The New Mass: Bringing Socialism to the Catholic Church Since 1969

The following insights are indebted almost entirely to Friederich August von Hayek’s book The Counter-Revolution of Science, which I highly recommend and which is certainly a hell of a lot better than The Road to Serfdom.

For those readers who may not be aware of it, the Roman Catholic Church completely redesigned her liturgy in the late 1960’s, very suddenly and in such a way that the Mass and Divine Office of 1955 seemed like a completely different animal than the services of 1965 or 1970. After a little more than a decade of haphazard experimentation, the reforms of the Church were cemented in the form of the Roman Missal of 1969. The history here is actually more complex than I have intimated, but for purposes of this post, the above summary should suffice.

It should be noted that, contrary to popular history, the reformed Mass which is now in vogue in the Catholic Church was not the direct product of the Second Vatican Council. The Council stated, for instance, that the native tongue may be used instead of Latin in varying degrees, not that it must completely replace Latin–or even that it must be introduced at all. It said nothing about the priest facing the people, or using folk songs (“tra-la-la music,” as one of my professors called it) instead of the timeless art music which the Church has cultivated for centuries. On this last point, as a matter of fact, the Church said the opposite (See Article 116 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy). The truth is that most of the reforms which most have embraced over the past several decades–and which are considered de rigeur by many–are extra-Conciliar: They were not voted on by the Council, and minutes of the Council suggest that dumbing-down the liturgy was the last thing most of the bishops had in mind. Rather, the worst of these atrocities were foisted on the Church by a small committee which was formed to carry out the dictates of the Council (commissio ad exsequendam), headed by Father (later Archbishop) Annibale Bugnini. They took the reforms far beyond the mandate established by the Council.

Back to Hayek. While working my way through the last few pages of Part I of The Counter-Revolution of Science last evening, something struck me like a bolt of lightning: The Mass of 1970 (the Novus Ordo Missae, as it is called) is a direct descendant of socialism. Consider the following:

1. While the free market operates with many individuals freely interacting with each other as needs dictate, the socialist Weltanschauung desires that economies, and even entire societies, be subject to Central Planning, self-conscious control. Hayek points out that this requires a mastermind, a single individual, to direct. (The irony here is delicious that egalitarian socialists must ultimately submit to a single authority.) In the development of the New Mass that mastermind was none other than Annibale Bugnini, who directed the entire process of post-Conciliar liturgical reform.

In contrast, the Traditional Mass, which was in widespread use until 1965, was the result of un-self-conscious development over many centuries. It was influenced by many people and many circumstances and spontaneously adapted to needs as they arose. This far more closely resembles the free market.

2. Hayek points out that, for socialists such as H.G. Wells and Max Weber, efficiency was the god of all the gods. The goal was to make every man a mere part of the perfectly well-oiled machine of society, so that the economy could become the perfect piece of equipment, which you might say could effectively translate all its resources into a needed product–with the needs being determined by the mastermind, of course.

This maniacal estimation of efficiency is reminiscent of the determination of the liturgical reformers to remove all “useless repetitions” from the liturgy. It should be noted that this particular measure was indeed included in the diktats of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The idea that one would repeat himself in prayer is very offensive to utilitarians (I have a friend with a thick Philadelphia accent who accidentally says “utalitarians,” but truly it is fitting and I just might try to get it in the dictionary some day), but what they seem to be unaware of is the fact that in ancient times such repetition was a method of emphasis. “With weeping I have wept” is one of my favorite examples of this.

It was not only words that were struck down with the “useless repetitions” doctrine, but also many gestures. The ceremonial of the Roman Rite was castrated on the altar of efficiency.

3. Hayek recounts the utter impatience of social planners with any factor that they could not understand. He uses the example of engineers resenting the price system. This also recalls the attitude of the liturgical reformers, who demanded that the meaning of everything in the liturgy be immediately comprehensible to every observer. This involves not only the simplifying of symbolic gestures, but also the actual order of the liturgy itself. If the order of a particular service didn’t “make sense” to the figures in charge of the liturgical revolt, they changed it so that it “made sense.”

The arrogance here is astounding. Instead of asking, “Why has the liturgy been ordered this way for centuries?” the reformers instead employed their historicist hubris (thank you, Whig theory) and changed by fiat what had been enshrined by tradition.

4. The New Mass is anthropocentric. Although it wasn’t made mandatory in the rubrics of the Missal of 1969, the de facto law was that the high altars should be replaced by tables so that the priest could face the people, and create, as Joseph Ratzinger has observed, a community that is closed in on itself. Often the line between the nave and the sanctuary was blurred as well, with the table being brought out into the midst of the people. These egalitarian frenzies were the proletariat’s dream come true. (For more on the anthropocentrism of the Mass, see J. Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy as well as Jonathan Robinson’s The Mass and Modernity.

The Church mandated that the New Mass be implemented on the first Sunday of Advent in December of 1969. Pope Paul VI, in his last two general audiences before this deadline, gave two strikingly different speeches. In the first audience, he explained why the Mass needed to change. In the second, he claimed, in astounding contradiction to the first allocution, why the Mass really isn’t changing. George Orwell himself couldn’t have come up with this. It seems as though Paul was falling for a kind of empiricist emancipation of tangible symbol from invisible reality and relying on the intellect alone to appreciate the true nature of the liturgy.

“I am afraid I have to admit it,” said Martin Mosebach in his tour-de-force, The Heresy of Formlessness, “I am a Stone Age Man.” Why? Mosebach says that he expects outward symbols to reflect the inner reality of what they represent. A Stone Age Man has no concern over the future. But a socialist is imprisoned by dreams of the future and empiricist claptrap. Is there more, though? Have not the Central Planners of the liturgy actually created a religious service which very much is an outward symbol of the inner workings of the parricidal socialist mind?

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2 Responses

  1. The Betrayal of Loyal Catholics – Damian Thompson

    Next Sunday, a thriving little Catholic church in Yorkshire mining country which just happens to offer the traditional Latin Mass will be shut by the Bishop of Leeds, Arthur Roche (who, I learn, is a patron of an organisation called STOP – Start Treating Others Positively).

    The beatings will continue until morale improves?

    FWIW Bp. Roche had been chairman of ICEL as recently as 2006. Adoremus has printed the text of an address he delivered.

  2. “These egalitarian frenzies were the proletariat’s dream come true.”

    I hope you’re speaking figuratively. LOL. From my experience it was the working class parishes that were hit hardest by the changes and the ‘petite bourgeoisie’ that reveled in them the most. As you may well know, the liturgy in Philadelphia’s working class parishes is often a big step up from the suburban airplane hanger parishes.

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