November 12-18, 2001
volume 12, no. 156

Was Dom Gueranger right after all?

by Father Hugh S. Thwaites, S.J.

Could it be that Dom Gueranger was right when he said that to change people’s religion you need do no more than change their books of worship?

Note: The following was sent to us by Gary Morella from the Homiletic & Pastoral Review for November 2001 . Father Hugh S. Thwaites, S.J., though he had been planning to enter the Anglican ministry, joined the army in 1939 when war broke out and was sent to France. He left Paris in June 1940, two days before the Germans entered the city. In December 1941, on a troopship in the Indian Ocean, he was received into the Church. Taken prisoner in the fall of Singapore, he spent 3 years in Japanese prison camps. After the war he became a Jesuit. Since his ordination in 1954 he has worked with students and young people of ethnic minorities in London.

    Recently, while discussing the declining numbers at Mass with a Catholic friend, I ventured the opinion that the change from the old Latin rite to the new rite of Mass was partly responsible. He stoutly defended the superiority of the new Mass.

    “In that old Mass,” he asserted, “you couldn’t understand what the priest was saying. It was all in Latin. And anyhow, he had his back to us, so we couldn’t see what was happening. We were left out of it. He was just praying away, doing his own thing. There was nothing for us to do.” This set me thinking. What my good Catholic friend had just said was exactly what my good Anglican friends used to say to me fifty years ago. My friend seemed to be thinking now like an Anglican. Was it possible. . . ?

    Dom Gueranger started the liturgical revival in the nineteenth century, and, perhaps with an eye on what had happened during the Reformation, said that to change people’s religion you need do no more than change their books of worship. As we know, our books of worship were changed in 1968. The reason Pope Paul VI initiated the change was his hope that a new liturgy would somehow attract Protestants back into the Church. He accordingly invited Protestant observers, and they later claimed that they had been allowed to make positive contributions to the new text. Certainly, in the new Mass there is nothing that could offend Protestants in any way.

    But is the text of the Mass now so ecumenical that it is no longer Catholic? There is no question, of course, about the validity of our daily Masses. They are the same holy Sacrifice that has been offered on the altars of the Church since the day of Pentecost. The fact that it was Rome that gave it to us is sufficient guarantee of that. However doubtful or ambiguous the theology of the text, the validity of the sacrament can never be called into question. The question here is: Is the text of the new Mass now so ecumenical that it sometimes no longer expresses our traditional Catholic faith?

    When I suggest that this is so, people rally to its defense. “But that’s just the ICEL translation. The Mass itself is still completely Catholic. It’s just the way they’ve translated it.” However, a closer look shows that the compilers of the new missal left nothing to chance. They gave a decidedly Protestant slant to the original texts. Take, for example, the prayers in both rites for the feast of St. Albert the Great, November 15th.

    The prayer in the old rite went: “O God, you made Blessed Albert, your bishop and doctor, great in subordinating human wisdom to divine faith, grant us, we pray you, to follow the footsteps of his doctrine, that in heaven we may enjoy perfect light.” (Deus, qui Albertum, Pontificem tuum atque Doctorem, in humana sapientia divinae fidei subjicienda magnum effecisti: da nobis quaesumus, ita ejus magisterii inhaerere vestigiis, ut luce perfecta fruamur in caelis.)

    That was the traditional prayer. Now here is the prayer in its ICEL translation for the new Mass. “God our Father, you endowed Saint Albert with the talent of combining human wisdom with divine faith. Keep us true to his teachings that the advance of human knowledge may deepen our knowledge and love of you.” (Deus, qui beatum Albertum episcopum in humana sapientia cum divina fide componenda magnum effecisti, da nobis quaesumus, ita eius magisterii inhaerere doctrinis ut per scientiarum progressus ad profundiorem tui cognitionem et amorem perveniamus.)

    The ICEL translation of “componenda” is “combining.” An earlier translation had “reconciling,” which perhaps fits better here. But anyhow, combining or reconciling human wisdom with divine faith—is it possible? How, to take just one mystery of our faith, could you possibly reconcile what human wisdom tells us about the Holy Eucharist and what we know is there by divine faith? Many indeed have tried. People who have lost the faith always try to rationalize their position. Some, for instance, have said that transfinalization is sufficient explanation of what Our Lord did at the Last Supper and of what happens now at Mass. What happens, they say, is that the purpose or finality of the bread and wine has been changed by the words of consecration. The bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, and should not be adored. But they now serve a new function, and are meant to arouse our faith in the mystery of Christ’s redemptive love.

    Others have thought up the idea of transignification. They tell us that it is simply the meaning or signification of the bread and wine that has been changed by the words of consecration. Nothing else has been changed. The bread stays bread, but the consecrated elements (yes, they use the traditional words) now signify all that we associate with the Last Supper; they are still bread and wine, but they have a higher value now than merely food for the body. Paul VI condemned both transfinalization and transignification in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei. But our Missal, on the feast of St. Albert, still commends to us the combining or reconciling of faith and human wisdom.

    In fact, you could even perhaps say that the difference between subordinating (subjicienda) human wisdom to divine faith and combining (componenda) human wisdom with divine faith pinpoints the difference between Catholicism and Modernism. And Modernism, according to St. Pius X, is the “sum of all heresies.” It is much, much further from the truth than the charming Anglicanism in which I was reared and which brought me to the threshold of the faith.

    Modernists seek to water down the faith and somehow adapt it, so that it fits into their unbelief Ignoring the fact that some of the world’s top scientists are Catholics who have no problems with their faith, they say that there is no future for the Church unless we move away from our definitions and dogmas and adopt a more liberal attitude to the sciences and to the modern world.

    But it was precisely this that St. Pius X condemned in his Syllabus of Errors. He condemned the idea that: “Modern Catholicism cannot be reconciled with true science unless it is transformed into a non-dogmatic Christianity, that is, into a broad and liberal Protestantism”. (Catholicismus hodiernus cum vera scientia componi nequit nisi transformetur in quemdam christianismum non dogmaticum, id est in quemdam protestantismum latum et liberalem.) That was what St. Pius X condemned. So Catholics, following the new Missal, for thirty years now have been admiring what they are told was St. Albert’s gift for doing precisely what St. Pius X condemned: reconciling human wisdom with our Catholic and divine faith.

    Is it possible that their understanding of the faith has thereby now changed? Could it be that Fulton Sheen was right when he said that if we do not behave the way we believe we’ll come to believe the way we behave? Could it be that Dom Gueranger was right when he said that to change people’s religion you need do no more than change their books of worship? Could it be that some Catholics are now Protestant in all but name?

    We are living through what in some parts of the Church is a mass apostasy. And maybe the new Mass, which came from Paul VI’s desire to bring Protestants back to the faith of their ancestors, has, for some Catholics, done just the opposite: it has brought them to think and believe and behave like Protestants.

    In all that concerns the faith, we have to keep fiercely to what has been handed down in the Church. It was only this intense love of the faith that brought St. Edmund Campion and the English martyrs back to England and to martyrdom. Like them, in that earlier age of apostasy, we too need to have a huge horror and dread of heresy.

    Is this being paranoid? Possibly. But if so, it is only the paranoia that is an essential correlative of true love. A husband who truly loves his wife has a horror and dread of the very thought of adultery. And our love for the faith should be so intense that we should shrink from accepting any doctrine that is not truly Catholic. Without that love, there would have been no English martyrs.

    So my conclusions are twofold. First, that between the Catholic position, which subordinates human wisdom to divine faith, between this traditional Catholic position and atheism there is only a long and slippery slope. And many unhappy souls are sliding down it.

    And secondly, that while there are many who attend Mass only in the new rite and still have a good strong faith, they may well have lost something of that paranoia I spoke of. They may no longer have that horror and dread of heresy which the first Christians learned from the letters of St. Paul and St. John, and which I think Catholics living in today’s pagan environment need if they are to maintain the purity of their faith.

Your email:
Your name:
E-mail it  to:

November 12-18, 2001
volume 12, no. 156
GUEST COLUMN commentary
Return to Current Issue