, which logically considered, entirely contradicts his thinking on the post-conciliar reform, which is substantially that of Paul VI and of the episcopal conferences. Yet this contradiction which has created a dynamic tension in the Church must ultimately be resolved, and we may optimistically regard it as a sign of hope for the eventual restoration of the patrimony of which Latin Catholics have been unjustly deprived. In the meantime, as Archbishop Lefebvre remarked shortly after his audience with Pope John Paul II in 1978: "We can at least pray to the Blessed Virgin that when he becomes aware of the enormous difficulties he will meet in the exercise of his power as Pope, he will reconsider his stance and perhaps conclude that he must return to Tradition ».


1The Documents.of Vatican II, -Sacrosanctum Conciliun (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), articles 50, 34.

2. Liturgical Revolution, Vol. I: Cranmer’s Godly Order (Devon: Augustine Publishing Company, 1976), and Vol. III: Pope Paul’s New Mass (Dickinson, Texas: The Angelus Press, 1980).

3. Eppstein, Has the Catholic Church Gone Mad? (London: Tom Stacey, 1971), p. 58.

4 Papal General Audience speech of 19 November 1969, quoted in The Teachings of Pope Paul VI 1969 - 2 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1970), p. 288.

5 Mediator Dei, 63, 65, 66.

Institutions liturgiques. (Le Mans: Fleuriot/Paris: Débécourt, 1840), I, 405-423; II, pp 252-255.

7 Mediator Dei, § 68.

8 See especially Davies Cranmer’s Godly Order, cit, Chapter 9, pp. 63-71.

Some juridical Considerations on the Reform of the Liturgy (Edinburgh: Una Voce, 1979), p. 10.

10 The relevant passage in the Apostolic Constitution of 1969 reads as follows: "innumerable holy men have abundantly nourished their piety towards God by its [the 1570 missal’s] readings from Sacred Scripture or by its prayers, whose general arrangement goes back, in essence, to St. Gregory the Great" (first paragraph; emphasis added).

11 Mediator Dei, § 68.

12 John Parsons, The History of the Synod of Pistoia, paper read to Campion Fellowship Conference, Sydney, 1982, pp. 2-3.

13 A Popular History of the Catholic Church (London: Burns and Oates, 1939 p.-194.

14 Ibid., pp 194-195.

15 Guéranger, op.cit., I, pp. 176-188; Parsons, op.cit., pp. 5-6.

16 Gueranger, op.cit., II, pp. 250-253.

17 Marie-Madeleine Martin, Le latin immortel (Chiré-en-Montreuil: Diffusion de la Pensee Française, 1971), p. 172.

18 Martin, op.cit., p.173.

19 Guéranger, op.cit., II, p. 191.

20 Ibid., II, p. 217.

21 Ibid., II, pp. 215-216.

22 Parsons, op.cit., P·14.

23 Ibidem.

24 L. Sheppard. ed., The New Liturgy (London: Longman & Todd, 1970), p. 4. 25 Liturgical Piety [later reprinted as Liturgy and Life ] (London: Sheed and Ward 1956), p. 54.

26 The Mass in the West, London: Burns L Oates, 1962), pp 97-98.

27 Gueranger, op.cit., II, pp. 251-252.

28 Bouyer, op.cit., p. 41.

29 Ibid., p. 44.

30 Ibid., p. 68.

31 Ibid., p. 52.

32 The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origin and Development (Missarum Sollemnia 1951, tr. Francis A. Brunner, C.SS.R. (Westminster, Maryland: Chnstian Classics, Inc., 1986), I, p. 137.

33 Ibid., pp. 136-7.

34 Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912), p. 118.

35 Michael Davies, Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre II (1977-1979), (Dickinson: The Angelus Press, 1983), p; Pope Paul’s New Mass, cit, p, 557.

36 Bouyer, op.cit., P. 46.

37 Thus Cardinal Franjo Seper, Prefect of the former Holy Office, wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre in January 1978: "A Catholic, in fact, may not cast doubt on the conformity with the doctrine of the faith of a sacramental rite promulgated by the Supreme Pastor" (Davies, Apologia, II, p107). Now while it may be true that there exist no grounds for calling into question "the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude" of the 1970 Missal (Quattuor abhinc annos, 1984), such an arbitrary division (typical of the post-Reformation Roman Church) between the doctrine of the faith and its practice represents, in my view, a dangerous departure from the genuine Catholic tradition. (The sacred liturgy cannot be considered on a merely rational level, in isolation from the way of life and religious culture that produced it. If tradition is a living thing, validity and licitness cannot be the central issues. The central issue is authenticity, without which validity and licitness - factors of undeniable importance - are simply mechanical considerations. Authenticity is the guarantee of validity and legitimacy). Nor does the admission that the new Missal is free from heresy preclude one’s stating that it is inferior to the traditional rite liturgically, doctrinally and aesthetically, or one’s asking for its abrogation.

38 Mediator Dei, § 62.

39 Ibid., § 52.

40 See P. De Clerk, "Lex orandi, lex credendi": Sens originel et avatars historiques d’un adage equivoquel, in: Questions liturgiques 59 (1978) pp. 208-211; and Dom Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology. The Hale Menotial Lectures of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1981 (New York: Pueblo, 1984), pp. 92-93.

41 Cypnan Vagaggini, tr. L.J. Doyle and W.A. Jurgens, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1976), p. 529. While it is generally admitted today that this theological axiom is not in fact directly founded on the pertinent passage in Indiculus de gratia Dei (Prosper’s point was that the Church’s custom of praying to God for our various needs proves the necessity of grace), the centrality of its received interpretation to the Catholic tradition can hardly be underestimated. 

42 Kavanagh, op.cit., pp. 75-79.

43 G. Tyrrell, Lex orandi, or Prayer and Creed (London, 1903), and Through Scylla and Charybdis or the Old Theology into the New (London, 1907); Pius XII alludes indirectly to this theory in Mediator Dei, § 50.

44 Quoted in Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963), p. 271.

45 Kavanagh, op.cit., pp. 82-83.

46 Ware, op.cit., ibidem.

47 Kavanagh, op.cit., p. 92.

48 John C. Dwyer, Church History: Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 345.

49 After wavering for some years, in 1990 Pope John Paul finally capitulated on the question of Communion in the hand by permitting the abuse in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and consenting to it at all his own celebrations of Mass.

50 Davies, Apologia, II, p. 268.


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