Latin Mass Society

Production Line Liturgy

Taken from the Latin Mass Society's November 2002 Newsletter

It is 13 years since Mgr Gamber’s death but the influence of The Reform of the Roman Liturgy lives on. Here Michael Davies reviews an important collection of his essays.

One of the greatest liturgists of the second half of the twentieth century, perhaps the greatest, was 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, and should be owned by anyone taking a serious interest in the post-Vatican II liturgical reform, better termed a revolution. Mgr Gamber's exemplary scholarship prompted the Holy See to name him an Honorary Member of the Pontifical Academy of the Liturgy. Shortly before his death, Cardinal Ratzinger remarked that he was, ‘the one scholar who, among the army of pseudo-liturgists, truly represents the liturgical thinking of the centre of the Church.’

Two of the principle arguments in Mgr Gamber’s book were:

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.


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.

The St Michael’s Abbey Press has provided a great service to all who love the Mass by publishing a second book by this great liturgist. It consists of eleven essays which provide an invaluable resource for serious students of the liturgical revolution, even though Traditionalist Catholics will certainly not agree with everything Mgr Gamber writes.

In the first essay, ‘The Difficulties in Reforming the Liturgy’ , Mgr Gamber notes that:

Most forms of worship previously in use are despised by pastors and set aside as obsolete. No-one wants to give the impression of having missed-out on joining modern developments. And yet the great mass of churchgoers is attached to these old forms, and their spirituality is based on them. Too little account is taken by the over-zealous reformers of the present day of how very much Catholic teaching, in the consciousness of the faithful, is identified with the particular forms of religious piety. For many of them a change in the accustomed forms means a change in the teachings... Experience shows that people’s involvement with religion is inseparable from the use of agreed forms of worship. If you destroy these, then you often destroy the people’s link with God.

The second essay, ‘The Sacrifice of the Mass— Since When?’, provides an invaluable exposition of sacrifice, of which very little is heard today, particularly in our so-called Catholic schools. At the beginning of the third essay, ‘Celebration Turned Towards the People’, we are told:

In the following pages it will be shown that there never was a custom in the Church of celebrating ‘turned towards the people’. The idea of priest and people facing one another during the Mass goes back without doubt to Martin Luther.

This is something of which our liturgical experts are probably unaware, and if they were made aware of it they would not be in the least disturbed. As so many of the changes in the Mass correspond with Luther’s reforms, why not add another to the list?

Decline in Mass attendance

The fourth essay is ‘The Problem of the Vernacular’. Our liturgists would assure us that Latin was the only problem. The imposition of the vernacular was to be the panacea for all the ills of the Church. Catholics assisting at Mass would be transformed from apathetic spectators into fervent participants, and countless faithful, alienated by incomprehensible Latin, would come flocking back to our churches. The reality is that three out five of those Catholics who were assisting at Mass in England and Wales in 1965 have ceased to do so, and Mass attendance is plunging by about 30,000 a year, which means that our churches will be empty within thirty years. Mgr Gamber demonstrates that the vernacular experiment has not simply been a failure but a fiasco, and reminds us that far from mandating the vernacular, Vatican II ordered the retention of Latin in the Roman Rite.

The fifth essay, ‘Some Criticism of the New Ordo Missae’ provides information that few of us in this country will have seen before: ‘What is here presented as the New Ordo Missae is by no means new. The similarity to the rite of the German-speaking Old Catholics is downright amazing.’ Mgr Gamber also deals with Protestant influences on the New Mass.

The sixth essay deals with ‘Changes to the Calendar of Saints’, and notes perceptively that, ‘most believers do not see the point of these reforms’. I certainly do not. Our only daughter was born on 30 April, the feast of St Catherine of Sienna, and we therefore named her Catherine. The feast of St Catherine of Sienna has been transferred to 29 April. What possible pastoral benefits have resulted from such a change? But, if it comes to that, what benefits have come from abolishing the Judica me at the beginning of Mass, the Last Gospel at its conclusion, the sublime Offertory Prayers, or kneeling at the Incarnatus in the Creed? If it comes to that, what benefits have emerged anywhere for anyone as a result of the post-Vatican II revolution?

Essay seven, ‘Actuosa Participatio’ is particularly perceptive. The entire ethos of the Mass of the Roman Rite has been destroyed in obedience, it is claimed, to the command of Vatican II, that the laity should become active participants. The Council’s Liturgy Constitution does not use the Latin word activus, but actuosa. Is there any difference? There most certainly is, and Mgr Gamber makes it clear in this chapter.

Communion in the hand

Essay eight, ‘Communion in the hand—Yes or No?’, is one of the most forceful in the book. Communion in the hand had certainly been a practice in the early Church but had been universally prohibited by the ninth century. As the centuries passed, reverence for our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament had intensified in a process of natural development which characterises authentic liturgical evolution. The practice was resurrected by the sixteenth century protestant reformers to signify that the bread received in Holy Communion is ordinary bread and that the man who distributes it is an ordinary man. Mgr. Gamber writes:

The present day demand for receiving Communion directly in the hand does in fact reveal a turnaround in our attitude to the Eucharist. But this change in attitude, so it appears, consists in fact in the disappearance of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament. No doubt other ritual customs and habits, like for instance which colour of chasuble should be worn on a certain day, or the choice of readings for the Mass, are indeed of secondary importance. But never the manner in which we receive Communion. Especially when we reflect how strict the practice with respect to the veneration of the holy Eucharist has been hitherto. How great the care that was taken to keep even the smallest particle safe from being profaned, and how strict were the penalties for the desecration of the sacrament. Thus, up until a few years ago, lay people were, officially, not even allowed to touch the consecrated chalice, even if it was empty. And today the Body of the Lord is placed in the hands, sometimes unwashed, of those same lay people, a practice which means that one cannot always be sure what is now going to happen to the Sacred Host.

Chapter nine, ‘Making Worship Relevant’, condemns ‘the current-day innovators’ who ‘abandon the well-tried old forms’ and replace them ‘with material that is untried and even questionable’. Mgr Gamber then asks a very pertinent question:

But does the Liturgy need to be the expression of its period at all? This question is interconnected with another, the question as to the essence of the Liturgy. To put it plainly: is the liturgy primarily a service for the people, or service to God, that is worship? The cultic element is nowadays deliberately overlooked, and the liturgy is regarded as above all a service provided for the people; in proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Supper.

I would be very surprised if there is a seminary in Britain today where future priests are not taught that the Mass is primarily a service provided for the people, in proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Supper. The solemn sacrifice has been transformed into the people’s picnic. Cardinal Ratzinger has expressed the same point even more forcefully:

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 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. (Milestones, Ignatius Press, 1998).

Continuity abandoned

Essay ten deals with the crucially important topic of ‘Continuity in Liturgical Development’. The post-Vatican liturgical revolution constitutes the first occasion in the East or in the West, apart from the protestant Reformation, when existing liturgical forms were subjected to a radical and brutal revision with complete disregard for the principle of continuity with Tradition. Mgr Gamber writes:

Just as nowadays people tear down old and valuable buildings, in order to replace them with modern constructions which say nothing to us, although the old ones could just as well have been restored, so it is happening with the Liturgy. People are simply getting rid of what they see as old fashioned, and making new things as fast as a production line.

Mgr Gamber’s reference to a production line brings to mind a similar comment by Cardinal Ratzinger:

J.A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgists of our time, defined the liturgy of his day, such as it could be understood in the light of historical research, as a ‘liturgy which is the fruit of development... What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.

(Preface to the French edition of Mgr Gamber’s The Reform of the Roman Liturgy).

The eleventh and final essay, ‘The Ecumenical Liturgy of the Day after Tomorrow’ might understandably cause a few eyebrows to be raised. By ‘ecumenical’ Mgr Gamber means the worldwide Church in communion with the Pope, and he envisages the possibility of replacing today’s production line celebrations with a form of Mass based primarily on the classical liturgy of the fourth and fifth centuries. I find this suggestion unrealistic as the liturgical bureaucracy would never agree to having their banal on-the-spot products replaced with any based on authentic tradition. The only realistic policy for Traditional Catholics is to extend the celebration of the undiluted 1962 Missal as widely as possible so that as attendance at the New Mass dwindles away, that at the traditional Mass will increase. This is the policy of the International Una Voce Federation to which the Latin Mass Society is affiliated. The catastrophic decline in seminarians throughout the West means that more bishops will accept priests from the Traditional orders into their dioceses, priests who celebrate only the Traditional Mass.

I will cite just one more passage from this important book: it is a warning that should be kept continually in mind, a warning that the liturgical revolution is part of a much wider revolution that threatens the very nature of the Church:

Today, the enemies of the church are attempting to accomplish their work of destruction no longer, as hitherto, from without, but from within. They want to ‘change the Church's function.’ The procedure of permanent change helps them with this, because with this nothing is kept in the form people are used to, not even small and insignificant things. In this way, Christians who have been made to feel uncertain fall an easy prey to unbelief.

The Modern Rite by Mgr Klaus Gamber, 87 pp, pb. Saint Michael’s Abbey Press, Saint Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough, GU14 7NQ


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