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The Liturgy as a Temple: God-Made or Man-Made?

Toward the end of His life on Earth, Our Lord Jesus Christ was walking one day through the temple in Jerusalem – a vast structure of noble design, made by human hands, fashioned by Hebrews who dared to dream that this was “God’s house” the way that Herod’s palace was Herod’s house. The fact that the first temple built under Solomon had been razed to the ground by the Babylonian army does not seem to have convinced the Hebrews that their dream was doomed to failure.

And as He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him: “Master, behold what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answering, said to him: “Seest thou all these great buildings? There shall not be left a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mk. 13:1-2)

The temple was only ever meant to be a temporary sign of God’s indwelling in Israel, a union destined to be fulfilled in the Word made flesh, the temple not made by human hands, where God and man are one, indissolubly and forever. The body of Christ is the tabernacle of the Most High, the place where His glory dwelleth. Hence, in the plan of Divine Providence, the Romans in 70 A.D. destroyed the temple made by human hands, clearing the way for the worldwide temple of the Mystical Body of Christ.

This is not to say that the Christian religion is disembodied, as a certain spiritualistic strain in Christianity, with a strong tendency towards iconoclasm, has been tempted to believe, especially in the 8th, 16th, and 20th centuries. On the contrary, we have a new and better temple, the Body of Christ, which – or rather Who – is really, truly, substantially present in every tabernacle of the world.

Each Catholic church is a place in which “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9), making even the humblest chapel greater, worthier, more glorious than the first temple of Solomon or the second temple of Herod. What Our Lord says about the lilies of the field could be applied to Catholic churches: “I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these” (Mt. 6:29) – for “behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Mt. 12:42).

It is fitting, then – indeed, more than fitting, required by the moral virtue of religion – that our churches be designed and decorated in such a way that they point unambiguously to and boldly proclaim the temple that is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and the temple of His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church. In this way, a church imitates and continues the mission of the forerunner who cried out: “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world.”

The sacred liturgy, too, should point to Christ and proclaim Him; as the opus Dei or work of God, as an action primarily from God and for Him, it should already share in His own attributes, as He has revealed them to us in the history of salvation, and present them to us for our internalization. It should appear to be what He Himself is: ancient of days, stable, indestructible, permanent, strong, holy, transcendent, mysterious, at times bewildering. Above all, it must not seem to be “made by human hands” – that is, made at a merely human, temporal, this-worldly, secular level – for we would rightly hold it in contempt, and it would have to suffer the same fate as the Solomonic and Herodian temples. Rather, we could place on the lips of the liturgy, as a living reality fashioned by a divine hand in the womb of the Church, the words of the psalmist:

Thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. … My frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Ps. 138:13, 15-16)

How different, shockingly so, is the Novus Ordo (Seclorum, one is tempted to add), where the liturgy is, and displays itself as, the work of human hands, revamped according to modern ideas, subject to human manipulation, in a cacophony of vulgar tongues, forming ever new cultural compounds like an unstable element?

And some saying of the temple that it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, He said: “These things which you see, the days will come in which there shall not be left a stone upon a stone that shall not be thrown down.” (Lk. 21:5-6)

In reading these haunting words, how can we not be reminded of the reformed liturgical rites, which were built up by committees of men, experts with flowing phylacteries of scholarship, who were adorning (as they saw it) the liturgy with “goodly stones and gifts” specially conceived for Modern Man? These “great buildings,” all of them, will be thrown down, for they are not the temple formed over the ages by the Holy Ghost in the womb of Holy Mother Church, where the traditional liturgical rites in all their wonderful extravagance were knit together, intricately wrought, fashioned in secret.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mt. 12:25). The new liturgy is a house divided against itself: it is no longer the traditional Roman rite as organically developed over many centuries, but a new fabrication made up of bits and pieces of antiquity and modernity. It is like the vision interpreted by the Prophet Daniel:

Thou, O king, sawest, and behold there was as it were a great statue: this statue, which was great and high, tall of stature, stood before thee, and the look thereof was terrible. The head of this statue was of fine gold, but the breast and the arms [were] of silver, and the belly and the thighs of brass: and the legs of iron, the feet part of iron and part of clay. (Dan. 2:31-33)

Even so is the new liturgy, an imposing work of human hands that is fatally flawed by its lack of unity, integrity, consistency, and cohesion. It is not the one Roman rite of the ages, but a voluntaristic product of hundreds of “experts” working in tandem on little committees, murdering to dissect. The only “unity” their product enjoys is the positivistic approval of Paul VI, which is incapable of fusing the statue into one substance and breathing into it the breath of life. This is why some refer to it as the “Frankenmass.”

We read in The Lives of the Desert Fathers of John the Hermit:

His only food was the Communion which the priest brought him on Sundays. His rule of life permitted nothing else. Now one day Satan assumed the form of the priest and went to him earlier than usual, pretending that he wanted to give him Communion. The blessed John, realizing who it was, said to him: “O father of all subtlety and all mischief, enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to deceive the souls of Christians, but you dare to attack the Mysteries themselves?” [1]

This, on a massive scale, is what the father of all subtlety and all mischief, enemy of all righteousness, has dared to do in our times: he has attacked, at their root and in all their branches, the Mysteries of our salvation. He has done so by inducing men to corrupt the liturgical rites of all the sacraments and sacramentals, and of the Divine Office, and then to cling to these as if they were better than the visible image of the invisible God we had received from our forefathers. He has sown doubts, errors, and confusion in dogma and morals, finding many willing accomplices among those who proudly boast of the superiority of modern times, of modern ways of thinking and acting.

We know what happened to the great statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

Thus thou sawest, till a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands: and it struck the statue upon the feet thereof that were of iron and of clay, and broke them in pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of a summer’s thrashingfloor, and they were carried away by the wind: and there was no place found for them: but the stone that struck the statue, became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. (Dan. 2:34-35)

Like all symbolic visions, this one admits of multiple fulfillments and applications. Daniel interpreted it in regard to a succession of kingdoms, culminating in a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Can it say something further to us today?

The stone that strikes the great fabrication of human ingenuity is “cut out of a mountain without hands.” The giant and terrifying monolith towering over us, a product of feverish squadrons of laborers, is shattered by a little stone that owes its existence to a supernatural sculptor. This stone grows to become a great mountain that fills the whole Earth.

Does this not sound like the Catholic traditionalist movement? It began small, but it is growing, and its growth, being of the Holy Ghost, cannot be thwarted. It loves and defends and promotes not the “banal on-the-spot fabrication” of committees, but the accumulated and inherited treasury of the ages, the worthy vessel of the Incarnate Word, the singing and silent witness of the glory of God. This movement will become a great mountain that fills the whole Earth, as the experiment in monumental pottery falls to pieces, decade after decade.

To adapt an ancient liturgical text, we could cry out: “O happy fault, that preserved for us so great a liturgy!” The radicalized Liturgical Movement in the middle of the twentieth century was hell-bent on tinkering with the Roman liturgy, slowly denaturing and disintegrating it, especially from 1948 onward. Should we not, as counterintuitive as it sounds, be grateful that the proponents of change went as far as they did? The outrageous magnitude of the liturgical revolution was permitted by Divine Providence in order to make it possible eventually to return to the tradition in full, because faithful clergy and laity over time would come to see the corruption and would repudiate all of it – including the antiquarian simplifications and disfigurations introduced during the 1950s under Pius XII, who was Paul VI in super-slow motion. The traditional movement worldwide is awakening at last to the full magnitude of the harm that was wrought and is seeing, ever more clearly, the only way forward: total adherence to the Roman rite in its Tridentine form, prior to the arrogant meddling of myopic experts.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its potent purity, and the traditional liturgy in general, exorcises the spirit of modernism out of the Church. Nothing is more urgently needed than this exorcism – and it is already happening, wherever tradition has established a beachhead on the enemy’s territory.

[1] Trans. Norman Russell (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1981), 93.

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