EVER WILL I FORGET what our Pastor told me years ago: “Jeff, stop looking at disciplinary decrees of the Church as if they were equal to infallible declarations of Faith and Morals. Many disciplinary Church laws are bad or become outdated. For this reason, they are often replaced with new laws.”
This came as a revelation to me, during that period of my life.
Years later, another priest (who worked for four different Popes) explained the concept of Legal Positivism with regard to Church laws. Legal Positivism basically says that anything allowed or tolerated is automatically good. Legal Positivism is false, wrong, bad. If what I’m saying sounds bizarre to you, read this superb article by Fr. Georg May, a Canon lawyer who (incidentally) faithfully heard Confessions every Saturday, even after the Second Vatican Council:
I wonder what Fr. Georg May would have said about the following quote, spoken by Pope Paul VI regarding his changes to the Roman Missal:
“You know the Roman saying — one Pope approves and another disapproves, and I don’t want anyone coming along after me and restoring everything to the present status quo.”
According to Annibale Bugnini, the Pope spoke these words in January of 1968. On the other hand, Bugnini is often not a reliable source of information, so I suppose we’ll never know if Pope Paul VI truly spoke those words.
Now, here’s my whole point:
THE SAINTS WERE NOT LEGALISTIC. They prayed. They responded to God’s Will. The reforming saints never said, “anything permitted is automatically good.” They looked at the true, beautiful, holy Catholic traditions and teachings and passed them on. For example, if Abbot Pothier had been content with the “approved” editions, we might still be singing from the Editio Medicæa.
So, the lesson is: avoid legal positivism. Look for what is true, beautiful, and holy, like the saints did. Take these things as your model. Don’t look for loopholes (more on this below).
WE BEGAN THIS SERIES noting that those who hate traditional Catholic music often twist Ecclesiastical decrees. We examined in particular this false statement:
“The Second Vatican Council said Gregorian chant has pride of place only with regard to Masses celebrated in Latin.”
It is interesting to consider how the people making this (false) argument would respond to questions like these:
“How well are you following the documents of the Council? Are you singing the Creed? The Council says you should be. Are you maintaining the difference between Low Mass and High Mass? The Council says you should be. If you’re in a monastery, are you chanting the office in Latin? Pope Paul VI, in Sacrificium Laudis, says you should be.”
The point is, people who twist the documents usually ignore the sections they dislike.
WE CANNOT, in such a small article as this, treat every point. There’s simply too much. We could talk about what Pope John XXIII said in Veterum Sapientia. We could talk about what Pope Paul VI said in Sacrificium Laudis. We could go on and on. We could type until our fingers fall off.
Let me share one more thing before calling it a day. I think Susan Benofy hit the nail on the head when she wrote in an article:
This illustrates a familiar (and highly effective) technique used by those who pushed for radical implementation of the reform. A practice, often one which had been explicitly rejected for general use, would be requested for “pastoral” reasons for a particular situation. Once permission was granted, liturgists would employ the innovation in other situations. Then its “widespread use” becomes an argument for general approval. […]
What it did do was to establish a principle that other texts could be substituted for the official Proper. The Simple Gradual itself was rarely used, but the principle of substituting new texts, which Monsignor Frederick McManus saw as its primary significance, was used to replace the Proper with other songs.
Readers are probably sick of me talking about that section, but understanding the post-Conciliar destruction of the Mass Propers is crucial. Getting rid of them was absolutely opposed to the true spirit of Vatican II and the Liturgical movement. The Vatican II Consilium said this was “cheating the people.” The more I read about it, the more astounding I find it. How could such a thing happen? It helps to learn that people who lived through this period were deeply troubled about these types of issues. For instance, Msgr. Richard J. Schuler wrote in 1977:
It seems almost incredible that only ten years ago the Church was ordering that “in accordance with the norm of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the centuries old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained for clerics in celebrating the divine office in choir.”
This article is part of a series: