[Feb. 12, 2023] When Peter Kwasniewski's The Once and Future Roman Rite was announced (TAN Books, 2022), I was a little confused. Angelico Press had only recently published Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright (2020), a fantastic apologetic for the Traditional Latin Mass. I wrote a review of Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright on Unam Sancam Catholicam, describing it thus:
This book presents a forceful, cogent argument for the Traditional Latin Mass, yet without relying on the Novus Ordo as a punching bag to establish the point. The book is not about how the Novus Ordo is so bad—rather, it is a fulsome apologetic for the goodness, truth, and beauty found in the Traditional Latin Mass.
I wondered, therefore, how The Once and Future Roman Rite would differ from his previous work, perhaps thinking it might be a rehash of the former book from a different publisher.
I am happy to say this was not at all the case.
Peter Kwasniewski's The Once and Future Roman Rite covers a lot of ground, but I think the most succinct way to describe this book is as an answer to the question, "What constitutes the historic Roman Rite?" Despite my years as a traditional Catholic, I must admit I did not fully realize the centrality of this question until I read this book. If your experience contending about liturgy with non-trads has often felt like fighting on shifting sand, you may want to review the fundamental concepts Dr. Kwasniewski elaborates in this work, which include questions such as—
- What is a rite?
- How do rites develop?
- What do all rites have in common?
- What makes one rite different from another?
- What are the distinctive traits of the Roman Rite?
- Why does the Novus Ordo does not preserve the historic Roman Rite?
The answers to these questions fill a gap that, in my opinion, has existed in traditonalist Catholic thought until recently. While we have always known the Traditional Latin Mass is far superior to the Novus Ordo, it was not as clear why, in a technical sense, the Novus Ordo was not equivalent to the historic Roman Rite, or even in what the Roman Rite consisted exactly. Reading this book made me realize that traditonalists had spent too long having the wrong arguments—Is the Novus Ordo valid? Is the Novus Ordo harmful? Was the promulgation of the Novus Ordo legal? How is the Traditional Mass better? Whether Quo Primum is still binding?
All of these questions have their place; none of them get to the heart of the matter. Rather, the core of Catholic traditionalism hinges upon understanding the nature of the historic Roman Rite. There are multiple chapters delving into matters of what I would call "rite identification," sorting through the fine points of what makes a rite what it is. This was the most helpful aspect of the book for me personally, as clarity on this point helps make sense of other liturgical questions.
In identifying what constitutes the historic Roman Rite, Kwasniewski uses the Novus Ordo for contrast, demonstrating that the reformed liturgy lacks the constitutive elements of the historic Roman Rite. Pope Benedict's attempt to make the Novus Ordo and TLM kiss by calling them "two forms" of the Roman Rite was thus a sincere but ineffective means of squaring the circle. One may call the Novus Ordo the Roman Rite all day long—even declare it to be so in legislation—but the constitutive elements of a liturgical rite do not bend to the whims of legal positivism. One can delcare the Novus Ordo the Roman Rite, but such declarations are insubstantial, akin to the time Congress tried to declare Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake, or when the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from being a planet: acts that, while true "on paper," do not correspond to reality and are not generally accepted save by the gullible.
Dr. K's book also spends a lot of time delving into the thought of Paul VI and what he was thinking when he promulgated the Novus Ordo. Reading Paul VI's tragically misguided reasoning here is sure to be eye-opening. It demolishes the neo-Cath narrative of a good Council hijacked by progressive revolutionaries against the will of the pope. The lengthy analysis of Paul VI's thought demonstrates that Paul VI (and no one but Paul VI) holds ultimate responsibility for what happened. Paul VI not only deliberately willed the Novus Ordo with all its inferior elements, but he did so positively knowing the treasure he was throwing away in the Traditional Latin Mass. The post-Conciliar auto-demolition was not the work of a small cabal of revolutionaries, nor was it the work of a hostile media (as Benedict XVI weakly asserted); it was the Church itself, with the pope at the helm, that afflicted us with this grievous wound.
So, if I were to categorize Kwasniewski's two books on the traditional Mass, I would say that Reclamining Our Roman Catholic Birthright is an excellent text to give to tradition-curious newbs who are looking for a positive, affirming introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass. The Once and Future Roman Rite, on the other hand, is a critical study of the differences between the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo that identifies the essential traits of the Roman Rite. I highly recommended Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright and I highly recommend The Once and Future Roman Rite as well. Whether you are new to Catholic traditionalism or have been around for a long time, you are sure to learn something from both of these books.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of The Once and Future Roman Rite for review.