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Desperate Defenders of Novelty and the Eventual Triumph of Tradition

Today—and it has already been thus for some years—the intellectual firepower, not to mention the virtue of basic honesty when it comes to Church history and dogmatic theology, is all on the side of traditional Catholic writers. If one wishes to laugh or groan, one need only visit the blogs Pray, Tell or Where Peter Is to see on display the mettle (such as it is) of the opposing side’s views.

In fact, so desperate are the apologists of the new order that they have even tried to make selling points out of defects, as if a used car salesman were to advertise the defects of the lemons in his lot. “This automobile here has bald tires, an iffy alternator, and a transmission on its last legs, but the bright side is that you get to invest your own effort in making it better! That’s what we call full, conscious, active ownership, which is your right and duty as a member of a market society!” Here’s what a fellow named Malcolm Schluenderfritz recently had to say at Where Peter Is on behalf of Paul VI’s great project for renewal:

The liturgy of Paul VI is rather plain…. In fact, the plainness of the Vatican II liturgy is an intentional strategy for the renewal of the Church…. [It can be] compared to a painting class, in which each of the students, guided by an instructor, paints a depiction of the same religious scene…. We need to do the hard work of embracing voluntary poverty and true community. If we do so, the “emptiness” of the Vatican II Liturgy will prove to be the fertile emptiness of a tilled field, expectantly waiting for the growth of a new, enculturated, liturgical form.

So, the liturgy, to be better, has to become less liturgical; divine worship, to meet our needs, has to become less divine; what was full of beauty and symbolism and dogma has to be evacuated to make room for our creativity. It’s a mighty wonder, isn’t it, that none of this was ever on the minds of any Catholics at any time in the history of the Church. Well, okay, the Synod of Pistoia, which was condemned by Pope Pius VI. I wonder what Eastern Christians (both Orthodox and Catholic) would have to say to the suggestion that their Divine Liturgy needs a major overhaul because it’s far too grandiose.

The same author criticizes the Tridentine Mass for being always the same, which he compares to “a mass-produced image of a religious scene, likely at least a little dated-looking, probably showing Christ as looking strangely European, and laminated in plastic to avoid any tampering.” Its sameness prevents, he thinks, its reception and inculturation. Strange, isn’t it, that this was the liturgy with which the entire world was evangelized leading to flourishing local churches planted everywhere—churches that were rich in vocations when the liturgy was still in Latin, but have so often suffered an inexorable decline after Vatican II and the prioritization of the local and regional (which reached its absurd climax with the Amazon Synod)?[1] Strange, isn’t it, that we can find magnificent examples of legitimate inculturation well before the Second Vatican Council?

Again, one has to wonder if Schluenderfritz & Co. would dare to make such a critique of Eastern liturgical rites, which have (on the whole) changed even less than the Western ones. Ultimately, only someone absolutely ignorant of ritual and rituality would be able to say that a rite’s stability, its givenness, its “unspontaneity” (to use Ratzinger’s favored expression), is a defect, rather than a pre-eminent virtue. One is reminded of the bracing remark of C.S. Lewis: “The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual.”[2]

A rather different Lewis, one Mike Lewis—the most brazen representative of a breakaway movement that could be called “Peterism”—rushed to the defense of his fellow disciple by reminding everyone, in case we might have forgotten, that the Tridentine rite as promulgated by St. Pius V has “unnecessary elements.” When challenged about this claim on Twitter, Lewis doubled down: “They have plenty of arguments for why even the stupidest parts are absolutely necessary.” Silly me, I had been convinced of the superiority of the old Mass in its broad lines and tiny details by the richly researched and convincing arguments of Dr. Michael Fiedrowicz’s The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite, but I suppose Mike Lewis has already chewed up all his arguments and spit them out. I’m eager to see his comparable publications, laden with scholarship and suffused with intimate experience of his subject matter.

I will not linger any longer over these pathetic articles, which have already been battered to a bloody pulp by the likes of Matthew Hazell and Joseph Shaw (I am still resisting the lure of Twitter, but those two authors, along with Edward Pentin and Diane Montagna and a few others, are enough to make one want to sign up!).

If this is the kind of thing that proponents of the Novus Ordo are reduced to saying, theirs is a lost cause—all the more lost for their painful obliviousness. Other types of argument one will encounter include:

“The new Mass isn’t really as bad as it seems, because with a lot of effort and some luck you can make it almost as beautiful as the old liturgy.” (How often have we seen the noblest efforts of the “reform of the reform” shot down by prelates like clay pigeons on a shooting range?)

“The decline in the Church would have been even worse if we hadn’t changed the liturgy.” (A patent absurdity on the face of it, given that one of the most commonly cited causes for people dropping away from the Church after the Council was the relentless and inexplicable obsession with change, or rather, that peculiar kind of suicidal change that consists of becoming ever more like the world, which renders the Church obsolete.)

“What was produced [by Pius V] in 1570 was entirely appropriate for the time. What is produced in this age [by Bugnini, Montini, et al.] is also entirely appropriate for the time.” (This emission of nonsense is taken straight from the lips of Archbishop Arthur Roche, astonishingly the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who betrays a total lack of understanding of both what the 1570 missal actually is—a codification of what the Roman Church was already doing—and of liturgical history, where we never see the fundamental rites changed from century to century to accommodate what a team of “experts” thinks people need at that moment.)

“The OF and EF represent two different understandings of the Eucharist, Ecclesiology, the baptismal priesthood, and the sacrament of Orders (just to mention the most obvious theological differences).” (This sentence  was actually sent in to the CDF by a Japanese bishop, one of the nay-sayers quoted in the survey report—you know, the one about which Pope Francis shamelessly lied in the letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes, as Diane Montagna reported. As trads have been saying with increasing frankness, if the theologies are that different—so different that the new rite excludes the old—then it’s certainly not the Mass of Catholic tradition that’s in error, but its new fabricated replacement. Otherwise, the Catholic Church was never the true Church.[3])

“We have to accept this reform because it was demanded by the Second Vatican Council.” (Conveniently glossing over the fact that the Council Fathers most certainly did not demand the butchery conducted in the abattoir of the Consilium, and that, in any case, there is no such thing as the Novus Ordo, since by its own design it can be done in literally a trillion different ways.[4] So what exactly are we talking about anyway?)

And so it goes. There is not a single substantive argument in favor of the Novus Ordo, and about ten thousand against it; and the only thing its desperate votaries can do, in the end, is to shout “obey!” But they forget that the “pay, pray, and obey” mentality has been relentlessly besieged by successive waves of clerical scandals—sexual abuse, financial criminality, doctrinal aberrations, and yes, liturgical offenses that cry out to heaven for vengeance—and that, by this point in time, committed orthodox Catholics have learned that when they are told they “must” do or believe something “for their own good” or “for the good of the Church,” they have an intuition based on irrefutable experience that this is very likely what they must not do or believe.

Over the course of five decades of artificial life-support, the Novus Ordo has been pushed by bureaucratic cheerleaders and career liturgists, but has managed to find few zealous lovers. Its enforcing martinets have had to resort to increasingly dishonest and brutal methods. Unable to vindicate their cause by argument or demographics, they flex the muscle of papal authoritarianism, which is the only thing they have left. This is why, as many observers have pointed out, Traditionis Custodes is a monumental and embarrassing admission of defeat. As Gregory DiPippo said on the first of August in a rousing article called “The Revolution is Over”:

In the wake of this failure [of the promised “new Pentecost”], the post-Conciliar Catholic Church finds itself a post-revolutionary society, no less than France was in 1794, or Russia was in 1925. And when a revolution fails, when “freedom, equality and brotherhood” lie buried under a pyramid of severed heads, when the worker’s paradise consists of millions of square miles of rust and cadavers, its paladins can go forward on one of two paths. The hard path is to recognize that the revolution has not achieved its goals, and work to rebuild their society in the light of that recognition. The easy path is to find some “reactionaries” and “counter-revolutionaries,” and blame the revolution’s failure on them.

The surest sign that a revolution has failed, and chosen to take the easy path, is its fear of the past, its fear of the memory of what life was really like before the revolution. And this is why, in the midst of a tidal wave of crises within the Church, a hammer has been dropped where it has been dropped: not on the German Synodal Way, or the various Catholic institutions that have to all intents and purposes walked away from the Faith. The problem so grave that it must be met with the same furious scribbled-on-the-back-of-a-napkin haste that we remember from Fr Bouyer’s memoirs is not the long-standing persistence of grave liturgical abuses, the de facto absence of catechetical formation in once-Catholic nations, or widespread moral, doctrinal and financial corruption. The hammer has been dropped, rather, on the father and mother who were born at least 20 years after the last time a cleric used the word “aggiornamento” unironically, and on their children who are too young to remember the papacy of Benedict XVI.

There can be no clearer sign that the post-Conciliar revolution is totally uninteresting to the rising generations, and knowing this, [it] grows deathly afraid, and resorts to doing by force what it cannot do by persuasion…. A dying revolution is not a dead revolution; it can still strike out and cause pain, and will likely do so. But in the very act of doing so, it confesses that it has failed and is dying. Do not be afraid. The revolution is over.

We who love the Church our Mother and her treasury of tradition offer our intelligent obedience to the coherent and consistent Magisterium of the ages, and—if we are Catholics of the Latin rite—offer to God our rational worship (logike latreia: Rom 12:1) through the traditional Roman Rite or one of its close relations, and, above all, through the Mass of the Ages.[5] That is what the wearisome exile of the past several decades has taught us, with an ever-increasing clarity as time goes on. The traditionalist movement is the sensus fidelium in full bloom, by which we hear and recognize the Shepherd’s voice and distinguish it from the voice of hirelings who serve up poisonous fodder.


Photo by Allison Girone.

[1] This is manifestly true of South America. Africa is a more complex question, but the growth of the Church there is no victory tale for Vatican II. See my article at NLM on this question.

[2] C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942), 17.

[3] Put differently: If Traditionis Custodes is right, then it is wrong. That is, if the new liturgy reflects a new theology not in continuity with the past, then it is not the past that is wrong, but Francis and by extension the heretical school of thought for which he serves as the mouthpiece (see Julia Meloni, The St. Gallen Mafia Exposed [Gastonia, NC: TAN Books, 2021]). For a knock-down argument against TC based on the impossibility of the Church contradicting herself in the way in which the motu proprio would necessitate, see “Cancelling Pope Benedict: Reflections on a recent article and the ‘hermeneutic of rupture,’” reprinted in From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2021), 341–56.

[4] A German mathematician friend calculated that, given all the moving pieces in the selection of music, what is spoken or sung, the introductory rites, the readings, the Eucharistic Prayers, the language used, the use or not of lay ministers, etc., the total number of possible configurations of the Novus Ordo would be 5.000 x 500.000.000 = 5 x 103 x 5 x 108 = 25 x 1011 = 2,5 x 1012, or more than two trillion possibilities.

[5] And yes, this phrase is totally justifiable.

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