27 June 2021

Sacrosanctum Concilium A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes

It's been nearly 30 years more since this forensic look at SC was written by an attorney and nothing has improved.

By Christopher Ferrara, Esq., American Catholic Lawyers Association

For nearly 30 years, traditionalists have listened to "conservatives" argue that the postconciliar devastation of the Roman Rite has nothing whatsoever to do with language of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council's document on the sacred liturgy. (I shall refer to this document throughout as SC)

As we know, most "conservatives" are constitutionally incapable of recognizing that Vatican II opened the way to the greatest debacle in the history of the Catholic Church, producing a state of affairs which makes the Arian heresy look like a Catholic revival by comparison. To this day, the "conservatives" steadfastly maintain that Vatican II - with its peculiar "pastoral" purpose and its strangely fuzzy documents, the likes of which no other Council had ever produced - did not in any way cause the unprecedented ecclesial crisis which followed. Sure.

This denial of reality is why "conservatives" continue to insist that if only SC were implemented "as the Council intended," why then we would have an "authentic reform of the liturgy" in the "true spirit of Vatican II." But "conservatives" have little to say about Paul VI's declarations in November 1969, echoed by John Paul II on the 25th anniversary of SC, that the New Mass is precisely what SC authorized and therefore precisely what the Council intended. This fact is very difficult for "conservatives" to acknowledge. For if both Paul VI and John Paul II agree that the provisions of SC warranted creation of a new vernacular rite of Mass, then the "conservatives" must either agree with the Popes' reading of SC - in which case the "authentic reform" of the liturgy has already occurred - or they must accuse two Popes of erring gravely in their authoritative interpretation of a Conciliar document. Quite a quandary.

A few years ago, having grown tired of hearing the "conservative" line on SC, I did what I should have done long before: I sat down and read the document - line-by-line, word-by-word. It was a classic jaw-dropping experience. Anyone with a modicum of perspicuity can see (at least in retrospect) that SC was designed by its principal draftsman, Annibale Bugnini, to authorize a liturgical revolution, while giving the appearance of liturgical continuity. It is a nest of deadly ambiguities which the Council Fathers can only have approved in the confidence that the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite could not possibly suffer a dramatic rupture, because it had never happened before.

A lawyer knows that the dangers in a contract from his client's perspective lie not so much in what the terms of the contract provide as in what they permit the other party to do. The danger is in the loopholes. Quite simply, SC permits all manner of drastic things to be done to the Roman liturgy. It is one long collection of loopholes. If a lawyer entrusted with the task of protecting the Roman liturgy from harmful innovation had drafted this document, he would be guilty of gross malpractice.

It is amazing that anyone who claims to have read SC thoroughly could still maintain that its "true" interpretation precludes the liturgical innovations which have been inflicted upon us. Paul VI and John Paul II certainly did not think so. Neither did I, once I had actually studied the document instead of simply accepting the "conservative" line at face value. Ladies and gentlemen, we've been had. And so was the Council.

The following, then, is a brief discussion of what can be called the "conservative" and "liberal" norms of SC. This discussion does not pretend to be authoritative; it represents only a commonsensical analysis of the document from the perspective of a prudently skeptical reader, looking for loopholes and trying to figure out the real intention of its draftsman - in this case, Bugnini, who was also given the task of supervising SC's implementation as Secretary of Paul VI's Consilium.

Two Themes

I ask the reader to focus on the two themes of the SC which are apparent from the quoted provisions: (a) open-ended authorization for liturgical reform on what is potentially a vast scale, but without requiring that any particular reform of the liturgy be enacted or avoided; and (b) "democratization" of the liturgy by ceding effective liturgical control to the "ecclesiastical territorial authority" of each country, and the liturgy commissions to be established in each diocese. These two themes are couched in language which seems to inhibit the scope of potential reform in the light of tradition, but does so in a way which always admits of immediate exceptions to suit local needs, conditions and circumstances as determined by "territorial ecclesiastical authority," subject only to Rome's approval or ex post facto confirmation - which has rarely been withheld. The playing out of these two themes over the past 30 years has meant nothing less than what Msgr. Klaus Gamber (with Cardinal Ratzinger's approbation) called "the real destruction of the Roman Rite," with the consequent loss of unity of cult in the Western Church. The results speak for themselves.

The prudently skeptical reader of SC can readily see that SC is composed of both "conservative" and "liberal" norms, the latter serving to undermine and negate the former. In reading the "liberal" norms of SC, the reader will no doubt wonder how the Council Fathers, including the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, could have been induced to approve such an open-ended document. As Msgr. Gamber observed in Reform of the Roman Liturgy: "The Council Fathers, when publishing the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, simply did not expect to see the avalanche they had started, crushing under it all traditional forms of liturgical worship, even the new liturgy they themselves had created . . ." [p. 21] As we have seen, today's "conservatives" evince a similar blindness, even though they, unlike the Council Fathers, have had the benefit of seeing the document interpreted and implemented by two Popes, with manifestly disastrous results.

In retrospect we can now see quite clearly that the unprecedented language of SC permitted the unprecedented reforms which followed. Again, we were reminded of this fact by Pope John Paul II's address on the 25th anniversary of SC, in which he praised the document and "the reforms which it has made possible," noting that "the liturgical reform is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council." As the Holy Father's remarks should make clear, SC can no longer be made to serve any agenda but that of its drafters, which agenda has been carried out. Given the past 25 years of liturgical reform, all of it approved by the Holy See as consistent with SC, any search for an "authentic" interpretation of the document which differs from the Holy See's constant reading of it must now be abandoned as quite pointless. If our Latin liturgical tradition is restored, it will not be restored under some newly discovered interpretation of SC.


The "Conservative" Norms

Art. 4 - ". . . Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way."

Undoubtedly this norm went a long way toward persuading the Council Fathers to adopt SC, despite the swarm of "liberal" norms which follow in the document. Assuming SC is still operative, the traditionalists are certainly entitled to rely on this norm to support a return to the traditional liturgy by preserving and fostering the traditional rite of Mass, still untouched by the reform, in every way.

Art. 23 - ". . .[T]here must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing . . ."

To say that there will be no innovations "unless" means, of course, that there will be innovations. This "conservative" norm introduces two unprecedented concepts into the liturgical discipline of the Church: "innovations" in the liturgy and the adoption of entirely "new forms" of liturgy, as opposed to the gradual, almost imperceptible liturgical refinements of the preceding centuries. The requirement that "any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from already existing forms" opens the way to a new liturgy whose resemblance to the preceding immemorial form is minimal.

To follow the language of this "conservative" norm: Is not the Mass of Paul VI an "innovation" which he deemed to be "genuinely and certainly required" for the good of the Church; a "new form adopted" which grew "in some way" from the existing form of the Mass? At least that is how Pope Paul VI presented it to the faithful, citing this very norm in explanation.

Of course, this norm can also be given a strict interpretation, prohibiting any revisions to the preconciliar Mass whatsoever; and traditionalists are certainly entitled to promote this strict interpretation as against the "conservative" interpretation, which assumes the existence of some hypothetical "authentic reform" yet to be discovered. This assumes, of course, that SC is still an operative document. After all, now that two Popes have told us that SC has been faithfully implemented, why even discuss the document any further? The return to liturgical tradition need not even refer to SC, since SC has "merged" (to use a legal term) into the New Mass, so that replacement of the New Mass by restoration of the traditional liturgy would also be a replacement of SC.

Art. 36 - ". . . (1) The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites."

The "conservatives" constantly argue that this norm has been "violated" by a "liberal faction" of reformers in the Church, and by some liberal bishops - by which they mean to say (but do not have the candor to say), two Popes and nearly the entire hierarchy.

But has Art. 36 really been violated by the postconciliar reforms? As two Popes have told us: not at all.

In the first place, the norm provides only that use of the Latin language is to be preserved, not the traditional Latin Mass or even the Roman Canon. More important, this qualified protection for the Latin liturgy is undermined by the phrase "due respect to particular law." The framework of "particular law" erected by the following norms completely negated this "conservative" norm ab initio by permitting extended use of the vernacular in the Mass and adaptation of the liturgy to local customs and conditions, as deemed "useful" by "territorial ecclesiastical authority."

Regarding this disastrous effect of SC, the omnipresent Bugnini declared in triumph:

"For four centuries all power has been reserved to the Holy See in liturgical matters (Canon 1257). The bishops' role was limited to seeing that the liturgical laws were observed . . . The Constitution has broken down this centuries-old barrier. The Church is now in the process of restoring to the competent territorial authorities - the word 'territorial' is decidedly elastic - many problems pertaining to the liturgy, including . . . the introduction, the use and the limits to the use of the vernacular in certain rites." [quoted in Pope Paul's New Mass, by Michael Davies, at p. 25]

In 1964, only a year after SC was enacted, Pope Paul VI issued his motu proprio entitled Sacram Liturgiam. Article 9 of Sacram Liturgiam authorized all national hierarchies to approve vernacular translations of the Mass, subject only to Rome's ex post facto approval, which was given in every case. So much for the "use of Latin" in the Roman liturgy. The "particular law" exception swallowed up this much-vaunted "conservative" norm within a year, as Bugnini clearly knew it would. Anyone who says that Article 36 of SC has been "violated" and the Council "disobeyed" by reason of the all-vernacular new liturgy has never read SC in its entirety, or is pretending that two Popes and nearly the entire hierarchy have not already shown us that SC authorizes (even if it does not mandate) Mass entirely in the vernacular.

Arts. 114-116 - "[114] . . . The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care." [Art. 116] - ". . . other things being equal [Gregorian chant] should be given pride of place in liturgical services . . ."

The phrase "other things being equal" partially undermines the phrase "pride of place," and the remaining provisions of SC (discussed below) complete the undermining by vesting "territorial ecclesiastical authority" with total control over the adaptation of church music to "local needs," along with the rest of the liturgy.

The "Liberal" Norms

Art. 1 - "The sacred Council has set out to impart an ever-increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more closely to the needs of our age those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever we can to promote union among all those who believe in Christ . . . Accordingly, it sees cogent reasons for undertaking a reform . . . of the liturgy."

This norm actually cites "Christian unity" and adapting Church institutions to the "needs of our age" - whatever that means - as "cogent reasons" for revising the immemorial and hitherto sacrosanct liturgy of the Roman Rite. That the Council authorized unspecified reforms to our 1,500 year-old rite of Mass for these reasons is almost incredible. It is reported that Paul VI later confided to Guitton that the new rite he had promulgated was specifically designed to resemble as closely as possible a Calvinist communion service, evidently with this norm in mind

Art. 4 - " . . . The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigor to meet present-day circumstances and needs."

As Michael Davies has noted, the Council did not explain how a rite can be revised "in the light of tradition" when all tradition is against revision of our ancient rites, especially the rite of Mass. Nor did the Council give the slightest indication of what are the "present day circumstances and needs" which would suggest a revision of the liturgy, as opposed to the "circumstances and needs" of any other time in Church history.

Art. 14 - ". . . In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy the full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit."

This norm exalts participation by the people above every other consideration in the Mass. Although this norm does not relate to liturgical revision as such, but rather to the "promotion and restoration" of the liturgy, its elevation to the paramount concern in the liturgy certainly impacts on those norms governing liturgical reform at Article 21, et seq.

Art. 21 - "In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable. In this restoration both texts and rites should be drawn up so as to express more clearly the holy things which they signify."

The phrases "general restoration of the liturgy" and "texts and rites should be drawn up" imply that the "experts" to be "employed" under Article 25 are to undertake an unprecedented and completely unspecified wholesale revision of the Roman liturgy, "drawing up" new texts and rites as they see fit. This is precisely what the Consilium did, giving us a new Mass and rites for the other sacraments, all with the full approval of Pope Paul VI.

This norm clearly implies that the reason for the "general restoration" and the drawing up of new texts and rites is that the existing rites for the Mass and sacraments in the Roman Rite do not express clearly enough "the holy things which they signify." It also suggests constant adaptation of the liturgy whenever any of its elements becomes "less suitable" - but "less suitable," like all the other terms in SC, receives no definition whatsoever.

Art. 25 - "The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible. Experts are to be employed on this task, and bishops from various parts of the world are to be consulted."

This norm, for the first time in Church history, authorizes the simultaneous revision of all the liturgical books of the Roman Rite by unknown "experts," without providing any specific guidelines whatsoever for their work. The "experts," with the full approval of the Pope, quickly proceeded to do exactly what the Council had permitted with this open-ended license - revise all the liturgical books in consultation with the bishops of the world. The bishops then proceeded to ruin the Roman liturgy with the vernacular translations and other local adaptations they were empowered to make under the following norms of SC.

Art. 34 - ..."The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the peoples' powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation."

Does not this norm imply that the Damasian-Gregorian-Tridentine liturgy of 1,500 years' standing - the Roman Rite's greatest treasure - was too long and complicated and should be "simplified" in some completely unspecified manner? (This is not to mention the rites for the other sacraments.) What is meant by such terms as "noble simplicity," "short" and "clear"? Which repetitions are "useless"? The Council defined absolutely nothing in this "time-bomb" of a norm; it simply delegated "experts" in Article 25 to interpret these terms after the Council.

Also, what was to be done to the Mass to bring it within the "peoples' powers of comprehension," given that Pius XII had taught only fifteen years earlier, in his clearly definitive encyclical Mediator Dei, that those who could not comprehend the Roman Missal could still actively and fruitfully participate at Mass by praying the rosary or engaging in other prayers and devotions? The Council did not answer this question either. The "experts" did answer it, by giving us the new, stripped-down, easily comprehended Mass of Paul VI.

Art. 36 (2) - "But since the use of the vernacular whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it, especially in [but not limited to!] readings, directives and in some prayers and chants . . . [I]t is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned . . . to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used. Its decrees have to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See."

This norm gave the bishops the power to introduce as much vernacular into the Mass as they liked, subject only to Rome's confirmation after the fact. This norm is reflected in Article 9 of Sacram Liturgiam, under which Rome soon approved the all-vernacular national liturgies we now have, which shattered unity of liturgical cult in the Roman Rite.

Art. 38-40 - "[38] Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially [but, again, not limited to!] in mission countries. This should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and determining rubrics. [39] Within the limits set by the typical editions of the liturgical books, it shall be for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to specify adaptations, especially in the case of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred music, and the arts; but according to the fundamental norms laid down in this Constitution. [40] In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed . . ."

These norms flung open the door to the winds of change in the Roman Rite. They authorized a complete transformation of the face of Catholic worship by "adaptation" of the liturgy - even radical adaptation - to suit local customs and preferences, as the bishops saw fit. They empowered the bishops to alter virtually every aspect of the liturgy, including the "liturgical language" to be used in celebrating Mass.

Has not the Holy See approved this radical transformation of the liturgy at every step of the way, according to the "fundamental norms" of SC? - norms which posed no real impediment to what Gamber called the "avalanche they [the Council Fathers] had started."

Art. 40 (1), (2) - ". . . (1) The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Article 22:2, must in this matter, carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and cultures of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted into divine worship. Adaptations which are considered useful or necessary should then be submitted to the Holy See, by whose consent they may be introduced. (2) To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection necessary, the Apostolic See will grant power to this same territorial ecclesiastical authority to permit and to direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suitable for the purpose."

This norm clearly cedes to the bishops plenary authority to inculturate the liturgy in any way they deem "useful," and even to experiment with various novelties, subject only to Rome's approval - including an all-vernacular Mass. And has not Rome approved the innumerable resulting local adaptations of the liturgy?

Arts. 44-46 - "[44.] It is desirable that the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority... set up a liturgical commission to be assisted by experts in liturgical Science, sacred music, art and pastoral practice. As far as possible the commission should be aided by some kind of Institute for Pastoral Liturgy, consisting of people who are eminent in these matters, not excluding laymen if circumstances so demand. It will be the task of this commission, under the direction of the above-mentioned competent territorial ecclesiastical authority ... to regulate pastoral liturgical action throughout the territory. . . [45.] For the same reason every diocese is to have a commission on the sacred liturgy, under the direction of the bishop, for promoting the liturgical apostolate. [46.] In addition to the commission on sacred liturgy, every diocese, as far as possible, should have commissions for sacred music and sacred art."

These norms institutionalized an ongoing reform of the liturgy and ended unity of liturgical cult in the Roman Rite by decentralizing control of the liturgy, placing it into the hands of diocesan liturgical commissions, which are to include laymen. Are not these commissions, launched by SC, among the prime causes of the destruction of the Roman Rite and its replacement by a vernacular, inculturated liturgy, constantly being adapted to the "present-day circumstances and needs" referred to in Art. 4?

Art. 50 - "The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as well as the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved . . . For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance. Parts which with the passage of time came to be duplicated, or were added with little advantage, are to be omitted. Other parts which suffered loss through accidents of history are to be restored to the vigor they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary ..."

How exactly does the traditional liturgy of the Roman Rite fail to manifest clearly the nature and purpose of its parts and the connection between them? Which parts of the Mass have been "added with little advantage" over the past 2,000 years? Which parts are "duplicated" - any part involving a repeated prayer or gesture, or only some repeated prayers or gestures? Which parts have "suffered loss" or must be restored to "vigor"? And what is the "substance" of the rites which should be preserved during all the revisions suggested, but not specified, by this norm?

The Council provided no answers to these questions. It simply turned the Roman liturgy over to the Article 25 "experts" for their decision, as approved by the Pope. The only standard given for their work is, incredibly, whatever "may seem useful or necessary". The result, of course, was the Mass of Paul VI.

Art. 54 - "A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people, especially in the readings and "the common prayer," and also, as local conditions may warrant, in those parts which pertain to the people, according to the rules laid down in Article 36 of this Constitution... Wherever a more extended use of the vernacular in the Mass seems desirable, the regulation laid down in Article 40 of this Constitution is to be observed . . ."

This norm opened the way to "a more extended use of the vernacular" than simply the readings and "common prayer," so long as it "seems" desirable to the "territorial ecclesiastical authority" under Article 40. Did not Rome, under this norm and the previously cited norms, and Sacram Liturgiam, which proceeded from these norms, soon approve the decision of each national hierarchy that it would be "desirable" to extend the vernacular to the entire Mass?

Art. 63 - "Because the use of the vernacular in the administration of the sacraments and sacramental can often be of very great help to the people, this use is to be extended according to the following norms: (a) In the administration of the sacraments and sacramental the vernacular may be used according to the norm of Article 36. The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority... shall forthwith prepare, in accordance with the new edition of the Roman Ritual, local rituals adapted linguistically and otherwise to the needs of the different regions. These rituals, on authentication by the Apostolic See, are to be followed in the regions in question..."

This norm opened the way to vernacular rites for the other sacraments to go along with the all-vernacular Mass, with both to be adapted to local customs and needs as the local bishops see fit.

Art. 81 - "Funeral rites should express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death, and should correspond more closely to the circumstances and traditions found in various regions. This also applies to the liturgical color to be used."

This norm suggests the very inculturated funeral Masses we see today, in which a white-vested priest assures us that the departed soul is a saint who will have a glorious resurrection like Our Lord's.

Art. 107 - "The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times . . . If certain adaptations are necessary because of local conditions, they are to be made in accordance with the provisions of Articles 39 and 40."

This norm authorized revision of the liturgical calendar but provided absolutely no guidance on how it was to be done. It opened the way to destruction of the traditional liturgical calendar and the cycle of readings of over 1,300 years standing - to "suit the conditions of modern times." And, like all other aspects of the liturgy, the liturgical year was subjected to local variations under Article 40. Was not the loss of the traditional liturgical year, an integral part of our liturgical homeland, a prime cause of the confusion and loss of faith after the Council, as Gamber notes in Reform of the Roman Liturgy?

Art. 119 - "In certain countries, especially in mission lands, there are people who have their own musical tradition, and this plays a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason their music should be held in proper esteem and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their religious sense but also in adapting worship to their native genius. . ."

This norm permits the introduction of folk music into the sacred liturgy of the Mass, and the "adaptation" of the Mass to such music, in any country with "its own musical tradition" and "native genius." Is the "folk Mass" not exactly what this norm produced in practice? With good reason did Pope St. Pius X forbid any secular music whatsoever at Holy Mass. This norm casts off that wise proscription and invites the songs of the world into the sacred liturgy.

Art. 120 - " . . . But other instruments [besides the traditional pipe organ] also may be admitted for use in divine worship, in the judgment and with the consent of the competent territorial authority..."

This norm opened the way to the introduction of pianos, guitars and other profane instruments into the sacred liturgy, as long as the newly-empowered "competent territorial authority" judges them acceptable. Has not the result been "lounge music" during Holy Mass? This norm casts off the explicit proscriptions on the use of profane musical instruments such as guitars (as opposed to bowed instruments) which were found in the Holy See's preconciliar instructions on sacred music, up to and including the pontificate of Pius XII.

Art. 123 - " . . .The art of our own times from every race and country shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided it bring to the task the reverence and honor due to the sacred buildings and rites . . ."

This norm encouraged the intrusion of modern art into the sanctuary, including grotesquely distorted images of Our Lord and the detested felt banners. The foremost example of this is the utterly hideous "Resurrection of Christ" by Pericle Fazzini, which disfigures the stage of the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.

Art. 128 - "The canons and ecclesiastical statutes which govern the provision of external things which pertain to sacred worship should be revised as soon as possible, together with the liturgical books . . . These laws refer especially to the worthy and well-planned construction of sacred buildings, the shape and construction of altars, the nobility, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle, the suitability and dignity of the baptistery, the proper ordering of sacred images, and scheme of decoration and embellishment. Laws which seem less suited to the reformed liturgy should be amended or abolished . . . In this matter, especially as regards the material and form of sacred furnishings and vestments. . . powers are given to territorial episcopal conferences to adapt such things to the needs and customs of their different regions."

Notice how this norm anticipates a massive liturgical upheaval, which Bugnini was already planning before the Council. This norm is a "catch-all" provision opening the way to an iconoclastic revision of every Church law regarding the externals of Catholic worship. This norm gave the territorial bishops' conferences complete authority (subject only to Rome's rubber stamp) to adapt all of the ancient, traditional externals to "the needs and customs of their different regions," and to abolish all traditional tabernacles, altars, vestments, statues, church furnishings and church structures if they merely seem "less suited to the reformed liturgy" - which reformed liturgy was not even specified to begin with!

Do we not have today precisely what this norm permitted? - a liturgy nearly devoid of traditional sacred images, vestments, music and rubrics; the marble high altar replaced by a table because an old, ornate altar "seems less suited to the reformed liturgy" in the judgment of the bishops; the tabernacle relegated to the side of the sanctuary or to a different room altogether, under their authority to determine its "placing;" and the sanctuary itself subject to gutting at the architectural pleasure of each bishop, with the Holy See upholding the bishop's decisions in every case.


No one who reads SC carefully in the light of our experience since the Council can deny that it constitutes a "blank check" for liturgical reform, with the amount to be filled in depending entirely upon who is wielding the pen. The few "conservative" norms which seem to limit the possibility of liturgical change are clearly overwhelmed by the far more numerous and pervasive "liberal" norms which create an almost unlimited potential for destruction of the liturgy.

Yet, except for restoring the prayer of the faithful in Article 53, SC does not actually mandate a single specific change in the text or rubrics of the traditional Order of Mass. This would appear to be the main reason the Council Fathers were induced to vote for the document, since it did not threaten any apparent harm to the Latin liturgical tradition. And it is also the reason neither the "conservatives" nor anyone else can determine "the authentic reform desired by the Council" from a reading of SC.

While SC opened the way to all manner of possible liturgical reforms, the simple truth of the matter is that it mandated no particular reform of the liturgy. SC is, quite simply, silent about what kind of reformed liturgy the Council Fathers had in mind, if indeed the Council majority shared any common conception at all about the matter. In practice, however, SC unquestionably served as the license for a vast project of liturgical reform and the ceding of effective control over the liturgy to the national hierarchies, with calamitous results.

The emergence of "conservative" demands for an "authentic reform" of the liturgy demonstrate that unless SC is reconsidered, along with the disastrous changes it engendered, the liturgical crisis in the Roman Rite will never end. The demands for "renewal" by liberals on the one hand, and for "authentic renewal" by conservatives on the other, will continue to revolve around this utterly problematical document so long as it continues to serve as a warrant for the liturgical-reformist mentality, which the Council unwittingly unleashed upon the Church.

The only way to restrain that mentality and restore liturgical sanity in the Roman Rite is full restoration of our Latin liturgical tradition - taken from us overnight, only 30 years ago.

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