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July 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Peter Kwasniewski’s Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico Press, 2020) is like a delicious holiday feast.
First, there are the classic, familiar foods, which include Kwasniewski’s descriptions of and arguments for the Traditional Latin Mass. These are the turkey, roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy of his thought, if you will, developed and improved upon since he last served them.
Then there are the spicy condiments of his battles with opponents of the TLM or proponents of the modern liturgy. In this volume, he takes on Paul VI, Fr. Dwight Longenecker (twice), and Dr. Mary Healy. Call those the cranberry, salsa, and horseradish sauces.
Next there are the interesting new side dishes, like his essays on children at the TLM and how being pro-tradition is an integral part of being pro-life. If it doesn’t strain my metaphor overmuch, they’re the honey-roasted carrots with ginger or baked beets with salsa verde.
Finally, there is dessert, which is Kwasniewski’s extensive scholarly apparatus, including a glossary, a select (yet extensive) bibliography, a detailed index, and a list of scriptural citations. Is it a complex English trifle or a multi-layer cake? Either way, I am pleased because the last time I reviewed a Kwasniewski book, I suggested an index was in order. I wasn’t expecting tempting book suggestions, too.
I feel guilty employing gustatory metaphors when discussing Kwasniewski’s work, for one of his goals is to convince Catholics that their Mass is the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary upon the altar, not a communal meal around a table. However, when I had a chance to get really stuck into the book ― not just read a chapter a day before going to work ― reading it felt as absorbing and satisfying as a dinner party with friends.
I go to the Traditional Latin Mass almost every Sunday, and I enjoy learning more about it. Kwasniewski is arguably the most prominent scholarly advocate of the TLM writing in English, and he is also a gifted writer. In writing about the “most beautiful thing under heaven,” Kwasniewski delivers beautifully structured arguments with elegant metaphors. This makes learning a pleasure. For example, the author praises websites that post photos of traditional liturgies for providing “a bit of springtime in the post-conciliar winter.” He cites “an ocean of silence” during the Roman Canon. “The Catholic universe was carpet-bombed in the 1960s,” he inarguably observes. At certain points in the book, I summoned the attention of my husband and read him whole passages out loud.
One of Kwasniewski’s strengths is his willingness to engage in the most difficult debates. In this book’s “Part II: Objections and Replies,” he takes on such tricky issues as the relative (if greatly misunderstood) simplicity of the earliest liturgies, the problem of judging a liturgy solely by its “validity,” and the attachment most Catholics who still frequent Mass have for the new Roman rite. The author allows his opponents to make the strongest case for tolerance of the novelties, and then he fights his corner as hard as he can.
This time he draws more upon his personal journey toward his stance than I recall him doing in either Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (2017) or Tradition & Sanity (2018). It certainly came as a surprise to me to discover that the author had once written a liturgical guitar song. This turn to retrospection adds a kindly (to get away from the word “pastoral”) dimension to his sometimes astringent arguments. When arguing about a religious matter, the words “I used to share your views” indicates a willingness to hear both sides.
Another development is his interest in bringing up children in the TLM. Here Kwasniewski draws upon his experience as a parent, and not only does he explain how the TLM forms (and how the new rites threaten) the faith of children, he gives practical advice for preparing children for the TLM. I look forward to reading more about this topic in future.
Having enjoyed the book so much, it seems churlish to mention mere quibbles. However, just so you know I did read it with a critical eye, I will mention that the author’s description of the modernized Church as an elderly lady who has put on a miniskirt is similar to that first used in 1977 by the British novelist and essayist Alice Thomas Ellis. As Ellis’ great critique of the post-conciliar Church, The Serpent on the Rock (1994), is listed in neither this book’s bibliography nor that of Noble Beauty, I suspect Kwasniewski has not yet read her books. I encourage him to do so.
Finally, I was sorry that the fictional monks of Tradition & Sanity didn’t make an appearance in this work. Kwasniewski has a turn for comic dialogue about the liturgy (no common talent), so I hope he indulges in it again soon.