Sacrosanctum Concilium: A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes

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.

Sacrosanctum Concilium: A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes

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