Saturday, March 22, 2014

Orthodoxy and the Traditional Mass, 2: connecting with the past

In the prelude to this series, I addressed the accusation that Traditional Catholics are uniquely disloyal to the hierarchy. This, in fact, is the opposite of the truth. In the following post I noted that not only do those attached to the Traditional Mass tend to be orthodox, but there is an extraordinary hatred of the Traditional Mass among many radicals opposed to the teaching of the Church. In this post I want to expand on that.

Anne Roche Muggeridge, in her book The Desolate City, explains the way that the 'revolutionary' party in the Church gained dominance in a short space of time in the 1960s, in light of a parallel with revolutions in the secular sphere. Borrowing a phrase from a secular historian (Peter Shaw, no relation!), she talks about 'the rituals of the revolution':

'These rituals are designed to diminish the power of existing authority by destroying its mystique during a process in which the symbols that inspire awe are mocked and degraded in "reversed ceremonies of legitimacy". The mocking reversal of sacred symbols serves as a psychological preparation for a transference of allegiance.'

She goes on to discuss the shocking liturgical abuses, and parodies of the liturgy, which took place in the 1960s, particularly in the context of get-togethers of dissenting priests, but in many parishes too. In order to destroy the allegiance of the Faithful to the old doctrines, the liberals subjected them to the ritualised mockery of the most holy and important symbols of the old order. Of course, this did not stop in the 1960s, but it had a special importance in that decade because almost the whole Catholic population had to be brought round from a strong habitual attachment to the old ways to an attitude at least of non-resistance to the revolution the liberals wanted to push forward, of which the keynote issue was the rejection of the Church's teaching on contraception.

The end result was less, of course, than the 1960s radicals wanted. The interesting point for us now is the connection this reveals between the liturgy and orthodoxy. For practical purposes there are no references to the Church's teaching on contraception in the Traditional Mass. That wasn't the liberals' problem with it. They wanted to destroy the prestige of the ancient Mass because they wanted to destroy the prestige of the Church, since the Mass is the holiest thing the Church possesses. To express this in another way, they, like all revolutionaries, wanted to destroy the prestige of the past. 

The ancient Mass is not simply a well put-together liturgy, cleverly combining this element with that one. It is something which has developed over many centuries, slowly enough to enable us to participate in a meaningful way in the spiritual atmosphere of the preceding generation of Catholics, and the one before that, and so on for many centuries. It is the product of the Church in a very deep way: not of a committee, even at some distant time in the past, but of the prayer and practice of innumerable Popes, Doctors and Saints, and ordinary priests and lay people as well. We all know instinctively that, despite identifiable changes made in the decades up to 1962, it is essentially very, very, old, and that this age is not the age of a pot-shard dug out from an ancient rubbish-tip where it has lain forgotten, but of a great public building or city square walked over and worked and lived in every day since its construction until today. And this lived-in age makes it venerable, worthy of respect.

The liberals of the 1960s needed to destroy this connection with the past, because they wanted to establish a new theology. The promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae at the end of the decade restored a degree of stability to the liturgical scene, but of course a lot of damage had already been done, and even at its best the new liturgical settlement was a striking break with the past.

What I want to draw from this is the usefulness of the Traditional Mass for Catholics who want to promote orthodoxy, and the disaster a rejection of the Traditional Mass is for them. The polemic against the Traditional Mass, which is still heard today, is that it was 'all wrong': it 'excluded the people', it made them 'dumb spectators', the theology, even, was misguided. If we allow that polemic to stand we are saying that the Church was wrong about her most intimate inner life, the shared liturgical life of the Christian community. It may be logically possible to say that she was wrong about that and right about all the doctrines, but, as I said in the last post in the series, it is incongruous. I can now go a little further and say, from the point of view of psychology, it is incredible: it is, almost, impossible to believe.

It is not that people are incapable of distinguishing doctrine from liturgy, or are ignorant that the liturgy of the mid 20th century was not identical to that celebrated by the Apostles. It will amaze many neo-conservatives to hear this, but Catholics are not that stupid. It is, rather, that the institution they want us to believe in doctrinally also brought us this ancient liturgy. If the liturgy is rubbished, then the Church is rubbished. The Church loses her credibility. If you lose your credibility, you don't lose it selectively: people say, 'if he was deluded or a liar about that, I won't believe anything he says any more.' That's what the liberals wanted people to say about the Church, and to a tragically large extent they succeeded.

The conclusion for practical purposes is a simple one. If we want to promote orthodoxy in doctrine in the Church, we have to reverse the process the liberals undertook in the 1960s: we have to reconnect people with the ancient liturgy, restore the prestige of this liturgy, convince people again of its value. Only by doing this will we get them to accept the authority of the succession of Councils and the ancient Creeds and the Scriptures: the authority, in short, of the Church's continuous life over many centuries, or, even more briefly, of the past.

The neo-cons' constant harping about the difference between unchanging doctrines and potentially changeable liturgy has done nothing, over the decades, to reverse the collapse of orthodox belief in the Church. The connection between the liturgy and the faith cannot be so easily shrugged off. If we want people to believe in what the Church teaches we have to allow them to believe in the Church, and that means rejecting the idea that the Church was dumbly devoted to liturgical nonsense for fifteen or more centuries. The last word can be left to Pope Benedict (Salt of the Earth):

A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what until now was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent.

The Elevation, under the gaze of St Gregory the Great and St Augustine of Canterbury.
Patronal Feast of St Gregory & St Augustine's Church, Oxford.


  1. You are brilliant! Thank you for speaking the whole Truth about our Holy Catholic Faith!

    1. The word "orthodoxy" actually means "right worship", or "right praise" (of God)! Thus right way of worshipping God. I note that in the latest new translation of the Roman Canon, that very word in the phrase "orthodoxis fidelibus" is LEFT OUT.It is circumvented to those who "holding to the truth hand on the Catholic and Apostolic faith". (Far better would be "those orthodox worshippers who holding to the truth hand on the Catholic and Apostolic faith"

  2. BEAUTIFULLY stated!

  3. Anonymous6:04 pm

    And this is where Traditionalists lose me. That I am a second class catholic because i don't reject V2, or the Revised Mass. You asked the question why traditionalists get bad press from some quarters, and why some think they come across as protestant and schismatic. This is it. Protestants, in the 16th century, declared that they needed to get back to orthodoxy - for them the New Testament, and possibly the first four councils. Protestants said the central liturgical act of the church had been corrupted by innovation, and restoration of an older order was required. How are you different? I have no problem with an alternate Rite in the Latin church - there are 26 others after all, and now the Ordinariate Rite also - but I do resent being told that one Rite, my Rite, is invalid and potentially invidious.
    I have no problem with reporting hindrances to celebrating under the 1962 Rite, and campaigning for it, but to denounce what the church has decided because the church has not implemented it properly is not defendable in my book. Why should I think differently, I'd really like to know.

    1. Well you will find no such objectionable claims on this blog. It seems you are attacking a straw man.

    2. "And this is where Traditionalists lose me"

      What exactly was it belasariust that you lost? I consider myself a traditionalist in regards to Church teaching and liturgy yet I do not "reject" V2 or the Novus Ordo Mass. I do think the innovations of V2 offer little to no improvement over what existed prior, and this includes the Vetus Ordo Mass. Yet you take offense, and rightly so.. but the focus of your offense is misplaced my friend. Obviously you view yourself as something better than a "second class" Catholic; are you not offended by the mass apostasy of the faithful? Of the millions and millions who have fallen away from the One True Faith? Of those who can best be described as pseudo-sedevacantists with their rejection of papal teaching and Church doctrines? What of the roughly 50% who sit in the pews each Sunday with no belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?

      With all due respect to your claims that Catholic protestants from the 16th century are somehow comparable to Catholic traditionalists is very hurtful. Please provide one example of traditional Catholics looking to change the Catholic faith into something other than it is? This is where you lose me. That I am no better than a protestant because I don't accept the lost of millions of Catholics to protestant sects, much of whom were friends and family. They never knew the TLM, and if they did they were thoroughly propagandized against it with arguments of straw like the one you made above.

      Why should you think differently? Because of the loss of souls! I have small children and it is my responsibility to form them into the image of Christ. Surely you would not object when I say society is using every opportunity to corrupt and derail my efforts? Now if by the grace of God I discovered a more intimate and Christ-centered Mass that helped me gain new appreciation for my Catholic faith, and if I deeply and truly feel and believe it is efficacious not just for me but for all; should I not loudly proclaim it or should I say, "meh, it's one more flavor of ice cream that seems to work for me"?

      Just reading the prayers for Mass in the 1962 missal and seeing them tossed away in favor of what today replaces them is indefensible in my book. I know why I think differently, because I feel different, I feel closer to Christ. I see the source and summit of my Catholic faith through the Mass. The intimacy, beauty, and reverence of Latin Mass has no equal, it's the closest thing to Heaven on earth! Would I risk my children's eternal souls to anything less? Of course not. What was good enough for the saints, is more than good enough for me.

  4. belasariust, I don't reject V2 or think the Novus Ordo is invalid. But I have a choice in my parish. At the Novus Ordo, no matter how early I arrive to pray before Christ in the tabernacle, I can't ever hear myself think: noise, noise, noise, gossip, gossip, laugh, laugh. Miniskirts with halter tops. Sandals. Shorts. No confession before mass. The list goes on and on. I don't know what's in people's hearts, but I can tell you, the posture and approach of many people outwardly is not like they are in the presence of Christ in the flesh.

    And the whole 'trads are Protestant' accusation is so stale. Protestants were not going back to an earlier magisterium - they rejected the Church, parading out of it with the bible held over their heads and foaming lunatics leading them.

    What I see at the NO masses is a de facto rupture with nearly everything before 1962. That's my problem with it.