Monday, January 30, 2023

The Pope's Reductive Structuralism

[Jan. 30, 2023] When he issued Traditiones Custodes, Pope Francis argued that the Traditional Latin Mass was no longer needed because its constituive elements had all passed in to the Novus Ordo. Ergo, anyone who values the traditional rite should celebrate the new, for the heart of the old rite has been translated into the new. Pope Francis said in his accompanying letter to Traditiones Custodes that "all the elements of the [traditional] Roman rite" can be found in the Novus Ordo.

This is simply not the case, however. The research of Matthew Hazell has demonstrated that only 13% of the prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass survived the Consilium's hack job unchanged—a full 53% of the content from the historic rite was simply jettisoned; another 34% was subject to editing. Only a tiny slice made it unmolested into the New Rite. 

In what sense, then, can "all" the elements of the Traditional Roman Rite be present in the Novus Ordo? For that matter, what is an "element" of a rite according to Francis? In the same letter the pope says that "the Roman Canon...constitutes one of [the historic rite's] more distinctive elements." He is right, of course—the Roman Canon is probably the most distinctive element of the Traditional Latin Mass. But as Dr. Kwasniewski has demonstrated, not even the Roman Canon made it into the Novus Ordo without alteration; even the formulas of the consecration were altered, ostensibly to make them fit Scriptural narratives more closely (see The Once and Future Roman Rite, pg. 251-255).

The implication, here, is that Pope Francis does not view the liturgy as primarily consisting of an objective content; rather, he considers it structurally. He considers the liturgy to consist more of its "parts" and not so much the content of each part. The old Mass has a procession, the new Mass has a procession; the old Mass has the Kyrie and Gloria, the new Mass has the Kyrie and Gloria; both Masses have a homily, the Creed, offertory prayers, and the Roman Canon (even though the Novus Ordo also contains a wad of freely invented new, um, Eucharistic Prayers, for every occasion); the people receive Communion in both rites, there is a dismissal blessing in both rites. The pope compares the structural components of the two Masses and sees them as basically equivalent.

This is a very reductionist view of the liturgy. Such a structural view might be appropriate for a mass produced item, something that came off an assembly line where uniformity across products was guaranteed by structural consistency alone. But it is hardly suitable for an organic ritual like the Mass, where the distinguishing features of the rite are found in the particular content—the specific prayers and ritual gestures of the ceremony.

Lest you think the content doesn't matter, think if the shoes was on the other foot. We are all familiar with the Jewish food blessing prayer the Hamotzi, which says, "Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, hamotzi lehem min ha'aretz" ("Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.") Could we rewrite this prayer from scratch and claim it was still the Hamotzi just because it was said before meals? Would Jews accept it as such? Would anyone buy it if we had a committee rewrite the Divine Liturgy and then asserted it was the still the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom? Such fabrications would not be bought by the Jews or the Eastern rites; it is only in the Roman Rite we are expected to buy such arguments.

Pope Francis essentially views the liturgy like a house; the specific content of the house is not all that important—what each room holds, what has been accunulated over the years. For him, what matters is the structure, that it has four walls, a roof, and some rooms. The house is reduced to its outer form; the liturgy is reduced to its most fundamental structure. This reduction allows one to admit wild diversity in the liturgy while maintaining that we are talking about the "same rite"—the way we could say two houses with similar floor plans are "basically the same house."

Of course, this view falls apart once we consider the content. Two houses might share a common structure, but going inside and perusing the content and living conditions in each house and its very different families will divest of any notion that these houses are identical. And any investigation of the content of the New Mass relative to the Traditional Latin Mass will make it clear that the Novus Ordo is not substantially similar to the Traditional Latin Mass. 

The comparison even fails on a structural level once we dig down beyond the bare minimum: while the new and old Masses share the elements mentioned above, there are many they do not share—the responsorial psalm, the "prayers of the people," the prayers at the foot of the altar, and the Last Gospel all come to mind. The structural comparison only works if our parameters are dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. It is as if I were to give a man a deer and tell him it was a horse because they both have four legs and run. This same point was observed by none other than Fr. Joseph Gelineau S.J., a member of the Concilium responsible for crafting the Novus Ordo. Using the same imagery of a building, Fr. Gelineau gloated:

“Let those who like myself have known and sung a Latin-Gregorian High Mass remember it if they can. Let them compare it with the Mass that we now have. Not only the words, the melodies, and some of the gestures are different. To tell the truth, it is a different liturgy of the Mass. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman rite as we knew it no longer exists [le rite romain tel que nous l’avons connu n’existe plus]. It has been destroyed. [Il est détruit.] Some walls of the former edifice have fallen while others have changed their appearance, to the extent that it appears today either as a ruin or the partial substructure of a different building." (Joseph Gelineau, Demain la liturgie: Essai sur l’évolution des assemblées chrétiennes [Paris: Cerf, 1976], 9-10)

The Novus Ordo is a valid Mass with valid sacraments just like a structure with four walls and a roof is a house. But the question is not whether the Novus Ordo is valid, but whether it preserves the heritage of the Roman Rite. The answer is unambiguously no. And this is not merely my opinion; none other than Paul VI called the Novus Ordo "the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass." Pope Benedict's attempt to reframe the old and new rites as two "forms" of the same Mass was legal legerdemain conjured up in an attempt to regularize the historical anomaly of having two competing rites each claiming to be the Roman rite. But this sort of accomodation was rejected by the architect of the Novus Ordo, who unabashedly called it a "new rite." We, too, should imitate Paul VI in this regard. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Let Us Rejoice in 2023

[JAN. 15, 2023] This New Year was quite somber in the Boniface household. The death of Pope Benedict XVI on New Years Eve aside, I was completely wiped out with Covid, an ordeal from which my strength has not yet fully recovered. Personal and ecclesiastical events seemed to portent 2023 as a year of sorrow and penitence. Time will see if this prognostication is correct.

As has been my long custom, I like to ring in the New Year by recapping some of the notable posts of the previous year. But I'd like to go a little bit beyond that this time around to acknowledge some people who have blessed me in 2022 and talk a little bit about what else I've been up to.

The past year was a very notable one for me personally; the long awaited relaunch of the sister site kicked off in July. I also expanded my footprint considerably as a contributor to several fine publications, with articles in One Peter Five, New Oxford Review, Angelus News, Catholic Family News, and Catholic Exchange. For those who are fans of Restoring the Faith Media, you may have seen me as an occasional fill-in guest on The Rundown program. I also managed to start putting new videos up on the Unam Sanctam Catholic Youtube channel after athree year hiatus and the response has been very generous. I also revamped the website for my little publishing operation, Cruachan Hill Press. If you have not checked out the Cruachan Hill website for awhile, give it a look. It's really sleek looking and I have a lot of new titles available.

Much of this new exposure was due to the support of generous patrons I'd like to thank publicly, first and foremost Dr. Peter Kwasniewski who has been extremely kind in publicizing my content, as well as including my essays in multiple books he has edited. I'd also like to thank Matt Gaspers, Timothy Flanders, Kristen Van Uden, Mike Aquilina, Alex Barbas, Robert of Pater Familias, and the crew of the Rundown for being so welcoming. Special thanks to my dear friend, Ryan Grant. Longtime followers of this blog will recall that it this blog first took off as a result of Ryan's patronage way back in the day. After fifteen years of communicating only via the interwebs, Ryan and I were blessed to finally meet this past October at the Catholic Identity Conference in Pittsburgh. I am deeply grateful for his support and friendship throughout the years.

I am happy to say that 2022 was a year of fellowship for me. I made much more of an effort to build real life relationships with other Catholics and it has yielded some wonderful new friendships and the strengthening of those already existing. Twice I went to Canada to visit my traditional Catholic friends in Ontario; I traveled to many other states as well to meet other Catholics and enjoy the blessings of friendship in the Lord. And everyone I spoke to—whether in real life or online—has communicated similar sentiments: that they are ready to move beyond spiritual milk and on to the deep things of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:20). In the face of increasing hostility to the faith from within and without the Church, I think there is a growing sense that our own interior life is the one thing nobody can take from us, that now, more than ever, it is time to "store up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal" (Matt. 6:21). While we continue to labor for the restoration of Catholic tradition, many are recommitting themselves to personal holiness. There is a sense that there is a great shaking come upon us, and those who wish to abide in faith must see to their own garden.

If we look at things according to the flesh, these are dismal times indeed. But, if we have eyes to see, you may discover that the Kingdom of God is advancing all around us. Forget the institutional Church for a moment. Think of the little victories. Everytime someone decides to start praying the Divine Office, the Kingdom of God advances. Everytime a Catholic decides they are going to start taking their spiritual life more seriously, God's kingdom extends. Everytime someone discovers the Traditional Latin Mass, or makes a good confession, or receives the Holy Eucharist rightly disposed. All of these are glorious victories for the Kingdom of our Lord. Everytime you persevere in some pious resolution, angels rejoice. Grace is all around us; souls are always being won for the Kingdom of God.

Here are some of my personal favorite essays published on Unam Sanctam in 2022:

Thank you as always for your kind support. The Lord is good and shows His kindness to me everyday through your continued interest in my humble works. May you be blessed in the New Year. Whatever 2023 brings us, let us rejoice, knowing that "all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28)

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Farewell Reflections on Benedict XVI

Normally on the New Year I post a list of what I consider the most important Unam Sanctam articles over the past twelve months. However, given the recent passing of Pope Benedict XVI, I thought it fitting to devote my first piece of 2023 to the memory of the late pontiff. This essay will be longer than most, for which I beg your indulgence, but it is difficult to sum up what I think and feel about this man with anything approaching brevity. Therefore, bear with me, I pray, as it is fitting that I should be allowed a bit of pontificating in an article about a pontiff.

Rather than attempt a topical synopsis of the late pope's thought and legacy, I have decided to opt for the more personal approach of unfolding Ratzinger through my own encounters with him and his work throughout my life. 


As the offspring of a family of Poles and Sicilians, I was baptized Catholic as a baby as a matter of course. But I never saw the inside of a Catholic parish after the day of my baptism for many years. My childhood had no First Communion nor Confirmation. I was scarcely aware of my family's Catholic heritage save for a lone crucifix my mother kept hanging on the hallway wall of our home. I lived a very typical secular upbringing in the 1980s and 90s. 

I came to the Lord in the year 1999, albeit outside of any church construct (more through the personal witness of a close friend). After dallying with various Protestant sects, I was drawn to the Catholic Church shortly thereafter and began studying the faith in 2000, with my formal reception into the Church taking place on October 4, 2002. 

Suffice to say, I had no idea who Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was. Most people entering the Church from a Protestantized context are focused doctrinal and moral matters, not who staffs various Vatican congregations and dicasteries. For people such as myself, learning about the machinery of the Vatican bureaucracy is generally an afterthought, like an intellectual placenta delivered after the hard work of conversion has been done. I recall my RCIA director gave me a print out of a talk Ratzinger gave on the proper understanding of the role of conscience in ethics, but to be honest it was over my head at the time. 


I first truly became aware of Cardinal Ratzinger when I was in college at Ave Maria. The campus had an unofficial Joseph Ratzinger Fanclub; I mean literally, there was a website, also called "The Joseph Ratzinger Fan Club," where you could by Cardinal Ratzinger merch mugs, T-shirts, and hats featuring pictures and quotes of the cardinal. There was a cadre of students on campus who proudly displayed these fun little tokens of admiration. Through this exposure I picked up, by osmosis as it were, that Ratzinger was known as "God's Rottweiler," that he was the head of the CDF and, as such, the guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, and that liberals hated him. That alone made me admire the man. I joined the fan club; I remember I bought a T-shirt with a pic of the Cardinal that said "Putting the smackdown on heresy since 1981." Incidentally, the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club site would later become the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club, which is still up today under its original URL But you can still visit an archived version of the site to see what it looked like before Ratzinger was elevated to the papacy.

So Ratzinger entered my consciousness as one of the "good guys." John Paul II was a good guy, and Ratzinger was his lieutenant. It felt good to know there were such people at the helm. Still, I had little time to study the man's writings. After all, I was a full time college student with a young family and I was working full time as well. But I also knew nothing about the Traditional Latin Mass or the liturgy wars; I was scarcely aware that there even was a Traditional Latin Mass. This was in part due to a deception practiced in conservative Catholic academic environments where everyone just pretends that the Novus Ordo is the historic Mass: historic discussions about the liturgy are applied to the Novus Ordo, and sacramental theology is presented entirely within a post-Conciliar vocabulary and framework. The Novus Ordo is received as if it were of venerable antiquity while no mention is made of the events of 1969-70. Tradition is praised, but only through the lens of John Paul II or other "safe" post-Conciliar writers. A total outsider, someone who knew nothing about Catholicism, would assume that the Novus Ordo Missae was the historic Roman rite based on the way it was treated. We certainly had discussions about the merit of "traditional" practices, but these were generally about traditional pietistical practices completely abstracted from their liturgical context (e.g., "Is kneeling for communion more reverent than receiving standing?" "Is Latin more reverent than vernacular?"). We argued about the proper role of certain traditional practices based on their perceived reverence—call it their "reverential value"—while completely ignoring the liturgical superstructure all these elements once existed in.


At any rate, I was in my final semester at Ave when John Paul II died. I had loved John Paul II; I wept listening to the coverage of his death on the radio while I drove to school. He had been the only pope I had ever known. 2005 was my first experience of watching a papal conclave unfold along with all the gossip about papabile. As I recall, Ratzinger did not seem to be taken seriously as a candidate. There was considerable speculation about this on campus, and the theological faculty, who followed these things more closely than others, seemed to favor Angelo Cardinal Scola, then Patriarch of Venice, or Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, as the most likely to be elected. The consensus seemed to be that "it would be nice" to have Ratzinger, but that he was too conservative to have a fighting shot—similar to the way today we would say "it would be nice" if Cardinal Burke got elected, while knowing the odds against him are steep.

It was April 19, 2005, midmorning, local time. The white smoke had been seen, but the new pontiff had not yet emerged. I was gathered with other students and faculty in the library of Ave Maria College (which was, of course, then in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the "real" Ave as us Michigan alums tend to think of it). One of the librarians had let some of us students back into his office to watch the on a primitive, severely pixelated live stream. We watched for about ten minutes before seeing the new pope emerge on the balcony. The live stream was so pixelated we could not make out the face of the new pontiff nor read the text on the screen. But the librarian heard the words "Joseph Ratzinger" on the audio feed and yelled, "It's Ratzinger!"

We all shouted in delight like little children. Ah, that day was a moment of pure Catholic joy. I recall how we all ran out of the library, running through the hallways yelling like seniors on graduation day. I ran out into the campus; it was a lovely spring day, warm and bright. Students were randomly hugging each other and shouting, "Papa Ratzinger!" I felt immediate filial devotion to the man. The contrast between the exuberance of that bright spring morning and dreariness of March 13, 2013 couldn't have been more stark.


Ignatius Press had the rights to all English language editions of Joseph Ratzinger's works by virtue of Fr. Fessio's longtime friendship with the Cardinal. This copyright extended to his (private) writings as pope, as well. Ignatius wasted no time in inundating the market with new editions of Ratzinger's old works, with a shiny golden "POPE BENEDICT XVI" sticker slapped on the front. Sometimes this marketing zeal bordered on deception: books would be promoted as written by "Pope Benedict XVI," only for the reader to find they were hastily cobbled together collections of Ratzinger's essays from the 1960s. Be that as it may, it was during this Ratzingerian-publishing burst that I picked up copies of some of Ratzinger's seminal works, including Spirit of the Liturgy, but also Milestones and The Ratzinger Report, both of which would be essential in understanding Ratzinger's view of what had happened to the Church in the second half of the twentieth century.

These considerations were becoming timely as the question of the liturgy was becoming ever more pressing in my mind. This came about from a convergence of events:

In the first place, my parish priest—who was accustomed to saying a Latin Novus Ordo—had suddenly been removed because of a "credible" accusation. The investigation dragged on for years and the priest, who was in poor health, died before its conclusion. The charges were never substantiated; my priest died in exile in a monastery in a foreign country, isolated from his flock. The pastor who replaced him had no interest in the Latin Novus Ordo and immediately suspended it indefinitely. First vernacular, then guitars, began to creep back into the liturgy. My parish suffered one of the reverses that are so tragically common in conservative Novus Ordo parishes. I could not fathom this; why would someone hate the Church's official language so much to simply cancel our beloved Latin Novus Ordo without so much as consulting the parishioners? This made me aware of the divisiveness of liturgy within the Church. 

Furthermore, I had been doing more historical research on the Council at college. I had read Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber and was stunned by the real story of the council. The Ave Maria College library had at that time a set of the actual council daybooks (the literal moment-by-moment agenda of the council sessions with records of every episcopal intervention and summaries of what each of the bishops spoke about). I spent a semester pouring my way through these books, literally reading summaries of every speech at the Council. I wrote a term paper on the history of the Second Vatican Councila theme I would return to many times in life—the Council is imperfectly understood when considered only as a collection of teachings; it must be considered as a totality, it's teachings within the context of the historical event in which they are embedded and are the product of. I began to be aware that the divisiveness about the liturgy was grounded in fierce debate about the Second Vatican Council itself: what it meant, and what its role was in the Church today.

Finally, the first two years of Benedict's pontificate saw the emergence of the traditional Catholic blogosphere into the full light of day. I was introduced to Rorate Caeli and The New Liturgical Movement, among others, seeing that these matters were the subject of intense discussion across the Church—even if my college and parish experiences would have me believe otherwise. I started devouring everything I could read on the subject of liturgy and the Traditional Latin Mass. My friend and fellow Ave alum, the now-renowned Dr. John Joy, gave me a copy of Msgr. Klaus Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. This book was instrumental in helping me understand the problems with the Pauline reforms from established liturgical principles. But, more germane to this essay, Gamber's book featured a preface by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, wherein he penned his famous words, " the place of ‘liturgy as the fruit of development’ came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it—as in a manufacturing process—with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product." 

I began to connect Ratzinger's thought with Catholic traditionalism, specifically as it pertained to the liturgy. Whether this entirely accurate remained to be seen, but it was enough to recognize that Catholic traditionalists at least viewed him as an ally. I read Spirit of the Liturgy around the same time I read Mosebach's The Heresy of Formlessness; I don't think I need to summarize either of these works (indeed, how could I?) but, like many traditionalists, I found that Ratzinger's principles furnished a theological-liturgical vocabulary to describe the Church's liturgical crisis. 

I, too, began making my meager contribution to this great discourse with this blog, which I launched in the summer of 2007 and began identifying as a traditionalist in the Ratzingerian mold.


At this time there was considerable chatter going on in the blogosphere about an imminent motu proprio from the Holy Father that was expected to liberalize the Traditional Latin Mass. I was at that time in the employment of the Church in the Diocese of Lansing and was already helping my diocesan pastor obtain the celebret required under the Indult, as he had desired to say the Traditional Mass for some time. I had some correspondence and even a phone conversation with Fr. Bisig about getting my pastor trained to say the TLM. As for what was coming from Rome, we knew neither the day nor the hour nor what the anticipated motu proprio would contain, so we continued assuming the Indult legislation would continue indefinitely.

When Summorum Pontificum dropped on July 7, 2007, "we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy" (Ps. 126:1). At the heart of Summorum was the admission that the Missal of 1962 was "never abrogated" (Art. 1), and that "the priest needs no permission from the Apostolic See or from his own Ordinary" to celebrate Mass in the traditional rite (ibid). The letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum explained this further, when speaking of the Traditional Mass, Benedict said, "I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted...What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful." This was the true revolution of Summorum Pontificum; Benedict did not legislate the Traditional Latin Mass back into usage; he declared that it had never been legislated out of usage and hence was always permitted. The motu proprio did not legalize the old Mass; it recognized that it had always been legal and invited bishops to do the same.

This is what is so insane about Traditiones custodes. Pope Francis stated therein that John Paul and Pope Benedict "granted and regulated the faculty" to use the pre-Conciliar Missal. This is completely contrary to the point Benedict stressed in Summorum, which was that the old Mass needed neither grant nor regulation to be used. Furthermore, for a document that purports to supersede Summorum, Traditiones custodes does not quote it even once. A charitable reading of these facts suggests that Pope Francis doesn't truly understand Summorum; an uncharitable reading suggests he knows but doesn't care.

But in 2007 that was all still thankfully years in the future. My pastor asked me to review Summorum and make a good faith effort to understand what was required of him to be a sound footing to say the Latin Mass. Of course, the document said no permission of any sort was required, but my pastor wanted to make sure every possible difficulty was tucked away. For example, Article 5 seemed to envision cases where a group of parishioners wants the Latin Mass and asks the priest for it, but it did not seem to envision cases where the priest himself wants to introduce the parish to the Latin Mass at his own initiative. Knowing how divisive such matters could be—and that letter accompanying Summorum had directed bishops to intervene if the implementation of the motu proprio gave rise to conflicts a parish priest could not resolve—my pastor wanted to avoid any such opportunities for grievance. It was decided that it would be best if we could demonstrate that the "stable group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition" mentioned in Article 5 actually existed. We therefore created a petition asking our priest to celebrate the Latin Mass and circulated it amongst our parishioners. Myself and one other gentleman gathered signatures; we gathered 82, which was considerable for a small country parish. 

Seeing the desire was there, my pastor spent some time learning the Traditional Latin Mass and then began offering it at our parish. It has continued being offered to this day. Every time I attend the TLM at my parish, I owe a debt of gratitude to the wisdom of Benedict XVI.


My early days with Benedict were a honeymoon phase of falling in love with the pope's liturgical vision. I dutifully read his encyclicals as well and was particularly impressed by Spe Salvi, his 2007 encyclical on the theological virtue of hope. This encyclical was fundamental to my understanding of note only hope, but faith as well. He wrote that faith and hope are "not just informative, but performative" (SS 4).  It is a vibrant hope that the Catholic (by the very act of faithful hoping) actually changes himself in Christ and brings himself closer to the very object of his hope. We do not hope for heaven in a merely future looking way, but by hoping for heaven we actually bring heaven closer to us and in a way participate in it here and now. Consider this quote:

"Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future" (SS 7).

Anyone who has ever read my essays on faith or spoken to me in person about these matters will see the echoes of Benedict's thought in my own. To this day I think this beautiful little encyclical is one of Benedict's best theological pieces and is an excellent text to help grasp the meaning of a virtue that many misunderstand.


But as I read Benedict's writings, I began to run across things that were theologically troubling. This was particularly true of his pre-pontifical writings, which were being published in abundance by Ignatius Press. I remember I read a book called Credo for Today: What Christians Believe. This was a collection of Ratzinger's essays, most dating from the 1960s and 70s. The essays that dealt with creation, cosmology, and eschatology were particularly troubling as Ratzinger displayed a distinctly Teilhardian sympathy. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit theologian and anthropologist who made striking heterodox claims about the place of evolution within Christian cosmology. It was not merely that Teilhard believed evolution, but that he made it the lynchpin of his entire cosmic system, whereby all creation is in the process of a continual evolution from matter to spirit that will terminate in something called the Omega Point, an endpoint where all human consciousness evolves beyond its current state and is merged into a kind of theo-cosmic singularity with God, which Teilhard called the "Cosmic Christ." It was a bizarre theory, bordering on pantheism, which was repeatedly censured during Teilhard's own life but which became avant-garde in the years after Teilhard's death. 

It is not my purpose here to establish Benedict's Teilhardian sympathies; interested readers should look at my essay "The Solemn Enthronement of Evolution," as well as the fantastic essay by the late James Larson entitled "A Living Host: Liturgy and Cosmic Evolution in the Thought of Benedict XVI and Teilhard de Chardin." But as Ratzinger himself publicly declared himself an admirer of Teilhard's thought, this is no innovative conclusion of mine; we have it from the late pope's own words.

Now, I point this out not to criticize the late pope, but as a necessary step in my own story with him. I wondered how a man who, in other regards, demonstrated such a tender affinity for the Church's liturgical tradition could embrace a theory as bonkers as Teilhard's. There were other oddities I found throughout the writings of Benedict as well. There has been a tendency among Traditionalists to view Benedict XVI as a theological traditionalist whilst Pope John Paul II's pontificate was more egregiously modernized. However, as James Larson once pointed out to me, it is actually easier to find theological novelties in the writings of Ratzinger than it is in JP2. 

Which begs the question: In what sense was Benedict XVI a "traditionalist" pope? Is it right to see him as such?


Teilhard de Chardin's theory is a type of vitalism. Vitalism is the idea of a successive, evolutionary emergence of new properties out of a prior substrate, a process Teilhard referred to as the "complexification" of matter into spirit. Benedict, too, ultimately viewed matter as but a "moment in the history of spirit," a "prehistory of the spirit" (see his essay "Creation" in Credo for Today, pages 43-47). It is a view that is essentially Hegelian, of the stormy conflict between matter and spirit ultimately resolving in the emanation of a new and higher reality in which the limitations of our current order are resolved in a synthesis at the Omega Point.

This Hegelian approach was also evident in Benedict's liturgical vision. The great liturgical question that occupied the mind of the pontiff was the relationship between the traditional liturgy and the conciliar liturgy. For all his wonderfully lucid critiques of the post-Conciliar regime, Benedict was too much a creature of his age to fundamentally reject the new liturgy. He advocated what we today call a reform of the reform, arguing that the problem was not the new liturgy but the failure to properly implement it; it is the liturgical version of the "Real Communism has never been tried" argument and it sounds just as silly applied to the Novus Ordo. Yet it was a position Benedict argued until his dying breath. 

Benedict needed to reconcile the two liturgies without denigrating either. He accomplished this through his idea of mutual enrichment. This concept is found in Summorum Pontificum and its accompanying letter, in which Benedict expresses his hope that the two liturgies (which he coined as "Extraordinary" and "Ordinary" forms of the Roman rite) will enrich each other. This is a profoundly different from how traditional Catholics received the document. Traditional Catholics embraced Summorum as a liberation of the Traditional Latin Mass; Benedict viewed it also as an opportunity for the Traditional Mass to enrich the Novus Ordo and for the Novus Ordo to enrich the Traditional Latin Mass. He viewed it as a two-way exchange. It can be argued that the reverence of the TLM bled over into certain NO liturgies; I witnessed this at diocesan parishes where both forms were celebrated. But in what sense did Benedict hope or expect the Novus Ordo would "enrich" the Traditional Mass? What would a penetration of any aspect of the new rite into the old look like concretely?

It is hard to say. But, judging from Benedict's thought, I personally believe he envisioned a Hegelian synthesis where the mutual enrichment of the two "forms" eventually led to the emergence of a new "third" liturgy, in which all of what Benedict considered to be the best aspects of both "forms" was preserved. Thus the schizophrenia of the Roman rite introduced by the Novus Ordo would be reconciled with the emergence of a new liturgy that did not negate but transcended the others, showing both the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo to be but "moments" in the meta-development of liturgy, both constituting a kind of liturgical "pre-history" to whatever the coming liturgical synthesis brought forth. 

I realize the radical nature of this claim, and I pose it only as a hypothesis. Even so, it is not without ground given Benedict's statements, and I am certainly not the only one who has considered this.


In time, I thus came to see Benedict as a multi-faceted individual. He was a man who obviously had a deep love for the old liturgy, but could only bring himself to go so far with it (it is notable that he never celebrated the Traditional Mass publicly during his pontificate). Even his support for the TLM had to be packaged within a larger Conciliar apologetic. He seemed to me a man who did the right thing but for the wrong reason—which, to be honest, is not terrible. St. Paul rejoiced that Christ was bring preached "whether in pretense or truth," (Php. 1:18) and I similarly rejoice in whatever good Benedict did for whatever reason.

But my deep reading of Benedict's theology made it impossible for me to think of him as a bastion of orthodoxy. He was capable of striking theological novelties. As a theologian, he falls into the same category as Hans Urs von Balthasar (another hero of Ratzinger's); Balthasar is a theologian whose writings are full of novelties. Taken on his own terms, his thought represents a revolutionary departure from theological tradition. But, taken relative to other contemporary theologians such as Rahner and Teilhard, Balthasar appears orthodox. The radicals make him seem safe. Similarly, Benedict XVI appeared as a stalwart defender of tradition compared to the Marxs, Mahoneys, Küngs, and James Martins of the Church. But, taken on his own terms, he was quite a revolutionary thinker who proposed many novelties.

It is ironic that Benedict the "traditional" pope committed what is undoubtedly the greatest papal novelty of the modern era—the resignation of the papal office, an event that ushered in so much mischief for the Church. Whatever Benedict's physical condition, it is hard to imagine our situation today would not have been better had he stayed the course. Dr. Kwasniewski has said somewhere that, while we cannot know the mind of God, history seems to suggest that the Lord does not look kindly on papal resignations. The past nine years has been an unremitting train of catastrophe; it is difficult not to see these disasters as directly proceeding from Benedict's resignation. The pope may have been buried this week, but he died in 2013.


I loved Benedict XVI and always shall. I will ever be grateful for what he did for Traditional Catholics, whatever his motivation. While his writings are not free of problems, whose writing is? He was a man who was right about what was wrong but wrong about what was right. He deserves our respect and requires our prayers. I am grateful for the time we had with him and there are parts of his thought that will always remain with me. Despite his complexities and failures, I am still, and always will be, a member of the Ratzinger Fan Club. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Fides Quaerens Intellectum, "Faith Seeking Understanding"

[Dec. 22, 2022] I see it everywhere. I see it in the online threads of Trads debating the powers of the papacy. I see it in dialogues between Protestants and Catholics about the idea of an interpretive authority for divine revelation. I see it in the brain-dump posts of skeptics and the wavering questioning the very concept of religious faith. I see it in the tedious, dreary, back-and-forth discussions between Catholics and Orthodox. It is ubiquitous in religious discussion today.

I am speaking of a hyper-rationalistic approach to matters of faith that insists upon absolutely incontestable logical demonstrations for every point of belief before it is deemed worthy of assent. I refer not to the mere expectation that faith be logical, nor people's reasonable expectation to be convinced of what they are asked to believe; rather, I am referring to people wanting every point of faith to be proven to them in unassailable rational exactitude before they grant it any credibility. What's more, there is the implicit assumption that a point of faith that cannot be proven with ironclad, indisputable, logical certainty is ipso facto untrustworthy. 

This way of thinking is very damaging to faith, as it imposes burdens upon faith it was never meant to carry. Essentially, faith and reason are getting muddled. The propositions of faith are being treated as propositions of logic that must be logically demonstrable in order to have credibilty.

Though I see this as foundational, I think we should nevertheless revisit the nature of faith and the type of certainty faith affords, because it seems to me that people on all sides are subjecting faith to the methodology of reason, with the effect that the entire edifice of belief is being treated as one enormous logical demonstration.

Faith and reason are both modes of knowledge. Reason pertains to what we can know from our own powers of observation, whether empirical or logical. Faith pertains to what we know based on the authority of someone else. Both are true ways of knowing, but each is grounded in a different certainty. The certainty of reason is as good as our own powers of observation and intellection; the certainty of faith is as good as the person we put faith in. Whereas reason implies logical deduction, faith implies confidence. Faith itself is an act of trust.

If we go back to the First Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius, we see the following comment on the nature of faith:

We believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because of the intrinsic truth of the things, viewed by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive. (DF, III)

When Dei Filius says "we believe...not because of the intrinsic truth of things viewed by the light of natural reason," it does not mean that the propositions of faith are illogical; rather, it means it is not their inherent logical intelligibility that convinces us to believe. Rather, we believe based on the authority of the one who reveals—in this case, Jesus Christ. But to use a more everyday example, if my mother tells me a story about getting ice cream with her father at the fair when she was a little girl, I believe her not because the truth of her assertion is immediately apparent to my intellect, but because I know my mother and I trust her. Because of my confidence in her trustworthiness, I assent to her story; I believe it on faith.

Indeed, sometimes faith is the only way to know about a thing. In the story above, suppose I subjected my mother's story to the rigorous standards we apply in logic: "Well ma'am, that's a fine story, but is there anyone that can corroborate it? Your father? Oh, he's dead? Well can you produce any other eye-witnesses? was in 1961 you say and no one else you knew was present? Convenient. Are there any photographs? Journal entries? How about this fair...where was it? don't remember the exact city it was in. I see. Do you remember the name of the company that put the fair on? Well if I knew the exact date this happened, maybe I could check some archives and...oh what's that? You don't recall the date from sixty-one years ago? What's that? It might have been 1962 or 63 now that you think about it? Ma'am, you must admit, this story sounds incredibly suspicious. Your entire account is full of gaps; I can't understand how you expect me to believe this."

Propositions of faith were never meant to be logical demonstrations. Of course, in the Catholic religion, our core articles of faith fit into the same category as the above example—the Trinity, the Incarnation, the salvific death of Jesus Christ, the grace of baptism, His real presence in the Eucharist, etc. are all truths we would have no way of knowing had they not been revealed. They require faith to accept.

But the Christian faith is not illogical, nor was it meant to be blind. Faith does not depend upon reason; but it is in accord with reason. We do not believe because we understand, but as St. Anselm said, we believe so that we may understand. Fides quaerens intellectum ("faith seeking understanding"), to use the formula attributed to St. Augustine. Faith is logical, but not logic-based. It corresponds to reason but is not derived from it.

That this might be more clear, God gives certain "exterior proofs" to aid our reason, called motives of credibility. These motives of credibility do not establish the truth of the faith in a logical sense, but they do testify to it. Dei Filius says:

Nevertheless, in order that the obedience of our faith might be in harmony with reason, God willed that, to the interior help of the Holy Spirit, there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation; to wit, divine facts, and especially miracles and prophecies, which, as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain proofs of His Divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all men. (DF, III)

While we should certainly not assent to something we are not convinced of, we should likewise understand that the faith does not demand every single jot and tittle be accounted for before assent can be given. Faith is a form of knowledge, but it is imperfect, characterized by a "not yet-ness"; "for now we see in a mirror but dimly" says St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:12). "Wrestling" with various problems is an inherent aspect of faith (see "The Dark Mirror of Faith," USC, March, 2022). Faith will always be riddled with difficulties. But, to quote St. John Henry Newman, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." Being tripped up with a "difficulty" that you wrestle with is not an argument against assent. The motives of credibility help by lending intellectual weight to our assent, creating a momentum towards belief that encompasses the intellect and will. But we should never confuse the motives of credibility with the act of faith itself. Newman said, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt"; but we say, "I will continue to doubt, so long as even one difficulty remains unresolved."

I have deliberately chosen not to mention where I have seen this sort of thing happening because I don't want to drag particular individuals into it, but it is going on all over the place. And I see people's faith being wrecked by it left and right. We are always our own worst enemy. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

"A Nitty-Gritty Trad": Teenager TLM Testimony (Part 3)

The past month I have been posting stories that teenagers have shared with me about the impact of the Traditional Latin Mass in their lives. If you missed the first two installments, they can be found here:

Part I
Part II

In this third and final installment, I present the story of a young man who found the TLM through various twists and turns of circumstance. I like this story because it highlights the overlap between TLM and NO communities. While we tend to think of traditional Catholics as entirely averse to attending the Novus Ordo—and Novus Ordo Catholics as hostile to the TLM—this story exemplifies how these two communities intersect. Often the choice to go to the TLM begins as a practical one, due to issues with scheduling conflicts or the need for orthodox sacramental instruction. A love of tradition for its own sake blossoms later after prolonged exposure to the traditional lex orandi.

I’ve been going to Mass ever since I was four. For the first nine years that I went to Mass, it was at my local suburban Novus Ordo parish. Pretty typical. Nothing traditional, but nothing too crazy. You had your Extraordinary Ministers, your lay lectors, and whatnot, but usually none of the guitar blessings or other such shenanigans. I was fine with it, really. I did my best to engage with it, following along with the readings and the breaking of the eucharistic bread. It was nice when Holy Week came around. Even with all that, though, I was never really impacted very deeply. If you could take it all away, and I’d be more-or-less the same person.

My first experience of the Latin Mass that I recall was receiving my First Communion at the FSSP parish we currently attend. They had catechism after one of the Saturday morning Masses, so we’d make our way up there for Low Mass and then class. If I am being honest, though, I didn’t really notice how different the traditional Mass was at first. At this point, I had experienced many other churches aside from the one I regularly attended on Sundays; I was used to the liturgy varying from church to church. The only thing I remember noticing and thinking was cool was the genuflection during the Last Gospel. It was because everyone would genuflect, and then just a couple of seconds later, everyone would kneel down for the Leonine prayers. Genuflecting outside of the context of entering the pew was pretty new to me, I suppose.

Anyways, I went on to receive my First Holy Communion in the TLM. Apparently, it was a Solemn High Mass, though I don’t really remember noticing any of that. I only remember Father saying in his sermon something along the lines of “just because you’re done now doesn’t mean you should forget everything you learned,” and also being very happy to have received Our Lord.

Well, after that I stopped regularly going to Latin Mass for quite some time. I guess I didn’t listen to Father, as I almost immediately stopped receiving on the tongue and went back to receiving on the hand. I mean, what can I say? I was just an impressionable kid. It was what everyone else did. I shudder thinking about it now.

About five years later, in 2019, it came time for me to do Confirmation. By this point, my Novus Ordo parish had shifted from doing catechesis on Saturdays to doing it on Sundays, which meant that it conflicted with the family going to the local church. My parents provided the music for the Sunday 10 AM Mass at our local parish, which meant that they had to be present for that particular liturgy. So, my brother and I (who did Confirmation) would carpool up with friends and go to the Latin High Mass, and then Confirmation class. That was when things started changing for me, though I didn’t realize it so much at the time. For one thing, I started going to confession more often. Prior, I only went twice a year, at the penance services my church held before Christmas and Easter. And in general, my Catholic Faith started becoming a lot more important to me. My parents had done a good job of planting lots of Catholic “seeds” in me, but I don’t think they really started developing much until this point.

At this point, I had already joined the parish Altar Guild (e.g., Mass servers). I had actually joined in late 2018, but would only go up to the monthly meetings and then not really be that involved. Eventually, I started going to Low Mass occasionally with friends and training a little bit more seriously, but not much. Despite being trained many times, it was a long time before I ended up serving Low Mass. I was just thrust into it by the guy. He was like “I think you’re ready.” And I was like, “okay.” I knew my responses but that was about it… it was a disaster. I learned a lot about making mistakes and how to move on from them and learn from them. And also I learned to take corrections; I took a liking to Proverbs 12:1.

In 2020 everything halted due to COVID. My confirmation class was stopped. My parish stopped having public Mass (though the church doors were only locked for the live stream Masses and we never stopped having confessions). That wasn’t very shocking at first. I just figured it was normal for society to shut down and stop everything owing to disease; I didn’t question it. But after the two weeks started getting expanded, I started getting depressed.

Eventually, though, things happened and we started getting to Mass at my parish again, so I stopped being depressed. Ah, I said we. At this point, my whole family started going to Mass at the TLM, not just me and my brother. This was because my parents didn’t have to do music for the local parish anymore owing to Covid. Going to Mass again made me really thankful, and that’s when things REALLY took off. I got good at serving Mass—after all, we had five Low Masses on weekdays, and eight on Sundays, so I was doing it almost every day. I also joined the music program, even though my parish wasn’t having Sung Mass yet.

Parish life went through a lot of shifts, each one more and more pleasant, until we’ve now reached something that’s pretty normal. I’m pretty much a trad now. A nitty-gritty trad, having become acquainted with the inner workings of the liturgy. I’ve become an accomplished altar boy and an accomplished member of the choir. I’ve made lots and lots of friends. Indeed, my church is my social life. But yeah. I’ve got a LOT to be thankful for. No way I’m gonna be able to make it up to God, but I can sure as heck try.

That was a really long and meandering story, but it tells me trad journey at least in part. XD

Friday, December 16, 2022

Was Jesus Born At Night?

[Dec. 18, 2022] In western tradition it has been common to depict the birth of our Lord Jesus as occurring during the night. Film and art have reinforced this image so many times that we hardly give it much thought. But was Jesus really born at night? Is there any way to know for sure? This is a question of merely curious interest, perhaps not worth the thought I have expended on it, but hey, it's Advent so why not?

In my experience, kids are more likely to be born at night—four of my children were born between the hours of midnight and 6:00am, which is quite inconvenient but at least I came to expect it. Of course, my experience isn't universal and I do, in fact, admit the existence of people who are not born at night. Where does the tradition that Jesus was born at night come from?

Partially I think this might be related to the tendency in art and film to conflate the birth of Christ with the finding of the Child by the Wise Men. The Wise Men are usually depicted following a star shining over Bethlehem (obviously at night) and it is wrongly presumed that the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem on the very night of Christ's birth. Of course, the Wise Men arrived considerably later than the actual birth date, as evidenced by Herod's command slay all the children two years and younger, "according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men" (Matt. 2:16).

We could also look at the appearance of the angels to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke, which occurred at night: "And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). The shepherds are accosted by the angels after the birth of Christ had already taken place, and they are sent to Bethlehem to find the babe. Unlike the case with the Wise Men, this must have occurred relatively soon after the birth, for the shepherds were told that they would find the baby "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (v. 12). Unless Mary and Joseph stayed in the manger for several days or weeks, we can presume this visit happened within a day or two of the birth.

Furthermore, on the night the angels appear to the shepherds, the angel says to them that "for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (v. 11). And we know from the context of the angels' words that the birth had already happened when the angels appeared to the shepherds. Therefore, the question is, how long after the birth did the angel appear and say that "this day" the Christ had been born? If we can presume Mary and Joseph were still going to be awake when the shepherds came that evening, then the salutation to the shepherds probably happened right at dusk, placing the birth somewhat earlier. But how much earlier?

There is of course no way to be sure from the text. Jesus may have been born at 6:00am, or noon, or 3:00pm, or even 6:00pm and the angel's greeting of a Savior born "this day" would most likely still be applicable. The angelic greeting to the shepherds could have happened several hours after the birth or perhaps almost concomitantly with it. There is no certainty here.

And yet artistic tradition insists it was at night. When you really dig into the Tradition here, you find that the depictions of Christ's birth at night do not come from conclusions drawn from the Gospels, as we would imagine. Rather, the few writings I have found that do reference the birth at night draw upon a text from the Book of Wisdom for their justification:

"While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed" (Wis. 18:14-15)

The night being "half gone" has traditionally been understood to be midnight. And at midnight, the Word of God is presented as "leaping" from heaven to earth. The Fathers and Medievals loved this image of God's Word "leaping" to earth in the middle of the night and applied this passage to the birth of Christ in the middle of the night. This verse is the inspiration of the famous hymn (one of my favorites), Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming:

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The application is typological, not prophetic; the verse in context refers to the Angel of Death leaping down to Egypt on the night of the Passover to execute judgment on the firstborn of Egypt; hence the reference to the "land that was doomed." It is somewhat odd that a verse about the Angel of Death should be applied to the birth of Christespecially more so since this sort of application isn't even theologically precise; if we were to pinpoint a moment when the Word of God "leapt from heaven" to earth, it would not be at Christ's birth, but at the moment of the Incarnation. Still, we are dealing here with a tradition that is artistic, not doctrinal, and the connection between the "Word of God" mentioned in Wisdom and Christ as the Word was too much for Catholic artists to pass up.

This is not the only case of a typological reading of the Old Testament being used to create a setting for the birth of Christ. Again, in our tradition, we are used to seeing baby Jesus surrounded by animalsoxen, cows, sheep, etc. How do we know there were any animals present? Was the manger cave occupied or wasn't it? Again, the fact that tradition has tended to portray the infant Jesus surrounded by reverent animals does not come from exegesis of the Gospels, but a loose reading of Isaiah 1, where God says,

"Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand" (Isa. 1:2-3).

This is not a prophecy; it is simply a matter-of-fact statement contrasting the ability of even dumb animals to recognize their masters with the unwillingness of Israel to do the same. Western tradition has appropriated this phrase by means of typology to apply to the birth of our Savior, since Christ, too, was not recognized by His people, this served as the perfect foil against which to demonstrate the homage of the natural world to the Lord, exemplified by the animals taken from the text of Isaiah.

Thus in the Wise Men who represent all the Gentiles (three corresponding to the three continents known to antiquity), and in the animals who represent the natural world, and in the shepherds who are the poorest of the poor to the angels who sit by the throne of God, we have all creation at every level praising the Savior of the world.

Our artistic representations of how the birth of Christ happened may not be entirely accurate in all their details. Was Jesus born at night? Who knows. But the western artistic tradition has applied some very pertinent typological texts from the Old Testament to give more depth to this already momentous event. Some may say this obscures the historic truth; I would say it brings the theological meaning of the event into greater clarity.

If you like these sorts of discussions about the particulars of our beloved Holy Days, please consider picking up a copy of my book The Feasts of Christendom: History, Theology, and Customs of the Principal Feasts of the Catholic Church. You can read a review of it by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski on New Liturgical Movement. The book contains tons of essays like the one you just read on various theological and historical questions relating to the feasts of our Church.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Reform of the Reform: Liturgical Russian Roulette

Not long ago I was traveling abroad to visit friends. We went out for dinner and they invited their diocesan parish priest, whom I was blessed to spend several hours in conversation with.

This fellow was impressive. He wore the cassock and carried a dignified beard that Maximilian Kolbe would be proud of. He could smoke cigars and drink whiskey with the best of em, but his demeanor was grounded and he spoke with a wholesomeness and erudition that testified to a sound formation. His breadth of knowledge was imposing, but he was able to converse in a way that brought the complexities of whatever subject he was discussing down to the layman's level. It was a real joy to speak with him.

This priest was what I would term a "reform of the reform" partisan. Though we did not talk about liturgical principles in the abstract or get into Vatican II, it was clear he had a deep love for the Church's tradition. He told me proudly how he had instituted ad orientem worship at his parish some years back, along with communion kneeling on the tongue and how well it had been received. Various fixed Mass parts had been switched over to Latin. When he came to the parish, he found it serviced by a "band"; this was replaced by a schola singing a mixture of sacred polyphony and hymnody from the 18th and 19th centuries. From what my friends told me, his preaching was a solid as it gets. His parishioners held him in deep respect and his changes, even if they required a bit of catechesis, were overall received well by his people.

These are all fine things. I am happy anytime a minister uses his position to attempt to introduce people to traditional liturgical customs, even within the context of the Novus Ordo. For many people, a Novus Ordo Mass decorated with such vestiges of tradition becomes the gateway to the Traditional Latin Mass, a kind of via media that eases them into the traditional rite by introducing them to the concepts of liturgical reverence. I do not know what this priest thought about the Extraordinary Form, but he seemed like he was doing the Ordinary Form as well as he was able.

Good as these things are, though, they are not a suitable mechanism for the long-term restoration of liturgical sanity, as evidenced by what this priest told me next

He told me that in the wake of Traditiones custodes, his bishop had outlawed ad orientem Masses throughout the diocese. I asked the priest how he intended to handle this, observing that this was clearly illegal as the GIRM actually implies that the Novus Ordo is supposed to be done ad orientem. The priest said that he knew the bishop's directive was illegal, but he had to "tread lightly" because he did not want to openly antagonize his bishop. Even if what the bishop ordered is technically illegal, he said, there was nobody realistically who was going to stand up for him against the bishop's order. "The Vatican certainly isn't going to help me," he said. "And I don't want to be that priest who makes trouble by going over the bishop's head. The bishop has the ability to make my life very difficult." He then told me that he had reluctantly decided to go back to versus populum at most of his Masses; one Mass, however—the one that drew his most traditional crowd—would retain ad orientem. People who wanted ad orientem would have to go to that specific Mass. He believed that the likelihood of this particular Mass crowd "telling" on him was very low; and, he surmised, since they were quite attached to ad orientem, he felt the desires of his parishioners justified his disobedience in this case. Then he shrugged and said, "It's not perfect, I know, but if I make him upset, he could remove me altogether and then all my work would be undone."

First of all, this priest and those like him are in a darn difficult spot and deserve our prayers and empathy. I, as a layman, don't understand the kinds of pressures priests go through and what the episcopal-presbyteral dynamic is like, so I don't want to opine on what this priest "ought" to do in his scenario, much less judge him for his course of action. I do, however, recognize in this situation the perfect evidence for why reform of the reform, noble as its sentiments are, is a losing proposition in the end. 

Let us, therefore, deconstruct this situation somewhat:

  • The priest's years of hard work are capable of being undone by the diktat of his bishop. Whatever good he has accomplished (and I would not deny that what he has done is good) has no stability; it is completely vulnerable to the whims of the bishop. 

  • The liturgical reforms the priest instituted were accepted by the congregation, but not on the understanding that "this is the tradition and this is what we should be doing,"  but because "this is what Father wants." Similarly, when the pastor abolishes ad orientem at every Mass save one, this, too, will be accepted because "this is what Father wants." The objective merit of traditional liturgical customs is subjugated to a "Father wants/Bishop says" approach. It cannot avoid liturgical positivism, despite itself.

  • The above point also testifies to the arbitrariness of such efforts. This diocesan Novus Ordo congregation is lucky to have a classical schola, communion on the tongue, ad orientem, access to (some) Latin, and sound homiletics. But the only reason they have access to those things at all is because they happened to get this particular priest assigned to them. Had they gotten someone else, it would have been entirely different. The priest told me that before he arrived, the parish had a "band" that used guitars and drums. The congregation was subject to guitars and drums because they happened to get a liberal priest; now they get ad orientem because they happened to get a more traditional one. It's an arbitrary luck of the draw, a crapshoot—playing Russian roulette with the liturgy when people's spiritual livelihoods are at stake.

  • The priest's observation that he has to comply despite the illegality of the directive is sadly correct: a parish priest does have very little recourse against a bishop who intends to make his life difficult; since his liturgical work is exposed it will all be lost if the bishop moves him, and therefore he does have to think in terms of "How can I eek by with minimal diminution of my work?" rather than "What do the good of souls and justice require?" Given the plethora of options available in the Novus Ordo, he will always wind up in this position, in which elements of our liturgical patrimony become the subject of barter in the dance between priest and bishop over what the bishop "allows" the priest to "get away with."

  • The priest's resolution to do what he can at the Mass where "no one will tell on me" sends mixed messages to the congregation seems unprincipled. It tells the congregation that "I am doing what the bishop wants, sort of, but I am also disobeying, kind of. This is important enough for me to disobey, but not so important that I want the bishop to know I am disobeying. It's important enough that I ignore an episcopal directive, but not so important that I risk open breach with the bishop. It's important enough that I am going to do my own thing, but not so important that I am going to openly discuss the principles of why I am doing my own thing—it is all hush-hush." None of this nurtures the sacrosanctity of liturgical tradition among the parishioners; rather, it reinforces the sense of reverent liturgy as a matter of priestly preference. The priest isn't coloring outside the lines on principle; he doing so clandestinely to preserve "his work" and "our way of doing things."

If you think I am condemning this priest, you are wrong; if you are condemning this priest, you are certainly wrong. I understand why he is taking this approach; he understands that he has made significant headway introducing his people to traditional elements of worship and he does not want the rug pulled out from under him. Given his position, I don't know what else I expect him to do. But the point is it's an awful position for any priest to be in. It's a terrible dilemma—but an inevitable dilemma that will always happen whenever a starry-eyed priest attempts to restore some semblance of tradition at his parish.

Even if it is not today, eventually this cassock wearing priest will be replaced by someone more modern. His replacement will go get rid of ad orientem and phase out the Latin. The choir members will get disgruntled and quit. There will be a rift between the new pastor and the parishioners who want to retain the traditional stuff. The pastor will be intransigent; the parishioners, unhappy with him, will leave. With these people gone, the new priest will undo all the traditional stuff the previous priest put in place. The parish will again reach equilibrium as a generic western Novus Ordo parish. The conservative parishioners-in-exile, meanwhile, will relocate to whatever the most traditional option remains among the diocesan parishes. Seeing the influx of new traditional parishioners, that pastor will feel emboldened to introduce more traditional elements into his masses. The whole process will begin again.

But it's never a net gain. In fact, the total number of reform of the reform parishioners in the diocesan system will go down because each time this upheaval happens, a fraction inevitably say "I'm done with this; I'm just going to an Institute/Fraternity/Society parish" and they remove themselves from the diocesan system entirely. So nobody ever wins. It's generally just shuffling parishioners, a diocesan shell-game. The snake just eats its own tail.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

"O Beauty Ever Ancient Ever New!" Teenager's TLM Testimony (Part 2)

Last week I published a testimonial from a teenage girl who discussed how her faith and spirituality were profoundly changed when she encountered the Traditional Latin Mass after converting from Protestantism (see "Teenager's TLM Testimony, Part 1"). Today I am presenting another testimony from another teenage girl who was raised with the Latin Mass from childhood, inaugurated into the love of the traditional Roman rite from her father.

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new! Late have I loved you!” These words of Saint Augustine perfectly describe my love for the Latin Mass. Of all the events I have experienced in my life, attending the Latin Mass every Sunday has been the one thing that constantly deepens my desire to know the truth. Every gesture and word of the Tridentine Rite, the beauty of the many churches I’ve attended, and the sacred music that often accompanies the Mass all raise one’s heart, mind, and soul to Truth Himself. The Latin Mass sparks an awe within me that has grown into a deep desire to draw closer to Our Lord, and through Him to know the truth.

I have been attending the Latin Mass for nearly my entire life. My father, a convert to Catholicism, has been deeply in love with the Tridentine Rite ever since he first discovered it, and he has always shared his love of the Mass with me. We moved to Detroit, Michigan in 2007, and shortly after joined the vibrant Latin Mass community that has been growing in the city since the indult of Pope John Paul II. As I grew and matured, I came to realize the differences between the Tridentine Rite and the Novus Ordo, and I noticed that the Latin Mass always raised my heart and mind closer to God than did the English Mass. When I attended the Latin Mass on Sundays, I could feel the True Presence of Christ in the church, and this feeling was assisted by the reverence of the priests, altar boys, and parishioners, as well as the majestic beauty of the Romanesque-style church that I attend. Every aspect of the Mass, from the incense and prayers to the music and church architecture, stirred something within my heart. I longed to love God more, and I desired to seek the truth about Him and the world He created. This longing has increased as I continue to mature in my Faith, and as I get older I continue to try to draw closer to Truth Himself every day. 

One of the reasons why the Latin Mass makes me desire to seek the truth is the significance of every word and gesture of the liturgy. All of the prayers said by the priest during the Mass have a special meaning, as do all of the little gestures he makes; without these the liturgy would be incomplete. For example, during the Canon of the Mass, the priest makes several small signs of the Cross over the bread and wine. After the consecration, he makes five signs of the Cross over the newly consecrated Body and Blood of Christ, which represent the five wounds of Our Lord. Later, the priest makes five more signs of the Cross with the Body and Blood. The first three (“Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso…”) represent the three hours during which Jesus hung on the Cross; the last two (“est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti…”) represent the separation of Christ’s Body and Soul when He died. If so many small words and gestures are necessary in the worship of God, then surely He must really be Goodness, Beauty, and Truth Itself. This significance of every word and gesture is the reason why the structure of the liturgy leads me to desire to seek the truth every time I witness the Latin Mass.

Music also deepens my desire to know the truth, particularly sacred music and Gregorian chant. I have been singing in my parish choir for six years, and the experience of learning sacred polyphony and chant has shaped both my spiritual and secular life.  In the Tridentine liturgy, a great emphasis is placed on polyphony and chant as having pride of place in the musical life of the Church. My parish choir is directed by our pastor, Fr. Eduard Perrone, who was one of the last to graduate from the nationally renowned Palestrina Institute before its closing in 1968. Under Fr. Perrone’s instruction, I have been privileged to learn a wide range of musical works from the broad repertoire of polyphony that has been handed down to us through the centuries. I have also been able to participate in the women’s chant schola, and have directed the schola on certain occasions.

Recently I joined a semi-professional choir that sings once a month for First Fridays, under the direction of another brilliant conductor, Wassim Sarweh. His choir focuses primarily on Renaissance polyphony, such as the works of Palestrina and Victoria. Singing with both of these choirs not only grants a wealth of experience, but it also contributes to a greater participation in the celebration of the Mass. I remember singing Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria at First Friday one month, with only eight other choir members. There is no other word to describe it other than heavenly. The harmonies blended together and wove around each other in such a way that you could feel the music, and we were all truly praying the Ave Maria as we sang. Music such as Biebl’s Ave Maria, Palestrina’s many works, and Gregorian chant all raise the heart, mind, and soul to God. Once we are raised to the contemplation of His glory, desire to seek Him more cannot be far away. Sacred music leads to a strong desire for truth, beauty, and goodness. We do not always recognize this longing, but it is there nevertheless. Music is so beautiful that it often transcends human comprehension, and when we cannot fully understand something, we desire to seek it out more and learn the full truth of it. 

Each one of these factors of the Latin Mass contributes to a deepening of my desire to  know the truth. My father’s love of the Tridentine Rite made me grow to love the Mass from a young age; the structure and significance of the liturgy as well as traditional church architecture both raise my mind and heart to a greater contemplation of God, Who is Truth; and the experience of singing and hearing sacred  polyphony and chant has led me to a deeper love for the Mass, for Christ, and for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  The Latin Mass truly is a “Beauty  ever ancient  and ever new.” Being able to experience it at least once in a lifetime is a gift, but having the privilege of attending the Latin Mass every Sunday is a great blessing. Without the Latin Mass, I doubt that I would be where I am today, and I doubt that I would have a desire to continue seeking the truth in everything I do. To quote Saint Augustine once more, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient  and ever new! Late have I loved you! And, behold, you were within me, and I out of myself, and there I searched for you.”