It is becoming increasingly necessary for Catholics to take notice of and respond to the near-monopoly held by traditionalists on the story of the Vatican II liturgical reforms. As I noted in an article a couple of weeks ago, much of the traditionalists’ revisionist narrative is rooted in the writing of the German scholar Klaus Gamber (1919-1989), whose Die Reform der römischen Liturgie serves as the starting point for many popular anti-reform notions, such as the idea that “the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI created a de facto new rite” (p. 39). Gamber also describes the pre-Vatican II liturgy as “the ‘Roman Rite’ in contrast with the ‘Modern Rite'” (p. 24). He also called into question the pope’s authority to reform the liturgy.

Taken as a whole, Gamber’s text is filled with questionable statements that have fueled the polemics of traditionalists for decades. Whether in bizarre assertions like, “It most certainly is not the function of the Holy See to introduce Church reforms” (p. 38) or litanies of complaints such as, “What exactly-was to be gained with all the petty changes? Was it just to realize the pet ideas of some liturgy experts at the expense of a rite founded on a tradition of 1,500 years? Or are these changes to be understood as the deliberate destruction of the traditional order?” (p. 58), reading Gamber’s text has been a revelatory experience. It has provided context for the arguments of today’s postmodern traditionalists, as well as context for the talking points they endlessly repeat.

The thesis behind Mass of the Ages Episode 2 is also found in the book: “the changes reflected in the Ordo Missae of 1969 went far beyond what the Council had intended, and also beyond what modern pastoral care of the faithful required” (p.46). In a tirade against St. Paul VI, Gamber’s book also argues for something akin to Summorum Pontificum: “Even the threat of a new schism—the Lefebvre case—could not move him to have the traditional ritus Romanus at least coexist with the new rite—a simple gesture of pluralism, and inclusiveness, which, in our day and age, certainly would have been the politic thing to do” (p. 45).

Gamber concludes his critique of the liturgical reforms with what might be described as a war cry on par with Peter Kwasniewski’s most melodramatic tirades:

What we need today is a new Athanasius, a new Basil, bishops like those who in the fourth century courageously fought against Arianism when almost the whole of Christendom had succumbed to the heresy. We need saints today who can unite those whose faith has remained firm so that we might fight error and rouse the weak and vacillating from their apathy.


In the final analysis, this means that in the future the traditional rite of the Mass must be retained in the Roman Catholic Church, and not only as a means to accommodate older priests and lay people, but as the primary liturgical form lar the celebration of Mass. It must become once more the noriit of our faith and the symbol of Catholic unity throughout the world, a rock of stability in a period of upheaval and never-ending change (p. 113-114).

The sad irony is that as much as Gamber complained about the liturgical reforms, he was almost a moderate when compared with much of the anti-papal, anything-but-traditional, neo-Protestant extremism found in traditionalism today. Even he expressed concerns about the traditionalist movement, writing, “We cannot and must not leave the fight for the preservation and re-establishment of the traditional liturgy of the Mass to a small group of fanatics who reject outright even those liturgical reforms demanded by the last Council, reforms which are justified such as the use of the local vernacular in some situations.” (p. 113). He did not consider Sacrosanctum Concilium itself to have been a disaster, as today’s “restorationists” do.

Despite his “centrist” position, his work seems to be a gateway for many “Reform-of-the-Reform” Catholics as they drift toward more radical (and schismatic) forms of traditionalism. Which is why I am grateful for “Papal Responses to the Emergence of the TLM Movement,” the fourth installment in a series of articles on the reform of the liturgy by John Cavadini, Mary Healy, Thomas Weinandy in Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal (CLJ). These three theologians provide the history and the reasons behind the liturgical reforms, providing documentation. Their work is very effective in its refutation of the story presented by opponents of the conciliar reforms. They write:

Some who promote the Tridentine Mass argue that it is the “Mass of the Ages” and is therefore sacrosanct. What they fail to realize that 400 years is not a long time in ecclesial terms. Do they really expect that hundreds of years from now the Tridentine Mass will still be celebrated, even unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of history? The Novus Ordo will undergo its own renewal in coming centuries, and more than likely there will then be some who want to return to the “Vetus Ordo.” The Church’s tradition, of which the liturgy is a constitutive element, is not frozen in time but is a living tradition that develops with the help of the Holy Spirit, in fidelity to the deposit of faith.

They also address some of the popular talking points used to argue against the reforms, such as the idea that the Tridentine rite cannot be reformed because it is the Mass that nourished centuries of saints:

Others contend that the Tridentine Mass could not have been in need of reform because it was the liturgy celebrated by thousands of saints through the centuries. In fact, all liturgies celebrated prior to the eschaton are in a sense “flawed,” in that they have not achieved their heavenly perfection. They are, however, not flawed in that they enact their intended purpose: participating in the one saving sacrifice of Jesus and becoming one with him in Holy Communion. Thus, many of the faithful became saints prior to the Tridentine Mass, beginning with the apostles. And many today have already become saints in celebrating the Novus Ordo, including John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Just as the Church grows in her understanding of doctrine, including liturgical doctrine, so her enactment of that truth in the liturgy becomes more fully actualized.

It goes without saying that Pope Paul VI, the pope who promulgated the revised liturgy is a canonized saint as well (despite what Protestant-minded Catholics might think). So is St. Oscar Romero, who concelebrated a misa única — one Mass in the entire archdiocese on Sunday, March 20, 1977 at the Cathedral in San Salvador. All the priests and tens of thousands of people came together came in unity just days after the slaying of the Salvadoran martyrs. Romero himself would be martyred just a few years later.

Furthermore, two Catholics born since the council have already been beatified: Blesseds Chiara Badano (1971-1990) and Carlo Acutis (1991-2006). It goes without saying that many Eastern Catholic saints never experienced any form of the Roman Rite, and neither did the Apostles and most of the early Church Fathers.

They also reinforce the notion that Pope Benedict XVI, who accepted many of Gamber’s ideas, was an outlier on the subject of liturgy when compared to the other popes since the Council. We know that St. Paul VI intended the universal implementation of the reforms to the liturgy, with some exceptions made for elderly priests for private Mass (a similar allowance was made following the promulgation of the new English translation of the Missal in 2011). What many don’t realize is that John Paul II was in no way a fan of returning to the older form of the liturgy, and he found the rise of the traditionalist movement to be increasingly frustrating. This is evident in the authors’ discussion of his allowance of the antecedent form on a limited basis:

Significantly, John Paul sees himself addressing a pastoral “problem,” not encouraging and supporting a development that he wishes to bless. That such is the case is found in the conditions he places on celebrating the Tridentine Mass. First, it must “be made publicly clear beyond all ambiguity that such priests and their respective faithful in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970.” Second, these celebrations “must be made only for the benefit of those groups that request it; in churches and oratories indicated by the bishop (not, however, in parish churches, unless the bishop permits it in extraordinary cases); and on the days and under the conditions fixed by the bishop either habitually or in individual cases.” Third, such celebrations “must be according to the 1962 Missal and in Latin,” and fourth, there “must be no interchanging of texts and rites of the two Missals.” Lastly, every ordinary “must inform this Congregation of the concessions granted by him, and at the end of a year from the granting of this indult, he must report on the result of its application.” The circular letter concludes: “This concession, indicative of the common Father’s solicitude for all his children, must be used in such a way as not to prejudice the faithful observance of the liturgical reform in the life of the respective ecclesial communities.”

Unfortunately, Pope Benedict XVI, despite good intentions, completely underestimated the level of extremism that saturates the traditionalist movement, and he promulgated Summorum Pontificum in 2007. Gamber’s theories were finally put to the test. And the traditionalist movement failed miserably. As Archbishop Augustine Di Noia put it last year, “The TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) movement has hijacked the initiatives of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to its own ends.” He went on to say, “The decisive point is there for all to behold: the evident and ongoing betrayal of the intentions of the two pontiffs who permitted the celebration of the 1962 Missal to draw traditionalists back into the unity of the church.” Di Noia explained that the message Pope Francis sent with the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes (which abrogated Summorum Pontificum), “is that the TLM movement is working for objectives that are precisely contrary to what St. John Paul and Benedict XVI hoped for.”

The authors of the CLJ article go even further, suggesting that Benedict’s actions undermined Benedict’s hermeneutic of reform in continuity:

In normalizing the Tridentine Mass, Benedict undermined the principle by which, as he himself insists, Vatican II must be interpreted: a hermeneutic of continuity. This principle rightly recognizes that what was liturgically and doctrinally indispensable in the previous rite is carried over into the renewed ordinary form of the Roman liturgy. By reestablishing the extraordinary form, Benedict unwittingly employed a hermeneutic of discontinuity, as if the revised rite were not in continuity with the old. Significantly, some traditionalists argue precisely this: that the principle of discontinuity necessitates the reinstatement of the Tridentine Mass, because the Novus Ordo wrongly exceeded the Council’s mandate to reform the liturgy—or, as some argue, the Council’s reform was a break with ecclesial tradition in the first place.

When we look at the language used by Pope Francis in Traditionis Custodes and his Apostolic Letter Desiderio Desideravi, his tone is firm but arguably more pastoral and accommodating than Saints John Paul II and Paul VI were to the traditionalist movement. And, of course we can’t forget that he left Summorum Pontificum alone for the first eight years of his papacy. Perhaps his decision to intercede was abrupt, but there’s no question that traditionalist leaders squandered a golden opportunity to demonstrate that their movement has any place in the Church.

Image: Adobe Stock. By Patrick.

Discuss this article!

Keep the conversation going in our SmartCatholics Group! You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Liked this post? Take a second to support Where Peter Is on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

Share via
Copy link