We’ve a serious ramble to take. Critical thought required.
Let them that make [idols] become like unto them, and all who trust in them.
One of the last great Jesuit theologians was Francisco Suarez, whose teaching on the papacy is now being increasingly researched in an effort to explain the insanity going on in Rome of late. For reasons that will soon become clear, words of his comes to mind: “If [the Pope] gives an order contrary to right customs, he should not be obeyed,” and “the Pope could be schismatic… if he wished to overturn the rites of the Church based on Apostolic Tradition.”
One wonders if Suarez could ever have guessed that a brother Jesuit would one day be wearing the Roman white and participating in the same unholy rites practiced by the Peruvian Association of Shamans.
Comparing the photos above, how could one ever explain to a child the difference between the “Catholic” ceremony and the “pagan” one? There is no difference. That’s just the point. As Vatican News quoted major Amazon Synod wheelman Fr. Paulo Seuss just months ago: “So what? Even if it would have been a pagan rite, then it is nevertheless a pagan worship of God.”
Hold on to that.
The sacrilege of the Amazon Synod reached a fever pitch around the idolatry of the Pachamama earth-goddess, to the point of offering a totem bowl in her honor on the very altar of St. Peter’s basilica at the closing Mass. Archbishop Viganó cried out from hiding that this was just another step in a much older plot within the hierarchy; and, predictably, the predetermined “discussions” of a “deeply inculturated” Amazonian liturgy have now borne fruit in Francis’ “authentic magisterium” regarding the moral category of right worship. This is worth considering carefully.
For, if Amoris Laetitia only seemed to renege on the revealed truth of exceptionless moral norms, Queridia Amazonia puts the proof in the pudding, and right where it counts: the First Commandment.
Among enough liberal pop-psychology, theogibberish and newspeak to make even Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty blush, one finds some revealing passages in Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
The body of the document is mind-numbing in the extreme (as a simple wordcount may demonstrate; “inculturation” is used more times than the holy names of Jesus and Mary combined), but the following excerpt might suffice to paint the full picture of Francis’ outlook on worship:
“Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples… It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry. A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error. …[W]e can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols. The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines.” (QA n. 78-79, 82)
The failure to give clear instantiations of these ideas is a textbook “Vatican II time-bomb” approach; but if this isn’t also a redescription of the moral object in principle, one wonders what would be. It reduces to the claim that the First Commandment has no objective moral content. Pagan elements in Catholic worship? Sure, bring ’em on.
One might mention here the fact that in Catholic nations just a few centuries back, any cleric actively participating in the kind of abovepictured violations of natural, divine, and ecclesiastical law would not only be subject to canonical penalties (consider the emergency “imperfect council” held after Pope Marcellinus’ pinch of incense), he would also have been liable to public execution for the threefold motive of satisfying the order of justice, inciting his repentance and salvation, and publicly redressing the grave scandal caused. Aquinas is typical here:
“[T]he Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. For Jerome… says: ‘Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame.’” [ST.II-II.Q11.A3]
This is the kind of seriousness with which such crimes were regarded by Catholic nations in the ages of faith. Such are not our times.
Regarding Right Worship – Awake Yet?
Pagan rites employed in Catholic Churches… an unheard-of novelty?
Oh, come now… a novel rite is already in use everywhere else in the world.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you are quite familiar with the novel rite in question, and the seemingly endless roller coaster of official “updates” and “local adaptations” it has brought in its train. You’ve likely spent years attending this rite yourself, and even if not on an actual roller coaster (like Bishop Stolberg above, just months ago), you’ve perhaps felt a similar churning of the stomach at some glaring irreverence or another in its midst.
The rite in question is of course the Novus Ordo Missae (NO) of Pope Paul VI, first promulgated in 1969 as the major step in an attempted overthrow of the traditional Roman Rite across the globe. From it’s earliest days, this liturgical devolution has needed to allow in principle for the legitimacy of all manner of non-Catholic worship elements, because the fundamental doctrines informing divine worship as a moral act had already been subsumed, ipso facto, by the very promulgation of this New Mass. Let’s try a diagram:
Being a departure from the objective liturgical tradition – as maintained on several occasions by Paul VI himself – the NO is not a tree grown in the garden of the Most Holy, tended with humility and pious devotion over centuries of organic growth; it is a thing manufactured in a lab, the “banal fabrication” (said then-Cardinal Ratzinger) of disjointed committees, collaborating with heretics and purportedly “seeking to engage modern man.” It is an alien (or, more accurately, a Frankenstein’s monster), unmoored from the broader homeland that is the governing context of Sacred Tradition.
Thus the NO cannot be theologically analyzed as a ritual action apart from the notion of perpetual innovation – this is because the Novus Ordo is liturgical innovation – “incarnate,” as it were, in missal form. The die was cast decades in advance, but this liturgical revolution gained its golden key with Vatican II’s first official document (as Francis reminds us in QA!), particularly in the Council’s statement that the people’s participation was “the aim to be considered before all else.” (SC 14)
This fundamental shift in principle was and remains the lynchpin of the entire sacrilegious fiasco in the bosom of the Church today: for, rather than first asking “Do our rites pay maximum reverence to the All-Holy God?,” a radically new path lay open to making of supreme importance the question: “Do our rites garner maximum participation from the community?” Rather than “How does God want us to worship Him?” the revolutionary first asks: “How do we want to worship God?”
As we continue to see, this framework reduces the entire moral category of divine worship (the “rightness” or “wrongness,” “reverence” or “irreverence” of acts performed in religious devotion) to one of only two approaches: EITHER the arbitrary exercise of current ecclesiastical authority alone determines the moral value of such acts (liturgical positivism), OR there is no moral value in acts of divine worship at all – rather, it is all just a matter of aesthetics (liturgical preferentialism). Note that in either case, no objective moral value obtains. Both approaches are essentially relativistic – there is nothing inherently right or wrong in any given act of worship per se.
Does this sound like anything you’ve read recently? Try Seuss again: “Even if it would have been a pagan rite, then it is nevertheless a pagan worship of God.” Try Francis: “Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices…” Naturally, such a notion is utterly absent from Catholic thought prior to the mid-twentieth century; and we need to recover that traditional moral-liturgical framework if we are to retain our sanity, much less our sanctity.
Reclaiming Right Worship: “Un-tricked,” or Stuck
Perhaps the most fascinating thing observed amid the firestorm generated by our piece on the Pope’s New Mass (e.g., see the treatment of it at 1P5 here) was the near-universal insistence on it being “a trick” – whether one lauded as a creative demonstration of a salient point, or decried as misleading, mendacious, scurrilous, schismatic, etc. One wonders what commentary it might evince now, after the sacrileges in Rome and this latest papal document.
For, it wasn’t a trick. It was an un-trick.
Tricks, it would seem, are only a matter of dates!
Anything novel in the midst of the Church, anything “added” to the fullness of Revelation entrusted to her is always newsworthy, because every novelty is news – albeit bad news. Orthodoxy goes unreported. Cancer is a five-alarm emergency, whereas normal cell growth is seldom announced or heeded. This explains the striking hatred (palpable and potent in both the New Testament and the writings of the early Church Fathers) that led centuries of devout Catholics to practically spit the word “novelty” when noting deviations in matters of doctrine, morals, or liturgy in their own time. Their affections were rightly ordered, inasmuch as each of these errors entailed some denial of that very Good News that abides, fixed at the heart of the Christian life, the “still point of the turning world”: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!
The moral claims that flow from this Divine Fact are challenging, to say the least. Every knee must bow. Every creature must be subject to this King, and both angels and men must render Him such measure of obeisance and fealty that each and every one can only be entirely His subject, or not at all.
“He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” (Lk 11:23)
WORSHIP, then – and specifically the ritual worship of SACRIFICE – has ever stood as the principal means whereby man acknowledges God as sovereign, and ultimately Christ as God and King. This is the reason for the primacy of the First Divine Commandment, revealed in fire and cloud on Mount Sinai – and for its pointed repetition by the Incarnate Son of God as the “First and Greatest Commandment” (cf. Mt 22:38). Discovering and rendering unto God that “proper” or “right” worship – that which is dignum et justum – is thus the most pressing question of human existence; particularly with regard to its external, ritual manifestation, i.e., its “liturgy.” As Archbishop Antonelli once put it: “In the liturgy, every word and every gesture conveys a theological idea.”
Blessedly, God has revealed how He is to be worshipped, and that is in and through His Body, the Church. The Incarnate Son of God both is and offers that worship which alone is pleasing to the Trinity (the Eternal Sacrifice of Calvary, sacramentally re-presented via every valid Consecration), and he in turn draws men into this same act of worship – his very Kingdom, realized here below – by incorporating them into His own Mystical Body: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; outside of which there is no salvation. This is the underlying reason for the perennial Catholic moral teaching that all forms of non-Catholic worship are both inherently false and matters of grave sin (which may need no demonstration, but just for kicks – try two dozen Catholic catechisms on the subject here).
Furthermore, it is precisely the corporate character of Christ’s Mystical Body that ensures the faithful development of those rites that ensconce this One True Sacrifice throughout history. One can’t “fast-track” the “taking up” of any cultural element into a liturgical rite, for the legal authority of the Church’s hierarchy at any given moment in time has never been the sole determining factor of a given rite’s doctrinal accuracy, its moral liceity, or its mystical signification. Rather (see diagram above), it has been due magisterial authority, wielded as custodian of a sacred mystery piously received (Cf. 1 Cor 4:1, 11:23), in continuity with the objective liturgical tradition and harmoniously received with the authentic sensus fidelium of the broader Church, which all together infallibly maintain and authentically develop holy – and truly Catholic – rites of corporate worship. Such alone are pleasing to God (His glory being their primary end) and subsequently beneficial to man.
Right worship is man’s primary moral duty;
the rites of which are divinely revealed in essence,
exclusively Catholic, and thus
necessarily traditional in both craft and content.
Suffice it to say, then, that the bare notion of the Church ever making its own new rite for divine worship, and thereafter subjecting the same novel rite to a perpetual tinkering in order to make it “more meaningful for the local community” or “more appreciative of pagan cultural heritage,” has never been a philosophically coherent – still less Catholic – idea. (It has, however, long served well for sectarians of every stripe.)
Yet, as we’ve seen, this “relevance test” was the chief motive announced in the creation of the Novus Ordo, which went on to form the vast majority of self-identifying Catholics alive today. And it was a trick.
As we try to show in the graph above, to accept the NO as a Catholic rite is to necessarily forgo any moral principles that once did bear upon the concept of right worship (e.g., justitia, pietate, reverentia, etc.), and thus to abandon the notion of right worship altogether. The defender of the NO’s moral legitimacy is left with only one “liceity principle” to evaluate anything he perceives as an “abuse” in its midst, namely: current clerical authority. No principle remains to determine any objective “reverence” in Catholic worship at all: only the most current(!) edition of the missal, the local(!) rubrics, and/or the presently recognized(!) ecclesiastical authority can determine that worship which is pleasing to God.
To take one example, Fr. Justino Reszende – a big name bouncing around the Amazon Synod – who is fond of the shamanic administration of rapé during Catholic worship; a kind of psychoactive herbal blend, popular in the Amazon region (one wonders if he passed the pipe around in Rome). Why not?
Those holding to the liceity of the Novus Ordo cannot condemn such elements, for they have been left with a kind of moral monism: the responsible cleric approves, so God approves – and even if the Almighty spent centuries before and after His Incarnation maintaining that false worship is inherently evil, justly punished by perversion, confusion, and death, well… perhaps God changed his mind somewhere in the 1960s.
Because, as we’ve seen for decades (and in spades since the Pachamama Synod), the current magisterium seems comfortable with just about anything in Catholic worship.
The conclusion, then, cannot be overstated: If the Novus Ordo is morally licit, then no form of worship can be considered objectively illicit. If the NO cannot be condemned as false worship in principle, then Francis smiling at incantations around oak trees can’t be condemned, either. There can be no objective sacrilege in the NO – at most, only a relative disobedience to local authority.
This is why Bishop Henao del Rio can now admit without batting an eyelash that he celebrates pagan rituals himself, inserting non-Catholic elements into the Roman Pontifical because, you know, indigenous cosmogony and stuff:
“I recently ordained an indigenous deacon with Roman and indigenous rites. And you may ask: ‘But-what did you do? You ordained a sorcerer?!’ But, if you look at the cosmogony of the indigenous people…” (emphasis added, see here)
Again, this cannot be surprising. How could it be illicit, when Bishop approves? When the Pope approves? Thus, the unhappy (if well-intentioned) defender of the Novus Ordo Mass – the “two forms” type, the “reform of the reform” type, the one who says “it can be done well, we just need good rubrics, reverent sensibilities, etc.” – is in principle unable to defend the Roman Rite at all. For, to do so, one must claim an ultimate “right” or “wrong” in the ceremonies of divine worship beyond the requisite form and matter for confecting the Eucharist, as we’ve illustrated elsewhere. He must admit of some standard of “reverence” that embraces more than the living ecclesiastical authority – an authority that has grown quite amenable to the formal inclusion of sundry pagan elements. After all, are such elements immoral?
No, no, this is precisely what the defender of the NO cannot admit in principle. He can’t have it both ways; he can’t have the traditional use of an inherently non-traditional rite, any more than one can abuse something that is itself an abuse. The defender of the NO must become either a liturgical positivist or liturgical preferentialist (i.e., a relativist), and both positions leave him stuck.
Therefore, we must insist: Pagan rites of any kind can never be consistent with Catholic moral theology and liturgical practice – and neither can the Novus Ordo. Because it is untraditional in both craft and content, the NO cannot be considered an integrally Catholic rite in se, and for this reason the Church as a body will never be reconciled to it. It will be contentious until it is abrogated, for it is unlikely to die of natural causes.
History has shown similar reactions to other novel rites in the Church, and few things illustrate the pattern better than the kind of firestorms that today arise around pieces like ours on Francis’ celebration of the New Mass, as folks continue “connecting the dots” between the Church’s present crisis of ecclesiastical implosion and the liturgical overthrow of the past half-century. This is a good thing, for the two aspects are inextricably linked – indeed, it as a directly causal relationship. It is heartening to find more and more priests making this connection.
Indeed, false worship being the single gravest sin, one should not expect a healthy epoch in the life of the Church, subsequent to the near-wholesale jettisoning of her sacred rites! One should, however, expect rampant homosexual predation and intellectual confusion – at least, so say St. Paul (Rom 1) and St. Thomas on the point. The human element of the Church on earth cannot long endure without right worship fixed at the heart of Catholic life, and our continued argument is that the Novus Ordo just ain’t it.
Every Heresy Has A Liturgy
No liturgy exists in a vacuum, and like Cranmer’s 16th century missal before it, the Novus Ordo itself signifies a different religious system than the Catholicism held and lived by our forebears. In both historical cases, those who set to work crafting these rites by their own admission did not hold Catholic faith in certain points of defined doctrine. In the case of Cranmer’s rite, it took a few years and subsequent editions before the missal’s calculated ambiguities would clearly express positive Protestant errors in matters of faith – but fascinatingly, clergy and laymen alike had already been condemning and avoiding this rite as intrinsically evil from the outset; well before Rome ever pronounced the exact same conclusion. Its novelty alone was enough to “hate it with a godly zeal” – in fact, it was enough for many English Catholics to die rather than attend it.
To die rather than attend it. To die.
What we have with the NO is the same basic dynamic, but in unprecedented cause and scope, on a longer timeline, and with a different heresy underlying it. Not Protestantism this time, friends – but modernism. Like Cranmer’s rite, the NO begins in ambiguity – perhaps no positive errors in the missal text per se, just lots of diminution and obfuscation, lots of “tending towards,” lots of “room for,” lots of “local adaptation.” And in actual use, there’s scarcely any “creative ritual expressions” made explicitly off-limits (and if there are any such today, there may not be tomorrow).
So although it can and should be abrogated simply on the grounds of its being an impious violation of sacred custom (among others), the NO might dodge the expression of positive doctrinal errors in the missal text – and, like Cranmer’s rite before it, it has the capacity to effect a valid Consecration. But so what? The same could have been said to St. John Rigby on the scaffold, who chose death rather than attendance at the New Mass in his town: “Come now, don’t hang for this. After all, we still have a valid Consecration, and the New Mass doesn’t actually express any positive errors in matters of faith… be reasonable!”
Besides, if it’s the modernist heresy underlying the Novus Ordo, then the trick would be wringing any positive errors out of it in the first place. For, as Pope St. Pius X knew well when he formally condemned it, this heresy of its nature thrives on ambiguity, on vacuity, on neologisms and incongruities. It never “outs” itself. It strives for formlessness, like a ghost. Like a demon. One shouldn’t expect its ritual expression to be any different.
The Curious Case of the Cataphrygae
Now, we come to it at last.
Can any act of worship be inherently evil?
This might be asked of every Catholic on the planet… the results would likely be most telling. For, if we can import a given ceremonial into the Church’s liturgy and keep a “Catholic” sign hanging on our parish door, could any rite within its precincts be immoral of itself? Is there any line that the NO-defender can objectively draw, where one is able to say “This far, and no further?” Could there ever be a ritual act, ostensibly done in honor of God, that must needs be universally precluded in itself – morally inadmissible, to coin a phrase?
Well, one might hazard the example of ritual violence (why does it so often come back to sex and murder? As if those were the worst things)…
…in which case, it’s time for a True History Thought Experiment.
You’re traveling, and have to visit a different church for Sunday Mass than your home parish. You haven’t been there before.
You go in to pray before Mass, and the pastor announces that the chosen family for the week can come forward to meet him in the sacristy. A couple shuffles up to the sacristy by a side door, carrying a young child with them. They return just as the organ begins the entrance processional, and everyone stands. You notice that the toddler is no longer with the couple.
Mass begins, and you’re quickly aware that they do things a little different at this parish.
As it turns out, the toddler you didn’t see return was in the back recuperating (maybe) from ritually inflicted wounds. The child’s blood is used in the entrance procession during a local purification rite, and some is left in a bowl at the foot of the altar during the Presentation of Gifts. You don’t stick around to learn what they do with the bowl.
Now, let’s say the celebrant is in “good standing,” the local bishop approves, and the current missal and rubrics allow for this horror (as the NO currently would, mind you)… Morally permissible? No?
Don’t you go saying “This is just gross,” you bigoted cultural supremacist, you! And don’t try that “human dignity” nonsense – don’t you know the responsible parties are doing what’s best for the child? And for heaven’s sake, none of that “no precedent in Church history” thing, as if liturgical tradition had any bearing on us today… new paradigms and all that.
Besides, for the record, this does have a precedent. True History, remember?
“There have been many errors regarding this Sacrament… [Such as] the error of the Cataphrygae… who drew the blood of an infant from tiny punctures in its body, and mixing this with their flour, made a bread of it; and thus asserted that they consecrated the Sacrament. This is more like the sacrifices of demons…”
Thus quoth the Angelic Doctor in his Opuscula (one english rendering of which can be found here), rehashing some of the Eucharistic errors that the Church has navigated over the centuries. The vast majority of these began from among the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy – and not all pertained simply to the “essential matter and form.”
See, the Cataphrygae considered themselves and their (validly!) ordained priests to be true Catholics in their time. And back then, the local bishop alone was the guarantor of fidelity to traditional liturgical form – there was no universally employed missal with accompanying rubrics. So, if they had ritual bloodletting during Mass back then… you know, it was meaningful to the local community, affirming their ancestral heritage and unity with creation and whatnot… then why would we deprive the Church of such an “Amazonian face” today?
Now then, let’s wrap up with some classic scholastic categories. We’ll call it:
If Aquinas Gave the Novus Ordo Both Barrels
The Novus Ordo is impious. The composition of a new rite in consultation with formal heretics and under the direction of men who openly expressed an intention to destroy the sacred patrimony of the Roman Rite was a failure in the devout fulfillment of the religious obligation to respectfully receive and hand on a holy thing (=impietas). Those who offer this novel rite today perpetuate the same impiety, in refusing to pass on that fitly adorned act of worship which is most pleasing to God, the treasure of the Church, and the chief means of forming the Catholic faithful and saving souls. Those who attend it are accessory to objective impiety in greater or lesser degree. [Cf. ST.II-II.Q81, 101]
The Novus Ordo is sacrilegious. Even apart from the truly limitless range of particular sacrileges permitted by its intentionally open-ended rubrics and indissoluble marriage to the principle of “inculturation,” the formal deletions of dozens of particular reverential acts in the NO (e.g., genuflections, kisses of the altar, signs of the cross, repeated pleas for mercy, prolonged kneelings, silences, etc.) were made with the declared intention to diminish reverence to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This is to steal the glory owed to Christ in His sanctuary (=sacrilegium). Those who attend it today are accessory to objective sacrilege in greater or lesser degree. [Cf. ST.II-II.Q99]
The Novus Ordo is superstitious. To worship God viz. any rite other than that prescribed by the Church and conforming to ecclesiastical custom was classically specified as a sin of superstition. Far from black cats and broken mirrors, this term denotes words and gestures overlaid or set on top (=superstitionis) of the true ritual action grown over centuries by the Holy Ghost at work in the Church. Precisely because of its novelty, then, any ritual action (especially one that could house a valid Consecration!) other than one of immemorial custom will necessarily worship God in an undue mode. Those who attend the NO today are accessory to objective superstition in greater or lesser degree. [Cf. ST.II-II.Q93.]
Note that neither we nor the Angelic Doctor would here point fingers or assign individual culpability here; this is simply an exercise in describing the object of a particular moral act, namely offering or attending the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI.
OUR CONCLUSION: Some Immediate Action Steps
1) Offer/Attend the traditional rites exclusively for divine worship and the sacraments. No priest or layman requires any special permission to leave the impious novelty that got us here: the Novus Ordo Missae. This is the gravest of moral concerns. In previous centuries and again today, accessing authentically Catholic rites now requires relocation for some folks. So be it. Join “the great Catholic migration” and reclaim your heritage at the Traditional Latin Mass community near you.
2) Seek deeper formation from traditional sources in all matters of faith and morals – both for oneself and one’s spiritual dependents. This should be from resources and/or pastors formed in the pre-Vatican II ethos. Not everything after Vatican II was irretrievably false or diabolically ambiguous – but much of it was, and few of us now have the time or equipment for triage. Best play it safe.
3) Pray and fast. Some demons can’t be driven out otherwise, and it would seem that the fiends currently afflicting the hierarchy are legion.
 De Fide, Disp. X, Sec. VI, N. 16.