Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Three Calm Thoughts on Sarah's "Liturgical Reconciliation"

Cardinal Sarah's recent suggestion of a "liturgical reconciliation" between the Pauline Mass and the Pacellian-Johannine Missal has set the Tradosphere blogosphere on fire. There are the Ordinariate-like ideas of inserting elements from the 1962 Missal pertaining to the priest's piety (Introibo ad altare Dei, a real offertory, and the Last Gospel), but also the obligatory lip service to the new liturgy's more of a good thing is better: more disorganized Scripture, more green Sundays. Anyone who thinks more of a good thing must be a good thing should try drinking Chartreuse every night; he will first be drunk and broke, and then in withdrawal and homeless.

Here are three calm thoughts, after the storm, about Cardinal Sarah's idea.

I: A Useful Reminder

Cardinal Sarah's proposal is a useful reminder to proponent of pre-Conciliar liturgical forms that "conservatives" may be helpful allies, but they will never truly be their friends. Benedict XVI Ratzinger was a bona fide liberal to the core. He lamented the mediocre outcome of the liturgical reform while defending its purpose to the end, whilst some fight over whether or not he ever celebrated the 1962 Mass privately as Pope of Rome. After Summorum Pontificum we heard that the liberation of Pacellian-Johannine Missal was not primarily an overture to the Fraternity of St. Pius X; of course it was, while also running a part-time job in Benedict's desire to jump-start discussion of organic "reform of the reform" in the modern liturgy.

Just as Ratzinger is no conservative, the conservatives are neither traditionalists nor Traditionalists. Their interest in the 1962 Missal is not primarily an overture to the Fraternity, but as a template to make the Pauline Mass more acceptable. Ratzinger, aside from any lingering guilt over the botched negotiations with Archbishop Lefebvre, also had a pastoral interest in those who may have been left behind in the liturgical changes of the 1960s, then an older crowd. Modern prelatial celebrants of the old rite share this interest in pastoral welfare, doubtlessly, but also have other interests. They were not ordained in the old rite for the old rite and are too young to have been caught up in the post-Summorum traditionalist movement; instead, these good spirited men are dedicated to making the most out of what they were given and refuse to believe what they were given was so thoroughly bad that it was not in some way a substantial renewal of what preceded it. One must not forget that a conservative conserves what was given to him, while a traditionalists, colloquially speaking, lives within a tradition given to him.

II: An Academic Idea If Ever There Was One

Anyone who has spent more than a minute within a university seminar perceives that the seminar leader thinks other people should think his ideas are relevant to the world at large. More commonly, they are not. While doing something about the Mass nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand Roman Catholics attend is relevant, expending an equal quantity of effort on the Mass the other fellow attends is merely wasteful. Could this be a nod to the history books, which would show reform of one Mass and not the other as an acknowledgement of one's unique lacking? The term "reconciliation" offers some insight, since a reconciliation, in the spoken understanding of the word, means a coming together at a mid-point. Raymond Cardinal Burke pushed the hybrid Mass four years after Summorum and gained little for it. While one can fathom putting effort into making a "hybrid" Mass for general use with the Novus Ordo as a template, it would be far more difficult to make the old Mass (1962 or the real thing) into something consonant with the average parish liturgy and not make a shambles of it.

On an academic level, the things the "Reformers of the Reform" would insert into the new Mass are the newest features of the old Mass (Introibo ad altare, the Tridentine offertory, the Last Gospel) while the very features Cardinal Sarah would like to impose on the old liturgy are the more ancient features of the Roman rite so unceremoniously tossed to the curb by what Louis Bouyer aptly called "three idiots" (the kalendar and the lectionary upon which it is based, as well as the matching Vespers and Lauds antiphons). Priests might benefit from the piety of the old Mass, but the laity would also benefit from its liturgical stability in the propers, which predate the separate sacerdotal elements.

On a practical level, the parts of the new liturgy worthy of imposition into the "extraordinary form" simply do not fit with the proper chants, orations, or kalendar. There is no Pentecost octave, Septuagesima, or series of Ember Days in the Pauline lectionary; there is no feast of "Saint John Paul the Great" in the old liturgy, or Ascension Thursday Sunday. To revise the Ordo of the Pauline liturgy could be done with a small committee (it's the Vatican, folks) of translators after a year of internal deliberations. To ensure that a similar, countervailing force hit the propers in the old liturgy would take a team of "scholars", researchers, translators, "liturgists", and bureaucrats unseen since the original Consilium and likely involve several years of work.

Would it be worth three years of work by eighty men to ensure 0.1% of the Latin Church is met with the same effect as ten men in one year could assert on the other 99.9%? 

III: A Minority Opinion

The last thing worthy of consideration, and perhaps most important, is that the "conservative" liturgist is among the rarest creatures in the Church. Many who we, in imitation of American political divisions, we call "conservatives" are pro-life, JP2 generation Catholics who frankly do not give a hoot about the Mass as long as it is valid. We know where liberals stand. We know where Traditionalists stand. As state in section I above, the conservative liturgist is often of an older generation that feels fidelity to the reformed liturgy and at the same time wishes for something more vivacious and reverent for the Church. This is a noble idea, but it was never popular and is fading with the priests ordained in the '70s ad '80s, In many Western dioceses now, outside of Latin America, one can find a few old rite Masses, the odd outrageous liberal Mass, and a ubiquitously mediocre parish Mass; what one almost never finds is the idealized "Reform of the Reform" new rite Mass, which few priests have the courage or interest to practice and even fewer bishop wish to permit. In America and England these are limited to a select few parishes in a select few metropolitan cities. On continental Europe they seem even rarer, aside from pilgrimage sights like St. Peter's in Rome.

A Closing Recommendation

Reread the previous article The Future of the Roman Liturgy & the Ordinariate Option. It touches on the phenomena behind Cardinal Sarah's remarks within the perspective of recent trends and an eye towards the future. I believe it is the most worthwhile thing I have written this year.

A blessed feast of Saint Pantaleon to all.


  1. As to JPII Catholics, my friend is right to remind me that universal imposition harmed the church in the 1960s, but I always remind him that what was imposed then was an innovation and that most people now would not care.

    Cardinal Burke seems to have walked back his view.

    There are a few things which the 1969 liturgt has correct. Mid–July is corrected, Aug 22 is Queenship of BVM (which isn’t that important but whatever) & Saturday after the Sacred Heart is the feast of the Immaculate Heart. (I prefer the original June feast, Purest Heart anyways–Adeamus is boring.) But most of the work would come from restoring and then correcting elements of the pre–Pacellian liturgy.

  2. 1. Many who we, in imitation of American political divisions, we call "conservatives" are pro-life, JP2 generation Catholics who frankly do not give a hoot about the Mass as long as it is valid.

    This is quite true, of course. It is one thing which Mark Shea and George Weigel both have in common - though both would dread having to admit it too loudly. The investment in the Conciliar project is simply too deep, the reticence to be identified with traddies too visceral (however much one might sympathize with the feeling of alienation driven by the behavior of some of our compadres), and the focus on refashioning the Church in the service of a pet American political project too robust to allow much interest in things liturgical. "Just give me my lines and blocking." And some chant - but maybe not too much.

    And it's why there's no real hope of any successful liturgical reform coming from those quarters. Its shrinkage under this pontificate merely underlined it.

    2. I did not see the Ordinariate post at the time, and I'm grateful for the link. I tend to agree with your sense that it's at base more of a reworking of the Pauline missal than a vernacularization of the Gergorian/Pian one; it's also (on the most traditional options - and yes, it has options) probably about as good as a reform of the reform liturgy can get. It is no small miracle that we even got this much; most of the British Ordinariate clergy preferred something much closer to the Novus Ordo, which is what they knew best. It is still astonishing to me just how much good stuff made its way into it.

    Unfortunately, the Ordinariates, while not facing extinction, seem to have settled into a treading-water status: most communities are too small, too few, too old demographically, too short of resources, and generally unable (save for a few exceptions I can think of, such as the parishes in Scranton, San Antonio, Houston, and possibly Calgary) to overcome their obscurity or the sense that their brand is only for Anglican converts, to obtain anything like the growth that traditional Roman Rite communities are typically seeing - even in the North American Ordinariate, which is clearly the healthiest of the three.

    There is a certain parallel with your observation that the TLM could have grabbed a large share of the faithful had it been made normatively available as late as 1982. Had the Ordinariate model (and its missal) been made available instead of the Pastoral Provision in 1980, or even as late as the early 90's, there very likely would have been a considerably larger number of Anglican defectors, both lay and clerical. But by the time Anglicanorum Coetibus came round in 2009, there was little left of conservative high church Anglicanism; too many had left for Continuing Anglican movements, or other quarters.

    So the Ordinariate seems to be a dead end for liturgical renewal. But then the Church is really in no shape for it now anyway, nor is even its traditionalist cohort. Perhaps in a couple generations. Perhaps.

  3. Here is a 19th century Calvinist Cassandra on Conservatives:

    “It may be inferred again that the present movement for women’s rights, will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it he salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious, for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always—when about to enter a protest—very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent rĂ´le of resistance. The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip. No doubt, after a few years, when women’s suffrage shall have become an accomplished fact, conservatism will tacitly admit it into its creed, and thenceforward plume itself upon its wise firmness in opposing with similar weapons the extreme of baby suffrage; and when that too shall have been won, it will be heard declaring that the integrity of the American Constitution requires at least the refusal of suffrage to asses. There it will assume, with great dignity, its final position.”

  4. Can someone please explain to me where all this talk about a "hybrid" Mass originates? It certainly did not arise out of anything that Pope Benedict (earlier as Cardinal Ratzinger) ever said or wrote, nothing that I could find. The very idea of a "reform of the reform" was simply to return to the study of Sacrosanctum Concilium to determine what the Council Fathers actually had in mind, as opposed to what ended up happening at the end of that decade. Where all the rest of this hullabaloo comes from is beyond me.

    It reminds me of what someone once said, that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Isn't one in a century quite enough?

    1. While I do not know the 'origin' of this idea, Ratzinger certainly is one of those who has proposed a version of "hybrid" Mass in 2003, namely in his famous letter to H. L. Barth, a German classics scholar, a prolific writer on traditional liturgy and theology, and one going to Mass at an SSPX chapel. The original German text is here:

      Some book authors make reference to this letter as illustrating Ratzinger's thought and a part of the run-up to Summorum Pontificum. E.g. late L. Dobszay (, p. 225) or in this rather mainstream liturgy studies volume (, p. 294).

      The "hybrid Mass passage" reads as follows:
      "I believe, though, that in the long term the Roman Church should have again a single Roman rite. The existence of two official rites is in practice difficult to handle by bishops and priests. The Roman rite in future ought to be one, in Latin or vernacular, yet standing fully in the tradition of the traditional rite. It could take up some new elements that have been proven, like new feasts, some new prefaces in Mass, an expanded lectionary (more choice than before, but not too much), an "oratio fidelium", i.e., a fixed intercessory litany after the "oremus" of offertory where it had its place in earlier times."

      Although this description does not go into details it looks to me somethink like 'version 1965' or at any rate a less radical proposal than one by card. Sarah.

      Also after becoming Pope he (Ratzinger) has, as it seems, returned to this idea. Speaking of the card. Sarah's proposal M. Auge wrote: "His Eminence knows better than I, that an ad hoc committee had worked during the years of the pontificate of Pope Ratzinger without being able to produce a concrete proposal, given the difficulty of the task." (See and links therein).

  5. Isn't this aimimg at something like the transitional version of the mass mass that preceded the appearance of the full-blown Novus Ordo? If this idea gained ground, which I am sure it never will, not in a million years, since nothing could be calculated that would disatisfy more people,it would be a unique instance of liturgical reversion.