A Defense of Catholic Tradition in the Post-Conciliar Era

St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican (Photo: Stcool/Dreamstime)
The West will be saved only when we begin to believe again that the Church is the sole source of divine truth.

‘And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” So declaimed William Butler Yeats in “The Second Coming,” a biting premonition of the age of post-industrial secular decadence that was to come, and that was to so haunt another William — William F. Buckley Jr. — that it compelled him to pen in the mid ’60s a wordy apologia, which functioned as a scintillating yet eloquent abjuration against his most holy Catholic Church, its grand concession to the tides of post-modernism, and the resulting liturgy — the Novus Ordo Missae, or Mass of Paul VIthat was, by its detractors, viewed as a sterile capitulation to the humanistic spirit of the age that would later in the same decade also spawn the countercultural revolution.

Naturally, the Council Fathers — those prominent theologians and clergymen who participated in the Second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965 — had not intended to deliberately obfuscate the liturgy from its many worshipers (including the many Catholics who still at the time regularly attended Mass in the Western world). No, these Church fathers, who included among them five future popes as well as such 20th-century theological giants as Karl Rahner, John Courtney Murray, Henri de Lubac, and the notorious Edward Schillebeeckx, sought to craft an agenda carved out of the modern zeitgeist. Its principal document, Lumen Gentium, or “Light of the Nations,” would serve as its credo: an admirably audacious, though dilettante, appeal to reconcile once and for all the galvanizing spirit of ecumenism to God and His People.

Of course, all of these audacious changes have to be understood in context. The 20th century, the deadliest and least religious to date in recorded human history, was a seismic affront not just to the faith, which was in precipitous decline even before the Council opened its doors in 1962, but also to the whole of humanity. After enduring two exceedingly destructive — both physically and spiritually — wars that left the better part of Europe ransacked, and whose legacy bequeathed unto mankind the atomic age, a grotesquely fitting moniker for a technology and a people that supposedly were to stand high mightily athwart the centuries of culminated intellectual achievement of their enlightened progenitors. Here, in effect, was the realized example of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, the “superman,” emerging in naked glory out of the old world Modern Man destroyed, and into the new one He created. Against this strident backdrop, Pope John XXIII summoned what was to be colloquially designated “Vatican II”; at the time unexpected, though after a half-century of hindsight, ostensibly a calculated, almost predestined reaction to the perturbations of mid-century modernity.

And yet, what was envisaged to crystallize the faith took a harrowing 180-degree turn, ushering forth an unforeseen period of incredulity for a Church that had begun to spiral out of control despite what helpless attempts were made by several popes to rein in what was effectively the liturgical equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. Among these were multiple denunciations by none other than Paul VI himself, who critiqued subsequent liturgical developments that were perceived as being radically at odds with the Council fathers’ original intent.

Although the several interim revisions to the Novus Ordo made in the years since Vatican II attempted to clarify and authenticate minor deviations to the original Latin text, Buckley, writing back in 1967, would be most despondent to learn that half a century later, much of what he described that bedeviled him with respect to his Church, then in flux, would, by today’s standards, be almost definitely dismissed by many American laity and clergy alike as anachronistic, on a good day, and maybe even mistaken for the Tridentine Mass it had been intended to replace.

Nay, the opening introit prayer to which Buckley paid especial consideration has, perhaps to his now spiritual contentment (or consternation, considering the changes of the past 50 years), been totally expunged from the Mass following the revisions of the late ’60s and early ’70s. But its replacement, the entrance antiphon, is a term that is likely to fall on deaf ears among many clergy, let alone among their diminishing flock, for dogmatic adherence to the Novus Ordo has become obsolete, particularly in the American suburbs where aging priests, many of whom got their first whiff of the Church decades ago, in the ’60s, have seemingly packed their bags and given up entirely on what has unfolded since.

Regrettably but not unexpectedly, it has become common practice for priests now to totally circumvent many parts of the liturgy, often replacing such integral elements as the penitential rite with a simple “meet and greet” among worshipers — the latter, increasingly octogenarian, are often prodded to rigidly conform to this exercise of vulgarity, so as to exculpate them of their vague sense of Catholicity, which has, rather miraculously, continued to inspire them to satiate their weekly duty to God by carrying out His Commandment, compromised though it may be, as had been done for generations prior.

It has become common practice for priests now to totally circumvent many parts of the liturgy, often replacing such integral elements as the penitential rite with a simple ‘meet and greet’ among worshipers.

It might be argued that the condition of the present Mass, banal and in many instances bereft of any mystique, is purely a manifestation, if not embodiment, of the contemporary secular milieu, one that has matured from mere reticence on Christian orthodoxy to outward recalcitrance over the last several decades. Sadly, this evolution is not restricted to the public square; indeed, it has metastasized into a parasitical life force within the Roman Catholic Church itself, coercing overly lax and apathetic priests into tergiversating about a liturgy that should in principle undergo a radical restoration. But concerns about this state of affairs have in fact little to do with ultra-orthodoxy, much less with the aim to countenance incendiary nostalgia among Millennial rabble-rousers for a bygone time they never experienced themselves.

And, despite what antagonists of the faith might have one believe, it is not the cry of the postmodernist fascistic religious: he who roams about life, yearning for the monastic days of old when he, the modern man, then not yet fully immersed in the exigencies of Hegelian determinism, could exert agency over a civilization that had not as yet fallen completely asunder, flattened under moral relativism.

It is thee, O Lord, for whom the flock hath fallen. The great irony, however, is that despite all the talk of understanding the faith, the modern Mass would go unrecognized to the many men of the ’60s who bore witness to the trepidations of the Church at the time. The 21st-century Novus Ordo, the product of decades of revisions and equivocation and debate, having been further reshaped by two fairly conservative pontiffs, is probably even less spiritually engaging as it is presented now than in that tempestuous antecedent of generations past.

“But what for your stubborn fixation to the old Latin?” implores the modern priest, ignoring — or maybe even rebelling against — the stern provocations of Benedict XVI and others who echoed Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites,” and “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

Obedience, which has come to be deemed atavistic in the post-conciliar age, has woefully been replaced by a newfound dogma of materialism, which is — perhaps not intentionally ignobly — being heralded by the Church establishment, searching to legitimate, or in the very least, accommodate, man in his fallen state. And yet, that dogma comes perilously close to obfuscating God and eternalizing man (that he, having irrevocably conquered nature, can now cast aside the shackles of Christ and render God dead).

The ascendant egoist, a product of the prevailing zeitgeist that produced infallible man (an illusion, of course), is ultimately as much to blame as are lazy or uneducated clergymen and wannabe socialists masquerading as Jesuit priests.

So awesome an act as to have evaded the foresight of Darwin, man’s evolution into immortal Man now complete, He is freed to pronounce once and for all his newfound perfectibility, as prophesied by Hegel and Marx and Nietzsche, whose realization will be catastrophic, for to augur man’s perfection is to portend his downfall.

Strict adherence to the debaucheries of the contemporary age may be said to be the work of the Philistines, those ambassadors of the faith who acquiesced to the obdurate hand of modernism and effectively sold the Church’s soul to the devil. The dwindling flock of worshipers, often hopelessly confused, meandering about the aisles of the church establishment as though their convocation demands not reverence for His divine presence, are often subjected to an equally confused sermon, which, depending on their luck, might at least vaguely reference the essence of this Sunday’s Gospel.

Ah, the essence! But certainly the priest — no, wait, the pastor — won’t dare reference, much less prioritize the patristic interpretation of the Gospel; no, instead, perhaps behind closed doors he will lambaste, in harmonious comportment with the spirit of the age, ultra-orthodoxy, which just might upset the raw sensibilities of today’s most delicate flock. Our coffers need to be filled, says the priest, and so, in the spirit of ecumenism, or feminism, or perhaps even Marxism, I will expunge that line in the Nicene Creed that goes “For us men and our salvation,” for to reference it is to be complicit in the deep-seated, institutionalized sexism that for millennia has suffused the Church and Her (His?) teachings.

The dwindling flock of worshipers, often hopelessly confused, are often subjected to an equally confused sermon.

Considering the degraded state of so many churches, one would be surprised to glean that such petty customs, which also include the routine inclusion of extraordinary ministers (that’s right, eucharistic ministers can only be members of the clergy), are actually unorthodox — that, according to canon law, they are to be used only under dire circumstances, when “the Priest and Deacon are lacking” and then only under the express consent of the bishop. Of course such stultifying rules and rigidities ought to be disposed of! echoes the modernist reformer.

In an age in which it has become habitual to deride, even condemn, doctrinaire, Pharisaic stone-throwers, to even make reference to such teachings has become heresy. And given that we have made a mockery of pedantry, it would be most callous, I suppose, to bring attention to those inconsequential eucharistic matters — namely, the distribution of the Eucharist. The incorporation of both species is a relatively novel innovation for sure, and yet hardly ever does anybody “call into doubt the doctrinal principles on the complete efficacy of Eucharistic Communion under the species of bread alone,” in the words of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Better yet, instead of squandering time equivocating, might one underline how in fact the eucharistic sacrament is administered — often mindlessly transferred from one unconsecrated hand to another, never with a trace of doubt as to the propriety of this sacrament, er, custom — to which the entire Mass is dedicated?

And so when it is finally time to administer Holy Communion, hordes of impure souls flock to the body and blood of Christ, blind to the impudence of their maneuvers. Of course, this remains unbeknownst to the majority of them, who, through in large part no fault of their own, are led to believe by matter of doleful custom that just anyone can receive this most holy sacrament under any condition whatever! “Repent and sin no more” need not apply to today’s flock, which acts as though history has indeed ended and arrived has already the Second Coming. Paradise on earth has been achieved, for historical progress has truly culminated in a new Eden of egalitarian sanctimoniousness. If not for the particularly destitute state of Man in Western societies, one might actually be tricked into believing that he has indeed achieved utopia.

Alas: To the chagrin of resurgent Marxists, to the chagrin of liberation theologians, to the chagrin of Luther’s ghost and those “Catholics” who are so quick to align themselves with his heresies, to the chagrin of globalist technocrats who are in many ways pasteurized Bolsheviks, yea, to the chagrin even of the reactionaries, the Nazis, whose movement was and remains dogmatically entrenched in the 19th century’s metaphysical ideologies that produced the 20th century’s wars, they are all bound to the same grotesque modus operandi centered about divorcing secular man from his ancestral Christological lineaments.

Setting aside traditional Christianity allows for the immanentized dismissal of the Biblical hermeneutic and can, in the eyes of the great phenomenologists, extirpate man from his well-established Providential imprisonment and thereby grant new Man — “Man God” — a supra-historical vantage point. This pathology of the mind, which distorts and perverts reality into something that is bereft of ontological moral purpose and farcically deterministic, has convinced the Man God that He can overthrow his corporeal limitations. In reality, however, he has become greater the slave to technology, materialism, sexuality, relativism — all those things that at their core outright deny the concept of real human significance and make impossible any affirmation of the dignity of man, which can be achieved only through His divine Word.

Let us be reminded of those hauntingly prescient words of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who forewarned, back in 1947, that the great “struggle” of modern times would be “for the souls of men”:

The new era into which we are entering is what might be called the religious phase of human history. But do not misunderstand; by religious we do not mean that men will turn to God, but rather that the indifference to the absolute which characterized the liberal phase of civilization will be succeeded by a passion for an absolute. From now on the struggle will be not for the colonies and national rights, but for the souls of men. There will be no more half-drawn swords, no divided loyalties, no broad strokes of sophomoric tolerance, there will not even be any more great heresies, for they are based on a partial acceptance of truth. The battle lines are already being clearly drawn and the basic issues are no longer in doubt. From now on men will divide themselves into two religions — understood again as surrender to an absolute. The conflict of the future is between the absolute who is the God-man and the absolute which is the man God; the God Who became man and the man who makes himself God; brothers in Christ and comrades in anti-Christ.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that, unlike the case with Marcel Lefebvre or Alfredo Ottaviani, this is not the premonition of a raving monarchist, wishing to drum up the spirit of Marie Antoinette. Nor is it a plea from the fanatical sedevacantist hoping to deny the revealed truth of the Church. Nor, indeed, is this intended as a charge against the Novus Ordo, the spirit of ecumenism or liberalism, Pope Francis, Jesuits, or liberal Christians.

This is intended foremost as an apology, much more akin to the defense of Saint Augustine of Hippo writing The City of God back in the early fifth century as an early effort to defend Christianity from the barbaric heresies of unhinged paganism. It is meant to reorient the Church back to its divine protocol and away from a decadent modern liberalism that removes the divine mandate from laity and clergy alike. It is not to be expected that if such changes are heeded, Waugh and Belloc and Chesterton and the many others who in their own time recognized the vagaries of modernism will rest forever at peace knowing that metaphysical pathologies, as understood in the traditional sense by Edmund Burke, are irrevocably denied their worldly supremacy.

Although Christians should know that God’s plan will ultimately prevail, the pitiful state of the West can be assuaged only when we begin to believe again that the Church is the sole source of divine truth. Real progress as traditionally understood can be achieved only through the reorientation of mankind to those fundamental tenets, as it was eloquently argued 16 centuries ago by Augustine in The City of God, and as it remains today, when the greatest gift to mankind, revealed per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso, is still readily applicable, and perhaps of greater importance than ever before.

Paul Ingrassia — Paul Ingrassia is co-host of the Right on Point podcast, a former White House intern, and a recent graduate of Fordham University.

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