Latin Mass Society

Reinstating Trent

Taken from the Latin Mass Society's February 2004 Newsletter.

The Fontgombault Liturgical Conference has been seen as an event of great importance by both traditional Catholics and those committed to a ‘reform of the reform’. As we wait for the document on correction of liturgical abuses in the new rite from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, Michael Davies assesses the significance of the conference for all those attached to the traditional Mass.

Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference, various authors, pb, St Michael’s Abbey Press.

I am almost certain that I have read every book of significance concerning the post-Vatican II liturgical reform published since the imposition of the new Mass in 1969, not to mention translations of books on this topic from other languages, and I have no hesitation in stating that this is one of the most important yet to appear. We are all deeply indebted to Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB, for arranging for its publication.

In July 2001 a conference took place at the Abbey of Fontgombault, under the auspices of Cardinal Ratzinger, to assess the current state of the liturgy of the Roman rite. The shared assumption of all the speakers, including the Cardinal, was that the post-Vatican II liturgical reform had gone badly wrong, and the speakers proposed two possible solutions – a reform of the reform or greater use of the pre-Vatican II missal. Cardinal Ratzinger stated unequivocally that the “ ‘reform of the reform’ refers of course to the reformed missal, not to the missal in previous use”, which means that traditionalists need not fear that plans are afoot to make changes to the 1962 missal. I will not waste space commenting on suggestions for reforming the manner in which Mass is celebrated according to the 1970 missal, a manner in which what were once considered abuses have now become the norm. The liturgical bureaucracy, bishops and most of the parish clergy are perfectly satisfied with the liturgical travesties perpetrated in most parish churches each Sunday and would resist any attempt to replace them.

The space made available to me will allow me to comment on and quote only three of the speakers: Cardinal Ratzinger, Professor Roberto de Mattei of Una Voce Italy and Professor Robert Spaemann of Pro Missa Tridentina. Professor de Mattei argues that the aspect of the reform that should concern us most is that of dogma, and that the reform has undermined fundamental Catholic dogmas concerning the Eucharist. He writes:

The lex credendi-lex orandi relationship, which is implicit in the liturgical reform, should be viewed in the light of the new theology which prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council, and which above all tried to give direction to what developed from it. In this sense, the lex credendi expressed by the Novus Ordo appears as a revision of the Catholic faith by refraction through the anthropological and secularist “turn” of the new theology – a theology, it must be emphasised, which not merely re-presents the themes of Modernism, but appropriates these themes in a Marxist sense, that is to say, by way of a system of thought which offers itself as a radical “philosophy of practice.”

This is a very serious and very radical criticism. Can it in any way be justified? Note in particular the reference to the fact that this new theology prepared the way for Vatican II. Cardinal Ratzinger certainly accepts that this is the case. He analyses the thinking of a representative selection of contemporary theologians and liturgists and concludes that: “A sizeable party of Catholic liturgists seems to have practically arrived at the conclusion that Luther, rather than Trent, was substantially right in the sixteenth century debate”, and adds: “one can detect much the same position in the post-conciliar discussions on the priesthood.” He refers also to theologians who share Luther’s opinion that it is, “the most appalling horror and a damnable impiety to speak of the sacrifice of the Mass”. The Cardinal then articulates a conclusion which many of us considered to be the case, but have not put forward for fear of provoking accusations of exaggeration:

It is only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent, that the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after the liturgical reform, can be understood. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest, and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its value.

The fact that such theories are being propagated by Catholic theologians and liturgists would be bad enough if they were confined to their particular circles, but, insists the Cardinal:

The serious nature of these theories comes from the fact that frequently they pass immediately into practice. The thesis according to which it is the community itself which is the subject of the Liturgy, serves as an authorisation to manipulate the Liturgy according to each individual’s understanding of it. So-called new discoveries and the forms which follow from them, are diffused with an astonishing rapidity and with a degree of conformity which has long ceased to exist where the norms of ecclesiastical authority are concerned. Theories, in the area of the Liturgy, are transformed rapidly today into practice, and practice, in turn, creates or destroys ways of behaving and thinking.

The Cardinal insists that this is an intolerable situation. We can, he insists, have confidence in the Council of Trent. “ Trent did not make a mistake, it leant for support on the solid foundation of the Tradition of the Church. It remains a trustworthy standard”. In his recent books Cardinal Ratzinger has made frequent references to the fact that, since the concept of offering the divine Victim has now been lost, the community is now celebrating itself, its own consciousness of what it is, which means that, in effect, it is celebrating nothing. He continues:

One thing should be clear: the Liturgy must not be a terrain for experimenting with theological hypotheses. Too rapidly, in these last decades, the ideas of experts have entered into liturgical practice, often also by-passing ecclesiastical authority, through the channel of commissions which have been able to diffuse at an international level their “consensus of the moment”, and practically turn it into laws for liturgical activity. The Liturgy derives its greatness from what it is, not from what we make of it. Our participation is, of course, necessary, but as a means of inserting ourselves humbly into the spirit of the Liturgy, and of serving Him Who is the true subject of the Liturgy: Jesus Christ. The Liturgy is not an expression of the consciousness of a community which, in any case, is diffuse and changing. It is revelation received in faith ind prayer, and its measure is consequently the faith of the Church, in which revelation is received.

The Cardinal considers the missal of 1962 to be a bulwark of orthodoxy which must continue to be celebrated:

It seems to me indispensable to continue to offer the opportunity to celebrate according to the old Missal, as a sign of the enduring identity of the Church. This is for me the basic reason: what was up until 1969 the Liturgy of the Church, for all of us the most holy thing there was, can not become after 1969 – with incredibly positivistic decision – the most unacceptable thing. If we want to be credible, even with being modern as a slogan, we absolutely have to recognise that what was fundamental before 1969 remains fundamental afterwards: the realm of the sacral is the same, the Liturgy is the same...this Missal of the Church should offer a point of reference, and should become a refuge for those faithful who, in their own parish, no longer find a Liturgy genuinely celebrated in accordance with the texts authorised by the Church. There is no doubt, on the one hand, that a venerable rite such as the Roman rite in use up to 1969 is a rite of the Church, it belongs to the Church, is one of the treasures of the Church, and ought therefore to be preserved in the Church.

An argument used invariably by those seeking the suppression of the 1962 missal is that we belong to the Roman rite, and that within this rite there can be only one missal. This thesis is totally demolished in a very learned article by Dom Cassian Folsom, OSB, but is subjected to an even more radical refutation by Professor Robert Spaemann who claims, correctly in my opinion, that the rite of Mass found in the 1970 missal has been subjected to so radical a revision that it no longer retains its Roman ethos:

In my view there can be no doubt that a Liturgy of the Mass which has no offertory, with a multiplicity of Eucharistic Prayers and the almost complete abolition of use of the Roman canon, with a different calendar – with, for example, the abolition of the pre-Lenten period (from Septuagesima onward) – with a different set of readings from Sacred Scripture – that such a Liturgy, as I say, is a different rite; especially if we consider not only the origin but the appearance of the two liturgies: the orientation of the priest, the liturgical language, etc. An Orthodox friend told me that he finds more similarity between the old Roman Mass and his own Liturgy, than between that and the Masses usually celebrated today. Given the fact of these two rites, then the abolition of the old Roman rite would, as a matter of course, be illegitimate even if not illegal. As Cardinal Ratzinger has shown us, in its whole history the Church has never abolished a legitimate rite which was hallowed by Tradition....Every Catholic Christian has the right to fight for a form of prayer hallowed by his ancestors, by many saints, and by the entire Church for centuries...The hostility of some of the advocates of the new rite towards the old is the strongest argument in favour of maintaining it.

I would urge every reader, priest readers in particular, to buy and to study this book which makes it clear that where the debate on the liturgical reform is concerned, the case for the traditional Mass alone has credibility, and the case against put forward by advocates of the new rite can be supported by no credible theological or liturgical arguments.

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