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admin / September 30, 2016
Aurelio Porfiri

We continue our conversation with Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. author of  the book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis. Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press).

You use an interesting phrase: you say that the Reform has failed the Council. Can you expand on this?

Well, sometimes I think I have been too positive about the Council in my book, and too positive about some aspects of the liturgical reform, which was, overall, a failure, as we can see in a thousand ways. However, what I meant is that, if we take John XXIII’s intentions for the Council at their face value, and if we look at much of what the documents actually say, we find a rather different picture of Catholicism than what you will find on the street. Reading Lumen Gentium can be quite an eye-opener: one finds paragraph after paragraph of (more or less) traditional teaching that is absent from the consciousness of the contemporary Catholic.

The same thing is true of Sacrosanctum Concilium. In spite of the fact that the document was drafted and filled with loopholes by those who wished to subvert the liturgy, we find in it passages that sound shockingly “traditional” nowadays—perhaps this was the sugar-coating of the bitter pill, but still, they are actually there. The liturgy (Mass and Office) is supposed to be mostly in Latin; Gregorian chant is to have chief place; the faithful are to learn to say and sing together in Latin the parts of the Mass that belong to them; the chalice is to be given to the faithful on rare occasions; there should be no mixing of liturgical roles; and so forth.

If this is what the Council Fathers wanted, as signified by their nearly-unanimous vote (including Archbishop Lefebvre’s), then it is hard to see how the Novus Ordo Missae, the various sacramental rites, and the Liturgy of the Hours as we have them correspond to their intentions or their approved documents. In this sense, there can be no question that the Reform failed the Council. This explains why there is a “reform of the reform” movement: it’s rather obvious that the reform has to be reformed. But the progressive establishment has succeeded in convincing most people not only that the reform is faithful to Vatican II’s dictates but also that it is the perfect embodiment of the very essence of the Council. As such, it has a status that is well-nigh unquestionable, untouchable. We have recently been reminded of that attitude in “Sarahgate” (as Fr. Hunwicke calls it).

Do you consider yourself a Catholic traditionalist?

Yes, by all means! A traditionalist is one who sees that the Faith, in its inner structure, is something handed down to us, not something we invent, assess, and re-create by our own lights. It is an organic set of ideas, practices, and attitudes that give birth to a culture of faith. The traditionalist sees things as being irreducibly complex and necessarily bound up with the path of the Church through all the ages. He will not play time-travel games by pretending to go back to antiquity to do what the early Christians did, nor will he race ahead into futuristic realms to go where no man has gone before. He lives in the present but rooted firmly and deeply in the past, the centuries brooded over by the Holy Spirit. This is the Catholic Faith as all of its great fathers, doctors, and confessors have understood it and professed it and lived it. In short, a traditionalist utterly rejects the Darwinian/Hegelian view of doctrinal and liturgical development, whereby a fish becomes a fowl.

In June 2016 there was a lot of talk about the orientation of the Priest during the Mass because of the “exchange” between Cardinal Sarah and the Vatican. What is your opinion about it?

The great liturgist Msgr Klaus Gamber once said that the turning around of the altar and the celebrant was the single worst change that happened after the Council, because it fundamentally altered people’s perception of what the Mass is. It is first and foremost the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, in which we are permitted to participate. It is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper or a fellowship meal.

Ever since he became Prefect, Cardinal Sarah has been an outspoken proponent of recovering the traditional eastward stance of the celebrant at Holy Mass. He recognizes the common sense principle that actions speak louder than words. If worship is directed to God, and if it is expressed in bodily actions and postures, the entire community—including the ministers at the altar—should be facing the same direction, towards the east. The difference this makes is enormous. Suddenly the liturgy is not the “closed circle” that Cardinal Ratzinger lamented; it opens out onto the cosmos, salvation history, and eternity.

The slur about the priest “turning his back on the people” was started up after the Council in order to promote a certain humanistic agenda. No one ever thought of it that way before. As a wise man once said, would you want your bus driver or airplane pilot to be facing you, or facing forwards? We are on pilgrimage together; we are not a cozy, closed circle of chums. It’s not rocket science: the priest and the people are facing in the same direction, towards the Lord. That is the meaning it has always had. The moment one experiences ad orientem worship, and lets the mystery of the sacrifice take hold of the mind and heart, the stance becomes not only totally obvious but also deeply prayerful. It is such a potent symbol of the Mass being about the adoration of God and not about us (except inasmuch as we are called to worship Him in spirit and in truth).

The “clarifications” and “corrections” offered to Cardinal Sarah’s position rely on palpably false interpretations of both the GIRM and the Missal. The problem with GIRM 299 has been addressed extensively by many. As for the Missal, in an article at NLM I demonstrated that the modern missal presupposes ad orientem as normative. []. I recently gave a talk at Silverstream Priory that goes further into the theology of ad orientem, for those who would like to read more. []

What do you think of Pope Francis?

I mentioned earlier the false view of development of doctrine. It seems to me that this card is being played nowadays over and over again: “our understanding of x is evolving, therefore, in the maturity of our age of the world, we can arrive at conclusions contrary to those that were once taught.” Shades of Teilhard de Chardin in one respect, George Orwell in another. Pieper has a book called Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. I think this is what is happening before our very eyes. The Logos was not respected in the liturgical realm, and now it is not respected in the doctrinal realm either. I see very difficult times ahead, far more difficult than anything Catholics have had to deal with for centuries. We are at the beginning of a new “post-council” phase that will be bigger and uglier than anything that came in the wake of 1965.

Pope Francis has elevated the liturgical celebration in honor of Saint Mary Magdalene to the status of being a Feast. How do you feel about that?

As Gregory DiPippo pointed out at NLM [], the feast of St. Mary Magdalene was traditionally given great honor and celebrated at a higher rank than one would have expected. She was venerated as “the apostle to the apostles” and had many proper Masses throughout the diverse liturgical uses of Europe. It was none other than the Bugnini team that demoted the status of Mary Magdalene in the 1962 Missale Romanum. So, in this respect, Francis is just restoring things to where they ought to be. It’s a curious example of an anti-Bugnini move—not that the liturgical establishment recognizes it as such or cares to know it.

On the other hand, surely Francis knew that this would be interpreted as a feminist move, as a sop to the proponents of women’s ordination, etc., and did it anyway. One could certainly wonder about the wisdom of such a move at this time and with the environment we live in. And with the relative paucity of Feasts in the new calendar, it gives Mary Magdalene a pronouncedly special status which may not, all things considered, exactly parallel her honorable standing in pre-Bugnini missals. As with the changes to the rule about the washing of men’s feet, we see decisions that, far from confirming the brethren in the faith, augment the ecclesiastical confusion that surrounds us everywhere. I can only say: Miserere nostri Domine.

What projects are you working on at the present moment?

Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis is being translated into seven languages—Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Polish, and Czech—and most of these are due to be published at the end of 2016 or the start of 2017. Meanwhile, I am working on a sequel to Resurgent, with a title yet to be determined. It will be a second collection of my writing on the liturgy, this time from more recent years.

I received a commission to compose a Mass Ordinary and a complete set of Propers for the feast of Our Lady of Innsbruck, which will occupy a good deal of time in the coming year. Composing has always been for me a way of withdrawing inwards, listening for an ideal beauty and trying to pursue it, since it is always elusive. When the work is done, I can offer it to the Lord as a little gift to the Church’s treasury, and this brings me joy.

Timothy Woods and I are organizing a concert of my sacred choral music in Chicago in June 2017, together with a professional recording. To accomplish these goals we have launched a crowdfunding campaign. [] This promises to be an inspiring event, demonstrating that authentic sacred music is alive and well, but we cannot pull it off without help from the public. Even the smallest contribution from readers will be much appreciated”.

One last question: Does anything today fill you with hope about the future of the liturgy?

As bleak as the landscape is, there are always beautiful flowers growing somewhere. We see this in a dramatic way in deserts: when the rains come, suddenly all kinds of plants burst into blossom.

Working as a teacher with good young Catholics over the years has given me great hope for the future, because they are really hungry for the sacred, for tradition, and for beauty, and they can and will make a difference when their time comes. They fall in love with Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. They come to know and love the priceless heritage of the Church. The amazing thing is that, even now, this heritage continues to speak for itself: if you simply allow it to exist, it attracts souls to Our Lord and His Mystical Body. It is such a privilege to act as a “midwife” for this marriage.

There is clearly a powerful movement afoot among younger clergy and religious for restoring and elevating the sacred liturgy. They are mostly silent and biding their time, because they cannot be too vocal or public at this time. The movement is discouraged by officialdom and faces formidable obstacles, but all the laws of theology, history, and sociology are on its side. Things will have to get worse before they get better, but the seeds of renewal are already widely scattered and germinating.

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