RORATE CÆLI: The Mass of Paul VI “Well Celebrated”—a Myth! (Guest Article by Cyril Farret d’Astiès)

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Rorate Caeli is pleased to offer a translation of Paix Liturgique newsletter 833 of November 15, 2021, with permission of the editor Christian Marquant. Cyril Farret d’Astiès’s article is preceded and succeeded by remarks from Paix Liturgique.

RORATE CÆLI: The Mass of Paul VI “Well Celebrated”—a Myth! (Guest Article by Cyril Farret d’Astiès)

A few weeks ago, a group of priests, religious and lay people, led by our friend Denis Crouan of the association “Pro Liturgia,” seized the opportunity of the publication by Francis of his motu proprio Traditionis custodes to launch a plea to our pastors to “finally” implement the Novus Ordo according to its liturgical rules and to abandon all the initiatives which, according to them, distort it and constitute one of the motives for which the faithful attached to the traditional liturgy distance themselves from the Novus Ordo.
This chimera is as old as the existence of the Novus Ordo. The few experiments of “celebrating well” the Mass of Paul VI are in reality attempts to hide its intrinsic defects. Moreover, they are considered by the authorities as “fundamentalist” [literally “integralist”] celebrations and are therefore repressed.
We had thus recalled, in our letter 683 of February 19, 2019, the case of the abbot Jean-François Guérin, later founder of the Saint-Martin community, who having adopted under obedience in 1969 the new rite of Paul VI, which he continued to celebrate with all the traditional pomp and orthodoxy that it entailed, saw himself freshly admonished by Mgr François Marty, cardinal archbishop of Paris, who did not understand the matter in the same way… That is to say, for Archbishop François Marty, the celebration of the Novus Ordo should not be envisaged in a spirit of liturgical and theological tradition, but in a completely new liturgical, spiritual, and theological spirit.
We could also cite the efforts of that high-priestly figure of the Paris clergy, Father Gabriel Grimaud (“an ultratraditionalist priest,” Médiapart, February 19, 2017), former chaplain of the Legion of Honor school, who directs the Foyer Jean Bosco, 23 rue de Varize. Since his ordination some 50 years ago, Father Grimaud has made sure to celebrate the Novus Ordo with dignity, ad orientem, without ever concelebrating, and with a lot of Latin. He is, as expected, persecuted as an unbearable fundamentalist by the Archdiocese of Paris.
As we said, this mindset led many faithful who had gathered around such priests finally to make the choice of fidelity to the traditional liturgy—a liturgy that sometimes they did not know, but that seemed to them to be more in conformity with their Faith, with their religious traditions and those of their forefathers. Without wishing to offend these worthy priests (one could also recall the late Abbé Montarien, who celebrated in Latin at the Polish parish in Paris), the faithful simply preferred the traditional original to the copy.
It is a bit pathetic to see that the friends of Denis Crouan and a few others have kept their illusions about the reality of the nature of the liturgical reform resulting from the Second Vatican Council and to see them—like a new Sisyphus, or rather, a new Don Quixote—continue to crusade for a cause lost in advance: they want to correct the effects (the liturgical “abuses”), but without attacking the cause (a reform that shattered ritualism).
To answer them and to enlighten our readers, we reproduce the clear and limpid text of Cyril Farret d’Astiès, who responds to the faithful “attached to the Roman missal of St Paul VI.”

Dear Father, Brother, friends:
I have read with great interest the letter you address to the bishops as faithful Christians “attached to the Roman Missal of Saint Paul VI so that everywhere the liturgy may be celebrated with dignity and with fidelity to the texts promulgated after the Second Vatican Council.”
As a preamble, forgive me. Forgive me because I know that I will offend you and perhaps hurt you. The liturgy is a subject so central, so important, so constitutive of the Church and of our lives as baptized people that it cannot be otherwise. And it seems to me precisely healthy that we should not be insensitive to it, for nowhere else than in the liturgy do we approach the supernatural realities in which we believe.
But the search for truth, the hope of getting out of the present crisis, and the love of the liturgy itself impel me to publish this too-brief response, which I hope will be developed here and elsewhere with you and with others. This was my intention when I published an essay on the subject a year ago. But who would have the courage to organize a serious and frank debate on this essential subject? Jean-Marie Guénois? Martial Bild? Aymeric Pourbaix?
This being said—and I ask you one last time to believe in my fraternal sincerity—I must now bring forward the contradiction and raise the inconsistencies of your letter. For it is necessary to say what one sees and, as Péguy exhorted, to see what one sees, which is more difficult.
You judge that creativity is common in parishes and that, as such, it is a problem.
Dear friends, creativity is a constituent part of the new liturgy; it is encouraged and expected everywhere within a framework that certainly does not allow for all of the excesses, but that does allow for many fantasies.
In a preface he gave (Cérémonial de la sainte messe à l’usage ordinaire des paroisses suivant le missel romain de 2002 et la pratique léguée du rit romain from Mutel et Freeman—I know how dear this manual is to your heart [this would be the equivalent of Msgr. Peter J. Elliott’s ceremonial guides from Ignatius Press]), Monsignor Aillet mentioned, with regard to the rubrics of the new missal, a “descriptive vagueness” that gives rise to a kind of “obligation of creativity.” This description speaks volumes about the profound difficulty of understanding what precisely is expected and asked of the celebrant as well as of the faithful. In the 2002 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (a text of highest authority that concretely establishes what must be done for the celebration of the Mass), the expression “if appropriate” is used 29 times, “may” 113 times, “unless” 10 times, “however” 33 times, “judge” 13 times, “instead” 2 times, “recommended” 7 times, “desirable” 4 times, “usually” 13 times, “adaptation” 22 times… All of these expressions are related to possibilities and options offered to free choice and inspiration.
GIRM n. 352 further states: “The pastoral effectiveness of a celebration will be greatly increased if the texts of the readings, the prayers, and the liturgical chants correspond as aptly as possible to the needs, the preparation, and the culture of the participants. This will be achieved by appropriate use of the many possibilities of choice described below”—and indeed the possibilities described are numerous (see n. 390)…
You write that “the effectiveness of the liturgy in the life of the Church is due, in large part, to fidelity to the prescribed rites which carry the grace associated with the sacrament.”
Doesn’t this word “effectiveness” hurt your ears? Doesn’t this Taylorist[1] and managerial intrusion into the liturgical sanctuary with its patina of Christianity and already tinged with the colors of heaven seem incongruous to you? However, I can only agree with you that it is indeed for greater efficiency—in particular, pastoral efficiency (e.g., Sacrosanctum Concilium at no. 49, or the GIRM at n. 352), that the reform was desired, carried out, and applied.
On the contrary, the liturgical spirit as it has always been understood in the Church until the middle of the twentieth century has always sought slowness, uselessness, prodigality (flowers, candles, incense), “irrational” excess, in order to render to God the worship that is due to Him.
You ask our bishops to make known and apply the norms established by the Second Vatican Council and included in the Roman Missal.
This is indeed a vast undertaking. What norms? The ones that consist in the ad libitum use of cincture and dalmatic, in reciting this creed or that other one, in choosing this or that reading from multiple selections (or the long or short form), and, more problematically—because we are dealing with the heart of the question of liturgical reform—the norm that makes no essential distinction between the Roman Canon and the “Eucharistic Prayers for Children” (GIRM no. 365)?
You then address some practical and concrete aspects in your request to the bishops. Let us briefly review them.
Sacred silence
The new Mass, which is based on a very strong need for community, makes an extremely important place for instructions, commentaries, words of welcome, announcements… The proposed comments are numerous and even difficult to count with certainty, since the official texts invite speech everywhere: welcoming the community at the start, again before the liturgy of the word, before and after the Prayer of the Faithful, before and after Communion… Indications can also be given on the postures to observe. The function of “commentator” is defined as a “liturgical function” in the GIRM n. 105.
In these circumstances it is difficult to reinstate silence and especially the liturgical spirit of silence described remarkably by Abbé de Tanoüarn in chapter 26 of his meditations on the Mass.
The Proper of the Mass
The proper of the Mass and the beautiful texts it proposes [not to mention the chants that clothe them!] suffer the crushing caused by the choices left to the discretion of the celebrant and his liturgical committee (see, e.g., GIRM n. 55 for the Introit and its many possible substitutes). Like causes produce like effects. I do not insist.
Orientation (ad orientem) is indeed not impossible in the new Mass—for the Feast of Candlemas, the popes themselves have been practicing this usage in the Sistine Chapel for some years now—but certainly the new Mass was not designed for this usage. A few examples amply prove this.
Again with the goal of encouraging participation, the GIRM repeatedly suggests that the faithful should see what the priest is doing at the altar (n. 83); n. 307 asks that the candlesticks should be placed in such a way that “the faithful may not be impeded from a clear view of what takes place at the altar or what is placed upon it”; n. 299 states very clearly that “the altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible”; n. 303 asks that “in already existing churches, when the old altar is so positioned that it makes the people’s participation difficult… another fixed altar…should be erected and the sacred rites celebrated on it alone.”
And if the GIRM indeed specifies on several occasions (nn. 154, 157, 158, 185) that the priest “turns” towards the faithful, this formulation in reality, more than a 180° turn, seems to me more likely—and taking into account what we have just recalled—that the priest “turns” his attention towards the faithful, that he looks at them and addresses them, that his concentration passes from the altar to the community.
The 1965 missal was already intended for a celebration facing the people and in the vernacular; we know Pope Paul VI himself had set the example.
Finally, remember the volley of green wood that fell on the frail shoulders of dear Cardinal Sarah when he tried, at the international Sacra Liturgia conference held in England in 2016, to restore to the liturgy its correct orientation.
Latin is no more forbidden than ad orientem is, but again, the spirit and the letter of the new missal are quite different. Allow me to quote at length from Pope Paul VI himself, the supreme legislator who cannot be suspected of not understanding the spirit of the missal that bears his name and which he promulgated. This speech was given on November 26, 1969, on the subject of the adoption of the new Rite, which took place four days later:

It is here that the greatest newness is going to be noticed, the newness of language. No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. The introduction of the vernacular will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power, and the expressive sacrality of Latin. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant. We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that angelic language? We are giving up something of priceless worth. But why? What is more precious than these loftiest of our Church’s values? The answer will seem banal, prosaic. Yet it is a good answer, because it is human, because it is apostolic. Understanding of prayer is worth more than the silken garments in which it is royally dressed. Participation by the people is worth more—particularly participation by modern people, so fond of plain language which is easily understood and converted into everyday speech. If the divine Latin language kept us apart from the children, from youth, from the world of labor and of affairs, if it were a dark screen, not a clear window, would it be right for us fishers of souls to maintain it as the exclusive language of prayer and religious intercourse?

Gregorian chant
In the whole General Instruction of the Roman Missal—all 399 sections of it—Gregorian chant is mentioned only once, at n. 41!
This is also mentioned in n. 41, which further requires that the musical selections “correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.” The GIRM n. 393 delegates to bishops’ conferences review and approval of all liturgical music; they are also to judge what musical forms, melodies, or instruments “may be admitted into divine worship…according to longstanding local usage, in so far as these are truly suitable for sacred use, or can be made suitable.”
So what about the organ? It remains on paper, but alongside whatever the imagination and local cultures will want to use in the name of participation and pastoral care, as approved (or more likely tacitly accepted) by the bishops.

There, all too briefly, are some remarks on these points. Obviously, you say it very well: all these things are “bequeathed to us as a treasure of inestimable value that powerfully raises our souls to Heaven.” But they are no longer a constitutive part of the reformed liturgy; they are options, possibilities which, moreover, at least with some of them, go rather against the global edifice of practice. I am thinking in particular of Latin, ad orientem, and Gregorian chant. The Novus Ordo, contrary to what you hope, no longer considers this treasure to be invaluable, since it puts the bequeathed practice on an equal footing with all the inventions of the day (when it does not actually favor the latter).
Dear friends, unfortunately I believe that in seeking in the new missal what is no longer there except by anecdote or accident, you will be chasing some chimera or unicorn. But, what is sadder, you are unconsciously depriving yourself of the great treasure chest of the traditional liturgy that is at your very fingertips and would fill your soul, because you obviously have a great liturgical piety.
First of all—and this is obviously the most important—you will find the admirable Offertory and the Roman Canon, and you will certainly draw from them a renewed and deepened devotion to the Holy Eucharist. But you will also discover many other treasures: the subdiaconate, the minor orders and their liturgical functions, an admirable calendar, a masterful Pontifical with incomparable lessons in ecclesiology, and a host of small and very pleasant rubrics…
“Where will rebirth come from, to us who have soiled and emptied the whole globe? From the past alone, if we love it.” Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace.
Cyril Farret d’Astiès
1. In fact, there is a Novus Ordo “dreamed of” by the friends of Pro Liturgia and some others, and then there is a real new liturgy that is completely foreign to it and does not constitute a liturgical form but a multitude of liturgical possibilities.
2. Therefore, it is not incoherent to think that there is no “real” Novus Ordo but rather as many Novus Ordos as there are priests who celebrate it or circumstances in which it is celebrated.
3. How, then, can this “Novus Ordo” be the only expression of the lex credendi when it itself expresses a multitude of “leges credendi” on the various occasions of its celebration?
[1] Referring to a system of scientific management advocated by Fred W. Taylor. In Taylor’s view, the task of factory management was to determine the best way for the worker to do the job, to provide the proper tools and training, and to provide incentives for good performance.

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