On his flight back to Rome after his trip to Cyprus and Greece last December 6, responding to a question from journalists about the resignation of the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, Pope Francis explained:
“I accepted Aupetit’s resignation, not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy. This is what I want to say.”1
The Argentine Pope seems to have taken the same attitude toward the traditional liturgy of the Church. Indeed, despite the blatant liturgical absurdities seen in celebrations of the new rite imposed on the Church in 1969, both Pope Francis and Archbishop Arthur Roche—the former through the motu proprio Traditiones Custodes, and the latter through the Responsa ad dubia—have drastically restricted the celebration of the traditional Mass.2
The reasons given for such measures boil down to “restoring liturgical unity” and imposing acceptance of Second Vatican Council doctrines.
Abandoning the “Altar of Truth”
By failing to recognize that the division among the faithful concerning the liturgy came about precisely because of giving up the rite of apostolic tradition and imposing a new Roman rite of the Mass under the aegis of the Council, one has abandoned “the altar of truth.”
Before that change, a Catholic could travel almost anywhere in the world and attend the same Mass, in the same universal language of the Church, with the same prayers, vestments and, above all, with recollection.
Ritus Modernus Replaces Ritus Romanus
German liturgist Monsignor Klaus Gamber prefers to refer to the traditional rite of the Mass as Ritus Romanus and call the new rite of Pope Paul VI Ritus Modernus. He explains that it is imprecise and even incorrect to call the traditional Roman rite the “Mass of St. Pius V” or “Tridentine Mass.” “In the strict sense there is no ‘Tridentine Mass,’” he writes, “for, at least at the conclusion of the Council of Trent, there was no creation of a new Mass order; and the ‘Missal of St. Pius V’ is nothing else but the Missal of the Roman Curia, which had seen the light in Rome centuries earlier.”3
Pope Paul VI Announces a “New Rite” of the Mass
In his speech announcing the enforcement of the “New Mass,” Pope Paul VI made it clear that such “liturgical innovation” was not about superficial liturgical modifications but a complete change in the rite of the Mass. That is why he very often referred to the “new rite of the Mass” or simply the “new rite”:4
“We ask you to turn your minds once more to the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass. This new rite will be introduced into our celebration of the holy Sacrifice starting from Sunday next which is the first of Advent, November 30 [in Italy].”
Breaking With Church Tradition
Pope Paul VI recognized that, on imposing his “new rite,” he was breaking with the Church’s liturgical tradition:
“A new rite of the Mass: [it is] a change in a venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries. This is something that affects our hereditary religious patrimony, which seemed to enjoy the privilege of being untouchable and settled. It seemed to bring the prayer of our forefathers and our saints to our lips and to give us the comfort of feeling faithful to our spiritual past, which we kept alive to pass it on to the generations ahead.”
“It is at such a moment as this that we get a better understanding of the value of historical tradition and the communion of the saints. This change will affect the ceremonies of the Mass.”
The Gravity of the Rupture With Apostolic Tradition
These statements by Pope Paul VI are all the more serious since the Roman Rite (the “Tridentine Mass”) is of apostolic tradition. Now, breaking with apostolic tradition entails extremely grave theological problems.
Msgr. Klaus Gamber writes, “[T]he popes have repeatedly observed that the rite [of the Mass] is founded on apostolic tradition.” In a note, he cites letters from Popes Saint Innocent I (402-417) and Vigilius (538-555) who make that statement. He goes on to comment on the opinions of great theologians from the past, such as Cardinal Cajetan (+1534) and Suarez (+1617), that “a pope would be schismatic ‘…if he were to change all the liturgical rites of the Church that have been upheld by apostolic tradition.’”5
Sacrificing Latin, Gregorian Chant, and Other Spiritual Treasures of the Church
Everything about the Mass will now be different, Pope Paul VI adds:
“We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed—perhaps so much accustomed that we no longer took any notice of them.”
Pope Paul VI was keenly aware he was sacrificing Latin, this irreplaceable “language of the angels,” and other precious spiritual values of the Church:
“It is here that the greatest newness is going to be noticed, the newness of language. No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. The introduction of the vernacular will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power and the expressive sacrality of Latin. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant.
“We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? We are giving up something of priceless worth.”
A Banal and Prosaic Human Answer
The Pontiff asks this obvious question:
“But why? What is more precious than these loftiest of our Church’s values?”
And he answers:
“The answer will seem banal, prosaic. Yet it is a good answer, because it is human, because it is apostolic.
“Understanding of prayer is worth more than the silken garments in which it is royally dressed. Participation by the people is worth more—particularly participation by modern people, so fond of plain language which is easily understood and converted into everyday speech.
“If the divine Latin language kept us apart from the children, from youth, from the world of labor and of affairs, if it were a dark screen, not a clear window, would it be right for us fishers of souls to maintain it as the exclusive language of prayer and religious intercourse?”
Was It Worth It?
As a half-century has passed, it is the case to ask: Was it worth it?
Did the “great sacrifice” of abandoning “the divine Latin language” and replacing it with “plain language” draw the children, the youth, “the world of labor and of affairs” closer to the Church?
No. The opposite happened: churches emptied, and few Catholics now go to Mass.
The churches that fill up on Sundays and holy days of obligation are precisely those where Mass is celebrated according to the Vetus Ordo, in Latin, and where Gregorian Chant resounds.
In reality, banality and prosaism were largely what Pope Paul VI introduced into the celebration of the Mass and drove the faithful away.
Pope Francis Completes the Work Begun by Pope Paul VI
In his July 16, 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and its explanatory letter to the bishops, Pope Francis brutally restricted as much as possible (with a view to extinguishing) the celebration of Holy Mass in the traditional rite, although, as we have seen, it is of apostolic origin.
The Responsa ad dubia of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, signed by Archbishop Arthur Roche on December 4, 2021, further hardened the already draconian provisions of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes.
By waging his all-out war against the traditional liturgy of the Mass to destroy this monument of Christian piety, Pope Francis is completing the self-demolishing work of the “venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries” of the liturgical rite of apostolic tradition.
Appeals Were to No Avail
At the time, the news of the abandonment of the traditional Latin liturgy had a profound impact not only on practicing Catholics but even on non-Catholics.
In 1971, fifty intellectuals and artists, comprised of Catholics, non-Catholics and even Jews, sent to Pope Paul VI and made public an appeal imploring the maintenance of the traditional liturgy as a patrimony of humanity.
Among other things, the Statement by Scholars, Intellectuals, and Artists Living in England said,
“If some senseless decree were to order the total or partial destruction of basilicas or cathedrals, then obviously it would be the educated — whatever their personal beliefs — who would rise up in horror to oppose such a possibility.
“Now the fact is that basilicas and cathedrals were built so as to celebrate a rite which, until a few months ago, constituted a living tradition. We are referring to the Roman Catholic Mass. Yet, according to the latest information in Rome, there is a plan to obliterate that Mass by the end of the current year” …
“We are not at this moment considering the religious or spiritual experience of millions of individuals. 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.”6
The Cardinals’ Appeal
Even more critical than this appeal by intellectuals and artists, who understood well the link between beauty and truth, are works by theologians, priests and laymen showing how the new Mass departed from the Council of Trent and approached Protestantism.
In June 1969, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci sent Pope Paul VI a cover letter with a study titled, The Critical Study of the New Order of Mass. Their letter contains this most serious affirmation:
“[T]he Novus Ordo Missae—considering the new elements widely susceptible to widely different interpretations which are implied or taken for granted—represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session 22 of the Council of Trent. The “canons” of the rite definitively fixed at that time erected an insurmountable barrier against any heresy which might attack the integrity of the Mystery.7
A Mass Without Sacrality
The new rite has lost that sacredness and mystery that Latin gave it, the reverence of the priest facing God at the altar, praying in a low voice as if annihilated before the greatness of serving as an instrument of Our Lord Jesus Christ to consecrate and immolate the divine Victim in a sacramental form, thus renewing the Sacrifice of Calvary.
In Pope Paul VI’s “new rite,” the Mass became a continuous chatter, a constant and banal dialogue between the celebrant and the assembly, suggesting that the faithful concelebrate with the priest. They place so much emphasis on the assembly that Fr. Joseph de Sainte-Marie, O.C.D., observed that “by absolutizing this communitarian aspect,” the new Mass has “led to anthropocentrism, [with] the assembly celebrating itself.”8
It is no wonder, then, that there have been so many aberrations and absurdities in the celebration of the Mass according to the Novus Ordo Missae over these fifty years.
- Pope Francis, “Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece: Press Conference on the return flight to Rome,” December 6, 2021, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2021/12/6/atene-volodiritorno.html, accessed December 27, 2021.
- See Pope Francis, “Apostolic Letter Issued ‘Motu Proprio’ by the Supreme Pontiff Francis Traditionis Custodes, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/20210716-motu-proprio-traditionis-custodes.html; “Letter Of The Holy Father Francis To The Bishops Of The Whole World, That Accompanies The Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Data, ‘Traditionis Custodes’” https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2021/documents/20210716-lettera-vescovi-liturgia.html; See Archbishop Arthur Roche, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “RESPONSA AD DUBIA on certain Provisions of the Apostolic Letter TRADITIONIS CUSTODES issued ‘Motu Proprio’ by the Supreme Pontiff FRANCIS,” December 4, 2021, http://www.cultodivino.va/content/cultodivino/it/documenti/responsa-ad-dubia/2022/su-alcune-disposizioni-del-traditionis-custodes-/english.html, accessed December 27, 2021.
- Monsignor Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its problems and Background, (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.: Una Voce Press; Harrison, N.Y.: The Foundation for Catholic Reform, 1993), p. 23.
- Pope Paul VI, “Address to a General Audience,” November 26, 1969, https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/changes-in-mass-for-greater-apostolate-8969 (all emphasis ours). All quotations are from EWTN, which is taken from the Weekly Edition in English of L’Osservatore Romano, December 4, 1969. In Italian “PAOLO VI: UDIENZA GENERALE” Mercoledì, 26 novembre 1969, “Effusione degli animi nella Assemblea Comunitaria, ricchezza del nuovo rito della Santa Messa,” https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/it/audiences/1969/documents/hf_p-vi_aud_19691126.html, accessed December 22, 2021.
- Monsignor Klaus Gamber, op. cit., pp. 34-36 (emphasis ours), and note 26. See also Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, Theological and Moral Implication of the “Novus Ordo Missae,” (Cleveland, Ohio: Lumem Mariae Publications), p. 258ff.
- “1971 Statement by Scholars, Intellectuals, and Artists Living in England,” https://web.archive.org/web/20161020002716/http:/www.institute-christ-king.org/uploads/main/pdf/england-statement.pdf, accessed December 29, 2021.
- Modern History Sourcebook: The Ottaviani Intervention, 1969 (with The Critical Study of the New Order of Mass, sent by the cardinals), https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/1969ottoviani.asp (our emphasis), accessed December 29, 2021. The fact, about which there is much confusion, that Cardinal Ottaviani withdrew his name from that initiative does not alter the veracity of the statement. The criticism is proven by the study that the Cardinals forwarded, and also by publications by numerous authors such as, for example, that of Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, cited above.
- P. Joseph de Sainte-Marie, O.C.D., L’Eucharistie Salut du Monde, Ed. Dominique Martin Morin (Paris: Les Éditions du Cèdre, 1982), p. 134. (Our translation.)