"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 24 August 2010


It may be useful to say something about the rite of Pius Vth and its relation to the post-Vatican II version of the Mass.     I was a fly on the wall during Vatican II, a monk-priest-student at Fribourg University in Switzerland.   Council fathers stopped off on their way to and from the Council at our seminary, and they were invited to my room to be interrogated by the English Benedictine group at the university.   Thus  I jumped right into the controversy of the time.  I also met people involved in the Council when I spent six months  at San' Anselm in Rome in 1977, attending a week conference on liturgy at the Institut Saint Serge in Paris and at the Oxford Patristic Conference which I attended. Any way my understanding of what happened at Vatican II and in preparation for the new liturgy is different form many of the views I have heard expressed in recent times.   My only claim to authority is that I am contemporary with the events under discussion, and that I was there, if not physically, but spiritually, and in contact with some of those who were actually taking part: not all of them, not most of them, but one or two of them.   When those who wish to return to the old days talk about the motivation behind the changes after Vatican II, they rarely give the reasons I heard then and, sometimes, let their fantasies run away with them.   For instance, one myth that is repeated by some conservatives who want to distance the Papacy from the liturgical changes, that Pope Paul VIth was so ill and under medication that he allowed innovations  that a healthier, more alert Paul would not have allowed, is utterly and completely false.    No one was a more alert, enthusiastic participant in the changes that took place than Pope Paul VIth.  He, along with Dom Cipriano Vagaggini, was the joint author of Eucharistic Prayer III, and he was responsible for the offertory prayers, even though some liturgists in the group wanted to abolish all prayers at the offertory.   His own background was the Ambrosian Rite, and the two short offertory prayers, although different from it, were nevertheless influenced by that rite..   It is helpful to look at some of the ideas that were floating around at the time.

1)   The missal of Pope Pius Vth had departed from Tradition in one important way: the basic model used as a norm for other forms of Mass in the Tridentine Rite was the priest's private Mass.   Thus, when he celebrated a public Mass, he said the readings even when they were read to the congregation as well.   This reinforced the idea that the Mass is celebrated by the priest for the congregation who may or may not be present.   The liturgists, on the other hand, wanted a return to what they considered to be an understanding more in keeping with Tradition in which the Mass is the Church and the Church is the Mass, where the bishop (and priest in his name) presides but in which everyone has his or her proper place, and that Christ acts, not only in the priest's role, but also in the reading of the Word, the singing of hymns, and in the prayers of the faithful.   The first move was to reform the Tridentine Mass with the 1962 Missal promulgated by John XXIII and used during the Council.   This is now called the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.  Also, as the present pope has noted, there was a marked separation between piety and liturgy before Vatican II; and, for hundreds of years, no saint had his spirituality formed by the liturgy.   People were encouraged to say the rosary during Mass, and the liturgy, for all its beauty, remained a closed book to most.   In seminaries, too great an interest in liturgy was considered unmanly.  Indeed, one of the causes of the liturgical disasters that have taken place since the changes is that it was implemented by priests and sisters who had a highly inadequate theology of the sacraments which they learned before the council and a highly inadequate formation in liturgy which, before the council, they took every effort not to learn.   Then, "bingo!!", they read the document of Vatican II on the Liturgy and became instant experts.  There has been a "continuity of ignorance" from before Vatican II that made the changes necessary in the first place and then often frustrated the outcome intended by the liturgists once the changes were put into effect.

The altar was given a new prominence.   If you look at Liverpool Catholic Cathedral or Leyland parish church, which were built before the reforms but were influenced by the ideas behind the reforms, everything is centred around the altar which is an imposing table of stone.   The new liturgy was centred on the altar, not on the tabernacle.   It is the place of sacrifice and, therefore, the place of God's presence, his mercy-seat or throne, just as in the Holy of Holies.  Its surface is where heaven and earth meet, where the Father sends the Spirit to make manifest the presence of his Son as our sacrifice to the Father and as the Father's gift to us as food.   It is so sacred that some liturgists did not want either candles or book on the altar, let alone a crucifix - but this was impractical.   Also, how can you give liturgical expression to the idea that the Church is the Mass and the Mass is the Church?   This was an idea that had been sown among theologians, Orthodox and Catholic, by Afanassiev, a canon law professor in the Institut Saint Serge in Paris.   How could we express this idea in the liturgy?   It may surprise Orthodox readers, especially those who rejected the changes, that my own inspiration was the icon of the "Hospitality of Abraham" by A. Rublev. In the Mass and at that table we as Church participate in the very life of God!!!  I knew that Orthodox express their immense respect for the altar by putting it behind an iconstasis; while we westerners show our respect for the altar by exposing it.   I put the difference at the level of our liturgical differences with the Semitic people: Jews and Syrian Orthodox show their respect by covering their heads when they pray; while we take our hats off when we enter a church for the same reason.   In all those years, I never heard given as a reason for having the priest facing the people that it is because he needs to see them, or they need to see him. Both priest and people need to see the altar (at least, in the West ).  Although I have been present at Masses where priests have behaved as though the really significant thing is the connection between them  and the people;  I have always put this down to liturgical ignorance;  so I was shocked when I read that Cardinal Ratzinger believed that the reason behind the change is to enable priest and people to watch each other!!   As he said, "What a ridiculous idea!" - but the idea came from him!!   It is an "aunt sally" to knock down and not the real reason. The "hermeneutic of continuity" that he advocates and is so important, if applied consistently, must lead us to notice that in the extraordinary use and in the ordinary use, what they have in common is that both priest and people face the altar: and that is the liturgical truth, equally true in both versions of the Roman Rite.

2)   Another problem that had to be corrected was the enormous presence of the Roman Rite in the Catholic Church at the expense of others..   During the centuries after the Council of Trent, the Catholic authorities had pursued a policy of liturgical imperialism based on the false premise that what is Roman is superior to any other expression of Catholicism. This was unCatholic and sectarian.    Until the 17th century, a large part of Italy was Byzantine, very often in communion with pope and patriarch, but not converts from one church to another.   Also, the Gallican rite disappeared in France except for the rite of Lyons that is limited to that city.  The Mozarabic Rite, which is very rich in liturgical material, was confined to a chapel in Toledo Cathedral.   Eastern Rites existed, but they were confined, like Indians in their reservations, to their geographical areas and had no means by which they could expand, and many eastern churches had become latinized.    All rites were equal, but some rites were more equal than others.  This meant that the "post sanctus" and the epiclesis had no place in Catholic thinking or spirituality.      Do we change the Roman Canon by inserting a "post-sanctus" and an epiclesis?   But the Roman Canon is as ancient as any other and has its own integrity and balance.   Do we simply adopt an Eastern anaphora as an alternative or to be celebrated on certain days?   But that would confuse the faithful who, quite rightly in the Roman rite, accept the moment of consecration as the words of institution.    The only alternative was new eucharistic prayers which split the epiclesis into two, as in Alexandria, but they would have to be made out of traditional materials.   This is what happened. The Catholic Catechism says that "the unfathomable richness of the Mystery of Christ is such that no liturgical tradition can fully express it," and that the different liturgical traditions complement each other (1201).   That being the case, the world wide dominance of the Roman Rite, expressing as it does only one tradition, albeit a very important one, has brought about the need to recuperate something of what was lost from the rites that died out because of its advance and to be open to the other traditions.   In Archbishop Hilarion's words, the liturgy is the Gospel according to the Church; and, just as each of the four gospels expresses the same Gospel, each in its own way, yet together they form a whole, so each liturgical tradition expresses the fullness of the Christian Mystery, each in its own way, while together they form a whole. 

3)   The young Joseph Ratzinger considered the adoption of a eucharistic theology of the church, where the Eucharist is the Church's constitution and the liturgy is the source of all the Church's powers and the goal of all its activity, as THE major achievement of the Council.   Eucharistic unity replaced jurisdiction as that which binds the. Church together. This is what is happening.ether, both locally and universally.    With this new paradigm, the individual dogmas of the Church look different and are placed in a different order.   Jurisdiction, both local and universal, gains its christian characteristics from the liturgy which is the source of its power.   Tradition is centred on the process by which the liturgy is passed down from one generation to the next.  General councils exist to defend, protect and enhance the "orthodoxy" of our worship - "orthodox" meaning "right belief" and "right worship" or "right glory".Here are som consequences:  y as the source of itsLike everything else, an ecumenical council looks to the liturgy as the source of its powers and as the goal of its activity.  These are some of the consequences:

  •  As liturgy is supreme and jurisdiction  comes out of it and can only work within its context,  jurisdiction cannot create a new rite or destroy an old one.   Rites gain their legitimacy from the continual synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Church from the time of the Apostles until now expreyssed in the liturg.  Within a Catholic context, a "new" liturgical rite does not make sense.  Hence the importance of the "hermeneutic of continuity"  New prayers and texts are possible, but the creation of a post-Vatican II liturgy unrelated to what went before it or rejecting what went before it would be uncatholic.   Also, because the liturgy is a  product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, church authorities have no authority to abolish it.  Neither Pope nor Council can abolish the work of the Holy Spirit!! They can improve, refresh, renew, because it is still a human process.
  •  Neither the Pope nor the bishops have the authority to abolish the old Mass.   On the contrary, their function is to facilitate, improve it, because they are the servants of Tradition, not its master.   Neither can they give the status of a Catholic liturgy to the Book of Common Prayer which was a definite break with the past.   The new Anglican Use is designed to re-integrate Anglican tradition into Catholic Tradition from which it was rudely separated.   In concrete terms, this means re-integrating that tradition into the Roman Rite. This is what has been proposed.  The post-Vatican II liturgy is a modern version of the traditional Latin Roman liturgy which has taken the shape it has for reasons we have given above.   It has yet to become 100% satisfactory; but we can trust the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church to gradually bring this about.ad
  • The centering of Tradition on the liturgy has brought out the importance of the patriarchates as protectors, and centres of unity in their liturgical families.   Each liturgical family expresses the fullness of the Christian Mystery, but in its own way.   In concrete terms, this means that it must be so independent from Rome that it does not become latinized under Roman influence - it has happened before. The inner integrity of each lirurgical family is important for the Church as a whole.   However, the openness of all liturgical families to each other is a necessary effect of Christian ecclesial love. We NEED each other.   Negotiations between Orthodox patriarchates resemble negotiations between independent nations precisely because there is no organ by which Orthodoxy can function as an organic whole.  However, the only organ that Tradition offers them is Rome, which they reject.   We can admit that the reason for this is, in part, because Rome has used worldly models to understand its own role; but this doesn't always have to be so. 
  • The Eucharist presents us with a Church that is fully present in each local church but which binds the churches together into one organic whole, with a unity based on the identity of all churches with each other, and the identity of episcopal authority in each church.   The fundamental teaching of one bishop in his diocese is identical to the teaching of all other bishops in the Church because, according to St Cyprian, every bishop sits on the episcopal seat of Peter.   However, how does a bishop know that he is being faithful to his function, especially in times of controversy?   According to St Irenaeus (d.170 ad), he looks to the see of Rome which has the charisma veritatis
  • Jurisdiction cannot be allowed to become an obstacle to.the flow of ecclesial love that binds the Church together all over the world.   This love transcends national boundaries, being the work of the Holy Spirit,. To do justice to the nature of the Church which has both local and universal dimensions, jurisdictions which stop at national orcultural boundaries will only work if they are relativized by a universal jurisdiction that transcends boundaries.   That is the function of the Petrine Ministry.   Thus, the new paradigm  for understanding Catholicism does not automatically abolish differences with Orthodox, but it does give us a common language to discuss them  and  does open up questions we can explore together.

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