Benedict XVI empowered a movement that will bring beauty back to the sanctuary and to the whole world.

I saw this in The Week.  My emphases and comments:

In defense of Pope Benedict and the Latin Mass

Twelve summers ago I entered a dusty little church in a Polish neighborhood in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., that Poles had abandoned long ago. It was a 45-minute drive from my home. The old, wooden high altar and the sanctuary it sat in had not been renovated, marked as they were by New York state as too historically important to endure the trendy changes of church architecture in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. The people there were a crusty lot, hardened by years of struggle between their own bishops and priests. Some were made saintly by this. Others were conspiracists, and grouchy.  A few seemed to be all of the above.  [Sounds about right.] I watched the women, young and old, adjust mantillas on their heads, and pray sotto voce. I marveled at the pious silence of the children. A few amateurs intoned the Gregorian chants for that day, as a priest quietly and efficiently offered the old Latin Mass. [Situation normal.]

Seven years ago this week, Pope Benedict would deliver the relief of my life. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] He declared that what we did in those days was legal. He affirmed what we told ourselves as we were chased out of that parish, that this form of worship had never been abolished and never ought to be. On the very portentous [c’mon… it’s either portentous or it isn’t] date of July 7, 2007, he issued the document Summorum Pontificum, which liberated that Mass. By doing so he established his legacy as a brave pope. He also did a great service for culture and the arts, for the whole world — even for nonbelievers. [Again, an “Amen!”? So far, Summorum Pontificum is one of the most important documents of the 21st century.]

Why does it matter to nonbelievers? Because beauty matters to everyone. In 1971, Agatha Christie, not a Catholic, was so appalled at the disappearance of the traditional Mass and the effect this would have on English culture that she signed a petition to Pope Paul VI to keep it alive in England. It read, in part:

The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts — not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians. [Traditio] [Paul VI was a great fan of Agatha Christie.  Sometimes the indult granted for England was called the “Agatha Christie Indult”.]

Because of Benedict’s intervention, my own parish in Norwalk, Conn., [Great place with a great parish priest!] is treated not only to Gregorian chant, but to Renaissance-era motets, and Masses composed by Morales and Monteverdi. It is an aesthetic high crime that so much of the modern church continues to force saccharine and theologically insipid hymns like “Here I am, Lord” on its people, while leaving William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus in a dusty attic. [Abandoning Latin slammed the door to the Church’s treasury of sacred music, thus robbing millions of the patrimony.  Thieves.  Also, back in the day, a group of advisors to the liturgy committee of the US bishops conference said that the purpose of music was to create a “human experience”.  FAIL!  Moreover, sacred music is not just an ad on.  It is PRAYER.  This makes me sooooo angry.]

Summorum came too late to save that community in Poughkeepsie. In the New York Archdiocese as then ruled by Cardinal Edward Egan, the offense of saying this Mass and publishing tracts in its favor was treated as a far more serious crime and scandal than clerical pederasty. [Exaggerating to make a point.] Cardinal Egan suspended my Poughkeepsie priest, and effectively exiled him from the life of the church. Priests who knew about the situation observed darkly that if he had raped children instead of saying this Mass, his career would have been better off. [Plus ça change…]

The modus operandi then was that these Latin Mass people — “the crazies,” as they were called in the archbishop’s office — [Many of the same people are still in the chancery there, btw.] should be contained in Saint Agnes in midtown Manhattan or in a few obscure parishes along the Hudson River. Egan was all too happy to see that Poughkeepsie parish closed and the building sold. He smudged us out like a penciled mistake.

Benedict’s intervention urged bishops to make every accommodation for communities like ours. He grounded this in a solid principle of religion, writing: “What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful.”

The growth of this movement within the church has been phenomenal. In 1988, there were 20 regularly scheduled and diocesan-approved Latin Masses in the United States. After Summorum Pontificum, there are now more than 500. And because the movement to restore beauty and solemnity to worship is growing, it is also becoming more mainstream and diverse, less “crusty” and forbidding as it seemed to me over a decade ago.

Benedict’s intervention was not perfect. [True.] His intellectual attempt to save the Council and the new Mass from criticism with a “hermeneutic of continuity” was a noble failure. [It’s a little too early to tell what the effect of the “gravitational pull” the use of two forms will create.] If the council intended continuity, why did it throw every aspect of Catholic worship up for possible revision in its documents?  [I don’t think it did.  The Council Fathers actually called for very few things to be done in the reform.  BUT… and this is huge… the “experts” who were handed the job used their position and the authority of the Council to run wayyyy beyond their mandate.  And the got Paul VI to sign off on the disaster.  If you want to know more about this, try the revelatory kiss-n-tell by Piero Marini.  An enemy of Benedict XVI’s vision, he describes the inner workings of and thought driving the Consilium.]Why was the council swiftly followed by the worst spasm of iconoclasm in the history of the church — a tearing down of altars, images, statues —


and a hasty revision to nearly every part of Catholic life? [Change the way we pray and you will change what we believe and, therefore, how we behave as Catholics.]

A first-year student of religious studies would recognize that changing a religion’s central act of worship — altering the rationales for it, modifying all its physical and verbal aspects — is not merely an “update” or sign of organic growth and maturation, but a mixture of vandalism and revolution. Even today, as more young and growing families attach themselves to the ancient rite, rearguard apologists for the 1960s insist on a 1930s critique that the old Mass cannot speak to modern man. But that is another, sadder essay.

Luckily, the maligned and misunderstood Pope Benedict made this generous gesture to embattled Latin Massers seven years ago. It has empowered a movement in the church that will bring back beauty not only to the sanctuary, but to the whole world as well.

Well done.

Sounds a little familiar.

What does that remind me of?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Be The Maquis, Fr. Z KUDOS, Hard-Identity Catholicism, HONORED GUESTS, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    Summorum Pontificum, Seven Years On, by Nicholas Frankovich, for First Things.

  2. NBW says:

    I miss Pope Benedict.

  3. Robbie says:

    I follow Michael Dougherty on Twitter. For those who use Twitter, he often offers interesting takes on the Vatican and other Church issues. He attends a FSSP church and he is a great advocate traditional Catholicism.

  4. iPadre says:

    Spot on! A good friend of mine from a diocese south of us has often said: “In the future, they will judge us to be insane and destroy everything that reminds us of this horrible times.” I think he’s right on also.

  5. Priam1184 says:

    It may be possible that one day, a day I probably won’t live to see, Summorum Pontificum might just be considered as one of the great events of the 21st century of the Incarnation.

  6. Random Friar says:

    I, for one, am pleased with the “gravitational pull” that SP has engendered. In my experience, many of my confreres, even if leery of the Latin Mass (Roman or Dominican), has become far more accepting of greater reverence in the Mass.

    I’ve experienced fewer and far fewer liturgies that make my skin crawl, or have me question the validity. There is some generational grumbling, yes, but that will pass in a generation
    or two. I am reverently giddy at the quality of seminarians and brothers in formation.

    YMMV, or course, but overall, it is right and meet to give thanks for SP.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    “I, for one, am pleased with the ‘gravitational pull’ that SP has engendered”

    We need much more of that!

  8. jflare says:

    “…there are now more than 500”

    Given what I have witnessed of the typical offering of the Novus Ordo and given the number of churches in these United States, I think that number could be fairly tragic.
    I grant that it’ll take time, but still, if SP were being accepted the way it could or should be, I should think that number should approach 5,000.
    Prayer and time, I suppose.

  9. excalibur says:

    The 85(!) year old pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Port Chester, NY just retired. He was doing a Latin Mass every Sunday, attended by, among others, Alice von Hildebrand. The new pastor, who is from Poland (the parish is aka the ‘Polish Church’), thus they have Mass in Polish as well. But I digress. The new pastor has asked Monsignor to stay on and help, and especially help him learn the Mass in Latin.

  10. Charles E Flynn says:

    From Alice von Hildebrand: Reflecting on a Life of Teaching, Scholarship, and Prayer, by Jim Graves, for the Catholic World Report:

    CWR: You have spoken and written about your preference for the pre-Vatican II liturgy. Could you explain?

    Von Hildebrand: Well, first of all, as my husband said from day one, the New Mass is valid. But, it is impoverished. The Tridentine Mass is more God-centered.

    Now I’m getting very old, and I’m finding it hard to concentrate at Mass. However, when I attend the Tridentine Mass, I think, this is the Mass that St. Therese of Lisieux, Don Bosco, St. Francis of Assisi and so many other great saints attended. It gives me wings and carries me.

    The Novus Ordo is a rupture from the liturgical tradition of the Church. It is valid, but it is not as noble as the old rite.

    I met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger three times in private audiences before he became pope, in 1984, 1985, and 1991. Every time I begged him for his support for the Tridentine Mass. And, in 2007, I had a private audience with him as pope. I again requested his support for the Tridentine Mass. With a sweet smile, he said, “Very soon, indeed very soon.” And, a short time later, he granted an indult allowing priests to say the Tridentine Mass [the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum].

    CWR: Do you believe the Church will return greater use of the traditional liturgy?

    Von Hildebrand: I’m no prophet, but I pray for it.

    CWR: We look forward to the release of your memoirs.

    Von Hildebrand: Thank you. I think you’ll find it an interesting book with some amazing stories.

  11. unavoceman says:

    IMHO – St. Mary’s Norwalk is simply a model for how to do this right. A Latin Mass and choir of almost paralyzing beauty on any given Sunday. Great pastor is putting it mildly. If you want only a faint idea of where this place is coming from, go to their website, put on your headphones and listen – the most beautiful selections of chant you will hear anywhere online.

  12. Matt R says:

    Yes, unavoceman, I would agree. I had the pleasure of meeting their choir director, David Hughes, at the CMAA Colloquium. He is fantastic, and the St. Gregory Society has done wonders in organizing the traditional liturgy in CT.

  13. paulbailes says:

    May one respectfully correct Alice von H, where she is quoted in reference to BXVI and SP: “… he granted an indult allowing priests to say the Tridentine Mass”: SP is*not* an indult, rather it concedes that priests’ right to offer the TLM had never been abolished and thus no indult necessary.

    The unexplored implication of this is of course the injustice of JPII’s 1984 indult (reiterated in 1988): JPII thereby and falsely reinforced the idea that the TLM needed some kind of special permission, which (among others) Abp Lefebvre & co. never conceded.

  14. Gratias says:

    What a powerful thought: “apologists for the 1960s insist on a 1930s critique that the old Mass cannot speak to modern man”.

    Saint John XXIII chose a very bad time to fundamentally transform the Catholic Church, now fixed in the ways of the 1960s, by convening the Vatican Council II. It is true that the triumphant Modernism started long before the Council.

  15. Gratias says:

    “Cardinal Egan suspended my Poughkeepsie priest, and effectively exiled him from the life of the church. ” In my limited experience, 9 years of diocesan TLM in a parish about one hour from where I live in Los Angeles, I have personally seen three (3 !) priests sent into faraway exile for the offense of offering the Latin mass.

    Benedict XVI gave the Vatican II Church establishment an enduring problem.

  16. Mike says:

    Thanks be to God, I’ll attend Traditional Mass at beautifully preserved Old St. Mary’s in Chinatown DC in a few hours. May the Truth of Christ Who is so reverently offered on its altars pour forth into a world that badly needs it.

  17. jacobi says:

    Yes, SP was the start. But it will take time.

    The growth of the Traditional orders, the increase of young priests with fresh minds, the decline of Discontinuity as the Old Guard die off, will see to that. Also as bishop Schneider has said, a Syllabus of Erroneous Interpretations of Vat II will be necessary, and another Council.

  18. Joseph-Mary says:

    It did sadden my heart to read that abusive priests in the past were given more mercy and more of a pass than a priest offering the Vetus Ordo. It shows the influence of the demonic, I think. The devil hates Mass to begin with but the Traditional Latin Mass with a particular fury and he has had his way in nearly abolishing it. The growth in its appreciate is slow but steady.
    The suppression of the Franciscans of the Immaculate’s right to offer the Vetus Ordo shows there is still a dislike for that Liturgy in high places.

  19. Sonshine135 says:

    Wow! What an article. It really tugs at my heartstrings. I can recall when I first started “waking up” from the Modern Mass Matrix how absolutely saddened I was that the church threw away the Tridentine Mass, and how that sadness turned to anger. For all of the “pastoral care” given to odd, strange, alien forms of worship, the lack of this care for those who love the older form is absolutely lacking. I now consider this to be suffering for my own sanctification, and I am mostly done with the anger, although concupiscence rears its ugly head from time to time.

    There is great hope. The latest crop of young Priests in my diocese are fluent in the older form of the Mass. The biological solution is taking hold. The days of those who fought to make the church something it isn’t are numbered. They will be the wacko offshoots one day, or quietly fade into obscurity. I look forward to the day the older form is made more readily available- when 500 Parishes are 5000.

  20. Andrew says:

    Benedict XVI also founded the Academy of Latin – which intends to deal with the other essential element of restoration, namely, the diffusion of the Church’s language. Interestingly enough, actually, curiously enough, there is very little traction from Catholics in that regard. The Pope’s founding document makes some pertinent statements, namely:

    There is an urgent necessity that Latin be known and USED.

    In the Church and in the larger cultural camp.

    By using appropriate teaching methods.

    By promoting the activities between institutions and interested parties (1)

    In my opinion, as long as knowledge of Latin continues to be neglected, there can be no meaningful liturgical sanation. Impossible! Not that everyone needs to know Latin, but at least some, at least the celebrant. Otherwise what do you have? Fancy vestments, lots of smoke, and nobody understand a word. Is that an ideal to strive for? Some people even suggest that it is something of a benefit not to understand Latin. That it makes it ‘mysterious’. Really? That kind of ‘mystery’ is called ‘ignorance’.

    (1) There is a hint in that, meaning, that the Church needs to be able to help all those who wish to learn Latin. As it is, presently, even our clergy turn to secular institutions for help, because there is so little instruction available in the Church.

  21. Imrahil says:

    As for the changes by the Council,

    I might say that the writer and our reverend host are both right.

    Am I a relativist? No, of course not.

    The thing is: The Council talked about a lot of things in detail, and basically said they should remain as they were. (With exceptions: the suppression of the Prime a rather unprecedented one, e. g.)

    Yet besides these regulations on the detail, it cannot be denied that Sacrosanctum Concilium also does, in other phrases, call for a major reform. We might wonder how any major reform following the council – with leaving all the things as they were the Council wants to be left as they were, and then even following the catch-all clause that no change is to be done unless necessary, slowly, and certainly positive – might possibly consist in,

    but it can cannot be doubted that a major reform certainly was called for (and, in unfriendly words, the traditional Roman Rite judged insufficient) in the Council. The words the Council uses cannot be implied to describe a mere re-edition as was in use all the time.

    Note that this is disciplinary matter. We are not bound to in doctrine, and as for legal obedience, the current law is Summorum pontificum.

  22. robtbrown says:

    Im rahi l,

    The quality of the VatII documents varies. SC isn’t very good, but I don’t think it can be read as a mandate to produce a new rite.

  23. Andrew says:

    Without a doubt, one of the most interesting stories in the controversy over the decision of the Holy See to abandon the centuries old Latin liturgy, was the petition by a large amount of individuals in public life, mainly from the United Kingdom, sent to Rome, asking that this not happen.

    The petitioners said the decision was akin to destroying some of the most well known cathedrals in Europe.

    Paul VI allegedly went down the list of names and said, “Ah, Agatha Christie”. For this reason, a decision in 1971 from the Vatican to allow a diluted version of the Latin Mass in Britain, (no Last Gospel, no Leonine Prayers and no silent parts to the Mass) was nicknamed, “the Agatha Christie Indult”

    As the article stated, Agatha Chrisite was not even a Catholic. Who were some other signatories? Jewish violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Australian opera star Dame Joan Sutherland, famous British art historian Kenneth Clark, and many others, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

    In arguing for the supremacy of the old Roman Rite, a supporting argument can also be that the Latin liturgy is a monument to Western culture, and countless pieces of music, architecture and literataure were inspired by it. One does not have to have the gift of the Catholic faith, in order to appreciate this. I once mentioned this subject around a dinner table, and a young Greek Orthodox poet agreed passionately, saying, “Here, here”.

    When any great world event happened in history, one can be assured a Latin Mass was celebrated not very far away.

  24. LeeF says:

    As someone who does not attend the EF, but supports it, I think the primary issues now are: 1) new priests coming out of seminaries with little to no knowledge of Latin, and 2) the issue discussed here in the past, of diocesan bishops refusing to take responsibility for providing priests capable of saying the EF in Latin, in the same way they do for Spanish and other languages, as opposed to the EF laity having to scour the countryside to find such a priest.

    Regarding 2), there needs to be a test case if there has not already been one, of laity requesting an ordinary to provide a priest for the EF after the loss of their regular such priest, the bishop refusing explicitly or by omission, and then an appeal being made to Ecclesia Dei. Rome needs to force ordinaries to own this responsibility. And it should be remembered that virtually every diocese has priests trained in Latin, usually more than one, who function or have functioned as judicial vicars on the marriage tribunal.

  25. SaintJude6 says:

    I think it would be very interesting to see what effects the Catholic homeschooling movement is having on the return to the Latin Mass. At our FSSP parish, there are many large homeschooling families. Catholic homeschoolers have discovered the importance of Latin not only as an academic subject, but as part of their children’s cultural heritage. My convert husband would probably not have been as open to the idea of attending the TLM if it weren’t for the fact that all of our children began studying Latin in second grade. Now he will only attend the Novus Ordo as a last resort.

  26. majuscule says:

    Recently I attended a Latin Mass Workshop in a parish about an hour from me. After an in-depth explanation of the Mass (two hours and I could have listened much longer) we entered the church for an actual High Mass with a scola. Then we had lunch and a Q&A period.

    This was held at a parish that is also home to a monastery. The parish itself has its own priests who celebrate the Ordinary Form Mass daily. But the priests from the monastery celebrate a TLM Mon-Fri and on Sunday. (They can also celebrate the OF and the Divine Liturgy!)

    Check out the Contemplatives of St. Joseph website and don’t miss the video on this page (Probably aimed more at vocations but interesting to all).

    This is happening in a quiet way in The Archdiocese of San Francisco!

  27. Jack Orlando says:

    In all these discussions, nothing about the Divine Office, in either Form. It might as well not even exist.

  28. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Divine Office as a private devotion is quietly making a big comeback, in all forms. Being able to read it on the phone or tablet makes a big difference, as do free apps like iBreviary. It fits very easily into one’s day.

    As a public devotion, in churches and chapels, it pretty much varies by the place. Certainly there seems to be a lot more use of it these days than any time in the past 40 years. The private devotion will probably lead to more public devotion, as does the interest in the music of the Office.

  29. AJS says:

    The Divine Office is most assuredly not a “devotion.”

    It is the public Liturgy of the Church and the Latin west has become liturgically impoverished by the relegation of the Office to private recitation. One of the most tragic parts of the aftermath of Vatican II has been the near total ignoring of the Council’s call for a restoration of the Offices in the public Liturgical Life of the Church.

  30. cajuncath says:

    As in all things, I think we need to candidly look at the full truth of the matter.

    The Sacrosanctum Concilium document itself from Second Vatican is a questionable document that does not comport well with a traditional Catholic mindset and values. Aside from the host of questionable statements throughout, in the document’s very beginning, we are told that liturgical reform is to be undertaken. Why? For the so-called needs of our times and to appeal to non-Catholics so they may be induced to enter the Church. Since when is either of these a sound basis upon which to call for a so-called reform of sacred treasured worship? They really aren’t.

    As for the experts who created the reform, Fr. Z., it is far from clear that they went beyond any mandate. And if they somehow did, it was with the full blessing and approval of Pope Paul VI. They certainly acted within his mandate, and he fully and knowningly approved what they produced. Years later, he would proudly proclaim that their work had give us a reform whose benefits are splendid and wonderful.

    Pope John Paul II fully supported the reform, and in 1988 told us that the liturgical reform was one of the greatest fruits we were enjoying from the Second Vatican Council. Both of these popes made quite clear that they fully embraced the liturgical reform as actually enacted, considered it a success, and that is was fully aligned with what Second Vatican Council called for.

    While Pope Benedict XVI’s views may not entirely comport with those of these two popes, and SP is a laudable achievement, it appears as well that Pope Bendict XVI supported the essence, at least, of liturgical reform, and had no intention of returning us back to the fullness of traditional worship. With a few translation adjustments, Novus Ordo worship continued to sail on throughout his pontificate, and with his approval.

    Now with Pope Francis, we are told that young people attending and embracing traditional worship are engaged in fads and fashions to be humored and indulged.

    The liturgical decline, to put it politely, that has infested the Church since 1970 is not merely the doings of some shadowy cabal of experts or dissenters or so-called liberals. It has been overseen and, in effect, approved by our popes, however well-intentioned they may have been.

  31. Jack Orlando says:

    In reply to cajuncath:

    aside from the host of questionable statements throughout
    What questionable statements? Since when is “The Paschal Mystery” a questionable statement? It wasn’t questionable for Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul.

    For the so-called needs of our times and to appeal to non-Catholics so they may be induced to enter the Church.
    It wasn’t so-called for St. Peter in the conversion of Cornelius, nor for St. Paul in the conversion of the Gentiles, nor for the 1st Ecumenical Council, the Council of Jerusalem, ca. a.D. 50.

    Since when is either of these a sound basis upon which to call for a so-called reform of sacred treasured worship? They really aren’t.
    So let’s go back to saying Holy Mass in Greek? in Aramaic?

    As for the experts who created the reform, Fr. Z., it is far from clear that they went beyond any mandate
    It’s quite clear. SC called for a new lectionary, the prayers of the faithful, and little else. It wanted Latin and Gregorian Chant. It did NOT call for facing ad populum, communion in the hand, banal music, clown Masses etc. It DID call for a much needed reform of the Divine Office.

    The candid truth is that SC if is fine and Bugnini & Co. went beyond its mandate with the Mass. (They did a good job with the Office). Once again, those who claim to represent tradition need to know just what the tradition is.

  32. benedetta says:

    What a hideous state of darkness in the Church in which Church authorities would deal with a priest willing to celebrate the usus antiquior worse than a child abuser. Thank God that the next generation are being prepared to not stand for that.

    A pastor who sincerely cares for the faith of the young people in his care will see to it that they have an opportunity to worship in all the forms of the Mass that Holy Mother Church provides. Anyone who denies young Catholics this because of their own personal preferences, bias, generational pull, or even hatred in their hearts is not really fit to lead them spiritually. The chance to truly pray that the EF offers could be the one chance that a young person may receive in the times such as they are. Who wouldn’t let that happen. For the good of the Church, and her future.

  33. mr_anthony says:

    In the past I attended the EF at St. Agnes in midtown.

    However, now it’s too much of a slog to make the trip, so I attend my nearest parish, which is much more typical of the Church at large.

    I fully support the Extraordinary Form, but what I’d really like to see is an improvement in the Norvus Ordo. I’m not so snobby as to expect everyone to silently hang on every Latin word, but the guitars and balloons of the last 50 years need to put away. It’s like we don’t have any self respect.

  34. Chris in Maryland 2 says:

    I think mr_anthony just struck a chord: “Catholics don’t have any self respect.”

    American Catholics, like average Americans, give a lot of lip service to “diversity” and “multi-culturalism” and “multi-lingualism.”

    When we look at people who do have a culture and take themselves seriously – what do we see? We see for example, Jewish parents sending their children to Hebrew School – where they learn the language of their Jewish culture: Hebrew.

    Catholicism is, like Judaism, is a real culture. It has its own music: Chant, and its own language (s): Latin (and Greek).

    If we take ourselves seriously, we will study and preserve our culture and language. We will do what serious Jewish people do: send out children to Latin School.

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