[Fr. Z on Fr. M on the restoration of the traditional Latin Mass]

Posted on 8 March 2017 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

I have often lauded the important book by Martin Mosebach The Heresy of Formlessness. I warmly recommend it. As a matter of fact, it was first on my suggestions for Lenten reading.

First Things has published a piece by Mosebach from last December 2016. Let’s have a look with my now legendary comments [in brackets]:


The times in which a new form is born are extremely rare in the history of mankind. Great forms are characterized by their ability to outlive the age in which they emerge and to pursue their path through all history’s hiatuses and upheavals. The Greek column with its Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian capitals is such a form, as is the Greek tragedy with its invention of dialogue that still lives on in the silliest soap opera. The Greeks regarded tradition itself as a precious object; it was tradition that created legitimacy. Among the Greeks, tradition stood under collective protection. The violation of tradition was called tyrannis—tyranny is the act of violence that damages a traditional form that has been handed down.

One form that has effortlessly overleaped the constraints of the ages is the Holy Mass of the Roman Church, the parts of which grew organically over centuries and were finally united at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. It was then that the missal of the Roman pope, which since late antiquity had never succumbed to heretical attack, was prescribed for universal use by Catholic Christendom throughout the West. If one considers the course of human history, it is nothing short of remarkable that the Roman Rite has survived the most violent catastrophes unaltered.


Hereafter he gives a good summary of what happened to our liturgical worship after the Council and then what Pope Benedict tried to do, both before his election and after with Summorum Pontificum.

Then he really drills in. The effect is electric.

Note how he talks about what I have hammered on for YEARS. The importance of LAY PEOPLE!


The great liturgical crisis following the Second Vatican Council, which was part of a larger crisis of faith and authority, put an end to the illusion that the laity need not be involved.

The now decades-old movement for the restoration of the Roman Rite has been to a considerable extent a lay movement. The position of priests who support the Roman Rite was and will be strengthened by Summorum Pontificum, and hopefully the cause of the Tridentine Mass will receive further support from the eagerly awaited reconciliation of the Society of St. Pius X with the Holy See. Yet this does not change the fact that it will be the laity who will be decisive in bringing about the success of efforts to reform the reform. The laity of today differs from the laity of forty years ago. They had precise knowledge of the Roman Rite and took its loss bitterly and contested it. The young people who are turning to the Roman Rite today often did not know it as children. They are not, as Pope Francis erroneously presumes, nostalgically longing for a lost time. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] On the contrary, they are experiencing the Roman Rite as something new. [Yes, this is a great irony, a great tragedy, and a great gift. First, it is ironic that something so old, should be so new… even as Augustine describes the transcendental beauty of God. It is sad that so many for so long have been cheated of a patrimony which could have formed and supported them. It is such a gift to have the treasury they slammed in our faces opened again. Not only, we get to have it back but without the sloppiness or the negligence it may have had in some places. Its loss purified and strengthened it, in a sense. In the words of Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot”. Well, now we can recover the paradise.] It opens an entire world to them, the exploration of which promises to be inexhaustibly fascinating. It is true that those who discover the Roman Rite today and relish its formal exactness and rigorous orthodoxy are naturally an elite group, yet not in a social sense. [NOTA BENE] Theirs is a higher mystical receptivity and an aesthetic sensitivity to the difference between truth and falsehood. As Johan Huizinga, author of The Waning of the Middle Ages, [US HERE Kindle $1.20! UK HERE] established nearly a century ago, there exists a close connection between orthodoxy and an appreciation of style. [Ain’t it the truth!]

The vast majority of the faithful have in the meantime never known anything else but the revised Mass in its countless manifestations. They have lost any sense of the spiritual wealth of the Church and in many cases simply are not capable of following the old rite. [Their “receptivity” has been twisted. In many of the various talks I give I talk about being “actively receptive”. This is the key to participation.] They should not be criticized on account of this. The Tridentine Mass demands a lifetime of education, [Okay… but so does the whole “Catholic Thing”. As I convert I know how long it takes to get that Thing down into the marrow. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot be undertaken swiftly and well.] and the post-conciliar age is characterized, among other things, by the widespread abandonment of religious instruction. The Catholic religion with its high number of believers has actually become the most unknown religion in the world, especially to its own adherents. [I often listen to or read what some Catholics say and wonder if they belong to the same Church or religion that I do.] While there are many Catholics who feel repelled and offended by the superficiality of the new rite as it is frequently celebrated today, by the odious music, the puritanical kitsch, the trivialization of dogma, and the profane character of new church buildings, the gap that has opened up in the forty years between the traditional rite and the new Mass is very deep, often unbridgeable. [Yes… it can be very hard. Some are simply unwilling to walk the bridge.] The challenge becomes more difficult because one of the peculiarities of the old rite is that it makes itself accessible only slowly—unless the uninitiated newcomer to this ancient pattern of worship is a religious genius. [I think this over states the situation just a bit.] One has never “learned everything there is to learn” about the Roman Rite, because in its very origin and essence this enduring and truly extraordinary form is hermetic, presupposing arcane discipline and rigorous initiation. [One who is not familiar with the traditional forms might get the impression from what Mosebach says that it is fruitless even to try. I sharply disagree. Mosebach gives a sober assessment. Don’t let his sobriety and serious tone be taken for insuperable pessimism.]

If the Tridentine Mass is to prosper, the ground must be prepared for a new generation to receive such an initiation. [Amen.] Pope Benedict disappointed many advocates of the old liturgy because he did not do more for them. He refused the urgent requests to celebrate the Latin Mass at least once as pope, something he had occasionally done while a cardinal. But this refusal stems from the fact that he believed—no matter how welcome such a celebration would have been—that the reinstitution of the old rite, like all significant movements in the history of the Church, must come from below, not as a result of a papal decree from above. In the meantime, the post-conciliar work of destruction has wounded multitudes of the faithful. Unless a change of mind and a desire for a return to the sacred begin to sprout in countless individual hearts, administrative actions by Rome, however well-intentioned and sound, can affect little. [Right. And it could be that the only way this will come about is through greater “creative destruction” in the Church. It could be that something like the debridement of a festering wound inflicted through confusion and infidelity will take place. Then the wound will heal and life can go on and thrive again.]

Summorum Pontificum makes priests and the laity responsible for the Roman Rite’s future—if it means a lot to them. [As I have asked time and again… what are you willing to do? If you want this you have to work and sacrifice!] It is up to them to celebrate it in as many places as possible, to win over for it as many people as possible, and to disseminate the arcane knowledge concerning its sacred mysteries. The odium of disobedience and defiance against the Holy See has been spared them by Pope Benedict’s promulgation, and they are making use of the right granted them by the Church’s highest legislator, but this right only has substance if it is claimed and used. The law is there. No Catholic can, as was possible not long ago, contend that fostering the Roman Rite runs counter to the will of the Church. [This is what I and others are doing with the Tridentine Mass Society of the Diocese of Madison! This is why we are having vestments made, why I am constantly after you for donations, why we are having Pontifical Masses, why are are ratcheting up our Sunday celebrations with more Solemn Masses when possible. And we have big plans. HELP]

Perhaps it is even good that, despite Summorum Pontificum, the Tridentine Mass is still not promoted by the great majority of bishops. If it is a true treasure without which the Church would not be itself, then it will not be won until it has been fought for. [OORAH!] Its loss was a spiritual catastrophe for the Church and had disastrous consequences far beyond the liturgy, and that loss can only be overcome by a widespread spiritual renewal. [One of my constant phrases is “We are our Rites!”… and … “Change how people pray and you change what they believe.” The iconoclasts of the Consilium were drunk on the idea that they were not just changing rites, they were changing doctrine. Bugnini’s secretary, later papal MC Piero Marini wrote in the smoking gun book A Challenging Reform: “They met in public to begin one of the greatest liturgical reforms in the history of the Western church. Unlike the reform after Trent, it was all the greater because it also dealt with doctrine.” (p. 46).] It is not necessarily a bad thing that members of the hierarchy, in open disobedience to Summorum Pontificum, continue to put obstacles in the way of champions of the Roman Rite. As we learn in the lives of the saints and the orders they founded, the established authorities typically persecute with extreme mistrust new movements and attempt to suppress them. [I learned recently that the Congregation for Religious may be about to give the FFI treatment to many more new foundations.] This is one of the constants of church history, and it characterizes every unusual spiritual effort, indeed, every true reform, [because it’s the Devil that is really driving it] for true reform consists of putting on the bridle, of returning to a stricter order. This is the trial by fire that all reformers worthy of their name had to endure. The Roman Rite will be won back in hundreds of small chapels, in improvised circumstances throughout the whole world, celebrated by young priests with congregations that have many small children, or it will not be won back at all.

Recapturing the fullness of the Church’s liturgy is now a matter for the young. Those who experienced the abolition and uncanonical proscription of the old rite in the late 1960s were formed by the liturgical praxis of the 1950s and the decades prior. It may sound surprising, but this praxis was not the best in many countries. The revolution that was to disfigure the Mass cast a long shadow ahead of itself. In many cases, the liturgical practice was such that people no longer believed in the mystagogical power of the rite. In many countries, the liturgical architecture of the rite was obscured or even dismantled. There were silent Masses during which a prayer leader incessantly recited prayers in the vernacular that were not always translations of the Latin prayers, and in a number of places Gregorian chant played a subordinate role. [NB] Those who are twenty or thirty today have no bad habits of these sorts. They can experience the rite in its new purity, free of the incrustations of the more recent past. [This is a real gift. Make use of it! As I have written elsewhere, you have been given the beautiful new bicycle and patted on the head: now, take off the training wheels and RIDE THE DAMN BIKE!]

The great damage caused by the liturgical revolution after Vatican II consists above all in the way in which the Church lost the conviction with which all Catholics—illiterate goatherds, maids and laborers, Descartes and Pascal—naturally took part in the Church’s sacred worship. Up until then, the rite was among the riches of the poor, who, through it, entered into a world that was otherwise closed to them. They experienced in the old Mass the life to come as well as life in the present, an experience of which only artists and mystics are otherwise capable. [Once back in Italy, where I was handling the preparation of sacred music for the Mass in which Card. Ratzinger would take possession of his cardinatial see, a lib priest accused me of “elitism”, because “simple people” couldn’t understand the music. That attitude fills me with rage at its condescension. “So, beauty is only for the wealthy?”, I shot back at the truly elitist jerk. Then we had a fight, which I won. The music for the Mass was glorious and the Cardinal was well pleased.] This loss of shared transcendence[YES!] available to the most humble cannot be repaired for generations, and this great loss is what makes the ill-considered reform of the Mass so reprehensible. It is a moral outrage that those who gutted the Roman Rite because of their presumption and delusion were permitted to rob a future generation of their full Catholic inheritance. [“AMEN!”] Yet it is now at least possible for individuals and for small groups to gradually win back a modicum of un-self-conscious familiarity with even the most arcane prayers of the Church. Today, children can grow into the rite and thus attain a new, more advanced level of spiritual participation.

The movement for the old rite, far from indicating aesthetic self-satisfaction, has, in truth, an apostolic character. [It truly is the cutting edge and most important tool of the New Evanglization. Christ is the Perfect Communicator. The most potent form of Social Communication which Holy Church has is SACRED LITURGICAL WORSHIP, in which Christ is the true Actor, the true Communicator communicating Himself in ever gesture and word and vestment and vessel, even brick of the church and carved pew and lovely bound book and stained-glass window.] It has been observed that the Roman Rite has an especially strong effect on converts, [Count me in.] indeed, that it has even brought about a considerable number of conversions. Its deep rootedness in history and its alignment with the end of the world create a sacred time antithetical to the present, a present that, with its acquisitive preoccupations, leaves many people unsatisfied. Above all, the old rite runs counter to the faith in progress that has long gone hand in hand with an economic mentality that is now curdling into anxiety regarding the future and even a certain pessimism. This contradiction with the spirit of our present age should not be lamented. It betokens, rather, a general awakening from a two-hundred-year-old delusion. Christians always knew that the world fell because of original sin and that, as far as the course of history is concerned, it offers no reason at all for optimism. The Catholic religion is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a “philosophy of disillusionment” that does not suppress hope, but rather teaches us not to direct our hope toward something that the world cannot give. The liturgy of Rome and, naturally, Greek Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom open a window that draws our gaze from time into eternity.

Reform is a return to form. The movement that seeks to restore the form of the Latin Rite is still an avant-garde, attracting young people who find modern society suffocating. But it can only be a truly Christian avant-garde if it does not forget those it leads into battle; it must not forget the multitude who will someday have to find their way back into the abundant richness of the Catholic religion, once the generations who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, sought the salvation of the Church in its secularization have sunk into their graves.

I’ll tell you something. That left me pretty revved up.

¡Hagan lío!

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