British Latin Mass Society (LMS) Chairman: Sacrosanctum Concilium a self-contradictory document unsuited for guiding liturgical reform
Joseph Shaw, chair of the Latin Mass Society in England, has penned a piece for Rorate Caeli noting the massive contradictions that riddle the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. What can be said about Sacrosanctum Concilium can be said about every document of Vatican II, which is that they are less clear pronunciations on the Doctrine of the Faith for all ages, than they are the transcripts of a very heated debate that took place at particular place and time, and which was never resolved. Thus, aspects of other documents of Vatican II seem bizarrely out of date.
I have long argued that the documents of VII are documents at war with themselves, filled with rather banal declarations of orthodoxy weakened with caveats that permitted the entry of mass amounts of destructive novelty. Or, vague statements permitting endless novelty “corrected” by weak endorsements of the constant belief and practice of the Faith. It reads like a debate in which the orthodox, unable to articulate the Doctrine of the Faith cogently, fought a rearguard action of damage limitation. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful, almost entirely because the conciliar popes sided overwhelmingly with the progressives, and so we have what we have today, a Church riven by discord, but with the progressives firmly in command. One could even argue that the documents of Vatican II are so riven with self-contradiction that they create an environment in which endless debate will be the inevitable result. Feature or bug?
Shaw makes some very good points, and demonstrates how both SC, and the conciliar and post-conciliar popes, have at various times endorsed both liturgical orthodoxy and dangerous innovation, which are well worth reading and considering. I’ll skip over those, and note his general summaries, which correspond very closely with my own thinking (which means he must be right, of course):
Liturgical conservatives and progressives argue endlessly about this. Their argument will never be resolved, both because Sacrosanctum Concilium was and the subsequent magisterium has been self-contradictory, but also because neither side in the debate is willing to be honest about the historical facts. I am sorry to be harsh, but having read the output of both sides of the debate over a number of years, it is time it was said.
First, Sacrosantum Concilium: how is it self-contradictory? It makes few concrete suggestions, but it does make some. It calls for wider use of the vernacular (63); the removal of ‘useless repetition’ (34), and a more ‘lavish’ presentation of the Scriptures in the readings, arranged over a ‘prescribed number of years’ (51). It leaves further details to local initiative and an official commission. On the other hand, it says (23):
There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.
It is perfectly obvious that the this double condition is not satisfied by the concrete suggestions the document itselfmakes. There is no precedent in the liturgical tradition of the Church, in any Rite, for a multi-year lectionary, and to suggest that such a thing could grow ‘organically’ out of a single-year lectionary is obviously absurd. There is no precedent for a mixing of Latin and the vernacular in the liturgy, or for the liturgy to be translated into dozens of vernaculars for different countries. The principle militating against ‘useless repetition’ is entirely foreign to the Church’s liturgical tradition. And none of these changes could possibly, in advance, be said to be required ‘genuinely and certainly’ by the good of the Church.
From this fundamental self-contradiction, you can draw any conclusion you like. Perhaps the ‘general principle’ of section 23 should control our interpretation of the specific examples of reforms; perhaps it is the other other way around. The fact is, there is no coherent programme of reform in Sacrosanctum Concilium. Let’s not engage in make-believe. It is a compromise document with provisions pointing in different directions.
It was, however, interpreted by those appointed to interpret it, and the Novus Ordo Missae was signed off by Pope Paul VI. So what liturgical style are we guided towards by the official documents, documents of the ‘living magisterium’ as the conservatives like to call them, which accompanied and followed the promulgation of the new missal?…….
……..We need to face the fact: the magisterium’s own interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium is a moving target. It was quite different in the 1970s than it was by the mid 1990s. Who knows where it will be in ten years?
…….Those seeking, in Conciliar and post-conciliar documents, guidance on liturgical principles, with a view to the way Mass should be celebrated, and perhaps with a view to future reform, should stop right here. There is no single, coherent, vision of the liturgy in these documents. There is, instead, a debate. In the end, one side of this debate must win, and the other side must lose. [It’s been heavily back and forth since the 60s, as Shaw indicates in text not excerpted. The modernists dominated from the 60s through the 80s, but then the conservatives gained a stronger position in the 90s and 00s, not that much changed, practically speaking.]
I would like to appeal to the ‘reform of the reform’ writers, and to the progressives on Pray Tell and elsewhere: stop accusing each other (and traditional Catholics) of contradicting authoritative documents and the ‘real’ principles of Vatican II. On this subject, arguments from authority will get us nowhere.
The only way to think with the Church on the liturgy is to take a longer view: to look at what the Church has done, not over a few decades, but over millennia. The very idea of doing this, of course, contradicts the claim that everything up to 1965 was bad. But it is that idea, rather than an honest appraisal of the modern liturgical documents considered here, that is really troubling for the doctrine of the indefectability of the Church. If the Church was wrong up to 1965, why pay any attention to what she has said since then?
If you read through the entire piece, do you also come away with the impression that Shaw is recommending this: since Vatican II and the post-conciliar leadership have been blatantly contradictory on the Liturgy since 1965, we should mostly ignore their pronouncements and go back to the Church’s ancient understanding of the Mass and other Sacraments?
If so, that’s certainly something I can agree with. Not so much “rejecting” Vatican II, which has always been a meaningless canard, since the documents contain thousands of statements which can be twisted to say just about anything one wants them to, but ignoring the heterodox, novel portions therein. I’ve always favored the Japanese term mokusatsu, “to kill with silence.”
In fact, Shaw’s take is pretty sympathetic. A stronger stand would be that revolutionaries planned and/or hijacked a council, and targeted the Liturgy as their prime means of remaking the Faith. In other words, different religion.