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From the October, 2008 issue of Touchstone


Liturgical Devices by Richard Upsher Smith, Jr.

Liturgical Devices

Missale Romanum ex Decreto Ss. Concilii Tridentini Restitutum Summorum Pontificum Cura Recognitum, editio typica 1962 (Monumenta Liturgica Piana 1)
reprint and introduction by Manlio Sodi and Alessandro Toniolo
Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2007
(1,114 pages, €59.00, hardcover)

Il Messale di Pio V: Perché la Messa in Latino nel III Millennio?
by Manlio Sodi
Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007
(48 pages, €3.50, paperback)

reviewed by Richard Upsher Smith, Jr.

In Dostoevsky’s Demons, the revolutionary Verkhovensky tells his comrade Kirillov that “it was not you who ate the idea, but the idea that ate you.” Just as the revolutionary idea of absolute self-determination ate Kirillov, so the revolutionary idea of history has devoured two liturgical scholars and “experts”: Manlio Sodi, a Salesian priest, and Alessandro Toniolo, a layman who works at the Institute for Pastoral Liturgy in Padova, Italy.

Sodi and Toniolo hold as an article of faith that the pure liturgy of the early Church, an action of the entire Christian people, became an instrument of alienation of the people during the Middle Ages and in the period after Trent. Just as revolutionary thinkers present the human story as a series of struggles between the weak and the strong, so Sodi and Toniolo see the history of the liturgy as the clergy’s progressive usurpation of the laity’s role, not as the gradual unfolding of God’s will in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Like so many experts involved in the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century (and not only in the Catholic Church), they would, in Pope Pius XII’s words in his encyclical Mediator Dei (1947), “reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device.”

Sodi and Toniolo are general editors of the new series Monumenta Liturgica Piana ( MLP) ( Liturgical Monuments of Pius XII), of which this edition of the 1962 Roman Missal (the last in Latin) is the first volume. The Rituale Romanum (1952), the Pontificale Romanum (1961–1962), the Breviarium Romanum (1962), and a volume of indices are to follow. This series complements the Monumenta Liturgica Concilii Tridentini ( Liturgical Monuments of the Council of Trent), also edited by Sodi.

Evolution, Not Growth

The reprint of the Missale Romanum contains an introduction by the editors, and the text of the editio typica (“standard edition”) with certain useful editorial additions, including two sets of marginal numbers in the Missal itself to facilitate reference to the text by scholars, and a general table of contents. The editors will also supply an index of “forms of expression” in the final volume of the series.

The editors intend the MLP to enable scholars to compare the last texts of the Tridentine tradition, namely, the texts of the Reform of Pius XII (which include the 1962 missal, though it appeared during the pontificate of John XXIII), with the texts published after Vatican II. In their view, the Second Vatican Council both continued and broke with the tradition.

They employ the metaphor of evolution for the development of the liturgy, rather than the metaphor of organic growth used by Pius XII in Mediator Dei and by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium. The image of organic growth suggests the transformation of a single body by an inner logic, while the image of evolution implies the replacement of one species by another in a process driven by external forces.

For these liturgical scholars, as for Marx, “it is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness.” Just as evolving modes of production have determined each culture’s forms of government and society, succeeding socio-historical contexts have determined the successive forms of the liturgy. Just as the accumulation of capital alienated the worker from the means of production, so the concentration of initiative in the clerical orders excluded the laity from their role in the Mass.

Consequently, although the editors recognize that the Tridentine tradition “constructed a mens [ mentalité or mind] and gave life to a cultic behavior that was inscribed in the depth of the Christian life,” nevertheless “the liturgy is a living reality. If it wants to be the actualization of the mystery of salvation in harmony with the cultural coordinates of the faithful, it needs a certain adaptation and even sometimes reform.”

The Fathers’ Mind

The editors do not demonstrate that the “cultural coordinates” of the faithful had already changed at the time of the Second Vatican Council, but they certainly believe that “specialist learning” (such as their own) had affected the mind of the Council Fathers, “by collecting new elements [for the liturgy], by bringing back to light aspects that had been obscured by time, or by restoring greater value to those that had, by superposition and addition, lost their original meaning.”

The editors’ outline of the contents of the 1962 Missal emphasizes certain changes made to the pre-conciliar Mass in the 1970 Missal. Since they believe the 1970 Missal embodies the “theological, liturgical, and celebratory perspectives” of the Second Vatican Council, these changes are significant.

They complain, for example, that the Pian Missal, the rite in the 1962 Missal for celebrating the Mass inserted between Holy Saturday and Easter Day in the lectionary “interrupts the succession of the Proper of the Season.” This would seem a minor problem, if it is a problem at all, but their minute concern for the typographical integrity of the lectionary reflects their argument elsewhere that the new lectionary of 1970 is “the true inheritance of the Second Vatican Council, evoking an enrichment of the faith, pietas [piety], and culture of the Christian people.”

Two observations can be made. First, the 1970 lectionary is a three-year cycle of semi-continuous readings chosen from Holy Scripture according to the principles of historical criticism. The 1962 lectionary is annual, and it teaches the doctrines of the faith thematically. Because of its repetitive, incisive, and dogmatic nature, it imbues the soul with the great truths of the faith in a way that the new lectionary cannot because of its variety, bulk, and critical selectivity.

Second, the 1970 Missal prints the rite of the Mass and the lectionary separately to emphasize the experts’ understanding that the Ministries of Word and Sacrament are of separate and equal dignity. The Pian Missal’s placement between Holy Saturday and Easter Day symbolizes how our Lord’s earthly life culminated in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which are represented in the Mass, and emphasizes the unity of the major elements of the Mass.

If liturgical history is the Church’s magistra or teacher, especially the early history of the liturgy of the undivided Church, as the editors claim, such characteristics of the 1962 Missal are indeed problematical, since none of them appeared until late antiquity.

Pedagogical Liturgy

In his pamphlet Il Messale di Pio V. Perché la Messa in latino nel III millennio? (The Missal of Pius V: Why the Mass in Latin in the Third Millennium?), Sodi speaks with approval of Justin and Hippolytus, and dates the beginning of the decline in understanding of the Eucharist from the time of Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century.

Only in the twentieth century, with the rise both of the “Liturgical Movement” and of the “Biblical Movement,” did a restoration of the ancient understanding of the liturgy become possible, a restoration accomplished by liturgical experts under the mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium. To help “the people and their educators, the presiders of the assembly,” appropriate this ancient understanding, the new Missal has 13 Eucharistic prayers, 94 prefaces, a three-year lectionary with many more readings than the old lectionary, and 2,000 prayers.

Thus, Sodi views the liturgy as peculiarly pedagogical. The action of the liturgy instructs the people in the “history of salvation in time and in the life of the person.” Moreover, “liturgical ritual” has not only the “function of expressing the biblical reality in the first place,” but also “of making the person interact in the context of the praying assembly.”

One is reminded here of Rousseau’s theory of the union of the particular will with the general will, lately examined by Charles Taylor. The general will is made manifest, and also constructed, by spectacles, by the play-acting of the populace, contrived by the revolutionary vanguard. We see here a type of the modern Mass. The revolutionary vanguard—the liturgical experts—form the general will of the Catholic people through spectacles, i.e., celebrations of the Mass, in which the people are invited to play virtually all the roles. Thus, the Mass has become a kind of agit-prop.

A Simple Argument

Sodi has two aims in this booklet. First, he wishes to demonstrate that those who desire to celebrate or assist at a Tridentine Mass oppose the Second Vatican Council, the teachings of which are normative for Roman Catholics.

His argument is simple. Since the Novus Ordo (“New Order”) is available in Latin, anyone who insists on the Tridentine Mass does not want the Latin Mass per se, but rather the pre-conciliar Mass. The implication is that whatever benefits a Latin Mass brings can be had without resurrecting the older, now abolished (he claims) rite.

Three fallacies are apparent in this argument. First, the Latin Novus Ordo has never been celebrated widely or frequently, and the liturgical experts have not been heard to encourage it.

Second, as Pope Benedict XVI noted in the letter that accompanied his recent Summorum Pontificum, in which he gave priests permission to use the 1962 Missal without the local bishop’s permission, “arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.” They are not, as Sodi implies, rebels.

Third, as Benedict remarked in the same letter, “young persons, too, have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.” These people have no prior, nostalgic, commitment to the Tridentine rite.

Thus, for many Catholics, the issue is not a rejection of Vatican II, but the spiritual attraction of a form of worship that edifies their souls not only by obvious pedagogical elements, but also through its beauty, order, and majesty. Since Sodi focuses almost exclusively on the pedagogical aspect of the liturgy, he does not understand this. He would do well to reflect on Pius XII’s teaching, offered in Mediator Dei, on the subjective side of the liturgy and on the diversity of ways of participating in it.

Sodi’s second aim is to demonstrate the unworkability of Summorum Pontificum. First, although Benedict states that the 1962 Missal was never “juridically abrogated,” Sodi claims at one point that it was abolished, and elsewhere that it is for historians and canon lawyers to decide whether it was abrogated. Thus, Benedict’s motu proprio is either illegal or highly irregular, as judged not by the pope but by the “experts.”

Second, where Benedict argues that permission will not prove divisive, Sodi predicts confusion in parishes where the old rite is requested. (This has not happened in my own parish.)

Third, although Benedict argues that this permission will not undermine the authority of the Second Vatican Council, Sodi insists that it will. Identifying the mind of the Council Fathers with the actual product of the liturgical experts of the Congregation for Divine Worship, he calls upon liturgists, i.e., experts, to (as he thinks) defend the teaching of the council by defending the Missal of 1970 against, for example, papal permission for priests to use the older rite.

Devoured by History

It is striking that Sodi and Toniolo display no sympathy for those with whom they disagree, whether it is the pope, or ordinary persons hurt by radical change, or young people enthralled by the old liturgy’s beauty.

Their revolutionary—as well as mythic—interpretation of liturgical history as leading from a pristine state through a process of alienation to the restoration of the original condition requires also a revolutionary vanguard that can have no sympathy with dissenters. These are men who have indeed been devoured by the idea of history.

Towards the end of Demons, Verkhovensky’s ailing father, an old liberal, compares Russia to the demoniac in St. Luke’s Gospel out of whom was cast a legion of devils. As the demoniac was possessed by devils, so Russia was possessed by revolutionary ideas. As the demoniac was healed of his devils, so, he hoped, would Russia be healed of the insanity of revolution.

Pray God that the Church may be healed of ideas that devour her best minds and hurt her children.

For a defense of the traditional annual and thematic lectionary, the reviewer recommends the Anglican scholar David Curry’s “Doctrinal Instrument of Salvation” (

“Liturgical Devices” first appeared in the October 2008 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

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