Martin Mosebach on “Return to Form”

As we await David Murphy’s further report on Bishop Steven Lopes’ address at Herzogenrath, I see First Things magazine has published a talk by Martin Mosebach, another participant at the same conference.   The talk published at First Things was originally given during Advent.  An excerpt:

In a period such as the present, unable to respond to images and forms, incessantly misled by a noisy art market, all experimentation that tampers with the Roman Rite as it has developed through the centuries could only be perilous and potentially fatal. In any case, this tampering is unnecessary. For the rite that came from late antique Mediterranean Christianity was not “relevant” in the European Middle Ages, nor in the Baroque era, nor in missionary lands outside Europe. The South American Indians and West Africans must have found it even stranger, if possible, than any twentieth-century European who complained that it was “no longer relevant”—whereas it was precisely among those people that the Roman Rite enjoyed its greatest missionary successes. When the inhabitants of Gaul, England, and Germany became Catholic, they understood no Latin and were illiterate; the question of the correct understanding of the Mass was entirely independent of a capacity to follow its literal expression. The peasant woman who said the rosary during Mass, knowing that she was in the presence of Christ’s sacrifice, understood the rite better than our contemporaries who comprehend every word but fail to engage with such knowledge because the present form of the Mass, drastically altered, no longer allows for its full expression.


When Pope Benedict had the greatness of soul to issue Summorum Pontificum, he not only reintroduced the Roman Rite into the liturgy of the Church but declared that it had never been forbidden, because it could never be forbidden. No pope and no council possess the authority to invalidate, abolish, or forbid a rite that is so deeply rooted in the history of the Church.

We had visitors to our parish on Sunday.  One came originally from an Anglican background but grew up in a Pentecostal Church, so she is more comfortable in a nearby charismatic Catholic parish.  Her husband, however, said our Mass reminded him of the Mass he grew up with “except it’s in English.”


11 thoughts on “Martin Mosebach on “Return to Form”

  1. There are over thirty Lutheran denominations in the United States. Those who are not Lutherans probably have no idea what differentiates them, and if they met someone who stated that they were a Lutheran, would not think to enquire “What kind?”. Indeed, those who grew up Catholic, at least back in the day, rarely got past “Protestant”. So it is not surprising that the Ordinariates do not distinguish among TEC, TAC, CEC, and the rest of them, however meaningful these distinctions are or were to those involved. Once one realises that putting the word “Catholic” in the name of one’s denomination doesn’t make it so, it’s all a bit moot, it seems to me, but that’s an outsider’s view.


  2. The statement in the quotation that

    No pope and no council possess the authority to invalidate, abolish, or forbid a rite that is so deeply rooted in the history of the Church.

    is NOT accurate. It is true only that a council or a pope cannot declare a rite (or liturgical order) approved by the Church in times past to be invalid. The key here is the distinction between what’s illicit (forbidden by ecclesial law) and what’s invalid (materially defective, and thus not effective). Note that this does NOT preclude a determination that a specific liturgical celebration according to that rite is invalid due to some defect in the rite itself.

    >> Both the pope and an ecumenical council have absolute authority to regulate the liturgy throughout the universal church. This authority inherently includes the right to forbid the use of a particular order of worship, or to set limits of the use of a particular order of worship, even if that order of worship is indisputably valid.

    >> Also, each diocesan bishop, or equivalent hierarch, has absolute authority to regulate the liturgy within his diocese. Again, this authority includes the right to forbid the use of a particular order of worship, or to set limits of the use of a particular order of worship, even if that order of worship is indisputably valid.

    Here in the States, we saw this at work in Msgr. Steenson’s directive explicitly forbidding the celebration of the liturgy according to the Tridentine orders of worship within the congregations of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. From a pastoral perspective, this directive was very reasonable since the Tridentine liturgy most assuredly does not constitute the patrimony of any ordinariate community.

    I fully support the norms of Summorum Pontificum, which further the unity of the church by permitting those who remain attached to the Tridentine liturgy to celebrate in that manner. However, assertions that popes and ecumenical councils lack authority historically have been met with popes and councils asserting the very authority that those who made such assertions claimed that they lacked. The Counterreformation provides plenty of examples that endured in the Roman Rite for nearly four centuries — practices such as communion under only one kind and celebration of the mass in Latin mandated by the Council of Trent, to the exclusion of other equally valid practices, because Luther, Calvin, and other leaders of the Protestant Reformation held them to be invalid. By making such assertions, therefore, this speaker/author is not helping his cause!



    • “the Tridentine liturgy most assuredly does not constitute the patrimony of any ordinariate community” — well, it was part of at least one of them, until forcibly suppressed by Msgr. Steenson’s supposedly “very reasonable” directive.

      If there was no desire on part of at least some of the Ordinariate faithful and clergy for it (thus evidently making it part of the self-understanding of what constituted their “patrimony”), why the need to “explicitly forbid it”?

      Especially if any Ordinariate community can freely celebrate the ordinary form of the Roman Rite?

      How is the OF — a latter-day “fabrication” by any reasonable assessment, including that of Benedict XVI, and of Fr. Louis Bouyer, who was there and helped craft the pseudo-Hippolytan “dewfall” prayer — any more a part of the “patrimony” than the form that was the universally normative Latin-rite liturgy between Trent and post-V2, and going back in its essentials to early Roman and later Frankish Christianity?


      • The assertion that the Tridentine liturgy “was part of at least one of them” implies that the community in question celebrated the Tridentine liturgy before it came into the full communion of the Catholic Church. This seems highly improbable, since celebration of the liturgy in Latin is not exactly normative Anglican practice — but please supply details if you know something that the ret of us don’t. The more likely scenario is that one or two of the ordinariate clergy might have started celebrating masses according to the Tridentine form in response to requests from traditionalist “cradle Catholics” who were not even eligible to become members of the ordinariate, likely drawing a protest from the local diocesan bishop — and rightfully so. Msgr. Steenson’s directive was indisputably about a jurisdictional issue — that such masses should be under the jurisdiction of the bishop of the local diocese rather than his jurisdiction as the ordinary of the ordinariate.

        As to the relationship between the present ordinary form and the Tridentine form, you might look to the very words of the present General Instruction of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI.

        A Witness to Unbroken Tradition

        6. In setting forth its instructions for the revision of the Order of Mass, the Second Vatican Council, using the same words as did St. Pius V in the Apostolic Constitution Quo primum, by which the Missal of Trent was promulgated in 1570, also ordered, among other things, that some rites be restored “to the original norm of the holy Fathers.” From the fact that the same words are used it can be seen how both Roman Missals, although separated by four centuries, embrace one and the same tradition. Furthermore, if the inner elements of this tradition are reflected upon, it also becomes clear how outstandingly and felicitously the older Roman Missal is brought to fulfillment in the new.

        7. In a difficult period when the Catholic faith on the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the ministerial priesthood, and the real and permanent presence of Christ under the Eucharistic species were placed at risk, St. Pius V was especially concerned with preserving the more recent tradition, then unjustly being assailed, introducing only very slight changes into the sacred rite. In fact, the Missal of 1570 differs very little from the very first printed edition of 1474, which in turn faithfully follows the Missal used at the time of Pope Innocent III. Moreover, even though manuscripts in the Vatican Library provided material for the emendation of some expressions, they by no means made it possible to inquire into “ancient and approved authors” farther back than the liturgical commentaries of the Middle Ages.

        8. Today, on the other hand, countless learned studies have shed light on the “norm of the holy Fathers” which the revisers of the Missal of St. Pius V followed. For following the publication first of the Sacramentary known as the Gregorian in 1571, critical editions of other ancient Roman and Ambrosian Sacramentaries were published, often in book form, as were ancient Hispanic and Gallican liturgical books which brought to light numerous prayers of no slight spiritual excellence that had previously been unknown.
        In a similar fashion, traditions dating back to the first centuries, before the formation of the rites of East and West, are better known today because of the discovery of so many liturgical documents.

        Moreover, continuing progress in the study of the holy Fathers has also shed light upon the theology of the mystery of the Eucharist through the teachings of such illustrious Fathers of Christian antiquity as St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. John Chrysostom.

        9. For this reason, the “norm of the holy Fathers” requires not only the preservation of what our immediate forebears have passed on to us, but also an understanding and a more profound study of the Church’s entire past and of all the ways in which her one and only faith has been set forth in the quite diverse human and social forms prevailing in the Semitic, Greek, and Latin areas. Moreover, this broader view allows us to see how the Holy Spirit endows the People of God with a marvelous fidelity in preserving the unalterable deposit of faith, even amid a very great variety of prayers and rites.



      • Norm,

        Admittedly, I am not as intimately familiar firsthand with the community in question, and don’t know whether Latin Masses were celebrated there before their translation into the Roman fold — therefore, I will not opine further on the specifics of the case. But as you very well know, celebrating the Tridentine Mass is not at all unheard of in Anglo-Catholicism, even if a distinct minority thing to do. Dom Gregory Dix, among others, certainly did it (yes, in Latin). And of course, the English Missal, and the Anglican Breviary, are essentially the traditional Roman rite in English. Inasmuch as the “patrimony” represents not only whatever was brought from post-Cranmerian protestantism, but also all the treasures of pre-Reformation English Catholicism, Latin is very much a part of the “patrimony.”

        All I am merely asserting is that to say that the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is “not part of the patrimony” of the Ordinariate is either a very far-fetched assertion, or belies a very narrow construction of what “patrimony” means. Once again, if the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is “patrimonial” enough for OCSP parishes to celebrate at-will, there is absolutely no reason (besides certain tradition-averse hierarchs’ qualms, as you’d alluded to) to forbid the extraordinary form. And simply relying on “the bishops can” is no argument for why the bishops ought.

        To approach it from a different angle, as far as I’m concerned, Pentecostal-style rock “liturgies” are not part of the “patrimony” either (Ordinariate, or any authentic Catholic patrimony, for that matter), yet I wouldn’t advocate for canonically suppressing the couple of outlying Ordinariate communities that worship in that manner. I simply choose not to attend them. On the other hand, the active suppression of a valid, licit and venerable form of our Rite for spurious “pastoral” reasons is hardly defensible.

        One last note: many cradle Catholics, and others who were not former Anglicans, ARE eligible to be full canonical members, either by virtue of uncompleted sacraments, or through family ties. And some (certainly not all) may have a love for and attachment to the traditional Roman rite. It’s not quite as black-and-white as “Ordinariate vs. outside cradle Catholics who like the TLM.”

        OK, a real, final last note: I appreciate your contributions in the comboxes of this blog, and I hope none of the above comes across as anything personal. It is intended on my part in the spirit of respectful and civil disagreement in charity on a prudential matter.



      • Ah, not quite. The English Missal actually embodied the Sarum liturgy, which was substantially a translation of the Roman Rite as it existed into the eleventh century — five centuries before the Tridentine reform — into the contemporary English of the day. The English schism occurred before the Tridentine reform in the sixteenth century, so the Tridentine liturgy never actually became a part of the English church. Although Dix and a few others might have celebrated the Tridentine liturgy occasionally, one has to regard such use as personal experimentation since it never gained official approval within any body of the Anglican Communion. To assert that the Tridentine liturgy is somehow the patrimony of any ordinariate congregation on that basis is very shaky at best. And, in case you are not aware, the Sarum liturgy actually is one of the sources for the so-called Divine Worship liturgy that’s now normative for the ordinariates.

        The situation with respect to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite is much more complex. The wording of Title III of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus clearly envisions that “liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church” will be the normative practice of the preponderance of ordinariate communities. There is, nevertheless, significant pastoral value of members of these communities being sufficiently familiar with the ordinary form of the Roman Rite so it will not be foreign to them when they join in pastoral gatherings and programs of formation organized by the local diocese. There’s also a unique situation in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham — many of that ordinariate’s congregations actually adopted the ordinary form of the Roman Rite as Anglicans well before they came into the Catholic Church, making it an authentic part of their heritage.

        As to liturgical music, I’m a believer in the big tent — I think that there’s room for all styles of music in the liturgy, so long as it expresses our faith and our worship appropriately. This includes not only the “rock” music that came into vogue during the “cultural revolution” of the 1960’s, but also the tradition of “spirituals” of the Afro-American heritage, so-called “folk” music, chant, and traditional hymnody. I’m not at all averse to using music from several of these styles in a single liturgical service. For my mother’s funeral mass, for example, I actually chose several selections that represented a cross section of the liturgical music of her life.

        As to ordinariate membership, the number of “cradle Catholics” who are married to ordinariate members undoubtedly is relatively few.

        I’m not persuaded that the term “cradle Catholics” applies to those baptized as infants due to some sort of familial pressure, but then never set foot in church because their parents had lapsed in the practice of the faith. An ordinariate congregation that rescues such an individual and bringing such an individual to authentic faith is the real faith community of that individual, whereas the parish where that individual’s baptism occurred most assuredly is not. The line admittedly is fuzzy, but the Vatican has drawn it between those who completed the sacraments of initiation in a diocesan parish and those who did not.

        Again, I think that Msgr. Steenson found the right canonical distinction — to wit, that the celebration of the mass according to the Tridentine form should be under the auspices of the local diocesan bishop rather than under his auspices as ordinary of the ordinariate. This does not exclude the possibility of an ordinariate priest being the principal celebrant, nor does it exclude the possibility of the celebration taking place in a church of the ordinariate congregation (though ongoing use of a church that belongs to an ordinariate congregation for diocesan liturgy should be governed by a written agreement between the diocesan bishop and the ordinary). In fact, in many places, churches that belong to ordinariate congregations may well be the only church buildings that are configured for proper celebration of the Tridentine liturgy, and thus could offer a solution to a problem for those who desire the Tridentine liturgy. But all things in proper order!

        And yes, I do think that your discourse is quite civil. What I find troubling is what comes across as disparaging the action of the magisterium of the church to breathe new life into our worship. Yes, there were abuses that we all should despise — but the celebration of the Tridentine liturgy that I encountered in my youth was not exactly a hallmark of reverence, either — one priest in my parish would celebrate Sunday mass, with distribution of communion to a full church, in as little as sixteen minutes (yes, I personally timed him!). Today, I think that most priests who celebrate the Tridentine liturgy regularly care enough to do it well. I wish that the clergy of my home diocese were as conscientious about the liturgy, but many tragically are not — and I understand completely that many Traditionalists are reacting to the shabbiness, having never experienced the current ordinary form celebrated well.



  3. Fr Catania celebrated the EF at Mount Calvary, Baltimore (after his ordination in the Catholic church) until it was suppressed by Msgr Steenson. I do not know of any other OCSP community that ever had an EF celebration, although OCSP clergy have participated in EF celebrations in other churches; for example (under “Not Your Typical Hollywood Premier”)


    • Like most ordinariate priests, Fr. Reese has collateral status as a parochial vicar of the parish within which his ordinariate community is located (or, in this case, actually worships), as this allows him to serve diocesan Catholics pretty much transparently. However, there is a clear distinction: the mass according to the Tridentine missal and the mass according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite are masses of the diocesan parish, whereas the mass according to the Divine Worship missal is a mass of the ordinariate parish. If Fr. Reese celebrates the mass according to the Tridentine missal, he is acting in his collateral role.



  4. Regarding tbako’s opening paragraph in his comment of April 4 regarding celebrations of the EF by Dom Gregory Dix and other Anglo-Catholic notables, I would point out that this was a typical contemporary expression of so-called “Anglo-Papalism” in the CofE; subsequently replaced, after Vatican II, by the use of the OF of the Roman Rite. This is why many incoming OOLW members have no experience of the BCP and no enthusiasm for the Divine Worship missal based on it.


  5. EPMS,

    I would be careful about commenting on what happened at Mt. Calvary Church. I am a member there and can tell you that Fr. Catania was itching to celebrate the EF whether the 35 or so members of Mt. Calvary wanted it or not. The few arch traditionalists that glommed onto the parish may have asked for it but it was mainly attended by folks from St. Alfonso’s Church a few blocks away. That diocesan parish has a Sunday EF. Fr. Catania may have thought he could grow Mt. Calvary by enticing others away from their rightful parishes by offering a weekday EF mass. It was a very tough time for the parish as a whole. It is interesting to note that he fell badly from the grace of several of the folks he so wooed with this form of the mass. Mon. Steenson had to stepped in in order to put an end to some rather foolish ideas being pushed forward.



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