How modern liturgy sunders man from the Divine

Observations penned some years before Summorum Pontificum by German essayist Martin Mosebach. (The reader should bear in mind that Herr Mosebach writes from a land most of whose bishops were already beginning to hurtle toward open schism.)

Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI’s reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy. Even those who want to preserve the liturgy or pray in the spirit of the liturgy, and even those who make great sacrifices to remain faithful to it — all have lost something priceless, namely, the innocence that accepts it as something God-given, something that comes down to man as gift from heaven. Those of us who are defenders of the great and sacred liturgy, the classical Roman liturgy, have all become — whether in a small way or a big way — liturgical experts. In order to counter the arguments of the reform, which was padded with technical, archaeological, and historical scholarship, we had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy — something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy. What is absolutely indispensible for genuine liturgy? When are the celebrant’s whims tolerable, and when do they become unacceptable? We have got used to accepting liturgy on the basis of the minimum requirements, whereas the criteria ought to be maximal. And finally, we have started to evaluate liturgy — a monstrous act! We sit in the pews and ask ourselves, was that Holy Mass, or wasn’t it? I go to church to see God and come away like a theatre critic. And if, now and again, we have the privilege of celebrating a Holy Mass that allows us to forget, for a while, the huge historical and religious catastrophe that has profoundly damaged the bridge between man and God, we cannot forget all the efforts that had to be made so that this Mass could take place, how many letters had to be written, how many sacrifices made this Holy Sacrifice possible, so that (among other things) we could pray for a bishop who does not want our prayers at all and would prefer not to have his name mentioned in the Canon. What have we lost? The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life, days begun with a quiet Mass in a modest little neighborhood church; a life in which we learn, over decades, discreetly guided by priests, to mingle our own sacrifice with Christ’s sacrifice; a Holy Mass in which we ponder our own sins and the graces given to us — and nothing else: rarely is this possible any more for a Catholic aware of liturgical tradition, once the liturgy’s unquestioned status has been destroyed.

The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy (Ignatius, 2006)

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