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The Liturgy and the World

by Christopher A. Ferrara
January 19, 2010

In a recent interview with the Italian journal Il Foglio, the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Antonio Cardinal Canizares-Llovera, made some astonishing remarks on the state of the Catholic liturgy today, after more than forty years of post-Vatican II “renewal,” and on the Pope’s historic decision to free the Latin Mass from the pseudo-prohibition that had been unjustly imposed upon it in the name of the Council.

After a year at the helm of this Congregation, every day I experience and feel with greater force the necessity of promoting in the Church, on every continent, a strong and rigorous liturgical impulse… There, without doubt, stands our future and the future of the world itself. I say this because the future of the Church and all of humanity is reposed in God, in the life of God and in what comes from Him; and this happens in the liturgy and through it. Only the Church, when she lives the truth of the liturgy, will be able to convey the one thing that can renew, transform and recreate the world: God and only Him and His grace. The liturgy… is the presence of God, the salvific and regenerative work of God… It is the one thing that can save us. (Translation mine.)

Here the Cardinal is implicitly suggesting that the current state of liturgical collapse is actually an impediment to the working of God’s saving grace in the world, and that the world is in jeopardy for that reason. This rather apocalyptic intimation is accompanied by a remarkable statement about the Pope’s “liberation” of the traditional Latin Mass with his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum:

Although to some this [Summorum Pontificum] is displeasing, to judge from the reactions which have arrived and continued to arrive, it is right and necessary to say that the motu proprio is not a step backwards, nor a return to the past. It is to recognize and receive in all its fullness, with simplicity, the treasures and inheritance of a great Tradition, which has in the liturgy its most genuine and profound expression. The Church cannot permit herself to prescind [withdraw] from, to forget or to renounce the hereditary riches and treasures of this tradition, contained in the Roman Rite. It would be a betrayal and a negation of her very self.

But was it not precisely a “betrayal and negation of her very self” that was involved in the attempt to abolish the traditional Latin liturgy after the Council on the part of those who, with Pope Paul VI’s approval, demanded precisely that the faithful “prescind from, forget and renounce” the traditional Latin Mass — even though, by the protection of the Holy Ghost, the traditional Mass was “never abrogated,” to quote the motu proprio?

The sacred liturgy is indeed bound up with the salvation of the whole world, as the Cardinal suggests. And the state of the world today clearly has something to do with the state of the Catholic liturgy. Even the Anglican scholar John Milbank, who represents the growing intellectual trend toward a radically Christian critique of secular social order, has expressed this conviction in a startling way: “Only a global liturgical polity can save us now from literal violence.” But a global liturgical polity is what the Church was before the “liturgical reform” approved or tolerated by Paul VI, which replaced the unity of the Faith in the traditional Roman Rite with a liturgical Tower of Babel involving a new rite of Mass translated into a hundred vernacular versions.

If those in the Vatican who now at least recognize the gravity of the liturgical crisis are serious about defending “the one thing that can save us” — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — then they will take every measure possible to restore the traditional Roman Rite to every altar in every parish in the world. Only then will the Church be able to avoid the consequences of what the future Pius XII, speaking in light of the Message of Fatima, foresaw as “the suicide of altering the faith in [the] liturgy….” That saving liturgical restoration, of which perhaps we now see the beginning, will be essential to the triumph of the Immaculate Heart that will follow the Consecration of Russia.