Peter Kwasniewski: Why tradition is important and reverence alone isn’t enough

Over a Rorate there is something so good that it compels me to overcome even their animosity toward me, extend an olive branch again, and direct you there to read patiently and completely.  Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College (where students can’t have cellphones but they can have guns) did a presentation for the new translation into Czech of his fine book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church.  US HERE UK HERE

Peter makes an argument, reflected in the talk’s title: “Reverence Is Not Enough: On the Importance of Tradition”

Here are a couple samples with my emphases and comments:


But after this extended metaphor, an objection might be raised. “Why is tradition so important? Isn’t it enough just to have a reverent liturgy?  As long as we are sincere in our intentions and serious about our prayer, all these other things—the language of our worship, the type of music, the direction of the priest at the altar, the way people receive communion, whether or not we keep the same readings and prayers that Catholics used for centuries, and so forth—are just incidental or accidental features. They are ‘externals,’ and Jesus taught us that externals aren’t the main thing in religion.” [All of us who have promoted the traditional Roman Rite have heard this countless times.  Right?  “The Novus Ordo where I go is reverent!  Don’t tell me that that isn’t enough!”  I say, it might be enough, but why not have more.  To use one of my old analogies, a grown man can survive on jarred baby food, but he won’t thrive.  He needs a steak and cabernet.  At the same time, many people today have to be brought carefully, prudently, to the steak and cabernet so that they, unready, are not overwhelmed.]

There is, of course, some truth to this objection. Our intentions are indeed fundamental. If a non-believer pretended to get baptized as part of a play on stage, he would not really become a Christian. No externals by themselves will ever guarantee that we are worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth (cf. Jn 4:23–24), and an attitude of reverence and seriousness is the most crucial requirement of the ars celebrandi. Nevertheless, I believe that the objection as stated is erroneous, and dangerously so, because it presumes (and thereby fosters) a radical transformation of the very nature of the Catholic religion under the influence of Enlightenment philosophy.

Prior to all arguments about which practice is better or worse is the overarching principle of the primacy of tradition, meaning the inherent claim that our religious inheritance, handed down from our forefathers, makes on us. We do not “own” this gift, much less “produce” it. Tradition comes to us from above, from God who providentially designed us as social animals who inherit our language, our culture, and our religion; it comes to us from our ancestors, who are called antecessores in Latin—literally, the ones who have gone before.[3] They are ahead of us, not behind us; they have finished running the race, and we stand to benefit from their collective wisdom. [That’s a good insight.  Our forebears are ahead of us!] St. Paul states the principle in 1 Thessalonians 4:1: “We pray and beseech you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, so also you would walk, that you may abound the more.”

[NB] The rejection of tradition and the cult of change embodies a peculiarly modern attitude of “mastery over tradition,” which is the social equivalent of Baconian and Cartesian “mastery over nature.” The combination of capitalism and technology has allowed us to abuse the natural world, treating it as raw material for exploitation, in pursuit of the satisfaction of our selfish desires. In a similar way, the influence of rationalism and individualism has tempted us to treat Catholic tradition as if it were a collection of isolated facts from which we, who are autonomous and superior, can make whatever selection pleases us. In adopting this arrogant stance, we fail to recognize, with creaturely humility, that our rationality is socially constituted and tradition-dependent. By failing to honor our antecessores, we fail to live according to our political nature and our Christian dignity as recipients of a concrete historical revelation that endures and develops organically over time and space. [Superb.]


Kwasniewski later in his talk does something quite useful: He shows the contrast between Joseph Ratzinger’s view of liturgy and Walter Kasper’s! There’s quite a bit to it, but here are a couple tastes…


[On the topic of how the Novus Ordo is often implemented…] Every celebration is, in a sense, a new project, a new compilation, a new construct of the human agents involved. Even if the same “traditional” options were to be chosen as a rule, the very fact that they are chosen and could be otherwise makes the liturgy not so much an opus Dei as an opus hominis.[10] [A “work of human hands”?]

This voluntaristic malleability of the liturgy, joined with an emphasis on local adaptation and continual evolution, is precisely the liturgical equivalent of the decades-long dispute between Walter Kasper and Joseph Ratzinger in the sphere of ecclesiology. For Ratzinger, the universal Church and its sole Lord and Savior take precedence[11]—and therefore the liturgy, which is the act par excellence of Christ and His Mystical Body, should embody, express, and inculcate exactly this universality, the faith of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”


In contrast, we see Cardinal Kasper’s group-based “ecclesiology from below” reflected in the localist Novus Ordo Missae—not in its abuses, but in its essence as a matrix of possibilities destined to receive its “inculturated” form from priests and people at each celebration. It is a liturgy in a constant state of fermentation, re-visioning, re-invention, which is antithetical to orthodoxy in its original meaning of “right-worship-and-right-doctrine.” It is worth pointing out that proponents of Kasperian ecclesiology and liturgy also tend to repudiate Constantinian Christianity and its universalizing aspiration to “re-establish all things in Christ” (Eph 1:10). This is because they hold, with Karl Rahner, [yep… there he is… lurking…] than every man is already Christian at some level, and that the world as such, the secular world, is already holy. [Well done.  Rahner thought – and this really bad idea has had serious and deep consequences for those upon whom it was thrust in seminaries and universities and therefore congregations after them, that sacraments mark pre-exiting realities.  Think about how that starting point would affect every single liturgical choice, right down to architecture!] Thus there is no clear distinction between ad intra and ad extra, between sanctuary and nave, between minister and congregation, between tradition and innovation, or even between sacred and profane. All things collapse into immanence, into the choice of the moment, the quest for instant inculturation, the transient emotional connection, the self-proclamation of the group. It is a liturgy of the Enlightenment, ahistorical, sociable, accessible, efficient, unthreatening. It is supposed to be pleasant, convenient, thoroughly free of magic, myth, or menace. There must not be any of that primitive or medieval mysterium tremendens et fascinans, [A phrase from Rudolf Otto which I use all the time when talking about the ends of sacred liturgical worship.] none of that groveling of slaves to their masters: we are grown-ups who can treat with God as equals.  [Sound familiar?] As a matter of fact, we will edit out “difficult” passages from Sacred Scripture and rewrite “difficult” prayers so that offenses or challenges to our modern way of life will be, if not eliminated, then at least kept to a polite minimum. [And there is the connection to reinterpretation of Scripture, such as Christ’s teaching about indissolubility of marriage.  Add to that the Church’s teaching about scandal and about reception of Communion in the state of grace.  Everything is up for grabs!]


This is excellent stuff. Peter also underscored Kasper’s approach to interpretation of Scripture. Scripture is constantly to be reinterpreted according to the times. What it once meant doesn’t confine us now. We interpret Scripture differently than our ancestors did. Thus, Christ’s strong and clear injunction about matrimony does mean what it meant. You get this also in his latest offering in Stimmen der Zeit about Communion for the divorced and remarried in Amoris laetitia.  Robert Stark, in CWR, some time ago described Kasper has replacing philosophy with politics: majority rule can change interpretation of Scripture, doctrine, whatever.

In any event, you might head over there and read the whole thing. It is worth the time and trouble.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. JabbaPapa says:

    oh this is MUCH better than the usual fare from Rorate — oh, and they hate me too, sympathies

  2. Camillo says:

    Cardinal Kasper is not alone, sadly, nor he is isolated within the hierarchy, if we consider some Cardinals of the last decades. Alas for us, last days an Argentinian catholic thomistic philosopher has passed away: Alberto Caturelli. Eight years ago he wrote a book about some problems in those times exposed by Card. Carlo M. Martini († 2012). Today, reading this book is shocking, because very exactly the same ideas posed by Cardinal Martini are currently repeated everywhere ad nauseam. Therefore, we can understand many of the events we can see right now. For instance, Card. Martini wrote: “Martin Luther was a great reformer. The most important thing is certainly his love for Sacred Scripture from which he has extracted good ideas”. (Here you can read -in spanish- an abstract of Caturelli’s writing about these matters:
    Buon soggiorno a Roma, Dear Father; we are waiting more good pictures and your interesting comments (be careful with l’odore di pecore questi giorni).

  3. Pingback: WEDNESDAY EXTRA | Big Pulpit

  4. Kent Wendler says:

    It sounds like Card. Kasper, et. al., are soul mates to Justice Ginsburg, et. al., with her idea of a “living” Constitution. Both are constructing on the crests of active sand dunes.

  5. rwj says:

    Funny how just yesterday the Lectionary (at least the disposable version my parish uses) ‘permitted’ skipping part of the first reading EPH 5:21-33 about wife’s subordination- (beautiful reading about marriage as well as Ecclesiology.)

    It reminds me of how the opening mass of the so call Synod of Bishops featured, ironically, the beginning of Mark 10 (Jesus’ teaching: divorce + remarriage = adultery) and yet Kasper’s babbling is where we are today.

    Clearly, whatever motivates all the little Luthers today, Cardinals or otherwise, its neither Scripture or Tradition.

  6. jameeka says:

    Yes, this is excellent stuff. Great metaphor about the earthquake too.
    This lecture outlines precisely the manifold reasons modernists are, or should be, VERY afraid of tradition.

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    rwj :

    Funny how just yesterday the Lectionary (at least the disposable version my parish uses) ‘permitted’ skipping part of the first reading EPH 5:21-33 about wife’s subordination

    {5:22} Mulieres viris suis subditæ sint, sicut Domino:
    {5:23} quoniam vir caput est mulieris: sicut Christus caput est Ecclesiæ: Ipse, salvator corporis eius.
    {5:24} Sed sicut Ecclesia subiecta est Christo, ita et mulieres viris suis in omnibus.
    {5:25} Viri, diligite uxores vestras, sicut et Christus dilexit Ecclesiam, et seipsum tradidit pro ea,
    {5:26} ut illam sanctificaret, mundans lavacro aquæ in Verbo vitæ,
    {5:27} ut exhiberet ipse sibi gloriosam Ecclesiam, non habentem maculam, aut rugam, aut aliquid huiusmodi, sed ut sit sancta et immaculata.
    {5:28} Ita et viri debent diligere uxores suas ut corpora sua. Qui suam uxorem diligit, seipsum diligit.

    Frequently mistranslated, and the Greek is even clearer, this passage does not “subordinate” wives to husbands, but it establishes mutual surrender in the Church and in God and to each other in Sacramental Grace.

    The imperative in 5:25 “diligite” is very frequently watered-down, but it means “bind yourselves to”.

    This lucid passage is well aware of the different gifts and needs of husbands and wives, so it advises and orders the mutual benefits of willing matrimonial and sacramental service to each other, each according to his or her character, as constituting Matrimony, for the salvation of souls.

    This is not a top-down worldly relationship of “boss and subordinate”. It is a relationship of the obedient with the obedient, in obedience to each other.

  8. OldLady says:

    The connection between the destruction of the earth and the destruction of tradition within society and the Church is but a continuation of the temptation in the Garden. The farther we think we get from the Garden in our “progress”, the closer we seem to be . Like a hamster in a wheel, never getting beyond where we started unable to let go of the craving for human progress, to just get “somewhere” beyond where we are at the moment; we forget to stop spinning, get off the wheel and turn toward God. It is no coincidence that we have to debate turning toward God in Mass.

  9. Tom A. says:

    Why must trads keep sniping at each other. The enemy is modernism.

  10. Jack Orlando says:

    Fr. Z: thank for mentioning Rudolf Otto. Does Kwasniewski have something to say about the old vs. the new lectionary? Something to say about the Divine Office vs. the Liturgy of the Hours? I am NOT trying to open rabbit holes. I just want to know if Kwaskiewski, and he alone, has something to say about this topics.

  11. rwj says:

    Amen JabbaPapa!
    “this passage does not “subordinate” wives to husbands, but it establishes mutual surrender in the Church and in God and to each other in Sacramental Grace.”

    Exactly what I preached!

    My comment in reference to Fr. Z’s Post/ Comments was to note that Scripture/Tradition was not the starting place for the actions of the Kasperites’ quest, rather it was some other temporal reason(s).
    Similarly, I believe the editor of our lectionary for some reason aside from service to God and His Church and Divine Revelation– sought to blot out what may appear to some to be a difficult passage.

    Some professors I had..of a certain age.. in the seminary, used to talk up the mission of the priest to ‘break open the word’ when preaching’ which I do believe to be mostly true, and I find it rather effective. Some now are so eager to censor parts of the Word, hmm.

  12. marianna331 says:

    I read this article in its entirety on Rorate and I would add that, although much better than attending a NO Mass , just going to TLM on a Sunday is not enough. The richness of the old calendar and the breviary and the other sacraments , as mentioned in the article , all superior to the ones in NO parishes.
    I am forever thankful for my TLM parish

  13. Thomas Sweeney says:

    The trouble with modernism is that there is no anchor. Much of what they teach and adhere to is spur of the moment, a very weak, and impossible attempt to make us all happy. And as we all know, happiness is the end product of performing your duty, that duty has been enunciated by over 2000 years of tradition. So without a firm grounding in tradition, especially the mass, like the ship without an anchor, we will continue to drift.

  14. arga says:

    I read it too — a terrific piece, admirably frank and persuasive. I wish the author would temper his criticism of the pope somewhat, though, which is often is as bitterly hostile and contemptuous as the most rapid anti-Catholic.

    [I must call you out on that claim about Peter Kwasniewski. You have, as far as I know, verged into calumny. I’ve read a good deal of what he has written. I have indeed found criticisms of some decisions made by Pope Francis. I haven’t read any harsh statements about his person. And I haven’t found anything in his writing so far that could be described as “bitterly hostile and contemptuous as the most rapid anti-Catholic”. We Catholics owe the Roman Pontiff respect and the support of prayers. We don’t owe him idolatry or cringing acquiescence to every single thing, regardless of its subject matter, that he might say or do. So, perhaps you might rethink, or retract, or back up your accusation. I’m not Peter’s lawyer, but this ad hominem should be addressed. If it is true, in charity we should point it out and hope that he will take it to heart. If it is false, in charity and justice you should not be saying that. Right?]

  15. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    It’s good to see him referring in footnote 6 to “the Roman or Byzantine liturgy” in which I suppose he includes Latin Uses and which I suppose he would extrapolate to other ancient yet living liturgical traditions. It would be interesting to see him discuss together in detail “the Corruption Theory” he sketches in footnote 8 and the liturgical reforming work of the Council of Trent and Pope St. Pius V. But what would he – or does he elsewhere – say about the use of settings of the Ordinary and Gradual and the Requiem and Office and Psalm texts down the ages?

  16. Geoffrey says:

    I don’t know that I would agree with this premise: “Why tradition is important and reverence alone isn’t enough”. I would venture to say that reverence is traditional.

  17. ach7990 says:

    “The combination of capitalism and technology has allowed us to abuse the natural world, treating it as raw material for exploitation, in pursuit of the satisfaction of our selfish desires.”

    This does not sound like something you’d agree with Fr. Z. And it’s precisely this oddball hatred of capitalism coming from the mouths of traditionalists that makes me avoid their literature. Kwasniewski is an avowed “distributist” and anti-capitalist.

    [What’s your point? Is it that you want to make this into a discussion of capitalism? It seems as if his main point is about liturgy and tradition. Is your point that I should not agree with what he wrote about liturgy because you think I don’t agree with him about distributism? Is your point that if he is a distributist then I should not have posted this? What’s your point?]

  18. JonPatrick says:

    Geoffrey, can one really have reverence without all of the rest of Tradition as the professor describes? For example, can a Mass truly be reverent if one is receiving communion in the hand standing? We are then saying that we believe that Jesus is truly and objectively present in the consecrated elements but our actions betray our true feelings, because if we REALLY thought Jesus was present we would be on our knees.

  19. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    JonPatrick asks, “For example, can a Mass truly be reverent if one is receiving communion in the hand standing?” It would seem to have been so in the early history of the Church. There are at least theoretical dangers (I do not say, actualized by the author) of taking the perception of “a concrete historical revelation that endures and develops organically over time and space” and turning it (unconsciously, with the best of conscious intentions) into various sorts of historicist, progressivist, evolutionary deterministic ideology which pretends to render Providence scrutable.

  20. MarylandBill says:

    “We are grownups who can treat with God as equals.” This phrase, perhaps more than any other distresses me to no end. I believe that the Ordinary Form of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, when performed reverently, and perhaps Ad Orientem and in Latin can be convey our Tradition forward. The problem of course is the attitude with which it has all too often been performed. The priest becomes the focus (and hence the desire by progressives to open up the priesthood to women), and it is opened up to innovations to allow more “inclusion”. All of this stems from the conviction that we are in some way equal to God. If we all recognized that we are totally unworthy of the gift of the Mass, of the terrible responsibility the Priest bears… Of how humble God has made himself in the Eucharist, and how prideful we often are when we accept it, I think a revolution would sweep the Church. As it is, if we think of ourselves equal to God, then why should the Church or indeed even God have any authority over us.

  21. Tom A. says:

    High Anglicanism has lots of reverence but it lacks true Tradition.

  22. arga says:

    My reply to Fr. Z’s critique of my post above: I was thinking of material I’ve seen posted in Rorate Coeli; so I concede this mistake: I imagine that PK doesn’t write everything I read on RC so it is possible that material I am thinking of wasn’t written by him. I am not sure what his role is there. Is he the editor? The main writer? Anyway I stand by my claim that material I’ve read on that site does fit my description. Father, you referred to “their animosity toward me” but I wasn’t aware of any. Can you explain?

  23. Henry Edwards says:

    Jack Orlando: ” Does Kwasniewski have something to say about the old vs. the new lectionary?”

    Indeed, Kwasniewski has frequently written about the difference between the old and new lectionaries, e.g.,

    Is Reading More Scripture at Mass Always Better?

    Not Just More Scripture But Different Scripture

    The Loss of Liturgical Riches in the Sanctoral Cycle

  24. JabbaPapa says:

    Pray for me please.

    I seem to be called very VERY suddenly by our Lord towards a long Winter Pilgrimage. This was not my impression when I awoke this morning.

    Please pray for the spectacle frames I need.

    Reverence is central to Worship.

    Tradition is central to our Religion.

Comments are closed.