Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Reasons for the Reform of the Roman Rite Part IV: Separation of Liturgy and Doctrine

"This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the "deposit of faith" committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn.[53] For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to paralyze and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father of their souls' salvation."—Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei 64.
"Thus, for example, as Catholic doctrine on the Incarnate Word of God, the Eucharistic sacrament and sacrifice, and Mary the Virgin Mother of God came to be determined with greater certitude and clarity, new ritual forms were introduced through which the acts of the liturgy proceeded to reproduce this brighter light issuing from the decrees of the teaching authority of the Church, and to reflect it, in a sense so that it might reach the minds and hearts of Christ's people more readily.—Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei 52."

The above epigraphs are excerpts from Pope Pius XII's 1947 encyclical letter Mediator Dei, written in reaction to the post-War resurgence of the Liturgical Movement. The encyclical, which along with Quo Primum is most quoted and favored by traditionalists, lays down three important points concerning the liturgy:
  1. The liturgy is the practice of the Sacraments given to the Church by our Lord, and which have developed in their expression over the years. Their standing form constitutes a vital part of the Catholic tradition, which is, or was, susceptible to the subtle threat of "antiquarianism" and the "widespread revival of scholarly interest in sacred liturgy" as it existed in more ancient times. This "widespread revival" endangers the liturgy, as members of this movement attempt to return to ancient practices which fell into disuse and which may not be suitable for use today.
  2. Liturgy connects intricately with Christian doctrine, lexi orandi lex credendi. The Pope comments on the development of the liturgy over the years in passing several times, but in the few moments when he remarks on the relation between liturgy and the doctrines of the Church, he submits the former to the latter.
  3. "The Sovereign Pontiff alone enjoys the right to recognize and establish any practice touching the worship of God, to introduce and approve new rites, as also to modify those he judges to require modification" (58).
Fr Robert Taft fighting for the Divine Liturgy
The second of these points interests us today. This post is called the "Separation of Liturgy and Doctrine" because the distinction of the two, and the subservience of one to another, indirectly facilitated the liturgical reforms of the mid-twentieth century. Traditionally, liturgy and doctrine are not aesthetics of religion that one decorates according to pre-conceived notions of faith. Rather, they both express the same faith. Doctrine is faith written on paper and liturgy is faith done in action. Many of the greatest Western saints wrote extensively on the liturgy as a spiritual, not doctrinal, meditation. As recently as the eighteenth century St. Alphonsus di Ligouri penned an extensive commentary on the psalms structured by their appearance in the Divine Office. Padre Pio passed numerous comments on the mystical Communion of Saints that transpires during the Mass. Even given his role in encouraging centralization in France, Dom Gueranger compiled in an impression set of volumes on the liturgy, both in form and its propers, for each day of the year, each with extensive scriptural reference and deep spiritual meditation. This never ceased to be the case in the East. The most prominent Byzantine theologians and writers of the last century, Fr. Robert Taft SJ, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, and Fr. Alexander Schmemann, all wrote extensively on the liturgy, drawing on its expression of faith, its capacity to clarify doctrine, and its continuity with the faith of our fathers back to the Lord Himself. Mediator Dei breaks this tradition.

Two distinct causes converged to create this distinction between liturgy and doctrine, which places one below the other. The first is the "low Mass culture" we discussed two posts ago. I will summarily say if the entire ranks of clergy or laity do not have something to do with the Mass then they will not be too concerned or attached to the prayers, so long as none of them are outright offensive. As private Devotionalism took the place of public prayer, the public rites and preaching no longer informed the believer's faith. Doctrinal declarations and sermons given in strongly catechetical language became the teachers to the masses. This environment reduces faith to either personal piety or the satisfaction of certain intellectual requirements. Neither of these things are bad, in fact they are very good! Yet, they do not draw strength from action, song, historicity, mystical experience, communion (in the Eastern sense), or continuity. So long as the ritual does not irk the layman and the text does not offend the priest, no one is bothered.

The second influence was fear for the corruption of liturgical texts during the Counter-Reformation era and the post-Tridentine period. One reason given for the imposed uniformity of rites after Trent was concern that local bishops and book-printers with Protestant, and later Jansenist, beliefs might influence their clergy and laity by altering rites and texts that reflected their new found heresy. St. Pius V's bull Quo Primum even includes a fine, other than damnation, for such alterations:
"Wherefore, in order that the Missal be preserved incorrupt throughout the whole world and kept free of flaws and errors, the penalty for nonobservance for printers, whether mediately or immediately subject to Our dominion, and that of the Holy Roman Church, will be the forfeiting of their books and a fine of one hundred gold ducats, payable ipso facto to the Apostolic Treasury. Further, as for those located in other parts of the world, the penalty is excommunication latae sententiae, and such other penalties as may in Our judgment be imposed; and We decree by this law that they must not dare or presume either to print or to publish or to sell, or in any way to accept books of this nature without Our approval and consent, or without the express consent of the Apostolic Commissaries of those places, who will be appointed by Us. Said printer must receive a standard Missal and agree faithfully with it and in no wise vary from the Roman Missal of the large type (secundum magnum impressionem)."
The immediate consequence of Quo Primum was uniformity, which we shall discuss in two posts, but another was the precedent that the liturgy must also be under the judgment of theologians, rather than material for theologians. No doctrinal problems appeared in any Catholic liturgical books after Trent, if they had ever appeared in the books before! Yet liturgy was celebrated at the beneficence of theologians. This concept is not found before Quo Primum and was not firmly embedded in the Church until many years after 1570.

We should remind ourselves, in reverence for the Church and for the Roman tradition, that it was the Protestant reformers who first submitted the worship of the Church to their doctrines. Many rightly understand the various editions of the Book of Common Prayer in the context of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's Protestant persuasions in a Sarum England. Similarly, how could one understand Luther's communion service outside of a Latin rite liturgical context? Luther's liturgy follows the Roman rite in form and, on occasion, in text. Luther's decision to create new eucharistic prayers and perform his service on a table are reflections of his doctrine expressed in the medieval Roman rites. Far from revering the rites they inherited, the Protestants took them as corruptions which must be purified according to their own theological systems.

This change in doctrinal content did not necessary carry over into the reform of the Roman rite, but it did create a constant fear in the Roman rite of corruption. Centuries after Trent some still feared doctrinal distortions of the liturgy, but most agreed that the liturgy was below doctrinal expression.

For those who may remain skeptical that this influenced the Roman liturgical reform, we adduce the example of the proclamation of the Assumption of Our Lady by Pius XII in 1950 and the subsequent texts of the Mass and Office that Rome issued, replacing texts that dated to, at least, the medieval period and which reflected Roman spirituality until then.

In the Divine Office a sermon on the Dormition by St. John of Damascus constituted the second nocturn. The Mass was the lovely Gaudeamus omnes in Domino. Afterward, this lovely Office was disturbed by the insertion of Pius XII's proclamation into the end of the second nocturn and the Mass was replaced by an entirely new proper, the Signum magnum setting. The introits contrast starkly. The former Mass's introit suggests a Virgin Mary at whose Assumption "the Angels rejoice and please the Son of God." The new text is from the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, describing a woman above the moon, crowned in twelve stars. The second of these is more representative of twentieth century Scholasticism and of the catalog-bought statues so common in American parishes than it is of St. Augustine or St. Bernard of Clairvaux's understanding of our Lady's Dormition.

The collect of the former Mass asks that our Lady's merits may please Him, as we cannot please Him ourselves. The new collect is assertively bland:
"Almighty, everlasting God, Who took up, body and soul, the immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Your Son, into heavenly glory, grant, we beseech You, that, always devoting ourselves to heavenly things, we may be found worthy to share in her glory."
Fr. John Hunwicke once described this new prayer as a "dollop of dogma followed by a platitude."

A more recent example might be use of the 1962 missal. Benedict XVI declared 1962 usable because it is what John Paul II gave permission to use, which he in turn authorized because it is what Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre used. The French Archbishop was not seeking the best liturgy per say, but merely what met his post-Tridentine standards of doctrinal emphasis. Initially his seminary at Econe used 1965, essentially 1962 with some vernacular and a few ceremonial adjustments. Other members of his Society used 1939 and others yet used 1967, two extraordinarily different liturgical usages. Msgr. Lefebvre settled on 1962, widely used in France, while under pressure from Rome to give a holistic report of his Society's activities in 1983. 1962, although lacking compared to previous editions, satisfied the French prelate's theological standards and most of the Society of St. Pius X. We see the selection of 1962 as the "extraordinary form" was quite a historical accident, one that transpired on account of Msgr. Lefebvre's needs and not due to discernment of liturgical tradition.

Doctrine's divorce from liturgy nurtured the creation of new texts such as the one above. To some extent, while the Mass and Office deserved respect, they also had to be reasonable and rational to the theologians, and later the "experts," who Rome charged with their care. If something did not conform to the theology of the type-editor, it was excised in favor of new words. During the post-Tridentine era these men tended to be Thomists. The reforms of the 1950s and 1960s turned out as they did because the new type-setters were not Thomists, not necessarily because they usurped power, it was given to them.

Save the Office of Readings, the Hours follow a set form
Rationalism, rather than revelation, runs throughout the Pauline rites. The uniformity of the hours of the Liturgy of the Hours is the fruit of a mind that values reason too much. An hour of the Divine Office has a certain function, therefore they all have the same function! We do not know the purpose of the Last Gospel? Erase it! The offertory prayers mention a "flawless victim" before the consecration? Replace them.

Yet, not all of this "reason" began in 1969, when Paul VI promulgated the new rite in Missale Romanum. The changes to the calendar and rites of Holy Week indicate a liturgy crafted by men who had made critical judgments. One example is the time of the Easter Vigil. The 1951-1968 Vigil began at 10:30pm. The Pauline Vigil begins earlier, usually 8 or 9pm. The reformers concluded that a vigil must be a Mass of "watching" and therefore takes place at night. The older time, after None, in practice very early in the morning, must have been a distortion. The Vigil was never so late. It probably began in the late afternoon, given that is starts after None and concludes with Vespers, and moved earlier and earlier as monks wanted to end their fasts. The reform also exhibits an ignorance of "liturgical time," which is basically ancient Jewish and Byzantine time—still observed on Mount Athos—wherein the next day begins at sunset. Such traditions, historical circumstances, and spirituality cannot survive when the liturgy is at the mercy of which ever theologian has the pertinent curial appointment.

To conclude, the distinction between liturgy and doctrine was an allergic reaction to a Protestant tendency to do the same. This engendered a Church wherein the liturgy was something managed by the minds of theologians, rather than an element of the faith itself, which one receives with reverence. Combined with factors enumerated in prior posts, the liturgy became malleable, owing to decline of liturgical life. This last point especially troubles the author of this piece, as the Christian must be a liturgical person by nature. "Leitourgos" means "public servant" or "one who performs a public action."

I hope Johannes enjoyed today's post with a well-brewed cup!

Pray on, fair Christian soldiers!—even if the theologians do not like it!


  1. Doesn't doctrine really stem from liturgy?

  2. Another, classic, example was the 1942 proper for popes. At a sweep of the proverbial pen many ancient, as well as many more modern, formularies were cast aside never to be heard again with their replacement by some very pedestrian, and highly predictable, texts.

  3. Marko:

    Ideally the two develop side by side or mutually enrich. A nice example from the Eastern rites is the use of the term "Theotokos" for our Lady. Most Christological heresies originated in the East and the Divine Liturgies bear the marks of fighting those heresies (constant use of the words "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" to emphasize Christ's belonging to the Godhead). The liturgies of Mari & Addai, of St. John Chrysostom, and of St. Basil the Great contain references and hymns to Mary, calling her "Theotokos," in response to the Nestorians who called her "Christotokos" (implying she carried Christ, but not God). The liturgy probably did as much, if not more, to enforce orthodoxy within the laity than the decrees of the Councils.


    How right you are. Today, Feast of St Leo the Great, would be one of those days now under the "Si diligis me" formula rather than "Statuit ei." Much of the new text is from the Papal Coronation Mass, I believe. How many times can one hear "Tu es Petrus" in a year?

    1. Correction, the Leonine feast was "In medio ecclesiae" according to a Missale Romanum from 1913.

  4. I think you'd enjoy reading Fr. Aidan Kavanagh's On Liturgical Theology, if you're not already familiar with it. Don't let the Collegeville imprint scare you.

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  6. Liturgical Commentator:

    Thank you for the suggestion. I have not yet read Fr Kavanagh, but I am familiar with him by reputation. A priest friend of mine knew him decades ago as a monk at St John's, where he came to know the liturgist through other Benedictines.

  7. Chuffed to get a mention in this post! And chuffed to see that it was nice and meaty!

    I liked how clearly and calmly you have spelled out a) what happened with particular papal interventions in the liturgy, and b) the problems with it. You've done that really effectively.

    I have a copy of Kavanagh in the post actually...!