The Liturgy - The Face of the Church
Why is it harder and harder to believe in the Church? The attractive splendor of the Church has always been visible to men especially in her liturgy, because it is especially in her liturgy where the Four Marks shine the brightest. But the liturgical reform brought about by the last Council has violated each and every one of these four notes of the Church’s visibility eclipsing, in a way, her beauty: “There’s no beauty in him, comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him” (Is. 53:2).
The Church’s Apostolicity
The Conciliar Constitution on Liturgy offered four reasons to justify the reform: “This sacred Council has several aims in view: (1) it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; (2) to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; (3) to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; (4) to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1; hereafter, SC).
However, the lex orandi (the law of prayer) is so intimately tied to the lex credendi (the law of belief) that it participates significantly in the un-changeability of the dogma. As “the doctrine of faith which God hath revealed has not been proposed, like a philosophic invention, to be perfected by human ingenuity, but has been delivered as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully kept and infallibly declared,”1 so also the Liturgy was instituted by Jesus Christ in a substantially perfect state and must be guarded by tradition. “Given the close relationship between the faith and the liturgy (lex orandi—lex credendi) the latter must obey laws corresponding to those of the faith; that is, the liturgy must be guarded with great care and therefore is essentially oriented towards its preservation.”2
Therefore, as the Church, to “impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful” (SC, 1) always reformed the customs with a return to the purest doctrinal tradition, so also all liturgical reform consisted essentially—as the term ‘re-form’ implies—in a return to the traditional forms.
When ‘re-forming’ the Missal, St. Pius V declared that rite untouchable, because he brought it back “ad pristinam Sanctorum Patrum normam ac ritum,” to the original form and rite of the Holy Fathers.3
What the Council introduced in the Church, however, was not a liturgical re-form, but rather a re-creation in an obvious rupture with tradition. Monsignor Bugnini himself has admitted: “In what pertains to Catholic worship, we’re not dealing with a mere touch up of a very valuable work of art; rather at times it becomes necessary to give new structures to entire rites. It’s more a question of a fundamental renovation—I’d almost say a recasting and, in certain points, a truly new creation.”4
And Benedict XVI, when still a cardinal, denounced in strong terms “the prohibition of the missal that was now decreed, a missal that had known continuous growth over the centuries, starting with the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic.…the old building was demolished and another was built to be sure largely using materials from the previous one.… For then the impression had to emerge that liturgy is something ‘made,’ not something given in advance.…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 liturgy.”5
Just as neither a pope, nor a council, nor an angel from heaven can change the dogmatic definitions established by the previous popes and councils, neither does any pope or any council have the authority to change substantially the traditional liturgical institutions. Renowned liturgical experts speaking of the conciliar reform have reminded us that:
“All this leads to the question: Does such a radical reform follow the tradition of the Church?…In fact, there are several authors who state quite explicitly that it is clearly outside of the pope’s scope of authority to abolish the traditional rite.
“Thus, the eminent theologian Suarez (who died in 1617) citing even earlier authors such as Cajetan (who died in 1534), took the position that the pope would be schismatic ‘if he, as is his duty, would not be in full communion with the body of the Church as, for example, if he were to excommunicate the entire Church or if he were to change all the liturgical rites of the Church that had been upheld by apostolic tradition.’ ”6
Therefore, the liturgical re-creation that took place under the authority of the Council became a veritable assault against the apostolicity of the Church insofar as it breaks with the traditional liturgy.
The Unity of the Church
The fundamental unity of the Church resides as on its first foundation in the revealed truth, expressed in the Creed and professed in the worship: “The true Church is called One, because her children of all ages and places are united together in the same faith, in the same worship, in the same law; and in participation of the same Sacraments, under the same visible Head, the Roman Pontiff” (Catechism of St. Pius X).
From this it follows that the greatest service the hierarchy can render to the unity of the Church, after that of the integrity in the definition of the faith proclaimed in the Magisterium, is to guard doctrinal purity in liturgical worship, which is where the faith is professed.
Now, as we saw earlier, the Council decided to involve the liturgy in the new ecumenism: “This sacred Council has several aims in view…to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ” (SC 1), and this intention dominated the work of the Consilium (the group that carried out the liturgical reform). As Msgr. Bugnini admitted: “The liturgical reform is a major conquest of the Catholic Church, and it has a great ecumenical impact; not only has it caused the admiration of other churches and Christian communities, but also stands forth as a model of sorts for them.”7
But the ecumenical strategy to obtain union with non-Catholics through common activity, brushing aside the conflicting doctrinal aspects, implies the mutilation of the liturgical profession of faith in the measure of their heresies. From the liturgy, then—which, according to St. Pius X, should be the “first and indispensable source” of the Christian spirit among the faithful Catholics—flows instead only the vague spirit of a partial Christianity.
In short, due especially to its ecumenical dimension, the liturgy reformed by the Council represents an attack against the unity of the Church.
The Holiness of the Church
The first quality of the liturgy is its sanctity or sacredness: “It must be holy and must, therefore, exclude all profanity.”8 But a “desacralizing” effect was immediately observed in the liturgical celebrations in the whole world, a loss of the sense of the sacred mystery in the divine worship.
This desacralization flows from the conciliar intention of opening to the world: “This sacred Council has several aims in view…to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church” (SC 1), for which reason the traditional demands are waived, particularly in regard to receiving the Eucharist. This is also a consequence of the “principle of intelligibility” proposed in SC 21: “In this reform, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things they signify; and so far as possible, the Christian people can understand them easily and take part in them fully, actively and as befits a community.” For the mysterious symbolism of the rites is trivialized by pretending to make their meaning more discernible to the shallow souls of today. Paul VI himself admitted as much when casting off the Latin, the sacred language of the liturgy: “We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance, […but] the understanding the prayer is worth more.”9
In short, the reform that emerged from the Council was not liturgical, but rather anti-liturgical, which is a most grave attempt against the holiness of the Church. This very negative judgment is corroborated by the astonishing fulfillment of the twelve points with which Dom Guéranger characterized the “anti-liturgical heresy”;10 this is the impartial opinion from a great authority, as stated by Pius IX’s Papal Brief of March 19, 1875.
The Catholicity of the Church
The intention to adapt [to the modern world] expressed by the Council—“This sacred Council has several aims in view: to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change” (SC 1)—would eventually take the official name of liturgical inculturation. This inculturation is regulated by the “Norms for Adapting the Liturgy to the Culture and Traditions of Peoples” (SC 37-40), and it presumes that, over and above the general reform promulgated by Rome, other innumerable special reforms must take place, according to the cultural peculiarities of each region and group. This is—along with ecumenism—the main intention of the conciliar reform: “In his Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus, Pope John Paul II described the attempt to make the liturgy take root in different cultures as an important task for liturgical renovation.”11
This principle of inculturation fractures the centralized liturgical authority reached at the Council of Trent as a means to protect the unity of the Church, since now the local authorities (the Episcopal Conferences) are the only ones allowed to discern the concrete adaptations for each place: “Since it is a question of local culture, it is understandable that the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium assigned special responsibility in this matter to the various kinds of ‘competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established’ (SC 22).”12
It implies as well a process of constant reform, as can be seen from the time of the Council to the present.
The conciliar constitution affirms: “Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community” (SC 37). But this statement borders on falsehood in that the Liturgy is the popular profession of faith, and that is the reason why the Church always desired liturgical uniformity, not quite rigid, but rather tolerating diversity. The uniformity of the Latin Rite protected the Roman Church from schisms and supported the wonderful evangelization of the South American peoples.
If the catholicity of the Church shines in the liturgy, it is because its most characteristic quality is universality: “...the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.”13
The universality of the Catholic liturgy is based on the universality of truth, as God, first Truth, is the universal foundation of all things; the higher and more perfect things are, the more their universality shines forth. That is why the solemnity of a Gregorian Mass elevates the heart of all men of good will, a fact witnessed over centuries by missionaries in America, Africa, and Asia.
The alleged necessity of liturgical “inculturation” denies its universal character—or at least it diminishes it considerably. And the principle this denial comes from is the subjectivism of modern thought which, wounded by a certain skepticism, considers the universality of knowledge as a defect of the human intellect instead of a consequence of the universality of the objective truth of things.
In short, inasmuch as diversification has been the end of an infinite multitude of inculturated liturgies, the conciliar liturgical reform has been a grave attempt against the catholicity of the Church.
1 Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, DS 3020.
2 Cardinal Alfons Stickler, “Klaus Gamber, historien de la liturgie,” in Msgr. Klaus Gamber, La Réforme liturgique en question (Ed. Sainte-Madeleine, 1992).
3 St. Pius V, Bull Quo Primum, July 19, 1570: “Ad pristinam Missale ipsum sanctorum Patrum normam ac ritum restituerunt.”
4 Press conference of January 4, 1967.
5 Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977 (Ignatius Press, 1998).
6 Klaus Gamber, La Réforme liturgique en question, with prefaces from Cardinal Silvio Oddi, Msgr. Wilhelm Nyssen, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Alfons Stickler. See Chapter 3: “Le Pape a-t-il le droit de changer le rite?”
7 Noticiae 92, April, 1974; quoted by Celier, La dimension œcuménique de la réforme liturgique (Ed. Fideliter, 1987).
8 St. Pius X, Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, November 22, 1903.
9 Paul VI, address to a General Audience, November 26, 1969.
10 Dom Guéranger, Institutions Liturgiques.
11 Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, 2.
12. Ibid., 31-32
13 St. Pius X, Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, November 22, 1903.