& Roman
Christian Order
Read Christian Order
Main Page


March 2000

Sanitising the Faith: Dumbing-Down the Faithful


In his invaluable and concise study on The Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass [TAN, 1991], which booklet should be required reading for every Catholic conservative insisting the present rite is essentially a fitting vehicle for the Mystery, Fr. Anthony Cekada examines the revised Propers of the Mass: the variable prayers, or orations, for Sundays and feast days.

With good reason, Catholic traditionalists have long held an aversion for the new rite of Mass (Novus Ordo), primarily to do with the totally innovative way it is presented and celebrated in almost every parish. What is perhaps not so widely appreciated is the deletion or sanitising of the many former collects, secrets, communion and post-communion prayers in post-1970 missals. The traditional Missal contains 1,182 orations. About 760 of these were dropped entirely. Of approximately 36% of those remaining, over half were altered before insertion into the new Missal. From this, it can be estimated that some 17% of the 'old' made it to the 'new'.

In laying bare the rationale for this and revealing why we seldom if ever hear sermons or homilies nowadays dealing with anything more than a rosy cosy view of the human condition, Fr Cekada provides plentiful examples of the revisers' blue pencil. For instance, a Collect from the old Missal reads:

Absolve, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy people from their offences: that, through Thy bountiful goodness, we may be freed from the bonds of those sins which through our frailty we may have committed.

To expropriate a secular term with suitably wicked connotations, one might say that at least six possible target words in this Collect would require 'cleansing' - i.e. elimination or transposing - to meet the revisers' criteria:

Absolve: which presupposes guilt
Offences: which presupposes weakness
Freed: what from?
Bonds: the Truth has made us free (yes, but our flawed nature remains)
Frailty: again, constitutional weakness is inadmissible

In this way, Fr. Cekada examines how Catholic doctrine fared in six areas covered by the 1970 revisions:

  • 'Negative theology'
  • Detachment from the world
  • Prayers for the departed
  • Ecumenism
  • The merits of the Saints
  • Miracles

Consilium Steamroller
It should first be noted, however, that it is virtually impossible without 'high tech', and difficult even then, to compare like with like, since the new Liturgical Year rarely coincides with the Temporal cycle (seasons like Advent, Lent and Easter) and Sanctoral cycle (feasts of Our Lady, the angels and saints) found in the old Missal. Yet it should also be borne in mind that in Fr. Cekada's analysis, the new prayers/orations of Propers which replace the old or radically change them are based on official Latin texts and not on erroneous or faulty translations. That being the case, he is able to state with some authority what we know well from experience, that "parish worship these days presents a fuzzy, bland religion which fails to show divine justice and the wages of sin - what one writer calls 'the other side of Christ'." And based on his detailed research he can then reasonable conclude that in arriving at such a pass, "the responsibility in many cases lies with personages far more august than pastors, contemporary liturgists or members of the parish liturgy committee." In other words, one may legitimately detect changed belief. In Mediator Dei (1947), Pope Pius XII observed that the entire liturgy "bears public witness to the faith of the Church." Lex orandi; lex credendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief. For the present purpose, the converse is also true. As you believe, so shall you pray.

With hindsight it is now easy to see how Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy gave carte blanche to the subsequent 'blue pencils'. It stated that "… both texts and rites [of the proposed reformed liturgy] should be so drawn up that they express more clearly the holy things they signify." This opened the way for a specially created commission called the Committee for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy; usually referred to by the initial word of its Latin title: Consilium.

In normal times, matters affecting worship would be dealt with by the Sacred Congregation of Rites. But the '60s were hardly 'normal' times. At the Second Vatican Council, it was implicitly assumed that for over 1,500 years the Church's liturgy had obscured what, rather late in the day, the Council was going to reveal in its purity, freed from any obfuscation; as though the Holy Ghost had somehow connived at, or anyway permitted, what only centuries later would be made crystal clear. This decidely un-Catholic mentality was evident from the outset, when the orthodox schemas prepared before the opening of the Council were rejected almost in toto in its first session; the Council having taken a wholly unexpected turn in a seeming wish to distance itself from the past and to update itself in line with the modern age. In common parlance, those preparatory schemas were considered 'old hat'. As were those conciliar Fathers opposing many of the proposed changes to the liturgy.

As Fr. Cekada points out, Consilium's mandate and juridical force was an anomaly, since any re-working of the liturgy would normally have fallen to the Sacred Congregation of Rites and not to an entirely new entity formed for this purpose. And it appears that members of the Congregation of Rites were in fact opposed to many of the proposals Consilum pushed through by steamrollering the naysayers in the Congregation.

Doctrinal Deconstruction
To fully appreciate the Consilium mindset and its impact on the Faith of Our Fathers, we need only consider each of the aforementioned areas of doctrinal 'updating' in the prayers/orations of the Novus Ordo as treated by Fr. Cekada:

'Negative Theology': The Consilium revisers described rather than defined this doctrinal aspect. As one of them, Fr. Auge, explained: "Some of these collects [up for revision or deletion], in fact, spoke of, among other things, the punishments, anger, or divine wrath for our sins, of a Christian assembly oppressed with guilt, continually afflicted due to its disorders, threatened with condemnation to eternal punishment, etc." [Le Collette, 287]. Fr. Cekada, tongue in cheek, comments: "theological dinosaurs, to be sure, in modern man's world of evolving morality."

Reassurances doled out to the Faithful that the 'new feel' to the liturgy stemmed not from innovations but a return to primitive sources, less negative and more joyous, could easily be dismissed by reference to prayers in the most ancient liturgical sources (sacramentaries) which, unfortunately for the revisers, also contained 'negative' concepts. But of course few of the Faithful are scholars and were thus as easily duped by ostensible 'new insights' and 'discoveries' in the realm of prayer, as by how they should now pray: i.e. the re-ordering of churches and appearance of lay ministers for this and that.

Allusions to the possibility of damnation and loss of heaven were expurgated or expunged. For example, the old Collect for the Second Sunday of Lent, reads:

O God, who didst see that we are destitute of strength, keep us both within and without; that we may be protected in body from all adversity, and made pure in mind from every evil thought.

Were negative concepts like "adversity", "evil thoughts", and our lack of ''strength" to be removed, little meaningful remains but punctuation marks. Consilium's solution was to suppress the text completely. As Fr. Cekada observes: "contemporary man does not want to hear about such things - and Paul VI's Missal accommodates him."

Detachment from the World: Suppressed here were prayers which contained "discouraging language", including those referring to the peace which the world cannot give; despising transitory things; renouncing worldly ambition; and weakening our earthly affections.

Prayers for the Departed: Of 25 traditional prayers retained in the new Missal, 23 were purged of the word "soul." In the New Mass for All Souls' Day, "soul" does not appear even once.

Who has not attended a modern funeral rite and been struck by the generally optimistic, almost festive, nature of the proceedings. The departed is welcomed into heaven following a quasi-canonisation process pre-empting the proximate Judgement and anticipating the Final one. Mention of Purgatory constitutes a 'social gaffe'. The deceased is denied the suffrages explicit in the former rite and incumbent on the charity of the Faithful. For, indeed, he hardly needs them.

Ecumenism: All allusions to the existence of heresy have vanished. Likewise, the Church Militant; the one true Faith; the conversions of pagans and of the Jewish people. Preferable to praying for deliverance from error, repentance, and return to the unity of truth, is a vague notion for the Unity of Christians.

The Merits of the Saints: These followed the soul into virtual oblivion. Only 3 of 13 orations where "merit" occurs in the new Missal are obligatory. A possible reason for downgrading "merit" per se, was ecumenism. The Church teaches we can merit for ourselves and for others. Many Protestants are unhappy with this doctrine, or reject it. Abolishing the word "merit," in prayers to the saints, removes another obstacles to unity.

Miracles: As St. Robert Bellarmine, a Doctor of the Church, noted, miracles are so integrated into the Catholic Faith that it is impossible to separate them from it. Some traditional orations simply mention that saints on whose feast day they occur, worked miracles. Other orations allude to specific miracles.

Unsurprisingly, all mention of miracles have been suppressed in the new prayers. Presumably, as Consilium's Fr. Braga has stated, they are now more suited "to the mentality of contemporary man." Assistant to Annibale Bugnini, who appointed him to Consilium Study Group 18B which composed the new orations, Fr. Braga considers that inclusions of the marvellous or the miraculous are "characteristic of a certain hagiography of the past" [Il Proprium, 405]. Nor, then, is it surprising to find that the oration for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes no longer mentions her apparition, or that the new orations for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary does not mention her Rosary.

Not even orations commemorating the miraculous in Our Lord's life were sacrosanct. Christ's miraculous raising of Lazarus, for instance, has disappeared.

Importance of Orations
As Fr. Cekada rightly reminds us, the orations, as the largest constituent part of the prayer formularies contained in the old Missal, were the primary expression in the Mass of the Church's law of prayer. During the course of the liturgical year, they bore witness individually to countless truths, each of which was, and is, an integral part of the Church's law of belief. Shrouding a substantial portion of these truths in obscurity, ambiguity or silence is an invitation for men to deny them. They are made to appear optional, superseded, true once perhaps, but false now or, in any case, irrelevant to contemporary man - "who," as Fr. Braga said, "experiences other problems, who has a different way of thinking." In short, they disappear from the law of belief.

Those familiar with the so-called Ottaviani Intervention- A Critical Study of the New Order of Mass (September 1969) - written and presented to Paul VI by Cardinal Ottaviani, former Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, will recall his prophetic fears about the fate of the 'old' orations in the new Missal.

"The innovations in the Novus Ordo and the fact that all that is of perennial value finds only a minor place, if it subsists at all, could turn into a certainly the suspicion already prevalent, alas, in many circles, that truths which have always been believed by the Christian people can be changed or ignored without infidelity to that sacred deposit of doctrine to which the Catholic faith is bound forever."

With the new prayers/orations, the idea firmly planted in the minds of many is that it is permitted to alter or ignore certain truths while still claming to be Catholic. No longer is it simply a matter of re-packaging; of adaptation and enrichment. Just as re-ordering sanctuaries is not merely a question of rearranging furniture, so the liturgical cleansing emanated from far-reaching paradigm shifts in emphasis and belief; resulting in the undermining or overturning of givens. Indeed, one might well ask if it is entirely fair to blame progressive-minded theologians, and others, for 're-writing' central tenets of the Faith, when they justifiably point to the New Missal's 'deficiencies and omissions' to back their erroneous positions.

As Fr. Braga predicted, the contents of the New Missal have had a "transforming effect on catechesis" [Il Nuovo, 274]. While we now have the totally orthodox new Catechism of the Catholic Church, seriously deficient school catechisms and RE material remain in wide use, which either omit or at best deal unsatisfactorily with: original sin, actual and sanctifying grace, contrition, repentance, penance, the fear of hell and loss of heaven, judgement, the soul, purgatory, angels, the devil, intercession of saints…. . The list is far from complete, but serves to illustrate those concepts which have met a similar fate in the new orations of the Modern Mass. Is it too far -fetched to wonder whether those busy 'blue pencils' of Consilium Study Group 18B have contributed to the content of modern catechetics we so deplore.

The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism (11), states: "Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false conciliatory approach which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and certain meaning." But this is precisely how it turned out. The present Holy Father, in Catechesi Tradendae (1979), urges the assimilation in a didactic manner of the truths of the Faith, whilst noting that modern teaching methods may perhaps present these differently than in other times. Again, it must be asked: where, prior to the new Catechism, were the truths of the Faith to be found but in sermons, catechisms and, primarily, the Holy Mass - all of which have since contributed to the obscuring, omitting and deconstructing of many of those very truths.

Vanishing Doctrines
As Fr. Cekada puts it: "Comparing the texts of the new orations with those of the old… yields a lengthy list of 'doctrinal realities' (as the revisers called them) either obliterated or left to fade, Cheshire Cat-like, into the background."

To this list may be added an example I came across when comparing the readings and prayers in the old and new missals for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The 'old' Epistle (1 Corinthians11:23-29) contains the warning:

"… Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread or drink of the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself; and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgement to himself, not discerning the Body of the Lord."

The Scripture passage was problematic for the revisers. Words like "unworthy", "guilty" and "judgement" contradicted their criteria aimed at lighter, consumer-friendly texts. Perhaps feeling even they could not significantly alter or truncate the epistle reading, three times the length quoted above, they simply excised it altogether. So that the centuries-old Epistle for the Feast of Corpus Christi appears in not one of the new cycle A, B and C readings. Of course, what befell at least one Scripture reading posits other Scripture texts meeting a similar fate. And since Catholic teaching on such doctrines as the Trinity, Our Lord's divinity, Our Lady's perpetual virginity, papal jurisdiction, the episcopacy, orginal sin, the Eucharist, the real sacrifice of the Mass, Purgatory and the intercession of the saints may all be demonstrated merely by drawing evidence for them from the text of the Sacred Liturgy, it is easy to see how the numerous revisions and omissions will affect Catholic belief. Confirming my earlier comment about dissenters riding on the back of the new liturgy, Fr. Cekada points out that even by the early 1970s:

"… theologians [were using] the disappearance of certain phrases and concepts from the new Missal to attack teachings which are part of the deposit of faith. Armed with the evidence of how the Vatican itself changed the doctrinal content of the orations, it becomes a small matter for the neo-Modernist theologian to undercut further the Church's teaching on such matters as sin, hell, the true Church and the soul - all the while claiming with a straight face that he, too, is loyal to the Magisterium."

Contemporary 'Catholic' Man
Mgr. A. G. Martimort, another of Consilium's experts, insists that: "The content of these prayers (new orations) is the most important of the liturgical loci theologici (theological sources). The reason is that they interpret the shared faith of the assembly". Tragically, it is hard to argue with his chilling conclusion. The vacuum created by Consilium's liturgical cleansing has taken its toll on the spiritual state of the average man in the pew. Rudely thrust before a new-look Church, he has, like Pygmalion's Professor Higgins, "become accustomed to her face." Use, after all, is everything. More or less unobservant, uncritical, accepting... he is oblivious to the continuing argy-bargy between Modernists, conservatives and traditionalists over what is and what is not Catholic teaching. Let others decide the latest fad. Even if fortunate enough to have received orthodox religious instruction at school (which dates him!), his only formation now is gleaned from what he sees and hears at Sunday Mass. For him, "the law of prayer", practically speaking, is his only "law of belief". For him, as Fr. Braga predicted, the contents of the New Missal will assuredly "have a transforming effect on catechesis."

Fr. Cekada ends his invaluable analysis with this salutary paragraph:

"If hell, the human soul or the wickedness of sin count for little in the new liturgy, they will in turn count but little for the man in the pew. And if this man - contemporary 'Catholic' man - no longer believes in or is even aware of these and other parts of the Church's teaching, it will be in no small measure due to the law of unbelief in the orations of the new Missal of Paul VI."

Back to Top | Features 2000