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October 2010

Book Review

WORK OF HUMAN HANDS: A THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE OF THE MASS OF PAUL VI by Rev. Anthony Cekada, West Chester, Ohio: Philothea Press, 2010, pp. 465. Price: $24.95. Available from


When I agreed to review Rev. Anthony Cekada’s latest study Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI, I was aware that many readers of Christian Order would hesitate to open a book written by a sedevacantist, that is, an individual who, on the basis of private judgement, has concluded that the See of Rome has been vacant since the death of the ‘last pope’, Pius XII, in 1958. While the consequences of the way in which the Catholic Church has been governed since this time have made traditional Catholics cynical about the avowed intention of the modern Papacy and episcopate to maintain the Faith in our age, relatively few have felt qualified to conclude from the symptoms of widespread - but not general - apostasy that the government of the entire Church is now unequivocally in the hands of formal heretics, or that certain sacraments of the post-conciliar Church are invalid. And as the reviewer of this book I wish to state for the record that I am no supporter of the sedevacantist thesis or of the mission of its proponents.

Nevertheless, in his preface Fr Cekada states that his topic is not sedevacantism but the Roman liturgical reform, and although latter-day traditionalist cynicism might make it hard to suspend the judgement that the two subjects can hardly be unrelated in the mind of a writer so given to systematic thought, I think it only fair to evaluate the work more for what it purports to be rather than for what it might seem to imply.

Work of Human Hands is a study long in the making. It has an interesting autobiographical component and represents an expansion of the author’s short but well-received 1991 book The Problem with the Prayers of the Modern Mass. The present publication is also a logical outcome of the work he did editing and commentating the text of the ‘Ottaviani Intervention’ of 1969, a conservative critique of Pope Paul VI’s New Order of Mass.

Innovations and skullduggery
Cekada’s latest offering is well documented and based on an impressive amount of background reading evidenced by its extensive bibliography. The book, symmetrically constructed, consists of fourteen chapters divided into two equal parts: the first reviewing the background to the Pauline liturgical reform, and the second comparing analytically each section of the new Eucharistic rite with its counterpart in the traditional Roman Mass. Both parts naturally go over ground already covered by other writers and scholars who have attempted to assess the extent to which the new liturgy has departed from organic ritual development and compromised Catholic doctrine in the interests of ecumenical convergence with Protestantism: the thought of Louis Salleron, Michael Davies, Klaus Gamber, Didier Bonneterre and others has been well pondered and economically synthesized by the author. But what makes Anthony Cekada’s study original and worthy of attention are those pages where he goes into a deeper analysis of particular aspects of the liturgical revolution that have so far been dealt with in only a cursory fashion.

Particular cases in point are his excellent Chapters 5 and 6, examining the protestantizing doctrinal innovations that informed the 1969 General Instruction on the New Mass, and the skulduggery resorted to by Vatican officials in their attempt to salvage and repackage the document after its orthodoxy was brought into question by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci. The author’s reflections on the expunging of references to the Mass as a sacrifice of propitiation in the Instruction are most interesting, as is his analysis of new interpretations of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and of the roles of priest and congregation. Studied in concert with these are doctrinal parallels in the thought of Cranmer and similar Protestant reformers which had been intended to obfuscate truths and deceive orthodox Catholics of their day. Another valuable insight provided by this book (pp. 92-9) is evidence that in several instances, for example the foisting of poor and erroneous vernacular translations of Latin liturgical texts on local churches, responsibility lay with the Vatican bureaucracies working under the Pope, not with the episcopal conferences who usually get the blame in polemic literature.

The author states at the outset (p. 1) that what motivated his study was the new interest in the traditional Mass among younger Catholic laity and clergy in the wake of Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Cekada highlights a fact that too many beneficiaries of this papal ‘indult’ like to forget: that the traditional Mass was liberated only because of the staunch resistance of traditionalists. Had every Roman-rite Catholic capitulated and accepted the Pauline reform in the 1970s, it is quite certain that the revival of an abolished and discredited liturgical norm would never have entered into the head of John Paul II or his successor. But what the author omits to add here is the extent to which Catholics today have Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to thank for the survival of authentic liturgical tradition in the Latin Church.

Dishonest strategies
Touching now on the manner in which the traditional liturgy was eventually brought out of the catacombs, as a ‘continuing traditionalist’ who experienced what it was to dissent from the disciplinary laws of the post-conciliar Church, and who watched what Fr Cekada calls the “slow poison” of the new liturgy weaken or kill the faith of so many contemporaries, I could not agree more with his criticism of the modern Vatican’s plainly dishonest endorsement of the immemorial rite on primarily aesthetic grounds. Such grounds are diametrically opposed to (and designed to sweep under the carpet) the weighty doctrinal considerations that have motivated intelligent traditionalist dissent from the reform ever since the 1960s.

Another important observation, made on pp. 5-7, concerns the gagging of traditionalist opinion demanded by a conscientious acceptance of the terms of the indults of 1988 and 2007. The Vatican strategy of subjectively portraying fidelity to the immemorial rite “as mere personal preference or sentiment” was, Cekada writes, “extremely clever. It sidestepped the doctrinal question entirely. There is no doctrinal question - it’s all just choice and options. And if you suspect there may be a problem, please don’t be so ungrateful to the Holy Father as to mention it…”

This reminds me of a conversation I had in the late 1980s with the superior of the newly-formed Fraternity of St Peter. I asked the priest in question whether was true that accepting the terms of the Ecclesia Dei decree meant being unable to criticize the liturgical revolution still approved by the Vatican. “Oh, enfin…” was his evasive reply, and after a short, embarrassed silence he changed the subject.

The elephant which I had led into the room was the fact, which should be obvious to every informed orthodox Catholic, that the Roman liturgical revolution is a dangerous aberration (to say the least), and that placing the immemorial rite on the same level as the Pauline one in the interests of a spurious unity of faith based on post-conciliar, Anglicanoid pluralism is totally unacceptable. In the orthodox universe there are no such things as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘ordinary’ forms of the Roman rite, which ever was and always will be a unitary entity within a living tradition: the so-called extraordinary rite is the real thing whereas its intended replacement is an imposture, its promotion by the supreme authority in the Church notwithstanding.

Fr Cekada rightly recognizes that just as truth and error cannot be wed, no convergence of authentic worship and an artificial cult is possible, and talk of a ‘reform of the reform’ is mere delusion, whether it come from the lips of the Supreme Pontiff or from someone lower down the chain of command. That the Pauline liturgy needs to be officially repudiated and abolished in the Roman rite is the logical - and impeccably orthodox - conclusion of the book.

Defective argument
Like other traditionalists, Cekada rejects the Mass of Paul VI on theological and moral grounds: its text does not integrally and unequivocally express correct Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, and the actual manner of its celebration facilitates grave abuses and even sacrilege. Most traditionalist thinkers (including those of the Society of St Pius X) hold that the Pauline missal in its Latin form is technically valid, if lamentable because of its deliberate omissions, and that it can easily become invalid in its more outlandish vernacular variants through defects of matter and form and when ignorant or heterodox celebrants lack the correct intention. The validity of the new Roman ordinal of 1968 is likewise admitted, albeit with similar reservations.

However, Fr Cekada parts company with the Catholic majority with his well-known doubts about the validity of the revised pontifical (or rite of consecrating bishops), an attitude which would force him to conclude that the younger priests celebrating the new rite are not priests at all. His arguments for invalidity, presented in a 2006 study entitled Absolutely Null and Utterly Void, have, however, found little support, even from traditionalist theologians strongly critical of the reforms. Work of Human Hands attempts to raise again the spectre of invalidity, this time in connection with the anaphoras (Eucharistic prayers) of the Pauline rite. Given extensive coverage (pp. 320-4) are the well-known (and by no means negligible) problems arising from the mistranslation of the Latin pro multis "for many" in English and other languages), a scandalous defect which will finally be put right when the revised English translation of the Mass of Paul VI becomes mandatory in 2011.

More surprising to readers will be Fr Cekada’s suggestion (pp. 347-8) that celebrants of the Novus Ordo always fail to confect a valid Eucharist because the Words of Consecration (even where accurately translated from the Latin) are contextually in the form of a mere narrative, and not set apart from the Canon as an explicit consecratory formula. The author quotes various pre-conciliar authorities (O’Connell, Merkelbach and Cappello) who state that if any priest read these words in a purely narrative rather than "significative" or "assertive" fashion, there would be an invalidating defect of form.

It is a fact that in the early drafts of the Pauline Mass the Words of Institution were proposed and printed as part of a narrative, but this was corrected in altar missals after 1969, and today it remains general practice for the significant words to be set apart from their narrative context through the use of capitals or boldface. In any case, Fr Cekada would need to prove that modern priests habitually and deliberately read the Words of Consecration as part of the narrative to substantiate his charge, something I believe would be impossible to do.

From general enquiries my own impression is that Novus Ordo celebrants are still taught to read the words as a consecratory formula in seminaries and continue to do this in their ministries. Catholic priests have always been aware of the Church’s teaching that the pronunciation of these words effects a change in the elements, and there is no reason to believe that it is any different today, even with perfunctory celebrants to whom it has never occurred to consider whether their mode of pronunciation at this juncture is actually "narrative" or "significative", since the latter is taken for granted. The exception would be perverse individuals who reject the required intention, but how are these to be identified in a general way, and who is to say that this species of priest did not exist long before 1969 as well? At this point I can hear many a reader of Work of Human Hands muttering ‘Nice try!’

Modernist or 'modernist'?
Such exercises in tendentious point scoring and a few too many unsupported assertions do, unfortunately, detract from the scholarly standards upheld in most of the study, which certainly never suffers from dullness. Anthony Cekada is an engaging and entertaining writer, but his penchant for the witty aside is somewhat over-indulged in what sets out to be a work of objective scholarship. This sometimes leads him to descend into populist rhetoric and, worse, into uncharitable ad hominem gibes at individuals he dislikes, the late Fr Bouyer being a principal target.

Bouyer, a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1937, is dismissed by Cekada as a ‘modernist’, as are practically all other proponents of the ‘New Theology’ of the 1960s who feature in the book’s rogues’ gallery. Certainly one cannot doubt the baneful consequences of mainstream theologians’ drift away from neo-scholastic theology and philosophy in the pre-conciliar decades, nor can one overlook the subversive activity of convinced Neo-Modernists before and during Vatican II. But how well does Fr Cekada know those he declares his enemies, one wonders? Work of Human Hands rightly criticizes Fr Josef Jungmann’s antiquarianism and his erroneous concepts of historical ritual corruption and ‘pastoral’ liturgy; and Fr Louis Bouyer certainly compromised his otherwise orthodox thought with his protestantizing ‘assembly theology’ and other eccentricities (pp. 25-40), However, it would very difficult to make a convincing case that the theological orientation of either man was frankly Modernist.

In fact proponents of the New Theology (men connected with journals such as Concilium and Communio, the ‘baby’ of a neo-conservative Josef Ratzinger) were influenced by the dubiously orthodox writings of Johann Möhler and other utopians who aimed at a reconciliation of Catholic and Protestant theology. In their anachronistic concern to by-pass the scholastic tradition to rediscover the historic sources of Christian doctrine (ressourcement), they might be worthy of censure for what often amounted to protestantizing tendencies erosive of integral orthodoxy, selective liturgical antiquarianism serving a secularizing agenda being a well-known symptom of these. This is not to deny that certain of the Neo-Theologians did in fact progress to full-blown Modernism. However, baldly to attribute the Modernist heresy to right-wing Neo-Theologians (as opposed to notoriously heterodox leftists like Küng and Schillebeeckx) is a grave charge indeed, unless what the writer means by ‘modernist’, which he consistently spells with a small m, is simply ‘liberal’ or ‘not quite orthodox’ (‘modernist’ in these senses being a colloquialism typical of traditionalist and conservative Catholics). In that case he should have clearly set his terminological parameters.

At the core of the Modernism (theological liberalism) condemned by Leo XIII (Providentissimus Deus, 1893) and in more detail by St Pius X in Lamentabili Sane and Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907) was disbelief in objective Revelation and a denial of divine (and hence unchanging) truths enmeshed in the concept of the evolution of the substance of dogma and not just its expression.

Now such extreme positions cannot be easily ascribed to Fr Bouyer, Fr Jungmann and fellow travellers, whose unforgivable sin, in Fr Cekada’s eyes, was their rejection of scholasticism. What must not be forgotten is that although scholasticism (exemplified by the crystal-clear teaching of St Thomas Aquinas) providentially established itself as the preferred theology of the Latin Church, Catholicism has always been broader than the Western tradition. The Eastern Catholic Churches, for instance, legitimately follow Platonist and other pre-scholastic schools of thought, and even if much the content of these traditions is subsumed in the work of St Thomas, the scholastic method itself is not imposed on Eastern-rite theologians.

Contempt for Catholic East
Unfortunately the reader of Work of Human Hands is likely to come away with the impression that its author, like the Latin imperialists whom Pope Leo XIII and his successors needed to rein in, equates the Catholic Church with the Roman Patriarchate. Fr Cekada’s few references to the Christian East are more often than not disparaging. Becoming more ‘Catholic’ than those who were in his eyes the last five popes, he constantly refers to the modern Orthodox as “Eastern ‘Orthodox’ schismatics”. A fundamental distinction has been overlooked here. Technically the Eastern Orthodox today are dissident Christians, not formal schismatics, since they are not personally guilty of the sin of a schism that occurred a millennium ago, and Rome has has always recognized their communions as true churches, cut off from Catholic unity certainly, but with the apostolic succession intact and seven valid sacraments, unlike Protestant bodies. It was for this reason that Pope Pius IX invited their principal bishops to the First Vatican Council, in the hope of reunion.

In discussing the creation of the new lectionary on p. 260, the author sneers at non-Catholic “liturgical books replete with all sorts of ‘sound tradition’ - those of heretics such as the Nestorians, the Syro-Jacobites, the Indian Jacobites, the Copts, the Anglicans, the French Hugenots [sic], the ‘Old Catholics’, the Lutheran Churches of Scandinavia, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States.”

Here is a bewildering confusion of categories that would have made Aquinas cringe. And underlying the questionable practice of placing dissident Eastern Churches in the same category as Protestant ones on the criterion that their hierarchies are (no less than sedevacantist bishops!) estranged from the Holy See, one usually finds that old and ugly Latin vice: general indifference to, and ignorance of, the realities of Eastern Christendom, both Catholic and independent.

Thus on p. 331 the author styles the Eastern Orthodox “Photian schismatics”, yet their schism descends from that of Michael Cerularius in the eleventh century, and not from that of Photius in the ninth, which breach of visible unity was healed after only four years. Usually so scrupulous about facts pertaining to Western Christianity, Cekada (on p. 88 n.16) misnames liturgical Slavonic “Slavic” (a strictly linguistic term); he characterizes Georgian (an aboriginal pre-Indo-European language of the Caucasus) as “a Slavic dialect”; and he equates Arabic with the vernacular of Persia, which happens to be Farsi, a non-Semitic tongue.

By stating (as he does on p. 87) that the Church “permitted, even encouraged, Eastern Rites [i.e. particular churches] united with Rome to retain the language and rites proper to their own traditions”, the author appears to subscribe to the view that Eastern Christians’ historic right to, and obligation to foster, their local rites is somehow dependent on the goodwill of the Holy See. The universal primacy of jurisdiction of the popes has never made it morally permissible for them to abolish any apostolic institution of other patriarchates: indeed they have a moral duty to ensure that all the historic rites of the Church - which, in the words of Pius XII, “adorn the common Mother Church with a royal garment of many colours” - are revered and preserved. Only the mind of extreme ultramontanism sees it otherwise.

In a reference on p. 344 to the Consilium reformers’ decision (on the advice of Fr Jungmann) to add a ‘memorial acclamation’ to the Words of Consecration encapsulating the phrase mysterium fidei and following the model of the Alexandrian rite, we find a mortifying lack of respect for a body of Oriental Christians who have heroically kept their faith in Egypt despite centuries of Islamic oppression: “Why the venerable Roman Rite should imitate a liturgical practice of the schismatic Copts - Monophysite heretics renowned for theological ignorance, incoherent sacramental theology and irregular canonical discipline - is not entirely clear.”

The problem here is that the ‘heretical’ and ‘schismatical’ liturgy in question is an ancient rite of the Universal Church that is used by Coptic Catholics as well as by their dissident counterparts. As for the Monophysite tag, here again the use of rhetorical labelling instead of accurate definitions gets the writer into theological difficulties. It may be true that historically both Catholics and Orthodox have considered the Copts to be Monophysites (those who followed the Greek heresiarch Eutyches in believing that Christ had only one nature in which His humanity was dissolved in His divinity “like a drop of honey in the sea”). However, the Copts themselves reject this characterization, anathematize Eutyches, and teach that the Lord’s divinity and His humanity are united as two natures “without separation, without confusion, and without alteration” in what St Cyril of Alexandria styled ‘the nature of the Incarnate Word’. This position is known as ‘Miaphysite’ and deemed compatible with orthodoxy by leading Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians who have no truck with horizontalizing Modernism. In any case such theological subtleties, important as they are in themselves, occupy the minds of ordinary Copt believers no more than they obsess the average pious Chalcedonian Christian.

Contempt for the theological traditions of Oriental Christianity is also overt when the author states on p. 325, in relation to the Canon of the Mass: “In the wooly sacramental theology of the Eastern schismatics, the Words of Consecration recited over the bread and wine do not suffice in themselves to transform the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. One must call down the Holy Ghost with an epiclesis. Only then does the transformation occur.”

Unfortunately, this ‘wooly’ theology also happens to be fundamentally that of St John Chrysostom and numerous other Greek Fathers, as well as that underlying the Byzantine liturgy cherished by millions of Eastern Catholics. In the Universal Church the definition of what constitutes the correct form of each sacrament differs from rite to rite (a fact that appears to have escaped Fr Cekada) but in any case one suspects that the real reason why he finds Byzantine thinking on the sacraments wanting is because the method in question is not that of St Thomas Aquinas.

On a personal note I would add that whereas I have known members of dissident Eastern Churches who put Latin traditionalists to shame with their strict observance of fasting and abstinence at the prescribed times and the fervour of their devotion to the Holy Eucharist, Our Lady and the saints, I have been appalled by the number of Neo-Thomist scholars who accepted the New Mass with equanimity or even enthusiasm and who, before 1982 and even after, condemned as fiercely as any liberal bully those ‘disobedient’ few who dared to remain faithful to the immemorial rite. It is difficult to imagine St Thomas Aquinas (unlike so many of his modern admirers) dumping the opus Dei in order to embrace a 13th century equivalent of Montini’s New Mass concocted to accommodate Waldensian theology (but at that time the cancer of papolatry had not yet infected the Mystical Body…).

Could Louis Bouyer and others perhaps have been right in supposing that many Neo-Thomists might be less than perfect exponents and appliers of the Angelic Doctor’s wonderfully balanced thinking?

Sedevacantist shortcomings
Fr Cekada’s rough handling of non-Roman theological and liturgical traditions which are held in esteem by the Universal Church, like his hasty application of the damning label ‘modernist’ to most of the post-scholastic Latin liturgists and theologians he criticizes seems to me to be intimately bound up with the general outlook of sedevacantists, which is excessively prone to abstraction in thought.

One of the fruits of this is an exaggerated conception of papal power that makes grave errors of naturally fallible pontiffs outside the strict bounds of guaranteed infallibility seem inconceivable, an attitude hardly supported by the evidence of Church history. But once one loses faith in the indefectibility of the Church, one also loses some of the serenity of the virtue of hope, and becomes suspicious and condemning (everyone else is in error, after all). The casualties are often Christian charity and humility.

A useful contribution
No reviewer who is himself an author assumes that writing the perfect book is an easy task. And while any thoroughgoing review of a book will inevitably appear more negative than positive because of the very nature of criticism, my concluding opinion is that there is much to commend in Work of Human Hands - a work I have found enlightening in many respects - in spite of the reservations I have expressed. There is no doubt that a good deal of what Anthony Cekada has painstakingly chronicled and lucidly argued will make a very useful contribution to the question that faces all orthodox Catholics today: how to restore integrity and holiness to the sanctuaries of our devastated churches.

Moreover, shorn of the excesses arising from the author’s latinocentric sedevacantist baggage (and the Romans aptly called luggage impedimenta), a second edition of Work of Human Hands would adhere better to Acquaviva’s counsel fortiter in re, suaviter in modo - go strongly with your case, but gently in your manner. Reconciliation with the temporarily beclouded but still visible Church on the part of such a passionate defender of its living heart, the sacred liturgy, would be an even greater blessing for the Catholic community, and for himself.


Professor Hull's own critical assessment of the Liturgical Reform, The Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church, seeks the origins of the failure in pre-conciliar developments. Republished this year in a revised and expanded edition, it is available from


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