Hello to all readers of Catholic 365,
Liturgy wars! What? To many regular ordinary Catholics, who attend Mass irregularly or not at all, and/or are not fully practicing, the concept of a “war” happening in the Church over the Mass, is as foreign as a language spoken in a small country in the world.
To those frequent readers of Catholic365, or full practicing Catholics, you might be familiar with this “war,” or daresay, even committed “soldiers on the battlefield” for one side or another.
For my first contribution to Catholic365, allow me to “pontificate” (pun intended) on the issue of the so called “liturgy wars” about the current form of the Latin Rite, “the Ordinary Form” aka Novus Ordo, and those who value and want restored the “Extraordinary Form” aka the Vetus Ordo or Latin Mass.
The inspiration for my first contribution, comes from a pro-pontifex blog/website “Where Peter Is,” that recently released an article, “Contents of Secret Liturgical Document Revealed!” (1) The blog post is a fictional, but satirical report that emphasizes the ridiculousness of arguments against the Novus Ordo liturgy, using a noted papal document loved by “Trads” called Quo Primum from 1570. The author basically uses similar arguments to say “it’s been done before” and/or poke holes in the detractor’s arguments.
So that got me thinking about this topic of the “Liturgical War.”
Primer: Why has this war come about?
In short, after the ecumenical council of Vatican II, which took place from 1962-1965, revisions to the largest rite of the Church, the Roman Rite, occurred and changed the format of the Mass. The first revision of the Mass was interim, from 1965-1969, still had Latin as its primary language with more practical or lengthwise revisions (eg shortening the prayers at the foot of the altar.)
Where the “liturgical disaster” (as used by critics of the Church and current liturgy) happened, was the 1970 revision or 2nd edition of the Roman Missal. Despite the true documents of Vatican II and post-council documents never advocating for full re-tooling of the Mass, the “false spirit of Vatican II” (to quote Pope Benedict XVI) took a foothold of the changes in multiple ways, orchestrated by clerical and lay-led “liturgical experts.” This resulted in our everyday Mass being in the vernacular (spoken main language) and a host of changes never envisioned by the Council.
One example of this “change too far” would be in what passes as “liturgical music.” As a modern example, many parishes today, particularly with “youth ministry,” employs emotionally stirring “praise and worship” songs as part of the usual “4 hymn sandwich.” A fair part of these songs are taken even from Non-Catholic artists, groups, or “churches” with one of the most popular examples being Hillsong, a Christian “church” that originated from Australia and has spread its ministry worldwide.
Well, under the post-Vatican II document “Musicam sacram“ (1967,) it says in paragraph 12: “It is for the Holy See alone to determine the more important general principles … Direction … also belongs to the competent territorial Episcopal Conferences of various kinds, … and to the individual bishop.“ (2)
However, in this modern day, bishops rarely govern or even care about regulating parish music, leaving it up to pastors. Many bishops and pastors under them were inebriated with the “false spirit” of Vatican II, and/or trusted the so called “liturgical experts” that would “direct” the setup of liturgy and even physical worship space according to their interpretations of Vatican II.
Combine that for many years, along with the struggle in this time of crisis in the Church, to reach my generation and the youth, the parish pastor must accept whomever has even basic music skill to do the job of liturgical music. This is further compounded that in the non-tithing, volunteer donation-based Catholic Church, not many parishes have paid organist/cantor positions to attract quality candidates with musical experience or post-secondary education. Those whom would pursue said positions, will not come, as the positions usually do not pay as well as their non-Catholic, non-Christian, or secular counterparts. And so, in desperation to not lose the faithful that come to Mass, or, “gasp!”have “quiet” masses on Sundays, the music that stands as that director’s choice, remains.
Liturgical music choices is only just one factor though. Throw in a “perfect storm” of: Personal choice of certain parts of the Mass (e.g. prayers of the faithful, Eucharistic prayers and prefaces,) Further liturgical aberrations/abuses over the years (e.g. clown masses, masses on logs, liturgical dance, sports team paraphernalia worn by the celebrant …) which no document in Vatican II or post-council mandated; Moral and secular depravity in our culture and online; Poor catechesis programs for all Sacraments; embracing and believing in beliefs/ideologies contrary to Catholic doctrine and teaching; the abuse crises in the Church among both priests and lay abusers (e.g. McCarrick, Jean Vanier, Rupnik,) … and what you have is the remainder of the faithful left scratching their heads trying to think of WHY and HOW this dire situation, ever decelerating, can be fixed.
The People … the other part of the why?
When the changes came about in the Latin Rite in the Church, the majority of the lay faithful just went along with it, which is expected, as most laypeople are passive about religious worship. Whatever the “culture” dictates, is what they go along with … up to an including not going to Mass at all.
However, a swath of the faithful, who were attached to the form of the Roman Rite and still believers in the doctrines and dogmas of the Church, were left angry, upset, and aghast that the institutional Church would simply just jettison a form of the Mass simply by the mantra “New is good, old is bad.” They were left broken, with few to no options until the introduction of the Indult Mass in 1988 by Pope John Paul II (with few offerings worldwide) … that is, until Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007 to take the EF Mass mostly out of bishops’ hands and expand offerings to the faithful who wanted it. This was also done to try and broker peace with the Society of St Pius X, a breakaway splinter group of priests who are “valid but licit” due to their head archbishop, the late Marcel Lefevbre, ordaining 4 new bishops without the approval of the Vatican/Pope John Paul II in 1988. Needless to say the appeasement failed due to the need for SSPX (during their negotiations with the Vatican under Benedict XVI,) to accept Vatican II council in its entirely.
What Benedict XVI did NOT foresee, was he accidentally did his own “aggorgiamento” in Church culture: he opened a window for the angry clergy and lay leaders, too over passionate about the old liturgy, and/or full of anger at the Institutional Church and laxity of Faith and morals in the Body of Christ, to abuse the old rite as a revenge against the societal wrongs “perpetrated” by the Church.
The escalation to full scale war, will be explored next time.
Pax Tibi Christi (Peace of Christ to you,) Julian Barkin
1. Campbell, Gary. “Contents of Secret Liturgical Document Revealed!” Web log. Where Peter Is (blog), October 5, 2023.https://wherepeteris.com/contents-of-secret-liturgical-document-revealed/.
2. Catholic Church. “ SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL MUSICAM SACRAM INSTRUCTION ON MUSIC IN THE LITURGY.” Musicam Sacram. Accessed December 8, 2023.https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_instr_19670305_musicam-sacram_en.html.