Monday, July 03, 2006

The Mass: the crux of the matter

Some of you may recall a series of articles appearing in The Remnant - a debate really - between the late Michael Davies (RIP) and several priests of the SSPX, later published as a booklet entitled "The Great Debate of '98". The issue debated was this: can one legitimately say that the Novus Ordo Missae or "New Mass" is intrinsically bad, evil or harmful to souls?

Mr. Davies position was that the official Latin text of the Novus Ordo as published by Pope Paul VI could not be bad or evil, as this would be tantamount to denying the indefectibility of the Catholic Church, a dogma of the Faith. According to Mr. Davies, there is nothing implicitly or explicitly contrary, let alone contradictory to the Faith in the N.O.M. It is necessary here to define "implicitly" as many are confused on this point. For the N.O.M. to imply something contrary to the Faith, it would have to say something that could not be logically maintained without this implicit proposition. For example, If I say: "All cardinals are birds; this is a cardinal" the implication is "this is a bird" even though I never said that. If my two statements are absolutely correct and true then the implicit, unstated idea MUST also be true, unless the principle of non-contradiction is ignored. Therefore, for the N.O.M. to imply something contrary to or contradictory of the Faith, it would have to amount to more than a mere ambiguity, where one could logically interpret the thing in either an orthodox or a heterdox way. It would have to be such that the heterodox or heretical interpretation were the only one possible, even though no explicitly heretical proposition were made.

The SSPX said that calling the N.O. bad did not mean the Church had defected. It simply meant that it was "lacking a good which is due", the very definition of evil according to St. Thomas and the Scholastics. It's true that today the word evil has a much harsher sound to it and implies malice of intent, but this is not what is meant when the SSPX says the new Mass is evil. One will recall that the definition of Original Sin is simply the absence of sanctifying grace, not the concupiscence that was also a consequence of the Fall. According to the SSPX, the N.O.M. is an insufficient expression of the true Faith and therefore does not fully signify what it effects.

Mr. Davies also argues that there is, at least once in the new missal, an explicit expression of every dogma or important doctrine connected with traditional Catholic theology regarding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (the mass as a true, propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead, the real presence of Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, the ministerial priesthood as alone necessary for the accomplishment of this sacrifice and for the bringing about of the real presence, etc.) To the objection that the N.O.M. greatly reduces the occurrence of these explicit affirmations, he would say "how many times does each of these dogmas need to be explicitly affirmed in a rite of mass before it can be deemed "good"?

Who is right?

For Michael Davies part, he only applied this proposition (that the N.O.M. cannot be evil) to the official Latin Editio Typica, text and rubrics, not to any vernacular translation, many of which he deplored as abominable. He said that this does not mean that traditionalists cannot object to the N.O.M. because the traditional Mass was so much superior to the new and there was no reason to change it.

The SSPX says that if Mr. Davies is right, how could they legitimately tell the faithful to avoid the N.O.M., even when there is no other mass available on a Sunday or Holy Day? Furthermore, if the official Latin text of the New Mass is per se good, albeit far less good than the Tridentine, the Vatican could say they are addressing the problems with the implementation of Liturgicam Authenticam, whereby the vernacular translations must be as faithful as possible to the Latin originals.

Again, who is right?

It is my opinion that they are both right.

I have not personally verified Mr. Davies statements that there is nothing explicitly or implicitly contrary or contradictory to the Faith in the N.O.M. or that every major dogma or doctrine relating to the Mass is explicitly reaffirmed in the new missal at least once. However, I do trust Mr. Davies integrity and thoroughness as a scholar enough to believe him when he makes this affirmation. This, to me, is a sign that the Holy Ghost is still with the Church. He has allowed the hierarchy to slide in an alarming way from the full and integral expression of the Faith, but He has not allowed them to veer into error in her most holy and sacred actions (the Eucharistic Sacrifice and other sacraments). Therefore, in a strict sense, the Latin Editio Typica of the Novus Ordo cannot be deemed heterodox, let alone heretical, at least not in a definite, concrete manner where you could point to a particular change and say "that is intrinsically (always and in every context) bad".

Yet, there are clearly more than a few serious ambiguities in the N.O.M. that have been exploited by liberals and modernists to subvert the meaning of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and turn it into a "memorial meal" and a "communal gathering of the People of God". There is an excellent study by Fr. Anthony Cekada published by TAN (yes, he's a sedevacantist, but his research is not affected by this fact) called The Problems with the Prayers of the New Mass, which shows that the orations (the collects, secrets and postcommunions) even in the Latin, have been seriously altered to remove or tone down references to Hell, Purgatory, God's wrath, satisfaction and many other traditional concepts. A recent study by a non-traditionalist scholar corroborates this and locates the inspiration for these changes in the Enlightenment period. See the blog Musings of a Pertinacious Papist and move down to the header Fr. James McLucas on the MOTIVES for restoring the Mass of Pius V.

Also, although I take Mr. Davies at his word when he says every major dogma or doctrine regarding the Mass is explicitly affirmed at least once in the new missal, I wonder how many of these explicit affirmations are to be found in optional parts of the Missal or in Masses that are not Holy Days of Obligation in the Universal Church. In other words, it is conceivable that one could go to mass every Sunday and Holy Day and never hear some of these explicit affirmations of traditional Eucharisitic teaching. One has only to think of how often one has been to a parish where only Eucharistic Prayer number II (the least sacrificial, most Protestant-leaning of the four) was said or where the Roman Canon was never said. And let us not forget the statement of several prominent Protestants ministers who said, after the promulgation of the N. O. M. that they could use it with a clear conscience. Doubtless part of what they had in mind was that they could pick the most Protestant of the various options and what was mandatory did not pose a major obstacle to their heretical theology.

Jean Guitton, a French philosopher and close friend of Paul VI said in an interview on Radio Courtoisie that "… the intention of Pope Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy… there was with Pope Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist mass…" (Christian Order online)

Is this not harmful to the Faith of Catholics? "But a good, orthodox priest can say the New Mass in a holy and reverent way and edify his congregation". Certainly I have no problem with this statement. But the same fluidity that allows a good priest to craft a more-or-less acceptable mass allows a modernist to craft a pseudo-Protestant one. I know of a priest who said the Novus Ordo every day always with the Confiteor, always with the Kyrie, always with the Roman Canon. He said it according to the official Latin version every Sunday. On every other occasion he would say it either in English or Spanish, but would always use the Roman Canon in Latin. He also gave communion on the tongue at the altar rail, but would give it in the hand if the individual insisted. I had enormous respect for this priest, but a) how many priests like that are there in the world? and b) he still insisted that the pope, Vatican II and the New Mass were perfectly OK if understood/said "correctly". If this is true, then why are there so few people who really believe this Vatican II-is-perfectly-in-line-with-Tradition thesis? Even the current Pope doesn't believe this completely (see his December 22 address to the Curia, specifically his explanation of Religious Liberty, where he basically says "that was then, this is now" with regard to the pre-conciliar teaching). And even these people, by the logic of their own position, must defend ecumenism and interreligious dialog (including Assisi, as the priest in question did to me), religious liberty and collegiality as well as detente with the modern world.

Mr. Davies' argument, though true on the face of it, is limited in its import. It is the perfect example of not seeing the forest for the trees. He sees many good trees in the N.O.M. forest, and he does not see any deformed or diseased or fake trees, therefore he says it is a true forest, although not as beautiful, varied and robust as the traditional Mass forest. Yet, will the for-the-most-part small, thin, scrawny trees in this forest be able to withstand an hellacious wind-storm or a flash-flood or will they be blown down and swept away, along with all the animals in the forest?

Or what about this analogy: the king of a city-state decides that his enemies have become his friends because they haven't attacked him (openly) in quite a while, so he decides, as a gesture of good will, to dismantle his fifty foot high, twenty foot thick wall around the city and build one just twenty feet high and three feet thick. After all, that should be more than sufficient - it's a fine, sturdy wall and the other one is no longer necessary and is downright offensive to the neighboring cities. What do you think will happen next?

Is the mere absence of error and the presence of orthodox teachings every now and then enough? Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos told Bishop Fellay recently that all the Novus Ordo needed was some good solid catechesis to accompany it. Bishop Fellay responded that this was precisely his point: the N.O.M. does not sufficiently express the Faith, therefore it must be shored-up by good sermons and catechesis, while the traditional mass supports and vivifies the good sermons and catechesis (True Restoration blog).

So, let us thank Our Lord and Savior and the Holy Ghost that They did not allow the men in control of the Church to promulgate an instrinsically invalid or heretical rite of Mass, thus putting millions - billions of souls in very grave and irremedial danger of losing the Faith and their souls. But let us not be so naive as to think that because this greater danger, this greater evil is not present that there is then no danger and no evil. An SSPX bishop said it very well when he commented that the Novus Ordo "has the skids built into it". In other words, it may not be obviously or openly bad, but it is not well-built and does not hang together well. It's like the house built on sand - not a bad house at all - until the winds blow and the rains come, which they always do.

Tracy Hummel
Hurst, TX

Monday, March 06, 2006