Grillo on “Child Popes,” Mass Scandals, and Incurable Trads

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Above: dramatic performance of H. C. Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

My article last week analyzed a revealing blog post from the influential Sant’Anselmo professor of liturgy Andrea Grillo, whose work was a major influence on Traditionis Custodes. In fact, he finds it difficult to restrain his enthusiasm for his brainchild, whom we may nickname “T.C.” For T.C.’s first birthday, as if to tell him some fanciful bedtime story, the professor wished to relate the tale of how a wonderful papal diktat came into existence. (Quotations in the paragraphs that follow are taken directly from Prof. Grillo’s original article, “Il papa bambino e il primo compleanno di Traditionis custodes,” as are all of Grillo’s responses at the end. Those who might be tempted to think we are making this stuff up should take a look at the original Italian: it’s all there.)

The Imaginary Garment

The bedtime story’s premise was very simple: Summorum Pontificum, with its preposterous claim of two forms of the Roman Rite, was nothing more than the imaginary garment in which a vain Church—led by a vain, theologically uncouth, just plain silly pope—had cloaked herself for fourteen years. Indeed, for years, “up until 2021,” a plethora of sycophant clerics—“lest they fall out of the power dynamics”—had kept their mouths shut about the king’s nakedness, and had become “faithful admirers” of the “double form” (OF/EF). This ridiculous baloney had even become a “criterion for promotion to the episcopate” and a “criterion for seminary training.” Of course, by 2021, the Church was now full of bishops and cardinals celebrating the outdated form, and every single careerist priest was running to learn Latin and all those frivolous rubrics: they had been all too favored, and particularly so during the previous eight years!

Only those whom everyone regarded as the “stupid ones,” Grillo narrates, “did not see any possible double form and remained quite perplexed”—though they were far from dumb, one might say, looking at the sheer quantity of Grillo’s erudite rants during those dire years. These denizens of a Pontifical Athenaeum, we may add, saw how abundantly the new updated form of liturgy had borne fruit and that the Church was much better off after shedding that boring and deformed dress. They saw how the aggiornamento corresponded in every point to the directives and expectations of The Council™. They knew that sooner or later the truth must come out.

One fine day, a little child pope, full of parrhesia and mercy, saw this solemn buffoon roaming the streets of the Church and had the courage to shout: “Ritual parallelism is naked and empty!” Or, in a more bombastic gloss, “a theologically unfounded, ecclesiologically dangerous, and liturgically destructive idea.”

Three Great Leaps Forward

Looking back on that sunny day, when countless Catholics were finally able to sigh in relief—ordinary Novus Ordo parish Catholics, you see, were literally terrified by the mere existence, in a tiny chapel forty miles away, of a Mass in an “outdated” form—Prof. Grillo reminds us of the three great leaps forward made by Traditionis Custodes:

1. T.C. is a leap forward theologically, for the former situation, having neither “theological nor doctrinal nor disciplinary foundation,” was “a pastiche and a mystification which surprisingly were permitted by a ‘theologian pope.’” Indeed, “the ‘pastor pope’ [Francis] appears in this regard much more of a theologian than his predecessor.” At long last, “TC not only protects the liturgy [and please, let us not forget the protection of sunscreen when we celebrate Mass at a sun-drenched Italian beach!], but also the ecclesiology, the forms of ministry and spirituality, where one can never assume as a principle that ‘what was sacred for previous generations, must remain so for subsequent generations.’” That bogus idea “is not a theological principle but a matter of a distorted understanding of tradition, which is not primarily a monument to be guarded but a garden to be cultivated” (whatever that means). Tradition is a serious thing—“too serious to be left in the inexperienced hands of traditionalists,” says Grillo (for “tradition” is whatever I… umm… the pope says it is).

2. T.C. is a leap forward ecclesiologically, for the idea of having, “even in the same parish, two different calendars, two different spaces, two different times and ministers and texts and gestures of celebration, was something crazy.” As everyone knows perfectly well, all the parishes in the world where this pestiferous biritualism never found welcome are distinguished by liturgical celebrations in perfect harmony and unity; one is sorely pressed to find two Masses that don’t look alike! Not to mention the “public scandal of a parallel formation of seminarians, in many U.S. seminaries and even at the North American College in Rome.” What a scandal!—by far the greatest in post-conciliar seminaries, or possibly in any century since seminaries were established. All because of the sick minds of certain superiors who sought to form “priests without a clear identity,” says Grillo, when we all know that the safest way to form an authentic priestly identity involves guitars, felt banners, and communion in the hand.

3. T.C. is a leap forward liturgically. Thanks to the brand-new and even better Desiderio Desideravi, which enabled the “recovery of the great value of the Liturgical Movement (not of reactionary New Liturgical Movements) and the Liturgical Reformation (not of petty Reforms of the Reform).” In order to “guard the tradition,” says Grillo, we must not “be afraid of the different cultures by which we can experience faith and express our creed today. This ‘common table,’ which is possible only with the end of Summorum Pontificum, will allow us to evaluate the limits of what has been done up until now and courageously undertake the path to be made on the level of verbal and nonverbal languages” (in short, the time is ripe for some liturgical dancing!).

With the old naked king defeated, the professor concludes his fable—a veritable cautionary tale—with a moral for all those courtiers who had believed in the beauty of the invisible clothes:

A child who says ‘the king is naked’ and a child pope who says ‘there is but one universal ritual form in the Catholic Church’ are two images of the parrhesia that frees the Spirit to take action in history. Those who have been deluded shouldn’t say, ‘I feel rejected by the pope.’ Say rather, I have been deluded that I can be Catholic without having to accept the evolution and reform of my Church over the past sixty years, beginning with Vatican II. This is the illusion from which we must free ourselves once and for all. A child pope, who speaks at the right time, makes for a better guardian of tradition than Grand and Supreme Pontiffs.

Can We Swallow This Tale?

A few days later, a pesky youngster had the audacity to object to the professor’s tale by leaving a comment on his blog. The vindictive bully pope had none of the candid innocence of the little boy in Andersen’s tale. Rather, it was his predecessor who displayed the simplicity of a dove and, at the same time, the prudence of a snake.

Dear Prof. Grillo,

Benedict XVI’s great intuition—but it is actually self-evident to anyone who reads Sacrosanctum Concilium with a serene mind—was that the liturgical reform, even in its typical form and not only in its abhorrent eccentric applications, had widely betrayed the directives of the Council Fathers (I’m not going to list the many points that were disregarded, as you will undoubtedly know them better than I do).

It is true that the Constitution also called for a general reform (but, rectius, an instauratio) of the Order of Mass; and that it is certainly a document born of compromises, with often ambivalent indications. But equally undeniable is the distance between the vision of a moderate reform (“Innovationes, demum, ne fiant nisi vera et certa utilitas Ecclesiae id exigat”; “finally there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them,” SC 23) such as can be drawn in all honesty from SC, and the entirely innovative product of the Consilium.

That this result was far removed from what the Council Fathers could reasonably and hopefully foresee is testified to by more and more evidence. Of the many examples that could be given, see “Destroying Liturgical Peace to Shore Up a False Narrative,” “The Old Liturgy and the New Despisers of the Council,” “The Council Fathers in Support of Latin: Correcting a Narrative Bias,” “What They Requested, What They Expected, and What Happened: Council Fathers on the Latin Roman Canon.”

The king is naked—that is, the reform has betrayed the Council. The child pope is rather the one who acknowledges this obvious reality, not the one who tries to suppress it by force while hiding behind the fig leaf of Paul VI and John Paul II’s approval of the reformed liturgical books ([Desiderio Desideravi,] 61). This invoked principle of authority is little more than a rhetorical argument, and even quite laughable given the current times—a joke heightened by that revived Latinism, reformed liturgical books “ex decreto Sacrosancti Œcumenici Concilii Vaticani II”—and offers nothing of merit.

Of course it is true that Paul VI was the moral author of that reform, nor was it in any sense likely that his immediate successor would disavow it, showing thereby a little more tact and respect for his predecessor than the present pontiff has done. Francis, it pains me to say, does not cease to humiliate, on this point as on many others, the still living Ratzinger, along with the memory of his papacy. Desiderio Desideravi, just like Traditionis Custodes, conveniently omits to mention that Benedict XVI opened the way to an extensive use of the antecedent Liturgy. Ratzinger saw the deep hiatus between the preconciliar and postconciliar forms of worship and took steps to bring about its healing over time.

You and your school want to normalize and institutionalize the abyss, even in the face of obvious contrary indications of the Council—to date disregarded. Then again, Ratzinger, unlike you, was there at the Council.

C. Schena


Ratzinger, Prisoner of Emotional Guilt

Prof. Grillo wouldn’t have any of it. He knew much better than that lousy old theological ignoramus.

Dear Carlo,

I find it peculiar that you conclude with the argument that those who were there [at the Council] are right, and those who were not there are wrong.

Often, in history, those who come later understand much better. Your reconstruction is entirely unilateral. You forget that Ratzinger’s judgement is marked from the outset by a kind of “sense of guilt.” Like all the “Council Fathers,” Ratzinger never enjoyed freedom of judgment in evaluating its outcome. And he let his emotions speak much more than his reason. Thus he came to write SP, which, from a theological viewpoint, is based on a sophism.

Conversely, Francis, who wasn’t present at the Council, saw clearly this emotional limitation behind the document SP and was able to put an end to the paradox of a parallel legal force of contradictory rites. It is not Francis who humiliates Benedict, but Benedict who humiliated his own rationality with a visceral attachment to the past. Trust me, your reconstruction is completely unfounded, for you do not sufficiently grasp the systematic flaw in Ratzinger’s reading of the matter.

Best regards,
A. Grillo

The Roman Rite and the “Vatican Rite”

So, according to this Sant’Anselmian, none of the Council Fathers was able to judge the outcome of the Council objectively and freely. That is for later, more “with-it” generations to do. Yet it wasn’t only the most retrograde and dull-witted among the Council Fathers who recognized the absolute, and literally unpredictable, novelty of a rite that was neither reformed nor restored (“instauratus”), but invented altogether; it was also the most enlightened and progressive Fathers and theologians of the day.

Esteemed Professor,

As you would have gathered from my original comment, I am actually not much of a fan of the principle of authority taken by itself. My argument is by no means that those who were there are now necessarily right, and those who were not there are necessarily wrong. Otherwise I, not even in my thirties, would necessarily be in the wrong.

But if you had taken the trouble to check the sources I was pointing out to you, going beyond what I can imagine to be your great distaste for those circles, you would have avoided describing my reconstruction as “entirely unilateral.” For it is not.

It is largely plurilateral. More and more voices, of different sensibilities, testify that the 1969 operation was truly radical, in the face of a limited conciliar mandate: from the right, as in Card. Stickler’s lengthy memoirs; and from the left, as in Fr. Gelineau’s lapidary comment: “This must be said without ambiguity: the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists. It has been destroyed.”

And it is precisely on account of Gelineau’s admission that I personally feel like making a concession: it is indeed true that the theorem of the two forms of the Roman Rite is fragile (to be generous) and sophistic (to be more ruthless). For the Council had called for a reform of the Roman Rite. The Consilium produced instead a “Vatican Rite” or a “Pauline Rite,” with some vestigial resemblance to the historic Roman Rite, and some superficial resemblance to some of the Council Fathers’ indications, although most were ignored de plano. Hence with a little intellectual honesty—but that is still a long way off—it will sooner or later be necessary to acknowledge that the Vatican Rite or Pauline Rite is not the Roman Rite, as indeed a forthcoming book argues.

Ratzinger had the forward-looking intention, an understandable one at that, to strengthen the tenuous link between the historical rite and the “reformed” rite, perhaps in an effort to restore to the latter a legitimacy he otherwise felt to be shaky.

It is not for us to judge whether the creation of a liturgical rite is an operation possible in the first place, and one that can in any case rest virtually on the sole will of a pontiff. The Vatican Rite might very well continue to exist, and its staunch advocates may attempt to resolve the above (and other) thorny issues. Yet it will be necessary to find a way to give right of citizenship, as an evidently native right, to that liturgical rite that formerly dwelt undisturbed in the Church and is currently the victim of a veritable ideological colonization. Whatever you might say, the truth that this right to citizenship had not been lost with the “reform” was recognized, before SP, by the well-known commission of eight cardinals questioned on the point by John Paul II. (Forgive my recourse to auctoritas, but I sincerely believe that those cardinals were better versed than you and I in both canon law and liturgical questions.)

The simplest and most immediate way to “solve” the issue, if not the extremely “practical” (albeit theoretically weak) approach of Benedict XVI, would seem to be that of the creation of a church sui iuris using the Roman Rite as its own liturgical rite. What is unthinkable, except by an ideologue, is that the Roman Rite can simply be eradicated. This did not occur in the 1960s and 1970s when the “traditionalists” were just a handful; it certainly won’t happen today when they number a few million lay people and thousands of priests worldwide.

Reality, after all, is greater than ideas…

Eventually, and I’ll make another concession, even the (authentic) Roman Rite can/should undergo some cautious reforms: better said, it too is in need of careful and devout restoration, and of overcoming certain mannerisms that are very unliturgical; this it requires per se, rather than because of a conciliar mandate. But even now, as it is celebrated in most cases (be it with some dialoguing, with a moderate recourse to the vernacular, with well-executed Gregorian chant, with the actual participation of the faithful, etc.), the authentic Roman Rite corresponds much more closely to the directives of the Council Fathers than does either the “typical Mass” experienced in the parish (and outside of it: can you imagine St. John XXIII beholding the Missa super materassinum?!)[1] or the “normative Mass” in the new liturgical books.

C. Schena

The Commentariat Descends

Grillo yawned. He was tired of debating with this young fellow and other commentators too near-sighted and narrow-minded to appreciate just how brilliant he was. It was time to play the mental health card:

You keep falling into the denial of tradition. You are incurable. Goodbye.

To some other fellows who pointed out that even today—even in Rome!— an “Introibo ad altare Dei” resounds at hundreds of altars every morning, and that his efforts (just like those of the Pope) are a quixotic battle against windmills, the professor replied gruffly:

The windmills are the hard-headed arrogant ones who presume to substitute their reactionary sensibilities for the great ecclesial tradition.

A few commenters observed that this was, rather than an anniversary of honesty, an anniversary of intolerance. The professor felt differently:

How is one to tolerate that which contradicts the common path? What do you seek—an immunity from history?

To those who saw in Benedict XVI a far more reliable teacher of tradition than an abstruse Italian liturgist, the latter replied:

Are you sure? If you read TC and DD you can realize that the reconstruction of liturgical tradition offered by Benedict XVI over the past 18 years is based on entirely one-sided conjectural premises. Having a reputation as a theologian is not enough; one has to prove it as well.

When someone asked him why, if indeed the retrograde old form was no longer valid, Francis had not expressly abrogated it, Grillo put on his canon lawyer hat:

The Code of Canon Law is crystal clear. When a general reform occurs, the new form replaces the previous one. Abrogation is de facto. But bad liturgists create groundless myths.

After all this, a commenter dared to agree with Carlo’s assessment of the Council’s betrayal, addressing Grillo forthrightly:

By now, I know enough about your theses, Professor, to know that you have a concept of tradition that identifies the latter with the choices of papal power. You are decidedly anti-historical, fully in tune with a contemporary church bent on reinventing itself, which is far beyond ‘renewing’ itself, and cannot but create serious problems for itself. Since Paul VI at some point endorsed Bugnini’s reform despite known and significant doubts, and not without regrets, you say ‘this is tradition.’ The matter doesn’t seem so simple to me.

How long will these Trads pick on poor Annibale Bugnini—a misunderstood prophet! Grillo finally had enough of all these Ratzingerian groupies:

I am quite surprised by the fact that, in your eagerness to prove the assumption that ‘after the Council’ there are only thugs like Bugnini and Paul VI, you actually manage to say absurd and reckless and temerarious things without an ounce of shame. Then again, you have a good teacher in the only pope who is ‘traditio’ for you, namely Benedict XVI, who inaugurated this chain of insults against Paul VI, the one who allegedly ‘betrayed the Council.’ The odd thing is that you attribute to me a concept of tradition reduced to the ‘power of the popes’—only because I know that there is a realm ‘beyond Pius V.’ You are reasoning as if there are only two popes in history: Pius V and Benedict XVI. And I would be the ‘anti-historical’ one? Just because I know even John XXIII (but not only the one talking about Latin!), Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis?

The theory you learned from Benedict has foolishly blinded you to reality [lit., has put salami slices over your eyes]. Then again, it was he, since the 1970s, who inaugurated this sequence of insults toward Paul VI and [the myth of] the Council’s ‘betrayal.’ I believe it is sound tradition and reasonableness to hold that Paul VI and Francis are the ones much more faithful to the Council than this little chain of resentful men who do not accept the history, culture, and form that tradition has taken in the 20th and 21st centuries. The standard for judging the liturgical tradition is not guaranteed to be right if it starts from resentment and prejudice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to me that you can understand this, and discussing it further proves futile.

Now silly arguments will have no more room. Those who immunize themselves from reality won’t suffer too much.

Thus Spake Cricket.


This article was written in collaboration with Carlo Schena—the “pesky youngster” who sent to Prof. Grillo the letters translated here, which received, via Grillo’s blog, exactly the replies now published in English.—PAK 

[1] This neo-Latin term has been fabricated from the Italian materassino, an inflatable beach mattress.

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