If you know anything about me or have followed my journey of faith and walk with Jesus, you will know some of the story of me coming to faith in Jesus, going to seminary, being a Protestant pastor and eventually converting to the Catholic Church.
One of the first things I did on this journey, in a desire to understand what the early Christians thought about Jesus and how they interpreted Holy Scripture and lived out the faith, was to read the earliest Christian sources, other than the Bible, I could find. Those were the extant writings of the men we call the Church Fathers.
There are different eras and groups of the Fathers and I don’t want to get too much into that. But two of the earliest Fathers I spent time with were St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom, along with some random writings of some of the Desert Fathers. St. Athanasius was one of the greatest Fathers and Doctors of the Eastern Church. He was Egyptian, born in Alexandria. His work, On the Incarnation, was my introduction to the Fathers and just completely blew my mind. He is one of my heroes of the faith. He stood for the faith at a time when most of the bishops of the Church had strayed into heresy. St. Athanasius stood firm on the deposit of the faith and on who Christ was. He is, in fact, my confirmation saint.
St. John Chrysostom was another one of the early Fathers I was introduced to; again, one of the Eastern Fathers and perhaps the greatest preacher that has ever lived. He was born in Antioch, Syria and was eventually named as the Archbishop of Constantinople. His preaching was heavily influential in my life and journey into the Catholic Church.
What’s the point, you may ask?
My introduction to Catholicism began in the East. Most of the Fathers I read and studied were Eastern. By the East, I mean primarily the Greek, Antiochan, Alexandrian and Syrian Fathers; St. Irenaeus, St. Polycarp, Origen, St. Basil, St. Hippolytus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Melito and others were among my earliest exposures to the Fathers. I have always had a love for the Eastern Fathers. Early on, I considered the Orthodox Church. Frankly, I ended up not joining them because of their separation from Rome. I wanted to be in communion with the Roman Church.
So, I “swam the Tiber” and joined the Latin Rite Western Church. Early on, I knew that I wanted to be part of the oldest practice of the faith I could find. The Novus Ordo, in my mind, has significant problems and I wanted no part of that. So, I gravitated toward the Latin Mass. It is, after all, THE traditional worship and liturgy of the Western Church. I have written about my experience in the Latin Mass and so won’t belabor the point here. I have fully immersed myself in the Latin Rite, learning Latin and teaching myself to pray in Latin. The experience of stepping into the deep stream of the historic worship of the Latin Church has been very rewarding and deeply humbling.
And yet, I have always been attracted to the East. I lean toward them theologically as well. While I love the deep, contemplative rigor of the Latin Rite, it has always felt…what’s the word…sterile. By that I mean it is very organized and structured and rigid. I’m not saying that is wrong. I love the rigidity of it, actually. By nature and practice I tend to be very disciplined and rigid in my own life so the unchanging nature of the Latin Mass is appealing to me.
I say all of this because I experienced something yesterday that I want to talk a bit about. I was finally able, at the invitation of a dear friend, to attend a Byzantine Catholic Church. For the record, I didn’t know until fairly recently that such a thing existed. I assumed that all the churches in the East were either Orthodox or Roman Catholic. What do they say about assuming….?
Anyways, my buddy and I attended St. Athanasius Byzantine Catholic Church for Divine Liturgy yesterday. How ironic, that the church is named after my confirmation saint…We walked into the church and I knew instantly that this would be unlike anything I had ever experienced. The priest and cantor were praying Matins. Well, I say praying. They were chanting the prayers.
The whole setting literally felt like I had just stepped out of our world and into another realm, another time and place (think about the wardrobe in Narnia). There were dozens upon dozens of beautiful and serene icons all over the church. At the “front” was an iconostasis, a wall with three gates. It was bedecked with icons. The center gate was golden and flowery, with a red curtain drawn behind it. I could hear someone (the priest) behind the wall chanting and singing and I heard bells constantly ringing. Not loud and clanging, but tingling bells almost like sleigh bells constantly ringing. I wondered what was making that noise and didn’t have long to guess. The priest came out from the left side gate and was swinging a censer that was billowing incense. The bells were attached to the censer. It was a melodious and intriguing sound.
A deacon, noticing that we looked a little lost, came over and introduced himself to us. He was most kind and engaging and helpful in explaining some things. He informed us also on the symbolism of all that we were seeing. The icons were representative of the saints and great cloud of witnesses. The iconostasis and the sanctuary behind it symbolically represented heaven and the nave represented earth. Other than that, he said, “I wouldn’t necessarily try to keep up. Just observe. You are all free to receive the Eucharist so long as you are in good standing with the Church, as we are in communion with Rome.”
As the Divine Liturgy began, it was a sensory overload. The icons, the incense, the processions, the chanting and singing back and forth between priest, deacon, cantor and congregation, the bowing, the gates of the sanctuary being opened and closed; it was an entirely immersive experience. It was truly wonderful to be there. It felt exactly as I would imagine it would feel to be immersed in the worship scene around the throne of God in St. John’s Apocalypse. We stood almost the entire liturgy. The priest’s homily was powerful and timely.
It was at once ethereal yet earthly, transcendent yet palpable, symbolically rich yet easily accessible. It really was precisely the opposite experience of a Roman Mass and a remarkable experience of joining with the saints in glory in worship. Where the Roman Mass feels austere and severe (I don’t say that to be critical), the Byzantine Liturgy was rich and stunningly sensory. I found myself, after receiving the Eucharist, to be very emotional.
After the Liturgy, we were invited by the small congregation to have lunch with them. The people were so warm and friendly and welcoming. We will definitely return to that parish soon. I learned something yesterday.
The Church needs the East. She needs the East for the rich diversity and splendor of her Liturgy. She needs the West for the structure and discipline that so characterizes it. The Church, the Body of Christ, needs to breathe with both lungs, East and West.
Let us embrace one another and not be afraid of our differences. They make the Body of Christ rich and deep! Thanks be to God for His grace to us in our diversity!
Ever play the game “Risk?” It’s a board game in which you basically try to militarily take over the world. There’s a lot of strategy and planning that you must do. Sometimes you have to be sneaky. You may have to, when you’re trying to invade and take someone’s country away from them, give ‘em the old head fake: Make it look like you’re doing something different than what you’re doing. Trick them, in other words.
I really believe this has happened, in a way, in the Church. The analogy won’t be perfect, but you’ll see what I mean as we go.
There is a battle going on right now in the Church. It’s been going on for a while, but people are really talking about it a lot now. This battle is truly a battle for the soul of the Church. Most of you probably don’t even recognize that it’s going on, understand it or think it’s a big deal. If you don’t recognize it or think it’s a big deal, this is your call to wake up! If you don’t understand it, I’m going to try and explain a little bit in this post of what has been happening in the Church for the last 50-60 years. In fairness, there has always been a battle in the Church. This is nothing new to Christianity.
For example, in the 4th century, there was a bishop (started out as a deacon) named Athanasius. He was pretty much the only bishop in Christendom that stood up against Arianism. He paid dearly for standing up to the heretics in the Church. He was exiled five times during his ministry, mostly for standing up to heretics and his unwavering defense of the true Catholic faith. He is my hero and my confirmation saint.
Christianity has always had its controversies and problems. All those problems have come from the people who claim to be part of the Church. The Church, as founded by Christ, given to the Apostles and passed on to the faithful has never changed. Neither has the practice of the faith. Sure, there have been some things more clearly articulated over time and dogmas defined but the faith has not changed. Neither has the practice of the faith. Again, some things have been adjusted over time, but the practice of the faith and the worship of the Church has remained largely unchanged over the last two thousand years.
Until, of course, the 1950s-1970s.
I want to say this again. The Church (the actual Church) and her worship has remained largely intact and unchanged over the last two millennia.
Don’t believe me? Go to a traditional Latin Mass. What you will find there is the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the liturgical worship of the Church which has remained mostly unchanged since the Mass was translated into Latin from Greek in the 3rd century.
Go to a typical Novus Ordo parish and your experience will not be the same. In fact, I submit to you (I know I say this a lot, but some things need to be said until people pay attention) that they are actually two different religions. Now, as soon as I said that, some of you will be instantly triggered and push back on me. So, what I want to do is give you the words of those in the past who have said this. You can hear from the sources themselves instead of me.
The man most responsible for the liturgical “reform” post Vatican II was Archbishop Annibale Bugnini. He was the secretary of the commission that worked on the reform of the Catholic liturgy after Vatican II.
A quick note here. This is not an attack on Vatican II. While the council had its problems, the documents themselves, while in places a bit ambiguous, are not necessarily heterodox. In fact, one of the documents produced by the council talking about the liturgy said this,
“In faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity, that she wishes to preserve them in the future and foster them in every way.”
Pope St John XXIII said repeatedly that Latin was to be retained and given pride of place. I will refer you to the website, https://www.prayinglatin.com/why-pray-in-latin, where you will find plenty of quotes on this.
Back to Bugnini. He was the primary architect of what is now called the Novus Ordo. What was he hoping to accomplish by the so-called “reform” of the liturgy? Well, according to him (March 19, 1965),
“We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren; that is, for the Protestants.”
On the surface you may read that and think, ‘Oh that’s nice, he wants to reach the Protestants.’
But let’s look a little deeper. Look at his language.
"Strip” from our prayers everything which can be a shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren. First and foremost, if Christ Himself founded the Church (and He did) and the Apostles passed on what He had given them (and they did), is there not then only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? Therefore, if there is only One Church, the Protestants are not our brethren. They are truly outside the Church. They cannot be our brethren. It is not possible to be outside the Church and be the brethren of the Church. In fact, it was St. Cyprian who said in AD 251, “No one can have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”
Bugnini’s statement is false on its face. Either he was lying about what he was hoping to accomplish, or he was hopelessly lost in what he thinks the Church is. If the Church is One, there is no such thing as “separated brethren.” Either you are in the Church or you are not. Either way, his statement is ludicrous.
Let us consider the Council of Trent. Session VII, Canon XIII states,
“If any one saith, that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, wont to be used in the solemn administration of the sacraments, may be contemned, or without sin be omitted at pleasure by the ministers, or be changed, by every pastor of the churches, into other new ones; let him be anathema.” (emphasis mine)
Read that again. And again.
Or, Session XXII, Canon IX of the Council of Trent,
“If any one saith, that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or, that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only; or, that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice, for that it is contrary to the institution of Christ; let him be anathema.” (emphasis mine)
Let them be anathema.
The so-called reform of the liturgy resulting in the Novus Ordo, according to the Council of Trent, the shining example of Catholic teaching, is anathema. It’s a colossal head fake. Rather than giving us a “new spring” of Catholicism, these revolutionaries spat in the face of the Church and of Her founder, Jesus Christ. They torpedoed the worship of the Church and it has all but destroyed the Catholic Church and Her faith. Whether or not they did it on purpose, you be the judge. The results of their revolution speak for itself. This cannot be said clearly enough.
Even Pope Paul VI, commenting on the new liturgy, said,
“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 profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, Gregorian chant.” (emphasis mine)
“We are parting with the speech of Christian centuries, we are becoming profane intruders…” This is the Pope saying this! And yet he let it happen. It’s unconscionable.
Father Joseph Gelineau, an enthusiastic proponent of the postconciliar revolution was at least honest when he said,
“To tell the truth it is a different liturgy of the Mass. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists. It has been destroyed.” (emphasis mine)
Cardinal Ottaviani, speaking to Pope Paul VI, had this to say about the new liturgy,
“It is evident that the Novus Ordo has no intention of presenting the faith as taught by the Council of Trent, to which, nonetheless, the Catholic conscience is bound forever. With the promulgation of the Novus Ordo, the loyal Catholic is thus faced with a most tragic alternative.” (emphasis mine)
Tragic indeed. To actually be Catholic or to be something else. And what is that something else?
Archbishop Lefebvre tells us,
“The Novus Ordo Missae, even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rites…is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith.” (emphasis mine)
That something else is poison harmful to the faith.
The tragic alternative faced by the Church is whether to be Catholic or not. I know that sounds “out there” or extreme for some of you reading this. Go back and read these words again, some of them from the Pope (or Popes) at the time and from the guy who actually wrote the Novus Ordo. Then, attend both Masses. Sit back and ask yourself this question: What is this Mass communicating to me? All that happens within the Mass is communicating something. Go to both and ask yourself that question and observe. Leave your prejudices and preferences behind. Pray that Christ would show you what He has for you in the Mass.
I know this has been long and you may have to read it in a couple of sittings. But, if you are Catholic, you cannot ignore this. We must reclaim our Church, brothers and sisters. We must turn back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We must. If we do not, our Church will become even more unrecognizable than it already is.
May God grant us the grace to turn back!