The Testimony of Tradition and
The Least Important Council

The Testimony of Tradition

Fidelity to Tradition has been the most evident characteristic of the Catholic Church throughout her history. In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas warned us: "It is absurd and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be changed which we have received from the Fathers of old." The practice of celebrating the Eucharistic facing the people as a deliberate pastoral policy originated with Martin Luther and was taken up by leaders of the Protestant heresy in other countries. But where the Catholic Church is concerned, the claim that there was ever a time when Mass was celebrated facing the people, as an act of conscious pastoral policy is total fantasy. The truth was expressed with admirable clarity by Msgr. Klaus Gamber, Director of the Liturgical Institute of Regensberg when he stated: "There never was a celebration versus populum in either the Eastern or Western Church. Instead there was a turning towards the East."

There is clearly no support from Tradition for a law mandating that Mass must be celebrated facing the people, and that hence there must be no tabernacle upon the altar to impede visibility. If such a law had been promulgated since Vatican II it would be a condemnation of the entire liturgical tradition of the Church, and would be highly suspect. Any priest would have ample justification for refusing to implement such an unprecedented violation of a tradition received from the Fathers of old. However, no law mandating a celebration facing the people has ever been promulgated since the Council.

It has been shown that never in the history of the Church-----East or West-----has Mass ever been celebrated facing the people as an act of conscious pastoral policy. It has been shown that in the few cases of churches possessing altars apparently designed for a celebration facing the people, the real reason was to permit a celebration facing the East, as in these churches the altar was at the west end. The inescapable conclusion of any objective study of Mass facing the people is that the practice is not sanctioned by and is incompatible with Tradition, and that even if mandatory legislation had been promulgated since Vatican II ordering that Mass should be celebrated facing the people, any priest would have ample justification for refusing to implement such a flagrant and unprecedented breach with Tradition. We shall now examine what the Council itself mandated concerning the sanctuary.

The Least Important Council

Before discussing what Vatican II and the post-conciliar legislation has to say on the subject of Mass facing the people, it will be helpful to examine the Council itself. There had been twenty councils prior to Vatican II, but anyone reading the Catholic press today, or listening to the typical bishop or theologian, would imagine that no other general council had ever been held, or even that the Church had begun with Vatican II. From a dogmatic standpoint, Vatican II is the least important of all the councils. It settled no disputed question, it promulgated no dogmatic definition binding upon the faithful, it deliberately refrained from investing any of its teaching with the note of infallibility. It is legitimate to wonder why precisely the Council was called, and what exactly its purpose was. Pope John XXIII claimed that he convoked it as a result of an inspiration from the Holy Ghost, but no Catholic is obligated to believe that this was the case. Cardinal Heenan, Primate of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, explained in the second volume of his autobiography that Pope John could not possibly have foreseen the results of his decision to call a council. He was, the Cardinal testifies, under the impression that the bishops had come together in Rome for a short convivial meeting, but its sessions continued for five years. God was indeed merciful in allowing the old Pope to die before he saw the extent to which his Council, as Cardinal Heenan put it, "provided an excuse for rejecting so much of the Catholic doctrine which he so wholeheartedly accepted."

Note that Cardinal Heenan did not accuse the Council of rejecting the teaching of the Church, but claimed that it provided an excuse for this to be done. How did it happen?

Emphasis in bold, that of the Web Master.

BACK----------Contact Us-----------FORWARD

HOME            |            HOLY EUCHARIST