It is difficult to adequately describe (to those unfamiliar with anything but the present Catholic experience) the vast difference between the way the Church did almost everything before and after the Second Vatican Council. If the liturgy marks the most obvious change to the life of the Church, there are dozens of other, less apparent changes that go along with it – changes which would make a Catholic in 1914 and one in 2014 feel very alienated and confused if they were to step into a time machine and switch places. Their entire experience of the Church from her worship and sacraments to her art, architecture, music, devotions, blessings, and more would feel, especially at first, like an almost entirely different religion.
I have had a taste of this, because I experienced this when I discovered the Church’s traditions as a young man. At first, my resistance to them was very high. They didn’t even feel Catholic to me. They were something entirely foreign. Having bridged the gap, I’m left realizing what a tectonic shift the Church experienced in the 1960s. A shift that we are still feeling the aftershocks from today.
Yesterday, in response to a comment on one of our articles, I sought to express something that comes up again and again in discussions of the forms of the liturgy, as well as pre and post-conciliar Catholicism. I would like to share this (slightly modified version) with you, because I think it is one of the better and more succinct explanations of this phenomenon I have cobbled together thus far:
I believe that the Traditional Latin Mass is the Roman Rite par excellence. There are many reasons for this, and we rehash them here all the time. A glance at Elliot Bougis’ post on Orwellian Liturgical Reform points to some of the larger questions, particularly as pertains to the semiotics of liturgy.
Of course, there have been many books written on the topic. One of the better books from the perspective of aesthetics is Martin Mosebach’s The Heresy of Formlessness, which looks at the anthropology of worship and the way aesthetics and outward signs impact subjective belief.
Liturgy should primarily be focused on honoring God in a way that is pleasing to Him. After all, there is a reason why Cain’s sacrifice was not pleasing to God, despite the fact that it was quite literally the fruit of his divinely assigned labors. It was not a question of the intrinsic nature of the sacrifice that was deficient, but the extrinsic – which was indicative of Cain’s own intrinsic disposition towards God. This is one of the greatest arguments against, as Cdl. Ratzinger called the Novus Ordo, “banal…fabricated liturgy” vs. a liturgy developed through the insight of and long development by the saints. The Gregorian Rite is far older than the council of Trent, and some liturgical scholars have argued cogently that the Roman canon is the oldest of all, including the venerable Eastern rites.
Antiquity alone, of course, does not guarantee that a thing is better, but immemorial custom (as opposed to mere age) helps affirm that this is so, because it has stood the test of time and the judgment (and nourishment) of the pious. In his encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII warned against “senseless antiquarianism” and further admonished:
[I]t is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.
Mass is only secondarily concerned with the preferences and tastes of the faithful, but if it is true that our liturgy is made to offer the spotless victim TO God, the oblation happens (and the Mass itself is designed) on our behalf. Insofar as we are called to assist at Mass and offer the participation of heart and mind, it behooves us to have liturgy that draws us into the sacred mystery, rather than keeping us confronted with the presence and personality of our fellow men – including the priest.
The Novus Ordo was designed as an ecumenical gesture; it diminishes or eliminates the sacred truths and the rich symbolism that were once dripping from every prayer and gesture of the Catholic Mass. It strips away repetition in the name of eliminating what is “useless” and forgets the pedagogical value of reinforcement and the numerical significance of certain repeated prayers. It weakens rubrics such that improvisation is par for the course; that abuses are easily made the norm; that reverent liturgy becomes simply one option among many.
But there’s far more to the updated ecclesiology than just a re-oriented liturgy that horizontalizes what should be made vertical and makes anthropocentric what should be Christocentric. There are the updated rites of blessings, which remove the power of many sacramentals; there are the updated sacraments, including a baptism which no longer features exorcisms as a ward against the power of the devil through original sin; there is the updated rite of exorcism, which few exorcists in the field feel comfortable using insofar as it handicaps their ability to invoke the Church’s authority against common causes of possession; there is the change in ecumenism, which assumes a quasi-syncretistic attitude, a religious indifferentism that dampens missionary spirit and zeal for the conversion of souls to the true faith; there is a shift in political philosophy and eschatology, such that Christ’s Kingship has been made a Kingship over hearts and over Heaven and not a temporal Kingship which governs just nations who pay it homage; and the taint of the Balthasarian fantasy that Hell is empty leads us to canonize every departed soul before the body is even cold.
We have lost the sensus Catholicus. We have given up on our belief in the devil and his minions and their relentless attacks to destroy souls. We have given up on liturgy that inspires us to fall down and worship before the majesty of God. We have given up on sacred art, architecture, music, and the Catholic intellectual life. We have given up on faith as a higher calling, one that challenges and forces us to go out like the disciples and preach the Gospel to all nations, instead feeling as though everyone is more or less on the same journey and fine where they are.
It cannot stand. It will not work. Once we have lost what makes us Catholic, we have lost everything.
The Traditional Latin Mass alone is not a silver bullet, but it is one of the most potent safeguards of the faith. The Novus Ordo, I’m afraid, has been tried and found wanting. Catholics have abandoned the faith en masse since its inception, and that of the entire post-conciliar experiment. Going back to liturgy that worked, that was reverent, that was universal – it’s merely a first and important step towards a larger restoration of the faith. A faith that appeals to the world, that attracts it, that indicts it not with anger and condemnation but with fearsome love and a call to repentance.
The Church has never been perfect, nor will she be until the end of days. But She had power once that was squandered. She had truth that the world desperately needed and still needs. She had the cross, the sacrifice of Calvary, the angels and the saints, and the fear of the Lord.
She had the exclusive claim that outside her gates, there is no salvation.
This matters more today than perhaps it ever has. Because the world has fallen so far from where it should be. We must first honor God in all that we do. Then, we must conform our minds and hearts to Him.
Everything else follows.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.