Peter Kwasniewski

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Catholics have a ‘right’ to good liturgy in accordance with Church’s ‘tradition and discipline’

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

May 15, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The corrosive effect of today’s popular church music on orthodox faith in and devotion to the Holy Eucharist would be difficult to deny. Let me attempt to frame the problem with a comparison to ongoing battles over the meaning of the term “pro-life.”

The Catholic Church teaches that there is such a thing as a “right to liturgy.” What do I mean by this phrase? The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum of the Congregation for Divine Worship (March 25, 2004) states:

Arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal, but are detrimental to the right of Christ’s faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church’s life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. … 

It is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. Likewise, the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church’s Magisterium.

Here we have a clear statement of the right of each and every Catholic to worship the Lord in liturgical celebrations that adhere strictly, one might even say punctiliously, to the Church’s “tradition and discipline, laws and norms.”

However, as we know, this right is trampled upon daily in countless places, as the faithful are subjected to deviations, deformities, banalities, and distractions, or humiliated by the persistent negation of their legitimate requests for spiritual nourishment, for example when access to the traditional Latin Mass is denied.

And why does all this happen? Quite simply, because clergy, especially bishops, favor other principles and give them a primacy they ought not to have. For example, the principle of “active participation,” today so poorly understood, is used to obliterate centuries of tradition and discipline, laws and norms.

How might we compare this to abortion? Just as a generic “right to life”—in the fashionable “seamless garment” approach that makes so much of issues like the death penalty or immigration—tends to eclipse the specific and infinitely greater evil of abortion, the generic concern for “active participation” in the liturgy eclipses the centrality of the specific and infinitely greater good of the Eucharistic sacrifice enacted by the priest on behalf of the people. Just as the right to life is unequivocally and primordially located in the right of each baby human to be born, so too the right to liturgy refers most of all to the right to “offer the holy oblation in peace” (as our Byzantine brethren say), to see and to experience the liturgy as the work of Christ in and for His Church, not as my or anyone else’s product.

In the Catholic world, the “sign of peace,” the proliferation of lay ministers invading the sanctuary and handling the precious gifts, and execrably bad post-Communion songs, conspire to distract us from the miracle that has just occurred and prevent us from praying most fruitfully in union with Our Lord and with all the other members of His Mystical Body. In a similar way, modern “romanticism,” which has devolved into eroticism, distracts our attention from the greatest wonder of the natural order: the ex nihilo creation of a human soul by divine omnipotence, in conjunction with the provision of the body of the child by the mother and father, who are thereby brought into a special relationship with God and are responsible for the life of this child entrusted to their care.

The music too often sung in churches today eclipses the great mystery we are celebrating in the sacred rites. It’s not just a matter of bad taste, it’s a real form of desecration, a sacrilege that deserves to be corrected for strictly theological and moral reasons. Much popular liturgical music, like the popular notion of love, is long on cheap sentiment, short on spiritual love and inward joy. In like manner, the greatest joy of marriage is not the evanescent nuptial act but the eternal fruit thereof—the immortal being who has entered this world at a moment in time and space, a creature that has existed from all eternity in the mystery of the divine intellect and will, a person with a face that uniquely reflects the Face of the Creator.

Ultimately, life is for the sake of liturgy, and liturgy for the sake of life. We are given our natural life in order to acquire supernatural life, and this we are given for the sake of rising up to God in prayer and divine praise. In this way it becomes possible for us to really live, and thus to be of some help to one another in our journey heavenwards. The Catholic’s “right to liturgy” is nothing other than a right to supernatural life, to the fullness of that participation in the mysteries of God in which our sanctity here, and our glory hereafter, consist.

To be consistently pro-life, therefore, does not mean to oppose limits on immigration or the death penalty, just as being pro-liturgy does not mean getting as many lay people involved in as many ministries as possible. Being pro-life means standing unequivocally in favor of everything that sustains the human person from conception to death—both natural goods and supernatural goods.

This is why the pro-life movement and the movement to restore Catholic tradition are ideal partners. The traditionalist values above all what has been given, what is received from another. The accent is never on our own doing and making, but on the loving custody of a treasure entrusted to our safekeeping. Human life is the first and most basic gift from God in the natural order, entrusted to our hearts and hands. The sacred liturgy is the first and most basic gift from God in the supernatural order, likewise entrusted to us poor sinners—indeed, nothing more precious has ever been entrusted by God to man. We are pro-tradition for the same fundamental reason that we are pro-life.



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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College in California and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he serves as professor and choirmaster.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published five books: Wisdom’s Apprentice (CUA Press, 2007); On Love and Charity (CUA Press, 2008); Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014); and most recently, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages (Angelico Press, 2017). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has also been published in Czech, Polish, and German, will soon appear in Spanish and Portuguese, and is being translated into Italian, French, and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a board member and scholar of The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, and a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies. He has published over 500 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.