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Issue 18 – Assumption 2023


Is Traditionis Custodes Lawful?

On the teaching force of papal legislation.


In a recent book—Does Traditionis Custodes Pass the Juridical Rationality Test?—Father Réginald-Marie Rivoire poses an important question about Pope Francis’s motu proprio issued in 2021 restricting use of the traditional Roman rite with the clear aim of its complete suppression, specifically the question of whether it passes the so-called “juridical rationality test.” But the book’s intent is to mount a critique of the entire Pauline liturgical reform, addressing not so much the content of the reformed liturgy as the legislation of Paul VI that first imposed it and of Francis that now further enforces it. Rivoire denies the morally binding force of both these cases of papal legislation.

Rivoire makes many telling criticisms of the current Roman authorities, their claims, and their procedures. For example, contrary to official propaganda, the Pauline liturgical reform does not look, by any stretch, like a faithful application of Sacrosanctum concilium of Vatican II. It is monstrously unjust to use Traditionis custodes to impose the reformed rite on religious institutes legally established after the Pauline reform by the popes themselves specifically for the earlier liturgy. The Dicastery for Divine Worship lacked the authority to impose through its Responsa restrictive conditions of its own in the application of Traditionis custodes. These points are fair. So obviously fair in the last case that steps were eventually taken by the Prefect for Divine Worship to secure explicit papal approval for the restrictions in his Responsa. But these are secondary issues in relation to Rivoire’s larger claim—that all this liturgical legislation, both of Paul VI and of Francis, by seeking in effect to legislate into existence a new liturgical rite, and to suppress a distinct and previously long-established rite, is without moral force because it is irrational as law.

In arguing against recent papal legislation for the liturgy, Rivoire emphasizes that he is not challenging papal teaching, which, he claims, involves a different form of authority, at its limit infallible, from papal legislation. Rivoire’s conception of a fundamental distinction between teaching and legislative authority is very important, and we shall return to it.

Rivoire insists, surely rightly, that papal legal directives cannot bind simply as expressions of the pope’s will. Like law generally, the law of the Church, canon law, is not a brute command. Law serves a rational function, that of furthering the good of the community it governs—in this case the ecclesial community and its saving mission. Legal directives, even those of a pope, count as unreasonable when they fail to fulfill this function.

Rivoire argues that certain features of the Church and of Her life are independent of the Church’s canon law—so beyond the canonical authority of popes or bishops. Canon law, even law made by popes themselves, has to respect these prior ecclesial realities and will be damaging and unreasonable if it disregards them. Rivoire is obviously right about this. The foundation of canon law, a law made by human authority within the Church, lies in a prior law that is divine. Just as the civil law of the state derives its morally binding force from a divinely established natural moral law—a moral law that civil law applies but cannot contradict or amend—so too the canon law of the Church derives its force from a divine law that is revealed, the law of the New Covenant. Canon law applies that revealed law for the varying and particular circumstances under which through time the Church pursues Her mission. Canon law may be more specific than the law of the New Covenant and unlike that revealed law may admit of human revision, but canon law must always remain consistent with the divine law that it applies and on which it depends for its authority to obligate us morally. The revealed law of the New Covenant fixes what is essential to the sacraments—for example baptism as involving the use of water with invocation of the Trinity. Canon law will determine more specifically how these divinely required elements are to be supplied, including the specific liturgy to be employed, and may in time amend its own determinations; but it cannot amend divine law itself.

Rivoire agrees that the pope “is obviously bound to respect divine law (the divine-apostolic tradition, which in part contains discipline).” But he adds further that the pope

is not totally above certain human apostolic or ecclesiastical traditions, which maintain a more or less strong relationship of congruency with the revealed deposit. The liturgy is the privileged domain of this intertwining of the divine, the (simply) apostolic, and the ecclesiastical.

Rivoire later uses “Apostolic Tradition” (now capitalized) to include these protected human traditions which it is beyond the pope’s authority to abolish. These are the historical liturgical rites of the Church, and so among these is the Roman rite that the Church had inherited up to the time of Paul VI: “A liturgical rite is more than a thousand-year-old custom: considered as a whole, it is a true Apostolic Tradition. For this reason, it is a juridically unavailable reality. It cannot be prohibited.” Rivoire cites with approval Joseph Ratzinger’s claim that liturgy “does not come about through regulation,” and Sanchez Gil’s view that “liturgical norms” and “juridical norms” are quite different things, involving a “different logic”; he adds that “Bibles, catechisms, Missals, and the like are not juridical laws pure and simple.”

Rivoire presents the Pauline liturgical reform as an intrusion of human legislation into matters where it has no place. A liturgical rite cannot suddenly be legislated into existence by a pope. But that is what Paul VI attempted:

Thus regardless of the consideration of its serious intrinsic ritual deficiencies, which make it an unsatisfactory expression of the lex credendi, the mere fact that the Novus Ordo Missae is a new and fabricated rite is sufficient for the canonist to question its legitimacy.

Even if a canonist did concede the legitimacy of the reformed rite as an option, he could never recognize it as a mandatory replacement for the former rite. For Rivoire, Paul VI’s imposition of his liturgical reform is discredited on procedural grounds, as legislative overreach.

Rivoire also claims that Traditionis custodes involves a defective view of law itself, a voluntarism about law that, he thinks, also lay behind the original Pauline reform. This voluntarism treats law generally, for the liturgy included, as a matter of arbitrary will. All legislation is treated as if it were like the special case of legislation for something that really is arbitrary—like which side of the road to drive on:

The logic followed is normativistic and legalistic, which is not only inappropriate in itself, but seems particularly unsuited to the field of liturgy that it claims to regulate: a Missal is not the highway code. What is shocking is not so much that Francis contradicts his predecessor, but that he treats a liturgical rite of many centuries’ standing as if it were a purely disciplinary matter. Certainly, this kind of normativistic view applied to the liturgy is not limited to Pope Francis. The same logic was at work in the liturgical reform of Paul VI.

Rivoire is making bold claims. Liturgical rites, which arise over time as customs of a human community, cannot be products of legislation. And once in existence they cannot legitimately be legislated out of existence either and replaced by another rite; and this not because of the deficiencies of the newly substituted rite, or other bad effects, but by the very nature of such a legislative act, as attempting to abolish “Apostolic Tradition.”

We have here a juridical apotheosis of historical liturgical forms, raised to share the juridical inviolability of revealed divine law itself. Hence the overheated use of “Apostolic Tradition,” with capitalization, to refer to what is very clearly not Apostolic Tradition, but post-apostolic human custom. Custom prompted by the Holy Spirit? Perhaps, but that could be claimed (and has been) for ecclesial legislation too. In fact liturgy and law are not obviously so far apart as Rivoire’s rhetoric suggests. And it is Rivoire’s critique that involves a misunderstanding of what law involves. He claims that the Pauline liturgical reform arose from a distorting voluntarism about law. But the Pauline reform reflected a view of law and legal authority which was rather traditional—by the standards of the last five centuries at least. It is Rivoire whose view of law is in the end the more distorted by the very legal voluntarism that he decries. And that leads Rivoire to understate the problems in the Pauline liturgical reform, which amount to a failure not just of papal legislation and legislative authority but of papal teaching.

Rivoire says a Missal is not a law; of course, but cannot the use of a given Missal be imposed by law? And though liturgical customs can arise other than by legislative decree, can they not acquire the force of law in a way that involves the authority of a legislator? And cannot the same legislative authority legally direct their amendment? History does not suggest at all that liturgy and law are so separated by a different “logic” as to put liturgy beyond legislation.

The precise form of the liturgy by the death of the last apostle is hard to determine. But various distinct rites seem to have developed thereafter, the liturgy in Rome under the authority of the popes. From early on some popes (such as Gelasius and Gregory the Great) appear on occasion to have directed substantial change; so they had the authority to intervene and determine. Canonical legislative authority seems therefore to have been involved—even where rites initially emerged through custom. Custom developing over time may acquire the force of law by the acquiescence of those possessing authority over a community, becoming outright obligatory when alternative customs are not similarly indulged. Here, in the development of liturgies, custom acquired the force of law with the consent of the bearers of legislative authority within the Church—with, as Vatican I defined, the pope as legislatively supreme. There is nothing in such a process that at all obviously places liturgical rites outside canonical authority.

Rivoire does not wholly deny (how could he?) that popes may properly use their legal authority to shape or amend the liturgy. He even admits that Pius XII’s reform of Holy Week in 1955 may well have been legitimate and morally binding. To preserve his position Rivoire assumes a distinction between an historical rite as such, which amounts to “Apostolic Tradition,” and which a pope cannot remove through legislation, and specific details of a rite, which he allows that popes can properly use legislation to amend. But I suspect that by relying on this distinction, somewhat indeterminate in any case, Rivoire forces us to ask the wrong questions about liturgical reform. Is the problem with Paul VI that by contrast to Pius XII he sought to replace one rite with another? Or that, irrespective of this, he introduced changes that were very clearly damaging in other ways?

Compared to his predecessor, Paul VI changed far more liturgical texts—which is often alleged to establish the Novus Ordo as a completely new and different rite. Suppose though that Paul VI had changed fewer texts, but still abolished the silent canon and had through legislation formally mandated (as opposed to encouraging more or less mandatorily) turning altars around. The case for all this amounting to a new liturgical rite might be weaker. But that debatable issue would not really matter. The important thing is that Paul VI would already have done a great deal of the vast damage that he did. He would still have wiped out the culture of intense internally meditative prayer at Mass that had by then developed within Latin Catholicism, a culture to which so great a saint as Francis de Sales notably contributed, and which produced vastly popular texts for lay devotion multiply re-edited and reprinted over centuries such as Wilhelm Nakaten’s Coeleste Palmetum. This was a culture of lay piety that was also highly productive of vocations. This culture crucially failed, however, by the 1960s, to count for the clerical caste of liturgical experts as “active participation” and was publicly disdained by Paul VI. Suppose on the other hand that Paul VI had avoided the destruction of this culture of lay devotion but still fussily changed many texts (as Pius XII was already fussily beginning to change calendars and liturgical colors), yet somehow—hard to imagine, I know, given the culture of the time, but let’s suppose—managed to replace them with ones of even more eloquent orthodoxy and piercing beauty. Would we care whether he had, strictly speaking, legislated the replacement of one rite by another?

Aware that an inviolability of liturgical rites equal to that of revealed law might not be entirely obvious within the Catholic theological tradition, Rivoire appeals to a nowadays much-cited passage from De caritate in which Suarez claimed that a pope would fall into schism from the rest of the Church if he sought to abolish all rites based on apostolic tradition. It is not at all clear, though, that in claiming this Suarez was deploying Rivoire’s rather generous understanding of “Apostolic Tradition.” By this hypothetical schismatic papal act Suarez seems to have had in mind some comprehensive papal assault on any ordered liturgy, to an extent that might directly violate revealed divine law itself.

Suppose we do then admit that liturgical rites develop and acquire legal force under canonical authority and are subject to that authority, at least insofar as they go beyond the law of the New Covenant itself. The issue that still arises is whether that authority is well or damagingly exercised. For a law may direct matters subject to the authority of a legislator—but still be so unjust or so damaging in its effects as not to bind morally. And that is the better case to make against Paul VI and Francis. It avoids asserting a complete juridical ringfencing of liturgical rites, which is distracting and implausible. Some historical rites, such as the Rite of Sarum, local authority opposed restoring when it might have decided otherwise. Was such a decision about future permission for a once long-established liturgical form really outside its legislative competence? Rome has now legislated into existence an Ordinariate liturgy. Is this liturgy the less legitimate simply because a “legislated product”? The case concentrates instead on the real discrediting feature of the Pauline reform—which is that it was damaging in its effects. It seriously disturbed and weakened what the liturgy should support and reinforce, which is faith and piety.

Liturgy has two very central functions under divine law. One is to teach—to communicate the faith. The other is to provide for worship, forming Christian devotion. In so furthering faith and piety, liturgical forms must represent and apply divine revelation, including God’s revealed will for worship, to particular cultures and times. Allowing room for varying modes of applying that revealed will is the reason that there has always been a multiplicity, and even to a degree a changing multiplicity, of liturgies within the Church. Such application of revealed law is very much the business of canonical authority to regulate, but always so as to foster faith and piety. And that imposes the same respect for prior human custom that Rivoire so rightly feels, and that clearly animated the very proper and principled liturgical conservatism of popes and bishops before the twentieth century—without relying on his dubious juridical model of liturgy as somehow mysteriously “Apostolic” while not really being so.

Human piety deeply depends on the affections, and these are formed and maintained through habit. That is an important part of why piety involves ordered and established ritual. By default the legislator should always respect established customs and rituals and work with them. And this very importantly involves the rights of the faithful themselves. Christians have a genuine right not to be denied forms of worship to which they have become accustomed and attached, especially those that engage their affections for very good reason, whether because of their historical importance to a culture or simply because the forms are beautiful and profound. Moreover the liturgy is a rule and communicator of faith. It conveys belief. But that means sudden changes in liturgy, such as sudden omissions of previously established forms and texts, are very hazardous. For, whether intentionally or not, they may suggest and communicate a change of doctrine—of what belief the Church intends to convey through her liturgy.

And here we come to a central weakness of the Pauline reform. Rivoire suggests that Paul VI’s reform depended on a novel and voluntarist conception of liturgical legislation—as, like traffic rules, a matter of the pope’s arbitrary decision. Rather the reverse was true, I suspect. The reform depended on a very traditional conception of legislation—as a mode of teaching. As we shall see, it was at least in part because of this very traditional conception of legislation as a mode of teaching that the Pauline reform took such a reckless and damaging course.

A conception of legislation as a mode of teaching is profoundly opposed to legal voluntarism. But Rivoire himself ignores this traditional conception and seeks, as would any voluntarist, rather too rigidly to distinguish the authority to legislate from the authority to teach. He claims:

The power of magisterium has, as its formal object, revealed truth (or truth related to the revealed). Its proper act is that of teaching, and its intrinsic end is to obtain the assent of the believer’s intelligence. The power of jurisdiction has, as its formal object, human acts which conduce to the end of the Church. Its act is that of commanding for the common good, and its intrinsic end is to obtain the obedience of the will.

To teach is not to command. A teaching is true or false, whereas a law is more or less prudent. The faithful’s attitude towards a document of ecclesial authority is therefore fundamentally different, depending on whether the document is magisterial or disciplinary.

It is indeed one thing to assert something as true, and another to issue a directive. No one would deny that distinction. But it does not follow that the authority to teach is so very different from the authority to legislate—that the faithful’s attitude to the pope as teacher is quite different from their attitude to him as legislator. Where a pope’s magisterial teaching is concerned, the faithful believe his teaching—but out of obedience to him as a legislator. In turn his authority as a legislator depends on his more general authority as a teacher. The two forms of authority are in fact profoundly interwoven.

For Rivoire law governs the will while teaching addresses the intellect. But the magisterial teaching of popes and bishops legally binds the intellect and not the will alone. Teaching is distinguished as magisterial only because it imposes a canonical obligation, a legal obligation under ecclesial law, specifically on belief—and so on the intellect as well as the will. By the Code of Canon Law of 1983, magisterial teaching canonically obliges to an assent of faith in relation to teaching proposed as definitive, and to a religious submission or obsequium of intellect as well as will in relation to teaching that falls short of being proposed definitively. This obligation to obsequium according to Lumen gentium (to which the Code refers) again involves an obligation to intellectual agreement with the teaching authority—to assent:

The faithful are bound to agree (concurrere) with the judgment (sententiam) of their bishop on matters of faith and morals when this is given in the name of Christ and adhere to it with a religious submission of the mind (religioso animi obsequio). This submission of will and intellect (hoc religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium) should be given with especial reason to the authentic magisterium of the Roman pontiff even when he does not speak ex cathedra.

But how can a legislator legally direct the intellect; how can he put us under a legal obligation to believe that something is the case? Belief depends on truth, or the appearance of truth. Yet we cannot form beliefs just to obey a brute command to do so, or simply to avoid punishments. For in themselves commands and punishments have nothing to do with truth.

That shows of course that, exactly as Rivoire himself insists, a legal directive is not a brute command, and a lawgiver is not simply communicating his arbitrary will. Rivoire is right about that—but for reasons that undermine his account of teaching and legislation as involving quite different kinds of authority. For the authority of a sovereign legislator importantly includes and depends on that of a teacher. A central function of law is to teach—to form the intellects of those bound by law. The legislator has the epistemic authority of a reliable witness—to truth, especially about what the good of the community requires. Though this is an historically Catholic conception of legislative authority, it does not apply to the Church alone. It applies to any sovereign legislator, political as well as ecclesial, and can be supported from the civil law of states. The state law that criminalizes theft functions to guide not only actions that are directly subject to will and to brute command, such as whether we steal, but the intellect. The law with its accompanying threats of punishment witnesses to citizens that theft is wrong morally, and sufficiently damaging to the community as to deserve punishment. The judge who sentences the thief to prison will often announce the penalty as “sending a message”—that theft is a very serious violation of the moral rights of others. The law serves to ensure that the law-abiding generally refrain from theft not simply out of fear of sanction or penalty but out of genuine belief in its moral wrongness. In prohibiting and punishing theft the state is not imposing some arbitrary rule. It witnesses to a prior moral reality—to the moral importance of property rights and to the damage to the community of their violation. And citizens generally comply with the state law on theft through accepting that witness and believing it.

This teaching function of law explains why, as the Catholic theology of the magisterium supposes, law not only guides and forms the intellect but may obligate it directly, putting people under a legal obligation to believe something. The Church too is a witness, to revealed truth and to the importance of belief in it to the ecclesial community. So when the Church legally directs and obligates us to believe something, She is not asking us just to obey a brute command. She is asking us to attend to truth and presenting us with Her witness to that truth, to which we are to respond as we would to any witness in whom we trust. In imposing a canonical requirement on Catholics to believe, say, in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the Church witnesses both to the reality of that Presence and to the importance of its acknowledgment to the ecclesial community. The Church imposes an obligation on us to hold the belief not only because it is true but because, also according to Her same witness, acknowledgment of its truth really matters: one person’s doubt or denial could seriously harm others. Disbelief or doubt would when expressed be a falsehood damaging to the ecclesial community as theft would be damaging to the political community. The function of threats of penalty or sanction is especially to communicate that potential damage, as sufficient to deserve punishment, and the consequent seriousness of our responsibility for responding to the Church’s witness to the truth. Hence the Church’s historical imposition of canonical penalties for heresy in the baptized—for the crime of doubting or denying in the external forum truths witnessed by the Church as revealed.

We now see how in the Church teaching authority and legislative authority are intimately connected. The pope teaches magisterially by virtue of legally obligating the faithful to believe that teaching. But his authority so to legislate is not based on his arbitrary will. His legislative authority depends on and expresses his epistemic authority—his superior capacity to witness both to truths of revelation and to truths about what the good of the community of the Church requires.

There are varying levels of epistemic authority involved here. At the highest level, by the teaching of Vatican I and II, there is infallibility—a divine guarantee that when popes and bishops obligate us to believe something by a pronouncement that is definitive, they will be preserved from falsehood. But then there are less definitive magisterial pronouncements, and also there are the many claims not formally taught as obligations on belief—not taught magisterially—but still very clearly conveyed. When a pope legislates, for example, he clearly implies—conveys a belief on his part—that the law is consistent with faith and morals and that the law furthers the Church’s good or, at least, that it will not actually be damaging to Her mission. The pope is very much teaching here too. How reliable in these cases is the pope as teacher, as a guide to truth? The less reliable he were, surely the less moral force would attach to his law. Why obey the legislation of someone whose laws are reliably based on error, especially on error about where the good of the community he serves really lies? But beyond the special case addressed by the Vatican Councils of papal teaching that is formally definitive, there is not much clear magisterial teaching about the pope’s more general reliability regarding truth, at any rate in respects that matter to his legislative authority—certainly little magisterial teaching that is infallible itself.

But if there has not been magisterial teaching on the matter, there has certainly been much “official” theological opinion. And in the past that opinion generalized with extreme confidence from Vatican I—from that council’s definition of an assurance of infallibility for some cases at least of papal teaching. The exercise of the pope’s legislative authority could be classed by theologians as a mode of exercising his teaching authority—as an exercise of his teaching authority that was “practical” or “indirect.” Moreover, exactly as the pope was supposed, when expressing himself definitively, to teach in an infallible manner, so, at least when he legislated for the whole Church—teaching thereby as well—he was also widely supposed to legislate infallibly. Not only was any harm coming from papal legislation divinely assured to be limited, so that it would always be better for Catholics to obey rather than criticize, but the claims about faith or morals implied and conveyed by that legislation—taught “indirectly”—would be divinely preserved from error too.

This infallibilist view of papal legislation was already to be found in the early modern period among those theologians, such as Bellarmine, who even before Vatican I defended the infallibility of the pope as teacher. After Vatican I, though certainly not formally taught by that council, the infallibility of papal legislation became even more generally accepted. Consider Edmond Dublanchy, in his day a very eminent Marist theologian who supplied numerous highly important articles to the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique—an unrivaled source of received theology and scholarship for the Francophone Church that appeared from 1899 to 1950. In his lengthy article “Église” of 1911, Dublanchy presented the infallibility of ecclesial legislation as obvious and generally agreed. He then referred back to that article in his later article “Infaillibilité du pape” of 1923, and, unsurprisingly, applied the infallibilist view of ecclesial legislation to the legislation of the pope in particular, the pope being supreme within the Church as legislator just as he was as teacher. In legislating, Dublanchy argued, the pope was a teacher, albeit teaching “indirectly,” just as he was in making formally doctrinal pronouncements. In both articles Dublanchy presented his infallibilist view as beyond reasonable challenge, indeed as dictated by Christ’s promises to his Church, and as agreed upon by respectable theologians since at least the sixteenth century. Dublanchy paired the liturgy with the importantly related sphere of canonizations (which, after all, introduce new liturgical feasts) as especially important fields of papal teaching through legislation. For Dublanchy, in canonizations as in other legislation for the liturgy, the pope is teaching as infallibly as in formally doctrinal pronouncements. When the pope introduces the feast of a new saint, he is teaching us what Christian holiness involves. When he introduces a new feast of Christ, such as the feast of Christ the King, he is teaching concerning our Savior’s nature and His role. How could a pope whose magisterium is infallible ever convey error by such legislation?

This “official” theology of legislative authority was widespread in the early twentieth century when Paul VI and his generation of liturgical reformers were formed and educated. Rivoire insists that the attitude of the faithful to the pope as legislator should be quite different from their attitude to him as teacher. But we now see that for a pre-conciliar theologian such as Dublanchy our attitude to the pope as legislator was, in effect, our attitude to him as teacher—obedient to him because of his complete reliability as a teacher.

Over the first six decades of the twentieth century concern grew among theologians, priests, and bishops that the Church faced a radically new culture, requiring very new forms of communication. Would it not be a perfectly proper exercise of papal authority to reform the liturgy, not as Rivoire alleges, as a matter of arbitrary will, but the better to teach—the better to communicate and to apply God’s unchanging law for worship for this radically new cultural context? Rivoire does note critically, exactly as did Joseph Ratzinger, that the extent of Paul VI’s liturgical reform and the novel legislation that it involved was unprecedented in ecclesial history. But the reformers had their explanation for this. It lay in the radically novel character of modernity and the challenge it presented to the Church’s mission.

If a liturgical rite is a mode of applying God’s will for our worship of Him in a particular time and place, the pope could indeed properly use legislation to “produce a liturgical rite” in order to meet the challenge of modernity. And in so doing would not the pope be as reliable a legislator for the liturgy as ever before—even if, thanks to unprecedented cultural change, the extent of the reform required and the legislation that it involved was greater than it had ever been before? And would not disparagement of that liturgical reform and disobedience to it involve just as much contempt of his teaching authority as would disregard of formal teaching that came unaccompanied by any practical component? For mid-twentieth-century clerics concerned with cultural change but formed in a traditional theology of papal and ecclesial authority of the kind expounded by Dublanchy, there was then nothing inherently problematic about even quite radical legislative revision of the liturgy by a pope. If carried out by the will of a pope, there was nothing to fear—as the expression of a teaching authority that was divinely guaranteed.

If the Pauline liturgical reform has indeed been damaging, perhaps for some cultures and places even a calamity, the answer may lie in a critique of that reform rather different from Rivoire’s. That critique would not target the papal legislation as something distinct from teaching, as Rivoire appears to do. Rather it would retain the traditional model that took legislation to be a mode of teaching and an important one, and it would locate a part of the legislative failure as lying in a failure competently to teach. The problem with the new liturgy is not that it was legislated at all, but that the legislation was very largely bad. It was disruptive of piety. And it conveyed serious error, at least by implication—often by falling suddenly silent about important aspects of revealed truth that the previous liturgical forms had clearly represented.

Of course this is what the more steely members of the traditionalist community have long, and very convincingly, argued. (Rivoire himself does mention this doctrinal issue along the way, but only as peripheral to his case.) Their critique of the liturgical reform has been that the Novus Ordo is problematic, not as a legislative production but in the specific changes legislated—sometimes in what it includes, but as much in what it suddenly omits. For example, there is the omission of many of the ritual modes of recognizing the Real Presence in the Eucharist that came to characterize the medieval Roman liturgy. There is the systematic reduction in references to the incapacity and weakness of fallen humanity—a radical de-Augustinianization of the liturgy, especially of Lent. There is a removal of much reference to judgement and punishment for sin in the liturgy for funerals and for the dead. There is the comprehensive removal of readings from Saint Paul stating the spiritually deadly consequences of sinful communions. There is the removal of references to the need for whole political communities, and not just their individual members, publicly to convert to Christ. Despite Lumen gentium’s continued teaching (in its section nine) that the Church is a New Israel for the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike that has succeeded the former Israel of the Old Covenant, there is the removal from the Good Friday liturgy of explicit and scripturally grounded prayers for the conversion of the Jewish people. There is omission of Satan’s continued illicit but very real practical dominion over the fallen world and over fallen humanity, through the systematic removal of explicit exorcisms of the devil both from blessings of natural elements and from the liturgy of baptism.

These omitted elements may be of varying antiquity, and some may indeed be relatively late “accretions.” But once they had arisen, suddenly to remove them, and in the 1960s, was a disaster—and a disaster at the level of teaching, as suddenly failing to represent and convey truths that the Church had previously taught, in most cases plausibly with dogmatic force. Sudden silence, at a time of radical cultural change, may well convey denial. Especially when in the case of some doctrines many clergy, including bishops, began to express the implicit denial explicitly themselves. We find priests and bishops openly suggesting, for example, that, without spiritual danger to them Protestants could more readily be admitted to Communion without first having been required to confess and receive absolution; or that the Church has indeed changed Her teaching about what Dignitatis humanae calls “the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” It further re-inforces the appearance of doctrinal change when Prefects for Divine Worship and their official allies talk of the reformed liturgy as embodying a “new theology” that has mandatorily replaced an old “pre-conciliar theology.”

It should be possible to advance a critique that, unlike Rivoire’s, does not imagine a thoroughly post-apostolic “Apostolic Tradition” mysteriously transcending legal authority within the Church. This critique instead opposes the liturgical reform through a form of the same argument by which it was once defended. How, in our culture, best to use the liturgy to teach—to legislate for liturgical forms that best communicate for our time both revealed truth and the divine will itself for worship? The Pauline reformers and their supporters thought that the right way was to meet modern culture where it was, and to surrender those liturgical elements that seemed most alien to that culture. Whereas this critique suggests that on the contrary, since modern culture is secularized and hostile, what is most alien to it must most carefully be preserved. Even if many of those “alien” elements really were thoroughly post-apostolic, and had originally been introduced through human legislation, introducing legislation suddenly to surrender them was a serious mistake. It led to a profound erosion of piety and to the abandonment by much of the laity, and many clerics and bishops too, of aspects of the faith that are arguably de fide and non-negotiable.

In many regions of the Church the Pauline liturgical reform rather seems to have been a failure. Decline in numbers worshipping and in vocations nourished; endless controversy about the reform itself; even aesthetic and affective loss (attend a standard modern Catholic funeral in my own country of England and then a traditional requiem and experience the difference); the continued need, even fifty years later, for brutal legislation to force Catholics who are unusually faithful in many other respects to attend the reformed liturgy—none of this suggests success.

But accompanying this liturgical failure is a wider and very marked loss of trust—in popes and bishops as teachers, as reliable guides to truth in the respects that matter to their legislative authority and competence. Ignore the limit case of infallibility, at least as explicitly assured by the teaching of the Vatican Councils. Consider instead reliance on the judgement of popes and bishops in other cases. Consider their everyday theological opinions, their views on morals, indeed their judgement that some directive or decision would be good for the Church. Do you really trust them as Dublanchy trusted them? Somehow I doubt it. Which is why Edmond Dublanchy’s absurdly trusting infallibilist theology of ecclesial and papal legislation, though once highly “official,” is not now even considered and rejected. It is simply forgotten altogether and ignored—even by “traditionalist” theologians such as Rivoire.

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About the author

Thomas Pink

Thomas Pink is a professor of philosophy at King’s College, London. He is the author of Free Will: A Very Short Introduction and The Ethics of Action, and has edited a collection of Francisco Suarez’s moral and political writings. He is currently editing The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance for the Clarendon edition of the works of Thomas Hobbes.