WHH: “The Definitive Traditionalist Critique of the New Missal”

IN ITS MARCH 2011 number, the Australian Catholic periodical Oriens published a combined review of three recently-published books on the post-Vatican II era, Dr. Tracey Rowland’s Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed, Dr. Geoffrey Hull’s The Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church and Fr. Anthony Cekada’s Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI.

PERIODICAL: Oriens is the journal of the Oriens Foundation, which “promotes appreciation for, and understanding of, the traditional Latin liturgy as one of the foundations of Western civilisation. Oriens traces in history and culture, in language, art and aesthetics, in religious and moral norms, the influence of the classical Western liturgy, and examines its interactions with private life and public affairs.” 

Dr. Stephen McInerney

REVIEWERStephen McInerney (b. 1976) holds a Doctorate from the University of Sydney (2006) and a Bachelor of Arts (with First Class Honours) from the Australian National University, where he was awarded the University Medal in English in 2000.  In Your Absence (Indigo/Ginninderra), his collection of poems, was recommended by leading Australian poet Les Murray in the (London) Times Literary Supplement ‘Books of the Year’ in 2002. His writings have appeared in the Bulletin, the Australian, Adelaide Review, Quadrant, Who Weekly, Southerly, Critical Review, AD2000, OriensBest Australian Poems (2004 and 2005), the Literary Encyclopedia and the Warwick Review (UK). He is currently Lecturer in Literature at Campion College, New South Wales, Australia. A number of his articles have appeared in the U.S. publication The Remnant.

THE REVIEW: Dr. McInerney characterizes the three works under review, which bring to light “the problems of Tradition and Reform, the differences between Reform and Revolution, organic growth and corruption, and the role of the papacy in all this,” as “thoroughly researched and eminently readable works of scholarship.”

All engage with and seek to account for the recent dramatic changes in the Catholic Church. Whereas Professor Tracey Rowland does this in the context of, and as a consequence of exploring, the theology of Benedict XVI, Professor Geoffrey Hull and Rev. Anthony Cekada do so, in quite different ways, by engaging directly with the liturgical question itself.

While Dr. Hull and Dr. Rowland trace the contemporary crisis to the first millennium and the sixteenth century respectively,

Fr. Cekada adopts (perhaps ironically!) a more mainstream traditionalist position by tracking present problems to the distortion of the liturgical movement… which was, he believes, hijacked by theological Modernists and liberals of various stripes.

This is the first time ever, I think, that the words “Cekada” and “mainstream” have appeared in the same sentence. Be that as it may, Dr. McInerney correctly observes that my interest in the liturgical reform lies primarily in its theological underpinnings:

Cekada is a thorough scholar, who has done as much as anyone to highlight the theological differences between the pre-C0nciliar Missal (codified by St. Pius V) and the Missal of Paul VI, and in so doing, to prove that these differences cannot easily be reconciled. In addition to numerous articles, he contributed the illuminating introduction to The Ottaviani Intervention and has published a fine study, The Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass.

Dr. McInerney then provides a brief overview of the contents of Work of Human Hands. Doctrinal motives, he notes, prompted this study:

Cekada believes that the New Missal is opposed to authentic Catholic teaching, not only in its typical celebration in the average parish (most traditionalists would agree) but in its essence, and he marshals an impressive array of evidence to support this conclusion.

Chapter 2, on the history of the pre-Vatican II Liturgical Movement, Dr. McInerney found “quite enlightening, if at times too neat.” To counteract the latter, he recommends that the chapter be read in light of Chapter 15 of Dr. Hull’s work, which also explores aspects of the pre-Conciliar Liturgical Movement.

As regards particular strong points of the book, Dr. McInerney says:

The most outstanding and convincing aspect of Fr. Cekada’s work, extending what he achieved in the Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass, is to show how alien to one another are the spirits animating the two missals. What has been removed from the New Missal is every bit as revealing as what has been added, and it is hard not to conclude — as Cekada does — that the New Missal was calculated to change the behavior, attitudes and beliefs of the Catholic population.

Dr. McInerney then concludes his review by turning to a broader topic that a consideration of all three books suggests:

For this reviewer, these three excellent works raise as many questions as they answer. How do we know a legitimate reform when we see it, or recognize a legitimate development of doctrine? How do we know a corruption? Who has authority to argue that Thomism should not have pride of place in Catholic theology? …

How do we judge which practices are essential and which are not, which rulings to follow and which to ignore, which one harm and which protect the faith once delivered to the saints? …

Is Newman’s position on Rome’s role in guiding and guarding authentic development still valid in the liturgical sphere, however, in light of what we have seen since the Second Vatican Council, with Rome’s infamously conflicting (and impossible to reconcile) positions on altar girls and administration of communion, among a host of other practices? It has certainly been seriously tested by the experiences of many Catholics, both Eastern and Western.

Or, to put the underlying question as simply as possible: How reconcile the Church’s authority and infallibility on one hand, with the evil of the official liturgical changes on the other? It is encouraging to see that a new generation of traditionalists has begun to grasp the nature of the problem.

Work of Human Hands, Dr. McInerney says, “will surely now stand as the definitive traditionalist critique of the New Missal.”

This entry was posted in Reviews of Work of Human Hands. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.