Liberal authoritarianism and the traditional Latin Mass

Let me begin by defining my location in the Liturgy Wars. 

I am a Novus Ordo man.  

I don’t agree that the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1570 entombed the Roman Rite in ecclesiastical amber, such that it forever remains (as one traditionalist friend recently put it) “the most authentic expression of the Roman Church’s lex orandi [rule of worship].” If that were the case, then the 1962 Missal of John XXIII, which is used in 21st-century celebrations of what is typically called the “Traditional Latin Mass,” is less than fully authentic, as it incorporates changes in the liturgy promulgated by Popes Pius XII and John XXIII.   

I believe that the restoration of the Easter Vigil and the renewal of the Paschal Triduum by Pius XII were impressive developments of the Roman Rite, as I think the richer menu of biblical readings available at Mass today was another important achievement of the mid-20th century liturgical movement.  

I do not regard Latin as a “sacred” liturgical language and I believe it entirely possible to conduct dignified and reverent worship in English.  

I believe that the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy taught important truths, especially about the eschatological character of the Church’s worship as an anticipation of life in the Kingdom of God, and I agree with its teaching that the Church’s worship should be conducted with a “noble simplicity.” 

I think the suggestion from some liturgical traditionalists that the survival of Catholicism demands the restoration of the old Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the old Offertory prayers, and the old Last Gospel is ridiculous: which is also how I view the claims that the Council’s liturgical constitution and its immediate implementation were the result of a cabal of Freemasons, communists, and homosexual clerics.  

I prefer gothic chasubles to fiddleback chasubles and I dislike lace surplices.   

That being said, I also think that the recent apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes [Custodians of the Tradition], which attempts to repeal Pope Benedict XVI’s generous permission for easier use of the Traditional Latin Mass in the 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, was theologically incoherent, pastorally divisive, unnecessary, cruel — and a sorry example of the liberal bullying that has become all too familiar in Rome recently.      

Summorum Pontificum was an act of pastoral solicitude for those Catholics who find it more efficacious to worship according to the 1962 Missal, in what Benedict XVI described as the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite. It was also hoped that the Church’s broader experience of that Extraordinary Form would lead to a re-sacralizing and ennobling of the Church’s worship according to the “Ordinary Form” of the liturgy, the post-Vatican II missal of Pope Paul VI as revised by Pope John Paul II. In my experience, that hope was being vindicated, as the silly season in liturgy was mercifully drawing to an end. 

 I lived that vindication for three weeks in Cracow this summer, as the seminar I led there — a multinational gathering of Catholics from six countries and cultures — celebrated the Novus Ordo reverently and prayerfully, using Gregorian chant for the ordinary parts of the Mass and traditional Latin chants and contemporary Taizé chants (in both Latin and English) as the entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons. Our seminar congregation’s participation in the liturgy was, as Vatican II hoped, “full, active, and conscious;” it was also dignified, reverent, and attuned to the sacred. 

In many American parishes where the Extraordinary Form has been offered as well as the more common Ordinary Form, the unity of the Church has not been impaired. That some proponents of the Extraordinary Form think themselves the sole faithful remnant of a decaying Church is certainly true, and their presence online in depressingly familiar. But it is an empirically unsustainable slander to suggest, as Traditonis Custodes does, that that divisive superiority complex (coupled with an ideologically-driven rejection of Vatican II) is the new normal for those who wish to worship at Masses celebrated with the Missal of 1962. Roman judgments should not be based on the hysteria and antics of the Catholic blogosphere.   

Progressive Catholicism has typically been characterized by an authoritarian streak — a tendency to bullying and intimidation that certainly bespeaks impatience and may suggest a lack of confidence in its proposals and arguments. In the present pontificate, that has led to an extreme notion of papal authority that might make Pope Pius IX blush. This has not gone over well throughout the world Church, and that fact will have a marked effect on the next papal election.   

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”