Robert Lazu Kmita: Dear Dr. Joseph Shaw, both as a layman in the Catholic Church and as a Chairman of the Latin Mass Society (UK) you are fully dedicated to promote and to defend the "Liturgy of Ages". What explanations would you give to someone who will ask you plainly: why are you so found of the Gregorian Liturgy? Isn't the intellectual conception behind this dedication to the Tridentine Mass just another form of "antiquarianism"?
Joseph Shaw: Thank you, Dr. Lazu Kmita.
The question can be approached from a subjective or an objective perspective. Subjectively, it is legitimate to ask what forms of liturgy and what devotions are most helpful to souls. Some may be of particular benefit to some Catholics, and others to others. Some like the Divine Office, or the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, but they are not compulsory, and to say one legitimate devotion or liturgical form is outdated or inappropriate for the current year is ridiculous. If it has been approved the Church, and someone finds it helpful, that is all that needs to be said.
This kind of choice between devotions and liturgical forms has for many centuries extended to the Mass. Some people make a special effort to attend Masses in honor of a particular saint, or particularly appreciate Votive Masses in honor of the Sacred Heart or of Our Lady. In past centuries such devotions were expressed in the endowment of side-altars for the exclusive celebration of Votive Masses in honor of, for example, the Holy Name. Catholic spirituality has always been characterized by liberty and private initiative in such matters. The idea that there is a terrible problem if some Catholics are celebrating Mass or Vespers or whatever for one feast, or according to one liturgical tradition, and down the road other Catholics are celebrating something else, is a very strange modern error. It is through legitimate diversity that we offer up one prayer in Christ.
In this way Pope Benedict XVI noted in his Letter to Bishops accompanying Summorum Pontificum, “it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.” This should be a knock-down argument. Who could possibly object to young people deriving graces from one of the Church’s many liturgical forms? The reform after Vatican II was not intended by the Council Fathers to deprive people of graces, but to make graces more abundant. The good of souls is always the ultimate consideration: Salus populi suprema est lex.
Nevertheless, there is an objective side to the question as well, and here Catholics attached to the ancient liturgical tradition face ceaseless attacks. Attacks based on the legality of the celebration of the Traditional Mass have been effectively answered by Pope Benedict’s intervention in Summorum Pontificum in 2007, though some commentators still do not seem to have got the message. More interesting in any case are attacks based on the theological implications of the Old Mass, which have been even more numerous and continue to made with great vigor.
I am an academic by training and I’ll happily engage in discussions on such issues, to be best of my ability, indefinitely, at least with people who are not completely crazy. Such discussions can even be illuminating. What is surprising is to be having these discussions within the Church, and not just with Protestants and non-believers. When Catholic opponents of the Traditional Mass say that ceremonies and prayers used for eight or a dozen centuries throughout the Latin Church are theologically misguided, they are not just criticizing of a small group of cranks found at the fringes of the Church today, but the Catholic Church as a whole. They are saying that the Church got it wrong: that in her most intimate inner life, she offered her children stones instead of bread, not in this or that place, not for some years or decades, but everywhere and for the great majority of her history. It is an argument for what Luther called the “Babylonish captivity of the Church”: that the Church went horribly wrong at a very early date, and needs to be turned upside down to correct it.
The ancient liturgical tradition is in fact part of the Church’s tradition. It is rightly called a “theological source”, alongside Scripture, the Fathers, and the Papal Magisterium. I noted above that people can’t be criticized for using duly authorised devotions, though such authorizations are fallible and are occasionally reversed. This is not so with the ancient liturgy, because it is so old, has been in continuous use for so long, and has been endorsed and promoted by so many Popes, Doctors, and Councils. It is more like the consensus Patrem: a matter on which all the Fathers of the Church agree, and therefore should not be doubted by any Catholic.
Assertions such as “the ancient Offertory Prayers are erroneous because they treat the Host as if it had already been consecrated”, or “the silent Canon wrongfully excludes the people from participation in the Mass” cannot be right: they are ultimately incompatible with the Catholic Church being the true Church. They should prompt us to think again about these issues until we can understand the meaning and purpose of these aspects of the Mass correctly. And of course plenty has been written on those and other topics.
Robert Lazu Kmita: For many apologists of the replacement of Tridentine Liturgy by the new mass, this is the main motivation: the modern man, whose mentality is totally influenced by “science”, can no longer understand complex rituals and sacred symbols. Consequently, the religious language must be completely changed, transformed, replaced by something self-explanatory. At a first sight this argument may seem reasonable. But does such an attitude have any precedent in history? In Catholic Tradition? In any case, even though such an understanding was pastorally motivated and well intended, the result is precisely the mentioned one: a strong aversion towards the “old” mass considered by many, many priests inferior to the new one.
Joseph Shaw: We have to concede from the beginning that the liturgy has been changed in certain ways over the centuries, and each time this happens it is justified, putatively, by the good of souls. For example, the possibility of celebrating a ‘low’ Mass, in the 9th century, where High Mass was impractical or impossible, or the inclusion of the Prayers After Low Mass in 1859 (first just for the Papal States). Again, the creation of Latin, Church Slavonic, and other Rites of the Church was presumably motivated by some good end, above all the spiritual good of souls.
The problem then is not the question of change in itself, or the ultimate goal of changes. It is rather this idea that ‘modern man’ can’t understand complex rituals and symbols. We should notice right away that this claim, if accepted, has almost exactly the same results as the Protestant claim that Catholic ritual is idolatrous, and the Enlightenment claim that it is obscurantist, and indeed both these claims find echoes in the writings of Catholic liturgical progressives, though not in magisterial documents. In its practical results, it serves to align the liturgy with the ethos of the intellectual elite which emerged from Protestantism and the Enlightenment.
This is clearly not a coincidence, and it should make us suspicious of it as an empirical claim. The Protestant Reformers and the anti-clerical intellectuals of the Enlightenment did not imagine that the mere passage of time had made or would make people less receptive to ritual. They saw, to their frustration and grief, that people found it very attractive and were deeply formed by it; they found that frequently the only way to counter its appeal was through physical violence.
The same frustration can be seen in the writings of some members of the Liturgical Movement before the Second Vatican Council, and liturgical progressives after it, when they admit that ordinary Catholics had no wish for a liturgical reform, and continued to hanker after the old Mass when it had been taken from them. Even where the changes were accepted more readily, no one could claim that they has answered widespread demands. Even the bishops, whose views were sought in a survey in preparation for the Council, showed very limited interest in a root-and-branch reform of the liturgy (this is documented by Annibale Bugnini himself). Partisans of the reform simply say that the reform was good for the people, and if the peoople did not realize this, this demonstrated their ignorance.
One person who tried to get to the bottom of the empirical question—is “modern man” less able than his ancestors to understand ritual—was the Catholic anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her influential book Natural Symbols, which was first published in 1970. She comes up with a complex theoretical framework to explain why some cultures have complex ritual and others do not, linking religious ritual with a hierarchical social and family structure and social stability. Part of her argument was that the modern social trends which progressively undermine the traditional family and various measures of social stability leads to people growing up with less appreciation for ritual.
There is a certain logic to this idea; if it is combined with the theory that “modernization” in the sense of the destruction of social hierarchies, local ties, and so on, is both inevitable and positive, then it seem to follow that the Church should adapt to this reality. Douglas herself, however, was appalled at the damage being done by the liturgical reform to the ordinary Catholics of her own day, who were still largely traditional in their family structure and way of life. She famously remarked that the abolition of Friday abstinence suggested that “the liturgical signal boxes were manned by colour-blind signalmen.”
However, there is something Douglas did not appreciate, which has become clear more recently. One might think that the Traditional Mass has its natural home in the backwaters of Europe, where life has changed the least since the 1950s, and in similar places around the world. I am sure it would be welcomed in such places, though it is not often made available there. What we actually see, however, is the attraction felt for the ancient liturgy by people with very different backgrounds: students and young families in major cities. For them, the breakdown of family, society, and culture, has deprived them of something, and they feel the lack. The complex ritual of the Mass fills a deep void in their lives.
Young people from broken homes, to state the obvious, may find it more difficult to form stable families, but they are by no means in favor of a chaotic home life. They have suffered the consequences. Many are put off the idea of getting married at all, but others, with the help of divine grace, want to do better than their parents did. These young people do not see the process of “modernization” as either inevitable or as positive. The Traditional Mass is like an oasis in the desert for them because it feeds their need for order, hierarchy, and beauty. It inspires and stimulates them in their quest for order and godliness in their own lives. There is a vast pool of such young people, most of whom of course have no contact with the Church, but they provide the audience (for example) for Jordan Peterson’s YouTube videos.
With the liturgical reform, the Church seems to say: “Look at this process of modernization. Let us make the Mass as symbolically barren as we can, so we can keep up with Brutalist architecture and the divorce rate.” By doing this the Church is actually assisting the forces of destruction. The idea may have been to speak in a language which “modern man” could understand, but actually modern people need the Traditional Mass more than ever.
Robert Lazu Kmita: If we look into the writings of Fathers and Doctors of the Church like Saint Augustine, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem and Saint Maximus the Confessor, their efforts were directed towards the complete formation of their faithful and disciples. The main idea behind their catechetical and theological works is crystal clear: in order to participate fruitfully at the Holy Liturgy, the faithful ought to know a profound conversion, a deep spiritual transformation. It is not the liturgy that has to be changed, but the man. Despite this traditional way of thinking, in the last century we can notice an almost complete abandonment of catechetical formation - especially of the so-called “mystagogical” formation. Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), for example, has mentioned many times in his writings this disastrous situation. Instead of the replacement of the Tridentine liturgy by a “fabricated” one, the return to a solid mystagogical, liturgical formation seems to be the best solution, doesn’t it? As a personal testimony, I mention that every time when I presented a mystagogical catechesis about “religious images”, “sacred symbols”, “mysteries”, “sacraments” I noticed a high and living interest among all those who participated (both Catholics and non-Catholics!).
On the general point of changing oneself rather than changing the liturgy, it is interesting to see this point made frequently by members of the Liturgical Movement, at least up to the 1940s and 1950s. They felt that they were only just beginning to understand the liturgy and to make it available to the people in all its glory.
They thought that the liturgy had been overlaid with extraneous devotional elements. One might sympathize with them in relation to the practice—which was apparently common—for a priest to go into the pulpit during Low Masses during October and lead a recitation of the Rosary all the way through Mass. One might even sympathize with their desire to see the very ancient and rich Mass formularies of Sundays, Ember Days, and Ferial Days of Lent not be so often obscured by more recent feasts and Votive Masses. But their attitude differed somewhat from that of the Fathers, and their arguments led to some problematic conclusions.
The idea that the authentic liturgy has to be excavated from the liturgy which has actually been experienced for a century or two can become the more radical thesis, expressed by Josef Jungmann, that a “fog descended” on the Faithful as early as the 8th century and has obscured the liturgy ever since, because Latin, or the meaning of the ceremonies, was no longer widely understood.
Again, the idea that the task of the liturgist or celebrant is to bring out the real meaning of the liturgy can turn into the idea that the scholarship of the day should determine which parts of the celebration should be highlighted, and which to be removed as extraneous.
The Fathers cannot help us directly in relation to the liturgical tradition as we now have it, with the enormous length and complexity of its development, but I am sure they would agree that while it can be celebrated with more or less reverence we must start our thinking about liturgical participation with the liturgy as we have received it from Tradition, and not a fantasy of what we would have liked it to be. Furthermore, while the most fruitful experience of the liturgy will certainly belong to those who are in a state of grace, and have received an appropriate liturgical catechesis, the liturgy can speak to everyone, even the most ignorant and the most sinful. For those, indeed, the very mysteriousness of the liturgy speaks of its majesty and seriousness.
Greater depths of course can be plumbed by those who understand more about it. Modern historical studies can be very interesting but I agree very much that the meaning and symbolism of the liturgy is a matter of mystagogical theology and not just of historical research. One reads, for example, in histories of the liturgy that one feature or other had a purely practical origin, as if this debunked the symbolic meaning attributed to it by generations of liturgical commentators, doctors and saints. This is to misunderstand how liturgical symbolism works, as well as to place far too much reliance on historical theorizing, often done on very limited evidence.
Robert Lazu Kmita: In some of his his comments Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger deplores the fact that the liturgy of Paul VI is the artificial product of some specialists. He explicitly says the following: “There had never been anything like that in the entire history of theology. The old building was demolished, and another was build. But setting it as a new construction over against what had grown historically, forbidding the results of this historical growth, thereby makes the liturgy appear to be no longer a living development but the product of scholarly work and juridical authority; this has caused us enormous harm. For then the impression had to emerge that liturgy is something 'made', not something given in advance” (Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI. An Intimate Portrait, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2008, p. 204). In other words, the Mass of Ages that grew organically in the bosom of the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit has been replaced by a liturgy made by specialists whose holiness is more than debatable. To be very clear: for a true Catholic, to replace the Holy Liturgy to which Saints such as John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and Pope Gregory the Great contributed, with a liturgy fabricated under the coordination of a highly controversial figure such as Archbishop Annibale Bugnini is something unacceptable and – eventually - truly apocalyptic. What is your opinion about Cardinal Ratzinger’s liturgical insights? Aren’t they one of the main reasons why some of his theological books are banned in many Catholic seminaries and faculties?
The powerful statements on the liturgy which one can find in Joseph Ratzinger’s works never cease to amaze me. They are astonishing for all sorts of reasons, for example that they failed to prevent him becoming a Cardinal and then the Pope, and that they came from a theologian working in the mainstream, who had been something of a theological liberal in his earlier writings, and could not be called a theological traditionalist (as opposed to a conservative) even in his mature works.
Until he was elected Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger’s works were indeed frowned on in seminaries—there are many stories of seminarians hiding them—but in England and America the situation has improved somewhat since 2005. As far as public debate goes, there was a period after 2005 when all sorts of attacks on the Traditional Mass could be answered, in letters to the papers or online, by crushing quotations from Pope Benedict himself, and many proponents of these attacks gave up as a result. This was of special significance to those liberals who wanted to accuse the supporters of the TLM of some kind of heresy, and for those conservatives who wanted to follow the Pope wherever he led. For both groups the Papacy of Pope Benedict fundamentally destabilized their self-understanding and their approach to ecclesial politics. The experience of Pope Francis has taken the process a step further.
On this specific issue which you quote he is absolutely correct, and this is a point of profound importance, and suggests, as you say, a equally profound problem for the Church as a result of the reform. The loss of continuity in the liturgical tradition, understood as handing the liturgy on to us, changes the meaning and nature of the liturgy itself. It goes beyond things like our wanting to use the same words as were used by our predecessors in the Faith. It raises the question of why a certain way of worshipping is pleasing to God.
In Exodus, Moses tells Pharaoh that the Chosen People must be allowed to go into the desert, not to escape, but to worship God (4:23; 5:1). When they finally arrive, God himself tells them how to go about it. The liturgical tradition stretching from Pope Gelasius, and before him, to the Traditional Mass as we have it today, is a plausible candidate for a tradition which conveys to us God’s will about how he wishes to be worshipped. A liturgy put together in a few years by a set of committees orchestrated by Archbishop Bugnini is not a plausible candidate for this role: it would be ludicrous to suggest such a thing.
Clearly those who set up the Consilium and those who accepted its proposals were not thinking in the terms I have just used. They had been trained to think only in terms of Ecclesiastical authority and sacramental validity. This mindset remains widespread among conservative Catholics today. It undermines the idea of the liturgy as an act of worship, as opposed to a dignified and perhaps informative container for the sacraments. It is not surprising for Catholics with this attitude to fail to see the point of a formal act of worship without any sacraments: the public celebration of Vespers, for example, or the celebration of Mass when the Faithful cannot receive Holy Communion (as has happened during the present Coronavirus epidemic). They cannot see what is added to private prayer by the forms given to us by the Church for public prayer.
Robert Lazu Kmita: But the same author who wrote the quotations mentioned above, Joseph Ratinzger, as pope writes in Summorum Pontificum something completely different - if not quite the opposite - when states that the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII are "two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi". This is not the same thing as when he says that the old organic mass was replaced by a fabricated mass. Because in the first case he almost explicitly says that the old mass is legitimate due to its organic growth and legitimate development, while the new fabricated mass was fabricated and "has brought with it some extremely serious damages for us". How can we understand such contradictory statements conceived and written by the same theologian?
Joseph Shaw: As a theologian, Joseph Ratzinger understands the theological force behind the ancient Latin liturgical tradition: as a theological “source”, as an encapsulation of the spiritual wisdom of the ages, and in its role as conveying to us, through the Church, God’s will. And he can see the damage which the destruction of that tradition has done.
As the Supreme Legislator of the Church, Pope Benedict recognized that the reformed Mass had been validly promulgated by his predecessor. It is a valid and licit liturgical form for the Latin Church, and in that sense at least a “Form” of the Roman liturgy. Looking at it from this perspective, it must be understood in the light of the whole liturgical tradition.
Again, as students of the liturgy we might say: here is what Bugnini, Antonelli, or Bouyer wrote in their books about the thinking of the reformers, so this is what such and such a change or omission meant. But as Catholics we can also say: the Church has given us this rite, which does not explicitly contradict (for example) the sacrificial theology of the Mass, so we can fill in the silences and ambiguities by reference to the preceding and wider tradition.
That is what the “hermeneutic of continuity” is about. Pope Benedict was in no way ignorant of the motivation for the reform, and the damage the reform did. But the reformed Mass is here, and what are we to make of it? Well, the Church teaches that the Mass is a sacrifice, so this reformed Mass is a sacrifice, even if a lot the sacrificial language has been removed. And so on with every issue.
To say this is not to say that the reformed Mass is an adequate theological expression of the Faith of the Church. Worries on this front can even be found in official documents. They plead with priests and bishops to use catechesis to counter the theological misunderstandings which may be created by female altar servers, the reception of the Chalice, the endless bustle of “liturgical ministries”, and so on (see for example Redemptionis Sacramentum 60 and 100).
Robert Lazu Kmita: What is really disturbing nowadays is the simple fact of such a profound and total crisis: it really aims to change every theological, liturgical and moral aspect of Catholic life. Nothing is untouched by this "reform" proposed and implement after the Second Vatican Council. Even more than that, we have a pope who seems to be a heretic. In such a disastrous situation we cannot avoid the question of questions: what are the reasons why God allows such a destruction of the sacred treasure of faith, sacraments and liturgy?
Joseph Shaw: There are no perfect historical parallels to our situation, but there are partial parallels, and although I’m no Church historian, so can’t talk about them in detail, I think it is helpful to recall at least that they existed. Examples include the loss of the Temporal Power, which made it impossible to finish the First Vatican Council; the abduction of Pope Pius VI by the revolutionary French; and more distantly, the capture of the Papacy by corrupt local families during the ‘Pornocracy’; and the at least partial capitulation of Pope Honorius to the forces of Arianism. We can also remember the looting and destruction of Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament by the Babylonians.
God allows not only evils such as suffering and death, but also damage to the means He himself instituted for the salvation of men through the ages. The simple, philosophical, explanation, is clear enough. If it is to be possible for us to make a real contribution to our own salvation and to that of others, then it must be the case that our failures, too, must make a real difference, in a negative way. Collectively, and over time, this means that the Church can sustain terrible wounds, which cripple her evangelical effectiveness, just as in other periods a positive movement (the monastic reform movement, for example, or the Counter-Reformation) can enhance her effectiveness. St Augustine expressed the basic principle here: God, who created you without your assistance, will not save you without your cooperation.
I want to guard, however, against the temptation to Deism which might be implied by this philosophical answer. It is not that God is simply letting the consequences of human sin play out according to their own logic. That is, He is doing that, but not simply: God is in command of history. Each crisis has something to teach us; each crisis is overcome by particular virtues and by reference to particular truths. The way out of a crisis is often unexpected, and often combines a decisive historical intervention by God, and a new spirit in the Church, animating new movements and new thinking. With hindsight we can even see in some cases how the crisis itself solved intractable problems which could not be solved in any other way. For example, Napoleon’s destruction of the “Enlightened Despots” of the Ancien Régime, followed by his own failure and defeat, removed enemies and created opportunities for the Church in a remarkable way.
It would require the gift of prophecy to see how we are going to get out of the present crisis, and only in doing so are we going to be able to see clearly what good is going to come out of it. What is already visible, however, are the weaknesses of the Church prior to the crisis, notably the substitution of Obedience for Faith as the central virtue of the Christian life. In the Penny Catechism, which is excellent in many respects, it asks towards the end what were Christ’s chief virtues, which we should imitate. The answer is “meekness, humility, and obedience” (Q.347). This is theologically defensible of course but without clarification it is seriously misleading. Christ was obedient to God, but hardly deferential to the legitimate spiritual authorities of his day, who had been established by Divine Law. Why not? Because they were wrong. Certainly, we can learn much from his example, if perhaps not exactly what the authors of the Penny Catechism had uppermost in mind
We will never in this life be able to see history from God’s perspective, but we can be sure that as events unfold, God will be glorified, just as He was glorified by the Church’s astonishing recoveries from the Protestant Revolt and the French Revolution. History does not stand still, and events will turn out, whether quietly or dramatically, in such a way as to make this recovery possible. We must, in the meantime, work as best we may, and make the best of the situation. It may turn out that what we are doing specifically will come to nothing; it may turn out that we have been preparing the ground for the solution to the crisis; it may turn out that our movement will develop directly into the solution. What we do know is that the Church does not grow by accommodating each generation’s errors, but by faithfully offering to each generation the truths handed on to her by Tradition.
Robert Lazu Kmita: Dear Dr. Joseph Shaw, thank you very much for this interview!