Unto this last

Unless gentle reader had the misfortune to be only in range of the Novus Ordo, it was Septuagesima today. I am spoilt in Parkdale; my heart goes out to those who have suffered “the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time,” the liturgical significance of which seems intended to escape us, unless it is to affirm the “hermeneutic of rupture” that is crackling once again.

With each passing year it becomes harder to understand how men who were outwardly sane could have done what was done to our Mass, nearly half a century ago. This hardly followed from anything decided at Vatican II. There, the integrity of the Mass was affirmed, and what was done less than five years later would have been unthinkable to “progressives” and “conservatives” alike.

Pope Saint John XXIII had himself re-affirmed the importance of Latin, in the Mass of the Ages, and throughout the Church, echoing many popes before him on the importance of a well-educated clergy (not merely taught Latin, but taught in this universal language). He reminded that none must graduate from the seminaries whose Latin is so weak that they cannot celebrate the Mass in its fullness, its beauty. Too, he reminded that our clergy must be able to read the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, her canon law and all her other documents, from all centuries, without difficulty. All of this is necessary to priestly formation: for the priesthood is not a low calling.

Here is a paradox that every intelligent, perceptive, and observant Catholic, of a certain age, should already know: that wherever the Novus Ordo has advanced (the quicker in its most happyclap iterations) vocations have disappeared; that wherever the Vetus Ordo has survived or returned, vocations are plentiful. Restore that Mass and the Church herself begins to be restored; young men hear the call and come forward. They will never be attracted to a life of sacrifice by a daily ritual that is trite. Undermine that immortal reverence, discard what at first glance looks “out of date” — because the “liturgist” does not understand it — and the Church dies, in ignominious surrender to passing fashion and fads.

Yet even while Pope John’s apostolic constitution, Veterum sapientia (1962), was still wet in the ink, the ecclesiastical bureaucrats and “reformers” were at work in the opposite, “modernizing” direction. I have spoken with more than one seminarian from the early 1960s who recalled how, from the end of one semester to the beginning of the next, as Latin was replaced with the vernacular, the floor fell in. The atmosphere was dramatically changed, in a way that had not happened in two thousand years. How, now, John XXIII must weep over what was done, and is still being done in his name.

The loss of Latin in the seminaries signalled the collapse of all other academic standards. To my mind the nauseating sex scandals in the Church followed, too, from that “liberalization” — for vocations plummeted, and the bishops began to take anybody. Whole orders within the Church evaporated. In so many convents discipline was forsaken, and we had the spectacle of “radical,” politicized monks and nuns abandoning their habits and their vows, shrieking about in demonic helter-skelter.

What was done in “the spirit of Vatican II” was done against the express direction of the Council itself; its documents cited, when cited at all, in a selective, sophistical, deceitful way. To descend into the details is to be drawn down into the mystery of evil: for again, the question becomes, How could men in their right minds be doing things like this? How could they not see the terrible consequences to the Church they purported to love, and to the souls of their fellow Catholics? Why was it allowed?

All of the post-conciliar popes till the present one have struggled to restore what was taught at the Council, consistent with the teaching of the many centuries before; all worked, often heroically, against the Zeitgeist, and to contain a Fifth Column metastasizing within the Church herself. It is the solemn and particular duty of each pope to defend the deposit of faith against every effort to corrupt it, and to keep the practice of the Church consistent with her doctrines. What a priest must know, a pope must know, to his fingertips, restored every day in the Mass. He must never have his own “agenda,” his own cheering section. His job by its nature must be very lonely, as Paul VI once said in a moment of desolation; it is to serve — servus servorum Dei, to be servant of the servants of God. We should pray the more earnestly for Pope Francis who, though he might have the best will in the world, is himself our first papal product of the seminary environment, post-Vatican II.


Today we have entered into Shrovetide, with much of the living Church unaware that this has happened. It is from this point, in the tradition, that the Alleluia is no longer sung, until Easter. In an old Gallican liturgy I once saw, metrically sung, the ancient explanation of it: that we fallen men who live on Earth are not worthy to sing the Alleluia unceasingly.

The succession of Sundays, from Septuagesima to Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, and Quadragesima, is the ancient countdown to Lent. (Tomorrow’s Candlemas, on the fortieth day of Christmas, will be the last echo of the season of Christmas and the Epiphany, mirroring the forty days of Lent.) The vestments change to violet, and the great readings from the Book of Genesis begin, expounding our banishment and exile from Eden, as we renew the task of repentance. The Gospel in the Old Mass today was the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, “unto this last” — a detailed affront to every modernist sensibility, for in it Christ showed that human ideas of “fairness” are rubbish; that justice and mercy are compact in opposition to them.

We are turned at this moment towards Easter, and our preparation for a Lent which was once taken by the whole Church — and is still taken in the hearts of the faithful — with spiritual gravity. In the Greek Triodion, we find parallels to every action in our old Latin Mass, and the same gravity in preparation for the Great Fast.

This entire season of Septuagesima, in which so many strands of Christian teaching are woven together, is omitted in what is now called the “Ordinary Form” of the Mass, with its succession of inconsequential “ordinary Sundays.” Yet it remains the birthright of every Catholic, restored to us unambiguously in Pope Benedict’s motu proprio of 2007, and not to be denied to us any longer.

It is for we the laity to demand the return everywhere — in every church, on every day — of our Mass in its “Extraordinary Form.” For even when poorly-educated clergy have forgotten, we may be inspired to remember: that our Church must be like unto her Founder, and that Our Lord was not an “ordinary man,” but invincibly Extraordinary.