Liturgy, Abuse and Humanae Vitae: Some Connections?

This year and next see some significant ecclesiastical half-centuries racked up. This year it is the encyclical Humanae Vitae‘s (HV) turn, and next year it is the turn of the Novus Ordo Missae (NOM)—the new Mass. There has been and will be much written on these milestone anniversaries, by many more qualified that this writer to comment. Rather than publish a parallel, and probably quite similar, commentary to theirs, it is intended here to offer a few contextual notes you might keep in mind as you read them. We need now to interrogate more searchingly and more insistently both what you read and hear, and our own current situation.

50-odd years on HV and NOM offer a study in both contrasts and congruities. What HV predicted of a contraceptive culture has been comprehensively fulfilled; the promised fruitfulness of liturgical reform has not. The sad accuracy of the one and the equally sad failure of the other share a common cause (among others): the turn to self as the standard of judgment and the focus of attention.

That both HV and NOM came from the same pope, Bl Paul VI, is surely sobering. Popes are infallible in ex cathedra dogmatic judgment, but not in personal judgment, and Bl Paul VI is the example par excellence. Paul VI soundly, if controversially, ignored the advice of the commission on birth control; but he lamentably listened all too willingly to Annibale Bugnini, outed now as a manipulative scoundrel of diabolical ability.

In HV Paul VI prophetically foresaw the disastrous effects on church and society of the contraceptive mentality, with its sexual objectification of others as tools for the gratification of self, and the objectification of the human person itself, no longer a gift from God but either an accessory or an impediment to a misguided quest for self-fulfillment. It was a small but logical and indeed inexorable step from a contraceptive mentality to an abortion mentality, to designer babies, to population decline. The popular refusal to serve the perennial truth affirmed in HV exacerbated a crisis of authority in the Church that paralleled that in secular society, and by which the culture of the Church was overwhelmingly infected. The individual self became its own locus of authority and its own standard of judgment. Truth became a dead letter; now every individual has his or her own truth. No shock then, really, that individuals now can decide their “gender” irrespective of their biological inheritance; and if biology gets too much in the way, they can now just change it. It’s all about “me”, after all. This is the “progress” of our more “enlightened” age. In this the vast majority of those who still identify as Catholics acquiesce.

In NOM Paul VI ceased to be prophetic leader and became pathetically led. Probably against both his better judgment and the inner voice of a well-formed conscience Paul VI hitched his wagon to the reform train. Perhaps distracted by justifiably fond memories of the principles of the classic liturgical movement he failed to notice how it had been commandeered by the forces of a far more radical, more secular reform that had little to do with the true liturgical movement. Fruitful participation at Mass had become active participation, the gratification of the congregation was now the proper object of liturgical attention, not the duty to worship God in spirit and in truth. The original goal of promoting conscious awareness of the mysteries celebrated and addressed in liturgical worship had been supplanted by the new mission to promote a demystified cult of activity and verbosity. Tradition ceased to be the paradigm of worship; now it was the “me” of self, though cunningly camouflaged in the “us” of the increasingly self-worshipping community. Whatever got in the way of the new liturgical principles and priorities was discarded with increasing impunity. When authority all too infrequently tried to restrain the dogs of liturgical war now let loose, it was ignored. More often authority acquiesced in the new enlightened spirit of novelty, ensuring that authority came to be heard only when it agreed with the loud and militant minority among those they should have been leading. The shepherds also too often put self first, again camouflaged as the will of the community.

So when we read about the sins of Cardinal McCarrick, try to read his actions, and those of other clerical and episcopal abusers, in the same context we are now understanding HV and NOM. All evidence the triumph of self as the standard of judgement and the subject of gratification; truly, we might call it self-service. It is a tragedy, and even the right-thinking and right-intentioned find themselves trapped in the web of this modern, yet ancient, spirit.

I will not serve, said Satan. I came to serve not to be served, said the Lord. I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth if you would serve me, said Satan. The one who leaves father, mother, property and lands for my sake will be repaid a hundredfold in this life and receive eternal life in the next, said the Lord.

Who would truly be my disciple must deny himself, take up the Cross and follow me, says the Lord. This must be the paradigm and principle of all liturgy and morality if ever we are to regain ecclesiastical and social health. Both the shepherds and the flock have the opportunity to promote this renewal. Yet, let it be understood our Lord makes it clear that from those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded; and regarding those who lead the little ones astray, the Lord says it would be better for them that they had a millstone around their necks and be cast into the seas than to fall into the hands of the Lord at judgment.

May we have ears hear what the Lord has always said, and continues to say. And may be give us courage not only to hear his word, but to do it.

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  1. Great article! Thank you! Have been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari and his explanation of the various types of humanism that pervade the Church today and the world makes me think that humanism in its many guises leads to the sin against the first commandment, have no other gods before you. Yet we have made ourselves into little and strange god’sthat we worship. I have seen this played out in many religious formation programmes whereby the concentration is on the individual to the exclusion of God.
    His predictions for the future should be part of ever seminary and formation programme. We are sleep walking into a very strange new world. I would urge you to read his book and listen to some of his YouTube lectures. I certainly don’t agree with everything he says but I think he is pointing toward a world that will demand a much different response from the Church. That is, if we can get over ourselves and clean up the cesspool that now threatens to overwhelm us. Hope you’re having a great holiday!

    1. It’s not Humanism per se, it’s all of the masonic virtues: Humanism, Liberalism, Subjectivism, Relativism, Libertarianism, and we could go on and on.
      The Church has fought a fierce fight against Freemasonry. Just read the encyclicals on this topic. I am not making this up as a weird conspiracy theory. Freemasonry exists, and its goals are obvious. The Popes have warned us against them.
      Under Paul VI, this relationship changed. As John XXIII suddenly felt the need to have an appeasement policy towards the World, Paul changed the Church’s position on the demonic movement which Freemasonry is.

  2. What is most troubling about Paul VI is that, while he did notably pass on the authentic moral teaching in Humanae Vitae, he and his bishops failed to pass on the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite to the next generation as they themselves had received it. This failure to transmit the liturgical ‘traditio’, if I may put it that way, along with the specific type of spiritual experience proper to it, would seem unthinkable, yet that is exactly what happened. I can identify with a previous comment here about ‘sleepwalking into a very strange new world. Yes, indeed.

  3. Excellent Father— as a non Catholic (we still must have that conversation) but as a mom and life long high school educator HM always made so much sense especially living in this post 60’s post pill society— Pope Paul VI shows us clearly the diagnosis yet our critically ill culture continues to refuse to ignore the diagnosis let alone the cure!

  4. Spot on, Fr!

    I wonder if I could have your reaction to something touching upon all of this…

    I have a very good friend who stayed with the Church through thick and thin (well, thin and thinner would probably be more accurate!), and could never understand the exodus in response to the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in recent years. After Cardinal Arinze made his plea to return to Ad Orientem, however, and was roundly castigated in response, he left for the Russian Orthodox Church.

    How does this strike you, Fr? Personally, I understand 100% how that did it for him, but I seem to be in a minority of 1 amongst my fellow Catholics.

    God bless you and all who read/post here.


  5. I wonder what would have happened if “vernacular TLM” of 1965-69 had been given more of a chance?

    People are resistant to the old rite because they assume it means going back to Latin, which is especially difficult for non-Romance language congregations.

    1. Well, that’s one of my great what-ifs: what if the interim rites had been given a chance rather than being employed (cynically? duplicitously?) as a softening up process from the radical, non-organic rewriting that Bugnini and his crew had as their endgame? The first post-conciliar missal was unadulterated Vatican II.

      To be honest, though, I don’t think Latin was ever a real problem for the laity. It was the experts clamouring for change, not the laity. Latin was a unifying bond for a truly international, universal Church. The 1964/5 missal with its vernacular readings and Latin ordinary and proper was a noble compromise.

      The unnecessary, unwarranted, unconciliar abandonment of ad orientem was another grievous blow to our liturgy, as was (again deceitfully imposed) communion in the hand. Neither of these changes were sanctioned by the Council.

      You can see why conspiracy theories gained traction. Mind you, they were pretty much confirmed as well!

      1. Yes, I agree with you, Father. I can see the benefit of having vernacular readings at Mass (with a Latin reading first, and then a vernacular translation from an approved source), but other than that, why should we change our sacral language?
        I totally agree with your arguments, but I would add another one: Pew Missals. They existed for a very long time. People knew what the priest was saying, at least if they bothered to look it up. They could pray everything the priest prayed at the Altar. Every word the priest was saying, they could follow with their missals. Only with the introduction of the vernacular, this became impossible, since you never know what Father will say. He obviously uses his homemade Eucharistic Prayer (which, of course, is a mini-sermon in and of itself), he will use the prayers written by that nice lady who always writes the prayers, and he will substitute the readings with other passages which are much more cheerful, and much shorter, of course delivered by an Elementary School ministrant, so that no one even has the chance to understand a word.
        Yes, the multifarious advantages of the vernacular. How else would Father satisfy his need for self-presentation?

  6. I think a key problem is that there is no realistic strategy beyond mere survival among the TLM supporters. The TLM is not going to be “the” mass again, unless the non-TLM church fails so catastrophically as to leave the currently small minority of TLM supporters as the governing majority. And we are talking worldwide failure there, not just in the West… The current situation of the TLM as a place where hardcore liturgy fans and traditionalists get parked, while the rest of the church basically ignores them, is better than the outright suppression that went on before. But it offers no future, really. And the dreams about the youth going all traditional and reforming the church simply through generational change are basically delusional. This will only ever work as a variant of the catastrophic failure scenario.

    If you want something TLM-like as “normal” again, then it is not going to be through a simple return to the TLM by the church. It will have to be through a “reform of the reform” of the new mass towards the TLM. And there you have the choice of hoping for either centuries of slow development in the right direction or the same sort of top-down imposition of drastic change that removed the TLM in the first place. But there is a reason why that particular crass change was possible back then: on one hand there was massive societal upheaval providing motivation (fear of losing the masses), on the other hand the church was still obedient (sheepish?) enough to follow. Now though, nothing in the wider society would motivate the church to return to its traditions, and the church is largely disobedient and may not follow if pushed back to its roots.

    Frankly, I’m wondering if we are not simply moving to another major schism. Arian Controversy 325 AD, Great Schism 1054 AD, Reformation 1517 AD – it happens about every 500 years or so, and it seems rather overdue now.

    1. The RotR has failed and died. It’s not going to happen. PF put the last nail in the coffin.

      I think the TLM will not become THE Mass by Papal jurisdiction, that is true. Even if Arinze or Sarah or Burke were to become Pope in the next conclave, they could or would not change that. Even if Kwasniewski became Pope, he could not impose this legislation. It’s become more or less impossible.

      However, the TLM is in the process of becoming THE Mass again simply by historical fact. Novus Ordo Mass attendance shrinks, and in the next five years, the catastrophic state of the Church will become even more so. Many bishops and priests will die in the next five years (speaking statistically from their date of ordination/consecration), and others will retire. There will be not many priests to fulfill all of the vacant ministries, since the seminaries are pretty much empty, and many dioceses have semesters without a single ordination. Faithful will leave the Church Militant either by death or by, well, leaving. One doesn’t have to be a pessimistic Debbie Downer in order to see that. In another ten years, the state of the Church will deteriorate again. Being Catholic today means to make a conscious, active decision. Cultural Catholicism is dying. Being Catholic and wanting to be it means also to think about one’s own identity. One has to think about Holy Mass, a personal spirituality, and a counter-cultural stance in the World.

      Many converts and convinced Catholics chose the TLM as “their” Rite of Mass. Not only does it guarantee sound Catholic teaching, but also continuity with the earliest Christians, and a distinct Catholic identity. The New Mass, even if valid, licit, and sometimes beautifully celebrated, looks more like a Teilhardian World-cult than a Sacrifice to the Most High God.

      I don’t think liturgical details are that important. People just want the Catholic Mass, and that’s it. The often artificial discussions liturgists have about the Roman Canon and its language coming from Roman legalistic terms etc. have no impact on the faithful. If one were to reform the Old Mass in a fashion envisioned by the Council (and my opinion is that we should leave the Council behind, since its decisions were imprudent and based on false archaeologistic principles) or based on other principles, it still wouldn’t disturb the faithful. But putting make-up on a pig still doesn’t turn it into a beautiful lady. 1962 is by no means perfect. In fact, it’s almost as bad as the NOM. Maybe we should go back to a time when Popes didn’t view the Liturgy as their own personal plaything (that is, either before Divino afflatu, or at least before 1955). That would be a necessary step to correct the many errors and failures and faults of the Liturgical Movement, and to simply return to the Roman Rite as it has always been, and as it has always been sufficient and sanctifying.

      The TLM is not for Traditionalists anymore. The “simple folk” is attending as well. People with no formal theological education attend; people who just want to be Catholic and have their Catholic “thing”. Nothing is as Catholic as the Holy Mass in the Eternal Roman Rite.

      Time is in favour of the TLM, even if the Popes weren’t.

      1. First, your dream of a future dominated by the TLM is precisely what I said: catastrophic failure of the vast majority of the current church, leaving TLM-lovers as the only surviving remnant. Have you ever stopped to think about what you are saying there? Do you really want to dump over 1 billion people like so much spiritual ballast just so you can sail the barque of St Peter into liturgical la-la land?

        Second, the optimism in TLM-circles is in my opinion somewhat delusional. What actual growth there has been has to be seen in perspective: If you are a group of twenty, then ten new members mean 50% growth. If you are a group of twenty million, then you need ten million new members to achieve similar relative growth. But getting ten million new people to sign up is a lot harder than getting ten more. The smaller a group, the easier it is to grow it. Furthermore, in its current “extraordinary” form the TLM-community is still quite young. It remains to be seen just how good it really is at “generational maintenance”, in particular as it gets bigger. Are the kids of the current TLM followers really going to be there, and the grandkids, too? We will see… I doubt it though. It’s all nice and well to bash “cultural Catholicism”, but it certainly worked for many centuries. Without cultural fetters, you may well find that those leaving their parental home find leaving their faith behind quite easy as well. Anyway, the proof is in the pudding. Happy to see the future prove me wrong there, but I’m not holding my breath.

        By the way, of course the TLM does not guarantee sound Catholic teaching in any way, shape or form. Most of the heresy, schism, scandalous immorality and worldliness of Catholicism, both lay and clerical, historically happened against the backdrop of (some form of) the TLM, after all. This idea that getting the liturgy right will somehow cure the ills of Catholicism, leaving everybody faithful, charitable, moral, … is just demonstrably false. Guess what mass these “Holy Fathers” celebrated ? Guess what mass Peter Waldo or Martin Luther grew up with? Etc.

      2. Apparently I cannot respond to your comment directly, so I am responding to my own comment.

        I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I do not want to “dump” 1 billion faithful. I do not know where you got that from, but this is so utterly ridiculous that I won’t dignify that with a response.

        The optimism in TLM-circles is absolutely justified. Look at the actual numbers. The TLM is growing, drawing more vocations and faithful, and the communities have struggles to accommodate all those novices and postulants, whether secular or religious. The OF churches stand empty, they are getting closed, turned into Yoga centers and McDonald’s restaurants. The EF communities acquire empty churches and fill them with life. And this trend is only going to increase since not only more young people discover Tradition, but especially young families provide the Church with traditional-minded children brought up in the TLM and with the traditional rites for the Sacraments. Even bishops discover Tradition, and a Pontifical High Mass (or even a Mass at the Throne), which was unthinkable even 20 years ago, now has become much more accessible (think of Sarah, Sample etc.).

        Cultural Catholicism is a pest, and it needs to die, finally. Did it really work? People just being Catholic because they were born into a Catholic family, but having no actual affiliation with the Church, or conviction? Times have changed, and being baptized as a toddler doesn’t mean you are going to stay Catholic. In fact, most don’t. They are nominally Catholic, but they belong without believing. This is not Traddy propaganda, but studies have shown exactly that (and those studies were carried out both by liberal Christians as well as secular researchers).

        The Liturgy in itself IS sound doctrine. It’s an “enacted” doctrine. It contains the entirety of Catholic teaching, and presents it in the most perfect way. This, of course, depends also on the priest. But where should one find the Church’s teachings, if not in the TLM? Despite that, no one says that going to Holy Mass on Sunday suffices for an active spiritual life. No one ever said this, but you seem to think that Traditionalists claim that. They don’t. It’s clear that we need saintly priests, good catechesis, holy families, a vivid life of prayer, traditional devotions, an active community life, works of spiritual and corporal mercy etc.

      3. Well, you are not *explicitly* advocating to dump over 1 billion Catholics, true enough. But your idea of how the TLM will become *the* mass again is that the novus ordo church will collapse, shrink, disappear,… while the TLM church will grow. You have said that multiple times now. Unless the TLM attendance can grow fast enough to soak up over 1 billion Catholics not attending now, they will be lost to the faith one way or the other. Hence this loss is *implicit* in your victory fantasies for the TLM. The problem you need to face then is that your “enemy”, the novus ordo church, is still better than the alternatives: be it Protestantism, or Islam, or hedonistic apathy, or whatever… It simply is not a “win” for the Catholic faith if the novus ordo church straight up dies. You have to win the novus ordo types over, move them from a Catholicism you consider inferior to one that you consider superior, or by your own criteria a grievous loss of souls will be inevitable.

        I’ve also never seen the “actual numbers” on TLM attendance, and I’m not sure that they even exist (i.e., I’m not sure that anybody has compiled a fair and complete overview). But I’ve heard the same sort of enthusiastic talk over a decade ago, and lo and behold, things have stayed more or less the same as far as I can see: the TLM experiences steady but slow growth. That’s a lot better than much of the rest of the church (at least in the West), but it is not exactly rocking the Catholic world.

        I’m well aware that people now follow their own spiritual convictions rather than cultural norms, in the West. That’s why Christianity (of all kinds) is dying there. And that’s why religions which still exert strong cultural control, like in many Muslim communities, remain stable or growing. The idea that some kind of universal Christianity will be re-established by individual and active choice for the faith is naive. Interestingly enough, this idea is shared right across the board: ultra liberals as well as rad trads all think that we can somehow get everybody enthusiastic about and engaged in Christianity. They disagree on what that would look like, but they agree on the idea as such. But this ignores human nature and history, and will fail.

        How much doctrine one may find in the liturgy depends a bit on how one looks at it. For example, is it fair to count the content of the Credo as “doctrine contained in the liturgy”, or not? Anyway, you simply miss my main point. We know by virtue of history that the most debased forms of Catholicism, the most outrageous corruptions of morals and the most impious behaviours, the most absurd heresies and the crassest schisms… all those can occur while everybody and their dog is attending the TLM. Consequently, one should not have high expectations of a change in liturgy back to the TLM. The problem here is a selection effect: at the moment you find mostly conservative enthusiasts attending the TLM. If the TLM ever conquers the masses again, then you will find it much, much harder to maintain your high standards.

    2. The people need to be convince they have been worshipping falsly all these years. Which is breaking the first and third commandment.

  7. Reverend Father,

    Paul is sometimes seen as a “tragic” character. Strong in his faith, but gullible and naive.
    Sadly, I don’t share this characterization. Recently, Rorate Caeli has posted an article on Paul. The author claims that Paul was a friend not only of the Liturgical Movement, but also of its deviated and cancerous forms, when theologians and “liturgists” went astray into absurd propositions, like Bugnini, Jungmann and others.
    Paul probably was a weak Pope, and maybe he was gullible. But he wasn’t a puppet of Bugnini et al.; on the contrary, he actively encouraged their crazy ideas, and supported the New Rite (which superseded not only the traditional Mass rite, but also the other liturgical and sacramental rites).

    Honestly, Paul reminds me of some of my theology professors (I am a dogmatic theologian myself). Though they were/are wildly Modernist and Liberal, every now and then they would rant against abortion, or they would speak in favor of Latin as sacred language. But on other occasions, they have no problem with denying divinely revealed dogmas of the faith, such as the Immaculate Conception, the bodily and historic Resurrection of Christ, or they would denounce faithful attending the TLM.

    This is because Modernists, Liberals and heretics are not JUST that. They always keep something from the faith, but deny other things. They can be passionate pro-life fighters, but also hate priests in cassock; they can be traditional Thomists, but also support same-sex “marriage”.

    Paul seems to me like one of those people. Modernist and Liberal in some regards, Conservative and Traditionalist in others. He clearly *wanted* the New Rite (he was a son of the Nouvelle Théologie, and the New Rite is the official cult of this heresy), but he also knew that contraception etc. were wrong and bad.

    I would never say Paul was a heretic. That’s what people say who think of themselves as being the Magisterium. I do not belong to them. However, besides Paul’s obvious human defects (and we all have our fair share in those), he was not a victim, but an “enabler”. He approved of the rites. And if we are to believe Bugnini, he even agreed with the changes and reforms. Bugnini was a liar, but there is no doubt that if he boasts about spending evenings with the Pope and discussing changes to the Liturgy, that those can be taken as true stories.

    We know how enthusiastic Paul was about Vatican II and the New Rite. I don’t have the exact quote, but he said something along the lines of: “We have lost many good things, but that doesn’t matter since the Church has found new vitality, and the sacrifices we made were necessary. Now a new springtime can begin.”

    We must be eternally grateful to Paul for HV, but we must also acknowledge that this Pope was no innocent lamb or naive child.


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