The One Thread By Which the Council Hangs: a Response to Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy

A brilliant article by Dom Alcuin Reid:

Above: photos of (left) Requiem Mass for Pope Benedict XVI at the Monastère Saint-Benoît, provided by the monastery, and (right) Mass in Mexico, by marianaarias of CathoPic.

“Don’t touch that! If you do, everything will collapse!” The warning is clear enough. Any sensible person would rapidly desist, lest their one seemingly minor act bring everything crashing down, undoing the work of many days, weeks, years or even decades.

I am not sure whether these were the exact words used by a number of bishops at the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, but, whatever words they chose, these bishops forcefully conveyed to him their opinion that he could not under any circumstances permit a wider use of the older liturgical rites without perilously detracting from the authority of the Second Vatican Council. “Don’t do it,” they insisted, “or the Council will seem to have been reversed and will lose its authority.”

Of course, Benedict XVI did “do it” with his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (7 July 2007)—having first spent a cheerful morning or two telephoning many of the bishops who had previously shouted at him, in order personally to ‘explain’ that they had little or nothing to worry about. The world did not come to an end. The Church did not implode, and the Second Vatican Council’s true authority was not undermined.

At least, not in the minds of those who understand the Second Vatican Council to be a valid Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church which occupied itself with pastoral aims—principally how the Church could more effectively preach the Gospel in the modern age—and who know that it defined no dogmas and decreed no anathemas, but outlined policies which were judged to be expedient at the time and which were to be interpreted in a hermeneutic of continuity with the Church’s Tradition, including the dogmatic definitions of the other twenty Ecumenical Councils of the Church.

But in the minds of those for whom the Second Vatican Council did in fact define a dogma—indeed, a super-dogma—Pope Benedict’s actions most certainly risked undermining the Council and bringing its entire edifice crashing down in ruins. The dogma it supposedly defined?—that “Vatican II changed all of that, radically, irreversibly,” where “that” stands for any previous liturgical, doctrinal, moral, or pastoral teaching or practice that is deemed inapplicable (read “inconvenient”) to contemporary man.

This super-dogma has been applied to every area of the life of the Church in subsequent decades, from catechetics to cathedral choirs, from seminaries to Catholic schools, from missionary territories to the minefield of morality in the modern world, from relations with non-Catholics and non-Christians to its dealing with increasingly secular states, etc. But nowhere is this super-dogma more clearly visible, indeed nowhere is it more tangible, than in the liturgical rites promulgated by the pope in the decade or so following the Council’s close in 1965. The “new Mass” is just that; it is not the old one. The old one is gone—and forbidden in the minds of those for whom “Vatican II changed all of that, radically, irreversibly.” And their emotional and psychological attachment to this super-dogma runs very deep indeed.

If you doubt this for one minute, take a young priest, have him catechise his people on the patristic, spiritual, and pastoral value of celebrating the (new, vernacular) Mass ad orientem—with the priest and congregation facing together towards the [liturgical] East—and have him announce the date on which he shall commence the practice. Then borrow his telephone. The chancery or even the bishop will call promptly enough to forbid him. You see, “Vatican II changed all of that,” even if in 2016 Pope Francis’s own choice as Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship had the temerity to explain that, in fact, it did not. (He, too, got a telephone call.)

The Grip of the Super-Dogma

When we recognise this super-dogma for what it actually is—a lie upon which generations of clergy and laity have built their ecclesiastical careers (by no means am I referring to “simple layfolk” who just want to love and serve God and get to heaven)—we can begin to understand the manic severity that is meted out to those who refuse to subscribe to it and, indeed, we can begin to comprehend the extreme lengths to which its devotees will go in propping up and jealously defending everything that they have built upon this foundation, most especially the reformed liturgy. For the new liturgy is the touchstone of Vatican II. It is the single thread by which (in the minds of many) the Council (of their own conception) hangs.

This explains the grave concerns expressed by ecclesiastical authorities about whether or not those who wish to celebrate the unreformed liturgical rites “accept Vatican II.” What, in fact, is there to accept? The prudential judgements of the Council in respect of pastoral policy? One may be a faithful Catholic and have different opinions about their value, particularly with some sixty years of hindsight, surely?

Of course, authorities are more specific in their demand: one must accept the legitimacy of the liturgical reform of Vatican II. Here we get to the crux of the matter. Every Catholic must indeed accept the validity of the liturgical rites duly promulgated by the pope (and which do not contravene the divinely instituted elements of the rites—no pope or council can substitute bread and wine at Mass with cola and cookies). But with greatest respect to the authorities—who repeat this demand often—that is as far as it goes. That the liturgical and historical travesty known as “Eucharistic Prayer II” validly confects the Eucharist is undoubtedly true. But whether it shouldbe (or ever have been) placed in any Roman missal, or for that matter, in any liturgical book, is very much open to legitimate debate. Even Protestant scholars recoil from the embarrassing way in which it came into its present form and use. And this, very worryingly, is quite possibly the Eucharistic Prayer that practicing Catholics most often encounter at Mass.

You see, if you don’t “accept” this reform—or worse still, if you question it, or habitually avoid it by frequenting or celebrating the unreformed liturgical rites—you are classed as a “Vatican-II denier.” And in the contemporary Catholic Church which boasts of its mercy, inclusivity, accompaniment, its listening and its openness to diversity, there is little if any place for you—regardless of the fact that you have never once denied the reality of the Second Vatican Council or that it was a legitimate Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and you accept each and every one of its solemn doctrinal definitions (all none of them). Once labelled a “Vatican-II denier,” a “traditionalist,” or whatever, you are beyond the fringes—because you have dared to touch that one thread on which, many hold, the Second Vatican Council hangs.

Cavadini, Healy and Weinandy


READ ON at 1Peter5

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1 Response to The One Thread By Which the Council Hangs: a Response to Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy

  1. Mary Salmond says:

    It reminds me of public education. Instead of teaching phonics, try teaching gobbledygook and see if that works. It doesn’t, and the students have suffered in reading since that change. Now homeschoolers are using phonics and read the classics.
    The same with church, why try to fix what was not broken in the traditional mass of ages. Many are gravitating to it because the other new mass has no meat to it. Stick to the basics without the fluff.


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