April 2002 Print

Book Review: The Problem of the Liturgical Reform

D.E. Romanae 


The Errors of Dom Odo Casel

The Problem of the Liturgical Reform (130pp.) by The Society of St. Pius X. Available from Angelus Press.
Price: $9.95.

The central thesis of The Problem of the Liturgical Reform (hereafter PLR) is that the liturgical changes advocated by the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium, implemented by the Concilium under Pope Paul VI, and continued by Pope John Paul II, are the direct result of theological errors taught by the modernist Dom Odo Casel, O.S.B. (1878-1948). Currently available on the worldwide web is a brief [unfortunately, too favorable–Ed.] biography by Dom Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B., entitled, "Odo Casel, Prophet and Mystagogue." All quotations used in this review, apart from those taken from PLR, are drawn from this article.

Dom Odo Casel was a Benedictine monk of Maria Laach in Germany. As a priest and editor of the prestigious liturgical journal Jahrbuch fur Liturgiewissenschaft (Yearbook for Liturgical Science) until 1941, he was one of the most influential writers in the field of liturgical theology in the first half of the last century. His views of liturgy and sacrament have since become the dominant interpretation of the Neo-Modernist establishment, finding their place not only in such non-infallible documents as Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Novus Ordo Missae, but even in the new Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In fact, so influential have Dom Casel's ideas (hereafter "Caselism") become that although he is relatively unknown outside of theological and liturgical circles, many readers will readily recognize them. PLR introduces the key concepts of Caselism by way of discussing the fundamental theological deficiencies in the liturgical reform. But for a clearer understanding of the argument set forth in PLR a few words on the nature of this new doctrine are necessary.


Dom Odo Casel: Deceiver

Dom Odo Casel


Dom Odo Casel did his academic studies in two areas: first in the theology of St. Justin Martyr, second in modern philosophy, with an emphasis on the study of classical pagan mysticism. Influenced profoundly by Phenomenology and lacking training in Scholastic theology, he went on to propagate a novel doctrine of liturgy and sacrament, never before heard of in East or West.

What strikes one initially about the writings of Dom Odo Casel is that he is an outright liar. Although trained in philology, the study of the origin of the meanings of words, he asserts entirely new meanings of three key terms: mystery, wisdom, virtue.

Mystery is an English word of Greek origin: muo in Greek means "to keep silent," and accordingly mysterion is the Greek term for "a secret," that is "something about which one keeps silent." It is in this sense that Christ Himself uses the term in Mt. 13:11, and St. Paul likewise in Romans 11:25. But for Dom Odo Casel mystery means first of all, a deed of God's, the working-out of an eternal divine plan through an act which proceeds from His eternity, is realized in time and the word, and returns once more to Him, its goal in eternity.

To alter the meaning of terms and to assert that one's novelty is the original meaning of the inspired text, what could be further from authentic Catholic Theology. It is one thing to say that God's deeds are mysterious, another to say that "mystery" always or principally means "a deed of God's," even if as a substantive adjective this is possible.

Dom Hugh Gilbert, an avid student of Dom Odo Casel's thought, writes: "The 'end' of Casel's Mystery Theology points in the same direction as the end of the Rule of St. Benedict by which he lived: to the heights of wisdom [i.e., gnosis] and virtue [i.e., agape]."

Here are found the second and third falsifications which result from Dom Odo's thought. Certainly the end of St. Benedict's rule is the attainment of wisdom and virtue; but these terms do not mean gnosis and agape; anyone with the smallest training in classical languages could see that. Rather, wisdom has always translated the Latin term sapientia and the Greek term sophia, not the Greek term gnosis. Gnosis is the Greek term for knowledge, and it is the one employed in the first centuries of Christianity by the Gnostic heretics, who claimed the possession of a knowledge superior to the average Christian, and who thus developed their own secret cult and reinterpretation of the Catholic Faith. Agape is the Greek New Testament term for "the love of charity." To reduce the concept of virtue to love is to confuse what is a good habit (virtue in general) with what is the form of all good habits (charity); and to confuse virtue in general with agape, which in the New Testament is associated with the "love feast" which accompanied the liturgy at Corinth, is to conceive the form of perfection as the expression of the community in liturgy, rather than as a supernatural habit in the soul.


Dom Odo Casel: Modernist

The essence of Modernism, according to Pope St. Pius X, is the outward profession of Catholicism along with the acceptance of novel meanings of its terms, such that the signification of the contents of the Faith is radically altered. Modernists believe what the Church believes, but not in the same sense and meaning in which She believes it.

This is reflected in Dom Odo Casel's understanding of the term "representation." To represent is to make another in some way present. And in scholastic theology often this is understood of sign and symbol, for by sign and symbol a thing not present is made present insofar as it is signified and indicated by the form of the sign or symbol. But for Dom Odo Casel "represent" meant "to make really present again." It is by this insistence on a specific form of "representation" that Dom Odo Casel fell into many errors.


Dom Odo Casel: Errant Liturgist

The error of Dom Odo Casel began with the application to the notion of the liturgy as the celebration of the mysteries of the faith, his own notion of mystery as "a saving deed of God's." He defines the liturgy as mystery in the sense that it is "a sacred ritual action, in which a past redemptive deed is made present in the form of a specific rite; the worshipping community, by accomplishing this sacred rite, participates in the redemptive act and thus obtains salvation"; he terms the liturgy a Kultmysterium because in it "the divine saving act is present under the veil of symbols," and he explains,

The saving acts which belong to the historical past are objectively and really re-presented in the liturgical mysteries. It is not a question of merely 'intentional' re-actualization being produced by a celebration; the saving acts are truly posited anew in the present. And these saving acts–the incarnation, death and resurrection, to restrict ourselves to the most important–are the proper content and object of the sacraments; they form the interior reality of the mysteries of worship.

And he goes on to assert,

this real representation of the saving deed cannot not be, because the saving acts of Christ are so necessary to the Christian that he cannot be a true Christian if he doesn't live them after Him and with Him. It is not the teaching of Christ which makes the Christian. It is not even the simple application of his grace. It is the total identification with the person of Christ obtained by re-living His life.

And to defend the novelty of these assertions, which, according to Dom Gilbert "he regarded as the deeper and more ancient view," he quoted the Secret from the 9th Sunday after Pentecost: Concede nobis, quaesumus, Domine, haec digne frequentare mysteria:quia, quoties huius hostiae commemoratio celebratur, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur.

Which according to Dom Gilbert, he asserted meant: "Grant us, we beg You Lord, that we may frequent these mysteries in a worthy way, for every time we celebrate the commemoration of this sacrifice, the work of our redemption is accomplished."

A literal translation, however, renders this as: "Grant to us, we beseech Thee, Lord, to frequent these Mysteries worthily: because, as often as the commemoration of this Victim is celebrated, the work of our redemption is exercised."

In the alteration of this translation is seen clearly the force of Dom Odo's doctrine. For just as "Victim" is rendered "sacrifice," so the focus of the liturgy is turned from the merit of the Person of Christ, to the ritual enacted; and thus instead of admitting the efficacy of the objective Redemption which is past ("work of our redemption") through the instrumentality of the sacrament validly confected (is exercised), there is the novel assertion of the existence of a new medium ("work of our redemption" = "the mystery"), whereby this Redemption is made present and so effective in the life of the liturgical participant ("is accomplished" = is posited anew).


The Magisterium Condemns Casel's Theory of Mystery

This theory of Dom Odo Casel was condemned by Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei. Speaking of those who asserted the efficacy of the liturgy lay principally in something other than Christ's merits, Pope Pius XII taught:

These mysteries are ever present and active not in a vague and uncertain way as some modern writers hold, but in the way that Catholic doctrine teaches us. According to the Doctors of the Church, they are shining examples of Christian perfection, as well as sources of divine grace, due to the merit and prayers of Christ; they still influence us because each mystery brings its own special grace for our salvation. Moreover, our holy Mother the Church, while proposing for our contemplation the mysteries of our Redeemer, asks in her prayers for those gifts which would give her children the greatest possible share in the spirit of these mysteries through the merits of Christ. By means of His inspiration and help and through the cooperation of our wills we can receive from Him living vitality as branches do from the tree and members from the head; thus slowly and laboriously we can transform ourselves "unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ." (§165)

The Catholic Doctrine of "Presence in Mystery" is quite other than the doctrine of Dom Odo Casel. "Mystery" as a term means "secret," just as Christ used it. As "secret," "mystery" can be used in the sense of a truth or thing that is hidden. In the classical period "the mysteries" (mysteria) was the term for the secret rituals wherein one was initiated into a pagan fraternity. By analogy this term was applied by Catholics to the Mass and Sacraments. "Sacrament" is the pagan Latin word for the "item" that was bestowed upon the initiate during the "mysteries." And hence the Fathers of the Church use "mystery" in reference to both liturgy and sacrament. Christ's "presence in mystery" therefore is His unseen presence at the liturgy by His power and merits. In Catholicism all that which faith alone can perceive is termed a "secret," a "mystery." This "mysticism" has nothing to do with pagan rituals nor with the real presence of theandric actions in the enactment of rituals.


Dom Odo Casel: A Confused Theologian

Dom Gilbert most rightly observes that "Casel was decidedly not in the Scholastic tradition." And in this he speaks most truthfully, for given by his many critics from 1926 onward the opportunity to embrace the scholastic terms underlying the teaching of Trent, he refused, deciding rather to propose a novel mode of the existence of the theandric acts of Our Redeemer:

The presence of the Lord in the divine mysteries occupies an intermediate position–a middle position–between the earthly, historical life of Christ and his glorious life in heaven.

It is a sad day when a theologian, to defend his novelty, propounds a new manner of existence, the fallacy of which is most evident, even to a first year student of philosophy. For every thing is characterized by two fundamental acts, being what it is and acting according to what it is. These two acts are termed the first and second acts of being, respectively. What pertains to the first act of any being pertains to what it is really; what pertains to the second act of any being pertains to what inheres in this reality. Actions, in other words, are not things, they are not real. In English we often forget the precise meaning of terms. The "real" refers to whatever is in the manner a "thing" is. "Real" is an English word derived from the Latin, res, "a thing"; what is "real" (realis in Latin) is "like a thing." When in philosophy one says that an action is not "real," one means to say that an action is not a thing. It inheres in a thing; that is, as an act it cannot be disassociated from the thing which acts; just as the walking of a man cannot be separated from the man who walks. Likewise, the actions of Christ, either those which pertain to His Sacred Humanity, or those which pertain to His Most Blessed Divinity, cannot be separated from the reality of His Humanity or Divinity, respectively speaking. This means that wherever the actions of Christ are actually present, that is, present as acts, the reality of Christ must be really present, that is present as a thing. This is why the actions of Christ cannot be separated from Christ, and cannot be present as actions unless Christ is Himself really present. Thus the Catholic dogma of the centrality of the Most Blessed Sacrament during all liturgies.

What Dom Odo Casel refused to admit is that the meritorious actions of Christ, which are historical events in the past, no longer existing since they were posited by Christ once, are present to all times and places not really, nor actually, but virtually, that is in virtue of that which Christ merited, the treasury of grace, as Priest-Victim, Prophet-Messiah and King-Redeemer.

"Virtuality" is a scholastic term which refers to that manner of being whereby one thing impinges upon another in virtue of some particular quality which it has. In scholastic terms, the Sun is virtually present on earth during the day, because that is the effect of the illumination which it causes. Christ too is present in the liturgy, for just as He declared, "Wherever two or three are gathered in My Name," He is in virtue of His promise, "Whatever two or more ask in My Name shall be granted," and by His Divine Power and Fidelity, "ever near to those who call upon Him," not really (as a thing), nor properly (as He is), nor actually (as a Human or Divine Action), but attentively, that is, as One who hears prayers, and meritoriously, as One who merited the grace which is given in response to prayer, and hierarchically, as the High Priest in heaven conducting the Eternal Liturgy in communion with the Church on earth, praying with and for the faithful gathered below, and vicariously, inasmuch as the priest who conducts the rite possesses the priestly character of Christ and acts in the Name and Person of Christ. Though all of these manners of "presence" are true, none of them are real, that is "as a thing is" (in re)–for this is what "real" means–the only real presence of Christ is that in the Most Blessed Sacrament and that in the glory of Heaven.

In Catholic teaching Christ is present essentially, as God, in the souls of all who possess sanctifying grace, since sanctifying grace is a supernatural quality in the soul whereby it participates in the actual life of the Most Holy Trinity. And Christ is present virtually in His Divinity, inasmuch as God He is present virtually by His Omnipotence, Omniscience and Immateriality to all times and places. What Catholics do not admit, however, is that Christ is present really and/or actually everywhere in His Humanity–this is the error of Martin Luther–and hence, it is contrary to the Catholic Faith to assert that the human acts of Christ are everywhere really and/or actually present, even if this is limited within the liturgical rites, for the human acts of Christ, insofar as they can be posited anew, cannot be apart from the Sacred Humanity of Christ, which is really and truly in heaven, and on earth in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Catholic teaching has only admitted this much, that the human acts of Christ the High Priest are present by virtue of the real and substantial presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. This is why Pope Pius XII declared it an "error" to separate altar and tabernacle. But such acts are not the saving deeds once wrought in the past, but the acts of the glorified Christ in heaven, "ever interceding for us." Dom Odo Casel's thesis that actions can be "really present," is a radical confusion of the orders of action and being, which confusion is incontrovertible proof of his utter ignorance of philosophy.


Dom Odo Casel: Temerarious Blasphemer

Temerarious, moreover, is the assertion of Dom Odo Casel that his novel assertion of the "positing anew" of the theandric acts of Christ under the phenomena of the liturgical rites "cannot not be." This is an explicit alteration of the teaching of Trent that the sacraments "confer the grace which they signify," since in this Trent posited no necessity for some other mode of being, but consented to the scholastic teaching on the matter that this was so on account of the merits of Christ. To say that his thesis "cannot not be" is to formally deny the truth of the scholastic theories of St. Thomas Aquinas (physical causality), St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (assistant causality), Bl. John Duns Scotus (moral causality), and all others who have sought to explain this without the positing of a new mode of the existence of the theandric acts of Christ. Humility in a theologian was never so absent.

Finally, the doctrine of Dom Odo Casel, that the theandric acts of Christ must be present under the appearances of the liturgical rite for the communication of salvation and the identification of the believer with Christ is a blasphemous and irrational denigration of the power of the Son of God. It is blasphemous since it implies that Christ cannot heal or confer grace at a distance, but must be present. This error Our Lord condemned. When He was asked to heal the daughter of Jairus, being asked to do so by coming to her, He decried their lack of faith; whereas He commended the centurion for his faith that expected only that Christ say the word from a distance for his boy to be healed. Cannot Christ now glorified in heaven heal and confer grace even at that great distance from this world? How much more so in the presence of Himself in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Dom Casel has an outrageous disregard for the glorified Humanity of Our Redeemer, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. His doctrine is also irrational; since if the actions of His Humanity must be present to confer salvation, how is this accomplished? With grace or without it? If with it, what does it matter that the grace come from an action that is really present in the rite, rather than one which is in heaven or in the Most Blessed Sacrament? If without it, then how does the theandric action touch the soul? Caselism is truly the refuge of the ignorant.

The Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach (Mary of the Lake), in the Rhineland of Germany, the center of 20th-century liturgical reform and alma mater of Dom Odo Case).

In this 1933 photograph, the monks prepare to enter the chapel of Maria Laach. Is Odo Casel among them?


The Consequences of Casel's Errors

In PLR we shall see a coherent and incisive analysis of the liturgical reform and see how the novelties of Dom Odo Casel have dominated and directed this from Sacrosanctum Concilium right up to the Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially in the new Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI. But it will be helpful here to review briefly the consequences of his many errors.

By asserting the presence of the saving human acts of Christ apart from the glorified Humanity of Christ in heaven and in the Most Blessed Sacrament, Dom Odo Casel shifted the focus of the liturgy away from ad orientem (the liturgical direction of heaven), away from the tabernacle (the Real Presence of Christ) and away from the priest (the true vicar of Christ), toward the congregation enacting the liturgical rites. Likewise, he reduced the importance of being properly disposed (by mortification and satisfaction) for prayer by shifting the focus away from internal dispositions toward formal liturgical activity. He also reduced the mediation of Christ and the Most Blessed Virgin, in that he asserts the necessity of the Christian to be united with the saving deeds of Christ in themselves, rather than the mediation of grace, which mediation is intimately and principally exercised by the persons of the Redeemer and Corredemptrix. And as we shall see in PLR, Dom Odo Casel's theory of "Presence in Mystery" transforms the Mass from a "true and proper sacrifice" in virtue of the sacramental representation of the Sacrifice of the Cross through the liturgical immolation of the Victim in the symbolic separation of His Body and Blood really present in the Sacrament, into a mystical commemoration which infallibly renders present the actions of Christ, which themselves directly, apart from the reality of His Body and Blood, work salvation in the believer who participates in the activity, in virtue of their own proximity and immediacy. In short, Dom Odo Casel's doctrine makes a super-sacrament of the liturgy, and hence makes superfluous the efficacy of the seven true Sacraments instituted by Christ. To this extent, Caselism is the superstitious liturgical theory of Neo-Modernism; for it is the essence of every superstition to give a greater importance to a thing than it merits. In a similar manner, Caselism is the idolatrous worship of Neo-Modernism, since it renders to a work of human hands (the liturgy) the latria due the theandric acts of Christ alone, which can never be "really present" apart from the substance of Christ Himself, let alone under the appearances of ritual.

Like all false reformers, Dom Odo Casel's novelties implicitly assert that the Church has failed to maintain an authentic notion of liturgy, and that ecclesiastical tradition is in error and thus must be reformed and restored. Finally, in virtue of his assertions and denials, he implies that the Church before him has fallen from unity to Christ, inasmuch as by not positing the present of the theandric acts, which are according to him essential for the sanctification of Christians and for the Church to be what She was meant to be, She failed to exist in the manner Christ wanted.

Thus, it is manifestly clear that Dom Odo Casel did not think rationally nor like a Catholic; and that all who follow his novel doctrines will fundamentally alter the nature of Catholic worship, and hence, the nature of the Catholic Faith, precisely because they assert a theology of liturgy which is substantially different from Catholic teachings, and therefore which must supplant the former, if it is to be accepted in the Church. Hence the grave obligation for his many errors to be condemned and for the overthrow of the liturgical reform which comes directly and formally from them. This is the theological reason why the Novus Ordo can never hold the place of a liturgical norm in the Catholic Church, and why fundamentally the action of Paul VI, approving it for use, is invalid and unjustifiable.


D. E. Romanae is the pseudonym for a priest in a Novus Ordo parish who is friendly to Catholic Tradition. His book review of The Problem of the Liturgical Reform is reprinted with the permission of Brian Barcaro, editor of Diocese Report.