We’ve written about this before here on CCC, but given the importance of the subject matter, another mention can’t hurt. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is sponsoring a congress on liturgy on February 1. Don’t laugh, I’m serious. From the looks of the roster of speakers and their topics, I cannot emphasize enough how the “virtual Council” and not the actual Council is being reinforced here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

It’s important to remember that, of all the things he could have spoken about, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his final addresses before the College of Cardinals to the Second Vatican Council and the “disasters” wrought by the “council of the media”. Briefly defined, this “Council of the media” (or “virtual Council”) represents a systematic manipulation of the real Second Vatican Council on the part of agenda-driven ideologues whose aim was/is to advance an alternate narrative about the Catholic Church in the modern world; a Church in which “dialogue” and “diversity” overtake doctrine and tradition. Can anyone doubt that precisely this has taken place over the past forty years, and especially here in Milwaukee. The narrative of the “virtual Council” rules at nearly every parish in this city and its greatest success is that so few are even aware of it. It might be tempting to see this issue as something best reserved for faculty lounges and graduate students in theology. But that would be a huge mistake. This crisis has real consequences for all Catholics.

In Benedict’s own words:

“This Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy … and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself and taking shape; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council.” ~Pope Benedict XVI, February 14, 2013

For another example of false Vatican II narratives taking hold, check out our own Milwaukee Catholic Herald. This is what Dean Daniels, the director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship (and one of many holdovers from the Weakland era) had to say about the Council of Trent and the Tridentine Mass.

With the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Daniels noted, the church was defending itself from the Reformation. Thus, liturgical practice was a response to something.

“What we see in Vatican II is that the liturgy is not being defensive of something, but it is opening up the treasures of the Patristic Era (100-600), which was a very simple, pastoral liturgy and not a high, artistic art form. It spoke to the people where they were,” he said. “Our reformed liturgy of the Council of Trent became a very rubric-centered liturgy where you had to follow the rules in order to get to the centrality of the liturgy. That served a purpose. What we see in Vatican Council II is that the liturgy is the source; it’s not a following of rules, but it’s meant to be food and medicine to help us live our lives as Christians.”

Did you get that? Our own archdiocesan Director of Worship defines, limits and dismisses the Tridentine Mass, with all its beauty, symbolism, reverence and richness as “defensive” and merely reactionary to the Reformation. The problem though? The Mass commonly referred to as the “Tridentine Mass” actually predates the Council of Trent and the Reformation by centuries. Trent codified the liturgy, hence “Tridentine Mass”, but the major components of the liturgy go back to the third and fourth centuries, and should more accurately be called the Mass of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Don’t take my word for it. Blessed Cardinal Newman, a scholar of the Patristic era and Church Fathers, noted that the liturgy is “virtually unchanged since the third century.” This liturgy about which Newman wrote is the Tridentine Mass! The dichotomy presented by Daniels of an intellectualist Church of Trent vs. an early, more humble Church is completely false, and yet very widely held.

Another problem with Daniels’ narrative is his claim that what we experience today with the Novus Ordo liturgy at most parishes is a direct result of Vatican II. According to this popular narrative, the loss of Latin and Gregorian Chant, along with the priest facing the people and Communion in the hand, etc., are all due to Vatican II. Hello virtual Council! In fact, all of the aforementioned changes have nothing to do with Sacrosanctum Concilium, they emerged years later, and some out of plain disobedience to established rules! It’s interesting how Daniels wants to uphold the Patristic era by setting it in opposition to Trent. But wait…what direction did the priest face in the Patristic era? East! (Not the people.) Do you think he’s in favor of a return to ad orientem liturgy?

What is Daniels talking about when he contrasts the “pastoral liturgy” of the Patristic era with the “high, artistic art form” of liturgy from Trent? (Again, this is a popular narrative: we need to return to the simplicity of the early Church, a Church that was not bogged down with Scholasticism, Baroque, rubrics, polyphony, etc. Not surprisingly, Luther made a very similar argument. It’s a form of neo-iconoclasm.) The rest of Daniels’ quote careens into cliched nonsense. The Latin Mass doesn’t teach that Liturgy is only about following rules…what a disservice to the beauty of the Extraordinary Form! Where is he getting this from? In fact, one of the most common observations made by people first experiencing the Latin Mass is that it is so conspicuously God-centered. The rubrics are a means, but not the end! They are there to guide us, and to remind us of the heart of Liturgy, namely, the Eucharistic Sacrifice. We need a map to get to the final destination, don’t we? Following liturgical rubrics also keeps us humble, and reminds us that we cannot arrogantly make things up as we go along. We are not the center of liturgy, God is.

From the looks of it, this archdiocesan congress is not giving a modicum of attention to Pope Benedict’s voluminous writings and observations on liturgy and the Second Vatican Council. I hope I am wrong on that charge, but can a conference that aims to focus on liturgy and the Second Vatican Council be taken seriously if it excludes any discussion of Benedict’s contributions to the matter? The answer is “yes”, if the goal is to perpetuate the misleading narrative of the “virtual Council”. Do you think it is an accident that this conference is excluding Benedict? They have no intention of giving a second of time to the man who has called them out.

If you want to get the real story behind the Second Vatican Council and the liturgy, skip the Virtual Vatican II congress in Milwaukee and check out the following:

– The Council’s brilliant document on liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium 

Benedict XVI’s Reform: The Liturgy between Faith and Tradition, by Msgr. Nicola Bux

The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Pope Benedict XVI

– One of the best articles you’ll find on liturgy and Vatican II by Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., The Mass of Vatican II