Of desecration of liturgy and identity. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

Let me begin with several hooks upon which we can hang some useful ideas as we look down the line at an article from Regis Nichols at Crisis.

First, in April 2017, a preface Benedict XVI wrote for the Russian translation of the volume of his opera omnia concerning liturgy was released.  In the preface, Benedict argues that, as a Church, we have placed other things before the worship of God.  Hence, we are undergoing a crisis which is subverting the Church.   He wrote that “a true renewal of the liturgy is a fundamental condition for the renewal of the Church.”  In 1998, in his autobiography Milestones, he wrote, ““I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.”

This has been his position for a long time.   It has been my position since my earliest experiences of traditional liturgy and my earliest talks with Joseph Ratzinger about it.

What happened?  First, the mandates of the Second Vatican Council were by far outstripped by ideologically motivated experts who had as their goal not just renewal of the liturgy, but changes to the fabric of the Church.  The liturgists of the Consilium, who managed to bring Paul VI’s power into their ploys, constructed rites on desk tops, massively changing what the Council Fathers said should not be changed unless there was a true good for the Catholic people and unless those changes came organically from what went before.  The result was an artificial rather than organic construct, suddenly imposed from on high on people who had never desired what they got.  In the aftermath, our Catholic identity was badly shaken.  Along with the abandonment of other aspects of Catholic life, such as fasting, etc., our compasses were smashed.  Statistics regarding vocations, schools, Mass attendance, etc., indicate the fruits.

This is one of the reasons why Benedict issued what will be seen in years to come as one of the most important gifts of his pontificate: Summorum Pontificum.  This juridical act makes it possible for all Latin Church priests to use both the older, traditional liturgical forms together with the newer, post-Conciliar forms.  It was his desire that side-by-side celebrations of the two forms would jump start, as it were, the organic development of our sacred liturgical worship, serving as a corrective to abuses while recovering much of what was lost, but which remains sacred, great and beneficial.

In the decade following Summorum Pontificum, from 2007-2017, the number of places where the traditional forms are celebrated in these USA shot from about 50 to over 500.  This indicates something of the fruits of the document.  Moreover, the knock-on effect on celebrations of the Novus Ordo is surely taking place as priests who learn the traditional form come to a deeper understanding of who they are – as priests – at the altar.  This leaves an impression on congregations, who then begin to participate in the transforming rites in a new way.

Of course all of this has the liberal iconoclasts and the nearly papalotrous camp followers (not to say camp followers) running scared. I have come to view them much as the vendors and hawkers who set up their tables in the Temple’s Court of the Gentiles. They write strings of scare pieces about neo-traditionalism, purposely lying about why people seek traditional forms, attributing to them all manner of mischief.

Next, if we get our liturgical worship of God wrong, then everything else we do will fail.   We build on sand.  Put another way, familiar to long-time readers here, everything we undertake in the Church must begin with liturgical worship and must be brought back to liturgical worship.

If the virtue of justice governs what is due to human persons, since God is a qualitatively different Person a different virtue governs what we owe to God: religion.  The primary way in which we individually and collectively fulfill the virtue of religion is through our sacred liturgical worship.  If we screw up on the virtue of religion and our sacred worship, then all our other relationships will be out of harmony.  We have to get our worship right.  This is so intimate to who we are as Catholics that I constantly say: We Are Our Rites.   And because we have an individual and collective vocation not just within the Church (ad intra) but to the world around us (ad extra), we might say even “Save The Liturgy – Save The World”.

But if we don’t know who we are, what we believe, how to act on it and have thin to no strong supports and sources in our sacred worship of God, then we will be ineffective across the board.  Why should the world pay any attention to us if we don’t know who we are?

The virtue of religion can be sinned against by idolatry, superstitions, sacrilege, and blasphemy. We creatures must recognize who God is and act accordingly both inwardly and outwardly. When this at last becomes habitual for us, then we have the virtue of religion. A virtue is a habit. One good act does not make us virtuous. If being prudent or temperate or just, etc., is hard for us, then we don’t yet have the virtue.

Circling back to Ratzinger, and his thesis about genuine and artificial worship, he once said in an address in 1985 at a music conference, that artificiality in worship brings false, human productions into play, which, given the description of religion, above, smacks of, opens the way to, idolatry and sacrilege.

He also said:

It has become evident that the primacy of the group derives from an understanding of the Church as institution based upon a concept of freedom which is incompatible with the idea and the reality of the institutional. Indeed, this idea of freedom is no longer capable of grasping the dimension of the mysterium in the reality of the Church. Freedom is conceived in terms of autonomy and emancipation, and takes concrete shape in the idea of creativity, which against this background is the exact opposite of that objectivity and positiveness which belong to the essence of the Church’s liturgy. The group is truly free only when it discovers itself a new each time.

We also found that liturgy worthy of the name is the radical antithesis of all this. Genuine liturgy is opposed to an historical arbitrariness which knows no development and hence is ultimately vacuous. Genuine liturgy is also opposed to an unrepeatability, which is also exclusivity and the loss of communication without regard for any groupings. Genuine liturgy is not opposed to the technical, but to the artificial, in which man creates a counter-world for himself and loses sight of, indeed, loses up feeling for, God’s creation. The antithesis are evident, as is the incipient clarification of the inner justification for group thinking as an autonomistically conceived idea of freedom.

BTW… “autonomy”, for Ratzinger, across the years of his writing is nearly almost a negative.

Take note of his point about being closed in, not truly free, a group discovering itself.  This is why he argued for ad orientem worship which opens outward rather than creating a closed circle.  That’s another issue.

This brings me to the piece by Regis Nichols in Crisis.  He writes about The Desecration of God’s Temple in three different modes.

Nichols uses the images of the desecration of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem for how the Church today is being desecrated.  First, in 167 BC by Antiochus Epiphanes, which prompted the Maccabean Revolt.  Next, the violation of the Court of the Gentiles, which was dramatically cleared by the Lord.   Also,  as Peter describes, we are the living stones that build the new temple.  Nichols plays that out:

Jesus’s table-turning reaction caused a momentary stir, but his stinging reproach, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” propagates out to the present generation.

In the Church age, God’s house is made up of believers who are, in the words of Peter, “like living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

As the temple of the living God, the Christian church is not a commercial enterprise, but it is vulnerable to commercial pressures. For instance, in the face of stagnant or declining membership, how do churches respond?

Do they up the “wow factor” of worship with foot-tapping praise music and “relevant” sermons perfunctorily linked to biblical texts, or does it remain faithful to traditional forms of worship?

Do they back off or water down the historic Christian teachings, or do they proclaim them boldly and unapologetically?

Do they host more bingo nights and youth events featuring pizza, Coke, and movies, or do they invest in a structured, life-long process of catechesis to create a transformative community of Christ-like Christians?

A church obsessed with Wall Street indicators—bodies, bucks, and buildings—and Madison Avenue strategies—increased relevance and entertainment value—is a church that has filled its sacred spaces with marketplace kitsch. And like the temple court that Jesus happened upon 2000 years ago, it may be full of activity and people, but a divine eyesore bereft of true worship and worshippers.

Remember what Ratzinger said, above?  Groups closed in and rediscovering themselves… and only themselves.  That’s not true freedom and what they bring into the sanctuary is idolatry.   In another work, Spirit of the Liturgy, when Ratzinger talks about how people are imbued with immanentism, he describes how the Jews made the Golden Calf, not because they really thought it was a god, but because it was easier.

Let me end this rant.

Speaking of easier, Nichols ends with a sobering quote from Richard Niebuhr, which I cannot help but connect to the logorrhea of Faggioli and a recent ridiculous offering at Fishwrap by a CTU teacher.

This suggests that another gospel (an abomination) has found its way into our sanctuaries—one that, in the words of Protestant theologian Richard Niebuhr, famously tells of “a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Benedict XVI, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Gil Garza says:

    The main defect of the new liturgy isn’t the aesthetic or the vast new compositions in the canon and the propers, the new calendar, the new lectionary, the new breviary, the new rubrics, new participation of clergy, servers and laity, new rules of fasting and abstinence or the abandonment of Ecclesiastical Latin, though all these factors by themselves are substantial.

    Rather, the main defect in the new liturgy is that it requires each priest to daily construct from among the vast myriad of options available to him, a new Mass de novo and to preside over the congregation like a conductor of a symphony.

    This is in contrast to the ancient liturgy where the role of the clergy is to follow directions changing him into a servant of what is greater.

    This change in the role of the clergy from servant to a conductor superstar who decides what rules and options he is going to follow each day is precisely the heart of the present crisis.

    Until this fault is changed the present crisis cannot be resolved.

  2. HvonBlumenthal says:

    I had an aunt who owned a very fine house which she inherited from her forefathers. It was crammed full of treasures. Her father always kept the grounds very well fenced and groundsmen on patrol.

    After he died she sacked the groundsmen and opened the dates and invited the local travellers to camp in the grounds. She also habitually left the front door unlocked. Of course most of the valuables in the house rapibly disappeared, and soon afterwards some of the travellers burnt the main wing down. It wasn’t clear if they did it by mistake, out of malice or just because they felt hey owned the place and did it on a whim. Soon afterwards the aunt died.

    Now the extraordinary thing is that the children, whose inheritance she had allowed to go literally up in smoke, didn’t blame her at all. They adored their mother and admired her kindheartedness. It was those wretched travellers who had taken advantage of the situation. Of course the rest of us could have told them that in their grandfathers time this would never have happened, and that their mother was squarely to blame, but for the sake of not upsetting them we kept our thoughts to ourselves.
    So to this day we solemnly live with the fiction that Auntie Did the Right Thing.

  3. Fr. Kelly says:

    HvonBlumenthal, What an amazingly appropriate account of Original Sin.

    God had for us a beautiful house full of treasures intended for His children. For a while these treasures and house were cared for well, but then with the death of the grandfather who took care of the house (sin of Adam) the protections were lost. The groundskeeper was sacked, the gates and even the doors were left open. This led to worse and worse depradations until not only the contents but even the house itself was destroyed. Without a savior to prevent it, such a loss is inevitable, it seems.
    Perhaps you could point out even better correlations, but that jumped out at me as I read your story.

    Incidentally, did not your aunt lead the local travellers into temptation by inviting them in and leaving the gate and doors open?

  4. jltuttle says:

    Did I just read that the Novus Ordo is the Abomination of Desolation?

    [Maybe somewhere, but not here.]

  5. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Gosh I miss Ratzinger

  6. tho says:

    To me, the implementation of the Novus Ordo is akin to the reformation. What were our Popes and Bishops thinking? Wherever I look I see closed or amalgamated parishes, or even worse is a gutted sanctuary. Ex-Catholics are a dime a dozen. The US Supreme Court, knowing they had nothing to fear from our Bishops, gave us roe vs wade, and legal pornography, among other disgusting decisions. It makes one wonder how it will all end.

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    Excellent piece, thank you.

  8. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Thank you Fr Kelly. That wasn’t the analogy I had in mind but come to think of it, the story of the Fall does in some ways prefigure that of the Second Vatican Council. “Now Archbishop Bugnini was more subtil than all the beasts of the garden….”

  9. philosophicallyfrank says:

    First of all, I am 80 years old and have a bit of a long memory. I have the document “Sacrosanctum Concilium” and have read it more then once. The final paragraph preceding Pope Paul’s signature reads as follows: “Each and every one of the matters set forth in this Constitution has been approved by the Fathers of the Sacred Council. And We, by the apostolic authority given us by Christ, together with the venerable Fathers, approve, decree and ordain its contents in the Holy Spirit, and order that what has been thus decided in Council be promulgated to the glory of God.”
    +PAUL, Bishop of the Catholic Church St. Peter’s, Rome, 18 November 1965 (The signatures of the Fathers follow:
    Now correct me if am wrong; that signature appears to be that of Pope Paul; but, is it not in reality the signature of “The Catholic Church” ; is that not the CHURCH speaking? As such in that paragraph is it not “The CHURCH” that “orders” the contents of the document “be promulgated”?
    Therefore how is it that four Popes (one now a saint) have totally ignored that order; especially in that each was/is the “Supreme” Pontiff with absolute authority to order it’s promulgation. I don’t find any ambiguity, as has been claimed by so many: Latin – “pride of place”; organ – “pride of place”; Gregorian Chant – “pride of place”. Vernacular to be introduced; can, logically, only be used with the Propers of the Mass with the continued use of Latin. Not the slightest mention of eliminating the Altar, Communion Rails, the Priest facing the people (even the new Missal refutes this – “Read the red”: #29, #127, #132, #139, #141 and #144), Communion-in-the-hand, Altar girls, Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, etc., etc., etc..
    It seems to me to be long over due for those who are familiar with “Sacrosanctum Concilium”, clergy & laity, to come together and start a campaign of some kind to “respectfully” claim our “right” to a properly and correctly celebrated Mass. We have the right in Cannon Law to express our disenchantment with the half century of blatant abuses. When we die and face Jesus for our initial judgement; if we were aware of the problems and could have taken some kind of effort to remedy the situation; will we not likely be held accountable? Here in Florida, the clergy and the hierarchy has had a liberal reputation for decades. Personally, I am “fed-up” with them making a mockery of the Mass. At Mass, I look at the faces of those in the pews and they look like expressionless, pre-programmed robots. Nobody has a missal and they stand, kneel, sit by rote. They all of a sudden come to life at the Sign of Peace hugging and waving to people all over the place and then fall back into their trance. Instead of sitting on our duffs moaning and whining; let’s do something.

  10. Nandarani says:

    Hvon Blumenthal’s piece reminded me of Vatican II as a whole as I read it.

    I agree with the characterization of the situation into which we have devolved described by the CTU teacher quoting the Protestant theologian – though most people wouldn’t write it up that way, this is what they believe – anyone to heaven if there is one, and no judgment whatsoever. There is a lack of seriousness, and a lack of commitment – for many, it has to do with a full work life and relaxation taken after it, with no guidance from any spiritual authority. Protestantism certainly is not an authority on behavior meriting heaven – and neither increasingly, is the Catholic Church of Vatican II particularly under Francis, but all previous popes had their loosen it up relax it and eventually eliminate it modernist tendencies including Ratzinger. I do not trust Ratzinger; superficial me – even his picture looks sinister to me.

    The concept of here being mercy, and after death being judgment after endless mercy offered here with the really endless opportunities to change, reform, shape up before death, is unknown probably even among Catholics -= or at least becoming harder and harder for them to grasp unless they have grandparents or parents who can help because they got dyed in traditional Catholicism. As someone commented here – ex Catholics are a dime a dozen – Have met several here and can almost pick them out – who were living and conscious before 1958 and rejected what came after as it deteriorated. But did not care enough to look around to see whether anyone else is concerned about preserving at least the Latin – . ….. and so remain permanently exited.

    I do not attend novus ordo services in Honolulu-I would were Latin available, probably, but even that service has been changed from what was in place before 1958 – prayers reworded, or omitted; the liturgical calendar very revised with much eliminated – how many Catholics are aware that there was once a Feast of the Circumcision on January 1? Paul VI, responsible for a lot of change, did that. I wish people looked into his character more, and learned about his private life. Oh, well.

    Also: not kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament is a signal that should alarm anyone seeing it. I was born protestant; it alarms me. What to speak of refusing to give the entire papal blessing to crowds but only the Old Testament, Jewish parts of it. I am not familiar enough with the material to say more than that; several reports of this online recently. Francis owns a large library of Judaica and is an avid collector of Jewish books masticating the Torah.

  11. gaudiumcumpace says:

    To ‘love’ and ‘prefer’ the Lain Mass, one needs to experience it more than just a few times; if a person is truly seeking to ‘pray the Mass’, it is in the Latin Mass in which this occurs. St Teresa of Avila when founding the many Monasteries throughout Spain, the most urgent and primary action to take place once a house was obtained, was to make ready a chapel -at all costs- in which to have Mass said.

  12. Charles Sercer says:

    gaudiumcumpace, indeed, although God’s grace can and does/has done so with many people, one time going to the traditional Mass will not always let people see the light. Often, since it is such a radically different experience than the typical Novus Ordo Mass, the feeling of being lost and unfamiliar with what is going on will often make people upset or make them hesitant to come back when they can so easily just go back to what they are familiar with.

    I do truly believe, though, that everyone who is truly open to the truth – or at least desires to be truly open even though they know they are not – will be inspired enough by the traditional Mass to come back and learn more about it, even if they are overwhelmed with how different it is and even if they “don’t like” it. It is amazing how God’s grace works.

    I am currently at the parish where I grew up, where, by a sort of good fortune (well, God’s grace of course) the Latin Mass is celebrated nearly every day due to a traditional boarding school opening up in town. Although the school staff had of course gotten permission from the pastor to have this Latin Mass at the parish (while their own school buildings are being built), it was not advertised, because the school staff did not want to ruffle any feathers. However, over the course of one semester, there is now a good amount of people from the parish, most of them not associated directly with the boarding school, who discovered that this was going on thus stumbled upon the treasures of the traditional Mass. Seeing this happen really makes me wonder how many others there are who, if they just knew what they were missing, would easily prefer the old liturgy to the new. After just a few months of there being an option at our parish (and an un-advertized option, at that) for the traditional Mass, there is, not including those who moved to town for the school, easily a recognizable, stable group that should be served under Summorum Pontificum. Off the top of my head I count about 30 people who already existed in the parish who attend this Mass every weekend (anywhere from 5-10 or more during the week), plus maybe 10 or so more that I have seen come more than once but not as consistently. And, by the way, it is at least 75% young or younger families.

    Anyway, I just wonder, from this experience, how many more from this small parish (maybe 200 families? probably less that regularly attend) would be interested and discover the riches of the traditional liturgy if only they knew about it and if also they were encouraged to do so by the pastor!

    Interestingly, at this parish, we just had a new priest assigned here who arrived yesterday. We figure if the pastor who just left, who was no doubt a “product of his times” so to speak (ordained in mid-1970s), was supportive of the school and let them celebrate a daily traditional Mass, surely the new pastor, less than 10 years ordained, would be at least as ok with it as the last priest, and hopefully more so!

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