2003 SepOct/liturgical reform

The Problem of the Liturgical Reform: book cover


The theology of the Paschal Mystery is essential to understanding the liturgical reform; indeed, it is inseparable from it, for the modern liturgy is the expression and the vector of the new theology. Recognizing the indissoluble link between the new missal and the new theology of the Paschal Mystery changes the nature of the judgment that needs to be made about the liturgical reform.

Unfortunately, by juxtaposing the theology of the Paschal Mystery with the teaching of the Council of Trent, we are obliged to conclude that the theses of the theology of the Paschal Mystery are either dangerous for the faith, or else they directly challenge it on a major point, or else they openly contradict it.

Chapter 1


The reality of the vicarious satisfaction for sin made by Christ cannot be an object of discussion among Catholic theologians because it is a truth contained in the deposit of Revelation, and it has been sufficiently proposed for belief by the Church’s Magisterium. If the word satisfaction does not appear in Sacred Scripture, it was used to express in precise language what Scripture meant by the word Redemption. To defend the propitiatory end of the Mass against the Protestant heresy, the infallible Magisterium decalred: “If anyone says (of) the sacrifice of the Mass … that it should not be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema.”(Council of Trent, Session 22, On the Mass).

One cannot give a different meaning to the expressions employed by the popes and the councils. Certainly, the Fathers of the Council of Trent did not deem it necessary to define the meaning of the word satisfaction, or what they meant by the satisfaction of Christ: a centuries-old doctrinal tradition guaranteed the exact meaning of these expressions.

While the work of our redemption can be considered from a number of aspects, the dogma of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ is so central to understanding the mystery of redemption that it can never be passed over or ignored. Thus, to counteract against the liberal Protestantism of the 19th century that put in doubt this doctrine of faith, Vatican I had prepared two condemnatory canons: “If anyone shall deny that the Word of God himself, by suffering and dying in the flesh that He assumed, has truly and properly offered satisfaction to God for our sins, and thus merited for us grace and glory; or if he shall dare to affirm that the vicarious satisfaction, that is to say, the satisfaction offered by the unique Mediator for all men, is repugnant to the justice of God: let him be anathema.” (Schema of a Constitution, De praecipuis mysteriis fidei, IV, p.3). Unfortunately, the interruption of the Council prevented these canons from being published. The modernists and the new theologians profited from this to introduce the theses of liberal Protestantism into the Church. Pius XII denounced once again the error: “…without consideration of the definitions of the Council of Trent … the notion of sin in general as an offense against God (is perverted), and likewise the concept of the satisfaction made by Christ for us.” (Humani Generis). The preparatory schemas of Vatican II had also dedicated a chapter to the question of Christ’s satisfaction, the last one of the dogmatic constitution “De deposito fidei pure custodiendo- About guarding the deposit of faith purely.” This constitution clearly and authoritatively sets forth three doctrinal points rejected by the new theology of the Paschal Mystery. (Ref. Schema of the dogmatic constitution, De deposito fidei pure custodiendo, 1962, Ch. X, No. 53, p. 65).

So, by refusing to consider the doctrine of vicarious satisfaction in its true meaning, the theology of the Paschal Mystery sets itself in opposition to a truth of the Catholic faith.

Chapter 2


Confronted by the Protestant heresy, the Council of Trent defined what the Mass is, and three aspects by which it is in relation with the sacrifice of Calvary.

–         The Mass is a sacrifice in the proper sense of the term, real and visible;

–         It represents, commemorates and applies the sacrifice of the Cross;

–         And not merely a commemoration. (Council of Trent, On the Mass, Session XXII).

The theology of the Paschal Mystery appeared to retain the Tridentine declaration on the triple relation between the Eucharist and the Cross: “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit.” (CCC # 1366). Yet this interpretation of the Council of Trent’s definitions raises a few crucial questions:

–         Did the Council of Trent understand the word repraesentatur (represents) in      this manner?

–         Does this manner of “making present” suffice to allow the term sacrifice to be applied to the Mass truly and properly?

The answer to these two questions makes it seem to us that the thesis of the Paschal Mystery does not avoid the qualifier “mere commemoration.”

  1. The Mass, A Visible Sacrifice.

            A thing can be said to be present in several ways: by its actual presence, by its operation, or by an image that resembles it. The Council of Trent means, by the word repraesentare (to represent), that the Mass is a certain image that represents the bloody sacrifice of the Cross.

The text of the Council of Trent imposes this interpretation; it explains that it is by the visible sacrifice – a visibility necessitated by human nature- that the bloody sacrifice is represented. Now, what is visible in the Mass are the Eucharistic symbols, that is, the species of bread and wine. Their separate consecration serves as a symbolic rite, as a representative image of the sacrifice of the Cross.

“How is the Mass the sacrifice of Christ, if Christ was only offered once (Heb. 9:28)? Trent answers: because it represents it and applies it,” a reply taken from the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The sacrificial character of the rites of the Mass is clearly affirmed by the Council of Trent. So, there remains one question to put to the theologians of the Paschal Mystery: if the Mass is only a sacrifice insofar as it is contained under the veil of the mystery, how can they claim to adhere to the teaching of the Council of Trent, which characterizes this sacrifice as “visible”?

  1. The Mass, A Sacrifice “Truly and Properly.”

The Council of Trent also teaches that the Mass is a sacrifice “truly and properly.” There can only be a true and proper sacrifice where there is a true victim and real immolation. It is in this sense that the Catholic Church designates the Mass as a sacrifice. Through transubstantiation, the sacred species are not only a symbol of Christ immolated, but the very same victim immolated on the Cross; and there is not only a figure of immolation, but real separation, albeit unbloody, of the Body and Blood of our Lord.

The theology of the Paschal Mystery leaves aside these explanations, preferring to say that the Mass is a sacrifice because, insofar as it is an objective memorial of the Passion and of the Resurrection, it truly contains the sacrifice of Christ. But such an explanation does not correspond to the affirmation of the Council of Trent that the Mass is a sacrifice “truly and properly.”

III. The Mass, A Mere Commemoration?

By affirming the objective character of the memorial, the theology of the Paschal Mystery would seem to distinguish itself from those theologies which reduce the Mass to a “mere commemoration” of the sacrifice of the Cross, and thus escape Trent’s anathema of Luther’s doctrine. Yet, the Fathers of Trent not only intended to denounce a simple subjective memorial, but also the assimilation of the Mass to a sacrifice in the figurative sense of the word. By considering the Mass as a sacrifice only insofar as it is a memorial which contains “in mysterio” the sacrifice of the Cross, the theology of the Paschal Mystery weakens the visibility of the sacrifice as taught by the Church, and can no longer “truly and properly” designate the Mass as a sacrifice.Despite its denials, the theology of the Paschal Mystery seems to incur on this point the condemnation of the Council of Trent.

Chapter 3


          As we have said, one of the main keys to understanding the theology of the Paschal Mystery is the new meaning that it gives the word sacrament. For its part, the new theology advances a new conception of sacramental efficacy. According to the new theology the sacrament is “a visible reality that makes present the divine (things) again under the veil of symbols and gives them to man to nourish his faith.” The sacrament, in order to be efficacious, requires that the symbols, making present again the actions of Christ, be interpreted by the faith of the recipient in order to establish contact with the saving action of Christ (Ref. CCC # 1336). This new notion of the sacrament which subordinates the efficacy of the sacrament to the act of faith which interprets the symbol is an implicit denial of the teaching of the Council of Trent. By the novelty of calling the sacraments, sacraments of faith, by explaining their finality principally by the way they are known and no longer by their salutary effect on the soul, and by assimilating to them the liturgy taken as a whole, this new theology is in danger of incurring Trent’s anathema (Council of Trent, Session VII).

Many new theologians invalidate one of the points of the teaching of the Council of Trent on the Real Presence, because they consider the sacrament as the making present of the divine under the veil of symbols. Because of this “symbolic screen” of the new theology, the Real Presence of our Lord will depend on the interpretation it will be given by the one to whom it appears as bread and wine. A theology such as this could easily give rise to theories of the Real Presence that are already condemned by the Church.

The new theology also extends this notion of sacrament to other branches of theology, such as, Christology and Ecclesiology. By so doing, it has multiplied the problems and the sources of error.

Insofar as it rests upon the philosophies of the symbolic type, this notion of sacrament cannot be reconciled with the Church’s doctrine on the sacraments. Because this notion corrupts the branches of theology where it is introduced, it is dangerous for the Catholic Faith.


The detailed analysis of the numerous and substantial liturgical modifications introduced into the Mass by the reform of Pope Paul VI, then the comprehensive exposition of the theology of the Paschal Mystery as it is presented by its promoters or official spokesman, have made clear to us that the prime, guiding principle of the liturgical reform is “the accomplishing of the Paschal Mystery of Christ in the liturgy of the Church,” as Pope John Paul II said (Vicesimus Quintus Annus, Dec. 4, 1988).

The theology of the Paschal Mystery, insofar as it refuses the vicarious satisfaction of Christ, explicitly refuses a truth of Faith. Because this theology cannot subscribe to the dogmatic definitions relative to the sacrifice of the Mass, it calls into question a truth of Faith. This same theology, centered as it is on the notion of “mystery,” ultimately proves to be dangerous to the faith because it favours serious doctrinal deviations.

The reformed missal does not deny Catholic dogma outright, but its authors have so orientated the gestures and the words, they have made such significant omissions and introduced numerous ambiguous expressions, and all in order to make the rite to conform to the theology of the Paschal Mystery and to give expression to it. Consequently, the new missal no longer propagates the lex credendi (rule of believing) of the Church, but rather a doctrine that smacks of heterodoxy. That is why one cannot say that the reformed rite of Mass of 1969 is “orthodox” in the proper sense of the word, because it does not offer “right praise” to God. Equally, one cannot say that the rite of Mass resulting from the reform of 1969 is that of the Church, even if it was conceived by the churchmen. And lastly, one cannot say that the new missal is for the faithful “the first and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit and of the truth of Christ.”

            Faced with these serious doctrinal deficiencies, the only attitude of fidelity to the Church and to Catholic doctrine necessary for our salvation is a categorical refusal to accept this liturgical reformation (rupture). In such a situation, we are therefore obliged to hold fast to the traditional liturgy, which is certainly worthy of God, which has never been abrogated, which has produced so many fruits of heroism and holiness in the Church for centuries.