Missal Wars Revived

As you may know, Pope Francis has apparently ordered a review of the 2001 Vatican document that currently undergirds any new liturgical translations, viz. Liturgiam authenticam. No one in the Vatican is answering any questions about the alleged committee performing the review, including its alleged director, Archbishop Arthur Roche. For those who hoped that under Pope Francis a new age of transparency would appear will be sorely disappointed by now.

If this committee of review really exists, then Gerard O’Connell at America Magazine, lists two reasons for it which touch on truth. One reason is that it serves to promote the agenda of Pope Francis to effect a more radical decentralisation of the Church by radically empowering that novel, post-conciliar creature the bishops’ conference. Decentralisation has a nice sound to it. Centralising tendencies must always be resisted, yes? Let’s ignore for now its less helpful bedfellow, fragmentation. That’s for another post.

The second reason O’Connell gives is to do with opposition to the revised English missal of 2011. There has been a concerted campaign against the new English translation of the Missal long before it was formally introduced in 2011. Many see in the more precise translations and the preference for a more sacral language a more or less open move to undo Vatican II. This is the line that one will find in the articles and letters’ page of The Tablet. Given that any translation to the vernacular of the Roman Missal for actual use in the liturgy is itself a product of the post-conciliar period (though finding the thinnest justification in the conciliar documents themselves), to say that re-working a translation is undoing Vatican II is the product of hysteria or conspiracy theorizing.

Of course, their real fear is not the translation per se but that the current translation signals a strengthening movement towards resacralization of the liturgy, undoing the secularization of the liturgy that blighted the post-conciliar new Mass of 1969. Their fear is justified. There is such a movement and its adherents have a vastly younger average age than the devotees of the 1975 Missal replaced in 2011, or even the rejected draft  of 1998.

This is the elephant in the room for devotees of the reformed liturgy. Most active and committed young Catholics find far more to nourish them in the revised Missal than the 1975 edition. In fact, a considerable number of them—cradlers and converts alike—find even richer nourishment in the pre-conciliar Mass so reviled by the reformers. In other words, a liturgy was newly constructed with a dangerously loose association with the liturgical tradition that had developed organically before it, and with the most tenuous of foundations in Vatican II’s liturgical decree Sacrosanctum concilium, and newly constructed precisely to meet the needs the reformers ascribed to modern people. What cannot be avoided is the stark reality that as soon as the new Mass was introduced Mass attendance began to plummet at a steady and almost inexorable rate.

Any rational and impartial observer would draw the obvious conclusion from these premises: that the liturgical reform has failed on its own terms, failed to achieve its own end. Blaming secular society will not cut the mustard, if only because the Church has endured social revolutions just as great, in fact far worse in many respects, and emerged alive to grow anew, and always without having felt the need to change its liturgy. Indeed, the liturgy was a rock of security and sanity in times of great social and political change. What people seemed to need was not the liturgy to conform to the spirit of the age, but that the liturgy should do the very opposite.

Three responses have emerged to this perceived but too-often unacknowledged fact of liturgical failure in the wake of Vatican II: (1) stick to it for grim death, for it needs time to take root (which is, of course, an argument for not revising the newly-revised English Missal), or change it even more till we get the formula right; (2) make a wholesale reform of the reformed liturgy and restore the baby that had been thrown out with the bathwater; and (3) given up the reform of the liturgy as a lost cause and return to the pre-conciliar liturgy. This third option alarms the most those who hold to the first option. They should be alarmed: the average age holding to response 3 is immensely younger than that of those holding to response 1.

So this grasping at apparent papal straws by the devotees of liturgical reform and more radical reform is ultimately rather pathetic. Even if their arguments are sound on historical, liturgical, spiritual and human levels (and they are not), biology has decided already that they will lose. The restorationists will outlive them.

However, back to the specific issue of revising the revised Missal. There is one obstacle to it, merely practical but significant nonetheless: no parish or monastery wants to spend hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros etc yet again on another set of freshly-revised missals, which will certainly be fought over even more bitterly than the current one.

What really concerns me is that those who seek a more idiomatic and accessible vernacular —read bland, banal and substantially inaccurate—mistake the whole function of the liturgy has contained in any missal. It is to worship God not please the taste and ecclesial predilections of any one group of people in any one age. To be blunt and take things to their extreme: there is no need for the people to understand immediately and completely (an impossibility anyway if there is any real content at all to them) the prayers of the Mass as they are not addressed to the people at all, but to God. In which case their content is all important, especially so that Latin-rite Catholics in whatever the language in which they worship are all united in praying for the same thing, and not locked in a local ghetto obsessed by local issues or the latest fads of the parish oligarchy.

This simple, fundamental fact of liturgy is lost on the zealous post-conciliar liturgical-reform devotees, which is why the liturgies they celebrate (and see the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference for hideous examples – Youtube it!) are always people-centred not God-centred. This anthropocentrism has no basis in the 1900 years of Church history prior to the post-conciliar reforms of the late 1960s. It is little better than self-worship, a bastard child of the Age of Aquarius and the Brotherhood of Man (and I do not mean the band, though they are not free of guilt; and sorry to the younger readers who have no idea what this band is – Google it!).

“Can’t you see? Mass is all about me!”  That’s what their body language says at any rate.

The campaign to roll back the revised missal and return to the banalities of the 1975 missal is something that should worry us all. The elderly zealots of the Aquarian approach to liturgy will not give up without a fight, and their’s will be a scorched-church policy leaving the young generation with a Church in the West denuded of worshippers and places of worship, with a fatally-flawed liturgy that has been tried and found wanting for decades that will require as much rebuilding as the more physical structures of the Church.

In other words, it is probably best not to tamper again with what has already just been tampered with and had been tampered with even more about 40 years before. It may be clunky in places but at least it has authentic content and continuity with the rest of the Catholic world. Let’s not go back to the anglo ghetto asking God to be nice.

Join the Conversation

  1. As you are saying: “It’s all about God” Very simple. The Eternal Sacrifice is all about the Alter Christus the Priest and what he is doing for us during the Consecration. We can’t ‘lose’ that or we are totally lost. Get those dancers out of there!

  2. There’s another group of Catholics who are most attracted to the pre-conciliar liturgies: adult converts from Protestant versions like myself!

  3. A priest told me that throughout his Ushaw training the fact that the primary purpose of the Mass was the worship of God was never mentioned!

  4. Pre-conciliar liturgies like Latin Mass!I am 64 yrs of age and am making a total transition from The Novus Ordo to The Latin Mass-and sound sermons!Vocations abound with Tradition and whither on the vine with Modernity.

  5. There will be a lot of kicking and screaming from my liberal friends, but I’m guessing the pre Vatican II mass may need to return to get strong devotions and increased vocations. The young seminarians that I know long for more spirituality in the mass and are more Orthodox than their mentors.

  6. Ever since the Mass changed from Latin to English (when I was 10) I have been waiting for things to get back to normal, i.e. Latin and Gregorian Chant. I entered religious life. I’ve served on three continents; North America, Europe and East Asia. Only in Asia was there some semblance of proper worship and more use of Latin than in either North America or Europe. I have always been the “odd” one out in wanting a Latin Mass and Gregorian Chant; Latin Office and proper Office hymns. I am still waiting and I grow more and more discouraged by the state of things and the attitude of so many of those in community and the priests that serve us. I especially dislike the use of the Swiss Canons; i.e. the Eucharistic Prayers for various occasions and special intentions. These read like some 1970s home mass creation and yet we have them on a weekly basis just as one of the “options” – no special intention needed. Honestly, I don’t have any hope anymore. And the way things are going I am sure the Church will not survive this crisis without a schism. Sorry. But I really have had enough. It’s a great article but it won’t do any good because the people who need to read it won’t and even if they did they would just ignore it. But thanks for the effort.

  7. “…even if their arguments are sound on historical, liturgical, spiritual and human levels (and they are not), biology has decided already that they will lose. The restorationists will outlive them.”

    Please God!

    (Sr Lynne – don’t despair – keep praying – all in His hands ultimately. Can you ask to be transferred to a Traditional order?)

  8. Sr Lynne, how much I agree with you! After 40 years of going regularly to Mass, I stumbled upon a church where I finally understood what it was all about! It was a prayerful, sacred liturgy, with beautiful music and chants and, as my son then 8 said “I don’t ever want to go to church anywhere else…it’s so beautiful”. Well, three years later the reform brigade arrived from a neighbouring church – within a year and a half the choir master had gone, the organist was marginalized and the Mass was noisy and chaotic. Any opponents to the modernization were belittled, told they were irrelevant and silenced (sounds a bit like Rome today!). I still don’t understand how something so special could be so easily destroyed, but it was – with total ruthlessness. I don’t get involved any more, which is cowardly, but I just know it will happen again and again. Sometimes I wonder about Orthodoxy.

  9. “What cannot be avoided is the stark reality that as soon as the new Mass was introduced Mass attendance began to plummet at a steady and almost inexorable rate.”

    Whenever I have had the chance to point this out – these oh-so-grim numbers – to an adherent of “Camp One,” I invariably get a variation on “It would have been so much worse had the reform *not* taken place.” So much worse because of secularization. So much worse because of Humanae Vitae. So much worse because the Church is so hateful to women by refusing to ordain them.

    But what can’t be denied is the fact of the collapse. And it runs utterly contrary to all the bright, optimistic predictions for what the reform would accomplish which were bandied about in the mid- to late-60’s. (And really, how much worse could it have been in, say, Quebec or the Netherlands? Because there’s virtually nothing left of the Church in either country now.)

    No doubt some Catholics did drift away because of birth control (or sexual teachings generally). But we must also face the fact that the massive upheaval in the liturgical revolution suggested to many Catholics that everything *else* could be changed, too – including these teachings. And when they weren’t…is it really so surprising that the seeming inconsistency jarred such Catholics into departure? Why did Paul VI never understand this?

    1. Just a thought. Leonine Prayer to St. Michael removed by Vatican II. Around 100 years after Pope St. Leo had the vision of Satan. Could it be that Satan is coming to collect His own?

  10. Richard Malcolm, you asked “Why did Paul VI never understand this?” I think he did and did it anyway.

    1. “I think he did and did it anyway.”

      Actually, I don’t think he did, not fully.

      He was clearly in a state of shell shock from 1968 onward. Humanae Vitae was his last encyclical, you know – he wrote no more after Humanae Vitae for the remaining ten years of his pontificate.

      He did not appear to expect the blowback. He did not expect that collapse in religious life and lay attendance. He clearly thought – and predicted – that revolutionizing the liturgy and devotional life would result in great things. And yet by 1971 he is muttering darkly about the smoke of Satan entering the Church.

      Papa Montini was, unquestionably, a true liberal. Was he a sleeper agent, bent on destruction? One can never be *sure*, but I am prepared to accept the possibility that that he was a Girondist who got stampeded by his Jacobin allies, finding himself astonished to be sent to the scaffold. A girondist is, remember, still a revolutionary.

  11. The psychedelic liturgy of Vatican II goes on and on. It’s better than LSD for those addicted to it. A lot of us have grown old, waiting for it to gasp out its last desperate breath, and the miracle is that so many young people have looked deeply into the patristic tradition of the Latin Church to seek and find its authentic liturgical spirituality, and to embrace it. Long may they live!

  12. There is no long term solution to the Church that allows the Novus Ordo to remain. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. To worship at the NO mass forms ones soul differently than worshipping at the Mass of the Ages. Is it no wonder the Church is in crisis. We are worshipping like protestants and thinking like protestants and believing what protestants believe. Find a traditional Mass and avoid the NO, thats my advise.


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