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Response to Critics of Mass of the Ages

Editor’s note: as I stated in my initial comments on the film’s release, the Mass of the Ages trilogy was produced by a number of OnePeterFive contributors and friends of our organisation. At that time I predicted that the film would “put to silence any ignorant, irrational or uncharitable critics of the traditional movement by means of truth and charity – even those in the Vatican.” To date, very few substantial responses to the film have been released, but the film invites serious criticism. Below we republish the response of Mr. DiPippo to one of these critiques, and direct readers to his appearance on the podcast today for further analysis on these issues. -TSF

Muphry’s Law Comes After Mass of the Ages

Muphry’s Law is the principle, well-known to copy-editors, that in the coarse of correcting someone else’s errors, one inevitably makes a few of one’s own. The parameters of this law are stretched almost to their furthest limits in this attempt by an Australian group of Dominican sisters (see note in following paragraph) to challenge the second part of the Mass of the Ages documentary series. In a quarter of the run-time, it manages to commit a genuinely astonishing number of mistakes about and misrepresentations of the history of the liturgy and the post-Conciliar reform. Perhaps that is why, unlike Cameron O’Hearn, the producer of MOTA, the good sisters, in the truest spirit of the Listening Church™ (formerly known as the Dialoguing Church™), have not allowed comments on the video. (MOTA part 2 has been removed from YouTube because of a fair-use challenge involving ten second of soundtrack, as Mr O’Hearn explains here, but comments are open on all his channel’s videos. You can watch it here on its own site:

UPDATE: thanks to Mr Eamonn Gaines for pointing out in the combox that the sisters who produced this video are a diocesan congregation, not formally affiliated to the Dominican Order.

Before all else, I must state that I do not attribute to the sisters any deliberate lying. Some of the mistakes which they make result from an evident failure to do very basic research; this is regrettable, but does not make for proof of mendacity. But many of the others are simply articles of faith among the defenders of the post-Conciliar reform, much as “Constantine made Jesus into a god at the Council of Nicea” is an article of faith among certain kinds of new atheists. And just like “Constantine made Jesus into a god at the Council of Nicea”, they rest on very sandy foundations, but have been repeated so long and so often that many people have no idea how sandy those foundations really are.

However, while I do not impute to them any suggestio falsi (with one exception), it is impossible to avoid the charge of a massive suppressio veri. In this regard, the video winds up committing so many errors that I can hardly hope to document them all without writing far more than you are likely prepared to read. I therefore will limit myself to explaining only the most egregious among them, which are more than sufficient.

At 0:18 there occur the terms “Extraordinary Form” and “Ordinary Form.” At no point does the video acknowledge that this terminology has been officially suppressed, as part of a doomed (but for that, no less pastorally harmful) attempt to save face over the post-Conciliar reform’s failure to produce any of the fruits which Sacrosanctum Concilium looked for in its opening paragraph.

At 0:55, we are presented with the classic canard that the old Mass was often celebrated very badly before Vatican II. As a friend of mine once observed, “The TLM was celebrated poorly; we needed a new liturgy!” but somehow, “Just because the Novus Ordo is nearly ubiquitously celebrated poorly doesn’t mean that we need a new liturgy!”

First, we see footage of traditional Masses being done well nowadays. (I pause to say, “Good job, lads! Way to fulfill the Council’s vision for liturgical renewal!”) Then we are told that “we should note that before Vatican II, the liturgical practice was largely that of the Low Mass.” This is a perfect suppressio veri, which fails to make the all-important distinction between “before Vatican II”, which is more than 95% of the Church’s history, and “immediately before Vatican II”, which is, um, less. It therefore also fails to acknowledge that the best of our liturgical culture, from the cathedral of Chartres to the music of Palestrina (which is to say, everything that Vatican II wanted to thrive, and which has in the ensuing decades conspicuously failed to thrive), is also a product of the Roman Rite, and that the post-Conciliar rite has inspired almost nothing to match any of it.

It also fails to acknowledge that by abolishing the formal and prescriptive distinction between low, sung and high Mass, the Novus Ordo has normalized the low Mass with hymns, not improved it.

“The Mass … was often said in quite ordinary settings.” This is simply not true; most Masses were said in churches, and most churches, even when not very good artistically, made an effort to be beautiful, and in any case, distinctly church-like. I say “most” advisedly, because in the period immediately before Vatican II, especially after World War I, there was an emerging trend to build ugly churches totally devoid of any sense of the sacred. The video does not acknowledge that this harmful trend was normalized after the Council, and still flourishes in much of the world.

“…the people in the pews were often involved in their own personal prayers”: another suppressio veri, which again ignores the crucial distinction between “before Vatican II” and “immediately before Vatican II”, and the fact that this phenomenon was realized very unevenly through the Church. My father used to say that it was quite common in the ethnically Italian churches he grew up in (of which two out of three are now not just closed, but gone), while an Irish former co-worker of mine who went to Catholic school in the same city at the same time used to say, with great indignation at the idea that she was “ignorant” of the Mass, “We ALL had our own missals, and those sisters made darn sure that we knew how to use them!”

Card. Ratzinger once wrote that if the point of the liturgical reform was popular participation, it was not necessary at all in Catholic Germany. In 1884, a Benedictine monk named Anselm Shott published a hand-missal which became so popular that German Catholics to this very day still use the term “Schott-Meßbuch” to mean a hand-missal for the Novus Ordo. In other words, the video sums up a very complex and lengthy aspect of the Church’s history, which would itself be worthy of its own documentary, as if one tiny part of it were representative of the whole.

At 1:36, we see footage of Richard Cardinal Cushing, the archbishop of Boston, saying President Kennedy’s funeral Mass in 1963. (This is captioned “A Mass prior to Vatican II…”, which had begun over thirteen months earlier.) This Mass is, frankly, bizarre; His Eminence doesn’t just say the quiet parts aloud, but does so in a weirdly affected stentorian voice. Another suppressio veri: it is not mentioned that he was doing so against the rubrics of the Missal, which had not yet been modified. (Sacrosanctum Concilium had not yet even been issued.) And another: it is not mentioned that the combined effect of saying rather than singing the Mass, the vernacular, versus populum, and standing at the people’s eye-level, has made the Novus Ordo a hostage to the priest’s personal quirks 1000 times more than was ever the case before the reform.

At 2:12, under the heading, “Coincidence = Cause Fallacy”, the sisters take MOTA to task for suggesting that “the new form of Mass as such caused the decline in faith practice (sic) over the past fifty years.” It is another article of faith among the post-Conciliar Rite’s defenders that this decline is in no way attributable to what Catholics were actually experiencing when they went to church, but rather to the secularization of society. I have never seen how this claim made any sense. “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” is a fallacy in logic; the fallacy lies in the “ergo”, but that doesn’t change the fact that causality moves forward in time.

Another suppressio veri: the Church’s authorities did not present the liturgical reform as if it would have no effect in halting the slide of Catholic societies into secularism. They presented it as if it were exactly what was needed to strengthen the faith of practicing Catholics, bring back those who had fallen away, and reconvert secularized Western man to Christ. And when that not only didn’t happen, but practicing Catholics began abandoning the Faith in droves, they assured their dwindling congregations that all was well, or soon would be. Only when it became too obvious to hide that all was not well did the official line change to, “Well, it’s all just too bad, but there was nothing to be done about it, because of secularism.”

At 3:03 begins a section of “the Bugnini myths”, and it is here that, after more suppressio veri, the sisters finally make their one and only genuinely serious criticism.

First, they attempt to downplay the importance of then-Monsignor Annibale Bugnini’s role as the gate-keeper and coordinator of the activities of the Consilium ad exsequendam. Yes, the Novus Ordo “is not a one-man production”, but it is a production in which the influence of that one man was not merely significant, but determinative. This fact is sufficiently well demonstrated by the memoires of Bugnini himself and of Fr Bouyer, among many others, as to require no further comment here.

They go on to say that the Consilium worked for four years, as if four years were not an outrageously short time in which to do a top-to-bottom radical reform of a liturgy into which the Church had poured some 15 centuries of wisdom and experience. They state that the Consilium worked in consultation with the bishops of the world, which is true as far as it goes, and say nothing about how little satisfied many bishops were with their work. But later on (11:02), they criticize MOTA for “not drawing our attention to the fact that the worst destruction of the Novus Ordo was done by priests and bishops formed in the years prior to the Council. Obviously there were flaws in their theological and liturgical formation…” The question is, of course, neither asked nor answered whether these flaws ALSO affected their consultation with the Consilium.

They say that the Consilium worked with the Congregation for Worship, without noting that that Congregation was completely sidelined, reduced by the Pope to rubber-stamping all its decisions. (Mons. Piero Marini, a colleague and admirer of Bugnini, documents this very well in his book “A Challenging Reform.”) And they say that they worked with the Pope, without mentioning Fr Bouyer’s well-known story of how Bugnini routinely deceived the Pope, or how the Pope himself did not bother to even look at their work in inventing a new lectionary.

Myth no. 2 touches the vexed question of Bugnini’s reputed Masonic affiliation. Here, I readily declare my agreement with Dom Alcuin Reid, who says in MOTA (54:30) that his work should be judged above all by its fruits. However, the sisters make a legitimate suggestio falsi when they asked why Paul VI then “promoted” him, rather than defrock or excommunicate him. To take a man who had been at the head of the liturgical reform for over a decade, someone with no diplomatic experience whatsoever, and make him nuncio to the tottering regime of the Shah of Iran, which has a Catholic population of less than 3 hundredths of a percent, is most unmistakably NOT a promotion. And of course, if they had done any research on Paul VI at all, the sisters would have known that if he had made such a grave mistake as to entrust such an important reform to a mason, he would never have admitted it by defrocking or excommunicating him.

Thus far, the suggestio falsi, but we also should not ignore the suppressio veri of the fact that, despite the supposed perfection and magnificence of their work, there has been suspiciously little celebration of ANY of the members of the Consilium since they finished it and went home lo these many years ago.

At 4:21, we come to the video’s one serious and substantive critique. Starting at 31:06, MOTA gives a quote famously but incorrectly imputed to Bugnini: “The road to union with our separated brethren – the protestants – is to remove every stone from the liturgy, every prayer from the Mass that could (even remotely) be an obstacle or difficulty.” (Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965).

This should be given in a fuller form and translated as, “And yet, the love of souls and the desire to help (or ‘make easier’) in every way the road to union for the separated brethren, by removing every stone that could even remotely constitute an obstacle or source of difficulty, have driven the Church to make even these painful sacrifices.” And furthermore, this was said, not in reference to a general reform of the liturgy, but specifically, to the revision of one of the solemn orations of Good Friday.

The video correctly notes that this is a very serious flaw in MOTA, one which should without question be corrected. I urge Mr O’Hearn and his team not only to do so as quickly as possible, but to formally acknowledge the mistake, which undermines the credibility of their otherwise excellent work.

However, as Dr Kwasniewski rightly pointed out to me, the statement is nevertheless a fair summary of the ethos of the reform as a whole. The reformers unquestionably saw their mission not as the restoration of the liturgy which the Council had asked for, but the remaking of it in their own image and likeness. Ferdinando Cardinal Antonelli, who was a member of the Consilium, and in principle very much in favor of reform, stated this outright in his memoirs. And furthermore, this remaking did unquestionably consist in the reformers identifying, each according to his own personal ideas, what in the liturgy constituted an “obstacle”, whether it be to the comprehension of the faithful, ecumenical progress, or some other hazily identified but unquestionably desirable goal, and taking it out. And this is why they took advantage of the highly imprudent ambiguity of Sacrosanctum Concilium’s statement that “elements which … , were added (to the liturgy) with but little advantage are now to be discarded”, and discarded any number of elements that are attested in every single pertinent liturgical book of the Roman Rite as far back as we have them.

(Editor’s note: since I am credited as a writer on the film, it seems apropos for me to comment as well on this critique. In response to this critique, the MOTA team released a statement to their email list conceding essentially the same thing that Mr. DiPippo says here. Yes, the quote is somewhat inexact, and some words are added for context (as might be done in brackets in a printed text) but it nevertheless communicates the basic principles of the reform writ large. During the production phase of the film, I saw an earlier version of the film which included this quote and I was aware of the full context of the quote referring specifically to the Good Friday reforms and the justification “for the good of souls.” However, I did not (and still don’t) consider the quote as used in MOTA to be a misuse of the quote, since it accurately communicates the essential principles of Bugnini and his reformers. This critique of MOTA ultimately seems to strain the gnat of an imprecise translation and swallow the camel of the general reform principles of accommodating Protestants. -TSF)

From this point forward (5:50), the sisters’ video behaves very much like a badly outclassed prize-fighter who, having landed one very solid punch on his opponent, has completely exhausted himself…

[Part II of the article continues]

[T]his video makes one fully legitimate critique, but attempts to do almost all the rest of its “work” by stating only a part of the pertinent information, a process known by the Latin term “suppressio veri – suppression of what it true.” And as it begins, so it goes on. Once again, this is not by any means a complete list of the mistakes of the remainder of the video; such a list would be as exhausting for you to read as it would be for me to write. If you want a quick-take which shows just how utterly shoddy the research that went in to this really is, scroll down to the last paragraph.

The video objects (5:50) to an image which compares the post-Conciliar Rite of Mass to a tree which has had most of its limbs lopped off, by stating that “practically all of the old form elements are still there, or at least available in the new.” suppressio veri: it does not acknowledge that many of these elements are available in theory, but in practice, usually not available, and in many places, ruthlessly or even unlawfully prohibited. It does not acknowledge that some of them (e.g. the Mass lectionary) were radically changed, and in many ways very much for the worse. It does not acknowledge that it was in no way the intention of Sacrosanctum Concilium for such elements to become completely optional, and in many places, ruthlessly or even unlawfully prohibited. There is no point in saying “the Novus Ordo can also be said in Latin” if many priests dare not do so for fear of punishment from their superiors. There is no point in saying that “you can still have chant and polyphony” if the schola was replaced by a guitar band 50 years ago and has never been reformed.

The video objects that MOTA “ignores the fact that in other eras, elements were taken on and left out of the liturgy.” MOTA is not about this, but I can assure our readers that I know personally several of the people who appear in it, and they would never deny such a thing. The video’s account of the post-Tridentine liturgical reform squeezes a truly remarkable amount of gross over-simplification into less than a minute, and makes several mistakes. Of these, the most inexcusable is to claim that it introduced a new calendar. The Tridentine reform kept the Roman ordo temporalisa stable part of the rite for many centuries, completely intact, and lightly pruned the calendar of Saints. It falsely claims that it took out the “Prayers of the Faithful”, more properly known as bidding prayers. These did exist in some pre-Tridentine rites, by no means all, and in any case, have no relationship to the free-for-all Prayers of the Faithful of the post-Conciliar rite. It repeats the canard that other forms of the Roman Rite were largely prohibited after 1570, another gross over-simplification. In more than one place, it asserts that the Dominican Use did not have the offertory prayers of the Roman Rite. suppressio veri: the Dominican Use has offertory prayers which are much shorter than those of the Roman Missal, but in this regard, is very much an outlier among medieval uses.

There follows an attempt to provide a definition of “organic growth”, which I will not contest, because “organic growth” is not a useful way of describing how the liturgy changes. The video then falsely imputes to MOTA the following “faulty premises”:

“1. Everything added to the liturgy must stay.” MOTA does not say this. suppressio veri: of course, the post-Conciliar reform went far beyond the letter and spirit of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and took out of the Roman Rite many things that ought not to have been taken out, some of which are attested in every pertinent liturgical book of that rite as far back as we have them.

2. “Restoration of ancient custom is not legitimate”. MOTA does not say this either. suppressio veri: almost none of the putative restorations of ancient customs in the Novus Ordo restored them in their integrity, that is to say, as they are actually found in the ancient liturgical books. With few exceptions, they were almost all rewritten according to the bright ideas of the members of the Consilium, who at the same time, gave the lie to their own work by throwing out completely many aspects of the Roman Rite of the greatest possible antiquity. And of course, many such “restorations” (the canon of Hippolytus, the epiclesisthe Old Testament reading, the Solemnity of Mary on Jan. 1) are not “restorations” at all, because they never existed.

3. “The substance and accidental elements of the Mass are equally important”. MOTA does not say this either. suppressio veri: the creators of the post-Conciliar liturgy clearly had no good sense at all as to which accidental elements of the liturgy best express the substance of the Mass. If they had, they would not have subjected the prayers of the Mass and the Bible itself to the ruthless campaign of ideological censorship which took out so many expressions of what the Church wants us to receive from the Mass and know about the Faith.

The video then attempts to defend the indefensible by claiming that MOTA misrepresents how much was taken out of the Mass, since many such things are present in “modified or unmodified forms.” suppressio veri: the word “modified” is yet another gross oversimplification, and does not address how badly so many of those modifications were done, or the atrocious historical scholarship on the basis of which they were done. For example, the “proper chants” are counted as “still present” because they are an “option”, without saying that they are an option that is almost totally disused, and that this is the diametric opposite of what Sacrosanctum Concilium wanted to happen, and what Paul VI himself originally claimed would happen.

The Gloria, the preface, the Pater etc, can all still be sung, and in Latin, and indeed, the whole Mass “including the canon may be sung!” suppressio veri: it is also completely licit, and very much more common, for them all to be said in the vernacular at any Mass, however, “solemn”, even on the most important feast days. The Offertory prayers are declared to be “made more applicable” in their newer form, a meaningless statement and another suppressio veri, since this change was not asked for by Sacrosanctum Concilium, and serves no good purpose. Yes, the Roman Canon “may always be used”. suppressio veri: it may also never be used. Etc.

At 9:04 there begins a section introduced by the header, “False Ideas of Vatican II”, which purports to explain MOTA’s false ideas about “the Vatican II liturgy.” suppressio veri: the post-Conciliar reform is not the liturgy of Vatican II. It accuses MOTA once again of a failure to acknowledge that a priest can say the Mass with nearly all of the elements of the pre-conciliar rite, and shows footage of some exemplary Masses from churches like St. James at Spanish Place in London and St John Cantius in Chicago, (suppressio veri), without mentioning how few such churches are and how far between.

suppressio veri: at no point does the video even hint at the fact that while the liturgy has indeed changed in the past, never before did it undergo so many changes and so rapidly as it did in the post-Conciliar reform.

At 11:40, the video degenerates into a parody of itself when it effectively reproves the Tridentine Mass for being, of all things, too enculturated, because it could be celebrated with Baroque music in the 18th century, Gothic-revival vestments in the 19th etc. This is especially hilarious, considering that it is said in defense of a liturgy that was deliberately designed to be subject to constant change, based on the constant change of the surrounding culture. suppressio veri: the objective forms of the old liturgy meant that, whether for good or ill, the culture was put to the service of it, whereas enculturation in the post-Conciliar rite means that the liturgy is put to the service of the culture.

This is followed by the even more absurd contention that the post-Conciliar reform represents, through Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Church’s embrace of the pre-Conciliar liturgical movement. suppressio veri: the post-Conciliar liturgy is the betrayal and overthrow, not the fulfillment, of both the liturgical movement and Sacrosanctum Concilium. Ironically, it quotes Sacrosanctum Concilium to the effect that it is the wish of the Church to undertake a careful general reform of the liturgy. suppressio veri: everyone who has read the memoires of people like Fr Bouyer or Cardinal Antonielli knows that the post-Conciliar reform of the liturgy was careless in the extreme.

Weirdly enough, the video does finally get around to saying something useful when it claims that “we’re obviously still at the stage where most people have very limited and rather distorted ideas about the Mass.” proclamatio veri: yes, the liturgical reform has indeed absolutely failed to achieve what Vatican II wanted it to achieve. We already knew that. It also quotes the recent apostolic letter on the liturgy to the same effect, because when the Pope says that he “would like this letter to help us to rekindle our wonder for the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration, to remind us of the necessity of an authentic liturgical formation, and to recognize the importance of an art of celebrating that is at the service of the truth of the Paschal Mystery and of the participation of all of the baptized in it, each one according to his or her vocation”, he acknowledges, whether he means to or not, that the post-Conciliar reform has achieved none of this.

This is followed immediately by seven pictures of the post-Conciliar Rite: a boy’s choir, a beautiful missal, a beautiful vestment, the elevation of the host at a Mass celebrated ad orientem, a beautiful altar set, a picture of a Gregorian chant, the minor elevation at another Mass, by a priest wearing a beautiful vestment. These do exactly what the beginning of the video accuses MOTA of doing: presenting the new liturgy at its best, without acknowledging that these things do not represent the experience of many ordinary Catholics. It is hypocritical in the extreme to reprove MOTA for presenting the traditional Mass at its best because the traditional Mass was often not celebrated at its best, and then show the post-Conciliar Mass at its best, when that best is far rarer than it ever was in the traditional rite, as everyone knows.

Just to end by adding insult to injury, the video then exhorts us to put an end to the “damaging liturgical wars”, a few seconds after citing a text by the person most responsible for inflaming them in recent times.

The last three minutes are occupied by a series of informational slides which are, of course, chock full of mistakes and falsehoods. At 15:37, we are treated to the comically absurd contention that the traditional liturgy is not a really a bulwark of orthodox belief, because it is also used by some communities which are wildly heretical (e.g. the Old Catholics.) suppressio veri: these communities are all tiny, and there is a tiny number of them. A caption at the bottom says that something called the “Gallican schism” has been using the “traditional” rite (sneer quotes theirs) for 700+ years. This “information”, which is all completely wrong, was garnered from the website of a woman named Cherry Chapman, whose principal interest in it comes from the fact that a certain church in Paris allows her to attend Mass with her dog. The fact that the video repeats information from a random personal webpage without fact-checking any of it demonstrates better than anything else how fundamentally unserious the whole project actually is.

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