We Are Our Rites! Wherein Fr. Z rants after reading Peter Kwasniewski

At NLM, PK has a good offering.  (“Ho hum!”, you are saying, because I have to write that so often.)

Starting with Nietzsche and his famous “God is dead”, he spins up a good argument about “modern” liturgy, liturgists, etc., who don’t get silence and our “personal prerequisites” for worship.

Mind you, as I have written a zillion times, revitalization of our Church can only come from, first, a revitalization of our sacred liturgical worship.  As I like to say and write over and over again: We Are Our Rites!   Change them, we change.  Banalize them, our identity is eroded.  Raise them, all boats rise as on a tide. Our liturgical choices are of life and death importance, with increasing urgency, given the way present circumstances within the Church are … metastasizing.


Here is a passage from Peter’s piece which I aim directly at PRIESTS and BISHOPS who do NOT celebrate the TLM.

Context: “Pope Francis recently spoke in a general audience about the importance of observing moments of silence in the Mass, but he failed to show any awareness of two obvious facts.”

First, silence in the new rite is artificial and barren of ritual significance. It does not arise because the priest is busy doing something else quietly, so that a natural span of silence results for everyone else, nor does it arise from the schola cantorum’s chanting of the Gradual and Alleluia. Inasmuch as this novum silentium is at the beck and call of the celebrant, it becomes a subtle mechanism for enhancing his “presidential status,” since he decides when to start and stop it. In that way, it is more like yoga meditation under the direction of a guru than it is Christian liturgical prayer.

This is really good.

I have often written about how the usually well-intentioned desire of some priests to energize the laity by bringing them up into the sanctuary to do stuff is really a subtle form of clericalism.  Frankly, the more of a lib the priest or bishop is, the less subtle is that sly clericalism.  The message: “Your role here as a baptized person isn’t good enough.  So, I, in my great generosity and wisdom, will permit you to do something that I should be doing.  The more you are allowed to share my crumbs, the more you are being ‘recognized’.”  Ironic.  By having lay people do those things, you don’t recognize them anymore as laypeople with their proper role!  That sort of clericalism is galactically worse than, say, Father, in his cassock, directing the activities of lay people in and around worship.

Look what PK singled out.  Priest controlled silence.

For example, after the sermon, the priest goes to sit down – generally facing outward toward the congregation so he has their full gaze and admiration, sitting in a chair that not even Julius Caesar would have had.  There they all sit while they are supposed to contemplate how wondrous Father’s words were.  Never mind silence after the Gospel.  No.  It’s after the sermon.   Then Father dramatically rises!  What a tingle as they all then surge to their feet!  Father’s really in control.  He decides when you get silence.

On the other hand, in the traditional Roman Rite, there is something that militates against this.  Sure, there can also, at the TLM, be too much music or not enough silence.  However, the fact that multiple things can go on at the same time, preserves a greater possibility of genuine, non-priest-manufactured silence.  For example, silences result regularly, but spontaneously, after the singing of an Agnus Dei, during which there may, or not, result the priest’s Domine non sum dignus, with the threefold ringing of bells.  It depends on the pace of the choir and the priest, the length of the chant, which might vary as the season varies.  More than one thing can go on at the same time.  Silences ebb and flow.   The major point is that, in the old Mass, rubrics control the priest, not the priest the rubrics.  Moreover, the silences that result tend not to be these explicitly controlled clerical power-trips.

PK goes on…

Second, silence before, during, and after Mass has been killed, and its assassin is the liturgical reform in every decade of its implementation. For decades, the GIRM has been practically a dead letter when it comes to the actual liturgical life of most parishes. The progressives have been only too happy to push along countless practices that go explicitly against the GIRM, using the sponge of their hegemony to wipe away the entire horizon and unchain the earth from its sun, [cf Nietzsche] and no one has seriously attempted to correct them, even after Redemptionis Sacramentum, which did little or nothing to reverse the perpetual falling of liturgy “backward, sideward, forward, in all directions.” Pardon me, therefore, if I cough like Jeeves whenever someone with a Bertie Wooster grasp of liturgy invokes the GIRM as a reference point.

Before his humiliation by Pope Francis and his (voluntary or involuntary?) radio silence, Cardinal Sarah was constantly reminding people, like a voice crying in the wilderness, that nothing is more urgent than the serious protection and promotion of silence in our lives — not just in our liturgical worship, but in our personal prayer, even in our leisure and recreation. [NB]Without this empty space, there can be no interiority, no contemplation, no actual worship as opposed to “busy work,” the sort that substitute teachers give their fidgeting pupils while the real teachers are absent. We seem to be crushed by horror vacui, and it is only getting worse with the rapid inundation of all manner of pocketable or wearble devices, which fill every waking moment of our lives with the noise of information and entertainment . . . “the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God.”

At this strange moment in history, the new liturgical movement is also going to have to be a movement for natural, normal, face-to-face human interaction, sans distracting digital demons; [NB the gatherings after most Sunday TLMs in most places] for time spent making and repairing things with one’s own hands; for the stabilitas loci that comes from being quiet in a chair, at a table, in a room, by a window, with a book and nothing else. [Ahhhh.] Such things are the natural analogues of the intimate contact with intangible beauty that comes from singing or hearing plainchant at Mass, smelling the incense, seeing the glittering gold on cope and chalice, becoming aware of one’s breathing or heartbeart in the silent Canon.

And… finding God in the gaps.  The apophatic.  The contact with Mystery by peering through the cleft in the rock.

It can’t be forced.

The Novus Ordo forces.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Imrahil says:

    Interesting points.

    I never really thought that way, but I guess I felt that way.

    In any case, this may be why moral theologians were so adamant that celebrants kept their amount of silent prayer in preparation of and thanksgiving for Mass. It’s a good thing for a layman attender to do, of course, but more of the if-it-lacks-not-the-big-deal sort; but then the celebrant is “busy doing something else quietly” when others have their silence.

  2. Sawyer says:

    Regarding “First, silence in the new rite is artificial and barren of ritual significance. It does not arise because the priest is busy doing something else quietly, so that a natural span of silence results for everyone else….”

    Wouldn’t the purification of vessels after Communion provide an opportunity for silence while the priest or deacon is busy? Once the Communion procession has ended, the Communion chant should cease, and during the purification of vessels there can be ritual silence. I always like it when silence occurs at that point, and I hate it when the Communion chant/song or a meditation song intrudes upon a post-Communion period of silent prayer.

    At least I think that’s one opportunity for silence that is built into the Ordinary Form.

    But the author is correct that silence is not natural to the OF the way it is in the EF. In the OF silence and reverent pacing have to be deliberately cultivated in a parish’s liturgical ethos, otherwise one thing immediately leads to the next in a series of noisy, busy ritual actions. People in charge of OF liturgy should heed the rubrics’ call for silence during Mass. It would help if those people in charge knew and experienced the value of silence in their own lives apart from Mass. Nemo dat quod non habet.

  3. Dan says:

    I recently heard a silence request from some people in my parish. They felt the organ playing after Mass was too loud, because they couldn’t visit with their friends in the nave very easily while it was playing.

  4. TonyO says:

    The Novus Ordo forces.

    That, Father, is priceless. Thank you.

    The worst innovators of the Novus Ordo take oganically grown symbols of mystery away to denude the sanctuary and the ceremony, and then inserts either prosaic explanation of a thought ABOUT the mystery, or inserts a completely manufactured “symbol” that neither springs out of true roots nor means anything specifically. (They are like the horrid script writers and directors who imagine that the audience will naturally like as “comedy” a scene which merely depicts characters in an uncomfortable situation, as if discomfort alone is humorous.) “Symbol” alone, bereft of roots, is not meaning.

  5. Danteewoo says:

    Been to thousands of Novus Ordo Masses over fifty years or so. Can’t think of one that didn’t leave me a little cold and distracted. Almost impossible to pray at it, unless I shut out everything. Thank God for Archbishop Lefebvre for being willing to face the attacks of almost the whole Church. He is the great saint of the last part of the twentienth century.

  6. arga says:

    Excellent contribution by PK but kind of funny to read a piece _written to be read on a computer_ that exhorts us to drop computers and open a book “and nothing else.”

  7. ProfKwasniewski says:

    What I was recommending is that sometimes we should just sit down with a book and get lost in it. Not, of course, that we neglect reading Fr. Z and NLM…. :-)
    God Bless,
    Dr. Kwasniewski

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