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Monday, March 30, 2020

“Cancel the Decrees!”: High Dudgeon from Progressive Liturgists

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Long-time followers of the liturgical scene may recognize the name of Andrea Grillo, a liturgy professor at Sant’Anselmo in Rome, seedbed of much evil in the realm of the cultus divinus. The two new decrees from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith—Cum Sanctissima (which makes possible the offering of Mass in honor of more recently canonized saints like St. Padre Pio or St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, not to mention countless other devotees of the traditional Latin Mass) and Quo Magis (which adds to the 1962 Missale Romanum seven new Prefaces based on older liturgical texts)—has got him and his confreres up in arms.

GrilloIn an amusingly self-pitying two-page protest letter, signed (as of March 30) by 134 liturgists, Grillo wrings his hands about how the 1962 missal is now being treated as—horror of horrors!—a living reality in the Church, parallel to the new Mass desired by The Council. For the author, it is nothing less than two churches, two faiths, two Catholicisms. One must admire the clarity and honesty with which he admits that there is no possible reconciliation between the two leges orandi and their leges credendi:

The greatest distortion of the initial intentions of the motu proprio [Summorum Pontificum] can be seen today in those diocesan seminaries where it is expected that the future ministers will be trained at the same time in two different rites: the conciliar rite and the one that denies it… [The CDF] seems to ignore, precisely on the dogmatic level, a grave conflict between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, since it is inevitable that a dual, conflictual ritual form will lead to a significant division in the faith; it seems to underestimate the disruptive effect this “exception” will have on the ecclesial level, by immunizing a part of the community from the “school of prayer” that the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reform have providentially given to the common ecclesial journey.

Fr. Anthony Ruff, presiding archon of the progressivist blog “PrayTell,” concurs with Grillo’s basic claim:

The problem with these [CDF] decrees, of course, is that they treat the rite which the Second Vatican Council made obsolete—with its decision that it be superseded by a reformed rite—as if it is still living and developing.... I hope that at some point Church officials at all levels will address the question of whether Summorum Pontificum is in any sense compatible with Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is not. Once this is recognized, it will be necessary to begin the exceedingly difficult work of winding it down and gradually bringing all the faithful around to the ecclesiology and liturgical-sacramental theology of the Second Vatican Council. This will likely take generations. Our shepherds will need a wise and generous spirit, great sensitivity, and patience.

Oddly enough, the progressives already had generations in which to inaugurate and consolidate their Brave New World, but in spite of every papal and episcopal muscle being exercised continuously for the past fifty years to promote their program and to marginalize, if not stomp out, the minority opposition, the results are in: the movement for restoring Catholic tradition is not vanishing but growing, as the fine work of Paix Liturgique once more demonstrates in their “2019 Status Report on the Situation of the Traditional Mass in the World.“ The author of the report, Christian Marquant, concludes on an optimistic note:

Last year we said that after our many survey polls conducted in the whole world, it was possible, if one weights the results of these surveys (the answers in favor of the traditional Mass are probably, for a certain number of Catholics, a sort of “protest vote” against the form of religion the clergy has been imposing on them), to think that at least 10% of Catholics on the planet, i.e., 130 million laymen, wished to live their Catholic faith within the traditional liturgy of the Latin Church. This percentage is more plausible if one takes into account that, in a country like France, the statistical floor of Catholics who always attend the traditional Mass, irrespective of accessibility, is 6%.

The same applies to priests as to the laity. Our claims were founded not on statistics but on opinion polls, although the consensus among sociologists is that they are, when all is said and done, a very good indication. It turns out that our most recent survey polls, which were conducted in 2019 in Korea and in the USA, give even higher results than the survey polls we had conducted for Europe and Latin America. We can therefore at least say that last year’s estimate has been reinforced: over 130 million Catholics in the world aspire to live their Catholicism according to the traditional liturgy.

I have a pretty serene outlook for the future, actually, despite the difficulties that opponents of liturgical peace tirelessly cause their traditional brethren. This liturgical peace is the first condition of true peace in the Church. People often worry that what one pope—Benedict XVI—has done, another may undo. I’ll first point out that the motu proprio of Benedict XVI and the texts before it merely legitimized a situation that had come into being through the will of traditional laymen. And it is clear today that the usus antiquior and all that comes with it and all that it undergirds, especially as far as concerns the teaching of the catechism, can no longer be buried or set aside. The Tridentine liturgical family henceforth constitutes an unavoidable group within the Catholic universe, today and tomorrow.

Let us return now to El Grillo, who claims: “It no longer makes sense to enact decrees to ‘reform’ a rite that is closed in the historical past, inert and crystallized, lifeless and without vigor. There can be no resuscitation for it.”

In light of decades of attending the Latin Mass myself, traveling widely for speaking engagements, reading avidly, and taking seriously the statistics, I have three reactions to these desperate claims.

  1. To say that the classical Roman rite “cannot be resuscitated” is frightfully humorous, since it is obviously alive and well, to judge from the ever-growing number of clergy and laity in 88 countries around the world who avail themselves of it week after week, even daily, and have done so, in some cases, over a span of decades. As a professor at a Catholic college, I frequently taught students who grew up with nothing else, who feel no discontentment with it, and who seek nothing else for their future family, religious, or priestly life.
  2. The classical Roman rite has been celebrated uninterruptedly by some portion of the clergy ever since the Second Vatican Council. In other words, the Novus Ordo Missae never enjoyed complete unanimity of usage; the old Mass never ceased to be current and alive, in the hands and hearts of Catholics who loved their tradition and would accept no substitute. Those who know and love the traditional Latin Mass believe that it needs no “reform”—except the restoration of the old Holy Week that Pius XII butchered in the 1950s. It is therefore empty rhetoric to hurl at it epithets like “inert,” “crystallized,” “lifeless,” which more accurately describe the theories of the 1960s on which the Novus Ordo was based, as they now look to us half a century later.
  3. If a rite used by anywhere from 1–6% of Catholics around the world is felt to be so threatening to the other 94–99%, that should tell us something about the insecurity of the ones who feel threatened. They evidently do not think their reformed liturgy can stand up in a boxing match and win. It must be shored up in the same way as it was created: by papal and episcopal muscle.

My definitive response, however, may be found in the form of eight limericks.

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Last modified on Monday, March 30, 2020
Peter Kwasniewski, PhD

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He has taught for the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. He writes regularly for blogs, magazines, and newspapers, and has published nine books, four of which concern traditional Catholicism. Visit his website at www.peterkwasniewski.com.