An Anti-Traditionalist Rants—and a Traditionalist Responds

By Peter Kwasniewski at OnePeterFive:

I once received a humdinger of a piece of anti-fan mail from a lady in Europe who was quite incensed by the lecture at Steubenville that became chapter 1 of my book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness. Recently re-reading it, I thought it might be interesting to share what she wrote, and then my response to her. For what it’s worth…

*          *          *

Dear Dr. Kwasniewski,

If you want to recycle the claim, admittedly put about by Cardinal Ratzinger, that the new Mass was created by a committee, then you need to think through what he meant. All rites of Mass, in the end, have to pass through committees in Rome before they get an approbation! If you read Buginini, whom you did not mention, or Lauren Pristas, who has published extensively on the Collects and proves they were brought out of the riches of the old liturgies, not created out of thin air, the claim can no longer be seriously maintained that the Church produced a “botched” rite. You recycle old canards instead of submitting them to critical scrutiny.

The received wisdom is that the liturgy reflected the turmoil in the world in 1968. Things have changed since then. The liturgy has settled down. I am an example of someone who fell in love with the old rite in 1997 but finds prayerful Catholics, prayerful priests, and devout liturgies throughout the world as I travel. Your caricature of the Novus Ordo cannot be found in churches in the real world. It is part of a mythology in the service of quasi-schism. The problem is not the Mass; the problem is poorly educated Catholics, out of their depth about their duties. We need arguments about truth, the nature of God, why Christ loves us, etc.! Stealing people for these minority pressure groups may, in some cases, be a way forward, but you err wholly in implying, if not stating, that the old rite per se or alone can supplement for the real work, which is setting a good example everywhere I go. That, too, was the Council. How else can we turn the statistics round if Catholics only want to operate in enclaves where everybody agrees with one another? The point is to move out and on and get onto the streets where the problems are.

Pope Francis has moved the conversation forward. It is about works—who is an authentic Christian in the sacrifices they make for others? The reason why non-Christians or lapsed Christians love this pope is because they know he is getting at the heart of the Gospel. He comes to the aid of people in need.

In order to sustain your insinuations you have to bracket out the fact that many of the new movements like Emmanuel—in every country of the world, and much more full of young people than the old rite Masses I attend—have contemporary music for all the sections of the Masses. These are prayerful, moving, and appealing to the next generation, in far more serious numbers than anything done with the old rite. One does not have to have Gregorian chant to be transported. Your definition of beauty is narrow. Your definition of tradition is narrow. The Church is always of its day as well as for eternity, otherwise we would all have to hate Tiepolo and cling to Fra Angelico.

All blessings for your future.

Yours sincerely,


*          *          *

Dear N.,

I think there may be some fundamental misunderstandings in your reactions to my lecture.

The liturgy reaches us by being handed down with veneration and received with trepidation. Yes, it can be elaborated, augmented, and refined, and very occasionally pruned, but it has never been a committee product. A committee advised St. Pius V, but the missal he promulgated was, in all essentials, that which the church in Rome had long been celebrating. Sequences were removed and the calendar was simplified. This is like a gardener clipping off a few branches of an already mature tree.

What happened in the 1960s under the Consilium, on the other hand, had absolutely no historical precedent in either its scope or its outcomes. Anyone who has studied the history of the liturgy seriously cannot dispute this point for a moment. Dr. Lauren Pristas herself establishes it in her book on the Collects. Who cares if the revisers plied their scissors and paste on old liturgical codices? What they did was artificial and egotistical. They had no trust or love for the inherited rites. It’s as if the gardener cut down half the tree, spliced in several other species of trees, injected genetically modified cells, and painted the trunk a different color.

The crisis in the liturgy is caused by an Enlightenment rejection of the inherent authority of tradition over our minds. We want to be the creators and judges of tradition, which we are not and never will be. We can either humbly and gratefully receive it, or arrogantly assert control and mastery over it. Our attitude must be either Aquinas’s or Descartes’s. Even the reform-minded Louis Bouyer came to see this point before his death, and regretted the devastation that had been wrought in the name of “pastoral liturgy.” In his Memoirs, he refers to the Consilium’s work as “the abortus we brought forth” (Angelico ed., p. 224). In that sense, the problem is the Mass, not to mention the rest of the revised sacramental rites, the Liturgy of the Hours, the “Book of Blessings,” the Rite of Exorcism, and whatever other products have rolled off the assembly line.

You speak of the liturgy as having “settled down.” This indeed it has done—into a routine of mediocrity, banality, and superficiality. If you have only ever found devout people led by priests who reverently celebrate the sacred mysteries, your travels have been fortunate indeed. Perhaps you need to travel some more in the United States, South America, and other places where liturgical abuses have become institutionalized and clergy can be persecuted if they challenge the status quo.

Yes, of course the Novus Ordo can be celebrated “well,” in a hermeneutic of continuity: one might think of the Oratory in London or in Oxford. But an approach that is completely faithful even to Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium is as rare as an error-free airplane interview with Pope Francis. Besides, the problems with the Novus Ordo go much deeper than that. It seems odd to speak of “recycling” old canards, when my position, like that of many who came before me (Michael Davies, Klaus Gamber, László Dobszay) is based on a close study of the violence visited upon the Roman liturgy by self-styled reformers in the grip of ideologies that prejudiced them against nearly everything medieval and Baroque. Evidently they did not agree with Pope Pius XII that the slow development of the Church’s liturgy over time was part of the Church’s being led “into the fullness of truth” by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised.

In addition to whatever good qualities he may have, Pope Francis has brought confusion and anguish. Whether he intends it or not, he has been undermining much of the good accomplished by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It goes without saying that I pray for him every day, as every Catholic should. Nevertheless, in a time of crisis, I say let there be a good fight, as there was during the early Christological and Trinitarian controversies, in the iconoclast period, at the time of the Reformation, or in the early twentieth century against Modernism. Indifference, lukewarmness, and false peace are the bane of the Church in every age, but especially ours.

I am familiar with the “new movements”—I have had personal and positive experiences with several of them—yet I believe that they would bear more and better fruit if they rediscovered Catholic Tradition, as Bishop Marc Aillet and other members of the hierarchy have suggested. We find vitality here and there because God will never let His Church perish. But, like a genetic defect that causes deformities in an otherwise healthy organism, there are human errors mixed in with these movements that have caused and will cause a greater or lesser number of aberrations. The Neocatechumenal Way comes to mind as an example of a movement characterized by profound theological deviations and liturgical distortions.

In regard to music, it seems that you have a difficulty not with me but with the Magisterium of the Church, which repeats dozens of times, often quite emphatically, that Gregorian chant, as the music proper to the Roman liturgy, should have the chief place (principem locum), and that the pipe organ is the sacred instrument par excellence. Naturally, the majority of Catholics ignore such things, just as they ignore the teaching on contraception, on the non-ordainability of women, on the evil of usury, or on the social kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord bestowed on you a special grace when He led you to discover the riches of the Church’s traditional liturgy. There is no need to attack those who are explaining, promoting, and defending that immense liturgical treasury against the barbarians and mad scientists of our era.

Cordially in Christ,

Peter Kwasniewski


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8 Responses to An Anti-Traditionalist Rants—and a Traditionalist Responds

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    What happened in the 1960s under the Consilium, on the other hand, had absolutely no historical precedent in either its scope or its outcomes

    This is a false claim — not only was the Tridentine Mass created by committee, but it was most certainly a liturgical innovation which took about 100 years to be fully accepted by the Catholics. And that’s “Concilium, BTW.

    a routine of mediocrity, banality, and superficiality

    Anyone who imagines that no such thing existed before 1965 is a grotesquely deluded fantasist.

    Just read some 16th or 14th century criticisms of contemporary Masses, just for starters …


  2. mmvc says:

    Anyone who imagines that no such thing existed before 1965 is a grotesquely deluded fantasist.

    Tell that to Pope Benedict:

    “The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat is as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.” Cardinal Ratzinger from 1988 Latin Mass Magazine, Fall 2003

    “I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part on the collapse of the liturgy. Cardinal Ratzinger “WORSHIP TIMES/MODERN LITURGY 8/97

    “I was dismayed by the ban on the old missal, since such a development had never been seen in the history of liturgy. The impression was given that this was completely normal,” Cardinal Ratzinger Catholic News Service, August 1997

    “One cannot manufacture a liturgical movement … but one can help contribute to its development by striving to reassimilate the spirit of the liturgy and by defending publicly what one has thus received … What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it– as in a manufacturing process — with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.” Cardinal Josef Ratzinger from the preface of the book “The Reform of the Roman Rite” by Msgr. Klaus Gamber


  3. JabbaPapa says:

    Tell that to Pope Benedict

    So go ahead and completely misinterpret his statements then, clearly nothing I might write will prevent it.

    Furthermore, you appear to be trying to argue against no point that I had even made.

    Rubbish neo- “liturgy” was an invention of the late 15th and early 16th Centuries, viz. numerous Protestants passim.


  4. mmvc says:

    So go ahead and completely misinterpret his statements then…

    I have not offered any interpretation of these very clear statements by Pope Benedict.

    On the question of historical precedents to the events and fallout of V2, Dr Kwasniewski’s conclusions most certainly do not sound like those of a ‘grotesquely deluded fantasist’ to me.


  5. geoffkiernan says:

    I strongly doubt Jabba has any personal experience of anything (Church or Secular) pre VII but that doesn’t stop him from pretending to speak with authority. Is there any substitute for actually being there at the time? I doubt it. The term ‘Grotesquely deluded fantasist’ is not one he can legitimately assign to another. His ‘experience’ comes from the opinions of others who actually were present at the time. Their Opinion’ are derived from their personal experiences, no doubt, but carry with them and are influenced by any private or social bent they may endure and whatever the particular nuances of the day. Only someone with personal knowledge and experience of the times can genuinely compare/confirm and thereby legitimize those opinions with any degree of authority.
    I dont dismiss historical reports and opinions as illegitimate . I suggest however that they are somewhat inferior to reports that are sustained by personal knowledge and experience. I have nearly 30 years of personal pre VII experience.
    So come on Jabba, confirm one way or the other as to what personal knowledge and experience you have of the subject matter. If you speak from personal experience of the Church pre VII then I will withdraw my comment and sincerely apologize.


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    “I have nearly 30 years of personal pre VII experience.

    Interesting to admire and reflect that Geoffrey, possibly the oldest ** cradle Catholic in these parts was born (or conceived, as I never fail to remind people is the more important event, and as I demanded to know from my son and wife concerning their soon-to-be-born child) close to when (1930) Evelyn Waugh became a convert.

    And Geoffrey Kiernan also reminds me of Waugh in this respect – that is to say: he’s a very down-to-earth person whose Catholic values owe much to his “personal experience”, not just to pie-in-the-sky philosophizing about “late 15th and early 16th Centuries liturgy” as does our contributor who never lived then and who is far younger, temporaly if not spiritually, than many here.

    I’ve learned that in his early years, Waugh thought he become might be a tradesman, not a writer. He was respectful of people who did things with their hands, like St Joseph. I recall reading years ago that he compared the function of priests at Mass to plumbers cleaning blocked toilet pipes of sewage. Here’s what Waugh had to say about Catholic liturgy 54 years ago, close upon the end of the lamentable ‘pastoral’ Vatican 2 Council in 1965:

    “Of the extraneous attractions of the Church which drew me most was the spectacle of the priest and his server at low Mass, stumping up to the altar without a glance to discover how many or how few he had in his congregation; a craftsman and his apprentice; a man with a job which he alone was qualified to do. That is the Mass I have grown to know and love.”

    Catholic Herald, 07 August 1964, p.4.
    None of which is to say that Waugh did not know and also love the High Mass of the Ages.
    **Not wishing to unchivalrously guess the date when God sent dear Gertrude into the world 🙂


  7. geoffkiernan says:

    Must get my ‘sums’ right here….That’s ’round 21/22 years of actual pre VII but 28 years of the pre VII Church practice, before abandoning and then accepting the ‘new’ (c)hurch with some gusto for the next 40 years….That makes it a 1944 vintage. Knowing Gertrude’ equanimity, wisdom and serenity I would suggest a similar vintage..(chivalry is a luxury I cant afford) Throw in the ‘conception’ equation just makes it just all to hard. When you get to these dizzying ages, JH you will notice a tendency to fudge figures and also to repeat oneself oneself.


  8. Toad says:

    Nancy Mitford once asked Waugh how, as a Catholic, he could be so horrible. ”Imagine how horrible I’d be if I wasn’t a Catholic,” he replied.
    (I paraphrase. Can’t find the actual quote.)


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