Fr. Richard G. Cipolla, Ph.D., D. Phil.(Oxon.)
June 5, 1944
June 5, 1944
T he correspondence between Cardinal Heenan of Westminster and Evelyn Waugh before the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass is well known, in which Waugh issues a
crie de coeur about the post-Conciliar liturgy and finds a sympathetic, if ineffectual, ear in the Cardinal. What is not as well known is Cardinal Heenan’s comment to the Synod of Bishops in Rome after the experimental Mass,
Missa Normativa , was presented for the first time in 1967 to a select number of bishops. This essay was inspired by the following words of Cardinal Heenan to the assembled bishops:
At home, it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children.
What the Cardinal was referring to lies at the very heart of the Novus Ordo form of the Roman Mass and the attendant and deep problems that have afflicted the Church since the imposition of the Novus Ordo form on the Church in 1970. One might be tempted to crystallize what Cardinal Heenan experienced as the feminization of the Liturgy. But this term would be inadequate and ultimately misleading. For there is a real Marian aspect of the Liturgy that is therefore feminine. The Liturgy bears the Word of God, the Liturgy brings forth the Body of the Word to be worshipped and given as Food. A better terminology might be that in the Novus Ordo rite of Mass the Liturgy has been effeminized. There is a famous passage in Caesar’s
De bello Gallico where he explains why the
Belgae tribe were such good soldiers. He attributes this to their lack of contact with the centers of culture like the cities. Caesar believed that such contact contributes
ad effeminandos animos , to the effeminizing of their spirits. But when one talks about the effeminization of the Liturgy one risks being misunderstood as devaluing what it means to be a woman, womanhood itself. Without adopting Caesar’s rather
macho view of the effects of culture on soldiers, one certainly can speak of a devirilization of the soldier that saps his strength and resolve to do what a soldier has to do. It is not a put-down of the feminine. It rather describes the weakening of what it means to be a man.
This is the term, devirilization, that I want to use to describe what Cardinal Heenan saw that day in 1967 at the first celebration of the experimental Mass. In its Novus Ordo form, what Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio:
Summorum Pontificum somewhat cumbersomely, if understandably, calls the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite, the Liturgy has been devirilized. One must recall the meaning of the word, vir, in Latin. Both
homo mean “man”, but it is
vir alone that has the connotation of the man-hero and is the word that is often used for “husband”. The Aeneid begins with the famous words:
arma virumque cano . (“ I sing of arms and the man-hero.”) What Cardinal Heenan presciently and correctly saw in 1967 was the virtual elimination of the virile nature of the Liturgy, the replacement of masculine objectivity, necessary for the public worship of the Church, with softness, sentimentality and personalization centered on the motherly person of the priest.
The people within the Liturgy  stand in a Marian relationship to the Liturgy: attentiveness, openness, pondering, waiting to be filled. Within the Liturgy it is the priest as father who pronounces, announces and confects the Word so that the Word may become Food for those who stand within the supreme activation of the
Ecclesia that is the Liturgy. It is the priest who offers Christ to the Father, and it is this act that contains the defining role of what it means to be a priest. And so the role of the priest as father makes his role distinct not merely in function but in the very ontology of sexuality. The priest stands at the altar
in persona Christi ,
in persona Verbi facti hominem , and this not merely as
homo , which word in a sense transcends sex, but in persona Christi viri: in a sense
homo factus est ut fiat vir, ut sit vir qui destruat mortem, ut sit vir qui calcet portas inferi : God became man in order that he might be that man-hero who would destroy death and crush with his own foot the gates of hell.
The devirilization of the Liturgy and the devirilization of the priest for all practical purposes cannot be separated. In what follows I wish, however sketchily and incompletely, first to talk in more specific terms about the devirilization of the Liturgy itself in the Novus Ordo form of the Roman rite. Secondly I will address the the necessary (coming from the devirilized rite) devirilization of the priest using specific examples.
The description of the Roman liturgy using adjectives like “austere”, “concise”, “noble” and “simple,” is commonplace among many who have written about the liturgy in the modern liturgical movement of the twentieth century. Many of these writers, however, have romanticized this austerity of the Roman rite or have used it to further their own agenda of stripping the rite of the organic growth of the ages, labeling such organic growth with censorious terms like “Gallican accretions “or “useless repetitions”. Rather than denoting the Roman rite as austere, an adjective that arguably has puritan overtones, it is better to speak of the masculinity or virility of the traditional Roman rite. To do necessarily demands a definition of masculinity in this context. This is somewhat difficult, and this question needs deeper study. But I will offer several characteristics of the traditional Roman rite that help to explain what I mean about the inherent masculinity and virility in the context of that rite.
First, masculinity is opposed to sentimentality—not to sentiment, but to
sentimentality . There is an absence of any trace of sentimentality in the Traditional rite, also called the Extraordinary Form. This is seen in its collects and prayers that are succinct and to the point without sacrificing beauty of language, and in its rubrics that prevent the personality of the priest from inserting his own feelings and choices into the rite itself. If we take note of Cardinal Newman’s insight that sentimentality is the acid of religion, meaning that it destroys true religion, then the rubrics of the Traditional rite are the little purple pill that prevents the reflux of sentimentality into the liturgy.
Secondly, with the traditional Roman Mass there is the full acceptance of silence as the heart of the means of communication with God. Active participation is understood as contemplation, as prayer. The words of the rite are never the point. They are fixed. They always point beyond themselves. It is a commonplace to say that two real friends are those who can be absolutely silent in each other’s presence and know that heart speaks to heart in this silence. This is the silence of Moses before the burning bush, the silence of the Desert Fathers, the silence entered into by St. Benedict in the cave, the Sacro Speco.
Thirdly, there is the fact of the masculinity of the Latin language. This language, unlike the femininity of the Romance languages that are its offspring, is masculine in its terseness, its conciseness, its formality, its difficulty, its lack of pliancy. Even in the hands of a poet like Ovid who certainly understood and so beautifully put in practice the feminine side of Roman poetry, even there the masculinity of the language holds firm against any attempt to make it other than it is.
Fourthly, the traditional Roman rite demands, not merely in its rubrics, but in its very essence, a submission to its form. It demands a suppression of self-actualization. It is something that one chooses to enter, that one never makes over. And that choice always involves something like a heroic casting aside of the self for the greater goal, the
Fifthly, very closely linked to the fourth aspect above, the Liturgy is something given, never made. It is there to be entered into. This aspect is seen more clearly in the Eastern rites where rationalism and sentimentality have never eroded this sense of the God-given-ness of the liturgy—hence it is known in the East as “the Divine Liturgy”. This given-ness does not imply a fossil nor does it deny organic development. Nay rather, this given-ness is like a great house that has been built by the inspiration of the Spirit through the ages and that is there to be entered. The genius and the truth of Roman Guardini’s
The Spirit of the Liturgy , which inspired the present Pope, Benedict XVI, so deeply in his own understanding of the Liturgy, assumes this absolute given-ness of the Liturgy, for one cannot “play in the house of the Lord” unless the house is already there to be played in. The priest accepts the prohibition against imposing his own likes and dislikes onto the liturgy. He is willing to be called to remembrance to do what has to be done. He accepts the detachment that the Liturgy imposes, without which one cannot enter into the cosmic Liturgy that transcends time and space.
Sixthly, the liturgy is virile in its understanding of and use of ambiguous gestures like the kiss. The kiss surely finds a secure place in the realm of the erotic. And yet the kiss as a mark of respect and love for the objects used in the liturgy and for those who participate in the liturgy, as in the Kiss of Peace, purify this erotic symbol and raise it to the highest and most objective level of adoration of the presence of God in the Liturgy. I am always amused and befuddled by those who celebrate the traditional Roman Mass without the customary kisses on the grounds that they are somehow “excessive” and prone to misunderstanding. They are never excessive, as Jesus pointed out to Judas when the woman anointed his feet with precious nard. These kisses are prone to misunderstanding only if the Liturgy is shorn of its innate virility.
Finally, the liturgy is virile in its acceptance of the essential aloneness of the priest within the community that are his beloved flock that he loves and for whom he would die if called to do so. The vir priest stands alone at the altar to offer the Sacrifice for his people. He stands in the line of Melchizedek, of Moses, of Saint Paul, of St Augustine and of all those saints who did not fear to be alone with God for and with the Community, especially those who did not fear to experience the aloneness of martyrdom.
It is obvious from the above discussion concerning the masculinity and virility of the liturgy that the devirilization of the liturgy demands and results in the devirilization of the priest. I want now to examine two contexts of the devirilization of the priest: one directly a consequence of the Novus Ordo rite as widely celebrated; the other a consequence of the forgotten essential masculinity-virility of the priest.
There can be no more powerful force for the devirilization of the priest than the modern custom of saying Mass facing the people. Quite apart from its non-traditional nature, quite apart from its foundation in faulty and sentimental appeals to antiquity (against which archaeologism Pius XII warned in
Mediator Dei ), quite apart from its imposition of a terrible misunderstanding of the essence of the Mass that has made the secondary “meal” aspect of the Mass nearly eliminate the primary aspect of Sacrifice: this custom of saying Mass facing the people as a novelty without the support of Tradition has been one of the primary causes for the devirilization of the priesthood.
On one of my many stays in Italy I noticed that many of the baby strollers were built such that the baby sat in his seat and faced his mother who was pushing the stroller. This seemed strange to me, since in the United States the baby faces the same way as the mother who is pushing the stroller. When I asked a friend about this she told me that too many Italian mothers want to keep constant eye contact with the baby and to be able to smile at the child, talk in baby talk, to make sure the bond is always there between mother and child. The classic mother-child relationship is heightened almost in a perverse way by this perceived need of the mother to constantly engage her child face to face lest contact with the outside word, with “the other” will damage the relationship.
Without pretending that the above analogy is exact or complete, I would assert that the radical innovation, never mandated by the Council or by any liturgical book, of celebrating Mass with the priest facing the people, has transformed the priest’s role at the Mass from the father who leads his people to offer Sacrifice to the Father, to the mother whose eye contact and liturgical patter- banter with the people and whose sometimes deliberately silly behavior, as if the people are infants, reduces his role as priest to that of the mother of an infant. This reduction of the congregation to infants who are forced to look at the mother-priest prevents them from seeing beyond him to God who is being worshipped in the presence of the cosmic sacrifice of Christ.
To use another secular analogy: the Mass facing the people is reduced to a high school assembly where everyone has a role to play under the direction of the priest as Mother Principal, she who makes sure that all things go smoothly. This is described by some liturgists as the “horizontal” dimension of the liturgy, as opposed to the “vertical” dimension that provides the sense of transcendence. This is ultimately empty talk, for it supposes that the liturgy is under the control of the priest and ministers and that one of their functions is to make sure that both dimensions are present and are somehow in balance.
It is clear that this whole approach denies deeply the “given-ness” of the liturgy and its focus on the worship of God in praise and sacrifice. The rubrics of the Novus Ordo encourage this radically untraditional understanding of the Liturgy with the constant weakening of its rubrical instructions with words like “or in some other words”, “or in some other manner” and “or as is the local custom”. Quite apart from the romantic looking back to St Justin Martyr’s phrase with reference to the celebrant of the Mass offering thanksgiving “according to his ability” as somehow the norm; quite apart from the questionable notion of imagining that the priest is able to draw from the Tradition or from his own sense of Liturgy to supplement or fill out what the rubrics order to be said and be done: this “high school assembly” understanding of the liturgy makes Catholic worship impossible as it has been understood in the Tradition. For the Tradition understood the root meaning of liturgia as involving public worship as a duty,
officium , a duty that is certainly based on love, but a duty nevertheless. It is this traditional sense of worship as
officium that is enshrined and made visible and heard and experienced in the traditional Roman rite.
The priest is like Abraham, the father of Isaac and the father of the Jews and our father in faith. Abraham’s greatest act of faith and worship as a father is when he leads his son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him in obedience to God. They walk, each facing the top of the mountain. There is silence except for the brief dialogue between father and son:
And Isaac said to this father Abraham: “My father!” And he said: “Here am I, My son.” He said: “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together” (Gn 22, 7-8, RSV)