New Oxford Review, the Pre-Vatican II Reforms and the New Mass

THE New Oxford Review, a monthly with a conservative take on many issues in the post-Vatican II church, recently reviewed Nicola Giampietro’s The Development of the Liturgical Reform: As Seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli from 1948 to 1970 (Roman Catholic Books, 348 pages, $33.75).

Ferdinando Cardinal Antonelli

Antonelli was a liturgist and Vatican official who from 1948 onwards had been intimately involved with the ongoing liturgical reforms that began during the reign of Pius XII and culminated with the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI in 1969. Indeed, in his capacity as Secretary of the Congregation of Rites, Antonelli had countersigned the 1969 decree promulgating the New Mass.

The review, by Arthur C. Sippo, caught my eye for several reasons. I had consulted Giampietro’s book in researching my own book on the New Mass, Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI, which prominently features a quote from Antonelli’s memoirs: “In the liturgy, every word and every gesture conveys a theological idea.”

Moreover, the title of Dr. Sippo’s review, “Liturgical Reform Did Not Start with Vatican II,” expressed one of the central contentions of my book.

Dr. Sippo enlists the Pius XII reforms and Antonelli’s comments in defense of the post-Vatican liturgy and against traditionalist objectors to it:

To people who have taken a keen interest in liturgical reform and have read about it both from the perspective of those who support it and those who do not, this volume helps put everything into perspective, separating the wheat from the chaff. This is especially true with regard to the claims of “radical traditionalists,” who allege that the 1970 missal represented a Protestantization of the liturgy and a wholesale break with tradition, and that the 1570 missal was an organic outgrowth of the Church’s life. Cardinal Antonelli’s memoirs show that this was not the case, and that, for good or for ill, the reform basically achieved what it set out to do.

Dr. Sippo correctly observes:

The Novus Ordo Missae has been referred to mistakenly as one of the “fruits of the Second Vatican Council.” In fact, the history of liturgical reform that led to the promulgation of the New Mass predated Vatican II by several decades.

And on this point, I am entirely in agreement with him. Indeed, I entitled Chapter 2 of Work of Human Hands “Liturgical Changes 1948–1969: The Creation of the New Mass.”

The whole course of the reform, Dr. Sippo notes, was directed by the pre-Vatican II Liturgical Movement:

Improved historical scholarship and the pa­tristic renaissance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had given birth to a new consciousness of the liturgy as a dynamic participation of the faithful in the prayers and rites of the Church.

What Dr. Sippo and many others like him do not seem to realize, however, is that by the 1950s many of the principal actors in the Liturgical Movement had veered off into Modernism and false ecumenism. These charges were leveled by Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg in a 17-point memorandum he circulated among the German bishops in 1942 that detailed the errors and excesses of the Movement.

The Holy See intervened with Pius XII’s Encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943), a Letter of the Secretariat of State to Cardinal Bertram (1943) and Pius XII’s Encyclical Mediator Dei (1947), all of which condemned, in one way or another, errors rampant in the Liturgical Movement.

None of this stopped the onslaught of the Modernists, however. Thus, in a 1956 Allocution to the International Congress on Pastoral Liturgy, Pius XII warned the Movement once again about prevalent theological errors concerning the Real Presence, the priesthood, and the danger of separating the tabernacle from the altar where Mass is celebrated.

In the 1940s and 1950s some supporters of the Movement had already noticed the Modernist connection and treated it as a positive development. While a Catholic in those days needed to be extremely circumspect about praising such a phenomenon — Catholic clergy, remember, still had to take the Anti-Modernist Oath before ordination and before promotion to any teaching position or higher office — a Protestant enthusiast for the Movement like Ernest Koenker could baldly state in a 1954 work, The Liturgical Renaissance in the Roman Catholic Church:

It is especially in its theological method that the Liturgical Movement evidences a relationship with the errors of Modernism as condemned by Pius X in Pascendi… There is no doubt that Heiler and Birnbaum are correct when they see the Liturgical Movement continuing certain of the tendencies of Modernism: certain of the most fruitful trends condemned by Pius X in his blanket condemnation have served to make the Liturgical Movement the great power it is today. (29, 30-1).

As I demonstrate in Chapters 2 and 3 of Work of Human Hands, there is indeed ample evidence that the liturgical changes instituted in the 1950s were the work of Modernist adepts of the Movement, engaged in a long-term program of incremental liturgical change — indeed, subversion — that would culminate in the promulgation of Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae in 1969.

So,  the connection that Dr. Sippo rightly draws between the pre-Vatican II reforms and the Novus Ordo does not so much exculpate the Mass of Paul VI as incriminate it.


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