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The Great Disappointment

At the Second Vatican Council, there was much discussion, full of hope, of a great renewal of religion, which would be deepened and divested of any purely conventional accretions. But if someone were to regard with an unprejudiced mind the Church of today, and compare it with the Church of 1956, what would strike him? Changes, surely, but he would search in vain for renewal and deepening of faith in the Revelation of Christ, as it is laid down in the depositum catholicae fidei (deposit of the Catholic faith), and for a more vital life in Christ, a more living imitation of Christ.

Nuns who formerly even by their habits radiated a life completely consecrated to God, and withdrawn from all that is worldly, now confront us in make-up and miniskirts. 29 In many places the Holy Mass is celebrated with jazz and with all kinds of rock and roll music. But even in many churches where the Holy Mass is correctly celebrated, we see the faithful standing to receive Holy Communion. Why, one asks oneself, has kneeling been replaced by standing? Is not kneeling the classical expression of adoration? It is in no way limited to being the noble expression of petition, of supplication; it is also the typical expression of reverent submission, of subordination, of looking upwards, and above all it is the expression of humble confrontation with the absolute Lord: adoration. Chesterton said that man does not realize how great he is on his knees. Indeed man is never more beautiful than in the humble attitude of kneeling, turned towards God. So why replace this by standing? Should kneeling perhaps be prohibited because it evokes associations with feudal times, because it is no longer fitting for “democratic” modern man? Does religious renewal perhaps consist in becoming a victim to purely associative thinking (a clear sign of stupidity)? Does religious renewal lie in suffering from an unfortunate case of “sociologitis,” which nonsensically wants to deduce fundamental human phenomena from a particular historical epoch and kind of mentality? And why can the faithful no longer kneel beside one another at the Communion rail which is after all a great expression of community why must they march up to the altar goosestep fashion? Is this supposed to correspond to the meal character of Holy Communion (which is stressed so frequently) better than kneeling together in a recollected way? 30

Unfortunately, in many places Communion is distributed in the hand. To what extent is this supposed to be a renewal and a deepening of the reception of Holy Communion? Is the trembling reverence with which we receive this incomprehensible gift perhaps increased by receiving it in our unconsecrated hands, rather than from the consecrated hand of the priest?

It is not difficult to see that the danger of parts of the consecrated host falling to the ground is incomparably increased, and the danger of desecrating it or indeed of horrible blasphemy is very great. And what in the world is supposed to be gained by all this? The claim that the contact with the hand makes the Host more real is certainly pure nonsense. 31 For the theme here is not the reality of the matter of the Host, but rather the consciousness, which is only attainable by faith, that the Host in reality has become the Body of Christ. The reverent reception of the Body of Christ on our tongues from the consecrated hand of the priest is much more conducive to the strengthening of this consciousness than reception with our own unconsecrated hands. “Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, sed auditu solo tuto creditur,” says St. Thomas Aquinas in his magnificent hymn, Adoro te. (“Sight, touch, and taste would err about Thee; but through hearing alone are we given certain faith.”)

Or is it perhaps the crude error that through an imitation of the external customs of the first Christians we could regain the faith of these Christians? These customs were good at that time because an unshakeable, heroic faith was present, a faith which confessed Christ at the risk of death. Certain forms were possible at a time when the opposition between sacred and profane was so lively, at the time of the catacombs when reverence was so great. But the simple reintroduction of these forms could never rejuvenate the faith of a conventional or modernistic Catholic, or make him more reverent.

But, many will object, the character of the meal is thereby strengthened. But is Holy Communion the moment to playact and to imitate a meal which is a holy meal, and in any case completely different from a real meal rather than to focus on the unspeakable mystery of the love-union of our souls with Jesus, and through this, with all the faithful? And the real imitation of a meal which takes the form of a breakfast is a blasphemy, as every rational man must see. It is, thank God, not yet officially permitted, but unfortunately it occurs over and over again. Incidentally, Communion in the hand is permitted in many countries, but is in no way recommended by Rome.

Much more serious yet is the unfortunate mutilation of the liturgical year and the Holy Mass in the New Ordo. Is our faith supposed to be renewed and vivified by greatly weakening our sense of community with Christians of fonner times, a community which is so centrally important for the true Christian ethos? Is it perhaps believed that the community with the living, with contemporaries, becomes stronger by weakening the community with the saints of former times? Quite the opposite is true. The Christian community, the supernatural community is necessarily extended into the present and the past. 32 This is precisely a particular characteristic of this supernatural community which distinguishes it from all purely natural and humanitarian kinds of community. The real, experienced union with the saints of former times is a specific manifestation of true faith, a breakthrough to valid, supernatural reality. It found its glorious expression in the celebration of the feasts of the saints, in which the saint of the day was not only mentioned in the Collect and Postcommunion, as is now the case, but in which his figure was luminously prominent in the wonderful construction of the whole Holy Mass: in the text of the Introit and the Gradual, in the choice of the Epistle and the Gospel. Let us think, for example, of the feasts of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Martin, St. Agnes, St. Andrew, and above all of the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, in order to see that the liturgy knew how to bring us completely into an intimate union with these individual saints. And let us think of the role of the saints in the Tridentine Confiteor and Canon. One accused oneself before God, the Blessed Virgin, and the whole heavenly court. One was conscious of deep community with them; one made this self-accusation before God in the supernatural world, in which alone one can be simultaneously sheltered in an intimate and personal way, and present in a holy public realm. Some of this has disappeared; some has been placed completely in the background in favor of an emphasis on the more or less accidental parish community.

The new liturgy was simply not formed by saints, homines religiosi, and artistically gifted men, but has been worked out by so-called experts, who are not at all aware that in our time there is a lack of talent for such things. Today is a time of incredible talent for technology and medical research, but not for the organic shaping of the expression of the religious world. We live in a world without poetry, and this means that one should approach the treasures handed on from more fortunate times with twice as much reverence, and not with the illusion that we can do it better ourselves.

The so-called “renewal” of the liturgy has robbed us of any possibility of a true participation in the liturgical year. In the Tridentine Mass one experienced in a living way Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Septuagesima, Lent and Passion Week, the Resurrection of Christ, the glorious Easter season, the Ascension of Christ, the anticipation of the Holy Spirit, and the blissful feast of Pentecost. How significant was each part in the structure of the Mass: the Introit, the Epistle, the Gospel of the feast which was being celebrated! What a role the celebration of the feasts played! The entire, deeply meaningful dimension of celebration fostered true community in Christ, in which all have a share in the holy joy: “Gaudeamus omnes in Domino diem festum celebranles.” (“Let us all rejoice who celebrate this festive day in the Lord.”)

With the disappearance of the celebration, we find that listening has disappeared. This holy stillness within our souls, however, is necessary in order to let the word of God radiate into our souls, and then to let us participate in the inconceivable mystery of the Sacrifice of Christ, and afterwards, to receive into ourselves Jesus, our Lord and our Beatitude.

The new liturgy is without splendor, flattened, and undifferentiated. It no longer draws us into the true experience of the liturgical year; we are deprived of this experience through the catastrophic elimination of the hierarchy of feasts, octaves, many great feasts of saints, and through the practice, in the remaining feasts of saints, of remembering the saint only in the Collect and Postcommunion.

Truly, if one of the devils in C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better. In place of the deep expression which even makes use of our bodily postures sitting for the Epistle and the offertory, standing for the Gloria, the Gospel, the Credo, and kneeling in adoration we now have a continual up and down which works against recollection.

What was the idea behind lengthening the Liturgy of the Word (the Mass of the Catechumens) on Sunday and in many instances also on weekdays, and shortening the actual sacrificium? What a mistake to believe that in the “instructive” part a larger portion of the Old Testament must be read and that all four Gospels must be proclaimed one right after the other. Is not the function of the reading and of the Gospel in the Holy Mass a completely different one from merely publicizing the Old and New Testaments? The reading of the Bible cannot be recommended enough; Bible-study evenings, where the priest and the faithful read texts from the Old and the whole of the New Testament, would certainly help bring about more intimate knowledge of the Word of God. But in the Holy Mass, whose focal point is the Holy Sacrifice, through which God is infinitely glorified, together with Holy Communion, the reading and the proclamation of the Gospel do not have an instructive function, but rather serve the spiritual preparation of our souls for the Sacrifice and Communion. The attitude which is fitting here for these readings is not that of learning, but that of reverently letting the light of Revelation shine upon us, especially such parts of it as have a special relation to the feast which is being celebrated. The unique character of the feast, be it Christmas, Epiphany, the Ascension, or the Immaculate Conception of Mary, is closely bound to the choice of the readings, be they from the Old Testament or from the letters of the Apostles, or from the Gospels, instead of this, the organic structure of the feasts is destroyed, and replaced by the mechanical principle of having the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John follow each other in sequence, so that in the course of three years all four Gospels will be read in their entirety.

The universal Latin, which throughout so many ages was the sacral language of the Roman Catholic Church, has been replaced by the vernacular,  33 and the quality of the vernacular translations have rendered it more difficult to be drawn into the sacral world of the supernatural, and have confined us within a banal world. And what should be said of the de facto abolition of Gregorian chant,  34 this glorious, timeless voice of the Church, which has almost the character of a “sacramental”?

Have all these changes served the renewal and vivification of faith? The opposite is the case. Vocations to the priesthood, as well as conversions, have greatly decreased, and attendance of Catholics at Mass has greatly fallen off. The new Ordo Missae and most especially the reform of the liturgy of the feasts and of the whole liturgical year, is so colorless, inorganic, and artificial, that it will not be able to last long. What a sacred world was radiated in the organic structure and beauty of both the Tridentine Mass (which had already been used in its essential elements long before its official introduction), and the structuring of the feast days: the feasts of our Lord, of the Mother of God, of the great, special feasts of the saints, and even of the commune sanctorum! This was all especially beautiful in combination with Gregorian Chant. Present in this liturgy was thus a vitality and a power to live, so that throughout all the centuries it lost none of its surprising depth and beauty. But these things disappear in the new liturgy. We are therefore justified in hoping that this liturgy will be short-lived. Indeed, its failure from a pastoral viewpoint is a further sign that we are justified in this hope. So we can expect that the Church in the foreseeable future will return to the glorious Mass of St. Pius V and the magnificent arrangement of the whole liturgical year in all the changeable parts of the Holy Mass.

But despite the grave defects of the new Mass, it would of course be completely wrong in any way to question its validity as a reenactment of the sacrifice of Calvary, as unfortunately some few orthodox Catholics have. And it goes without saying that it would also be completely wrong to disobey any of the rulings of the Holy Father regarding the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine liturgy (cf. the passage from Vatican I quoted in footnote 78-a, regarding the obedience which Catholics owe the Pope even in those practical matters where they are entitled to disagree with the judgment of the Pope).

Turning to a different subject: promiscuity, even among Catholics, has increased in a horrifying manner. Certain Catholic universities, as mentioned above, have even become places of shameless public indecency, and many of their professors, both priests and religious, not only teach things which are completely incompatible with the dogmatic teaching of the Church, but also defend promiscuity. Where is the promised renewal?

We have to consider yet another respect in which the hope of renewal has been disappointed. Many had hoped that through the Second Vatican Council a conquest of mediocrity would go hand in hand with the freeing of the religious life from all merely conventional elements. Were not many bishops, and especially many priests and pastors, mediocre? It was believed that this mediocrity was due to the narrowness of the seminaries, to isolation from the world in a word, to the fact that the Church had withdrawn into a ghetto.

But with what success have we burst out of our so-called narrowness? What we encounter in theological books, essays, and sermons is not only a spirit of irreverence, and of apostasy, but also a deeply oppressive mediocrity. Mediocrity is well known to be more fatal, the more the mediocre person believes himself to be intelligent, interesting, novel the more he regards “revolutionary” and “mediocre” as radical opposites. Certainly there have always been mediocre bishops, priests, and theologians in the history of the Church. They were not “homines religiosi”; they did not radiate the spirit of the holy Church in their personalities. They were intellectually insignificant, and when they wrote books or gave sermons, their manner of presenting the sublime teaching of the holy Church was mediocre, even if well-intentioned. But their sermons, pastoral letters, and books contained no heresies and if they did contain them, they were immediately disavowed by the higher authorities. Thus even these mediocre figures in the Church remained spokesmen for the Church and her true teaching.

But the mediocrity which is devastating the vineyard of the Lord today does not only refer to personality, but also to the content of what is being propagated. Since many are no longer functioning objectively as spokesmen for the teachings of the holy Church (although they pass themselves off as such), but rather proclaim the fruits of their own thought in place of the depositum catholicae fidei, the content of their teaching is also filled with mediocrity. The fact that they are allowed to do this unhindered signifies a triumph of mediocrity within the Church which formerly did not exist.

A cancerous damage is being caused by the whole program of renewal because it deliberately builds on experimentation. The childish, primitive idolization of science has awakened in many the notion that one should ascertain even in the pastoral realm, by conducting experiments, what has stronger effects, what attracts people, etc. But the experiment, which is so completely appropriate in the realm of natural science, is not fruitful, nor even possible, in philosophy, and especially not in our practical life. One cannot make experiments with souls; one cannot make experiments in the pastoral rcalm. The proclamation of the Revelation of Christ cannot be changed in order to ascertain by experiment what is more “attractive.” The pastoral sphere cannot be separated from the nature of the content of Revelation nor from the essence of the human soul; it cannot be separated from that which it should be. It must never be made into a purely psychological concern. The experimental, neutral attitude is incompatible with the pastoral attitude. The ultimate seriousness with which the immortal soul is taken in every true apostolate is the opposite of the neutral attitude towards an object which one experiments with. This wretched idolatry of the experiment has penetrated deeply into the Church. It has affected those in positions of authority less in what they recommend than in what they permit. The slogan of experimentation is the key to get permission to undertake everything imaginable. The “experimental” frame of mind nourishes the illusion that one is “renewing” the Church, that one is freeing oneself from all conventionalization of faith although this attitude is from the outset incompatible with all true religious attitudes and is itself much worse than all conventionalization, which is of course regrettable.

Let us think of the genuine renewal and the true blossoming of faith and of Catholic life which developed in France at the beginning of the century, at the time of Léon Bloy, Claudel, Péguy, Jammes, Maritain, Psichari and many others of the religious flourishing even in the working class, of the time when Pope St. Pius X called forth a true renewal of the liturgy through an encyclical and through his glorious war against Modernism; then it can only sound ironic to speak of the renewal, deepening, revitalization of faith and of Christian life through Vatican II. Though there may well have been many things in need of reform before the Council, a comparison of the Church in the year 1956 and in 1972 compels one to say with the Psalmist. “Super flumina Babylonis illic sedimus et flevimus cum recordaremur Sion.” “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Sion” (Psalm 136).


29. Fortunately Rome has given more concrete directives in the meantime regarding the dress of religious, with the intent of remedying such abuses.

30. Prof. Ferdinand Holboeck of Salzburg gave a striking sermon on kneeling, which later appeared in Salzburg as an essay, Beuget die Knie.

31. In the propaganda for Communion in the hand we encounter an overemphasis on the sense of touch; and, as we saw above, this goes together with the despiritualization of man. But not even this overemphasis is an argument for Communion in the hand; for, the sense of touch also plays a role when the Host is received on the tongue. The hands are, alter all, not the only bodily organs which give us sensations of touch.

32. It is a regrettable and serious symptom that, although the priest may choose which of the four Canons (Eucharistic Prayers) he will use, the Roman Canon (now named Number 1) is so seldom read, even by completely orthodox priests. See especially the concluding chapter of this book: How God Wants Us to Respond in the Present Crisis.

33. But this is contrary to the express intent of the Council: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be retained in the Latin rites” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 36. par. 1). And after allowing a limited use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the Council says: “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (ibid., 54).

34. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as proper to the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (no. 116).


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