Liturgical Shipwreck

by Michael Davies
Part 3


  The first point that I wish to make concerning the liturgical experiment of Pope Paul VI is that the very compilation of a "New Mass," a Novus Ordo Missae, constitutes a break with historic liturgical evolution. In The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, his great classic study of the Mass, Father Adrian Fortescue explained that The Protestant Reformers naturally played havoc with the old liturgy. It was throughout the expression of the very ideas [the Real Presence, Eucharistic Sacrifice, and so on] they rejected. So they substituted for it new communion services that expressed their principles, but of course broke away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution. 13

  How precisely did the Protestant Reformers "break away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution"? They did so firstly by the very fact of composing new sacramental rites and substituting them for those which had been in use from time immemorial. This would have involved a breach with historic liturgical evolution, even if their new rites had been totally orthodox. The different rites of Mass had evolved gradually and naturally over the centuries. One of Britain's greatest living historians, Professor Owen Chadwick, who is a Protestant, noted in his book, The Reformation, that: "Liturgies are not made, they grow in the devotion of centuries." 14 A consistent pattern can be discerned in the development of every ancient liturgy in both East and West, a pattern explained very clearly by Canon G. G. Smith in his celebrated exposition of Catholic belief, The Teaching of the Catholic Church:
      Throughout the history of the development of the Sacramental liturgy, the tendency has been towards growth-----additions and accretions, the effort to obtain a fuller more perfect, more significant symbolism. 15
  In 1896 Pope Leo XIII pronounced finally and irrevocably, in his encyclical Apostolicae Curae, that Anglican Orders are invalid. The Anglican bishops attempted to answer the encyclical with their Responsio, published in 1897, an attempt which was refuted by the Catholic bishops in a vindication of the Pope's encyclical and which they published later in 1897. A key point in the Catholic bishops' argumentation was the following:
      That in earlier times local Churches were permitted to add new prayers and ceremonies is acknowledged . . . But that they were also permitted to subtract prayers and ceremonies in previous use, and even to remodel the existing rites in the most drastic manner, is a proposition for which we know of no historical foundation, and which appears to us absolutely incredible. 16
  It is incontestable that the Consilium, the Commission which composed the New Mass, subtracted many of the prayers and ceremonies in previous use and remodeled the existing rite in a most drastic manner, thus breaking away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution. Please note that I am not claiming that the New Mass is unorthodox or that Pope Paul VI did not have the strict legal right to approve some changes in the Mass. All that I am claiming is that, in doing what he did, he broke away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution. Incredible as it may seem, there are those who, in their eagerness to defend the New Mass, put reason aside and actually claim that no drastic remodeling of the Tridentine Mass took place! A typical instance of this failure to accept reality occurred in an article by Father Peter Stravinskas in the February, 1992 issue of Catholic News and World Report. Father Stravinskas claimed that, "Having studied the old rite of the Mass and the present rite with great care, I fail to see any significant difference between the two." This reminds me of a comment made by the Duke of Wellington to a gentleman who approached him and said: "Mr. Smith, I believe." "If you believe that," said the Iron Duke, "you'll believe anything!" To claim that there is no significant difference between the two rites is not simply unreasonable, but incredible. Rather than quote from a traditionalist writer to refute Father Stravinskas, I will cite one whose credentials for commenting upon the New Mass could hardly be more authoritative. I refer to Father Joseph Gelineau, S.J. Father Gelineau was one of the most influential members of Archbishop Bugnini's Consilium, which actually composed the New Mass, and who was described by Archbishop Bugnini as one of the "great masters of the international liturgical world." 17 It would be more than euphemistic to state that Father Gelineau does not share the opinion of Father Stravinskas that there is no significant difference between the Tridentine Mass and the New Mass. In his book, Demain la Liturgie [The Liturgy Tomorrow], Father Gelineau commented with commendable honesty, and not the least sign of regret:
Let those who like myself have known and sung a Latin-Gregorian High Mass remember it if they can. Let them compare it with the Mass that we now have. Not only the words, the melodies, and some of the gestures are different. To tell the truth it is a different liturgy of the Mass. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists [Le rite romain tel que nous l'avons connu n'existe plus]. It has been destroyed [il est détruit]. 18