Summorum Pontificum 2007-2021

17 07 2021

Note: I first published this on July 10th, 2007

But since in this dialogue Socrates is about to derogate pleasure and Philebus has called pleasure, “Venus,” he hastens to make atonement, fearing a goddess’ name especially as a pious man should. Atonement is the restoration of holiness that has been destroyed. Holiness is devotion to holy things…

-Marsilio Ficino, The Philebus Commentary

Eneadum genetrix hominum divumque voluptas, Alma Venus coeli subter labentia signa Quae mare navigerum quae terras frugiferentes Concelebras; per te quoniam genus omne animatum Concipitur, visitque exortum lumina solis.


-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura


The sanctuary at the seminary church in La Reja has an area between two pillars that leads to the apse with the side altars. There, on the epistle side, the professor of liturgy was waiting in the wings and watching attentively. On the altar, a recently ordained priest was saying the 11:30 a.m. Mass. I watched my professor watch the new priest. He was making sure that the man on the altar was saying his Mass correctly: that he was making all of the Signs of the Cross as indicated, that the genuflections were graceful and not twitchy, that he was not saying his Mass too quickly, etc., etc. This was a Mass you had to learn how to say, and new priests were game to be critiqued if they are not performing the actions properly.


This was in the Society of St. Pius X, but I am sure every traditionalist religious order has some of these concerns. The flip side of the Motu Proprio cheerleading has been expressed by some, but I will say it explicitly. Oftentimes the old Mass, for better or for worse, was a chore that had to be endured and far from a spiritual experience. Many priests hated saying the old Mass, and many who remember it now probably said, “good riddance” to it back then. The fact is that the liturgical reform of the 1960’s was the destruction of the old liturgical ethos of the Roman Church and the creation of a new one. I would summarize it very briefly by saying that before, liturgy was something you had to DO, and now it is something that you have to UNDERSTAND.


Indeed, when the divine causes and the human preparations resembling them are united in one and the same act, the acomplishment of the sacrifice achieves all things and bestows great blessings.


-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis


Catechisms from the 1950’s often talked about the necessity of sacrifice in human culture, and those sacrifices needing to be accomplished through a certain set of rules. Sacrifice, for better or for worse, always has a cause and effect mechanism behind it: the sacrifice is done correctly, and the blessings are bestowed. The SSPX put out a document earlier this decade stating that the reform of the liturgy had much to do with the putting aside of the idea of Anselm’s idea of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross being primarily vicarious satisfaction for the sins of the world and its replacement with the idea of the “Paschal Mystery”, something supposedly more ill-defined and Patristic. This is, according to the Lefebvrist theologians, the reason why the idea of the Mass as a sacrifice that takes away sins is no longer emphasized.


In this sacrificial culture, then, the actions of my seminary professor-priest make much more sense. Even if it is not explicitly stated, the very human (read: pagan) idea of accomplishing the cult correctly was at the heart of the rubricism before the Second Vatican Council. The Mass was something that had to appease the wrath of God against sinful humanity. Therefore, it had to be accomplished according to a complicated set of rules, in a language no one could understand, and having parts that were uttered secretly by the priest. (One commenter said that he likes the Mass for the text, which I find highly ironic since most of the “text” was not meant to be heard by the laity anyway.) These were principles that were never defined, but they were nevertheless in the “back of the mind” of Western civilization.


I will not say one way or the other whether or not this idea is correct. And it is still present to some extent even in many Masses said according to the Pauline Missal. (People still have Masses said for particular intentions.) But the Liturgical Movement and the Novus Ordo Missae were very much concessions to the idea of liturgy that was first put forward by the Reformers. Having moved away from the theology of vicarious satisfaction, liturgy is conceived of as something more for the people as the Body of Christ and less for a wrathful and distant God receiving again the Blood of His Son to redeem the sins of the world. It is the remembrance of what Christ has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection. Hence, the greater freedom in how it is carried out, the vernacular tongue, and the general emphasis on interaction with the people. It is admitted by virtually all that this has led to abuses and many undignified things take place during these ceremonies. The degree of gravity, however, of the wrongness of what goes on during these ceremonies depends on what you conceive the liturgy as primarily being. If it is an act of the cult of sacrifice, it is a grave transgression against the order of things. If it is a manifestation of the synaxis of the People of God, it is just people behaving rowdily. Has anyone gone to Hell because of a liturgical abuse?

The bottom line is that these divergent cultures are so distinct now that to think that one can influence the other amounts to wishful thinking. The ethos behind one is completely different from the ethos of the other. While aesthetic radicals like myself love Gregorian chant, Latin, and all of the highly stylized gestures of the old rite, many Catholics who remember them are just glad they do not have to “do that crap” anymore. The ecclesial cultures behind both rites are just too divergent now, and let us face facts: traditionalists constitute a tiny fraction of total Catholics in the world. Even with a greater allowance of the old rite, the only thing that will emerge in my opinion is a niche market style of liturgies similar to Anglican praxis of “churchmanships”. Perhaps it will not fracture the Church, but it will not serve to unite it either. Then again, maybe nothing will.

So I am glad that the Holy Father finally put out his Motu Proprio. I even read it in the original Latin. But part of me fears that this is just “his thing”. He may have very good reasons for it, but it may all just be a case of trying to put something back into Pandora’s liturgical box.

Postscript in 2021: I was right.





The Gregorian soul

4 07 2021

Some time ago, I became fascinated with French organ music from the late 19th and early 20th century. I am not sure why, because it doesn’t really appeal to me aesthetically. Honestly, the organ hasn’t really been a favorite instrument. I suppose I am more interested in this music as tradition. At least in the recent past, the organ has played a substantial role in Catholic music, so in order to properly understand the evolution of the Catholic liturgy over the last two centuries, one inevitably encounters the organist and their instrument. In France in particular, with the likes of Charles-Marie Widor, Cesar Franck, and Louis Vierne, you have not only famous organists in prominent churches but figures who played an influential role in the emergence of the music of the modern French school. One of the last figures of this school, one whose life spans the ascent and decline of the Catholic cultural revival in France between the wars, was the organist and composer Maurice Duruflé.

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God’s tears

6 04 2021

The entire beautiful body of the Lord was covered with dust and dirt. In this way it became transcendentally beautiful. At times, when cleansing the temple, the Lord shed tears, and in some places He even cleansed with those tears.

CC, Madya 12.86

For the time being, I have resigned myself to practicing two religions, if purely out of social obligation. It can’t be helped, and I don’t mind it terribly. To this end, I was really busy with Holy Week services, especially learning the chants and order of services. However, on Maundy Thursday, I took a break for a few minutes to visit a church literally down the street. It seems like the local Roman Catholic traditionalists have taken up residence nearby, so dropping in on them is literally like running to the corner store to get a gallon of milk.

This time I decided to catch the last part of Maundy Thursday services, mainly the stripping of the altar. I always found this a deeply moving ceremony: God in the form of the Blessed Sacrament is removed from His home and put somewhere else. All of flowers and decorations that indicate His presence are then stripped, leaving the sanctuary barren. The high altar is thus left looking like an abandoned cave.

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A review of Work of Human Hands

23 11 2020
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An “ex-Catholic’s” look at Fr. Anthony Cekada’s book

When I learned of Fr. Anthony Cekada’s death earlier this year, my thoughts turned to another lifetime ago. I was in the Society of St. Pius X seminary in La Reja. It was summer and thus very hot (no air conditioning, of course). I was in the seminary library by myself supposedly answering the phone (no one ever called). I found a stack of journals to pass the time, among them one called “Sacerdotium”. It was in English and dated from the 1990’s. Unlike so many other traditionalist publications, this one contained decent writing. Namely, the author who stood out was one Anthony Cekada. The content of his articles consisted of the same sedevacantist arguments, yet he added quite a bit of humor to it. Some of it was hit or miss, but overall I enjoyed the effort.

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The anti-transfiguration

5 10 2019

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In one of the most dramatic episodes of the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna’s friend Arjuna asks to see Krsna’s universal form, the visva-rupa. The universal form is how Krsna, who is Bhagavan or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, interacts with the world. The original form of Krsna, the source of all of His expansions and avatars, is just as Arjuna sees Him on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra: blueish-black, two handed, and appearing no older than a sixteen year old boy (even though by then Krsna had been on the Earth well over 100 years). Having been instructed by Krsna, and knowing Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he asks to see the visva-rupa to know better who his friend is. Srila Prabhupada translates the manifestation of the universal form as follows:

Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths, unlimited eyes, unlimited wonderful visions. The form was decorated with many celestial ornaments and bore many divine upraised weapons. He wore celestial garlands and garments, and many divine scents were smeared over His body. All was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, all-expanding.

If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form.

At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands. Read the rest of this entry »





The only way to win is not to play

8 05 2019

The idea of reviving the office of female deacon or deaconess has been raised by the current Vatican. Though I have traditionalist leanings, I don’t have a strong opinion on this. To cite Slavoj Zizek, I would say that I would prefer not to, but I don’t think the traditional camp has much of a leg to stand on at this point. Deaconesses are documented to have been in existence in the early Church, and across various ritual churches, their duties and privileges varied widely. Apparently in the Armenian Orthodox Church, there were female deacons all the way up to the middle of the 20th century and beyond. Above is a recently ordained Armenian female deacon. What would the Vatican or conservative Catholics say about this deacon? What if the Armenian Catholics, who share the same rites but are communion with the Vatican, decide to ordain their own female deacons again? Could she serve in St. Peter’s Basilica during Mass, as clergy in other rites sometimes tend to do? I would say this is not a question of “if”, but “when”. Read the rest of this entry »





Notes on liturgical maximalism

30 04 2019

Just some unconnected thoughts I’ve had recently.

As you may know, I was connected to the Society of St. Pius X for a number of years in my youth. This experience was quite formative to me. My experience of the traditional liturgy was thus somewhat minimalistic and combative. Back in the late 1990’s, you were lucky to find the old Latin Mass anywhere. It was either relegated to the basement, to a time that was equivalent to the basement, or it could be found in little chapels or in groups that were considered “schismatic”. In the SSPX in particular, it was made clear to us that the liturgy was just the tip of the iceberg. Ecumenism, religious liberty, the New Theology, really it was opposing these things that brought me into the traditionalist sphere in the first place, at least initially. Later I would become much softer on these issues (wishy-washy?) but I never forgot that all of this was connected. The modernists also grew up in and celebrated the traditional liturgy for years before they got to change it. The traditional liturgy was thus never a panacea for me. Read the rest of this entry »





On the Triduum

18 04 2019

Sometimes I feel more cursed than blessed having had a thoroughly Catholic youth. As I have stated previously, the strongest memory I have of Good Friday is our grandmother reminding us to fast or God would strike us dead (something like that), and showing up to church one Good Friday and seeing an ambulance in front. “He probably didn’t fast,” I thought to myself then. Read the rest of this entry »





On the Divine Office

10 04 2019

I have followed sedevacantist priest Fr. Anthony Cekada’s writings for almost two decades now, and I am quite fond of his approach to theological and liturgical questions. I am most appreciative of his mischievous humor as well when he is polemicizing. A recent piece of his from some years back praising St. Pius X’s reform of the Divine Office (known in the current Church as the “Liturgy of Hours”) was brought to my attention. He brings up the main issue of the pre-Pius X office not reciting all 150 Psalms a week as well as its length and complexity. Cekada thus thinks the reform was a good idea and not without historical precedent. Archimandrite Robert Taft, for example, produced an exceptional book on the Divine Office indicating that its reform had been an issue for centuries prior to St. Pius X. Read the rest of this entry »





Reginald Foster

20 02 2019

I stumbled across the above video from last year which reminded me of my own indirect tie to Fr. Foster. I took a course with an instructor who had studied under him in Rome who also encouraged me to do the same. I politely refused because by that point I no longer felt like chasing butterflies. The instructor sadly passed away at a very young age, so I remember that as one of our only one-on-one interactions. Of interest to me is how much of a “progressive” Fr. Foster comes across here. I have written the same of disgraced Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who was a great medieval musicologist who came to dislike the musical patrimony of the Church. While there were many smart and capable scholars who let go of tradition with a heavy heart, many more threw it away with relish. Read the rest of this entry »