Was the post-conciliar liturgical disaster inevitable?

Imagine no CouncilWriting on the Archdiocese of Washington blog, Monsignor Charles Pope posed the rhetorical question:

If the Second Vatican Council had never happened, would we still have a ‘New Mass’?

The relative inevitability of the unprecedented changes that have taken place relative to Catholic life over the last fifty years – in general and not just liturgically –  is often cited by those who are loathe to recognize the disastrous consequences of the Council.

If for no other reason than this, Msgr. Pope’s question merits close consideration.

His answer: “Quite possibly.”

Rather than quote from the article extensively, I would invite you to visit his blog to read his supporting arguments, including the assertion that “the Liturgical Movement,” even prior to the Council, “was already moving along quite rapidly and deeply and would likely have continued to do so.”

In his concluding remarks, Msgr. Pope offers this word of advice for those who love the Mass of all ages, as clearly he does:

Be careful to distinguish the Second Vatican Council from the Ordinary Form of the Mass. I encourage this for the two reasons stated above: first, a strategy that allows us to be identified (fairly or not) with the repudiation of an entire Ecumenical Council is an unwise strategy; second, knowledge of the history of the whirlwind 20th century shows that the relationship of the liturgical changes to the Council are more complex than generally appreciated by a simplistic “pre-Conciliar vs. post-Conciliar” mentality.

I’d like to offer a few thoughts of my own on these points.

First, when one references the pre-conciliar “Liturgical Movement,” a distinction must be made between the papal commission established in 1946 under the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and the largely clandestine subversive movement spearheaded by the Belgian monk, Dom Lambert Beauduin, who envisioned a reformed rite crafted specifically to serve as a tool for catechesis, social justice and ecumenism.

(NB: the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos, was in part a direct response to Beauduin’s ecumenical aspirations.)

As Msgr. Pope pointed out in his piece, Fr. Annibale Bugnini (the architect of the Novus Ordo) was the secretary of the aforementioned papal commission, but what he failed to address is the widely accepted understanding that even then Bugnini was sympathetic to the cause of the subversives, but only secretly so.

Secondly, while I’ve not read the some 300 page document that was produced by the papal commission, Memoria sulla riforma liturgica, summaries written by credible scholars indicate that the document is largely devoted to addressing matters surrounding the liturgical calendar and the Breviary.

Even then, the papal commission’s primary purpose was to propose fundamental principles that should be observed if and when any such efforts to reform the liturgy were undertaken.

Nothing that I’ve encountered in my reading suggests that the Memoria in any way presaged the kind of destruction that was wrought on the Roman Rite following the Council. In fact, according to Dom Alcuin Reid, in the Memoria one will find “no explicit desire for a major structural reform or recasting of the Liturgy.” (The Organic Development of the Liturgy, pg. 152)

This brings me to the suggestion that one does well “to distinguish the Second Vatican Council from the Ordinary Form of the Mass,” and more specifically, to Msgr. Pope’s reasons for encouraging as much, beginning with the following:

“A strategy that allows us to be identified (fairly or not) with the repudiation of an entire Ecumenical Council is an unwise strategy…”

It isn’t immediately clear to whom Msgr. Pope may be referring if indeed anyone, but it would seem that he may have in mind the Society of St. Pius X and people like me who, though not a part of the Society, hold a similar view of the Second Vatican Council.

Whatever the case may be, let’s examine briefly this notion of “repudiating an entire Ecumenical Council.”

Msgr. Pope seems to be making the rather common mistake of lumping Vatican Council II together with the previous twenty ecumenical councils of the Church, as though each one is of equal stature as the others.

This simply isn’t the case; Vatican II stands out as unique in that the intents to define and bind are entirely absent from it.

That said, what clear thinking Catholics cannot help but reject in any text that proposes to articulate the true faith is that which either misrepresents authentic Catholic doctrine, or even simply invites confusion as it concerns the same.

Examples of this nature in the conciliar documents have been discussed at length on this blog.

With this in mind, if one simply applies the “little leaven” standard to the “entire Council,” the idea of repudiation isn’t very radical at all; on the contrary, it is eminently Catholic.

The second reason Msgr. Pope offered for detaching the Council from one’s concerns over the Novus Ordo is as follows:

Knowledge of the history of the whirlwind 20th century shows that the relationship of the liturgical changes to the Council are more complex than generally appreciated by a simplistic “pre-Conciliar vs. post-Conciliar” mentality.

Again, I’m not entirely certain who, if anyone, he has in mind here, but for my part I will readily concede that the matter is far from simplistic, and it would be a mistake to imagine that the Council was the very birthplace of the assault on the Roman Rite that ensued after its closing.

What I will not so readily concede is Msgr. Pope’s conclusion:

Clearly, I speculate here. But, frankly, so do those who would dispute the answer … Some significant overhaul of the liturgy seemed to be in the offing, for better or worse, Council or not.

While it is true that people on both sides of the “what if the Council never happened” question are largely left to speculate, that does not mean that every aspect of the conversation concerning those things that contributed to the making of the Novus Ordo are matters of mere speculation.

In other words, there are quite a few well-known facts that cannot be overlooked.

Though a number of these have already been stated, reviewing the relevant “history of the whirlwind 20th century” chronologically suggests that there is a substantial, one might even say inextricable, link between the Council and the Novus Ordo Missae:

– There is no indication that the official “Liturgical Movement” instituted in 1946 was in any sense suggestive of a “significant overhaul” of the Rite of Mass to come. In fact, one of the three principles set forth in the document issued by the official papal commission (Memoria) is ordered toward preventing as much.

“Valiantly renew, therefore, when it is truly necessary and indispensable to renew, and preserve with zeal, when you can and must preserve.” (As quoted by Fr. Carlo Braga, La Riforma Liturgica, pg. 16)

– The “Liturgical Movement” associated with Dom Lambert Beauduin was forced to operate in the shadows prior to the Council thanks to those responsible popes who saw fit to safeguard the integrity of the sacred liturgy from the corruption this movement’s aims portended.

– This same subversive movement labored behind the scenes in the hope of seeing a reformed rite that would serve as a tool for catechesis, social justice and ecumenism.     

– Annibale Bugnini secretly favored the vision of the subversives even as he acted as secretary for the papal commission established by the Sacred Congregation for Rites in the 1940’s.

– Bugnini served as the principal author of the Second Vatican Council document, Sacrosantum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Sacrosantum Concilium includes propositions that directly mirror, and encourage, certain of the reforms desired by Dom Beauduin, et al., and the subversive movement previously mentioned.

For instance, in the opening article of the Constitution, ecumenical aims are placed at the very forefront of the liturgical reform it intended to set in motion:

This sacred Council desires … to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. (SC 1)

(For a more detailed treatment, please see “Liturgical Reform gone wild: Is Vatican II blameless?”)

– The Novus Ordo Missae, having been constructed upon the conciliar propositions, has become precisely what the subversive movement envisioned; namely, a rite that is comfortably received by those with a protestant mindset (a tool for ecumenism, see SC 1 cited above), a rite that has been stripped of sacred mystery so as to be “easily understood” by the faithful (a catechetical tool, see SC 21), and a rite that can be leveraged to promote social justice causes (often via the “Prayer of the Faithful,” see SC 53).

NB: With respect to the so-called “restoration” of the “Prayer of the Faithful” as encouraged in Sacrosanctum Concilium, an article by Fr. Romano Tommasi for Latin Mass Magazine demonstrates that this element enjoys no standing in the Church’s liturgical tradition.

Lastly, when considering the connection between the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Missae, I would remind readers that the full name of the body that ultimately created the new rite was the “Consilium ad Exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia,” or the “Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.”

This fact alone seems to suggest that any attempt to build a wall of separation between the Council and the Mass that emerged from the Consilum is tantamount to a denial of history.

Taking all of this into consideration, one is hard pressed to deny that the Council provided the very gateway through which the subversive aims of the liturgical movement associated with Dom Lambert Beauduin passed from the condemnable aspirations of an underground fringe group to the “official” desires of the Church (in the form of directives that emanated from no less than an ecumenical council, albeit one unlike any other as previously noted).

With all of this said, let us now return to the rhetorical question initially posed:

If the Second Vatican Council had never happened, would we still have a ‘New Mass’?

It is not unreasonable to answer, as Msgr. Pope did, that it is “possible” (quite possible, I am not so sure) but not at all for the reasons he cited.

At this, I think it’s important for us to take a step back to consider very carefully just exactly what we’re discussing here; a “significant overhaul of the liturgy.”

While all concerned realize that this is precisely what happened after the Council, let it be said in no uncertain terms that the very concept of a “significant overhaul” is entirely antithetical to the sacred liturgy of the Catholic Church!

For the record, I feel compelled to say that re-ordering the prayers of the Breviary, as Pope St. Pius X did (regardless of one’s opinion of that re-ordering), does not constitute what one might reasonably consider an “overhaul,” the likes of which took place after the Council.

No intent to disparage, but frankly, I find it very surprising that anyone with a love for the traditional liturgy and a strong knowledge of the same (as Msgr. Pope most certainly has) would so easily concede that such a thing was in some way inevitable; at least apart from a substantial dereliction of duty on the part of Peter’s Successors.

In order for the Novus Ordo to come into existence, it was absolutely necessary for the aspirations of Dom Lambert Beauduin et al. to gain at least the appearance of “official” approval, that they might make the transition from the wild ideas of dreamers whispered in the shadows, to the “inspired” proclamations of respectable clerics openly expressed in very halls of ecclesial power.

I suppose that it is at least possible that this could have taken place directly at the hands of Paul VI or some other utterly feckless pope, but without the gravitas of the Second Vatican Council masquerading as the “higher authority” that was driving the process, it is perhaps just as likely that a perfectly well-justified rebellion would have ensued at the Novus Ordo’s introduction.

In the end, it would seem to me that the “engine” that brought the Church to this place where she stands today; that is, mired in a crisis more than a half-century old with no end in sight, is none other than the ever-present reality of sin.

Be that as it may, let us not be afraid to admit that the fuel for the operation was, and is, none other than the Second Vatican Council.

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