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May 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — If one pays close attention to the differences between older (pre-Vatican II) and newer (post-Vatican II) prayers that are supposed to be for the same intention, one sees ample evidence of a disturbing tendency: the “doctoring” of prayers to say something softer and “nicer” than they used to say. This was no mere accident; it was part of a deliberate program to encourage a vaguer sort of ecumenism — one that did not have conversion as its goal — and to downplay real differences between Catholics and other Christians, between Christians and Jews, between believers and unbelievers, and so forth. The problem is that in downplaying the differences, one also downplays their serious consequences for the sanctification and salvation of souls. In other words, one risks betraying Christ Himself, who is the Truth and who calls us to a total assent to the full truth.

I will illustrate this problem with three striking examples: two drawn from the sacred liturgy and one drawn from popular devotion.

My first example is the Collect for the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, the great Counter-Reformation Doctor of the Church whose feast is traditionally celebrated tomorrow, May 13th. (In the revision of the general calendar in 1969, his feast was moved to September 17th.) In the traditional Latin Mass, the Collect goes as follows:

O God, who didst adorn blessed Robert Thy Bishop and Doctor with wondrous learning and virtue that he might lay bare the snares of error and maintain the rights of the Apostolic See: grant by his merits and intercession that we may grow in love of the truth, and that the hearts of the wayward may return to the unity of Thy Church.

In the Novus Ordo Missae, the foregoing prayer, dating from 1932, was replaced with this:

O God, who adorned the Bishop Saint Robert Bellarmine with wonderful learning and virtue to vindicate the faith of your Church, grant, through his intercession, that in the integrity of that same faith your people may always find joy.

Note how openly the traditional Collect speaks of “laying bare the snares of error” and of upholding “the rights of the Apostolic See” against the Protestant reformers, and prays that “the wayward may return to the unity of Thy Church.” In the newly-published book The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite, Michael Fiedrowicz comments:

This (older) prayer does not lessen the charism of this saint, but rather increases it. It was precisely his astute refutation of the Protestant errors that made Cardinal Bellarmine the Catholic theological controversialist most feared by the Protestant Reformers, and to whose refutation several “cathedrae anti-Bellarminianae” (anti-Bellarmine professorships) were established. Furthermore, it is only the traditional prayer that speaks of the necessity of a return of heretics to the true religion of the Catholic Faith. The classical missal opposes an abandonment of the so-called ecumenism of return, the conviction of the Church of all ages that all confessions are in no way equally on the path to truth. The traditional orations recall in an uncomfortable way that in questions of faith there are not only various opinions, but also errors that must be overcome, or at least fought against. An abandonment of this battle would amount to a victory of relativism. (245–46)

My second example is from the Good Friday orations. In the usus antiquior or Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite (whether its Tridentine recension or the revised Holy Week of Pius XII), the Church prays as follows:

Let us pray also for heretics and schismatics: that our God and Lord would rescue them from all their errors, and vouchsafe to recall them to our holy Mother, the Catholic and Apostolic Church. … O almighty and everlasting God, who savest all, and willest not that anyone should perish: look upon the souls of those deceived by the wiles of the devil; that all heretical perverseness being removed, the hearts of those in error may become reasonable again and may return to the unity of Thy truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ … Amen.

University of Dallas theologian Dr. Christopher Malloy points out on his blog Theological Flint:

The Extraordinary Form of the Mass instructs us with careful precision on the precise goal of our prayers for all those in the world who are not Catholic. … These prayers instruct us clearly about the objectively grave state (of deprivation) in which those who are not Catholic live. Deprived of so many gifts and truths present or taught only in the Catholic Church, they face grave difficulties in coming to eternal salvation. It is understandable that non-Catholics would not agree to this proposition. What is sad is that Catholics have forgotten this element of faith. Only in the Catholic Church can one find the fullness of the means of salvation (Vatican II, Unitatis redintegratio, art. 3).

In the Novus Ordo, however, the analogous prayer on Good Friday has been rewritten as “For the unity of Christians” and reads:

Let us pray also for all our brothers and sisters who believe in Christ, that our God and Lord may be pleased, as they live the truth, to gather them together and keep them in his one Church. Almighty ever-living God, who gather what is scattered and keep together what you have gathered, look kindly on the flock of your Son, that those whom one Baptism has consecrated may be joined together by integrity of faith and united in the bond of charity. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This may sound a lot nicer and less scary and more “generous,” but, in fact, it is a disservice both to Catholics — insofar as it does not communicate the full teaching of our own Church on the evils that weigh down those in error and the necessity of clinging to revealed dogmatic truths — and to separated Christians themselves, because they would never be able to see, in the nebulous witness of such a liturgy, that they are lacking in something of essential importance. In other words, the lex orandi or the way we pray has distorted, or at any rate, inadequately conveyed, the lex credendi or beliefs we ought to profess. Exactly the same pattern obtains here as in the old and new Collects for St. Robert Bellarmine.

My third example comes from the popular Divine Mercy novena that many Catholics pray from Good Friday until Low Sunday or the octave day of Easter.

In the original wording that St. Faustina Kowalska copied down, piously believed to be from divine dictation, the texts for Easter Tuesday read as follows:

Today bring to Me the souls of heretics and schismatics and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. During My bitter Passion they tore at My Body and Heart, that is, My Church. As they return to unity with the Church My wounds heal and in this way they alleviate My Passion.

Most Merciful Jesus, Goodness Itself, You do not refuse light to those who seek it of You. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of heretics and schismatics. Draw them by Your light into the unity of the Church, and do not let them escape from the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart; but bring it about that they, too, come to glorify the generosity of Your mercy.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls of heretics and schismatics, who have squandered Your blessings and misused Your graces obstinately persisting in their errors. Do not look upon their errors, but upon the love of Your Own Son and upon His bitter Passion, which He underwent for their sake, since they, too, are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Bring it about that they also may glorify Your great mercy for endless ages. Amen.

This original formulation can still be found on the internet

Some time after the Second Vatican Council, someone (I have not been able to find out exactly who) in charge of the Divine Mercy devotion in the United States decided that this language wasn’t going to cut it anymore and modified the texts so that they would conform to the new theological fashion:

Today bring to me the souls who have separated from my Church and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. … Most Merciful Jesus, Goodness Itself, You do not refuse light to those who seek it of You. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who have separated from Your Church. … Eternal Father, turn Your Merciful gaze upon the souls of those who are separated from Your Son’s Church, especially those who have squandered Your Blessings and misused Your Graces by obstinately persisting in their errors.

The website of the Marian Fathers offers a somewhat lame explanation of the change, saying, basically, that “after the Council we don’t speak that way anymore.” But why? What was erroneous or misleading about the Collect of St. Robert Bellarmine, the Good Friday prayer, or St. Faustina’s texts? They are general prayers and, as such, do not attribute degrees of culpability to any individuals. They simply point to an objectively deficient, harmful, and serious situation, and ask God in His mercy to rescue those who may be trapped in it. This is true mercy: to speak the full truth in real charity for the salvation of souls.

As Dr. Malloy points out:

Schism and heresy are gravely evil. Those who live in schism and heresy are thus in a gravely evil state. Why? Heresy is the denial of God’s truths. But knowing God’s truths leads us to heaven. Schism is the denial of the ecclesial communion and authority, but Christ guides us through the hierarchy. How well can we act when we go it alone? Or when we go with a community that goes off on its own? 

Now, what if it is not their fault? 1) God alone judges the heart; it is not our business to judge the heart. 2) God has charged us with a mandate: to preach the truth in season and out of season. 3) Even if they are “not at fault” for schism and heresy, they nonetheless necessarily lack many of the graces that will speed their sanctity and more securely provide for their salvation. Let us not fail God’s charge (#2) because we acknowledge our incapacity to judge (#1), because if we fail to offer the good news to everyone, we sin against our neighbor by leaving him in the darkness of error (#3). Although invincible ignorance cannot condemn us (#1), neither can it save us (#3).

Once again, and always, we see that the integral, all-encompassing lex credendi or creed of Roman Catholicism is found intact in the lex orandi of the traditional Roman rite of the Mass and of all the other sacramental rites, consecrations, blessings, and devotions that exist in its ambit. It is not to be found in the reformed liturgy of Paul VI or in anything that has been forcibly conformed to its fashion.

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,