Latin Mass Society

Catholic FAQ's

Taken from the Latin Mass Society's February 2002 Newsletter

By Michael Davies

I have been asked to comment on a question by a Very Reverend Monsignor who is the Vicar General of his diocese. Politically correct prelates maintain that the liturgical reform initiated in the years following the Second Vatican Council has proved to be a tremendous success, and that those who fail to recognise this must be suffering from some form of mental aberration.

At a celebration of Sunday Mass our Very Reverend Monsignor, (hereafter VRM), made his opinion of these mental aberrants very clear to his congregation. He does not of course use the term “Mass”—God forbid! It was for the Mass that our Fathers in the Faith died, it was the Mass, that they insisted mattered, it was the Mass that evoked the hatred of the Protestant reformers, better termed revolutionaries, who detested the religion founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, and above all the sacrifice which He instituted at the Last Supper and which makes present the Sacrifice of Calvary. Be that as it may, let us not use the term “Mass” and offend our beloved Protestant brethren. Let us replace it with the term “Eucharist” which they find quite acceptable.

In 1965, before the renewal over which the VRM enthuses got underway, two and a half million Catholics in this country assisted at Mass each Sunday. Today only a million do so, a reduction of 60%, and this is termed a renewal! What does our VRM have to say about those who insist that we have witnessed a liturgical disaster rather than a liturgical renewal, and make no secret of their preference for the rite of Mass that formed the basis of the spirituality of countless saints and martyrs of the Roman Rite?

“Now, about our Eucharist which we are sharing today. Would you believe it? There are certain people of the older generation - I call them ecclesiastical fossils - who still can't accept the changes. They are like children who can't let go of their security blanket. They are lacking in the Faith and in logic. How can they criticise Vatican II for introducing the reform of the liturgy when they can accept without question the liturgy which Pius V invented in the 16th century and imposed on the whole world?”

This may seem a little harsh, but it is the epitome of courtesy and charity when compared with the opinion of his curate who considers that “traditionalists are monkeys with their hands stuck in a jar, unable to let go of what they are holding.” Let us hope that he is a little more charitable when referring to the beloved Protestant brethren. God forbid that they should be offended.

What response can I make, as an ecclesiastical fossil, to the comments of our VRM? Restrained by the constraints of charity and respect for the clergy, I must say that where liturgical history is concerned, he is totally and pathetically ignorant. If I do not say even a quarter of what I would like to say about the reverend gentleman, put it down to the matchless delicacy in my use of language which has been remarked upon by many of my friends. St Pius V did not invent a new liturgy in the 16th century, as any first year student in any truly Catholic seminary would know. The essence of the reform of St Pius V was, like that of St. Gregory the Great, respect for tradition. In a letter to The Tablet, published on 24 July 1971, Father David Knowles, who was Britain's most distinguished Catholic scholar until his death in 1974, pointed out that:

The Missal of 1570 was indeed the result of instructions given at Trent, but it was, in fact, as regards the Ordinary, Canon, Proper of the time and much else a replica of the Roman Missal of 1474, which in its turn repeated in all essentials the practice of the Roman Church of the epoch of Innocent III, which itself derived from the usage of Gregory the Great and his successors in the seventh century. In short, the Missal of 1570 was, in all essentials, the usage of the mainstream of medieval European liturgy which included England and all its rites.

Father Knowles refused to celebrate the Mass of Pope Paul VI, which, one presumes, indicates that he was an ecclesiastical fossil, but every reputable liturgical scholar concludes with him that Pope St Pius V most certainly did not, as our VRM maintains, invent a new liturgy. He simply codified the existing Mass of the Roman Rite. I have before me a copy of the first printed version of the Roman Missal which, where the ordinary and the propers are concerned, is identical in every important respect with the Missal published by St Pius V in 1570. Nor did this great saint impose his reform upon “the whole world”. It applied only to the Western Patriarchate, and any Missal used within this patriarchate which had a history or 200 hundred years or more was exempt from the reform—Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Dominican, Carmelite, Carthusian. The reform of St Pius V did not in any way affect the Eastern rites.

Our VRM and Chairman of the Bishop’s Council for the Liturgy considers that those of us who prefer the Missal of 1570 to that of 1970 “are lacking in the Faith and in logic,” which makes it clear that his knowledge of theology is as abysmal as his knowledge of liturgical history. The decision of Pope Paul VI to approve and promulgate his Missal was a prudential decision, and no Catholic is bound to accept every prudential decision of every pope as an article of faith, as even a cursory knowledge of Church history makes clear. Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand was described by Pope Pius XII as the twentieth-century Doctor of the Church, and was honoured by Pope Paul VI for his fidelity to the Holy See. He writes:

In the case of practical as distinguished from theoretical authority, which refers, of course, to the ordinances of the Pope, the protection of the Holy Spirit is not promised in the same way. Ordinances can be unfortunate, ill conceived, even disastrous, and there have been many such in the history of the Church. Here Roma locuta, causa finita does not hold. The faithful are not obliged to regard all ordinances as good and desirable. They can regret them and pray that they be taken back; indeed, they can work, with all due respect for the Pope, for their elimination.[1]

Traditional Catholics are thus not acting in any way contrary to the Faith if they regret the fact that Pope Paul VI promulgated his New Mass, and they have every right to work in a respectful way for its elimination.

The VRM and Chairman of the Bishop’s Council for the Liturgy asks how traditionalists dare “criticise Vatican II for introducing the reform of the liturgy”. I cannot recollect any traditionalist criticising Vatican II for introducing the reform of the liturgy as the so-called reform, better termed a revolution, was not introduced by the Council, but by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini and his team of liturgical bureaucrats who composed the new Missal after the bishops had returned to their dioceses in 1965. These bureaucrats, Archbishop Bugnini in particular, had drafted the Liturgy Constitution of the Council and inserted ambiguities into the text which they intended to use after the Council to construct a liturgy which corresponded with their ideas rather than those of the Council Fathers who had mandated that there were to be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly required them, and care was to be taken that any new forms adopted should grow in some way organically from forms already existing (Article 23 ). I would maintain that not a single change made by Archbishop Bugnini in the Ordinary of the Mass in the 1962 Missal was genuinely and certainly demanded by the good of the Church. There is not a single word in a single Council document which even hints at the possibility of completely vernacular Masses, Mass facing the people, tearing tabernacles from the high altar, smashing sanctuary rails, smashing altars and replacing them with tables, standing for Communion, Communion in the hand, Communion under both kinds on Sundays, extraordinary ministers of Communion, altar girls, dancing girls, banjos, or balloons.

What have such practices to do with the making present of the Sacrifice of Calvary? "The Passion of the Lord is the Sacrifice we offer," wrote St. Cyprian[2]. Our VRM, I am told, has suggested the idea of liturgical dancing. One can well imagine the reverend gentleman dancing around the Cross upon which our Saviour died as the appropriate response to His sacrifice.

Do not take my word for the fact that the Novus Ordo Missæ as published in 1969 was not so much envisaged, let alone mandated, by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who would most certainly not have voted for it. One of the greatest liturgists of the second half of this century, perhaps the greatest, is the late Mgr Klaus Gamber. He was among the founders of the Liturgical Institute of Ratisbonne in 1957 and its director until his death on 2 June 1989 at the age of seventy. His book, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy was published in English in 1993. Mgr Gamber’s exemplary scholarship prompted the Holy See to name him an Honorary Member of the Pontifical Academy of the Liturgy. Cardinal Ratzinger praised him as "the one scholar who, among the army of pseudo-liturgists, truly represents the liturgical thinking of the centre of the Church." Mgr Gamber writes:

One statement we can make with certainty is that the new Ordo of the Mass that has now emerged would not have been endorsed by the majority of the Council Fathers[3]

Had any Council Father been told how Mass would be celebrated in a typical parish today his reaction would almost certainly been that of Archbishop R.J Dwyer of Portland Oregon, in the USA who commented with the benefit of hindsight in 1973:

Who dreamed on that day that within a few years, far less than a decade, the Latin past of the Church would be all but expunged, that it would be reduced to a memory fading into the middle distance? The thought of it would have horrified us, but it seemed so far beyond the realm of the possible as to be ridiculous. So we laughed it off.[4]

I have mentioned liturgical bureaucrats inserting ambiguities into the text of the Liturgy Constitution which they intended to use after the Council to construct a liturgy which corresponded with their own ideas rather than those of Pope John XXIII and the Council Fathers. “Ha!” I can hear our VRM exclaim. “Ha! Now we know! A conspiracy maniac.” A believer in a conspiracy, yes, a maniac no (I hope). Let me give just one quote in support of the conspiracy thesis:

The subject most fully debated was liturgical reform. It might be more accurate to say that the bishops were under the impression that the liturgy had been fully discussed. In retrospect it is clear that they were given the opportunity of discussing only general principles. Subsequent changes were more radical than those intended by Pope John and the bishops who passed the decree on the liturgy. His sermon at the end of the first session shows that Pope John did not suspect what was being planned by the liturgical experts (my emphasis).

Well, that sounds like a conspiracy to me. Please, dear VRM, do not rush into a hasty judgement on the man who made these comments. I will append his name at the end of this article.

The liberals had constructed the Liturgy Constitution as a weapon with which to initiate a revolution, and the Council Fathers had placed this weapon in the hands of the very men who had forged it. Archbishop R J Dwyer observed with the benefit of hindsight, that:

The great mistake of the Council Fathers was to allow the implementation of the Constitution to fall into the hands of men who were either unscrupulous or incompetent. This is the so-called Liturgical Establishment, a Sacred Cow which acts more like a white elephant as it tramples the shards of a shattered liturgy with ponderous abandon.[5]

While our VRM and Chairman of the Bishop’s Council for the Liturgy is evidently completely ignorant on the subject of liturgical history, is he correct in alleging that traditionalist Catholics consist solely of “people of the older generation - I call them ecclesiastical fossils - who still can't accept the changes.” Before responding to this allegation one must point out that truth depends not on the age of those professing an opinion, but on whether an opinion corresponds with objective truth, and the objective truth concerning the liturgical reform is that it has been an unmitigated disaster without the least vestige of any good fruits. Irreverent as it may appear, let us compare the Church in this country to a commercial company which had two and a half million customers in 1965, made a radical change in its marketing policy, lost one and half million of its customers, and at the annual general meeting the directors informed the shareholders that the new policy had been an outstanding success, that they could be re-elected with complete confidence, and that those who denied this were senile fossils who could not be taken seriously. One is bound to conclude that the Chairman of the board would be unlikely to have been re- elected.

Mgr Gamber has described the reality of the liturgical reform in terms that correspond perfectly with objective reality:

The liturgical reform, welcomed with so much idealism and hope by many priests and lay people alike has turned out to be a liturgical destruction of startling proportions - a débâcle worsening with each passing year. Instead of the hoped-for renewal of the Church and of Catholic life, we are now witnessing a dismantling of the traditional values and piety on which our faith rests. Instead of the fruitful renewal of the liturgy, what we see is a destruction of the forms of the Mass which had developed organically during the course of many centuries.[6]

Cardinal Ratzinger writes:

I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy which at times has even come to be conceived of et si Deus non daretur; in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not he speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the worldwide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless.[7]

Our VRM might respond that Mgr Gamber and Cardinal Ratzinger cannot be taken seriously as they are prelates of the older generation, ecclesiastical fossils. This may well be, but where the liturgy is concerned better to be a fossil who has some knowledge of the subject than a youthful cleric who is so ignorant of it that he would probably be unable to define the word “liturgy”. However, a little research reveals that our esteemed VRM is a far from youthful VRM. He is most certainly a member of the older generation, a man on the verge of sixty, an ecclesiastical fossil.

I was asked to reply to the elderly dancing prelate in my capacity as President of the International Una Voce Federation, which was established in 1965 to preserve the Latin liturgical heritage of the Church. We now have associations in thirty countries, many of which I have visited, and I can testify to the fact the most notable characteristic of our membership is its generally youthful character. Let me give just one example, our Polish association, founded only six years ago, has a council of twenty members only one of whom is over thirty years of age. One of its members has already been ordained as a priest in the Fraternity of St. Peter which has seminaries in Germany and the United States packed with enthusiastic young seminarians who were not even born when the Missal of Pope Paul VI was published in 1970. The members of this Fraternity use only the Missal of St. Pius V and all the pre-Vatican II liturgical books with the full approval of Pope John Paul II, as is this case with at least fifteen other priestly and monastic communities. I had the privilege of being present at the Seminary of the Institute of Christ the King near Florence in 2001 when Cardinal Medina Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, came to confer priestly ordinations using the traditional pontifical—a dramatic example of the support now emanating from Rome for those dedicated to the preservation of our liturgical traditions.

I have just returned from a visit to Nigeria where I went to establish Una Voce. Two thousand five hundred faithful Catholics assisted at the inaugural Mass after which I met representatives from five dioceses, all in their twenties, who wish to have the opportunity of assisting at the Traditional Mass exclusively. At Pentecost each year 15,000 pilgrims with a average age of twenty march from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres, camping out for two nights, and concluding with a Pontifical Mass in the cathedral at Chartres, using the 1962 Missal of course. In 2001 the Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Medina Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, another dramatic example of Roman support for the traditional liturgy. I had better point out to our dear VRM that “Una Voce” means “with one voice”, and also that the Liturgy Constitution of that the Second Vatican Council mandated that Gregorian chant was to be given pride of place in liturgical services (Article 116). As he is so insistent on obedience to that the Council can we conclude that this command is obeyed faithfully at sung Masses in the cathedral of which he is provost?

On the subject of fossilisation, I must point out that the term can certainly be applied to the liturgical reform which incorporates fossils excavated from the substrata of liturgical history such as the prayer of the faithful, the Offertory procession, Communion in the hand, and the Sign of Peace for the congregation. The Missal of 1962 is the product of authentic liturgical development, that of 1970 is the product of the liturgical archaeologism condemned so forcefully by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei.

Let me conclude with a comment on security blankets. Many elderly prelates such as our very dear VRM are themselves like children who cannot let go of their security blanket, and their security blanket is the Second Vatican Council. For the old men of his generation the Second Vatican Council was the epoch of their lives, an ecclesiastical Woodstock after which nothing mattered. The Council was intended to renew the Church, therefore the Church has been renewed no matter how much evidence is produced to prove the contrary. Cardinal Daneels of Brussels, in an interview given in England in May 2000, warned that the Church in Europe is facing extinction. If the decline in every aspect of Catholic life manifest in the Church throughout Britain continues at its present rate, and there is every indication that it will accelerate, British Catholicism will have been reduced to a pitiful remnant within less than thirty years. Our VRM and his chums will have to cling very tightly to their security blankets. The claim that liturgical bureaucrats conspired to produce an ambiguous Liturgy Constitution that they could exploit after the Council was made not by some paranoid and ignorant layman but by Cardinal John Heenan. It can be found in his book, A Crown of Thorns (London,1974), p.367.


[1] The Devastated Vineyard (chicago, 1973) p.199

[2] Epist. LXIII, n.17 (PL, vol IV, Col 388-9)

[3] The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, K. Gamber (Roman Catholic Books, P.O.Box 255, Harrison, N.Y.10528, 1993), p.61

[4] Twin Circle, 26th October 1973

[5] The Tidings, 9th July 1971

[6] Reform of the Roman Liturgy, p.9

[7] Milestones, Joseph Ratzinger (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1998)

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