In our series of missals from the library of the Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration, we have so far looked at magnificent works of art from the 20th century (Maria Laach, Regensburg) and from the 18th century (the Augustinians).
Today, instead of basking in beauty, we will come face to face with the diabolic disorientation of the Church in the mid- to late 1960s, when prayers and practices of half a millennium’s duration or longer were being discarded and burned like so much chaff. Not even the Roman Canon, that ancient pristine shrine of Romanitas, was safe from this barbarian appetite for conquest, this insatiable lust for violating the sacred under the guise of “simplification” and “modernization.”
|Too much kissing!|
It is not surprising, in fact, that this massive appetite for cultural destruction paralleled the sexual revolution, and that the same generation of radicals that was dismantling the liturgy was also leaving the consecrated celibate life in droves and favoring so-called “liberation” of the id or the libido. As Augustine pointed out in The City of God, power among fallen human beings, without the grace of God, is exercised as libido dominandi, the lust for domination.
In the liturgical sphere, this took the form of standing in arrogant judgment over centuries of the most holy practices of faith and laying profane hands on a sacred inheritance, following the principle (if it can be called a principle) of “might makes right.” In the sphere of religious life, it took the form of abandoning the choral office and high Mass, casting off habits and veils, diluting constitutions, softening rules, and losing one’s supernatural identity by amalgamation with secular social work and civil rights. The so-called “superiors” who guided the process were guilty of the same libido dominandi as the liturgical revolutionaries, and left in their wake a similar post-nuclear desolation.
What was important for the Catholic radicals of the mid-twentieth century was to shatter, bit by bit, the taboo of an untouchable liturgy, an object of collective veneration transmitted from generation to generation. They started by messing with the existing prayers and rubrics, as if to say: “See what we can get away with! We haven’t been struck dead by lightning yet. You see now that all these things must be merely human inventions; we can do as we please. Suppress or invent rubrics; omit, rearrange, bawdlerize, or make up new texts; throw out the entire aesthetic of ‘awe’ and replace it with one of ‘brotherhood’ or ‘caring community’ — we must do all this and more, quickly, before our game’s called and our time’s up.” Their eventual success, more complete than they could ever have dreamed at first, is a remarkable testimony to the limits to which Divine Providence permits evil, in order to demonstrate His power in bringing forth good from it and in spite of it, as the phoenix rises from the ashes.
To me, a poignant sign of that Providence is the fact that Catholics are returning in growing numbers to the use of just those liturgical books that were placed on the butcher’s block half a century ago, and are now praying those very prayers that were canceled out and pasted over. The Benedictines have a motto: Succisa virescit — cut down, it grows back again. It’s a variation on one of the oldest sayings of all: sanguis martyrum semen christianorum. Perhaps there is a special fruitfulness in the blood that, over the centuries, so many priests and faithful have shed (literally or metaphorically) as their Catholic worship was attacked by iconoclasm, be it of the Byzantine, Protestant, or Modernist variety.
The movement to recover and restore Catholic worship cannot be eradicated. That has been tried and it failed. It can be cut down by persecution or lack of support, but its roots remain and the new growth will be taller and stronger.
Below are additional photos from this melancholy “interimized” missal.
 Before you write in the comments that the liturgy has never been untouchable and that there have been countless little changes down through the centuries, pause for a moment and ask yourself whether it is likely that I am unaware of this fact. What I am talking about is a general attitude of conservatism and respect for the liturgical rites, such that even archaic elements whose function or meaning may no longer be clear to us (or may have acquired a different, allegorical meaning over time) are jealously preserved. The trend was almost always towards retaining what had been added over the centuries; and certainly the magnitude of the modifications from the 1950s and 1960s has nothing remotely like it in the entire history of the Catholic Church.
|A comparison of two similar missals — one defaced, one unharmed|
|Comparison, take two.|
|Bracketing out some of the prayers at the foot of the altar|
|We wouldn’t want to bow our heads during the Gloria, now, would we?|
|The purging of the cross|
|Still too much kissing!|