The Traditional Mass: A Treasure Rediscovered
Cari amici di Duc in altum, Peter Kwasniewski ha tradotto in inglese e proposto su rorate-caeli.blogspot.com il testo del mio intervento del 28 ottobre scorso all’Istituto patristico Augustinianum di Roma per l’incontro che si è svolto su iniziativa dell’associazione Oremus-Paix Liturgique.
“The Traditional Mass: A Treasure Rediscovered”: Translation of Aldo Maria Valli’s Speech at Pax Liturgica in Rome
The following speech was given at the Pax Liturgica conference on Friday, October 28, 2022, at the start of the Populus Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage weekend. Mr. Valli graciously sent me the text for translation and publication at Rorate Caeli.
“The Traditional Mass—The Rediscovered Treasure”
Aldo Maria Valli
Rome, October 28, 2022
I wish to speak to you about the ancient Mass — but perhaps it would be better to call it the Mass of Ages — as a rediscovered treasure. A precious pearl, a priceless treasure long hidden from generations of Catholics, including myself, but finally rediscovered, by divine grace and the commitment of so many courageous believers.
We believed, because we were told so, that the “new” Mass was just a translation of the “old” one, to make it understandable. We discovered that the Mass of St. Pius V, the Mass of all the Popes up to Paul VI, needed no translation at all, because with its gestures, its signs, its sublime texts, its silences, it went straight to the heart. There was no need to explain it. Like the burning bush, like the flames on the apostles at Pentecost, it is a clear sign of the Mystery that speaks to us. Mystery of light and redemption.
We also discovered that the “new” Mass, the Mass of Paul VI, has little to say, although it says it in the vernacular. For it is not a matter of words, but it is a matter of Faith. For many of us it was a painful discovery and we wondered why no one ever, and for so long, told us about the hidden treasure.
The Vetus Ordo Mass was called the “extraordinary form” with the intention of highlighting its marginality. And instead the formula, paradoxically, is apt, because this Mass is indeed extraordinary not only in form, but in substance. In its fidelity to doctrine and liturgy, it is extraordinarily beautiful, rich in meaning, even moving. While the other is as “ordinary” as something in common use can be, to which one does not, after all, give too much importance or attach great value.
This hidden treasure, concealed from most, we find today confined in almost unknown churches and at times kept secret, as if attending such a rite were dangerous, as if we should almost be ashamed. Yet, despite the religious and social stigma that has burdened the Mass of our fathers, of our ancestors, for fifty years, more and more people are approaching it and are saying that, once rediscovered, this is a treasure they never want to leave again. They say this with the incredulous amazement of the little ones, not with the prosopopeia of the “experts.” And they derive from it serenity, joy, a sense of completeness, an authentic growth of faith: quite the opposite — I say this with much regret — of what one derives from the “new” Mass, which one often comes out of saddened and restless.
In the Vetus Ordo Mass, the Mass of Ages, everything is sacred, everything speaks of God, everything turns to God and returns powerfully from God. Everything is extraordinary because the Eucharistic sacrifice is not and cannot be something ordinary. Because one enters a different, higher, more solemn dimension. Because one enters a space and time that is not and cannot be the weekday, everyday space and time. Because in front of the Eucharistic sacrifice it is spontaneous to kneel down and let the Mystery itself speak. Excluded is any human protagonism — a protagonism that is instead characteristic of the “new” Mass, designed to celebrate man, not to give glory to God.
I want to point out that I, born in 1958, grew up in the post-conciliar Church and for long years knew nothing about the earlier Mass. I vaguely remember the priest facing the tabernacle, with his back to the faithful, and then, at the time of the homily, I remember him there, high up on the elevated pulpit (later no longer used). But these are, indeed, very vague memories, because I was a child of a few years.
Nevertheless, the Lord was good and allowed me to meet good priests, such as the coadjutor of the oratory I attended as a young boy. I say this to emphasize that my remarks are not prompted by a sense of revenge or controversy. On the contrary, I am grateful to the Lord for all He has given me and for letting me grow in the Church (in my case Ambrosian). However, I have no difficulty in saying that since Divine Providence made me discover the ancient Mass, a wonderful world of divine grace has opened to me.
In my blog Duc in altum I have collected numerous testimonies of people who have discovered the Ancient Mass after knowing nothing about it for years and years or having only heard about it vaguely. Through mysterious and unpredictable paths, Providence, just as it happened to me, led these people to a church, introduced them to a friend or a priest, and here is the miracle of rediscovery. These are people of all ages and social backgrounds. Different educational qualifications, different paths in life. There are men and women, people who have grown in faith and others who have converted precisely because of the discovery of this hidden treasure. A common refrain is: “It’s like coming home.” For here is true welcome, not that of those who make welcome an ideology.
That expression, “coming home,” is used mostly by converts who write to me to tell their stories. I have never heard a convert say that he or she has been carried into the Catholic Church because of a good diocesan pastoral program or as a result of a certain synod of bishops or by virtue of a discourse on dialogue or collegiality. One returns or lands in the Catholic Church because one is seeking Beauty and Truth. Because one is seeking God, or perhaps God catches you by surprise when you least expect it. And it is precisely in the Mass of Ages that these people feel truly welcomed.
To those who argue that God can be found everywhere and therefore, after all, the liturgy is not that important, converts have the most effective responses. Many quotations could be offered from, for example, Newman or Chesterton. But here I would like to recall the phrase of a lesser-known convert, Thomas Howard, who wrote: “It is in the physical world that the intangible meets us.” I think here the American writer captures the meaning of two thousand years of liturgy. Precisely what the novelty-mongers do not understand, or do not want to understand, who, by their neglect of the liturgy, easily fall into a spiritualism that has nothing Christian or, in particular, Catholic about it.
Before conversion, Howard explains, “I believed that Christian truth should be kept incorporeally. It was for my heart, not for my eyes.” But we are body and soul. As the popular adage goes, the eye wants its share. Spiritualists, despising matter and corporeality, do not want a purer man, closer to God because he is almost disembodied: they want to invent an “inner man” in their own image and likeness.
Among the many testimonies I have received about the discovery of the Mass of Ages there are numerous ones from young people. They say that the discovery of the hidden treasure came at times by virtue of an indistinct call, at other times out of a sense of dissatisfaction and incompleteness. There comes a day when one enters a church and there is the surprise: an unfamiliar and seemingly incomprehensible ritual, yet it is precisely the answer one was searching for. Something that gives relief and spiritual guidance, something that makes you grow in faith. As a young woman once told me, even those who usually struggle to concentrate and pray at Mass, when they discover the ancient Mass, are caught up in the sacred and time no longer exists. There is only adoration, prayer, thanksgiving. And there is no need at all for someone to narrate to you what is going on.
Even the seemingly outward details matter. The liturgical robes (no priests and deacons wearing gym shoes), the carefully crafted hymns so different from everyday music, the women wearing veils, the faithful on their knees. “I felt happy,” that young woman told me. “The hymns, though I didn’t understand their meaning, rose with such grace toward heaven that I was sure my prayers were ascending with them. And the homily, though it reached me like a slap in the face, gave me great relief.”
And here’s what Anna says: “When I first attended the Vetus Ordo Mass, I felt as if a nostalgia emerged in me. But not of something I had already seen, because I had never attended this kind of Mass. The nostalgia I felt came from deep within, it was like the emergence of something that had been inside me all along. The rite of the ancient Mass reaches more to the heart than that of the reformed Mass. It pains me to say it, but the latter feels empty. I am not saying that it is empty; I am saying that it conveys this feeling to me. I immediately told several friends about it and took them to the ancient Mass for them to try as well. Some of them, nonbelievers, were very impressed and told me they felt a presence…”
And Andrew: “It was my son, until then not so religious, who called me on December 8 six years ago and said, ‘Dad, I witnessed something beautiful!’ It was the Mass in the ancient rite, the sung Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. So we began to attend the Vetus Ordo Mass together and I now no longer go to the Novus Ordo, which has become, especially after the antics introduced by Covid, really indigestible.”
And Piero: “When I can, I travel eighty kilometers to go and as many kilometers to return and attend the traditional Holy Mass. Something mysterious envelops me and I enter ‘into the cloud’. I am a child of a rational culture and I am not a sentimentalist. I have begun to study the substantial differences between the ritual of the ages, of my ancestors, and that of the so-called Novus Ordo, and now understand, in part, why, when I participate in the latter, I remain almost detached and often tense. On the other hand, I do not understand how it can be that so many priests and, worse, bishops, do not perceive this.”
A final testimony, “The traditional Mass! What a wonderful gift! The differences I saw between the Tridentine Mass and the post-conciliar Mass to which I was (wearily) accustomed were, from the very beginning, merciless: on the one hand the solemnity of a celebration in which the center is the Eucharistic Sacrifice and every gesture of the alter Christus, every word and every song are made perfect by Faith. On the other hand, the modern Mass, in which the center is no longer the Sacrifice but the boring sermon of the ‘president of the assembly,’ in which there are songs that do not elevate but distract and divert, an altar that no longer appears to be such but has become a ‘table,’ and Communion received standing and on the hand, without respect and devotion. Then you think, ‘But where have I lived until now? And what have I missed?’ In these three years I have seen at least a doubling of the number of people attending the traditional Mass, and I am not surprised. There are also many young people, and in the sanctuary, with the priest celebrant, four to seven altar boys, and we know that serving the old Mass is not at all easy.”
With such testimonies I could go on and on. They are all like this, full of awe and gratitude, but also of a deep regret for the time that passed before rediscovering the treasure. It is striking that although they come from ordinary faithful, very often lacking specific preparation in the theological, doctrinal, and liturgical fields, these reflections are deeply in tune with the observations that, from the very beginning, in 1969 — the same year as the promulgation of the new missal — were authoritatively made by those who denounced the process of Protestantization implemented with the liturgical reform and sounded the alarm about the impending disaster.
I also report that I receive many requests from people asking where they can receive Communion on the tongue and complaining that in their parishes, it is often denied (an obvious abuse of existing liturgical law). I remember a letter from a lady who, having asked the priest to receive Communion on the tongue, was not only denied it but was told, “What is it with you traditionalists? Why are you so fixated?” Words that speak for themselves and explain many things, especially regarding the training priests receive.
Now the question is: Why strike, marginalizem and try to eliminate the Mass of ages since, although so persecuted, it continues to bear such beautiful and copious fruits of faith? Why has this Mass been taken away from us by authority?
The answers may be many. I am reminded, first of all, of what the devil Screwtape writes to Wormwood: “One of our great allies at present is the Church itself” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters). But perhaps the Everlasting Mass has been targeted for elimination because, if the church leaders had simply placed the reformed Mass alongside it, certainly the latter would gradually attract fewer and fewer. The Apostolic Everlasting Mass is so profoundly and authentically Catholic that it inevitably exposes the counterfeits implemented by those who say they are Catholic but are not.
In the Mass of Ages there is no need to invite actuosa participatio and there is nothing to “animate” (when I hear talk of “animation” of the Mass, I smile bitterly). In the Mass of Ages one has only to kneel before the mysterium tremendum. But to kneel down, to recognize ourselves as sinners before God, it is necessary to be humble, getting rid of one’s pride, of the protagonism and vanity that leads one to show off — the protagonism that instead dominates unchallenged in the modernist camp, marked by the claim to “make” the Church.
That is why, once you have rediscovered the Mass of Ages, the “new” Mass causes you discomfort: you are in the presence of a distortion, a caricature. You feel that you have nothing to do with that empty sentimentality, that rite that often seems to take place to give glory not to God but, under the guise of God, to man.
Now, since the treasure we have rediscovered, despite all the efforts made by those who would have liked and still want to keep it hidden, is the patrimony of the Church, of the faithful, and of all humanity thirsting for truth, charity, and transcendence, we must be aware that we are entitled to a restitutio in integrum [full and complete restoration]. Let us not tire of pointing out the iniquity of abuse, even if the abuse comes from the highest authority.
I want to quote some passages from the letter that Cardinals Alfredo Ottaviani and Antonio Bacci wrote to Paul VI to present their famous Short Critical Examination of the Novus Ordo Missae. The two cardinals wrote that the Novus Ordo represents “both as a whole and in its particulars, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Holy Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Tridentine Council, which, by definitively fixing the ‘canons’ of the rite, erected an impassable barrier against any heresy that would affect the integrity of the Mystery.”
They then specified: “The pastoral reasons adduced in support of such a very serious rupture — even if, in the face of doctrinal reasons, they had a right to exist — do not appear sufficient. That so much novelty appears in the Novus Ordo Missae and, on the other hand, the perennial finds therein only a minor place, if at all, could give strength of certainty to the doubt — already unfortunately permeating numerous circles — that truths always believed by the Christian people can change or be silenced without infidelity to the sacred doctrinal deposit to which the Catholic faith is bound in eternity.”
“The recent reforms,” the two cardinals continued, “have sufficiently demonstrated that the new changes in the liturgy would lead to the partial if not total disorientation of the faithful, who are already showing signs of impatience and diminution of faith. In the better part of the clergy, this takes the form of a torturing crisis of conscience of which we have countless daily testimonies.”
Finally, an emphasis that concerns us closely: “The subjects for whose good a law is intended, where it proves on the contrary harmful, have always had not only a right but a duty to ask the legislator, with filial confidence, for the abrogation of the law itself. We therefore beseech Your Holiness not to wish to deprive us — at a time of such painful lacerations and ever-increasing dangers to the purity of the Faith and the unity of the Church, which find daily and sorrowful echo in the voice of the common Father — of the possibility of continuing to have recourse to the fruitful integrity of that Missale Romanum of St. Pius V so highly praised by Your Holiness and so deeply venerated and loved by the whole Catholic world.”
Let us remember that Deus non irridetur [God will not be mocked]! St. Paul’s dire warning is clear. And it also concerns the liturgy. To those who still claim that “Latin cannot be understood,” I reply that there are many aids and, in any case, the idea that one has to go to Mass to “understand” is the fruit of a rationalism which, once penetrated into the Church, prevents one from being transported to the Eucharistic Mystery and giving glory to the Father.
Italian author Giovannino Guareschi, famous for his character Don Camillo, wrote unforgettable pages in defense of the Latin Mass, and he did so with biting humor against the “renewers,” those who, as Ottaviani put it, are sick with the “itch for change.”
“Latin,” Guareschi wrote, among other things, “is a precise, essential language. It will be abandoned not because it is inadequate to the new demands of progress, but because the new men will no longer be adequate to it. When the era of demagogues, of charlatans, begins, a language like Latin will no longer be able to serve the purpose, and any boor will be able with impunity to make a public speech and speak in such a way that he will not be kicked off the platform. And the secret will consist in the fact that he, taking advantage of a rough, elusive phraseology with a pleasing ‘sound’, will be able to speak for an hour without saying anything. Which is impossible with Latin.”
In the same vein, Cardinal Ottaviani explained that Latin “by its structure, by its capacity for intact and genuine synthesis, by its fixity, i.e. uncorrupted continuity, by its expressive value, is most suitable for preserving the genuine sense of any doctrine,” since it does not know “the phenomenon of the continual transformation of vernacular languages by the passage of centuries.”
I would add that Latin is the seal of the Tradition and universality of the Church, while with the vernacular the way has been opened to the abuses and particularisms of those who consider the Church to be like a human organism, always in need of adaptation.
All those who continue to take sides against the ancient ordo Missae and invent ever more vicious ways to fight it should ask themselves a simple question: Why, in spite of everything, has it not disappeared? Why are there priests and faithful who remain attached to it and strenuously defend it? And then another question: Why, despite the liturgical reform, is the Church losing faithful and vocations? And why, on the contrary, is the ancient Mass, in contrast to the pitiless statistics, attracting more and more people?
Unfortunately, these are questions that are not taken into consideration by those who have an ideological view of reality and also of the Church.
These are my poor reflections as a post-conciliar Catholic who by God’s grace has rediscovered the great hidden treasure. For this gift, Deo gratias! And for the modernists, our prayer: “Lord, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. If they do know, forgive them anyway. And make them stop getting in our way.”
L’originale in italiano è stato pubblicato da Duc in altum (qui) il 29 ottobre 2022