“A certain mediocrity, superficiality, and banality”

Yesterday, the Holy Father addressed a conference at the Vatican commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Instruction on Music in the Liturgy of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, Musicam sacram. While not as detailed as St. John Paul’s 2003 chirograph commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. Pius X’s great Tra le sollicitudini, it is still an interesting statement. Especially interesting is the Holy Father’s candid admission that:

Certamente l’incontro con la modernità e l’introduzione delle lingue parlate nella Liturgia ha sollecitato tanti problemi: di linguaggi, di forme e di generi musicali. Talvolta è prevalsa una certa mediocrità, superficialità e banalità, a scapito della bellezza e intensità delle celebrazioni liturgiche. Per questo i vari protagonisti di questo ambito, musicisti e compositori, direttori e coristi di scholae cantorum, animatori della liturgia, possono dare un prezioso contributo al rinnovamento, soprattutto qualitativo, della musica sacra e del canto liturgico. Per favorire questo percorso, occorre promuovere un’adeguata formazione musicale, anche in quanti si preparano a diventare sacerdoti, nel dialogo con le correnti musicali del nostro tempo, con le istanze delle diverse aree culturali, e in atteggiamento ecumenico.

(Emphasis supplied.) We will leave it to you, dear reader, to obtain a machine translation of the text, unless you have better Italian than we do. (And almost anyone does.)

An Ash Wednesday reflection

Matthew Walther is one of the funniest writers working today. If you have not read his columns for the Washington Free Beacon about the 2016 presidential election, you have missed a great treat. (It’s not too late, though!) He is also a very serious, traditionally minded Catholic. Today, at the Catholic Herald, he has an excellent column about his return to the Church, sparked by T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday. It would be unfair to excerpt it, so we will say instead that you should read it there.

We observe, in passing, one bit in particular from Walther’s essay: the music at the Ash Wednesday Mass he attended was in Latin. And his is not the only story we have read in which the majesty of the Church’s liturgical tradition has drawn Catholics back to the Church or made converts of non-Catholics. (If anyone validly baptized can be said to be a non-Catholic.)


Background on the O antiphons

Gregory DiPippo at New Liturgical Movement has a wonderful essay about the so-called O antiphons, which started being sung at vespers (at the Magnificat) on December 17. These antiphons survived the post-conciliar liturgical reforms and are said even in the Liturgia Horarum. A brief selection, about the antiphon sung today, O Adonai:

O Adonai” speaks of Christ as the one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and gave him the Law on Mount Sinai; “Adonai”, Hebrew for “My Lord”, is the word which Jews, when reading the Bible, say in place of the Divine Name YHWH that was revealed to Moses in Exodus 3. The prayer to “come to redeem us with arm extended” refers to God’s own words when speaking to Moses in Exodus 6, 6, “I am the Lord who will bring you out from the work-prison of the Egyptians, and will deliver you from bondage: and redeem you with a high arm, and great judgments,” as well as the canticle which Moses sings after the crossing of the Red Sea, “Let fear and dread fall upon them, (i.e. upon the Egyptians) in the greatness of thy arm.” (Exod. 15, 16)

(Hyperlink in original) Read the whole thing there.

Update on the SSPX situation from Bishop Fellay

At Rorate Caeli, there is an exclusive interview of Bishop Bernard Fellay, SSPX superior general, by Fr. Kevin Cusick. While the interview was conducted in the context of the blessing of the SSPX’s new St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Virginia, it touched upon, as you might expect, the status of negotiations between the Society and the Roman authorities. There is cheerful news in the interview for those of us who have followed closely the back and forth over the Society since the Holy Father made it known that the regularization of the Society is a priority of his. Since it is a Rorate exclusive, we won’t quote more than necessary to whet your appetite:

He went on to elaborate, however, that the documents of Vatican II are at issue, a matter with which many readers are already aware, the remaining sticking points being those documents treating religious liberty, ecumenism and reform of the liturgy. The Society has been very firm and consistent over the years that these teachings are incompatible with the integral tradition of the Church.

The bishop recommended three major interviews given by Abp. Pozzo and published by the French bishops’ newspaper La Croix as a good source for an adequate summary of the current status of talks between the Society and the Holy See because “these give the position of Rome clearly”. The most recent of these was published in July.

The bishop elaborated by describing the talks on the documents of Vatican II with Rome as being in a “clarification” stage. He mentioned this as being the case in particular because of the statement by Archbishop Muller [sic, but presumably Gerhard Ludwig Card. Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] that the Society must accept Vatican II, including the portions at issue.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink in original.)

It is interesting to us—very interesting—that Bishop Fellay would make such a point of citing Archbishop Pozzo’s interviews with La Croix as giving “the position of Rome clearly.” Recall that Archbishop Pozzo shocked many observers by stating clearly that full, unreserved assent to every jot and tittle of the Conciliar documents was not necessary. Indeed, Archbishop Pozzo indicated that the various documents must be given their proper magisterial weight but that the Council did not constitute a “superdogma.” And the Pope seemed to agree with Archbishop Pozzo, noting that the Conciliar documents have their value, or something that effect. However, Cardinal Müller has been steadfast that acceptance of the Vatican II documents is necessary. Thus, as Bishop Fellay observed, there are some tensions within the various statements of the Roman authorities on these issues. Indeed, we had the impression that he put out his statement on negotiations earlier this year in part because he was getting such mixed signals from Rome. So, it is interesting—and potentially very welcome—that he would point to Archbishop Pozzo’s interviews as a summary of the Roman position.

Unfortunately, the opening of the new seminary was marred by Bishop Fellay hurting his foot “quite badly,” according to Society sources.

Pentin on the reshuffle at CDW

At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin has some good analysis of the recent reshuffle at the Congregation for Divine Worship, and what the personnel changes will mean for the prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah. Initial reports suggested that the Holy Father had cleaned house, ousted the members of the Congregation known to be liturgical traditionalists, and essentially moved the clock back to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. Pentin suggests that it might not be as bad as all that. Pentin observes:

Pope Francis made a major overhaul last week to the membership of the Vatican’s department for the liturgy, but his new appointments are not quite as sweeping as some had suggested, according to a full list of previous and new members obtained by the Register.

On Oct. 28, the Vatican announced the Holy Father had appointed 27 new members to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, many of whom come from a wide variety of nations to give the dicastery an international character.

However, although the Pope dismissed such prominent cardinals as Raymond Burke, Marc Ouellet and George Pell, he renewed the membership of nine others, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, a former secretary of the congregation under Benedict XVI; Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary; and Cardinal Peter Erdö, the former general rapporteur at the synod on the family.

Like those who have been replaced, these three renewed members are known to be “Ratzingerians,” closely aligned to Benedict XVI’s vision for the Church. (See below for full list of names.)

(Emphasis supplied.) Pentin informs us later that Cardinal Bagnasco of Genoa, a prelate likely seen as closer to Benedict’s style than Francis’s, has also been reappointed to the Congregation. Interestingly, the Holy Father has dismissed at least one of his own men; Cardinal Mamberti, appointed to replace Cardinal Burke as the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and quickly elevated to the purple, for example, was dismissed. Pentin goes on to write:

The majority of the Pope’s new choices have a distinctly preferential approach to Blessed Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae, the “ordinary form” of the liturgy most widely used in the Latin Church today, as opposed to being adherents of the Mass in Latin or the Tridentine Mass of the 1962 Roman Missal, designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the “extraordinary form” of the liturgy in his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, favors the approach encouraged by Benedict, the retention of a more traditional approach to the liturgy. He supports what is called a “Reform of the Reform,” meaning the implementation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the way the Council Fathers intended.


Some have read these latest appointments as being made in opposition to Cardinal Sarah. However, the Vatican source said the cardinal “still holds all the cards”; and although he may feel isolated (his junior officials, appointed by Francis, are also firm adherents of the new Mass), the source said it’s unlikely any of the members would “bang their fists on the table” to demand change or Cardinal Sarah’s removal.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Indeed, Pentin’s Vatican sources report that Cardinal Sarah, as prefect of the Congregation, will be firmly in charge of the Congregation’s agenda and day-to-day operations. When the Holy Father wants to reduce a prelate’s prominence, he knows how. For example, Cardinal Pell, once given sweeping financial powers, has found himself essentially a glorified auditor, with the balance of actual power shifting back to the Secretariat of State and APSA. And when the Holy Father wants to fire someone, he knows how. Ask Cardinal Burke. Perhaps Pentin has a point, then.

However, as an exercise in image and the politics of gestures, it is hard to say that the Holy Father has not made his preferences known. That is, by dismissing some prelates very clearly in line with Benedict’s project and appointing several very prominent liturgical progressives from the reign of John Paul II, it is clear (we think it is clear, at any rate) that the Holy Father has emphasized, however you want to characterize the emphasis, a very different liturgical direction than the one Cardinal Sarah had marked out.

But the world looks just the same

Today the Holy Father has announced a new slate of appointments to the Congregation for Divine Worship. Gone are prelates known to be sympathetic to traditional liturgy and orthodox doctrine, such as Cardinals Bagnasco, Burke, Ouellet, Pell, Ranjith, and Scola. In their place are prelates like the well known Archbishop Piero Marini, formerly responsible for so many of the most unforgettable liturgies of St. John Paul II, along with many of the Holy Father’s recent, characteristic cardinals. In other words, the Holy Father has cleaned out quite a few of his ideological and liturgical opponents and brought in men who are very much simpatico with his outlook.

The immediate consequence of these appointments is that Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, finds himself without many notable allies among the membership of the Congregation. His principal deputies, also selected by the Holy Father, are, we suspect, on a very different page in many important regards. And this, of course, follows the public rebuke he endured as a result of his suggestion that priests celebrate versus apsidem more often. But more than that, the so-called reform of the reform under Benedict is finally over. Whatever Cardinal Sarah hoped to accomplish, we suspect that those plans are on hold for the foreseeable future.

The Consecration of St. Elias

It will surprise no one when we say that we tend to be more interested in matters—both liturgical and ecclesiastical—touching upon the Latin Rite. And like many Latin Rite Catholics, we simply do not have a lot of experience with the Eastern Churches. Nevertheless, we are acquainted with many sharp young Catholics who feel very much at home in the Eastern Churches. It is easy to understand why they do when one sees the videos of the consecration of the Church of St. Elias the Prophet in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. The Ukrainian Catholic community there is very vibrant (as Eastern Catholic communities always seem to be), led by its longtime pastor, Fr. Roman Galadza. Some people we respect very much—including good and holy priests—think the world of Fr. Galadza and St. Elias. As you may know, St. Elias has had to rebuild its church after a fire. After two and a half years of work and prayer, the new church was consecrated last month. Patriarch Sviatoslav of Kiev presided over the ceremonies.

We urge you watch the videos—even the condensed, “highlights” version—to get a taste of the extraordinary event. Obviously, the dedication of any church is a special event, but the dedication of St. Elias seemed to us to be particularly special. We were told by someone with knowledge that Fr. Galadza made a conscious decision many years ago to require the congregation as a whole to be responsible for music, not merely a choir. And the fruits of that decision are amply on display in even the shorter video. But the musical competence was only one part of the overall impression of the liturgy there. On the whole, it reminds us of Thomas Merton’s description of the Mass he attended at the church of Corpus Christi in New York: “There was nothing new or revolutionary about it; only that everything was well done, not out of aestheticism or rubrical obsessiveness, but out of love for God and His truth. It would certainly be ingratitude of me if I did not remember the atmosphere of joy, light, and at least relative openness and spontaneity that filled Corpus Christi at solemn High Mass.” (Emphasis supplied.)

If you do nothing else, watch Patriarch Sviatoslav’s homily, delivered (nearly simultaneously) in both English and Ukrainian—without notes. It is easy to understand, having seen him in action, why he is so hated by the partisans of the Moscow Patriarchate. As a friend of ours said about him: as he talks, one begins to want to follow him. He has the charisma of a true pastor. And, having read some interviews and other writings with him, it is clear that he takes seriously the apostolic duty of preserving and handing on the deposit of faith, to say nothing of his duty of preserving the liturgy and traditions of the Ukrainian Catholics, who have suffered much for the sake of the Faith. Even if one is a Latin-rite Catholic to one’s core, it is hard not to feel a little envious of the Ukrainian Catholics, having a patriarch like Sviatoslav at the head of their Church.

At any rate, do take some time and watch the consecration videos. They’re something special.

Bugnini and Benedict

Recently, Peter Kwasniewski had a piece at New Liturgical Movement about St. Josemaría Escrivá’s attachment to the traditional Latin Mass. It’s an interesting piece, but it highlights a question about what form of the Mass St. Josemaría celebrated. The suggestion is that he continued celebrating the Mass of St. Pius V—one imagines in the form set forth in St. John XXIII’s books—even after the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. Prof. Kwasniewski links to a piece at Corpus Christi Watershed by Jeff Ostrowski. (You may know Corpus Christi Watershed from its indefatigable work publishing PDFs of wonderful liturgical resources, like the New Westminster Hymnal.) Ostrowski links to another piece, though the link appears to be broken. This piece reports a conversation its author had with “Giuseppe Soria,” Josemaría’s doctor. (We suspect that this is a translation error: Fr. Jose Luis Soria was, indeed, Josemaría’s doctor and present at the saint’s final moments on earth.) The upshot of all of it is that apparently, St. Josemaría had great difficulty reading the new Missal, try as he might. (We have heard other versions of this story, as has Prof. Kwasniewski, apparently. You probably have, too, dear reader.) So, his secretary, Álvaro del Portillo—now himself a beatus—called none other than Annibale Bugnini to obtain an indult for Josemaría. Bugnini’s response: “You don’t need permission from me. Just continue to celebrate the Mass of St. Pius V.”

This is an interesting anecdote for many reasons, but we were particularly struck by the resonance between Bugnini’s alleged comment and the fundamental realization in Summorum Pontificum that the Missal of 1962 was lawfully promulgated by St. John XXIII and “never abrogated.”  Indeed, the insight that the older form of the Mass was never abrogated is in some ways the crucial insight of Summorum Pontificum. Fr. John Hunwicke observes that there was a key distinction on this point between Missale Romanum, Paul VI’s apostolic constitution promulgating the new Missal, and Laudis canticum, his constitution promulgating the Liturgia Horarum. That is, Pope Paul clearly abrogated the old Breviary (except under rather limited circumstances), but he did not quite so clearly abrogate the old Missal. In a later post, Hunwicke suggests, building upon writings of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, that the Church does not suppress or abolish liturgical forms. At any rate, Benedict’s insight also echoes the much-discussed report of the commission of cardinal canonists in the 1980s who came to the same conclusion: no one ever actually bothered to suppress the old Mass. One could even go so far as to say that even the Quattuor abhinc annos and Ecclesia Dei adflicta indults assumed that the Mass of Pius V was not abrogated, even though one may also say that the Roman authorities sure acted like it was.

It is extremely interesting, therefore, to read the alleged remark by Bugnini that no permission from him was needed for St. Josemaría to continue celebrating the traditional Mass. Of course, who better than Bugnini to know whether or not the old Mass was suppressed, abrogated, or otherwise disfavored in the law? Something about kidding a kidder?

A new lecture from Cardinal Sarah

We missed yesterday a delightful surprise at New Liturgical Movement: a talk by Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to the priests of the Archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka, the jurisdiction of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, himself formerly a high official in the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Sarah’s talk was about “liturgical life and the priesthood,” and it is a must-read lecture for priests and laity alike. It has been exclusively shared with NLM, so we will not quote much of it, instead encouraging you to read the whole thing there. However, we will quote one brief passage from the talk:

Firstly, let us ask ourselves: how do we pray the Divine Office? Is it something that we have to ‘get done’ as soon as possible each day so as to be ‘free’ to get on with other tasks? Do I even neglect to pray it sometimes? Certainly, pastoral life is busy, but if I do not pray the Prayer of the Church as I have solemnly promised to do, or if I do not pray it with fervour, with devotion, and indeed liturgically, then I am failing to nourish my soul and I am endangering my vocation.

Practically speaking I would suggest this: as often as is possible pray the Divine Office liturgically, together with others, most especially with your people, for the Office is not a text to be read but a rite to be celebrated, with its own rituals, postures, chant, etc. And if circumstances dictate that you must pray the Office by yourself, do as much as you can to make it a liturgical rite—pray it in an oratory if possible, standing and sitting and so on at the appropriate times. Sing the Office if it is possible—it is not a book to be read in an armchair; rather it is the loving song of the Church, of the Bride, to Him Who has redeemed us.

(Emphasis supplied.) Music to our ears! Say what you will about Mass celebrated ad orientem or versus apsidem—the ancient tradition of the Church, which was abandoned only the day before yesterday, practically speaking, and for almost no reason at all. But how can anyone object to the regular celebration of the Divine Office with one’s congregation? How can anyone object to parishioners forming scholae to participate in the liturgy in a more meaningful way—by singing it, preferably in Latin—connecting themselves with their fathers in the faith going back all the way to the earliest days of the Church in Jerusalem?

It is another example of the great Cardinal’s clear thinking and frank talk.

Pope Paul’s “Sacrificium laudis”

At New Liturgical Movement, Peter Kwasniewski has a brief piece commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Sacrificium laudis, Paul VI’s 1966 apostolic letter to religious exhorting them to retain the choral office in Latin. Kwasniewski’s essay includes a translation by the eminent English Dominican, Fr. Thomas Crean, of Paul’s letter. Echoing a point we have made here before, Kwasniewski observes:

But in many ways the greatest tragedy of the postconciliar period was the sudden, dramatic, worldwide collapse of religious life, especially in its contemplative branches, and the disappearance, as if overnight, of the chanting of the Divine Office in Gregorian chant. It was an anti-miracle, so to speak — a feat of Satan who, appearing as an angel of light, lured the religious to their doom. The praises of God, which had been sung day and night for well over a millennium with melodies more beautiful than any the world has ever birthed before or since, fell silent, with the silence of the tomb.

And yet, Pope Paul VI, in words no less clear, stalwart, principled, and prophetic than those he uttered about birth control in Humanae Vitae, urged religious in 1966 to uphold their traditional choral office at all costs, for it was their special contribution to the life, health, and growth of the Mystical Body. While it is true that Paul VI, with his self-admitted Hamlet syndrome, walked a zigzag path in contrary directions, seeming to be trapped in the torments and doubts of his age, he nevertheless rose above the churning waters now and again to speak a clear word that, had it only been followed, would have been a blessing for the Church.

(Emphasis supplied.) For example, consider this passage from Pope Paul:

What is in question here is not only the retention within the choral office of the Latin language, though it is of course right that this should be eagerly guarded and should certainly not be lightly esteemed. For this language is, within the Latin Church, an abundant well-spring of Christian civilisation and a very rich treasure-trove of devotion. But it is also the seemliness, the beauty and the native strength of these prayers and canticles which is at stake: the choral office itself, ‘the lovely voice of the Church in song’ (Cf. St Augustine’s Confessions, Bk 9, 6). Your founders and teachers, the holy ones who are as it were so many lights within your religious families, have transmitted this to you. The traditions of the elders, your glory throughout long ages, must not be belittled. Indeed, your manner of celebrating the choral office has been one of the chief reasons why these families of yours have lasted so long, and happily increased. It is thus most surprising that under the influence of a sudden agitation, some now think that it should be given up.

In present conditions, what words or melodies could replace the forms of Catholic devotion which you have used until now? You should reflect and carefully consider whether things would not be worse, should this fine inheritance be discarded. It is to be feared that the choral office would turn into a mere bland recitation, suffering from poverty and begetting weariness, as you yourselves would perhaps be the first to experience. One can also wonder whether men would come in such numbers to your churches in quest of the sacred prayer, if its ancient and native tongue, joined to a chant full of grave beauty, resounded no more within your walls. We therefore ask all those to whom it pertains, to ponder what they wish to give up, and not to let that spring run dry from which, until the present, they have themselves drunk deep.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.