Canonist Ed Peters’ observations about post-Conciliar liturgical as “irreversible”

Today canonist Ed Peters provides some helpful notes (HERE) about something His Holiness of Our Lord said the other day about the liturgical reform after Vatican II being irreversible.   Pope Francis seemed in invoke the Magisterium.

Peters explains what sorts of things are the subjects of magisterial teaching, which things can be considered “irreversible”.

When I read that, I scratched my head a little.  First, no one denies that there was a liturgical movement in the 20th century which lead to the Council Fathers approving Sacrosanctum Concilium.  No one denies that, after SC there were massive changes to the Church’s worship and that those changes produced effects which are “irreversible”.  After all, they happened and they had there inevitable effect.  However, in the life of the Church there are movements and there can be counter-movements.   This has always been the way of things over the centuries.  So, I am not sure how a particular direction of liturgical reform can be called “irreversible” and how such a declaration can carry such authority that the faithful are somehow bound to believe or hold it.   In any event, Dr. Peters provides points of consideration.

Friends, this is enormously helpful.  Here is part of it:

[…]

Examples of infallible assertions that must be believed(credenda) are the points in the Creed, the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Our Lady, the foundation of the Church by Christ, the precise number of sacraments, and so on. Examples of infallible assertions that must be held(tenenda) are canonizations, determinations as to which councils should be deemed “ecumenical”, the invalidity of Anglican orders, and so on. While infallible assertions demanding belief and infallible assertions demanding definitive retention are distinguishable from each other, their very close connections are equally obvious. As a result, among the many, many things that the Church asserts with various degrees of authority, relatively few are recognized as being asserted with certainty and, in that regard, as being irreversible. See 1983 CIC 749 § 3 and CDF’s 1998 “Doctrinal commentary on Ad tuendam fidem. But while it is fairly easy to spot matters of belief infallibly asserted (so-called “primary objects” of infallibility), matters requiring definitive retention (so called “secondary objects” of infallibility) are trickier to assess.

To offer some negative examples, the Church would never declare infallibly that the sun rose in Ann Arbor today at 6:54 AM local time—even though the assertion is true—because such an assertion is not divinely revealed nor is it necessary to defend or expound the deposit of faith; [And there were, in fact, reforms to the Roman Rite after Vatican II.] she would never affirm with certainty that St. Peter’s Basilica is the most beautiful church in the world because such an assertion is not divinely revealed nor is it necessary to defend or expound the deposit of faith (not to mention it being difficult to assign the notion of “most” to any judgment about the beautiful); [Some people think the reforms were great, and some don’t.] and she would never affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the New Evangelization is “irreversible” because such an assertion is not divinely revealed nor is it necessary to defend or expound the deposit of faith (not to mention that the New Evangelization is a phenomenon that does not admit of easy categorization and is in part a response to its times). [Maybe there will be a New Evangelization, and maybe not.]

And so I think it can be confusing to the faithful for any prelate to “affirm with certainty” and/or with “magisterial authority” that liturgical reform is “irreversible” precisely because such language connotes in Catholic minds the exercise of a charism given not to underscore the importance of what is being asserted, but rather, to identify certainly and without error [NB] either what is divinely revealed and thus to be believed or what is required to safeguard reverently the deposit of faith and thus to be definitely held. [And neither matters of the liturgical reforms after Vatican II nor even the content of SC are in that category.]

To repeat, with Pius XII, Vatican II, St. John Paul II, and doubtless with Francis, a faithful Catholic may regard liturgical reform (properly understood, and apart from the travesties committed in its name) as springing from a movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church; [which could be… or not…] but whether it is prudent for any pope, in virtue of his “magisterial authority”, to “affirm with certainty”, that such reforms (whatever exactly those are) are “irreversible” (whatever exactly that means here) is, I think, a different issue.

I found this helpful.

It is, by the way, time for a good book which deals with levels of authority of various documents, etc.

It seems to me that, slowly but surely, we will know whether or not the post-Conciliar reform will bear good fruits and whether or not “the people”, whom the Holy Father invoked, will go with along with it.  Benedict XVI recognized that there are powerful forces in the Church when it comes to worship.  There has always been a slow and organic development of our liturgical worship.  When you tinker with that and impose massive changes suddenly, you disrupt the very life of the Church down to the last member.  So, by bringing back to the fore the traditional liturgical reforms, Benedict sought to, so to speak, graft together the artificially created post-Conciliar forms with what the Church had done for centuries… and in a way that Council Fathers would recognize as sound.  Remember that the Council Fathers in SC mandated that no changes be made unless they were for the good of the Church and that no changes be made that are not in keeping with previous liturgical forms.   However, both of those mandates were severely violated in what was eventually produced in the name of the Council.

When there is a wound, steps must be take to heal it.  What happened after the Council produced a wound.   Benedict took steps to heal it.

What Benedict did, however, didn’t “mar” the post-Conciliar reforms.  Neither did he “mar” the traditional forms.   When they are placed side-by-side in an irenic way, they will, assuredly, influence each other in a “mutual enrichment”, what I call a “gravitational pull”.

Precisely the things that Francis spoke of to those Italian (shudder) liturgists, are precisely the things that are happening where the traditional form is in place in a healthy way.   People are participating at Holy Mass with exactly the sort of full, conscious and actual/active participation to which the Council Fathers aspired in Sacrosanctum Concilium.   It’s obvious.  That, in fact, is a result of, first, the lack of availability of the traditional forms for so long and b) an insight gained from the use of the Novus Ordo, even when abused and not used properly.   The “mutual enrichment” is taking place.   And this is inexorable…even “irreversible”.   The only way to reverse it would be to abolish suddenly one of the two forms.   But that isn’t going to work, in my opinion.   The older form is back.  As Cardinal Sarah mentioned no long ago, it is now a modern and post-Conciliar form as well.

I don’t see what happening now as being irreversible.  It is producing great benefits and I think that people will want it and seek it no matter what.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Canonist Ed Peters’ observations about post-Conciliar liturgical as “irreversible”

  1. So, I’m watching this great tennis match … men’s doubles.
    Bergoglio & Spadoro vs. Zuhlsdorf & Peters.

    Point . Set. Match.
    Zuhlsdorf & Peters winners again !
    The Bryan Brothers got nothing on you two .
    Loving it .

    [That’s nice. Thanks. However, the difference is that the other side has guys in brown shirts who come onto the court and beat us bloody if we win volleys.]

  2. Windswept House says:

    As always, Ed Peters makes excellent points based upon his expertise. However, I think Pope Francis and his fawners are playing a much different game. They ignore reasoned arguments, and they are spending their time creating gray areas; they often discredit those who believe 2+2=4. One only needs to look at American culture to see how massively successful this emotive-type approach is. We, in turn, need messages that use reason aimed at the heart. Yes, we still need to use faith and reason as our foundation. But keep in mind, we do not have litanies of the Sacred Mind of Jesus or of the Immaculate Mind of Mary. Jesus used parables, not dissertations when he spoke to individuals or crowds.

    [The Holy Father has published his basic Modus Operandi. I urge anyone interested to check out HERE.]

  3. ogn.i.zhupel says:

    I honestly don’t understand this idea that a fabricated, Commission-made Novus Ordo can enrich venerable, traditional Roman Rite, perfected through centuries. It’s not logical. If there are indeed certain elements of NO which could further perfect traditional rite, still, it remains unclear why entire new rite had to be made in the first place.

  4. pjmpjm says:

    Our beloved Holy Father is a Jesuit, and can make good use of mental reservations, and other techniques of communication and diversion. He did *not* say, “I affirm that the post-concilar liturgical reform is irreversible,” rather he said “I can affirm that, etc.”

    “Possiamo affermare con sicurezza e con autorità magisteriale che la riforma liturgica è irreversibile”

    In a somewhat similar way, I could say: “I can affirm that I am from Mars” but if I did so I would be fibbing.

  5. Mike says:

    Never mind all the games that prelates and self-styled “liturgists” have been playing with the Faith, and with sacred worship by the faithful, for the better part of a century: either Quo Primum meant what it said or it didn’t.

    Whether it did or it (unaccountably) didn’t, contrary tub-thumping by Pius V’s successors and Modernist gainsayers doesn’t matter very much. And that’s good enough for me, since I also decline to play games with the principle of non-contradiction.

  6. AnnTherese says:

    Yes! “However, in the life of the Church there are movements and there can be counter-movements. This has always been the way of things over the centuries.” Amen, Father Z!

  7. PTK_70 says:

    So if “mutual enrichment” is irreversible (as spelled out in the second to last paragraph), I rather think that the last paragraph should read as follows, “I don’t see what’s happening now [i.e., the growing interest in reverence as an essential constitutive element of Catholic worship] as being reversible. It is producing great benefits….”

  8. HighMass says:

    ogn.i.zhupel: still, it remains unclear why entire new rite had to be made in the first place

    Well my take on that is they wanted us to be like our protestant brothers, and the Masons in the church were in charge and most likely still are.
    why is the altar still facing the people vs the east? Latin, it was to be preserved. Reverence?
    I am an advocate for the Mass of Pius V also, and can never understand why it worked for 500 yrs and all of a sudden it was gone

  9. Reply to Father:

    I hate motivational nonsense HOWEVER… I have a piece of paper with a message scribbled on it hanging across from where I sleep. It says : “DO HARD STUFF ”
    It’s hanging below my wall Crucifix avd I see it first thing every morning .
    Then I go and EMBRACE THE SUCK. You know the deal.
    Yes, you guys get bloodied more but remember it’s hardheads like me that got your six.
    Always lock and loaded with prayer.

    Go get ’em.

    [So, I’m watching this great tennis match … men’s doubles.
    Bergoglio & Spadoro vs. Zuhlsdorf & Peters.

    Point . Set. Match.
    Zuhlsdorf & Peters winners again !
    The Bryan Brothers got nothing on you two .
    Loving it .]

    [That’s nice. Thanks. However, the difference is that the other side has guys in brown shirts who come onto the court and beat us bloody if we win volleys.]

  10. Nancy D. says:

    Truth begets truth; error begets error.

  11. jaykay says:

    HighMass: “… and can never understand why it worked for 500 yrs and all of a sudden it was gone”

    But really, it was a lot more than 500 years, since the Missal of St. Pius V just codified the use of a rite that had essentially existed for close on 1,000 years, while permitting the continuation of other practices provided they were in existence more than 300 years. Nevertheless, across all these various rites there was a basic uniformity. It’s possible to access a comparison table on the web, like a spreadsheet, that puts all the parts of each rite together with the Roman (1570) and one can see how the similarities are far greater than the differences, which are really quite minor. So, it “worked” for close on 1,500 years. But D.G. it wasn’t totally “gone” – much to the chagrin of those in certain quarters. And, as we’ve known since S.P., it was never abrogated. Much to the chagrin… etc. ;)

  12. albinus1 says:

    It strikes me that saying that liturgical reforms are “irreversible” is a bit like saying that the science regarding some natural phenomenon is “settled.” The history of science shows that science is “settled” — until it isn’t.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  13. philosophicallyfrank says:

    I may have missed something; but, technically, the reform was “Sacrosanctum Concilium”, the mass that was subsequently produced was an intentional distortion of “Sacrosanctum Concilium”. As such, assuming that Pope Francis was referring to “Sacrosanctum Concilium” ( and, admittedly, he may not have been????); then he was on “somewhat” solid ground; although “irreversible” was not the best choice of words. Pope Francis is not known for precision in the words that he uses. He has claimed in the past that he is in complete accord with Church teaching; so, again, assuming that he is being honest; and at this point we have to do that, The good Lord may have had a reason for a papacy like Pope Francis’; following so many years of top-notch Popes. Even with so many years of good Popes; we still have had, and continue to have, bad Bishops. I would suggest that all of the problems that we are having in America, both religious, cultural and political are due to the Bishops not doing there job for the last half century. Actually, it can be said to go back to the early 1930s when President Franklyn Roosevelt bribed the Bishops with gov’t. money as part of his “New Deal” and we have suffered ever since.

  14. Traductora says:

    I think this is, like many things Francis, a cloud of squid ink squirted out to hide his real intentions and confuse and distract what he perceives as his enemies. The pathetic claim of “magisterial” for something that really can’t be just tops it off.

    That said, I think this has to do, not with the EF, but with the 1965 missal, which I have heard more and more people talking about. It wouldn’t be popular with the extremes on either side (it’s in the vernacular, and basically a translation of the old Low Mass with some simplifications) but it would be popular with the middle on both sides and hence would have a real chance of nudging out the current NO. Remember, the 1965 missal was the Novus Ordo until the secretive Bugnini coup, and, as I recall, it was fairly well received. Some people didn’t like the loss of Latin, but there was the option to continue to say it in Latin. And it continued with the chant movement that was in process at that time.

    Also, it was NOT versus populum rip-out-the-fixed-altars until the liturgical fringe started doing this and the bishops let them get away with it. But at that point, there were already rumors of a new form coming along. So essentially the current Novus Ordo is actually the interloper, since the 1965 missal was the one originally approved at VII.

    I read one liturgical expert – I don’t recall where, but it in either a Spanish or Italian source – saying that he or somebody was studying a reintroduction of the prayers at the foot of the altar (mostly removed from the 1965 missal), so I think there may be something going on that Francis wanted to nip in the bud. Hence the squid ink.

  15. oledocfarmer says:

    Glorious….I wasn’t quite sure how unstable and vulnerable the liturgical so-called reform is until now. If it were as secure and “set” as PF suggests, he wouldn’t have found it necessary to make his ridunkulous statement.

    All signs continue to be good. Come on, October 13th!

  16. Pingback: MONDAY CATHOLICA EDITION | Big Pulpit

  17. drforjc says:

    traductora: IIRC, portions the so called 65 missal could be said in the vernacular, but at minimum the Canon had to be in Latin. philisophicallyfrank: SC was a directive and what it asked for was done (whether well or poorly or is another question). I would be inclined to say that the authoritative directive of SC was fulfilled and can now be reevaluated.

  18. Athelstan says:

    Traductura,

    So essentially the current Novus Ordo is actually the interloper, since the 1965 missal was the one originally approved at VII.

    Actually, no.

    Sacrosanctum Concilium was a conciliar document. It was a *prescriptive* document. It could suggest changes, and it did suggest some. The Council did not have the authority to change one word of the missal, let alone issue an entirely new one. Only the Pope could do that.

    And starting in 1964, he did just that. He issued the instruction Inter Oecumenici, which a) implemented some changes prescribed in SC (i.e., more use of vernacular), b) did not address others (i.e., SC’s call for an expanded lectionary, which would wait until the Novus Ordo’s promulgation five years later), and did other things which SC did not ask for (i.e., suppression of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar). And this was always intended to be an *interim* reform. More reforms were ordered by Paul VI in 1967…and then in 1969, all was swept away in favor of a new missal. And that happened, too, because the Pope wanted and approved it.

    The idea (which simply will not die) that the 1965 reform was “the liturgy the Council ordered/asked for” simply is not tenable. It’s arguably closer to what it wanted. But really, by the time the ink was dry on SC, Paul VI and his liturgical commission had already moved on.

  19. Semper Gumby says:

    Thanks Dr. Peters, Fr. Z, and commenters.

  20. Imrahil says:

    Dear Athelstan,

    The Council did not have the authority to change one word of the missal, let alone issue an entirely new one.

    This is not true. It did have this authority (subject, of course, to assent by the Pope; as all conciliar acts are). It did not have the authority to hinder a subsequent Pope or Council to reverse such changes; also, it did not happen to use this authority directly. But it did have it.

    And Pope Benedict did, even though for a part of the Church that wanted it and not for the rest, reverse not only the 1969 changes but also some Things the Council did explicitly call for (such as suppression of the Prime). Nor was this a bad thing. Even setting aside the fact that the Council did not even teach with infallibility, these demands were not doctrinal but disciplinary. Now disciplinary acts of a Council do not bind on the Pope, or future Councils, or Catholics who get permission by the Pope or a future Council to do what they want to do.