Why we Say The Black and Do The Red

Good stuff here!

Let us begin with an understatement.

The revitalization of our Catholic identity will be an opus magnum et arduum.

Most of us reading this will not see but the first fruits.

We have to be smart and persistent, using all the tools at our disposal.  I am mindful of the ends of rhetoric: teach, delight, persuade.  We have to know clearly what it is we wish to accomplish.  We must figure out the issues and organize our thoughts. Also, whom do we wish to teach, delight and/or persuade?  Our audience determines a great deal for us.  With what level of “tone” do we address them? What vocabulary and examples do we use?

Moreover, in our opus we must also be mindful that, in our human endeavors, we can fall into the trap of making the perfect into the enemy of the good.  That is to say, if I can’t have my ideal now, I don’t want anything at all.   Achievement of the good need not be a settling for the good, in lieu of the better or the best.

Is The Best attainable in this life?  That’s a rhetorical question.

This leads me to a piece at NLM by Peter Kwasniewski.

Peter laments the fact that, at the end of the Chartres Pilgrimage, during the splendid Mass with Card. Sarah in the Usus Antiquior, the Subdeacon faced the people instead of ad orientem, and spoke (didn’t sing) the Epistle in French.  The Deacon spoke the Gospel in French.  Some video: Epistle HERE – Gospel HERE.

Peter rightly implores that we avoid these “pastoral adaptations”.  Rightly.

As I have argued before, we need a long period of stability in the recovery of the Usus Antiquor.  We have to learn it again and let it become part of the weft and warp of our worship.  Once it is well rooted, the organic process of development foreseen by Benedict XVI will inexorably take place, but in a proper way, not an artificial way that comes through tinkeritis.   It seems like people these days can’t leave anything alone.  What a contrast to our forebears.  Hence, Martin Mosebach’s description of how a rock probably feels resentment for centuries after it has been moved.

But I digress.

It could be that those pastoral adaptations were imposed from above upon the organizers of the Mass.  That’s my guess.  I suspect that the local bishop set a condition or the celebrant Card. Sarah opted for these changes (note that the Cardinal didn’t use gloves).

Hence, the pilgrims wound up with a Really Good™ experience rather than an Even Better™, The Best™ being reserved to the celestial realm.

However, Prof. K doesn’t just lament and implore.  He explains why the Latin chanting of the readings – with the proper orientation – ought to be respected without the desire to tinker that so many clerics have now in their liturgical marrow.   It isn’t merely for the sake of observing the rules and rubrics (what they did in Chartres was, frankly, contrary to an explicit norm in Summorum Pontificum).   It goes beyond saying the black and doing the red for the sake of saying the black and doing the red.

It goes to the heart of why we must respect the rite.

Which also goes to the heart of why so many are interested in the pre-55 Holy Week, without the tinkerings of the “Bugnini abattoir”.

But I digress.

Here is Kwasniewski’s explanation for why the readings ought to be sung in Latin and with the proper orientation (East for the Epistle and North for the Gospel).  My emphases and comments.


A major difference between the theology of the classical Roman Rite and that of Paul VI’s modern rite is the difference in how lections are understood. The lections at Mass are not merely instructional or didactic. They are an integral part of the seamless act of worship offered to God in the Holy Sacrifice. The clergy chant the divine words in the presence of their Author as part of the logike latreia, the rational worship, we owe to our Creator and Redeemer.  These words are a making-present of the covenant with God, an enactment of their meaning in the sacramental context for which they were intended, a grateful and humble recitation in the sight of God of the truths He has spoken and the good things He has promised….


The chanted Latin lection is an expression of adoring love directed to God before it is a communication of knowledge to the people, and the form in which it is done should reflect this primacy. [I have written many times over the years of what, in our liturgical worship and liturgical choices for music, architecture, etc. (inculturation), must be given logical priority.  What God and the Church have to give must be given primary consideration over and above what the world gives or provides.  The chanting of the readings in the manner prescribed underscores first that they are from God. Properly understood that enriches and transforms the experience of those who participate in them as they hear.  Yes, the texts are instruction, but the instruction is so much more instructive, and in a deeper way, if they are, first, intended as worship.  I am reminded of the phrase “Nisi credideritis non intelligetis... You will not understand unless you will have first believed.”  There is a sapientia beyond the scientia.  My point: those things having to do with GOD in worship must have logical priority and, hence, we sing the readings firstly as acts of worship.  That attitude affects how the sing them (and dictates even that we sing them, for, as the Doctor of Grace said, cantare amantis est.] In the ancient liturgy, always and everywhere God enjoys primacy. Nothing is done “simply” for the people. …



Vernacularization and recitation of the lessons at High Mass betrays the rationalism and utilitarianism of the Synod of Pistoia. The chanting of the Word of God is not just for instruction but also a quasi-sacramental action in and of itself (as Martin Mosebach argues with regard to the use of incense, candles, and the prayer “Per evangelica dicta, deleantur nostra delicta”). [YES!  Great point!] It is part of the activity of worship, and like the other prayers of the Mass, it should be set apart by words of a sacral register, hallowed by tradition. [And a practical point.] No one will complain [Pace Peter, there’s always someone who will complain about something.] if this formal liturgical chant, which takes only a few minutes in any case, is followed up with a recitation of the vernacular texts before the homily. But the latter should never be substituted for the former.


That point about what the priest says at the end of reading or chanting the Gospel is important.

The priest kisses the book wherefrom the Word of God is read.  The sacred minister’s poor human vox is raised mysteriously by God, through baptism and orders, to a be new means of encounter with His presence.  An encounter with the presence of God in mystery is transforming, as Moses’ encounters were, with the People, when the presence cloud descended and God spoke.

At the end of the Gospel, the priest kisses the book and says: “Per evangelica dicta deleantur nostra delicta… May our sins be blotted out by the words of the Gospel (lit. the gospelish things said)!”  That goes way beyond instruction, moral or otherwise.

If that is true for that moment during Holy Mass, it is true for every moment during Holy Mass.  Every word and gesture of Mass is really being carried out by the Divine Actor, Christ the Hight Priest, in whose priesthood we share in different modes through sacraments.  When we sing and gesture, Christ is singing and gesturing.  His words and deeds, dicta et acta, are not merely moral instruction or intellectual enrichment.

Hence, chanting the Epistle “to the East” and the Gospel “to the North” means something that must be respected.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    After a weekend of camping, we managed to NOT get cleaned up in time to make our usual 4:00 pm Dominican Rite Mass. We ended up at the 7:00 pm “last chance” Mass at another Parish.

    Talk about tinkeritis.

    As if the Novus Ordo wasn’t already happy-clappy enough, the music was “All Are Welcome” and “Aren’t We Wonderful”, and then the priest added in all sorts of trivialities, including during the Words of Consecration (yes, Father, we know that we are here “tonight,” etc.), and spent his homily yelling at everyone to show more mercy. I’d have thought sitting through that horrendous slog without screaming at Father showed enough mercy as it is.

    So yeah, it would be wonderful if the TLM were always and everywhere celebrated in the same fashion, but that it exists at all is the most heavenly of blessings.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Can someone explain the difference between “organic process of development” and “tinkeritis”.

    Eventually some authority in the Church has to make a pronouncement about what a legitimate development, and then enshrine it in the rubrics, no? Could not what began as liturgical abuses (communion in the hand, altar girls, and washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday) be examples of “organic development”?

    How is organic development something that starts at the “grass roots” before being mandated from the top?

    Mind you, I am no liturgical progressive. Just playing devil’s advocate for when someone asks ME these questions!

  3. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    I heartily agree with Dr. Kwasniewski’s article, especially the point that the readings are not merely for practical instruction of the people who happen to be present. The point about the prayer recited after the proclamation of the Gospel is very interesting. It reminds me of the even more striking words from the traditional rite for ordination of deacons. After the bishop vests the new deacon in the stole and dalmatic, he presents the Gospel book and says: “Accipe potestatem legendi Evangelium in Ecclesia Dei, tam pro vivis, quam pro defunctis. In nomine Domini.” “Receive the power of reading the Gospel in the Church of God, both for the living and for the dead. In the name of the Lord.” The deacon responds, “Amen.” (I’m taking the Latin text and English translation from an old FSSP ordination booklet.) The part about reading the Gospel for the dead would be nonsense if the reading were merely a practical instruction for those members of the Church Militant who happen to be present at a particular Mass. (I also see, in the same FSSP ordination booklet, that the rite for subdeacons has a similar formula withe the Book of Epistles, with reference to power to read them both for the living and the dead.)

  4. John Grammaticus says:

    On that note….. my Parish Priest who is also the local university Chaplain has announced that from the 1st Sunday of July the EF will be offered in the chaplaincy every Sunday … awesome

  5. ProfKwasniewski says:

    Dear Geoffrey,
    I have an article about exactly your question coming out in two weeks at NLM (June 25th). A spoiler: there are laws that govern what can and cannot become part of the liturgy. Communion in the hand, or communion distributed by non-clergy, can never become a legitimate development; they are inherently flawed. But my article will present the full argument.
    God Bless,
    Dr. Kwasniewski

  6. Emilio says:

    I believe the Holy See allows for vernacular readings to be proclaimed in the EF, and this is almost universally done in France and in other parts of Europe in EF celebrations, especially in the SSPX. Dialogue Masses of varying degrees of participation are also quite common. My EF community in New Orleans chants the Epistle and Gospel in English at the Sunday High Mass week to week, and I can’t imagine they do so intending to abuse the rubrics. The Pater Noster is also sung by the entire congregation along with the priest. It seems there can be some minor but legitimate differences in even EF communities, and that these differences aren’t always the end of the world.

    [Thanks for chiming in. However, read the top entry again and do some additional reading of the Motu Proprio.]

  7. TonyO says:

    I would like to turn Geoffrey’s question on its head: do we know (in detail, not in broad sweeping generalities) how the bulk of the parts of the TLM became the rite of the Mass, out of the earliest Masses (which clearly did not involve the chanting of the epistle in Latin)? Was it by “organic development” rightfully employed by the proper persons who had the authority to add to the Mass, or change what was already done? When were the readings added, when were they chanted first (and why)? When did the Church begin to express by explicit enactment where resided the authority to make a change to the liturgy?

    I love the TLM and thank God that Pope Benedict issued Summorum. I would want to give that up at all. I don’t know if the process of achieving what became the TLM could have stood up to the rigor that Dr. K and Fr. Z are pointing to. Fortunately, though, there is no exact parallel between the process of adding to the Mass a raising up of its form by something that makes it do even better what it had done before, and the process of devolution by which we either take away perfections that it had or change what the mass itself sets out to do in this or that part. Growth is not equivalent to deterioration, and we do not need to pretend that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” here: not all things are equally good reflections of the divine. We CAN tell the difference between giving glory to God, and giving glory to man, between uplifting of the mind and heart and soul, and hair-raising (or raising Cain), between beauty and banal.

  8. Geoffrey says:

    @Prof. Kwasniewski: Wonderful! I look forward to reading that!

    @TonyO: Excellent question! One example might be the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. I once read they began as preparatory prayers in the sacristy. Eventually, priests would say them on the way from the sacristy to the altar before it became the norm to recite them “at the foot of the altar”. The rubrics of the 1962 Missale Romanum prescribe these prayers to be said “at the foot of the altar”. But, when and how did this transition from custom (one might say abuse) to official rubric come about?

    Another example might be “V/. The Lord be with you. R/. And with your spirit” that is said before the Offertory Antiphon. I have heard it said this was leftover from the Prayers of the Faithful (hence it being “restored” in the Ordinary Form). If the “Bidding Prayers” were once common, where did they go?

    Then there is the Last Gospel, which always seems a bit out of place to me. It feels like it was just “added on”, much like the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar.

    I think the good intentions of the Council Fathers was to “tidy up” some things like this. Unfortunately, the baby was thrown out with the bath water, as the saying goes…

  9. LeeGilbert says:

    If we [? Who might “we” be, here?] want to restore the liturgy, insisting on the chanting of the lections in Latin seems an stance that threatens the very enterprise. For one thing, to modern sensibilities [to which “we” of course should cave and adapt] the usus antiquior is already long, and if we [?] want to be persuasive those sensibilities need to be taken into account. When the congregation had missals and could follow along, chanting the lections in Latin was unexceptional, but now that they do not, it seems counterproductive at best to chant the Latin at them [?!?] without later giving the vernacular version, and I have seen this done. [Because people can’t be expected to be responsible for their participation.] Moreover, often these readings are not brief, and to have them chanted and then read in the vernacular makes the liturgy of the word interminable. In fact, one might say it is, ironically, a persuasive, a very persuasive liturgical argument against the usus antiquior.

    [Okay, folks, keep reading if you want. This is exemplary.]

    Of course, the phrase “chanting the Latin at them” discounts your thesis that chanting the lections in Latin is addressed to God as worship and not to the congregation, but that argument strikes one as mere poetry or worse as unreal pedantry. Even for someone with some Latin the impression that the lections are being meaninglessly chanted at him is practically unavoidable, and could easily be a cause for resentment. One has to wonder, come to think of it, how much that very resentment was a motive for the Reformation.

    When you say “The lections at Mass are not merely instructional or didactic,” is this not a straw man, for the word of God is performative, not only instructing, but changing hearts, increasing faith, hope and love, convicting, reproving exhorting, all of which is part of a reasonable preparation for participating in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and probably the very reason the Church has us pause to listen to the word of God in the first place. If that was the original motive for their inclusion in the Mass, hearing them in the vernacular was obviously intended as well. Should that not be considered part of the tradition?

    In light of that, it is so ironic to see you frame the chanting of the lections in Latin as part of our rational worship, for “If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? ” ( 1 Cor 14:9). Well, you might say, this misses the point that I was trying to make, that we are chanting these lections to God, who surely understands what we are saying. “These words are a making-present of the covenant with God, an enactment of their meaning in the sacramental context for which they were intended, a grateful and humble recitation in the sight of God of the truths He has spoken and the good things He has promised….”

    But this is an argument for liturgists, for the cognoscenti, and of no help at all to Joe Joblots who comes to Mass once a week and badly needs to be changed ( not merely instructed) into a better man by hearing the Word of God, who needs to be brought to repentance, or stirred to fervor, and yes, instructed. It is difficult to see how that is not the very desideratum of God in issuing His word in the first place, and the Church in situating it in the Mass.

    When I look up from time to time, which I am supposed to do as a lector, [I’ll wager you are a fellow who reads the readings during Mass once in a while, and not a lector.] I see very many people in the congregation with their eyes closed, obviously basking in the word of God. [obviously!] Surely this also is humble adoration in a sacramental context, but for this the vernacular is the sine qua non.

    As sympathetic as I am to the EF, I cannot hear the chanting in Latin of the lections without thinking “This is madness.” Right or wrong, this is bound to be the sentiment of many people, one that militates against the liturgical renewal you are both working for.

    [Defeatism imbued, remarkably, with a hefty dose of elitism.]

  10. BrionyB says:

    At the TLM I sometimes attend, the parish’s permanent deacon reads the Gospel aloud in English, at the same time as (I think) the priest is saying it quietly at the altar. I was surprised to hear this the first time; it seemed a bit jarring and there was a sense of it interrupting the ‘flow’ of the Mass somehow, but I am used to it now. If I understand Father’s post correctly, this shouldn’t be objectionable, as it doesn’t replace the priest’s Latin recitation (or should the Gospel ideally be chanted aloud in Latin as well?)

    Personally I find the English version unnecessary, as I am not particularly good at taking in spoken-word information anyway, which means that even at the Novus Ordo mass I often find I don’t even remember what any of the readings were about (plus a noisy church, poor microphone, and lector having a strong accent/poor diction can all make them difficult to follow). If I want to study the readings for the day, I look them up at home afterwards (very easy to do these days with everything being on the Internet).

  11. JamesA says:

    You are referring to St. Patrick’s, I hope ?
    How I love that parish ! I pray Fr. Klores is well.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The earliest Masses involved the chanting of the readings in Hebrew, just as one does at a seder, Sabbath synagogue service, or indeed a home Sabbath blessing.

    And Father Z has explained about the way Greek Bibles use a special weird Septuagint dialect, and how Church Latin at Mass and in the Vulgate is also not normal Latin.

    So yes, the readings were pretty much always chanted, and not in the vernacular. We are the weirdos of church history.

  13. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    In reply to Emilio:

    I know the EF community in New Orleans that you refer to. I can tell you that when Summorum Pontificum was first issued in 2007 it did seem to permit the Epistle and Gospel in the vernacular without any proclamation in Latin (SP, n. 6). However, in 2011 the instruction Universae Ecclesiae (n. 26) clearly required the proclamation of the Epistle and Gospel in Latin at sung Masses. When the local clergy pretended that the legislation was uncertain, and suggested that I (a layman) should submit a dubium to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei about it, I did write to the PCED. The PCED replied on October 8, 2011 (Prot. N. 39/2011 L) and clearly stated that the practice at that parish in New Orleans (specifically named in my dubium and in their reply) was not allowed by the legislation. I gave a copy of the response to the pastor (the priest who is still there), and he was not happy with me. He knows full well that the practice that he imposes at that parish is not according to the proper legislation governing the EF, and he does it anyway. He seems to be convinced that it is an appropriate “pastoral adaptation,” and does not want to take the time to have the readigs in Latin and again in English. That parish in New Orleans is exactly an example of what Prof. Kwasniewski is talking about. (The New Orleans parish also has the added issue of the pastor insisting on using the permanent deacon for the Solemn Mass when the deacon simply cannot say or sing enough Latin to proclaim the Gospel in Latin. There are multiple issues of things there that are not by the book. And, lest you think my handle on this blog suggests any affiliation with the SSPX chapel in Kenner, I have never been there, and I attend the Latin Mass at the parish in New Orleans.)

  14. TonyO says:

    The earliest Masses involved the chanting of the readings in Hebrew, just as one does at a seder, Sabbath synagogue service, or indeed a home Sabbath blessing.

    Why, then, do we not continue to chant them in Hebrew? If that’s the language in which the original Bible verses were written, then chanting them in Hebrew does the best of all at the worship of God, as Fr. Z says,
    These words are a making-present of the covenant with God, an enactment of their meaning in the sacramental context for which they were intended, a grateful and humble recitation in the sight of God of the truths He has spoken and the good things He has promised….
    in the very language He inspired in the Old Testament. After all, everyone knows that no translation from one language to another is absolutely perfect in capturing all of the meaning of the original, so would it not be even better to chant of the covenants God made, enacting the very meaning He gave them, in the language God made them first?

    Or, when it comes to chanting the Epistles and Gospels, why not in the original languages of those books, i.e. Greek (or, possibly, Hebrew for the book of Matthew, depending on which scholarly view you want to take)? Again, chanting so as to make present again the covenant God made with us, in the very language God inspired in the writers to set it down it (though not the language in which Jesus spoke) … what could be better than that?

    One presumes that somewhere along the way, someone with authority in the Latin Church, such as the Latin Patriarch, (the pope) decided that it would be even better to chant in Latin to the Latin Church, and used Latin translations of the Greek. At the time that decision was made, I believe, Latin was still the vernacular of the members of the Latin Church. So, was that a detriment to the liturgy, to take it out of chanting in Greek, the original language of John, of Paul, of Luke, and putting it in the vernacular? If not, why not? If so, why was that decision made?

    I believe, also, that Latin of Church liturgy remained recognizable to the common people for quite some time – straight through the great work by Pope St. Gregory the Great. Surely the chant named after him and using Latin, which was the vernacular still at the time, was not at that time a lesser manner of worship than the very same Latin chant that we use now, being no longer the vernacular! How could its ceasing to be the vernacular _improve_ the manner in which it makes present again the covenants God made with us, enacting their meaning…?

    Don’t get me wrong: I love the fact that I can go to an EF Mass in France, or Rome, or the US, and follow the same Mass because it is in the universal language of the universal Catholic Church. But the character and benefits of it being the universal language bear more on the parts common than on the Epistle and Gospel (or collect) chanted in Latin, because once a person has read attentively the common parts for a reasonable time, he will follow them even in the Latin – not so with the Epistles. The universality doesn’t help there, except to actual Latin scholars, and it is not in virtue of universality that it speaks so well the covenants God made with us, at least not primarily, or we should revert to the Greek for the Epistle and Gospel and have them in conformity even with our Eastern brethren.

    As far as I am concerned, if Church law says to follow the Missal of 1962, then priests ought to follow it – all of it. That’s obedience. Obedience is a great good, and fully justifies not playing with the Mass. But there is no doubt that following the Missal of 1962 does not make any of the reforms that VII properly asked for. So we can presume that if there were a Missal that made the reforms that the VII bishops actually wanted, it would be DIFFERENT from the Missal of 1962. Being different, but reformed necessarily means that there must be some lack of perfection in the Missal of 1962 that the Council Fathers wanted to see improved. Maybe, just possibly, chanting the Gospel in the vernacular – in a chant that is as good as Gregorian chant was for the Latin Church in 600 – would be just such a thing?

  15. Emilio says:

    @JamesA: Right on, it’s difficult to not fall in love with St. Patrick’s. I am currently abroad and can’t wait to return “home”.

    @Mike: The pastor of St. Patrick’s is a spiritual father to me, as well as a beloved figure of that parish and city. Knowing Father Stan, I bet he was genuinely hurt by the manner you decided to contact PCED. You refer to him as if he were a serial liturgical abuser, the man who has endured a white martyrdom against a liberal archbishop and chancery to keep the Novus Ordo Masses ad orientem on Sundays, and to defend the rights of the Latin Mass community there. I took Father Z’s suggestion and conducted some elementary online research to discover that the allowance of the vernacular for readings in the EF were only for Low Masses, not High Masses. Even upon realizing that my pastor is mistaken on this point, it still does not change my opinion of him or the community. The EF at St. Patrick’s is PACKED week after week, it is one of the most beautiful EF Masses anywhere, and I’ve never experienced higher levels of congregational participation at any EF community outside of my time in Paris. The minor details that are “not by the book” that apparently bother you don’t seem to bother the thousands of other parishioners there to the same degree. If you want REAL liturgical abuse, then I suggest the extremely self-congratulatory “social justice” Masses at St. Joseph’s (an otherwise gorgeous, gargantuan church building). There are surely worse things in this world than several thousand people chanting the Pater Noster together in Latin (I’m assuming another of your not-by-the-book annoyances). It’s a fantastic parish, EF and “reform of the reform” OF, where my experience of the EF was actually redeemed especially by the fact that so many there are so darn friendly and welcoming, beginning with its Pastor.

  16. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    The point is some nice, traditional-leaning priests do illicit things. Sometimes even intentionally, as in the case of Saint Patrick’s in New Orleans. That parish, albeit lovely, indeed does several illicit things. During my last visit there I was given communion at the traditional Latin Mass by one of three men not wearing stoles. I seriously doubt the young men were priests or deacons. These kinds of things are not up for debate — there is liturgical law; follow it.

    Peter’s piece can be summed up really easily:

    “28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.”


  17. JamesA says:

    Emilio :
    Three cheers for your spirited defense of St. Patrick’s, the priest and parish that introduced me to the Mass of the Ages.
    May God continue to bless them.

  18. robert hightower says:

    Geoffrey, I think that’s a great question, one a good friend of mine have discussed at great length in the past. I’d be curious to hear an answer

  19. StabatMater says:

    “There are surely worse things in this world than several thousand people chanting the Pater Noster together in Latin.”

    Several thousand? Not even close.

    Does a layman, who is married with children, serving as Subdeacon and administering Communion in these EF Masses count as a serious enough abuse?

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