"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

Thursday 6 October 2011


It is often wrongly assumed that those who defend the priest celebrating Mass facing the people against the priest celebrating Mass with his back to the people are being true to Vatican II; while, in fact, the very way of formulating the problem shows that  they have not even begun to understand what Vatican II says about the Mass and that their theology of the Eucharist is definitely pre-Vatican II which sees the Mass as a celebration of the whole Church.

   On the other hand, it is often assumed and claimed that those who are dedicated to restoring the beauties of the Roman liturgy exactly as it used to be before the Council, with Roman chasubles, incense, birettas and lace, set to the music of Pelestrina or Gregorian chant, are, by that very fact, in the vanguard of a "new liturgical movement"; when, too often, they are simply indulging in a nostalgia for something they are too young to have ever experienced, and which was rarely celebrated in the way they wre doing it..

   At the same time, it must be acknowledged that many, very many priests who face the people across the altar when Mass is celebrated according to the Novus Ordo, are true sons of the Council who celebrate according to the spirit of the "hermeutic of continuity", even when facing the congregation, with a mature understanding of what the Vatican Council was about; and that many who celebrate according to the extraordinary mode are contributing in an authentic way to the "new liturgical movement" initiated by the Pope.

Fr Louis Bouyer Cong. Orat.

It all goes back to the fact that there was a body of theologians who had a great influence on the text of the Constitution on the Liturgy, were in favour of change, yet were thoroughly dissatisfied with the way change was carried out after the Council.   , Ratzinger and Bouyer, together with de Lubach and Congar, were enthusiastic voices calling for reform of the liturgy; but were horrified by the result.   They were all embedded in Catholic Tradition which they saw as the product of the synergy of the Holy Spirit working in and with the Church; and they saw liturgy as te supreme expression of that Tradition, also the product of this synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, that has been a constant dimension of Christ's Church since he founded it..
Fr J. Ratzinger and Fr Yves Congar OP

   They saw the Church, not so much as a political body, bound together by a network of papal  and episcopal jurisdiction, but as a sacramental and eucharistic body, bound together by participation in the body of Christ.   For them, jurisdiction exists to serve a unity created in word and sacrament that is passed down from one generation to the next in the various liturgical traditions.   Jurisdiction serves the life of Christ that is expressed and shared in the liturgy: it is not its master.   Jurisdiction does not create the liturgy, the life of Christ and the understanding that is given by true worship, both gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church, does produce the liturgy.   Jurisdiction cannot destroy one liturgy in favour of another because liturgy arises out of the mysterious union between Christ and his Church; and, as such, is the source from which jurisdiction acquires its authority, not the other way round.

All this, although attested to in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, seemed to be denied in what subsequently happened.   A completely new liturgical pattern emerged, with new Eucharistic Prayers, readings and rites.   "A fabricated liturgy!" cried Ratzinger. 

In fact, liturgists like Pere Gy OP and Cyprian Vaggagini OSB were trying to solve two problems with their new eucharistic prayers.   They believed the Roman Canon very difficult to interpret, and they wanted to reclaim elements of Catholic Tradition that had been lost in the west by the relentless advance of the Roman rite and abolition or disappearance of non-Roman Latin rites   They were especially concerned with restoring to western use the epiclesis or invocation asking the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine and upon us present.  They wished to reinforce consciousness of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Mass.   The Roman Rite had ceased to be a regional rite and had become world-wide.   But the Roman tradition was only one of many traditions in the Church, and this had led to a theological imbalance that had to be put right.   Their answer was new eucharistic prayers; but their main concern, like that of Pope Benedict XVI when he refused to abolish the old version of the Mass, was Tradition, elements of which which were under threat because of the over-dominance of the Roman Canon.
  It must be remembered that the liturgists engaged in the project understood it as well their critics.   However,  it is certainly true that many of the attempts to celebrate a truly Vatican II liturgy were disastrous and some were completely nutty.   I remember a text from a truly fabricated liturgy which read, "The great thing about Mary is that her Son turned out so well.  Alleluia!!"

This is not to be wondered at.   The truth is that, before Vatican II, most people, even priests and religious, did not live a liturgical life.   Their religious devotion was formed outside the  liturgy.   They attended Mass, but prayed their own prayers.  When I went to a Salesian school before the Council, we recited the rosary during Mass.  Some followed the Mass in missals, but most didn't.   Mass was what the priest did in the peoples' presence: each lay person participated in his own way.   It was often rushed because the words said by the priest before and after the words of institution had little consequence in his understanding of the nature of the Mass. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that this real ignorance of the liturgy accounts for the fact that most Catholics greeted with indifference the disappearance of the old liturgical books after the changes.   "People had never been in contact with the liturgy itself."   Even priests often knew little about the liturgy because they were taught a kind of sacramental theology in  which the sacraments had been separated from the liturgy in order to understand them according to criteria that were foreign to it, and they concentrated on "useful" subjects like Moral Theology.  They left interest in the liturgy for people who couldn't play football.   The priests and sisters whose job it was to interpret the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy were people who had been with very little experience or knowledge of liturgy before they read the Constitution; and they looked for help to  Protestant models which tend to have a man-centred emphasis rather than to the Catholic liturgy itself which is centred on God; and this tended to unbalance them further.   To fully embrace and make their own the Vatican II teaching on Sacred Liturgy it would take several generations of Catholics to immerse themselves in the early but inadequate attempts at Catholic liturgical life and to prayerfully discern where they had gone wrong in their first enthusiasm.   It would take time and a liturgical spirituality which few had when they first took up the task of putting the Council into practice.    This is happening now.  

There are two groups that do not appreciate the Council because they do not understand liturgy as the Council understands it.

   There are those who believe that liturgy is what you make it.   Whether by being moved by the Spirit or by the needs of the congregation, by artistic creativity, by the task to put across a particular  message using symbols, by the task of creating community, in the service of drama, or a host of other motives, each celebration is a new creation.   There is an Anglican parish in California where it is impossible to know what rite is being celebrated.   It looks beautiful; but it isn't liturgy at all.  

 Liturgy is not created by us but by the Spirit and the Church acting in unison, down the ages, from apostolic times.   It is not a thing: it is a divine-human process.  To participate in it is a gift we receive, even as we celebrate it.  It is called Tradition. 

There is another group that does not see the liturgy as a living process.   It is the group of those who cannot see any possibility beyond the "old Mass" of the Council of Trent. For them, the liturgy is primarily a written text supported by papal decree; and they point out that it had been decreed that the Pope Pius Vth missal must never be changed.   In Ratzinger's words, this statement, interpreted as an absolute prohibition, "mummifies" the liturgy.   This legalistic approach belongs to a legalistic ecclesiology that Vatican II had shown to be inadequate. 

Merely restoring what went on before Vatican II is not the Pope's aim.   He has acknowledged that things were not right liturgically when the Council advocated reform.   People had little contact with the liturgy which did not have that role in their lives that Tradition says it should have.   Pope Benedict restored the use of the 1962 version of the Latin Mass, partly because he believed that neither he nor the bishops had the power to abolish it because it is a classical expression of Tradition, and partly because he wishes the two versions of the Latin Rite should mutually influence each other in a "natural" way.   He has said that simply to restore the liturgy in the way it was is not an option.   Neither is a forced marriage between them; the problem, as he sees it, being solved by a fusion based on some papal executive action: the liturgy is the product of the harmonious activity between the Spirit and the Church and not the product of human laws by themselves, even papal laws.   Thus those who simply want to restore things as they were and who believe that, by so doing, they are participating in a new liturgical movement, are mistaken. Cardinal Koch interprets the Pope's thinking:

Cardinal Koch said “Summorum Pontificum” is “only the beginning of this new liturgical movement.”“In fact, Pope Benedict knows well that, in the long term, we cannot stop at a coexistence between the ordinary form and the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, but that in the future the church naturally will once again need a common rite,” he said.
“However, because a new liturgical reform cannot be decided theoretically, but requires a process of growth and purification, the pope for the moment is underlining above all that the two forms of the Roman rite can and should enrich each other, he said.Cardinal Koch said those who oppose this new reform movement and see it as a step back from Vatican II lack a proper understanding of the post-Vatican II liturgical changes. As the pope has emphasized, Vatican II was not a break or rupture with tradition but part of an organic process of growth, he said

 Nevertheless, Lefebrists and others who share the view that there can be no deviation from Pope Pius Vth's missal exist; and there  arises the question what to do about them.   Pope Benedict wants to avoid a permanent schism at all costs.   There are examples of schisms in which "proper local churches of orthodox faith" have remained separate from Catholic communion for over a thousand years, and where, with a little patience and charity, schism might have been avoided.   Using the "hermeneutic of continuity" that says that nothing that is sacred and allowable before the council has become worthy of rejection afterwards, the Vatican is exploring ways that may attract these people back into communion with the Church.   It seems illogical to bend over backwards to accommodate the Assyrian Church of the East while leaving the Lefebrists to sink or swim.   On the other hand, they cannot pretend that they belong to some "new liturgical movement".   However, if they acknowledge that the Novus Ordo is legitimate, even if it is not acceptable to them, there is hope that they will, little by little, come to play their part in the process called Tradition.

Now let us look at the way Vatican II and the contemporary Church understand the liturgy in general and the Mass in particular.

1)   The liturgy is the work of the whole Church, the body of Christ, head and members.   Thus the Mass is not, in the first place, something that the priest does in the presence of the Church: he does not say Mass with his face or back to the people.   The Mass is an act of the whole Church, priest and people; even though the priest has a particular role which he received from Christ and the Church at ordination.
From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which i.s the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.
Not only is the liturgy the most efficacious activity of the Church, it is also the source of all its powers and the goal of all its activities.   This is the real revolution in our understanding of the relationship between the Church and all its aspects with the liturgy: 
10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.
What is said of the liturgy in general is also said of the Eucharist in particular.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life."136 "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."1371325 "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."138
The Pope calls the Eucharist the "Constitution of the Church".     The Catechism sees it as an essentially communal activity of the whole Church in which people play different roles:
1348 All gather together. Christians come together in one place for the Eucharistic assembly. At its head is Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharist. He is high priest of the New Covenant; it is he himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in representing him that the bishop or priest acting in the person of Christ the head (in persona Christi capitis) presides over the assembly, speaks after the readings, receives the offerings, and says the Eucharistic Prayer. All have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way: readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the whole people whose "Amen" manifests their participation.

1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.139
1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking." 
The Orthodox Church has a more fitting terminology to describe the priest's place in the Mass.   The priest does not "celebrate" the Divine Liturgy.   This is done by the whole Church.   He "serves" the Liturgy as do the deacons, sub-deacons and acolytes.  His is a service to the Christian community, and he serves Christ by praying to the Father in his name and in the name of the community, asking the Father to send the Spirit to transform the bread and wine.; and he serves by leading them in prayer and by proclaiming the Gospel.

Because the liturgy in general and the Eucharist in particular are the most efficacious activity of the Church and the source and summit of its powers, we shall be examining over the next year the Church through the prism of a commentary on the liturgy.   Our principle material for study will be the Novus Ordo because that is the Latin Church's ordinary form of liturgy; but we will try to gather insights also the extraordinary form and from the Eastern liturgies because they too are expressions of Catholic Tradition.  I hope we can learn together.






not that I want to convert orthodox to catholicism or vice versa; but something seems to have gone wrong somewhere in much Catholic liturgical life; but not everywhere, thaqnk God!!


Dear father David,
we appreciate very much your blog and we share all the matters of interest in it. We are a small benedictine community in the Charismatic Renewal founded twenty five years ago in the diocese of Soissons in France, at a hundred kilometers in the north-east of Paris. Perhaps will you be interested as well as your readers by the publication of the last book of our head brother, Ephrem Yon, \"Sainte Liturgie, relire le Concile\". This book is as well theological and practical . It shows that the notion of \"sacred\" is very present in the constitution \"sacrosanctum concilium\" and that we have to discover again the axe of transcendance, and practically the orientation in the celebration of liturgy, as suggested by the Holy Father. It emphasizes also the fact that the Liturgy is the work of God himself, revealing His Glory with the cooperation of men. The biblical roots of the prayer of the church are established too. The notion of mystery as event of Salvation appears to be central, and is the commons source of the different aspects of liturgy.As it appears in your blog that you understand french Well, I send you with this mail some documents on the subject. 
Yours sincerly in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Frère Jean.
P.S. We will be very happy to send you the book if you desire. I suppose it should be at your monastery in Pachacamac.

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