(Peter A. Kwasniewski, Rorate Caeli – November 13, 2019) In his Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969), Pope Paul VI specified that the Novus Ordo Missae would go into effect on the First Sunday of Advent that year — November 30, exactly fifty years ago. In my recent Minneapolis lecture, written with an eye to this important anniversary, I argue that the Novus Ordo Missae constitutes a rupture with fundamental elements of all liturgies of apostolic derivation, and that, as a consequence, it violates the Church’s solemn obligation to receive, cherish, guard, and pass on the fruits of liturgical development.
Since this development is, in fact, a major way in which the Holy Spirit leads the Church “into the fullness of truth” over the ages, as Christ promised, so great a “sin against the Holy Spirit” cannot fail to have enormous negative consequences, as indeed the past five decades have verified. Nor is it possible to bridge the abyss between old and new by applying cosmetics or the drapery of elegant clothing, because the problem is on the order of a genetic mutation, or damage to internal organs. The profound and permanent solution is to maintain continuity with the living liturgical tradition found in the usus antiquior.
The full text of the lecture, with notes, is given below; the recording of the talk may be found either on YouTube or at SoundCloud.
Beyond “Smells and Bells”: Why We Need the Objective Content of the Usus Antiquior
Peter A. Kwasniewski
November 13, 2019
Of the questions one can ask about the liturgy, three of the most elementary are: Where did it come from? Why is it the way it is? And what difference does it make?
One sometimes meets traditional Catholics who think of the classical Roman rite as something that was instituted by Christ in detail, either at the Last Supper, or during the forty days after His Resurrection, in a more leisurely version of the Latin Mass training camps offered by the Fraternity of St. Peter or the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. Some might be disappointed to know that this is not at all the way things happened historically. But as I hope to show, it would have been as unfitting for the liturgy to be instituted in detail from the very start as it would have been for Our Lord to hand over to the Apostles the Summa theologiae or Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. The reasons are very similar to the ones given by St. Augustine when he praises the meandering path taken by the 73 inspired books of Scripture, written over many centuries by many individuals with different styles and points of emphasis, but altogether making up a single God-given volume that converges on Christ.
We know from Scripture that Christ instituted the liturgy of the New Covenant and that it was in a process of growth even during the lives of the Apostles, who started out dividing their worship between the synagogue services, the Temple services, and private meetings in homes. The records of history—for example, the various missals, lectionaries, and chant books we possess—show a gradual development in the Church’s public worship, especially after the Church gained her freedom with the Edict of Milan in 313, which allowed her to resituate her liturgy in spacious Roman basilicas. In both Eastern and Western rites, each century bears the fruit of new prayers, new feasts, new ceremonies, but always
building upon what came before, in a process best understood as elaborating and extending further the preexisting content. This, I believe, is the most basic meaning of “organic” development: whatever comes later on arises, as if naturally, out of what is already there.
Of course, human free will is involved, and the free play of contingent historical events. We are not automatons who act in a predetermined way, nor is the history of the Church like a train running on pre-set tracks. There was no intrinsic necessity that St. Stephen be the first martyr, or that the cultus of St. Lawrence be so dominant in the Roman Church, or that the Roman rite would be taken up by Charlemagne in Gaul and later delivered back across the alps with Gallican embellishments such as the Palm Sunday procession. More broadly speaking, neither was it necessary that all Christians worship in the same way: this is why we have many families of orthodox liturgical rites, be they Roman, Ambrosian, Gallican, Mozarabic, Coptic, Chaldean, Byzantine, Slavic, or Syro-Malabar.
Thus, understanding how liturgy develops presents us with a challenge, not unlike the one faced by John Henry Newman in writing his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. How do we distinguish good developments from bad ones, otherwise known as corruptions? What is the relationship between unchanging essential elements and incidental changeable elements? Is it legitimate to view “the divine liturgy” as coming down to us from heaven, something we simply ought to receive, analogous to divine revelation? Or is Christian liturgy in a state of perpetual evolution? Can we harmonize the two views by seeing liturgy as teleological—that is, moving over time towards some perfection or fullness of form that, in fact, it achieves at a certain point? And if this is true, can we identify that point? What would be our criteria?