Category Archives: Church History

Gregorian Chant Today

Catholic News Service recently did a series of video reports on Gregorian Chant, what it is, and how it’s making a comeback in the Church. This is a great introduction to the music of the Church, in essence an ancient form of prayer that seemed at times to have been lost, but has been with us all along.

This last video is somewhat interesting in that the music in it is mostly not chant at all. Still, beautiful music.

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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 raised, 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?


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…

church demo

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 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.


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 no one 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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Beautiful Catholic Churches, Old & New

An EWTN show called Extraordinary Faith did a couple of episodes on new church designs and old church restorations that reflect the traditional patrimony of the Catholic Church.

The information here is great, and shows something of the rebirth and growth in recognizing the timeless and appropriate architectural and artistic designs of those buildings we instantly recognize as churches. Consequently many parishes and religious groups are wanting such buildings again.

I love the level of exposure to these beautiful churches and those who build & restore them this shows brings. There is a great deal of skill and work involved in any traditional Catholic church building. I also love the passion exhibited here for the traditions of the Church.

[An aside: Of course, and as expected, in the “spirit of EWTN” the production quality is serious, thoughtful, and sometimes (unintentionally) humorously amateurish. I would love to see EWTN level up two or three notches with its productions. Perhaps something like Bishop Barron’s Catholicism series, which would be at least a place to start. I’m not just complaining. I used to be a professional television producer and director, so I know a few things about what it takes to make good television, and it’s mostly not a question of money. EWTN too often is caught somewhere between 1980’s professional television and community access television.]

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral Restoration and a Tour of America’s Parish Church

I have never been to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Someday I may get there. I hope so.

Here is a video report on the restoration of the Cathedral from a few years ago. This was a newsworthy event, so it was poper that it was covered in the secular media.

A great question was asked; essentially why was so much money spent when there are plenty of other financial needs in the world and in the parish, such as poverty and school closures, etc. Although Cardinal Dolan did not go into it much, there are many good reasons to keep the cathedral in tip top shape — it is a prominent house of God, visited by millions, providing for the spiritual needs of many, hosting popes, and bringing in revenue to the parish. It is a good thing to spend money and labor on a cathedral. Doing so is a form or worship. Simply it comes down to whether God truly exists and whether the Real Presence of Christ is there seven times a day for the faithful (how many times they celebrate Mass in St. Patrick’s).

If one does not not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist then beautiful churches makes no sense. If, on the other hand, Christ is truly present then it makes all the sense in the world.

If you want a bit more intimate portrait of the cathedral, here’s the Cardinal giving a person and revealing tour of this great church:

I honestly do not know what I think of Cardinal Dolan. He seems like such a remarkable man, and a very good cardinal. On the other hand, I personally don’t like some of the ways he is so super affable. Kinda makes me feel like there’s a whole lot up front, but not so much underneath — and that I would be manipulated a bit in his presence rather than experience true engagement. I have to trust others more knowledgeable than me. Regardless, I would love to meet him someday. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful.

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Restoring the Church by restoring a church

Here is a great video how one Catholic parish in America has renovated its church building, invigorated its parish life, helped its community, and is contributing to the restoration of the Church at large. The video is from 2010, but its message resonates still. Basic things: repair the building, offer vespers, bring back pomp and reverence, Latin, chant, Corpus Christi procession, altar boys, communion on the tongue while kneeling, incense, mystery, etc., etc. They also employed an architectural and liturgical expert, Denis McNamara, to help lead the restoration.

The church interior was completed in 2014. Here are some stunning images, including before and after photos of the project. What beauty. My parish should do this! I’m sure the first response will be about money, but I really think it comes down to the will to do it — as do most goals of highest value.

If there is any one formula or silver bullet for creating vibrant parishes it seems to be: get back to the roots, restore the old ways, focus on truth, goodness, and beauty in the Mass, and do those things that support these things, like renovating your church building inside and out.

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Baby Boomer Mass


original image found here

I gripe. I’m a griper.

One thing that is glaringly apparent to a former outsider of the Catholic Church (anti-Catholic Baptist/neo-Calvinist/almost Evangelical — good people, btw) who has recently come into the Church (that would be me in 2013) is that the Novus Ordo Mass is a reflection of the values and stylistic preferences of the 1960’s baby boomers. I know this because I grew up in a baby boomer era West Coast version of Christianity so prevalent in the 1970s — a version that even outdoes the Catholics in sentimentality. I saw how our Baptist church changed from the Christianity of my grandparents to that of my parents. (Oh, I’ve got stories.) In fact, I thought some of the changes were for the better. But for the sometimes nostalgic feelings I have for my past, I don’t think that version of Christianity is particularly good. And I certainly don’t think it’s good for Catholics.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Vatican II, and a leaning towards pre-Vatican II Catholicism is on the rise (and so is the resistance), but we still have the spirit of the 1960’s (the spirit of the baby boomers) with us today — some of that spirit is good, but a lot is not. Perhaps the evidence is most apparent in the music sung at so many Masses today.

Frequently at Mass we sing (well… not everyone sings) songs that are clearly poor shadows of the 1960’s folk-style oeuvre. I love that oeuvre, but not sung at Mass, and certainly not poor shadows as some kind of praise or prayer (honestly, I’m not sure what we are doing sometimes) to our King. But I see the baby boomers happily singing these songs without even having to look at the “hymnal.” (Hymnal is in quotes because a lot of these are songs that, at best, loosely resemble hymns, and the hymnal is really a cheap and disposable paperback — which itself is a message counter to the gravity, substantiality, beauty, and truth of the faith and Catholic worship — but that’s another topic.)

I can’t even…

It was the boomers that welcomed the new Mass, just as they welcomed “sit ins” and Peter, Paul and Mary, welcomed bell bottom jeans and antiestablishmentarianism, and rejected nearly all traditions and anyone over thirty.¹ It was the boomers who felt strongly that their parents didn’t and couldn’t understand how the world had changed.² Their parents voted for Eisenhower, supported Vietnam, questioned the civil rights movement, and would later vote for Nixon. Squaresville.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

Catholicism was obviously even more entrenched deep within stale and rigid tradition. The very opposite of hip and cool. Right? It had to change. It had to get with it. It had to serve the Me Generation. Otherwise the churches would soon empty out, seminaries close, and priests leave the priesthood and become positive thinking gurus. (oops) The traditional had to go and the contemporary come in. Open the Church’s windows and doors and let the winds of the zeitgeist blow through, clearing out the cobwebs and stale air. Finally!!

What was not anticipated was just how stale the winds of fashion become from one day to the next.


Who could have know where this would lead?

[An aside: I love Peter, Paul and Mary, but just not at Mass and certainly not poor shadows of that trio. On Eagles Wings?! Wat? And heck, I love that now everyday is “casual day” at work, but wearing a t-shirt branded Lou’s Shake Shack and flip flops before the Real Presence? Really? This is not merely a matter of taste, or class distinctions, nor is it an “ageist” argument. Rather it’s theological and liturgical. If we truly have the Real Presence before us, then…??]

[A confession: I am a Generation X guy, but only just under the wire. Some might even say I was born in the last year of the boomer generation — but I refuse to agree. I refuse I tell you. So I still have a lot of the Jesus movement coursing through my veins. I was weaned on Larry Norman. I’ve sang my fair share of folk/rock/pop “worship” hymns/songs/whatever and, I have to say, I  loved a lot of that. I even lead youth group worship. I still love the music of that Catholic-hating Jesus freak, the late great Keith Green. (Has anyone written a more beautiful modern hymn Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful or My Eyes are Dry?) But we don’t even get his quality of songs at Mass — unless we go way way back and sing great works from the past which ultimate put his songs to shame. Any why are we singing anyway if not to pray?]

Anyway, the boomers³ at the contemporary Novus Ordo Mass of today, who sing from memory those mediocre “hymns” with a smile on their faces, are probably the less than five percent (maybe it’s ten percent? I’m making this up) of their generation that remained in the church since the liturgical turmoil and confusion of the 1970’s and 80’s. In other words, it seems most of the boomer Catholics back in the day got what they wanted (change, revolution, freedom) and then left Catholicism for other things (Evangelical Protestantism, New Age spirituality, free market capitalism, pastel cashmere sweaters, etc.). And many of those that remain (including the Holy Father, who is a bit older than a baby boomer) are utterly perplexed as to why it’s the Catholic youth and Protestant converts who are leading the charge for the Church to re-embrace the Traditional Latin Mass and other traditional & ancient forms of worship and devotion. They see it as a return to a rigid⁴ faith. Perhaps for some it is, but in general I think it is something entirely different, something more profound. Perhaps less rigid, in fact.

Okay, okay… I also have to say the boomers who have remained faithful to the Church are also often examples of love for Christ, service to others, and active participants in church. Who am I to judge, right? They put me to shame, in fact. I’m probably a terrible person.

But to sum up, unlike the timelessness and substantial beauty of the Traditional Catholic Mass, the Baby Boomer Mass is looking old and tired, like yesterday’s styles. Strangely, to often the Novus Ordo Mass looks more and more like a time capsule and the TLM looks like the best choice for today. And isn’t that the case? What is trendy looks old so quickly, and what is ancient is timeless. Fashions come and go. We should not let the Form follow fashion.

Of course all of this is a gross oversimplification, and not necessarily (or merely) a generational divide. It’s not about boomers getting old. And it’s not merely a matter of “updating” the Mass to a more contemporary fashion or “going back” to some gold age. There’s a lot more to be said.

Anyway… I gripe. I’m a griper.

  1. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was a phrase spoken by Jack Weinberg, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s.
  2. “Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.” (Bob Dylan, 1963)
  3. Frankly, it’s not just the boomers. I do see some younger folks–in their thirties and forties–singing these songs without needing the hymnal. Why why why? Who are these people?
  4. According to Pope Francis: “[M]any young people in the church today who have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.” Found here and many other reports.


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The Altar as the Center of the Church

For some time now I’ve been fascinated by Church architecture and how it works. In my parish there is a small movement to re-establish the original high altar and tabernacle at the center of the sanctuary. It was moved to the right of the sanctuary sometime in the 1970’s I would guess. I wrote about it here.

My argument for moving the altar back to the center is based a lot on what a church is, and the overall design of churches, essentially starting with the structure and moving in towards the altar. What I like about the following lecture by architect Duncan Stroik is that he starts with the altar and “builds” out from there.

Of course, to understand the altar we should understand what takes place there. Do we truly have the body and blood of Christ? If yes, then that is huge. If no, then none of this really matters. Right? Sometimes I think that most Catholics today see the Eucharist as a symbol, not believing in the Real Presence, not believing in transubstantiation. I think churches in the round reflect that.

How we design and build our churches expresses what we believe to be true — and how we rank truths. A church in the round reflects some truth — that we are all fellowshiping around a shared table. But does it reflect the proper hierarchy of truths? Have more important truths been reduced in rank (as expressed by the design) and lesser, though important, truths been elevated? Has Jesus my friend been elevated over Christ our King?

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