Category Archives: Authority

1980 Time Capsule: Ten Years after the 1970 Missal, A Debate over the Novus Ordo Mass & Catholic Orthodoxy

William F. Buckley Jr. was a faithful Catholic who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass and did not like the changes brought about by Vatican II or, perhaps more appropriately, the abuses in the name of Vatican II. In 1980 he devoted an episode of his television program Firing Line to discussing these changes, as well as the censure of theologian Hans Kung which had just happened.

On the show his guests were Msgr. Joseph Champlin, Michael Davies, and Malachi Martin. Fr. Champlin was a prolific author and vocal advocate of the new Mass, and a more liberal approach to Catholicism. Michael Davies was also a prolific writer and defender of the old Mass, warrior against the new Mass, and apologist of traditional Catholicism and those who continued to practice it, including Archbishop Lefebvre. Malachi Martin was also a prolific author, former Jesuit, advocate of the old Mass, frequent critic of the Church, television personality of sorts and, some would say, showman to a fault.

Here is the program:

I do not think this is one of Firing Line’s best episodes. Though the topic is of great interest to me, the guests are interesting, and the fact it stands as a kind of time capsule, nonetheless it lacks focus. On the one hand, the topic is just too big for an hour of television. On the other this is more like “inside baseball,” which, in fact, it needs to be but also suffers from. I wondered at times if the audience was bored stiff, thoroughly confused, or both.

Quick takes on each participant:

WFB: Always erudite, but his arguments remain more on the surface, expressing his personal proclivities and, I’m sure unintentionally, providing an excuse for viewers to assume he represents the old guard of stuffy Catholicism afraid of the new and exciting world of modernity and a more youth-oriented Church. And when he pushed on certain topics his interlocutors merely went their own way.

Fr. Champlin: My immediate response was negative. He seemed to represent exactly the kind of wimpy sentimentalist evasive liberal priests that turned the Church away from a cross-carrying, suffering servant, heroic virtue loving, proud-to-be Catholics, and hopeful to be martyrs Catholicism. Of course these are all stereotypes and we should be careful. Nonetheless, my inclinations are probably basically true. In light of a particular section of this program it is worth noting this observation about Fr. Champlin:

He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of “Eucharistic hospitality” in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.) [From here.]

He also was wishy-washy on contraception in his popular book on marriage, “Together for Life.”

I must say, however, that clearly Fr. Champlin was “ganged up on” a bit. He was obviously (perhaps by design?) the only advocate of the new Mass, surround by three passionate and articulate advocates of the old. I think he did an excellent job of maintaining his composure and articulating his position.

Mr. Davies: He comes across a bit like a crusader, and his emotions nearly get the better of him several times. However, of all the participants he is the one I find most compelling. Like him I was a Baptist who converted to the Church. Like him I also have some Welsh blood in me, but not the Welsh culture or accent (actually his accent is from Somerset) . At times he seems ready to explode with information, which makes sense given his life’s undertaking of studying these things (and perhaps his passionate spirit). In short, compared with the others, only his arguments were actually compelling as arguments, though he did not have time to articulate them given the nature of television and the format of the show. He also kept his composure, and I hope he was able to pique the curiosity of many viewers to consider his views and his books.

Mr. (or is it Fr.?) Martin: Always entertaining, Mr. Martin loved the sound of his own voice. He seemed to be making an attempt to turn to show towards himself. I did not feel he contributed substantially to the discussion and, in fact, was a distraction. However, I do believe with a different format, for example a two hour discussion that was allowed the guests to ramble a bit more, and where he sat down with the others as a members of the group, he might have fit within the program better. Still, I never know how far to trust him.

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Who am I to judge?

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Not a few Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. I can understand this. There are reasons for their concern, and many of their arguments make sense to me. But I even see a few critics who appear to have literal conniptions, blown gaskets, and serious bouts of distemper. Yet, I just can’t go there. In a sense I am with them, and I am not with them. Here’s what I mean:

I grew up in a Protestant faith which was rather Fundamentalist in tenor. I was trained to be very sensitive to doctrinal variations and the places at which lines ought to be drawn between various churches that claim a to be Christian. We didn’t use the word heresy, I don’t think Protestants use that word often for obvious reasons, but we certainly leveled the evil eye at all the heretics that surrounded us. But the word heresy is certainly appropriate for Catholics to use. The Church has a long history of battling false views of Jesus, man, and the gospel, going all the way back to the apostles. Although my own views have changed over the years, and I eventually entered the Catholic Church, I find myself giving a lot of sympathy to those who are called to battle heresy. Perhaps this makes me too sensitive, old habits die hard, but I have similar worries as do the critics of Pope Francis.

On the other hand, I have also come to see that the narrow way into the Kingdom of God (for it truly is a narrow way) also allows for a myriad of unique individual journeys on the path to faith. And those journeys are extremely hard to judge. This, I believe, is how we experience God’s Providence in our lives and in the lives of others. The lives of the saints not only challenge us to live holy lives, they also challenge us regarding the “process” because each saint is so different and unique compared to the others — and compared to us. Studying the saints is both eye opening and humbling. I want to be open to how God will surprise us. This is something Pope Francis frequently emphasizes.

So while I sympathize with the pope’s critics, I also realize two things: 1) God is in control, and 2) the best way to do battle is through the pursuit of holiness, prayer, and love.

First–God is in control. Let’s be honest, many of us respond to such statements by quickly saying, “Oh, of course, God is certainly in control, still…” or “Yes, yes, that’s a given, but…” Frankly, I don’t believe most of us truly believe that God is really in control, or at least we don’t act as if we emotionally, viscerally own this truth deep in our beings. We fret, we worry, we have conniptions and all that. But if we are Christians we ought to believe it, and that belief ought to have real concrete implications on our actions, words, and feelings. It seems to me that a lot of the ranting and raving, sometimes even foaming at the mouth, at nearly everything Pope Francis does, grows directly from roots that are not planted firmly in the radical faith that God is good, God is love, and that it is God who fights our battles. We pray, we submit, we serve, we love, we show mercy, we work hard at being Christ to others, and it is God who fights for us, His Church, and the the life of the world.

Second–holiness, prayer, and love. One of the great and shameful signs of sin dwelling in us is our pervasive tendency to see sin in others and not in ourselves. Christ says to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye. We insist there is no log. Or we downplay it, excuse it, and dismiss it. The pope got a lot of praise, but even more criticism for saying, “Who am I to judge.” A lot of judgers then piled on. I think it very likely that was not the best moment of the pope’s pontificate, and even a closer look at the context of that utterance gives one pause, but truly, who am I to judge. My holiness is so inadequate that what I actually should say is that I don’t even have the time or the energy to judge the pope.

I have friends who make their living examining issues within the Church and writing articles about them. Part of their job is to be professional judges of various decisions and actions of Church leadership, and sometimes they are quite critical of the Holy Father and various Bishops. They are smarter than I, and more in tune with what’s going on, but even then, I cannot go along with them too much. I listen, but I hold back. I appreciate their work and observations. I even agree with them much of the time. And sometimes on this blog I will be critical as I am trying to sort out my understandings of Catholicism. But in general, I feel called to humility. It is not my place to criticize the pope or bishops. Instead, I am trying to seek holiness and, frankly, I am not good at it. I don’t really know how to do it.

Lately I’ve been called to prayer. So I pray for the Church and the pope every day. I pray for my parish and our priests. I pray for holiness. I read the Bible and the catechism every day. I do this not because I’m holy, but because I’m not. I look at myself and I have to say, “Who am I to judge.”

But I still judge. God have mercy.

Jesus save us from Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of mercy. Amen.

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My Pope

pope-francis

I love Pope Francis.

I am not talking about the warm fuzzies or the swooning that seems to follow him everywhere. There has been an awful lot of swooning. I’m not sure swooning over any pope is entirely healthy anyway. And I hope I am not inclined to illusions or delusions. I see him as a man with limitations and passions. I cannot say I agree with him on every little thing. And he and I certainly we will not share many opinions on any number of topics. But he is my Pope. And I love him.

Why do I write this? As someone who is gradually learning and appreciating the Traditional Latin Mass, I come across a lot of negative attitudes about Pope Francis. I find many of these attitudes on “traditional” Catholic websites and social media. Some would say the Holy Father is merely good at making a show of good works, but that there is no substance behind the show. Some would say he is unorthodox in his beliefs, which is to say not fully Catholic. Others condemn him for decisions he has made and signals he has sent. And even some say he is actually mean and manipulative, one daring to call him a dictator. Then, of course, there are the sedevacantists who don’t call him pope at all.

The thing is I get that. I see what others are seeing. I understand their arguments. I too am not always happy, and sometimes I am very troubled. I worry about the Pope’s agenda, and about some of those with whom he surrounds himself. I am convinced the Vatican is a hotbed of political maneuvering entirely unbecoming of churchmen. And I definitely have issues with what seems to be clear and strong (strong-armed some would say) movements in unhealthy directions regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, movements that seem encouraged by the Pope. Could the Pope be undermining the Church in some way? For how crazy this may sound, he just might be.

I am not uncritical.

But I also know or am convinced of several things:

  1. Pope Francis loves God. This does not mean he is all wise, nor that he always acts correctly or makes the right decisions. And I do not mean he is not prone to vices. But loving God is huge. This is where it all begins. I believe I love God too, and I ask for prayers that my love is and remains true.
  2. He is a sinner. He even says so, and he goes to confession, and asks for our prayers. Do you pray for him every day? I try too, and often fail, but I know I should.
  3. Is he of another generation and culture with different views than I have? Certainly. His experiences are fundamentally different than mine. I have come to believe that human beings are immensely complicated. We not only have a hard time truly knowing others, but also knowing ourselves. He sees the love of the TLM as being a love of rigidity. He was schooled in the spirit of Vatican II. I disagree with him, but I cannot fault him for that. The Pope is just going to see many things differently than I will. And Perhaps rarely I will be right and he will, in fact, be wrong. What else can I do but pray and serve as best I can.
  4. But could he actually be caught up in believing false doctrine? Of course. He is a man and a sinner. Being Pope doesn’t make him perfect. Other popes have believed and promoted false doctrine. What am I to do with this? That’s fairly easy: pray for him and the Church, also pray for my own faith, continually learn and hold fast to orthodox teaching and practice, encourage others to do the same, seek unity, be humble, offer charity, and love as Christ has love us.

If you are still reading, then I will say that I do worry somewhat about this pontificate. I love Pope Francis, but I think he may be doing a poor job at running the Church and the Holy See. I also worry he is under the sway of powerful theologians and thinkers and politicians who are pushing to further the modernist agenda begun before Vatican II, flowered in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and continues today. He himself may be a through and through modernist. And he might actually be a dictator — from what I’ve read this is likely. So I have concerns.

BUT… I cannot know his heart. I do not know how the Vatican works, or most everything that goes on behind the scenes. I recognize that almost no reporting about the Pope, pro or con or apparently neutral, is without some kind of agenda and is therefore skewed regardless of which “side” it comes from. I find myself, in my “mature age” becoming skeptical of absolutes, except when it comes to dogma. I want to trust in God, and I do. I refuse to get caught up in the speculations, at least not too much. And I certainly do not know what God is up to. So I pray for the Pope, the Church, my Archbishops and priests, my family, and the world.

Simply, I am pro-Pope. I am pro-Church. I don’t think it’s a good thing for Catholics to publicly criticize the Pope. If they want to in private, with the right people open to discussion, and with thoughtful Catholics who can and might challenge their complaints, then that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be too public about it, and they shouldn’t be in an echo chamber either. Satan is the real enemy. Don’t open cracks for him. And the world, because it loves Satan, is already the enemy of the Church too. No need to give it any more ammo.

YET… I am not terribly worried. In fact, I’m not really worried at all. I have come to believe at the core of my being that God is love, that He does work all things together for good for those who love Him, and that His providence is real. I also believe that suffering is good, and that deeply knowing this is one of the reasons I came into the Church — not so that I would suffer more, but that I would be in the Church that actually embraces suffering and understands it, incorporates it. It’s just too important to go anywhere else.

Finally: I know something about what it’s like to be a Christian without a Pope. I lived many decades as a Protestant. I cling to the Pope, at least to the office itself. I sense many Catholics don’t understand this — at least they don’t see with the kind of clarity I do. My desire is first to help the Pope, not to denigrate him, to lift him up, not to bring him down. Catholics need to see how truly important it is to have a pope. Today Francis is our Pope.

He is my Pope.

5n2n

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Was the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs?

“How could I have been so stupid.” – President John F. Kennedy

 

I’m going to go off half cocked here, but oh well…

bay of pigs

Captured Bay of Pigs invasion forces walking towards their fate.

After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, with all its subsequent political fallout and public humiliation, various reports were issued as to why such a fiasco happened. One common view is that the Kennedy administration and CIA succumbed to the psychological condition known as “group think.” This idea of an influential and highly informed group of individuals moving forward on a known-to-be doomed plan, with no one seriously raising concerns to the commander-in-chief, and giving the go-ahead which resulted in lives lost, reputations forever sullied, and a country’s population reeling from humiliation on the world stage, made me wonder if there is a similarity to the post-Vatican II decisions regarding the Novus Ordo Mass.

I realize this sounds extremely harsh, especially to those who don’t have a problem with the new Mass. However, with the level of anger and vehemence raised by not a few towards Pope Paul VI and the Novus Ordo, and the claims by rather smart people that it has only caused catastrophic damage to the Church, I think it’s a fair question to ask.

So, did good intentions (however understood) snowball into far greater changes than most ever imagined? Did J.F.K. feel that he had inherited a plan that he had to execute? Did Pope Paul VI feel the same way when he “inherited” the Second Vatican Council and its “inevitable” outcomes, in particular the new Mass? Did few raise concerns because they assumed everyone else was on board and they didn’t want to be the only one making a fuss? Was the feeling that the trajectory was already set and  could no longer be changed? Was it group think?

I would not even consider such a comparison if there had not been the profoundly negative impacts in terms of Catholics leaving the Church, vocations going unheard and unheeded, monasteries closing, church building being razed, loss of beauty and reverence in the Mass, and numerous other ramifications since the council, and especially since the promulgation of the new Mass. I do recognize this is more a correlative argument and not so much a causal one. But just as J.F.K. inherited the CIA plan and trusted his advisors, I have been wondering if a similar comparison can be made regarding Pope Paul VI. Did he inherit a plan, or perhaps a movement, that surged forward with a kind on inevitability? Was he “carried along?” Did Pope Paul VI go along as though he was unable to put the brakes on? Was he merely weak or perhaps unskilled at leadership?

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No longer needed. Traditional church furnishings.

One might think this was the case. Consider some of the things Pope Paul VI said at his General Audience, November 26, 1969, only a couple of days before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.

He speaks of innovation: “We ask you to turn your minds once more to the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass.” We know there has traditionally been great reticence in the Church towards innovation in such matters.

He indicated that the changes affect the Church’s traditions: “A new rite of the Mass: a change in a venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries. This is something that affects our hereditary religious patrimony, which seemed to enjoy the privilege of being untouchable and settled.” He almost seems worried at the change, and even feels the need to call out that the Mass is actually unchangeable.

He points out tradition is valuable, and maybe now we will understand its value: “It is at such a moment as this that we get a better understanding of the value of historical tradition and the communion of the saints.” He seems to call out the need to retain what is valuable rather than move away from it.

He says some will be annoyed: “We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed—perhaps so much accustomed that we no longer took any notice of them.” Here it almost seems like he is offering a kind of apology. He also seems to say that now we will take notice of what we have accustomed to, which assumes that we then will not be losing those things, just appreciating them more, which assumes that they shouldn’t go away.

And he says many other things about the Novus Ordo being novel, inconvenient, and affecting in particular the pious and the faithful. He also says these changes will help wake us up in a sense, that it will “draw them out of their customary personal devotions or their usual torpor.” Which begs the question, once drawn out of one’s torpor do we go back with fresh eyes and eager hearts to our heritage? It also seems he is saying the purpose is to help us re-appreciate the traditional Latin Mass–as though we need to take a rough detour to help us love the smooth highway once again. Food for thought, especially if we take the long view.

One can almost get the sense that Pope Paul VI was trying to put a good face on something that he felt was not great at best, and maybe a big mistake at worst. Certainly there is a hint of trepidation. But…

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Catholic church in Germany being demolished because of too few parishioners to keep it open.

I have come to the conclusion that Pope Paul VI was the movement, that these words from his general audience are, in fact, representative of his genuine excitement for the coming changes. Perhaps he regretted how some of it played out, but I doubt he ever really wavered in his decisions.

I want to be careful with this comparison. I have no intention to draw too close a comparison. Still, it is widely known that Martin Luther, the rebellious monk who became a catalyst and firebrand for the Protestant Reformation, and one who sought great changes for the sake of getting back to something more pure, later regretted much of what was done in the name of his disputation. Though Luther did not regret his doctrinal positions, he regretted how politically explosive it all became, and how quickly fellow Christians embraced divisive and polarizing positions to the point of a continuing and pervasive disunity within the Body of Christ. Of course, without political backing his “project” would likely have died or been relegated to a kind of heterodox strand within the history of the Church as so many other breakaway Protestant groups were. This has been basically true for all the “strands” of the Reformation. Still, Luther was absolutely convinced of his path and what he felt was his clear calling. It also seems clear such is the case regarding Pope Paul VI.

How then should we think of Pope Paul VI? I believe the answer to the question at the beginning of this post is no. The promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass was not Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs. It was what he wanted, and he knew it would create a lot of turmoil. But, in a sense, it also was.

First, this quote from Giovanni Battista Montini, then Bishop of Milan and future Pope Paul VI, conveys his thinking in 1958, years before the council, about the need to radically change the Mass:

The Latin is not the only obstacle [to modern man’s participation]. The difficulty arises principally from the way in which the liturgy expresses the prayer of the Church and the divine mysteries. The variety of its forms, the dramatic progression of its rites, the hieratic style of its language, the continual use of sign and symbol, the theological depth of the words and the mysteries fulfilled—all seem to conspire to impede the understanding of the liturgy, especially for the modern man, accustomed to reducing everything to an extreme intelligibility…. [The faithful] will find themselves excluded from its inner spiritual precincts, whereas the progress of culture has accustomed them to understanding and knowing all about everything in their environment and field of interest. We must transform the difficulty posed by the liturgical rite into a help for the penetration of the hidden meaning contained in Catholic worship.¹

This shows that the “spirit of Vatican II” was strong in this bishop long before the council, not only regarding what we read in the texts from the council, but also regarding the radical changes that later occurred.

Perhaps most telling is the last line that speaks to the modernist desire to deny the actual reality of the mystery of faith. Mystery is presented as a problem to be solved, as though it can be. The faithful should now have worship of God be entirely understandable, that they would finally know the hidden meaning — as though the meaning was hidden in and by the old rite (because of the rite itself) rather than because of the very nature of God and of faith. Pope Paul VI was a true believer in the changes wrought by the new Mass. He thought it really would bring about an enormous rebirth and rejuvenation of faith within the Church precisely because the Mass would now be without any “hidden meaning” getting in the way. I know little about this pope, and even less about his core ideas, but in this particular sense he strikes me as a modernist, a child of the Enlightenment: a Catholic Pope but, in some significant sense, having a non-biblical anthropology (in terms of the Mass, yet strongly biblical in terms of marriage and contraception — go figure).

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Did the Pope see the future?

This leads me to why I believe the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass was Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs. The failed Cuba invasion failed precisely because it did not do what its planners claimed it would do based on assumptions that, on later reflection were poor and very naive, and was executed because too few wanted to stand in the way of its momentum. The promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, it is arguable (and has repeatedly been argued), has been directly responsible for great numbers of Catholics leaving the Church, many churches and monasteries closing their doors, parishes having to combine, Catholic schools closing or becoming in practice non-Catholic, very low new vocations, etc, etc, etc. Perhaps the only difference is that Pope Paul VI was not around long enough to see the full effect of the results and exclaim: “How could I have been so stupid.” (I mean no disrespect to the holy father.)

And yet, and yet… in a sense he had profound insight. Perhaps the old Mass, and pre-council Catholicism in the west was, in some way, dead or dying. Not because numbers were low, but because so many Catholics took the old rite for granted. He says just as much in his general audience address. Today we are seeing a resurgence of interest in the TLM, but this time with great passion and actual participation by the laity. Piety now seems to be combined with hearts on fire. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back, driven by a renewed interest founded on a renewed understanding and thus aiming towards an authentic realization of the value and purpose of worship itself.

So… in conclusion, I have come to see Pope Paul VI in a new light. I think the results of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and let’s face it, a lot of crazy garbage happened in those years, will be a new flourishing of the Church. I can’t say Pope Paul VI saw all this, but it seems God used him to accomplish some important changes that only now may be coming to light.

Like I said at the beginning, half cocked.


  1. Giovanni Battista Montini, “Liturgical Formation: Pastoral Letter to the Archdiocese of Milan for Lent 1958,” English translation in Worship 33 (1958–59), 136–64; at 153–54. Found in: Kwasniewski, Peter A., and Martin Mosebach. Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages. 2017. Page 19-20.

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Fr. Weinandy on the relationship of the priesthood to the Eucharist

Fr. Weinandy has been gaining some attention for his rigorous stance against the machinations of modernism and their corrosive nature within the Church. He has been critical of Pope Francis, which you may or may not find a good thing. He has also called out the evil intentions of some of the Church’s leadership which, if he is right, then that’s a good thing. My take is that he is both good and wise, and that he seeks truth and righteousness. Of course, this does not make he automatically right, but I am certainly less inclined to say he is wrong, but I do not know enough to critique his critiques. He also seems to me to be on the right path, and brings with him a gentle spirit combined with a love of truth.

Here is speaks about the relationship of the priesthood to the Eucharist:

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Excellent deep dive lecture series on Vatican II; what it was, and what it means

This is one of the best (probably the best) series of lectures on Vatican II that I have come across.

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A perspective on the post-Vatican II changes to the Mass

I find this video fascinating, strangely so. Clearly it’s an edit of several key scenes from a film, so I don’t know the film ends or what it’s actually trying to say. Nonetheless, these scenes seem to articulate well some of the arguments for the traditional Latin Mass, and the mindset behind some of the changes sought in the “spirit of Vatican II.”

The film is called “Catholics” and aired in 1973, based on the book of the same name by Brian Moore.

Director: Jack Gold
Writers: Brian Moore (screenplay), Brian Moore (novel)
Stars: Trevor Howard, Raf Vallone, Martin Sheen

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