Would That We All Were Bold Restorers

Tridentine mass in Venezia (Italia) 2007 Source http://fssp.org/album/VPVE2007/webp1080469.jpg Author FSSP – Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri

What is a ‘restorer’? One restores buildings, books, institutions, and it seems a good thing to do so. Pope Saint Pius X’s motto was instaurare omnia in Christo – to restore all things in Christ, a mission he accomplished with great gusto in the time given to him. Why Pope Francis thinks this a bad thing is a mystery. What might he mean criticizing all those ‘restorers’ in America? His implication is that they want to reject the Second Vatican Council, or at least its spirit. But like so many of his criticisms and condemnations, the term is left ambiguous.

In a recent article in First Things, Jayd Hendricks, former executive director of government relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, tries to allay the Pope’s fears, claiming that, barring a few fringe elements, everyone in America is fully on board with Vatican II, and here is his evidence:

Latin is largely extinct. The clericalism of the pre-conciliar period, and blind loyalty to priests and bishops, is just a memory. The manualism of Catholic morality is dead. Contemporary music at Mass is the norm. Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is taken seriously. Religious freedom is extolled. 

Let’s begin with the two most glaring.

The Second Vatican Council did not abolish Latin, but did the precise opposite, mandating its continued use, at least liturgically, in no uncertain terms, with a few exceptions permitted for the vernacular.

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36.1)


Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them (ibid., 55)

As well, the breviary:

The work of revising the psalter, already happily begun, is to be finished as soon as possible, and is to take into account the style of Christian Latin, the liturgical use of psalms, also when sung, and the entire tradition of the Latin Church. (ibid., 91)

For priests:

In accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office. (101.1)

And, of course, to pray in Latin, one must begin with those studying for the priesthood:

Before beginning specifically ecclesiastical subjects, seminarians should be equipped with that humanistic and scientific training which young men in their own countries are wont to have as a foundation for higher studies. Moreover they are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church (Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, 13)

On the very eve of the Council, in 1962, Pope John XXIII, promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapienta (Ancient Wisdom) which explicitly prescribed the preservation of Latin as the language of the Church, in education and sacramentally. (A brief read, and well worth it).

Most of the Church’s doctrinal, liturgical and musical treasures – of inestimable worth – is in Latin. If we may rephrase a dictum of Saint Jerome: To be ignorant of Latin is to be ignorant of much of the Church’s Tradition. Oh, and the official version of Scripture, translated by the same Saint Jerome, is also in Latin.

While we’re at it, all of the conciliar discussions were conducted, and all the documents were written, in, yes, Latin.

In sum, to neglect or reject Latin is also to do the same with the Council.

Music? I’m not sure what Mr. Hendricks means by ‘contemporary’ hymns; anything composed after the Council? Again, we may return to Sacrosanctum:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy (ut liturgiae romanae proprium): therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place (principem locum) in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations (116)


The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X. (ibid., 117)

When was the last time you heard Gregorian chant or sacred polyphony in a Catholic church, outside of a TLM? For that matter, how many priests, or even bishops, even know a smattering of Latin, never mind a competent comprehension?

The rest of Mr. Hendrick’s telling paragraph deserves some mention.

Manualism? The theological manuals had, and still have, their place, as useful summaries of moral theology, as applied to particular and often difficult, questions. There may well have too much dependence on them, and a return to the original sources in order. But we should not throw away such treasures with the bathwater.

‘Clericalism’ is a bogey man with almost no workable definition. The Council supported the proper authority of bishops, which is being undermined by this Magisterium.

‘Blind loyalty’ is rarely a morally sound option, but how prevalent was it before the Council? One need only peruse the life of Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena or Mary MacKillop to see how saintly women sure of their own mind, or, more properly, of God’s will, could speak this truth boldly to their own bishops, and, yes, to the Holy Father himself.

Ecumenical dialogue has existed since the time of Saint Paul’s mission to the Jews and the Greeks, and his famous address to the people of Athens and their ‘unknown God’. And what of Athanasius to the Arians, Pope Martin and many others to the Eastern Church, Dominic to the Cathars, Thomas to the Muslims in his Summa contra Gentiles, Francis de Sales to the Calvinists of Geneva, Peter Canisius to the Lutherans of Germany, Newman to his beloved Anglicans. The Council wanted to bring back and invigorate this great ecumenical endeavour of the Church, overlapping with her explicit missionary work, without diminution or loss of the truth, and warns explicitly against a false irenicism and syncretism. When read properly, the Fathers exhorted us to take the treasures of our Tradition, and bring them out to the modern world, not to modernize the Church and corrupt her by the world, and ‘reforming’ only when necessary.

In other words, instaurare omnia in Christo. I like the sound of that. The Latin just rolls off the tongue, especially when pronounced with a wee bit of a brogue.

To paraphrase an old Irish tune, we should all be bold restorers.